Skip to main content

Dissecting the Swing Revival

Commentator Milo Miles looks at the music and mores surrounding the new swing scene emerging in southern California. And he reviews the new cd "Swing This, Baby" (Slimstyle/Beyond) which features the new swing sound--which Miles says is more accurately described as "jump blues."



Related Topics

Other segments from the episode on October 12, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 12, 1998: Interview with Robert McCrum and Sarah Lyall; Review of the CD "Swing This, Baby."


Date: OCTOBER 12, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 101201np.217
Head: Robert McCrum and Sarah Lyall
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

Robert McCrum was the 42 year old editor-in-chief of the British publishing company Faber & Faber, when he had a stroke in the summer of 1995. McCrum's new memoir "My Year Off," is about his slow recovery and how the stroke changed his self identity, his work and his marriage.

He had been married only two months. His wife Sarah Lyall, who had covered publishing for "The New York Times," moved to his city, London, when they got married. They were still adjusting to their new lives together when the stroke changed everything. Sarah Lyall kept a journal of what she experienced during his recovery. Excerpts of the journal are included in the book.

McCrum has regained much but not all of his movement on his left side. He's now literary editor of the London newspaper "The Observer." I spoke with Robert McCrum and Sarah Lyall about the after effects of the stroke on their lives and their marriage.

Robert, what did you think was happening when you came to after you had the stroke?

ROBERT MCCRUM, LITERARY EDITOR, "THE OBSERVER"; AUTHOR: Well, I think my first thought -- I mean, it's a long time ago, and I was very confused, of course, was that I had some kind of brain tumor or metinurine (ph) disease. I really had no knowledge of stroke.

GROSS: What were you experiencing?

MCCRUM: I was kind of drifting in and out of consciousness. There was no fear, there was no pain.

GROSS: There was very little movement. I think your whole left side was paralyzed.

MCCRUM: My whole left side was completely paralyzed. But there was something in my brain which kicked in which stopped me from -- I mean, if I knew then what I know now about stroke, I would have been terrified. But I wasn't I was actually confused, I was puzzled, I was perplexed. But that was about it really.

GROSS: So you needed to call for help, and you couldn't move enough to get to a telephone. How did you finally get to a phone?

MCCRUM: I had to crawl downstairs from the bedroom. What happened was I -- when your body is paralyzed, your body becomes very heavy. And I worked my way to the edge of the bed, which is a raised brass bed, to try to reach the phone on the bedside table.

As I reached across, I'd fallen out of bed onto the floor. So I was under the table, and I couldn't reach the phone. But I knew there was a phone downstairs, and so I spent 12 hours of a whole day getting down, working my way down the stairs to the downstairs living room to reach the phone to call my mother, who was expecting to meet me that day anyway, in Cambridge, which is some two hours from the middle of London.

GROSS: So the emergency people were called, the door was broken in, you were taken to the hospital. And everything was different afterwards. Sarah, where were you when you heard about your husband's stroke?

SARAH LYALL, JOURNALIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, unfortunately, I was in San Francisco at the time on assignment. And it was quite an alarming day for me because we had been recently married, so it was our first time apart and we were sort of telephoning each other every six hours or so because of time difference. And I hadn't been able to get hold of him for hours and hours and hours and hours, and I was really getting quite concerned.

GROSS: And so you flew home as soon as his family had told you what had happened?

LYALL: Yeah, I had called his mother in some panic after about, I don't know, about 12 or 18 hours of not being able to get hold him. And I left my number; his mother called me back and sort of said in her understated English way: Robert's not very well.

And then she said he can't move, and I had no idea what this meant except that it was very serious. I think in the back of my mind maybe I thought this what happens when you have a stroke. But I didn't really know. So I just rushed to the hospital -- to the airport and got on the next plane.

GROSS: Robert, you write that at first, after the stroke, you experience the exhilaration of having survived. But after that exhilaration then depression set in.

MCCRUM: It's a very odd thing. I mean, the first thing -- once I became aware that I had nearly died, and that I was still alive I was, of course, incredibly thrilled still to be alive. The world's an incredibly precious and incredibly wonderful -- it's hard to say how wonderful the colors of the world seem, everything seems so gloriously fresh and new.

I felt like Moranander (ph) in the "Tempest," you know, "Brave New World." And that lasted for a week or two, and then the physical side of the stroke began to kick in to the brain, and I became very depressed.

GROSS: Sarah, you write about the impact of that depression on you, and these fears that are brought out in you. One of your fears was that your husband was becoming a different person.

You didn't even know him that well, because you had only been married a couple of months. You'd known each other about a year before that, but it was a long distance relationship because you lived in the States and he lived in England.

I want you to read an excerpt from your diary that's reprinted in the memoir. This is about the fears that you had early on about the way Robert was changing.

LYALL: Sure. This came about a week after it happened.

"I feel shattered. It's been hell, and with each day a fresh round of horror to deal with. Robert's stroke was really quite severe. Nine days into the he still can't move his left arm and his left leg. And his speech is quite thick and stuttery because he's numb on the left side of his face.

"His mind isn't effected, but he's so very depressed and so very exhausted that it's torture spending time with him. I'm so relieved he's not dead. I'm so scared he'll have to be in a wheelchair. I'm so scared that what we've had together, the wonderful flushes of first love, the hardly years of time built up together to cushion blows like this, will all evaporate now and our life together will never be good again.

"I'm scared that what we've had will evaporate for him, that he'll remember it as some distant flash of memory. And what we'll have to do now is get know each other again in a new way filled with his bitterness."

GROSS: You write in there that it was torture spending time with him because he was so depressed. Was that something you only would admit to in the diary?

LYALL: Yeah, I think one of the hard things for me at that time was I had to sort of quell all these fears and frustrations that I had, and act as a sort of a cheerleader for him, and make it seem that when I came into the room that I was thrilled to see him.

And, of course, I was thrilled to see him. I really enjoyed spending time with him even when he was in the hospital. But I had to be enthusiastic and say: you've made such progress, and don't you look well, and let's get up and do things today and get you out of here. And that was very, very hard to do.

GROSS: It's interesting reading the book, because, Sarah, your part of the journal talks about how hard it was, how depressed he was, about how worried you were. And, Robert, your part talks about: and Sarah came in this morning; she was so cheerful; what optimism...

MCCRUM: I can still picture her striding in clutching the papers and my clothes, and God knows what from the night before. And always very positive and fresh, just a ray of sunshine really.

GROSS: But it sounds like there are times when you get really angry at her in the way that I think a lot of people who are sick get angry at the people who they love the most, who are closest with them and they're the only people around who they can lash out at...

MCCRUM: This is an attempt to provide the kind of worm's eye -- an insider's view of what it's like to be very seriously ill. And it's all there, you know. In fact, when you are seriously ill, you do feel enraged by the failure of your body.

And as you say, the people that you lash out at are the people that are closest to you. And so I'd lash out my parents, and Sarah, and anybody -- not all the time by any means, but they were certainly days when there were black days when you became very stressed by my...

LYALL: Well, it was very upsetting, so I felt, like, here I was now and I was trying to help you, when I was trying to be positive, when I didn't feel very positive. And I understood absolutely why Robert would be so angry.

But I didn't even know him well enough to sort of have mechanisms to deal with that. It was very, very frightening because his anger is something to behold.

GROSS: Were you both worried that you didn't know each other that well, because you hadn't been married that long, and you were both being transformed by this experience?

MCCRUM: Well, it's certainly true that the stroke, generally, it is -- the words that go with stroke are divorce and separation. It's a real relationship breaker. On the other hand, if you can survive it, which we did, I think -- we found it became a way of bringing us closer together it kind of fused our -- forged our relationship, brought us very close together.

But of course, once you have been reduced to the condition of a baby in front of your loved one, Sarah, there's nowhere to hide, really. You are -- I was completely dependent upon her, and needed her for everything. And so there was no -- none of the usual barriers that I had as an adult.

She would see me in extremely -- the worst possible situation, and the most dependent situation, and I was relying on that. She was able to take up her part of the relationship.

GROSS: Sarah, I'm wondering if you were worried about just seeing your husband in such a kind of sick and weakened dependent state would change your image of him?

LYALL: That's such an interesting question, because I've really been thinking about that lately; and that when you first meet someone and then get married as quickly as we did -- we'd only know each other for a year and a half when we got married. A lot of what it is at that point is a sort of glorified image of them.

You idealize the person, and some of the things that I liked about him were how vigorous he was, how well he could cope with situations; he would sort of stride into a room and take charge. I felt sort of pathetically that he could take care of me. And all of a sudden that was all gone. I think I had to work very hard to sort of tell myself that this was cosmetic and it wasn't really the essence of who he was. And that probably would have gone away eventually over time, anyway.

It just had to happen much more quickly, and we had to forge a new relationship very very early that wasn't based on a lot of the things that our courtship and marriage had been based on.

GROSS: When Robert was very depressed, Sarah, did you have any sense that this was like a symptom of the stroke? Were the doctors talking to you about the emotional impact?

LYALL: Yeah, the doctors said very early on that depression was often a physical side effect of the stroke, that since the stroke alters the chemistry in your brain, often it would hit the little section that controls mood. And, of course, you do have something very real to be depressed about when you're lying there so helpless.

But that was very hard because he isn't someone who would necessarily talk about his feelings, anyway. He was so exhausted that he didn't have the strength to have a long conversation. It was a really long time before I was able even to get a clear picture from him of what actually had happened the day that I was away and he was ill by himself. So that was extremely frustrating. I felt for awhile like I was doing the talking for both of us.

GROSS: Robert, did you realize that you were depressed?

MCCRUM: Only afterwards. By the time I was -- I'm trying to recapture my mood, I was just very sad. I mean, I was very self-absorbed. I was thinking: why me, why me, why me, why me, all the time. Gradually, as time went on over a period of weeks the "why me?" became "since me" or "if me." And the "since me" bit became the book, really: since this happened, what can I do with it?

GROSS: You mention self-absorption. I think, in a way, self-absorption is one of symptoms of disease, because you can't kind of get out into the world; you can't escape your condition. The doctors and nurses are always coming in to check on you asking you about everything from how do you feel to have you moved your bowels? Everybody's encouraging you to be self-absorbed.

MCCRUM: The invitation is to turn into yourself, which, of course, when you're paralyzed you have to do, anyway. All you can do is think. But I never had so much time to lie -- you know, I was lying in bed on my back for three months thinking about me and about my place in the world, about Sarah and my family.

GROSS: Were those productive thoughts?

MCCRUM: I think so. I mean, the book probably reflects that, but I think they were productive and figure it was like a punctuation mark in the course of a very busy life. A chance to take stock of what was valuable to me and what was important.

I think, you know, we all have this dream of leaving, this dream of leaving our lives behind for a moment, going into the countryside or to the sea, or going around the world traveling. I discovered that I was making a journey into the interior of myself stuck in hospital. And so in that sense it was productive.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Robert McCrum and Sarah Lyall. Robert McCrum is now the literary editor of the "The Observer" in England, former editor-in- chief of the publishing company Faber & Faber.

He had a stroke a few years ago and has written a memoir about that, and part of the memoir are excerpts of his wife's journals from the period. And she is Sarah Lyall who writes from London for "The New York Times." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guests are Robert McCrum and Sarah Lyall. Robert McCrum has written a memoir about his stroke a few years ago. Included in there are excerpts of his wife's, Sarah Lyall's, journals from the period. He is now literary editor of "The Observer" in England. Sarah Lyall writes from England for "The New York Times."

Sarah, in your journal you write that Robert's spirits would go up and down, he was unable to express his feelings. You would try to anticipate what he would be thinking and verbally beat it out of him, and then you would end up feeling wretched and bossy and peremptory.

I think you put your finger on something that nearly everyone goes through who has taking care of somebody who is sick and depressed because of it. You want to force them to take their medicine or to do their exercises or to be in a better mood.

And then you start to think like you're pushing them around or they tell you that you are pushing them around. And it's just hard to figure out what the balance is to try to keep your loved one on the straight and narrow to recovery, and then just kind of easing up and not being what could be perceived as a real noodge.

LYALL: That's right. And in Robert's case, probably, it was a little more worse, because he's incredibly stubborn and he really, really hates being told what to do. I think it's a function of his British upbringing. He was sent away to boarding school when he was young, and having so many rules and regulations to follow. And he rebelled in his mind against all that stuff and sort of vowed: never again would he listen to anyone who told him what to do.

Here I was ordering him around all day long, and it was a situation I didn't want to be in. I don't want to order somebody around. That's not the kind of relationship we expected to have, and I really hated it.

MCCRUM: But you had to do it because it was very important for me to do the physiotherapy, to do all of the recovery procedures that we were going through. I was so tired. I think one of the things which nobody talks about much is the fatigue, and the terrible fatigue -- unbearable fatigue. I just felt -- everything you wanted -- even sitting in a chair as I am now, would be exhausting.

GROSS: Were the doctors able to predict what your degree of recovery would be?

MCCRUM: That was one of the very frustrating areas. One of the problems with stroke is that because you can't open up the brain and examine it, in the way that you can a heart or liver, say, very easily. You can photograph it and you can open it in that way, but you can't open it and examine the causes of its breakdown.

The doctors aren't able to pinpoint exactly what's happened. And the contract between the doctor and the patient traditionally is that the doctor would cure patient by drugs or surgery. Having diagnosed the problem they would then apply drugs or surgery to the problem and cure it; that's the contract between the patient and a doctor.

With strokes, that cannot happen. And so in absence of a clear diagnosis, although they would provide me with a clear account, it could not be an exact explanation of what had happened. They would fall back on these very vague generalizations, on the whole, worst-case scenarios.

And so you'll be told that your left arm, in my case, my left arm might get better. It is actually more or less OK -- that I may be able to walk, perhaps in a year or two's time. Possibly this, possibly the other. And so it's very frustrating for the patient, because you feel there is no hope. Nobody is saying: by such and such a date you're going to be better. They never give you a clear answer.

GROSS: What kind of stroke did you have? What part of the brain did it strike?

MCCRUM: It struck me in an area called the basal ganglia (ph), which controls the tongue and speech. One of the reasons why I have a slight stammer is to do with this. I mean I always had a slight stammer has to do with this. But it's gotten worse since -- I believe it's gotten worse since the stroke. And --it's called a hemorrhaging infilet (ph), which is a mixture of bleeding and a clot.

Essentially, it's probably the failure of one of the arteries of the brain, very deep in the brain; which on the MRI scan you could see quite clearly. It's hard to identify from the outside.

GROSS: For a lot of people, these near-death experiences are a time for rethinking your relationship to religion, your belief in God, if you have one -- some people lose their faith, some people gain their faith or regain their faith. I was wondering if either of you experienced any shifts in your sense of...

MCCRUM: I want to answer it in this way, I think -- on so many occasions my friends and relatives asked whether I had met God. Everyday I'd be wheeled out in my wheelchair down the hallway of this old Victorian hospital in London. And on the way out into the square outside to visit the Sunshine, the wheelchair would squeak its way past down the corridor passed the Victorian Chapel.

And on one occasion, I remember the nurse said: don't you want to go into the chapel. And I said: sure. So we went in there and we sat in front of the altar in the chapel, all there was a smell of disinfectant in the entrance a the Victorian chapel.

I remember looking up at the cross and thinking: now's the time for a revelation of some kind. And nothing happened. On the other hand, I think that -- I mean, this book is a kind of love letter to Sarah, and if God is love, then I did find some kind of God.

GROSS: Sarah, did you ask yourself whether you should be experiencing any changes and in your feelings about God or religion?

LYALL: I felt so panicked that I didn't really feel that I could turn to anything to help. I did find myself, weirdly, praying.

GROSS: Just in case.

LYALL: Just in case. I would sort of sit in bed and just say: let me just tell you about Robert and just tell you what he is like and please don't waste this person. You know, let him come back. And there was one point where I mentioned in my journal I think were I say: you know, praying to a God that I don't really think exists. Maybe that's the point about God. He lets you pray to Him even if you don't believe Him. So there's a little bit of me that I'm not sure.

MCCRUM: Also, I think that if there was a God we would turn to, it's the God of the English language, the God of the written word. We both turned to childhood books that we both loved, "Alice in Wonderland," "Charlotte's Web," "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Books of that kind. These stories with wonderful expressions of language are the things that came back again and again.

GROSS: Robert McCrum and Sarah Lyall will be back in the second half of the show. McCrum's new memoir about his recovery from a stroke is called "My Year Off."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with British literary editor Robert McCrum and his wife journalist Sarah Lyall. McCrum's new memoir "My Year Off" is about his recovery from a stroke which temporarily paralyzed the left side of his body four years ago when he was 42. He and Lyall were married only two months at the time. Excerpts of her journal about the impact of the stroke on their marriage are reprinted in the book.

Robert, you worked in publishing at the time of your stroke, and now review books and are literary editor of "The Observer" in London. You know a lot of people in the literary world and a lot of them came to visit you while you were in the hospital.

You write that your visitors, you know, included your true friends, compassion junkies, hypochondriacs, and the people who welcomed a chance to address a captive audience. Just a great description. Why do hypochondriacs come visit you when you're in the hospital?

MCCRUM: Well, I think there's a bit of confusion of the pleasure of seeing somebody fall off the roof. The pleasure of seeing somebody else being seriously ill, it's sort of increases their sense of wellness to see somebody else who is worse off than themselves, I think.

GROSS: That is probably it. That is probably it. So how would you react to that if you get the feeling that somebody was there just so that you would make them feel better about themselves?

MCCRUM: I was so kind of spaced out, anyway. I mean, I was just glad to see them. But there were some funny moments. The odd thing that happens in hospitals, if you're seriously ill, because there's a chance in the mind that the person comes to see you that you might not make it, that they confess things.

People some things about affairs with other people, marital stuff, financial things, personal things. I was told some incredible secrets by these people I now meet, and I occasionally want to say: by the way, you told me this, that or the other. I'm still here. I know what you told me. There's one person in particular in London who confessed a whole bunch of things, which he really should not have done.

The atmosphere of being in bed with somebody next to you -- also people want to bring something -- the thing about pain is that when you have experienced pain, you find that there's a lot of pain out there and pain comes to you people share their pain with you. They feel that somehow you will understand the pain that's in the world.

GROSS: Also, it just feels really wrong somehow to visit someone who is in great pain in the hospital and tell them how great your vacation was.

MCCRUM: Although people did that. In one case, an American friend of ours who came in and, basically, for half an hour told what a great time he had in America during the summer. We sat there -- Sarah and I sat there, kind of aghast at this person.

He went on at some length about how you travel here and there and there; did this that and the other; he did this and this and this. He didn't want to ask, not once, ask me how I felt or what had gone on or anything. But yet on the other hand, I can't think ill of him because he did actually come to see us. It was a kind of bizarre moment.

GROSS: That is what would fit into the category of the people who love a captive audience. You write that Salman Rushdie was the visitor who most put aside his own problems and focused on yours.

MCCRUM: I always think well of Salman after this. Because he has been imprisoned, effectively, for a long time, and was under great threat for a long time. In the hospital I was in, it was actually favored by Arabs -- on the whole, victims of Arab car crashes and paraplegic victims. So the lobby of the hospital was always full of Arabs in robes.

For Salman to come and visit me in a hospital meant that he had to walk through this private lobby, get into the elevator, and come up to my room. And you might think that someone who had been in that situation, the situation that he was in, would be unable to shake off his own personal story.

But he was incredibly sweet and he held by hand he read from his new book to me -- which I couldn't hold a book in my hand, because my left hand was not working. He read aloud to me as the he was incredibly sweet.

GROSS: Did he wear a disguise?

MCCRUM: No. In fact, one of my nurses came in afterwards and said: that was Salman Rushdie wasn't it? Like a conspiratorial whisper.

GROSS: We should mention that you lived -- you might still live in the house that he had used to live in?

MCCRUM: Yeah, I bought this house from him -- that's how we became friends -- in the early '90s -- and we've actually moved, partly because of the as result of the results of the trauma we had there. We did live in his house, and he is a friend. He was very good to us while I was sick.

GROSS: Sarah, in some ways you had to be like the intermediary with the doctors. I mean, it's often the person who is well who can walk into a hallway with a doctor and to get the real story. And things that are too complicated for the exhausted patient to understand, you know, the loved one can understand. What was it like compared the doctors in England compared to what you're used to with American doctors. Was there any difference?

LYALL: I think that in England they are a bit behind us in terms of treating patients like consumers. There's a sense more than the experience in America -- although I haven't had a lot of experience with illness in America -- that doctors are kind of experts they are above you, they understand. And you the kind of little worm-like patient below shouldn't be bothered with the details of the case.

It was incredibly frustrating because I felt that they treated me with quite a bit of arrogance, I think is probably compounded by the fact that we were dealing with a lot of neurologists who aren't necessarily known for their bedside manner and their ability to his describe in simple terms what was going on.

Having said that, we had some incredibly thoughtful, nice doctors who really did their best. But it was in general, a pretty frustrating experience.

GROSS: Sarah, when Robert came home from the hospital and you had to figure out what your new lives together were going to be like, how much work were you able to do when -- where did you draw the line about: well, I still have to earn a living. I still have to keep up my work -- versus: I want to really be the one to take care of him?

LYALL: Well, throughout the whole thing my work was incredibly important to me as a kind of way out. It was my little place that I kept to myself where I would forget, if I possibly could, what had happened. For the first few months, I was spending my mornings with him, working in the afternoon, and spending my evening with him; that was when he was in the hospital and right when he came home.

But what we didn't really realize was that when he came home he was in such worse shape than he would be later on. We both sort of worried, I think, about those first months after he returned from the hospital that that was sort of it. He would never get any better than he was then. And that was incredibly frightening, the sort of sense that life would stretch out, the years would come and go, and it would never be better. But it got better quite quickly.

GROSS: Why did it get better so quickly? Was that just a natural healing process?

MCCRUM: The body began to come back, the pathways to the brain begin to open up. I became able to walk again with a cane, and slowly get back to my normal way of life. I mean, at the time it seemed interminable. When I look at the book now and see the passage of time -- in the book it's only two or three months, but at the time it just seemed like an eternity.

GROSS: My guest is editor Robert McCrum and his wife, journalist Sarah Lyall. McCrum has written new memoir called "My Year Off: Recovering Life After a Stroke." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guests are editor Robert McCrum and his wife, journalist Sarah Lyall. McCrum's new memoir "My Year All Off" is about the after effects of the stroke on his life and their marriage.

When you had your stroke, Robert, you had been the editor-in-chief of the British publishing house Faber & Faber, which is a very respected house. In your memoir you write after your stroke "your half-baked wish about your old life had come true. I could no longer function as the editor-in-chief of Faber & Faber."

Why was that something you had half-wished for, a way out of the job?

MCCRUM: Well, I suppose I had done it for 20 years, since my early 20s. Essentially, the same job for a long time. And I was weary of it. It was very, very tiring and exhausting. People who don't know about strokes would ask whether the stroke was caused by overwork. I don't think it was caused by that, actually.

It was very tiring and became stressful; the climate of publishing changed in England as it has here. It wasn't as much fun, and I wasn't enjoying it as much. I wanted a new challenge. I felt in a way as though had achieved what I could achieve in that job, and I wanted new opportunity.

GROSS: When you say that your half-baked wish had come true, were you half hoping for a way off of the treadmill of the job that you had?

MCCRUM: Well, I think the stroke -- and I can't really explain what caused the stroke -- but there's no question that it did provide a punctuation mark in a busy life. And I think that in some kind of deep psychological way it did answer a kind of inner prayer of some kind, that I wanted change. It was like a forcible stop.

GROSS: Robert, you write that in your old life as a fit person you had become a monster of irresponsibility. For years, you say you had lived for your freedom. In what way had you become a monster? How are you a monster, Robert?

MCCRUM: Interesting question. I think I was just living for myself and just doing whatever I wanted to do. In that sense, I had become monstrously egotistical and monstrously selfish, and always looking for a new -- another trip abroad, another free show of some kind, and really at a cost not paying attention to people close to me.

And I think that the effect of the stroke was to make me much closer to what really mattered: my family, my friends, and, of course, Sarah.

GROSS: I'm sure when you were working before the stroke that you really valued speed: a writer who could get the book out on time; the printer who could get it out quickly; everything as fast as possible. And then you were forced to slow down. Did your values change about speed and so on?

GROWN: I think I've written in the book that I became friends with slowness. And I that's one of the consequences, generally speaking of the illness, being -- that I'm much appreciative of taking it slowly. Of course, yes, publishing is all about getting things on deadline, as is journalism. And those pressures were ones which drove me to ever increasing speed in all directions.

GROSS: You still have some of those pressures, because you write a column for the "Observer."

MCCRUM: I do write for the "Observer" in London. That's a Sunday paper, and it comes out once a week. So the pressures aren't quite as intense. In fact, I think I worked less hard now than I did before. The work of the editor-in-chief of a major publishing house is very -- it's just nonstop. You never really leave the job. Even when you go home, you're carrying manuscripts with you. Your reached on the phone by your authors. It's often very pleasant, but you're always available for consultation. A journalist, when you home -- unless there's a big story breaks -- as a literary journalist, I should say, when you go home, unless a big story breaks, you're free to read and do anything you want.

GROSS: Sarah, how did you deal with the fact that your life slowed down, too? And you still had deadlines to meet, and you can just say to "The New York Times": well, sorry, you know, personal crisis again today.

LYALL: Well, that was OK. I mean, once he got home, you know, we could at least organize ourselves. I would know what my schedule would be. It wasn't as if he would call me to work and I'd have to rush home. It wasn't that sort of illness. So that sort of worked out all right.

It was obviously very disappointing to have my first year of married life be so sort of circumscribed by my husband's illness. And that was sort of hard. I mean, we spent a lot of time together doing essentially nothing that year. I loved spending the time with him, but it was sort of not what we had bargained for when we first met.

GROSS: There was a period when Robert couldn't do anything around the house because he was disabled from the stroke. And then, Robert, I'm sure as you got better you were able to take on more chores. So, Sarah, how much did you want to kind of want to push him into: well, you're able to wash the dishes now. You're able to maybe cook an omelet this morning?

LYALL: It was so hard, because, of course, all married couples go through that kind of thing.

GROSS: Exactly.

LYALL: And here I was, he's a bit older than me. I'm 34, he's 10 years older. He's English, so there's a lot more of a traditional role thing going on in England than in America. And we were having the same fights a lot of my friends were having with their husbands, only in this different way. He had this great excuse: well...

MCCRUM: I had the moral high ground. I was very seriously ill, and: so I can't do the washing out? Can I, darling?

LYALL: No. But what we both found, it was very easy to become an invalid. When we had our baby, I was in the hospital for a week. I had a Caesarean. And I loved having people bring me things on trays and sort of ask me if I was all right and that kind of thing. And part of what Robert had to cope with was coming out of the hospital is psychologically losing that impulse to be an invalid. He had to really give that up, and in some ways it was hard for him. He'd been in the hospital for three months doing nothing for himself.

MCCRUM: I was waited on hand and foot.

LYALL: Yeah. So we had to really work through that, and I would say we're probably still working through it now.

GROSS: You have a baby who's about 20 months old. Had you planned on having a baby before the stroke? Was it something you already knew you wanted to do.

LYALL: We knew we wanted children. I think we probably ended up having her a bit earlier than what we had bargained for. When Robert got out of the hospital, quite understandably, he was pretty eager to get on with it. I think having a baby is the biggest sort of anti-mortality thing you can do.

And I was pretty reluctant at first, I have to say, because I kind of felt he was in such tentative shape that I didn't want to be the one who had to take care of him and take care of the baby. But luckily in the nine months pregnancy gave him a lot more time to recover. He was in much better shape than I expected when the baby came. And that gave me, as we were saying before, another sort of excuse to say: look, just get up and get on with it, because I can't do it now. I can't look after you the same way I have.

That, interestingly, is another thing that a lot of new parents go through. Essentially, the husband can't cope with the fact that the wife isn't focusing on him all the time. This is -- happens even when the husband isn't sick. So we had it double in this case.

GROSS: So it sounds in some ways you both became very different than you were, but the relationship has stayed together. Despite all the changes you've gone through. I guess you've gone through those changes together.

MCCRUM: I think we both feel that it's brought us closer together. Its given us a shared experience, which is very, very important in our relationship.

GROSS: Even to share this kind of big life experience together, you've kind of shared a book together, too. Robert, it's your book, but, Sarah, excerpts of her journal are printed in the book. I guess, I'm wondering if you both -- since you're both writers, if you both used writing and reporting on the illness and your feelings about it as a way of dealing with it?

LYALL: I've never kept a journal, really. I think when I was tiny I tried to, but I was so awful I stopped. I really did it in this case for therapy. I felt I didn't have that many people to talk to who really understand.

GROSS: You were living in a new country.

LYALL: I was in a new country. I didn't have any friends there. And I felt a lot of what was quite common in a situation, in that I didn't want to let down Robert by going around complaining to everyone about what terrible shape he was in. I felt part of my role was to be a positive force to present to the outside world a pretty good picture; so that I use my journal as a way to really help myself deal with some of my scary emotions during this time.

MCCRUM: In my case, I mean, all that was properly working was my right hand, my right arm. So I would prop the book up on my knee in the hospital bed. And it was a way of just putting down stuff that was going on -- I thought it was kind of reportage, in that this was an extraordinarily interesting thing that was happening to me, or had happened to me, and was continuing to happen.

And I wanted to make a record of it for the future, for my future. It wasn't so much therapeutic, as just kind of an account of what it was like to be in the hospital at that time. And so, as I say, it's a worm's-eye view. It's an insider's account of what stroke is like.

There are many books -- Sarah found many of them -- in London -- there are many books which would tell you about stroke and old age and about the physical side of stroke. But there are none which will tell you what it feels like. And I wanted to say what this is what feels like.

GROSS: One last question, Robert. Do you feel that your sense of how old you are has changed. Stroke is considered, I think, an older person's illness. And you were 41 when you had your stroke. You were really young.

MCCRUM: For two or three years, I was kind of pitched forward into an old person's world; you know, walking with a stick, I was in a wheelchair, I couldn't do things I used to do. I was taking everything very slowly. I was doing things with difficulty. And so, for that period, yes, I was -- I did, become an older person.

Now that I am much better, much fitter again, and (unintelligible) time, I feel myself to be about 90 percent of the person I used to be. That's beginning to fade. On the other hand, I think that the drama of what I went through was so profound that -- you know, I've always look on the world through the eyes of somebody who nearly died. And that makes me and older person, by definition, I think.

LYALL: But the interesting thing about that, too, is that this sort of little curtain that separates the well people from the sick people is very, very thin. And when you're on one side, you're so afraid of the people on the other side. And I think, I feel, certainly, having been on the other side with Robert a real humility in the face of a lot of people who are ill, who have been ill, and I've lost that fear.

I mean, we're all going to be ill at some point, probably. I think in the past I kind of didn't want to be around those people. I didn't want to hear about it. And now I realize it really is part of life.

GROSS: I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.

MCCRUM: Thank you.

LYALL: Thank you.

GROSS: Robert McCrum's new memoir is called, "My Year Off." He is now literary editor of "The Observer" in London. Sarah Lyall often writes about British culture for "The New York Times."

Coming up, Milo Miles on the swing revival.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Robert McCrum, Editor and Sarah Lyall, Journalist
High: Robert McCrum suffered a stroke inn 1995 at the young age of 42. He has written in detail about his experience and his recovery. Terry Gross talks with McCrum and his wife Sarah Lyall who was key in his recovery. His new book is "My Year Off: Recovering Life After A Stroke."
Spec: Robert McCrum; Sarah Lyall; Media; Lifestyle; Health and Medicine

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Robert McCrum and Sarah Lyall
Date: OCTOBER 12, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 101202NP.217
Head: Swing Music
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Milo Miles has been thinking about the swing scene, a scene that's about music, dancing and a certain retro look. Even if you haven't been following the scene, you've probably seen one of its manifestations, the Gap khakis TV commercial with couples swing dancing to a Louie Prima (ph) record.

MILO MILES, COMMENTATOR: For all you cats and kittens out there who just aren't with it, I'm here to say there's a youth movement underway. Centered in Southern California, it involves modified zoot suits with the baggy pants and with the super wide-brimmed hats. Girls in pinstripe jackets, refreshments like cocktails and cigars.

It combines a bit of film noir and casino lounge nostalgia, and a bunch of fancy dance stepping to big beat bands with horn sections. Been going on for several years, but really took off last year with the movie "Swingers," and its soundtrack with the band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddies.


No doubt this helps explain why the music and movement have come to be called swing. But it is a dreadfully misleading name, besides Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, bands associated with swing include, Royal Crown Revue, The Flying Nutrinos, Cherry Daddies and The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Most of the music they play has very little to do with big band swing a la Benny Goodman.

Some outfits are wildly eclectic, but most of the music these bands play already has a perfectly good name. Jump blues. Now that name, explains the formal appeal to the music. It's a sprout straight from the roots of rock and roll.

The original jump blues fixtures from the 1940s were Louis Jordan and Roy Brown and Armani Harris (ph). In fact, the bumptious, outrageous feel of jump blues goes all the way back to the original hi-dee-ho man Cab Calloway in the 1920s.

Jump blues is a way to present the hard-rockin' misadventures of African-American city life with a smile and a sassy horn chart. So though swing is associated vaguely with the geeky lounge movement its sources are at least genuinely cool. And it's plainly another example of underground Black culture emerging decades later as a pastime for relatively affluent whites.


Another, shall we say, allure of the swing movement is that it promotes a retro fantasy of clear sex roles. Women are ball and chains, or cool chicks or vamps. While guys get back to the brat pack or dream that they're Louie The Louse, the hired lady killer. I just hope that when the dance is over and the big Daddies and the hot babes take off the nifty duds, they drop the reactionary power relationships to.

For those that want a quick introduction to the scene there's an ideal survey album out called, "Swing This, Baby," That features representative selections from all the major players. It's clever, it's fun, it gets the job done.

But none of the bands can slam with the precision and wit of their 1940's ancestors. The swing groups do have won huge advantage though, there are alive. Roy Brown and Cab Calloway are happy in their graves. Whereas you can go see the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies and The Brian Setzer Orchestra shake a little leg and wave a hot horn. But try to get that name changed. All right? Just remember this it don't mean its swing, but it does have that thing.

GROSS: Milo Miles is music features editor at

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Milo Miles
High: Commentator Milo Miles looks at the music and mores surrounding the new swing scene emerging in Southern California. And he reviews the new CD "Swing This, Baby," which features the new swing sound.
Spec: Milo Miles; Entertainment; Music Industry

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Swing Music
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.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue