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Other segments from the episode on November 18, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 18, 2005: Interview with Joan Didion; Interview with Roswell Rudd; Review of the film "Walk the line."


DATE November 18, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Joan Didion on her new memoir, "The Year of Magical

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News sitting in for Terry Gross.

`Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and
life as you know it ends.' Those are the first words of Joan Didion's memoir,
"The Year of Magical Thinking," which won the National Book Award for
nonfiction this week. The book describes the year following the death of
Didion's husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne. He died of a heart attack as
they were sitting down to dinner on the night of December 30th, 2003. He was

Didion and Dunne had just come back from the hospital where their daughter was
in a coma, suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. While Didion's memoir
chronicles her grief for her husband, it also describes her daughter's medical
progress and setbacks. By the close of the book, Didion thought her daughter
was recovering, but in August she died from an abdominal infection. She was
39. Devastating is the way New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani
describes Didion's memoir.

Didion's best-known books include "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," "Play it as it
Lays" and a book of common prayer.

Terry spoke to Joan Didion in September. Didion began with a reading from
"The Year of Magical Thinking" in which she and her husband sit down for the
dinner they never got to eat.

Ms. JOAN DIDION (Author): `We sat down. My attention was on mixing the
salad. John was talking, then he wasn't. At one point in the seconds or
minute before he stopped talking, he had asked me if I had used single malt
scotch for his second drink. I had said no, I had used the same scotch I'd
used for his first drink. "Good," he'd said. "I don't why, but I don't think
you should mix them." At another point in those seconds or that minute, he
had been talking about why World War I was the critical event from which the
entire rest of the 20th century flows.

`I have no idea which subject we were on, the scotch or World War I, at the
instant he stopped talking. I only remember looking up. His left hand was
raised, and he was slumped motionless. At first I thought he was making a
failed joke, an attempt to make the difficulty of the day seem manageable. I
remember saying, "Don't do that." When he did not respond, my first thought
was that he had started to eat and choked. I remember trying to lift him far
enough from the back of the chair to give him the Heimlich. I remember the
sense of his weight as he fell forward, first against the table, then to
the floor.

`In the kitchen by the phone, I had taped a card with the New York
Presbyterian ambulance numbers. I had not taped the numbers by the phone
because I anticipated a moment like this. I'd taped the numbers by the phone
in case someone in the building needed an ambulance, someone else. I called
one of the numbers. A dispatcher asked if he was breathing. I said, "Just


That's Joan Didion reading from her new memoir, "The Year of Magical

Joan Didion, welcome to FRESH AIR. And I just want to say at the top...

Ms. DIDION: Thank you.

GROSS: ...I'm very sorry about the loss of your husband and your daughter.

This is a really beautifully written book, and I loved reading it, but I also
hated reading it, only in the sense that, you know, it makes me think not only
of your losses; it makes me think of, you know, losses I may experience and
losses--do you know what--it's...

Ms. DIDION: You know, I had the sense when I was writing it...

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. DIDION: ...that I wasn't writing it at all. It was like automatic
writing. It's a very different kind of process. It was simply
very--everything that I--was on my mind just came out and got on the page, and
that was kind of my intention, to keep it kind of raw, because I thought
that--it occurred to me, when I was doing a lot of reading about death and
grief, that nobody told you the raw part. And every one of us is going to
face it sooner or later.

GROSS: How do you think it affected your grieving, to be chronicling it as it

Ms. DIDION: Well, it's the way I process everything, by writing it down. I
don't actually process anything until I write it down, I mean, in terms of
thinking, in terms of coming to terms with it. So it was kind of a necessary
thing for me. I don't know that it would be for everybody. You have to
actually probably be a writer to process that way.

GROSS: Your book is called "The Year of Magical Thinking," and you realized
at some point that you had been engaging in magical thinking that had to do
with this genuine thought that maybe he'd come back, so you shouldn't throw
out his shoes in case he needs them when he comes back, and...

Ms. DIDION: Right. Maybe if I did the right things, he would come back. You
know, it's a form--it's the way children think. A lot of people have told me,
who have lost a husband or child, that they engaged in it, too.

GROSS: Is there a point where you realized you stopped?

Ms. DIDION: There was a point where I realized that I had been doing it, and
yes, then I realized it and it gradually stopped. I don't think I'm doing it

GROSS: You talk about how you didn't want to give away his shoes, for
example, because if he came back, he'd needed them.

Ms. DIDION: Right.

GROSS: Giving away clothes after someone dies is so hard. I mean, you have
to decide with all their possessions, what are you going to keep? What are
you going to give away to friends? What are you going to give to charity?
What are you going to throw out? Was that a really horrible process?

Ms. DIDION: I haven't done it. I just left everything. After I discovered
that I couldn't give away his shoes, I just closed that door. Now I haven't
had to move or repaint the apartment or do anything that required me to do it.
I think I presume that it would be somewhat less painful now than it was in
the first few months, you know, when I initially tried it, because now I know
he's dead in a way that I viscerally didn't know then. But I would just as
soon let that door stay closed for a while until I need to open it.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Joan Didion, and she's written
a memoir about the year after her husband's death. It's called "The Year of
Magical Thinking." And her husband was the writer John Gregory Dunne.

How much had you talked about death with your husband, and did you have those
conversations about what to do if the other dies, and what you'd want...

Ms. DIDION: Well, he was always trying...

GROSS: ...for the survivor?

Ms. DIDION: He was always trying to have that conversation with me, and I
would in many ways not have it because I thought it was--because I see now it
was threatening to me, and I was afraid of it. But what I thought then was
that it was just dwelling on things that weren't going to happen or dwelling
on things that we couldn't help or--you know. And so--I mean, he gave me any
number of--he was always giving me also--because he did have this streak of
Irish morbidity. He was always talking about his funeral and giving me new
lists of people who could or could not speak, as he was kind of volatile in
his likes and dislikes. And of course, I--at the key moment, I couldn't find
any of those lists. I mean, they'd been changed so often anyway that it made
no--that it would have made no difference.

GROSS: I want to quote something you write in your memoir, "The Year of
Magical Thinking." You write, "Marriage is a memory. Marriage is time.
Marriage is not only time. It is also paradoxically the denial of time. For
40 years I saw myself through John's eyes. I did not age. This year, for the
first time since I was 29, I saw myself through the eyes of others. This year
for the first time since I was 29, I realized that my image of myself was of
someone significantly younger."

Ms. DIDION: Right.

GROSS: As writers, you both worked at home, and you were with each other just
about all the time. Did you have a sense of who you were outside of the
marriage, who you were as a single Joan Didion as opposed to a Joan Didion and
John Gregory Dunne as a unit?

Ms. DIDION: Not really, no. The family was my unit, was kind of the way
I--that was actually the way I wanted it. So no, I--so it was kind of
necessary to find my--you know, to re-find myself. I hadn't particularly
liked being single.

GROSS: When you were younger you mean?

Ms. DIDION: When I was younger.

GROSS: Were there parts of yourself that you kind of relied on him to do? I
mean--you know what I mean?

Ms. DIDION: All parts. I mean, people often say that he'd finish sentences
for me. Well, he did, which meant that I--I mean, I just relied on him. He
was between me and the world. He not only answered the telephone; he finished
my sentences. He was the baffle between me and the world at large.

GROSS: So how are you negotiating the world now, now that there isn't that

Ms. DIDION: Well, it's like everything else; you learn to do it. I mean, I
remember when I stopped smoking, it was very hard to know how to arrange me,
to walk around as an adult person, because I had been smoking at that point
since I was 15, and this is kind of like relearning all--I mean, you kind of
just learn new--it's not difficult. It's just sort of lonely to--I mean, it's
sort of a bleak thing to do.

GROSS: Are you comfortable being alone?

Ms. DIDION: Yeah. I've always been comfortable being alone. So that is not
the problem. Basically one thing that everybody who has been in a close
marriage and who is--what everyone thinks when his or her spouse dies is it's
the way in which you are struck at every moment with something you need to
tell him.

GROSS: Right. In that passage that I just quoted, you say that this was the
first time--after his death was the first time that you realized your image of
yourself was of someone significantly younger.

Ms. DIDION: Right.

GROSS: I think I know exactly what you mean, but I'm going to ask you to
elaborate on that anyways.

Ms. DIDION: Well, you know, I mean, I just--John saw me as, in a sense--I
mean, he didn't really, but he gave the impression of seeing me as I had been
when he met me or when he married me. And basically, it seemed to me that we
were always--we were still grappling with the same questions and problems that
we had been dealing with as very--you know, when we were 29, 30, 31. We were
still doing the same things. We were still worried about the same things. We
were the same people. So I didn't really think of myself as getting older.

DAVIES: Writer Joan Didion, speaking with Terry Gross. Her memoir is "The
Year of Magical Thinking." We'll hear more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with writer Joan Didion, whose
memoir, "The Year of Magical Thinking," chronicles her grief at the loss of
her husband.

GROSS: Your husband died five days after your daughter had been hospitalized
for pneumonia. By the time he died, she had also gone into septic shock...

Ms. DIDION: Right.

GROSS: ...basically a blood infection.

Ms. DIDION: Yeah.

GROSS: So you were dealing--you had just gotten back from the hospital,
visiting her, when he died.

Ms. DIDION: Well, we had been seeing her in the hospital, yeah. It could
not be described as a visit, really, because she was unconscious.

GROSS: She was in a coma.

Ms. DIDION: She was in an induced coma because she was on a ventilator, and
they kept her under heavy sedation so that she wouldn't tear out the
ventilator, which people tend to do when they find something going down their

GROSS: So you had to figure out how to tell her when she came out of the

Ms. DIDION: Right.

GROSS: You had to figure out how to tell her that her father had died. Why
did you want to even bring that up while she was...

Ms. DIDION: Well, she was going to...

GROSS: fragile? Yeah.

Ms. DIDION: Well, I didn't want to bring it up. It was the last thing I
wanted to bring up, but the minute she saw me, I knew she would ask where her
father was. And so I wasn't planning to see her. I thought that it would be
good if--at the time when they lifted the sedation, if her husband were there
and she would be kind of in and out for a few days, the doctors said. And so
she would absorb that her husband was there, and then she would probably go
back to sleep, and she would be focused on--they'd only been married five
months, and so she would kind of focus on him and on their life together. And
it wouldn't in the natural course of things, maybe, occur to her to ask how
her father was. But if she saw me, that's the first question she would ask,
`Where is Daddy?'

So I hadn't planned to be there. I'd planned to stay away for the--I was in
the hosp--I was out in the corridor when they lifted the sedation. And,
unfortunately, the nurse told her that I was out there, so then she wanted me
to come in. So I did, and I told her because of the first thing she asked me:
`Where's Daddy?' So I told her, but because she was so sedated still--I mean,
it took several days for the sedation really to lift--she didn't remember it
that night when I came back.

GROSS: And you had to tell her again.

Ms. DIDION: I had to tell her again, 'cause she asked how he was, and I
said--and so I explained that--I said, `You remember today I told you,' etc.
And I'd kind of emphasized the long history of cardiac, and she had--what she
said to me was--when I said, `You remember this morning I told you he'd had a
heart attack?' and she said, `Yes, but how is he now?' You see, she had
absorbed the problem, but she hadn't absorbed what happened--the outcome.

GROSS: Your daughter got out of the hospital. She had several major
setbacks, but at the end of your memoir you think that she's on the verge of
really resuming her life. In August, after you'd finished your memoir, your
daughter died, and this was about a year and a half after your husband's
death. She was 39.

Ms. DIDION: Right. Right.

GROSS: You had just examined your grief over your husband so thoroughly in
writing about it, and then it was time to grieve again. Now with your
husband, you understood the magical thinking that you were going through, this
impossible belief that somehow he was going to come back, so you shouldn't
even, like, throw out his clothes because he'd need them if he came back.
Having examined your grief so carefully, were there little tricks that one
plays oneself when one's grieving that you couldn't even do anymore because
you'd seen through it by writing your memoir?

Ms. DIDION: Well, you see, I haven't really started grieving yet.

GROSS: For your daughter?

Ms. DIDION: Right. I think I'm still in the shock phase. And right after
John died, I had--there was a long period before I was able to grieve because
I was focused entirely on getting Quintana well. And I think that was--in a
way it was very good because by the time I was able to deal with it, I was
dealing with it not quite as a crazy person, which I certainly would have been
at the beginning.

GROSS: You had to deal with one thing that is a very, I think, peculiar thing
to have to deal with when you're grieving for the loss of a child. You had to
figure out--well, did you have to rewrite or update your book? You know, your
memoir had just been sent in. Your daughter...

Ms. DIDION: It never crossed my mind.

GROSS: It never crossed your mind to rewrite it?

Ms. DIDION: It never crossed my mind. No. It was finished.

GROSS: And why not?

Ms. DIDION: Well, it was about a certain period of time after John died, and
that period was over. I mean, if I were to do something about Quintana, which
I have no thought of doing, it would be a different book. It would be a
different--it would be a thing of its own. It wouldn't be about a marriage.
This book is about a marriage.

GROSS: Things like death and other tragedies tend to test people's faith if
they have it, or get them to immerse themselves deeper into faith, or affirm
their lack of faith, or have them change from one point of view to another. I
don't know if you've ever had any faith, and if at all the deaths of your
daughter and husband affected that.

Ms. DIDION: No, the deaths of my daughter and husband did not affect it.
Whether I've had any faith is--I have a kind of faith, but it's not a
conventional kind of faith. And as I said someplace in the book, that
basically I believe in geology and in the Episcopal litany, but as a--I
believe in certain symbols, but I don't believe in them as literal truth. I
believe in a poetic truth.

GROSS: Do you have any--what is death to you? I mean, when you think about
death, do you think of there being some kind of afterlife, or just, you know,
like a void or a soul or...

Ms. DIDION: No, I don't believe in afterlife. I remember somebody once
saying to me, the manager of a motel where I was staying--I was doing a piece
in Oregon--and this motel manager had just come back from a funeral, and he
said it was the most depressing thing he'd ever been to, and he says, `The
coldest funeral I've ever been to. It was a Episcopalian funeral. Have you
ever been to one?' I said, `Yes, I have.' And he said, `They are so cold.'
And I said, `How to you mean?' And he said, `If you can't believe you're
going to heaven in your own body and on a first-name basis with everybody in
your family, what's the point of dying?' And I loved this. I mean, it
just--it was so far from any kind of church I knew, you know? I mean, the
whole question, what's the point of dying? Well, yes, what is the point?
I mean, it was--there was a kind of madness about it. I mean, that's the
faith I don't have.

GROSS: Do you ever wish you did? Do you ever envy, like that man, for
instance, who has that kind of faith, that, you know, he's going to die and be
reunited in heaven...

Ms. DIDION: And that there's a point in it?

GROSS: his clothes and his body--yeah.

Ms. DIDION: Yeah. Sure. That would be, I suppose, very comforting, but
I--there's no possible way I could have it.

DAVIES: Joan Didion speaking with Terry Gross. Her memoir "The Year of
Magical Thinking" won the National Book Award for nonfiction this week. We'll
hear more of their interview in the second half of the show.

I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: Coming up, we continue our interview with Joan Didion. Also,
trombonist Roswell Rudd. He celebrated his 70th birthday this week and he has
a new CD in which he collaborated with a group of Mongolian throat singers.
And David Edelstein reviews "Walk the Line."

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.

Let's get back to Terry's interview with writer Joan Didion. Her memoir, "The
Year of Magical Thinking," won the National Book Award for nonfiction this
week. The book chronicles a year in which Didion struggled with the death of
her husband and her daughter's serious illness.

GROSS: I know that among other things, your book will be read by a lot of
people who have, you know, gone through their own grief. What were some of
the things that you've read that you found helpful? You know, one of the
things that really surprised me actually in your book is that you single out
Emily Post.

Ms. DIDION: Emily...

GROSS: You went back to those--yeah.

Ms. DIDION: Emily Post was fantastic on the whole subject of death and how to
handle people who are grieving. I mean, she's so practical. She simply dealt
with what happens to them physiologically. They're cold--they're going to be
cold. They're going to need--their digestion is going to stop. Everything
stops. Everything in your body just stops when you're going through something
like that. And so she suggested little ways to get them back to life. Have
them sit by the fire. The room should be sunny. They can be served small
amounts of toast and--or something they like, but not much because they will
reject it. You can sort--if you just hand them something when they come home
from the funeral, you will find that they eat it, but if you ask them, they
will say, `No.'

That's where I got all--well, Knopf got a letter from one of her descendants
who now edits the cookbook or the etiquette book, and she pointed out that
this, the 1922 edition, which is the edition I was reading, had been written
not long after the death of Emily Post's son. And almost everybody in that
period had somebody die close to them. I mean, we were dealing with the
aftermath of the 1918 flu epidemic. People died of infections. I mean, death
was really in every household, so it was a much more commonly acknowledged
thing than it is now. I mean, now when it happens in hospitals, we tend to
think of it as the province of doctors, where at that time, anybody--everybody
knew somebody who was in mourning.

GROSS: Are you feeling overwhelmed now by the fragility of life, having lost
your daughter and husband?

Ms. DIDION: Well, I certainly felt it after John died. Yes, I am a little
on the wary side. One--a friend was having a sort of minor procedure today
and I was very anxious--I found myself being far more anxious about it than I
might normally have been.

GROSS: Are you any more or less worried about your own death now?

Ms. DIDION: No, I'm not worried about my own death. I think I'm less


Ms. DIDION: One of the things that worries us about dying always is we
think--we're afraid we're leaving people behind and they won't be able to take
care of themselves. We have to take care of them. But, in fact, you see, I'm
not leaving anybody behind. This is an area we shouldn't get into, I think.

GROSS: That's fine. That's fine.

Before we say goodbye, I'm just wondering. I felt a little uncomfortable
during this interview only because, you know, the memoir is such a fine book,
and I think your losses are still so recent, I feel awkward talking with you
about them. And I imagine it must be awkward for you to be talking about it
to people you don't know, like me, and to our listeners. At the same time, I
understand that there might be some comfort in that because one of the things
you've always been as a writer is a reporter, not a reporter in the
conventional sense but as a more poetic form of reporter who observes the
things around you in the world and reports on that for the rest of us. Do you
feel like that's what you're doing now?

Ms. DIDION: Well, I think--I mean, I had a very definite sense of reporting
when I was doing this book, and I don't mean reporting, doing the research,
and there was a certain amount of research I did--I mean, I did some reading
about grief and I read all the psychiatrists--but I mean a sense of reporting
from a different--from a state that not everybody had yet entered; I mean, or
that some people had but hadn't reported back. So I thought there might be
some use in reporting back, in sending a dispatch, in filing.

GROSS: Well, Joan Didion, I'm glad that you decided to actually write this
book, and I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. DIDION: Thank you.

DAVIES: Joan Didion speaking with Terry Gross. Didion's memoir is the "The
Year of Magical Thinking." It won the National Book Award for nonfiction this

Coming up, jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Trombonist Roswell Rudd discusses his career in music

Roswell Rudd was a leading trombonist of the '60s and '70s jazz avant-garde.
But in the '80s, Rudd disappeared from the jazz scene. He lived in New York's
Catskill Mountains and played in house bands of the old resort hotels. In the
second half of the '90s, Rudd re-emerged and reunited with earlier jazz
associates, including the New York Art Quartet, Archie Shepp and the late
soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. For the last few years, he's explored world
of music, collaborating with musicians from the West African nation of Mali
for his recording "MALIcool." Here's something from his latest project with
the Mongolian Buryat Band. The opening song from his new CD "Blue Mongol."

(Soundbite of "Blue Mongol")

DAVIES: That's trombonist Roswell Rudd and the Mongolian Buryat Band from his
new CD "Blue Mongol." Although Rudd became known for his playing in the jazz
avant-garde, he started off in a traditional jazz band while at Yale, a band
called Eli's Chosen Six. This weekend, the band will reunite for a concert to
celebrate Roswell Rudd's 70th birthday. Terry spoke with him in 2002 and
played a track from the first record Rudd played, a mid-'50s recording by
Eli's Chosen Six.

(Soundbite of "That Da Da Strain")


Trombonist Roswell Rudd with the band that he played in in college, Eli's
Chosen Six, when he was in Yale. And that was recorded in the mid-1950s.

What was your path from traditional jazz to the avant-garde?

Mr. ROSWELL RUDD (Trombonist): It was done through improvisation, or more
specifically what I like to call free counterpoint. That's what the
traditional jazz had in common with what people were calling the avant-garde
jazz, or the new thing that I was a part of in the early '60s in New York
City. So that was the common element. And people always say, you know, `How
did you make such a giant step? You didn't play any be-bop or anything. You
went right from playing Dixieland to free jazz.' For me, it was not a big
leap. It was mainly, you know, having a good sense of what to do in a free
improvisational setting with, you know, a couple of other horn players and a
rhythm section, which is primarily what I did with Dixieland, you know, just
finding a good part for myself and being able, you know, at the drop of a hat
to respond to what other players were doing and find that golden mean through
the texture.

GROSS: You were also playing things on the trombone that probably came from
early jazz, but you were playing them in a very contemporary setting; the kind
of smears and, like, distorted sounds that a lot of the early players, say, in
the Ellington band would get through mutes and through just kind of smears.
Was that something that you were consciously trying to do, to take some of the
sounds of early jazz and use them in this new avant-garde setting?

Mr. RUDD: Well, I did need to have a lot more just theoretical knowledge to
be able to play in the new setting. However, the traditional expressive
devices that I had from the old music stayed with me and were more musically
transformed as a result of further study in composition and arranging and
playing with advanced musicians, such as Cecil Taylor. Herbie Nichols was
also very important to me in this respect because he played with a lot of
traditional bands, great pianist and composer, and he also saw in me the fact
that I had a great mammalian vocabulary, so to speak.

GROSS: Mammalian?

Mr. RUDD: Mammalian vocabulary. But...

GROSS: What do you mean by mammalian?

Mr. RUDD: Well, I mean, you talk about growls and smears and all kinds of
vocal effects, or what's called gut bucket and dirty and so forth. And you
have to realize that this is part of the basic vocabulary, tonal vocabulary of
very, very much of the oldest traditions on the planet.

GROSS: Now in the early '60s, part of the avant-garde was also associated
with the black consciousness movement. As a white musician, was it ever
awkward for you during that period?

Mr. RUDD: I was really inspired by the controversy and the energy that was
coming out of the controversy of those times. And I was a freedom rider and I
was very involved in civil rights causes, and I just felt that what we were
doing in the music, a lot of that feeling of the emotion tied in with the
fight for civil rights and, you know, the cry for justice, cry for equality--I
felt that that was very much a part of my music all the time, not just during
this period.

GROSS: Why don't we hear a composition and performance from the era we're
talking about. This is 1961. It's a composition of yours called "Yankee
No-How." How is the music we're hearing going to relate to what we've been
talking about about the time?

Mr. RUDD: Well, I think you're going to hear free counterpoint, plenty of
free counterpoint. And you will hear it, at times, sounding like a Dixieland
band and at times sounding like a band you've never heard before. And in a
way, I'm playing the transition from the old jazz to the new jazz, so to
speak, in the course of this performance. And that's kind of the way that I
had it set up conceptually when I did it. I mention, I think, that I was
thinking about Charles Ives and some of the older Yankee composers, and how
did I--as another Yankee, as a younger Yankee, how did I fit into the
evolution into modern times from what they did.

GROSS: So let's hear your composition. I think I might have said it was from
the early '60s. It's actually recorded in 1966. This is "Yankee No-How," a
composition by Roswell Rudd, with him featured on trombone.

(Soundbite of "Yankee No-How")

GROSS: That's Roswell Rudd, recorded in 1966. Roswell Rudd on trombone with
Robin Kenyatta on alto saxophone, Giuseppi Logan, flute, Charlie Haden and
Lewis Worrell on bass, and Beaver Harris on drums.

Why were you gone for a few years? Why were you away from recording or even
from performing in New York?

Mr. RUDD: Well, I went into teaching and that sort of precluded recording on
any kind of a regular basis. But actually I had only been averaging about one
record every seven years before that. And then, after teaching for a while at
the University of Maine, I felt a need to get back to New York again, and I
got as close as Woodstock. But really what I ended up doing was commercial
work in a resort hotel, which was very good for me, actually. And I learned a
lot about vaudeville tradition and show business and doing other things
besides playing the trombone on a stage.

GROSS: Well, the resort hotel that you referred to was...

Mr. RUDD: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...the old Granite Hotel on the Borscht Belt.

Mr. RUDD: That's right.

GROSS: And I know during the summer, anyways, that the crowd there is mostly
retirees, either from New York or people from Florida who want to escape the
heat of the summer and come up north for a few weeks.

Mr. RUDD: Yeah.

GROSS: And I doubt most of the people in that crowd had any idea who you were
and how important you'd been in the avant-garde. You must have felt like a
real fish out of water, like somebody in a completely different environment
performing to an audience that had no clue as to what you were really about

Mr. RUDD: Yeah. The thing is with me is always to connect with them, not how
they're connected with me. And I must say that the crowd at the hotel changed
every week. You know, one week it would be the Polish police of Philadelphia,
and the next week it might be a Caribbean festival from Brooklyn.

GROSS: What were the tunes that were in your repertoire during that period?

Mr. RUDD: Naturally, the emphasis would be on standards, show tunes, dance
music, a lot of Latin music. And, of course, there was all this, you know,
sight reading, a lot of different shows, special material with comedians and
singers, fire eaters, puppeteers, you name it. I was composing the whole
time. And I was inspired by a lot of the performances, just their energy and
their experience and the new things that I was learning from them.

GROSS: Well, Roswell Rudd, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. RUDD: Oh, it's been my pleasure, Terry.

DAVIES: Jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd speaking with Terry Gross in 2002.
Eli's Chosen Six, Rudd's college Dixieland band, will reunite for a concert on
Sunday at the Ruben Museum of Art in New York City to celebrate Rudd's 70th

Coming up, "Walk the Line," the new film about Johnny Cash. This is FRESH

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Film "Walk the Line"

"Walk the Line" is a new film about the early career of Johnny Cash, who died
in 2003. It stars Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June
Carter. Surprisingly, Phoenix and Witherspoon do their own singing. Film
critic David Edelstein has this review.


If you're going to tell the story of Johnny Cash, you need to account for one
thing above all, that indelible tension between self-disgust and a kind of
Christian resignation. Consider that man-in-black getup, the height of cool,
yet the mark of a soul in mourning; or those vocals, steady like a train, says
someone in the movie, yet charged with the fear of what his former son-in-law
Nick Lowe called the beast in me, a song that Cash sang beautifully in the
last phase of his career. I'm happy to say that "Walk the Line," in spite of
all its typical biopic gaps and simplifications, sheds light on that tension.
It gets the big things right.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Cash, and I feared he'd be all wrong; wrong physically,
even more wrong vocally. But Phoenix is a deceptively brilliant actor. He
makes huge emotional leaps while staying subtle and true. That scarred upper
lip of his actually evokes Cash on stage, the expression somewhere between
sardonic and sneering but in the end, neither. And he drops his voice an
octave or more and nails the songs. True, on the lowest notes, you get a
bellows verging on a belch that doesn't have that Johnny Cash thrust, but I'm
nit-picking. Even at his weakest, you close your eyes and hear Cash with a
mild head cold.

"Walk the Line" tells only the first and most tumultuous part of Cash's life
to 1968, when he played at Folsom Prison and finally persuaded June Carter,
played by Reese Witherspoon, to tie the knot. In flashbacks to his childhood,
we see the source of his divided psyche: a father, played by Robert Patrick,
who's drunk and abusive, and a nurturing older brother who dies tragically,
whose death engenders both anguish and guilt. The film's first half
chronicles Cash's rise to stardom after working his way from gospel to
rockabilly under the tutelage of Sam Phillips. And along the way, we get
terrific impersonations of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and,
of course, June Carter on stage, in the wings and in the caravan on a Sun
Records tour.

The second half dramatizes Cash's descent into booze and pills, and a long
downer it is. But Witherspoon gives every scene a lift. She shows Carter on
stage playing the role of Carter, the cutesy, countrified caricature with the
helium drawl. The surprise is Witherspoon's intensity when Carter is off

(Soundbite of "Walk the Line")

Mr. JOAQUIN PHOENIX (Actor): (As Johnny Cash) Me and my brother, Jack, we
always listen to your songs, you know, like "Swallow" and "Place."

Ms. REESE WITHERSPOON (Actress: (As June Carter) Yeah.

Mr. PHOENIX: (As Johnny Cash) Yeah. We liked it when you'd sing one alone.

Ms. WITHERSPOON: (As June Carter) Well, you and Jack are the only ones.

Mr. PHOENIX: (As Johnny Cash) What do you mean?

Ms. WITHERSPOON: (As June Carter) I'm really not much of a singer, Johnny.
I mean, got a lot of personality, I've got sass. I give it my all, but my
sister Anita's really the one who's got the pipes.

Mr. PHOENIX: (As Johnny Cash) Well, who said that?

Ms. WITHERSPOON: (As June Carter) Everybody, my mom, my daddy. That's how
come I learned to be funny so I'd have something to offer.

Mr. PHOENIX: (As Johnny Cash) Well, parents aren't always the best judge of
things, you want my my opinion.

Ms. WITHERSPOON: (As June Carter) Well, I'm headed off. I'm going to the
Ryman. Why don't you tell your brother Jack to tune in and I'll sing him
something. What does he like?

Mr. PHOENIX: (As Johnny Cash) Oh, that's sweet, but he passed.

Ms. WITHERSPOON: (As June Carter) I'm sorry. Were y'all real close?

Mr. PHOENIX: (As Johnny Cash) Yeah. Yeah, he's--it's funny, I ain't talked
about Jack in a long time, you know. After he died, I talked about him all
the time, but I guess people grew tired of it so I just stopped.

EDELSTEIN: That's an amazing scene. The exposition woven into the drama, the
actors so focused that the movie loses what I call the biopic spread, the
sense of filmmakers skipping along the surface of a life, from milestone to
milestone, never stopping for its subjects to be.

Apart from a typical biopic groaner, when Carter tells the drunken Cash, `You
can't walk no line,' the sins of the screenplay by Gill Dennis and the
director, James Mangold, are ones of omission. Ginnifer Goodwin is very
effecting as Cash's first wife, but the part is shaped to make her a drag on
his high-flying artistry. Another gap, when Cash is busted for possession and
his daddy says, `Now you won't have to work so hard to make people think
you've been to jail,' it would have been a great opportunity to explore what
Cash's faux jailbird persona meant to him. And the film makes very little of
June's history of bad marriages. She seems so stable and wholesome. Was she
just drawn to unwholesome, unstable men?

On the other hand, "Walk the Line" isn't littered with Freudian signposts.
Some of its best moments are wordless feats of conjuring, like when the police
find drugs in Cash's suitcase and Phoenix's look is at once defiant, resigned,
amused, stricken, sulky, busted. Truly, he is Johnny on the spot.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for Slate.


DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies. Here's Joaquin Phoenix's Johnny
Cash from the soundtrack of "Walk the Line."

(Soundbite of "Cry, Cry, Cry")

Mr. PHOENIX: (As Johnny Cash, singing) Everybody knows where you go when the
sun goes down. I think you only live to see the lights of town. I wasted my
time when I would try, try, try, 'cause when the lights have lost their
glow, you'll cry, cry, cry. Soon your sugar-daddies will all be gone; you'll
wake up some cold day and find you're alone. You'll call for me, but I'm
gonna tell you bye, bye, bye when I turn around and walk away, you'll cry,
cry, cry. You're gonna cry, cry, cry and you'll cry alone, when everyone's
forgotten and you're left on your own, you're gonna cry, cry, cry.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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