In an Empire's End, Seeds of Freedom and Conflict
The sun set on the British Empire 60 years ago this summer, on Aug. 15, 1947, when India officially gained its independence. A new work of narrative history called Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire probes the behind-the-scenes political machinations — and the potentially scandalous secret love affair — that facilitated the handover.
Other segments from the episode on August 2, 2007
DATE August 2, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Pegi Young, wife of Neil Young, on her new, self-titled
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Up until now, my guest Pegi Young's career in music has been as a backup
singer--(clears throat) excuse me. She backed up the best, her husband, Neil
Young. Now he plays on her first CD, which is called "Pegi Young." Pegi and
Neil Young have been married for almost 30 years. She's performed with him on
the road for several years and sang in his 2006 performance film "Heart of
Gold." Many of the musicians who played with Neil in that film also play on
Pegi's new CD. Neil's featured on guitar, harmonica and electric sitar. Pegi
has also had a career outside of music as a co-founder and executive director
of The Bridge School. It's for children with severe speech and physical
disabilities, like the Youngs' son Ben, who has cerebral palsy. Let's start
with a song written by Pegi Young and featured on her new CD. It's called
(Soundbite of "Fake")
Ms. PEGI YOUNG: (Singing) Were I to leave you
Would you miss me?
Come and kiss me
Then let me go
It's only heartache, I know
We go so fast
Now go so slow
Can I be here
And not leave here
With a pocketful of blues?
It's only that I'm feeling used up
It's only that I'm feeling used
I can fake it, but
Can we make it?
Can you take it if I leave?
Do you believe in me?
Do you believe in me at all?
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Pegi Young singing her song "Fake" from her new self-titled
Pegi, welcome to FRESH AIR. Is there a story behind the song we just heard?
Ms. YOUNG: I think that this record is sort of a story itself, and it's sort
of chronicling long-term relationships. But I think it's that kind of thing
that crosses your mind. Sometimes when you've been with somebody for a long
time, you wonder about freedom and commitment and sort of that tug of war that
GROSS: One of those moments of self-doubt?
Ms. YOUNG: Yes, I would say that's clearly a moment of self-doubt.
GROSS: Why did you...
Ms. YOUNG: But it's not just my self-doubt, you know what I mean? It's sort
of, I think, somewhat universal. I think everybody in the course of a
long-term relationship has moments of going, `Hm.' Just as I say in the song,
is this something that, you know, is as important to you as it is to me, and
that sort of thing.
GROSS: Why did you decide to do your album after all these years?
Ms. YOUNG: Yes, that is the question of this whole episode of my life. I
think it really, Terry, was just that it worked out now. I could do it now.
I had the physical space. I had the mental space. I had the emotional space
to be able to really focus in on the art of making a record. And some of the
songs are vintage, some of them are newer, but it does require time and focus.
And that was just something I didn't have previously, not in any concentrated
chunks of time.
GROSS: So is part of what gave you the space to do the album the fact that
your children are grown?
Ms. YOUNG: That is part of it, and also my responsibilities with The Bridge
School have changed, you know, considerably, especially in the last four
years. We have an executive director who's just brilliant and doing a
fantastic job, which then enabled me to be able to step back a little bit more
from my previous responsibilities.
GROSS: When did you first start performing?
Ms. YOUNG: It was on a very amateur level. I would just do--I did a big
hitchhiking trip, and I'd do a little busking on the streets here and there.
Or I'd just meet people and, you know, back in the day, playing music with
your friends and, you know, new friends that you meet along the way. I played
piano when I was a little girl, and then I switched to guitar probably around,
I don't know, the age of 14 or 15, when I became infatuated with, you know,
the folkies and Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, and my piano--I couldn't just
pick it up and carry it with me out to my next place that I was going to go
and meet up with some friends and play music. So I switched over to guitar.
And the first time I played publicly with Neil, on one of Neil's stages, was
at the Academy Awards. It was at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I think it
was in about '93. He was nominated for that beautiful Jonathan Demme film
Ms. YOUNG: Bruce Springsteen had written the opening song and Neil wrote the
closing song and so, you know, we performed--my sister-in-law Astrid Young and
I sang backgrounds. On the record, Neil did his own harmony backgrounds, but
obviously couldn't do that live. So that was my debut.
GROSS: Kind of a stressful moment to have a debut.
Ms. YOUNG: Well, I just put it in my head I'm just at the Dorothy Chandler
GROSS: And live on television in front of the world.
Ms. YOUNG: Just had to forget about that. Put that over here and just pay
no attention to the cameras swirling around the stage and pay no attention to
all the people you recognize sitting there looking at you in the audience.
GROSS: You mean like all the famous Hollywood movie stars.
Ms. YOUNG: Yeah. Exactly.
GROSS: On your new CD, Spooner Oldham is playing keyboards. Now he's a great
songwriter. He's co-written a lot of songs with Dan Penn, some very
well-known songs like "Do Right Woman," "Dark End of the Street," and "Cry
Like a Baby." But the song by them that you do is a song I've never heard of
before. It's called "I'm Not Through Loving You Yet." Tell us about the song
and how you chose it. I mean, did you ask Spooner Oldham for a lesser-known
song of his?
Ms. YOUNG: Spooner, the genius Spooner Oldham, when we first started this
project, I was in New York, actually, doing--I can't remember why. He came up
from Alabama and we were meeting in my hotel room, and first song he gave me
to try was "Sweet Inspiration," and we tried it and I think we got close but
you know, some of these songs, they've been done so quintessentially that you
just can't do it any better. We tried "A Woman Left Lonely," which of course
the late, great Janis, you know, did the version of that. And he gave me this
song in the middle of our recording. He said, `Well, you know, why don't you
listen to this one and give it a try.' And man, am I honored to have that song
on my record. You know, he's a brilliant songwriter, he and Dan Penn, as you
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear it? This is "I'm Not Through Loving You Yet,"
featuring Pegi Young from her new self-titled debut CD.
(Soundbite of @"I'm Not Through Loving You Yet")
Ms. YOUNG: (Singing) Take your coat off
Then sit awhile
Surely I can do something to make you smile
I want you to stay, but you'll go, I guess
It's over for you, but I'm not through
Loving you yet
I've only got my dreams
Of a sweet loving man
Standing by me
'Cause he understands
The love of a good woman is so hard to find
I thought we had something
But I was so blind...
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Pegi Young from her new CD, which is called "Pegi Young." We'll
get back to our interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Pegi Young. After years of singing backup vocals for her
husband Neil Young, she's released her own CD called "Pegi Young."
Pegi, you spent a lot of time directing a school called The Bridge School,
which is now a pretty famous school for children who have severe physical and
speech impairments, and I think the main reason why you started the school was
because you and Neil Young have a son who has a very severe case of cerebral
palsy. Just, before we go any further, tell us about the kind of impairments
that he had.
Ms. YOUNG: Well, Ben was born with cerebral palsy. It's not a disease, it's
a condition of life. It's just the way he was made. He is quite severely
physically involved and he can't speak. And so, you know, as he, you know,
grew, I think our first focus was on trying to affect his mobility. Could we,
you know, enable him to, you know, walk some day? And at some point in time,
our focus changed to the really important aspect of communication and the
importance of enabling his communication, not just with us, you know, who know
him so well, but with, you know, the community and with his ability to access
his education and so forth. So another parent and I, we started The Bridge
School. Another parent, Jim Forderer, and a speech pathologist, Ph.D. level,
with expertise in what we call augmentative and alternative communication,
Marilyn Buzolich. The three of us joined forces and started this educational
program for kids like our son.
GROSS: Why did you feel like you needed to start a school? Was there not a
school that already existed that you felt confidence in?
Ms. YOUNG: Yeah, there was absolutely nothing that was suitable at that
time--now, remember, this was in the middle of the mid-'80s--for our son. In
fact, he was sort of going down a road that I wasn't, you know, it was sort of
a point of no return. I wasn't liking where it was going at all, because he
just did not have the communication skills to be able to demonstrate what he
knew, what he knows, what he can do. So that's what we did. We started a
program for, you know--certainly that was, you know, my primary impetus was
our son. But, you know, there's any number of other kids who really can
benefit, have benefitted, will continue to benefit from the work that's been
done over the last 20 years at Bridge School.
GROSS: So are there, like, new therapies that you tried at the school?
Ms. YOUNG: They were really more, you know, looking at cutting-edge, you
know, technology, cutting-edge teaching modalities, strategies, looking at how
to adapt curriculum to enable access by kids of, you know, many
different--there's quite a broad band of ability and disability within
the--not physically speaking so much as, you know, some of our students are
college-bound. Others are--like our son, for instance--are more going to be
vocationally oriented. He happens to have an organic egg business, which is a
walloping success. He's doing quite well with his 150 chickens that he's got
out at our farm. He's certified by the state of California as an organic
farmer. He just went off to a conference in Chicago with his buddy and his
caregiver, and, you know, he's living a very independent life. So the real
focus at Bridge is to give the--locate, understand, identify--there's the word
I'm looking for--what is going to be the appropriate communication modality
for the individual student.
GROSS: So you were worried that your son would never be able to communicate
and now, you say, he has a very successful business. So how does he
communicate now? Does he speak? Does he write? I mean, what...
Ms. YOUNG: No, he doesn't do either of those things. He has a good grasp of
his low--what we call his sort of no-tech, low-tech systems which is a
combination of sort of eye gaze, you know, looking to the door means, `I want
to go,' putting it very simplistically. Some gestures, some more
vocalizations, things of that nature.
And he also has what we call a high-tech communication device. He's currently
using a DynaVox system. It's what we call a dedicated device. It simply runs
communication software, and he accesses that through a system of auditory
scanning--and this might be starting--it might get a little complicated, but
within his headrest are speakers, and he's got what we call a private ear, so
the vocabulary that is stored in his communication device that we have jointly
put in there through a system of live voice scanning--and I know I'm getting a
little jargon-y here, but Ben is very much a part of deciding what goes into
his communication device. And then he accesses that. It scans auditorially
and then when it gets to the cue word that he knows is going to trigger the
message, he hits a switch with his--it's a left lateral head move. So he
has--in his device, he has jokes, he has greetings, he has comments.
When he was going to school, we could program in his oral reports after he
left Bridge School and went to a high school. He was included in some of the
different classes. So he had an English class, for instance, where, instead
of reading a book, he would hear the book on tape and then he would give his
oral report to the class in lieu of a book report.
GROSS: So it sounds like his form of communication is, as you put it,
low-tech and high-tech. What's his comprehension like?
Ms. YOUNG: Ben's comprehension is very good. Ben is a guy that lives in the
present, but he certainly anticipates the future. When I told him I was going
to be talking to you today, he's incredibly excited. He loves to listen to
you as he's driving over to his therapy a couple of times a week. He goes
across to the East Bay. And one of the guys that drives him told me he's a
huge Terry Gross fan. So I said, `Oh my gosh, Ben, I'm going to be talking to
Terry Gross this morning,' and he was so excited for me. And I...
GROSS: You'll have to thank him for me.
Ms. YOUNG: I will. I think he just loves the sound of your voice and
sometimes, of course, the people that you're interviewing have more and less
interest for him. So his comprehension is generally, I think, very good.
Now, is he, you know, a mathematician? No. Was he a kid that was going to
benefit from--if he, you know, for instance, you put Ben in a science class
and you put him in the lab, you put him in a hands-on environment, he
participates very meaningfully. Put him in a lecture hall with 400 kids, he's
probably going to fall asleep.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. I'm just thinking about how much the birth of your son has
changed your life because of, one, of all the responsibilities it gave you
since he was, you know, since he had certain, like, disabilities and
impairments. But also it kind of opened this door for you to, you know,
co-found this school and gave you like a whole role in life that I'm sure you
were completely--that was completely unpredictable for you. Like, who would
have ever guessed you'd be founding and running a school, right?
Ms. YOUNG: That is--ask any of my teachers, ask my parents, if they were
still alive. That was not probably what they saw as Pegi's future. But Ben
has been just an incredible gift to us, because, for the reasons you say, I
have come to know a world of disability that I never would have, you know,
known. I don't know how I would have ever come in contact. Like many people,
there was, you know, a certain level of discomfort, or just don't know how to
interact with a person who is so different--but really not, and that's what
you discover. That's what Ben has taught us and shown us, is there's far more
similarities than one might think on the surface.
GROSS: You know, giving the kind of attention that's needed to, you know, for
a child with truly special needs, is not the classic definition of the rock
'n' roll life. So did you initially worry about, `Oh well, this isn't going
to fit like the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. What's going to happen?'
Ms. YOUNG: Well, the rock and roll lifestyle is really only a part of our
life. I mean, it's a big part, obviously, but we're really family oriented,
so I never really thought about it in those terms. And I'm married to a
wonderful guy who has always made a point to include Ben in, you know, his
life, what we're doing. We've gone on the road with him for years.
Ms. YOUNG: Ben's traveled more than a lot of people. The crew has always
just treated him like he's just a normal guy, and he's just Ben. He's just
the way he is.
GROSS: Pegi Young. Her new CD is called "Pegi Young."
She'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Pegi Young. She's done
backup vocals for her husband Neil Young on the road and in his performance
film "Heart of Gold." Now she's out front on her new CD "Pegi Young," which
features Neil on guitar, harmonica and electric sitar. Pegi has also had a
career outside of music. She co-founded and was the executive director of The
Bridge School for children with severe speech and physical disabilities, like
the Youngs' son Ben, who has cerebral palsy. The Youngs also have a daughter.
The whole family has often accompanied Neil on his tours.
Was it hard for you to travel on tours with your son, who couldn't physically
get along by himself?
Ms. YOUNG: Well, no, not so much. Because, I've been--we're, you know,
fortunate to be able to always have somebody along to help me, and so I did a
lot of his--well, we did this program back in the day, and Neil actually took
several years off touring so that we could work on this home patterning
program when he was littler. But no, we've always been, you know, fortunate,
as I say, to have somebody to travel with us. My good friend Donna traveled
with us for years, and the two of us just sort of, you know, took care of what
needed to be taken care of and that included my baby daughter when she came
along. And Neil just, you know, made it really possible for us in that way,
too. I mean, he always made us, you know, feel welcome and that he wanted us
there. We're a family, so we're just a family of gypsies.
GROSS: Let me play another track from your new CD, and this is a song called
"When the Wild Life Betrays Me." Now what we're talking about isn't a wild
life, not in the standard definition. What meaning does this song have for
Ms. YOUNG: You know, I just loved that song and I was trying to remember the
other day if I actually ever heard like a demo of it. I must have. But there
was something about it. It just, again, you know, if you think about, you
know, looking at relationships and all kinds of, you know, aspects, and I
thought that just chronicled something that was so beautiful and so forlorn.
There was something about it. You know, you could just get inside it. I
could. I could just feel like what that must have felt like when they were
writing it. You know, somebody had that experience. You know, Jimmy Buffet's
a co-writer and Will Jennings, and I know Jimmy slightly. I don't know Will
at all, but, you know, you just have to think, what a--it's just so true and
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear it? This is "When the Wild Life Betrays Me,"
sung by Pegi Young on her new CD, which is called "Pegi Young."
(Soundbite of @"When the Wild Life Betrays Me")
Ms. YOUNG: (Singing) Can't believe I'm still here
With the morning so near
And last night so unclear
I see a trembling hand
And a gold wedding band
Wonder where do I stand
When the wild life betrays me
And I'm too far from home
Will you be there to save me?
Will you shelter my heart till I'm strong?
Or will you just hang up the phone?
Will my crazy...
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Pegi Young from her new CD, which is called "Pegi Young."
Pegi, how did you meet your husband, Neil Young?
Ms. YOUNG: It was--we met in a bar. And I love to tell that story because,
you know, you just don't necessarily think that's the place where you're going
to meet your soul mate, but there he was and there I was. And it was a bar up
in our neighborhood, where we still live. It was called Alex's at the time,
and I was working there. I had helped Alex get it going, and I was also
working up the road at the other restaurant. And I was 22 when we met. And
he was over there having dinner with some friends of mine, and I wasn't
working that night. I had just stopped in for some reason. And you know,
there was a pool table and I'm sure I was just hanging around, whiling away my
misspent youth. We were 22 years old, there wasn't a whole lot to do out
there in the redwoods so, you know, this was kind of a place where people
would just gather.
And I saw him sitting with some people that I knew, but I'm really shy and not
really interested in approaching famous people and just saying hi, you know.
`I love your work.' And then what? You know? Because where do you go from
there? So I just didn't approach the table and when they came out he kind of
started flirting with me. So I remember thinking at the time--and I remember
it quite well--thinking that this guy just, you know, he really needs a
friend. I certainly knew who he was and how famous he was and, you know, had
so much fame and success at an early age, and I just felt like he needed a
friend, so that's kind of where we started was...
GROSS: What year was this?
Ms. YOUNG: This was 1974.
Ms. YOUNG: Yeah, that's going back. And he was just--he, you know, had his
son, Zeke, that he'd had with the late Carrie Snodgrass and they had just
split up, so you know, neither one of us were ready to plunge into a new
relationship. So we just got to know each other over a period of time, and
then we actually got married in August of '78. So we're on the approach of
our 29th wedding anniversary, which is kind of amazing.
GROSS: It is kind of amazing. Did you feel like you were taking a chance in
marrying a rock star, in the sense that like so many rock stars lead such like
wild and unfaithful lives, and they're on the road a lot and they're the
center of such adulation and, you know, a lot of celebrities in America really
lose their bearings and find it very difficult to have any kind of family life
because they're always at the center of adulation and of their own little
Ms. YOUNG: Well, I think my mother had more concerns about it than I did.
`Oh no! She's going to be marrying a rock star. Oh dear.' But then she met
him and she just fell in love with him. I think the first time she laid eyes
on him was, we'd come over to my mother's house for my sister's wedding, and
this was the first time he was meeting my family. And he was just sitting on
the floor playing with my nephew, who was three years old at the time. And my
mother was just completely, you know, captivated by that.
And, you know, he's not a typical rock star in that way. Certainly I was
unprepared for a life on the road. I was unprepared for the magnitude of
just--I didn't even know what tours were. I was completely, you know--I mean,
I grew up in the San Francisco music scene, just on the younger fringes of it,
but I up to the Haight-Ashbury and the Fillmore and Avalon and all that back
in the '60s and when I was in high school. But I just had never
conceptualized that people took music out and toured around. So, you know,
I'd see Santana up at, you know, the College of San Mateo. Well, that
probably wasn't their only gig but that never occurred to me that, you know,
they were moving around. So my first tour was certainly an eye-opener, plus I
was pregnant. So it was sort of, you know, all the changes that you're going
through being pregnant.
And you know, there were a lot of girls that were seeking his attention,
that's for sure...
GROSS: How do you deal with that? That's always struck me, as--like, I can't
imagine what that's like.
Ms. YOUNG: Well, you know, I mean, I was just listening to an interview on
the way over here, oddly enough, and this woman was saying, `I'm just about to
be 50. If I'm threatened by a 20-year-old I've got some more problems than we
have to talk about now.' Her husband's a politician. But anyway, I guess,
early on, you know, I was just somewhat insecure about it and thinking,
`Yikes, you know, what's this all about and what have I gotten myself into?'
But he's always been so in love with me that I really didn't need to be
threatened. And he always made me feel very secure that way.
GROSS: You know, if you don't mind, I want to play you a short excerpt of
what Neil Young said in an interview I did with him in 2004, and in this
interview I'd asked him if he ever expected that so much of his life would
revolve around family and around being a father, and here's what he had to
(Soundbite of Neil Young interview)
Mr. NEIL YOUNG: I've broken a lot of the rock 'n' roll rules by being
married for 25 years and, you know, I guess that's all because I have such a
wonderful wife. I mean I, you know, we don't have a textbook kind of, you
know, Cleaver family type of marriage, but we have a, you know, we've got a
rock 'n' roll marriage. And it's great, and she's adapted. And the telling
thing about our marriage, I think, and the proof of its goodness is the fact
that I've been able to remain creative and that I've been able to change
throughout. Some people, when they get married, they so-called "settle down"
and they fit into something, and some people, when they get into
relationships, adapt their personalities to fit the relationship and then they
lose themselves. And you know, living with Pegi has never put the strain on
me to do any of those things, and it's always been a good thing. And she's
always, you know, been behind the things that I've done, even if she admitted
that she didn't understand what I was doing or didn't know if it was the right
thing or whatever, she was still behind the creative part of what I was
endeavoring to do.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Pegi, any reaction to hearing your husband say that?
Ms. YOUNG: Oh, you know, I think I have heard that before. It's always so
touching, though. I love that. Yeah, it's true. I mean, everything he says.
We don't have a real, you know, typical marriage...
GROSS: Cleaver marriage.
Ms. YOUNG: No, we don't. No, we're not Ward and June, that's it. But, no,
we're, you know, we do adapt to each other, too, you know, and he's supported
me in everything I've done, you know, up to and including...
GROSS: Yeah, he talked about being able to change during your relationship
and being able to remain creative. Do you feel like you've been able to
Ms. YOUNG: I do, and I think, oh god--you know, if we didn't change, we'd be
in a world of trouble. You know, you've got to. I mean, that's like the only
really essential element of living, I think, is trying new things and
changing. And he is so, you know, so well-known and well-suited to change, I
think, you know. He does not like to repeat himself. That's a good thing.
GROSS: My guest is Pegi Young. Her new CD is called "Pegi Young." We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Pegi Young. After years of singing backup vocals for her
husband, Neil Young, she's up front on her new CD, "Pegi Young."
You were singing backup in the Neil Young concert movie "Heart of Gold," which
is such a beautiful film and...
Ms. YOUNG: Thanks.
GROSS: Yeah, it's just wonderful.
Ms. YOUNG: Thank you, Jonathan Demme, as well.
GROSS: ...and most of the songs that are sung in that concert were written
after he was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, and what was that period like
for you? You know, on the one hand, there's all these new songs and you're
doing the concert movie. On the other hand, he'd been diagnosed with
something, you know, quite, quite life-threatening.
Ms. YOUNG: Yeah, true. Well, certainly when you hear the A word, it sort
of, you know, your blood runs a little cold. You go, `Ah, what is this going
to mean?' Neil being Neil didn't want to sit around in New York and wait for,
you know, the procedure, and we had to set up an interview with a specialist
in this field of treating aneurysms. Look, we were very lucky also that it
Ms. YOUNG: And that we found out he had it before some catastrophic event.
So we went down to Nashville and just--he started writing these songs and he
wrote a new song just about every day. I honestly don't believe I'd ever seen
him quite so prolific. He just--these things were just pouring out of him,
and I thought in a way, you know, his life's passing before his eyes. He's
hearkening back to, you know, singing with his girl cousins and he's thinking
about his dad and he's thinking about falling off the face of the earth. He's
thinking about not being here and, you know, I just--it was an incredibly
creative time and extremely, you know, scary.
GROSS: Neil Young has written some songs that seem like they're clearly
dedicated to you or about you. Do you have a favorite of those?
Ms. YOUNG: Well, I always have to remind myself and people that, you know,
I'm only just in there. I mean, I don't think--I don't know how many songs
there are that are just about me, you know what I mean? I think he writes
songs that, yeah, maybe I've inspired something or, you know, like "Unknown
Legend" is a song that surely I'm in there, I'm in, you know, that character,
and I love that song. "Soul of a Woman" is an incredible song, and I really
like to think that's about me. "Harvest Moon" is a, you know, a gorgeous
song, but is it just about me? No, you know, but it's about people in love.
Ms. YOUNG: But I think it's about people in love for a long time. How's it
go? You know, I'm still in love with you and, you know, like to see you dance
again, and you know. So, yeah, I'm very touched and pleased when he writes
songs that I feel, you know, I'm in. But, you know, there's probably songs
that aren't so complimentary that I'm in, too. So I'm not sure. I don't want
to take on that mantle too much.
GROSS: Let me name another song. There's a song that he wrote after he was
diagnosed with the brain aneurysm called "Falling Off the Face of the Earth,"
and when he was on our show, when the movie was coming out, I asked him if
that song was about you because he talks about, in the song, feeling like he's
falling off the end of the earth, but also expresses his love, and he said
yes, that was a song for you. And that's a beautiful one.
Ms. YOUNG: It's a gorgeous song. And that's a great example, because I
walked in the studio in Nashville and he was recording that song, and I sat
down and I thought, `You know, everybody's going to think this song's about
me,' but knowing Neil as I do, I assure you, it's not 100 percent about me.
And sure enough, there was a voicemail message from a good friend of ours, a
film director who...
GROSS: Jim Jarmusch.
Ms. YOUNG: Yes, exactly--who had left Neil a message. He'd gotten word of
the aneurysm, I think, and he just said, `You know, I just want to thank you,
I just want to thank you for all the things you've done.' And I got the
message. I was like, `I so knew that song was not just about me.' But of
course, I'm in there. Yes, surely, I'm in there and I'm pleased to be in
there and it's really kind of a mutual feeling, I would say.
GROSS: Well, Pegi Young, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you very
Ms. YOUNG: Well, thank you, Terry. It's been great to talk to you, too.
GROSS: Pegi Young's new CD is called "Pegi Young." Here's the Neil Young song
we've just been talking about. Pegi does backup vocals.
(Soundbite of "Falling Off the Face of the Earth")
Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) I just want to thank you for all of the things
I'm thinking about you, I just want to send my love
I send my best to you, that's my message of love
For all the things you did, I can never thank you enough
Feel like I'm falling, falling off the face of the earth
Falling off the face of the earth
Feel like I'm falling, falling off the face of the earth
Falling off the face of the earth
I just want to tell you, you sure mean a lot to me
It may sound simple, but you are the world to me
It's such a precious thing, the time we share together
I must apologize for the troubled times
Feel like I'm falling, falling off the face of the earth
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews "Indian Summer," about the end of
colonial rule in India and the end of the British empire. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Maureen Corrigan reviews the book "Indian Summer," about
the end of the British empire
TERRY GROSS, host:
The sun set on the British empire 60 years ago this summer, on August 15th,
1947, when India officially gained its independence. A new work of narrative
history called "Indian Summer" probes the behind-the-scenes political
machinations and potentially-scandalous secret love affair that facilitated
the hand-over. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:
It's history that reads like a David Lean movie, down to the lavish costumes,
the stiff-upper-lip stars, and the hordes of hapless extras, with the
occasional elephant thrown in. When India gained its independence from Great
Britain and the Islamic nation of Pakistan was created, roughly a million
people died in the sectarian riots that followed among Muslims, Sikhs and
Hindus. The new prime minister, Nehru, and the British Viceroy Louis Dickie
Mountbatten, struggled to restore order through political negotiations, while
the Mahatma Gandhi tried to shame the warring factions into peace through a
hunger strike. Meanwhile, Edwina Mountbatten, the beautiful and congenitally
promiscuous wife of the British viceroy, raced around to refugee camps tending
the wounded, while in off hours, she and Nehru tended their passionate
feelings for each other in a love affair that lasted years. All very
hush-hush, but with the open-minded Dickie's approval.
"Indian Summer," a debut work of narrative history by Alex von Tunzelmann,
tries to tell the so-called secret history of the end of the British empire
without indulging in nudges and winks. In fact, sometimes von Tunzelmann errs
too much on the side of edification vs. titillation and falls into the novice
historian's trap of providing flat, summing-up sentences at the end of her
paragraphs to tell readers what lessons they've just learned.
But even von Tunzelmann's pedestrian style can't tamp down the heady allure of
her character-driven story. Her focus here on Dickie and Edwina Mountbatten's
role in Britain's divestment of the jewel in its crown is illuminating and
oddly bracing. To say that both were deeply flawed human beings would be an
understatement, and yet, when their lives collided with history, they
transcended their own giddy, gilded narcissism.
Dickie Mountbatten, who was a relative of the British royal family, was such a
screw-up as an officer in the Royal Navy during World War II that his nickname
in the admiralty was "the master of disaster." He smashed up and sunk a ship
under his command and hatched the madcap plan to launch an invasion of the
French port of Dieppe in 1942, which resulted in an Allied bloodbath. His
wedding in 1922 to the heiress Edwina Ashley was the Brit high society event
of the year. The two hobnobbed with their royal relatives and the likes of
Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin. From the early days of their marriage,
though, Edwina openly indulged in affairs, writing the devastated Dickie
confessions that begin with chipper acknowledgments like, `I feel I've been
such a beast.'
India, however, seemed to bring out the best qualities in both of them.
Dickie was posted there as viceroy in the spring of 1947 and he turned out to
be a progressive champion of Indian nationalism over British colonialism.
Edwina plunged into humanitarian work and found in Nehru the great love of her
life. The feeling was mutual. `Life is a dreary business,' wrote Nehru, in
one of his many letters to Edwina, `and when a bright patch comes, it rather
takes one's breath away.'
The two pledged to put work before personal happiness. If the affair had been
made public at the time, Muslim leader Muhammad Jinnah, for one, could have
accused the British viceroy and his wife of favoring the interests of Nehru's
India over the newly-created Islamic nation of Pakistan. When Edwina died
unexpectedly in 1960 of heart failure, she was found in her bed, a pile of
Nehru's old letters beside her.
Von Tunzelmann also delves into the all-too-human frailties of other titanic
figures crucial to the saga of Indian independence. Gandhi, with his
disquieting disdain for bodily hungers and his enthusiasm for Hitler.
Churchill and his contempt for Mountbatten and all things Indian. Von
Tunzelmann quotes Churchill as saying, "I hate Indians. They are a beastly
people with a beastly religion."
Though its prose sometimes plods, "Indian Summer" offers a fascinating
behind-the-scenes account of the break-up of British rule in India, tracing
the larger arc of why and how that break-up came to be inevitable. The book
also makes readers grateful to the benign fates that made Mountbatten viceroy
to India and Churchill prime minister during World War II and not the inverse.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Indian Summer" by Alex von Tunzelmann.
If you'd like to catch up on programs you've missed, you can download podcasts
of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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.