DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who's getting an honorary degree today from the University of Pennsylvania.
(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF RUSSO SONG, "FARGO SERIES THEME")
DAVIES: "Fargo" is back. The FX series based on the 1996 film by Joel and Ethan Coen is now in its third season, airing Wednesday nights at 10. Our guest today is the series creator, Noah Hawley. Each season of "Fargo" is an original story with its own characters, crafted to capture the approach and feel of the original movie. Each is a violent crime story set in northern Minnesota, populated by quirky homespun characters reeling off deadpan humor and getting themselves into perilous situations. Hawley's first season earned 18 Emmy nominations and three awards.
Hawley's been writing novels and producing television for 20 years, but the success of "Fargo" has him on a roll. He's created another critically praised series on FX called "Legion," a visually arresting story about a young man who suffers hallucinations attributed to schizophrenia but which turn out to be something else. And Hawley has a best-selling novel, "Before The Fall," which is out in paperback next month. I spoke to Noah Hawley last week.
Well, Noah Hawley, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You know, the first season of "Fargo" on FX that you created captured a raft of awards. The second one a lot of people thought was better. I loved it. For the third, you're still tasked with capturing the Cohen's sensibility. It must be interesting to have these defined parameters within which you are creative.
NOAH HAWLEY: I guess it is. There are rules or guidelines that I had to invent myself in terms of what makes a "Fargo" "Fargo." Originally, when the network said we're thinking of making "Fargo" as a TV show, but we're wondering if you can do it without Marge - by which they meant the Frances McDormand character - or any of the other characters from the movie. And as a result, I sort of had to sit down and think, well, what makes that movie that movie? It says it's a true story, and it's not. It's not a whodunit because we meet the criminals before the crime is committed, and then we see it committed.
And then we meet the law enforcement agent at the moment at which you would normally meet the law enforcement agent. And, you know, what I've come to find certainly in this iteration is that those lines at the end where she says, and here you are, and it's a beautiful day, and for what, just a little bit of money? Those have really stuck with me, this idea that "Fargo" is a story about the things that people do for money.
DAVIES: Right. And simple people encountering real evil.
HAWLEY: Yeah, the idea that basically decent people who are probably in over their head.
DAVIES: Well, let's hear a scene from the first episode of season three of "Fargo," which you directed, right?
DAVIES: This is parole officer Ray Stussy. He's visiting one of his parolees, a guy named Maurice who's played by Scoot McNairy, because Maurice has failed a urine test. And Ray, the parole officer, played by Ewan McGregor, is going to ask this parolee Maurice to break into his brother's house to steal a valuable vintage stamp that's at the center of a feud he's having with his brother. And then maybe he'll let them off of the failed urine test. So they're in this bar. We're going to hear the parole officer, Ray, speak first.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FARGO")
EWAN MCGREGOR: (As Ray Stussy) I got a place, turns out a place needs some robbing - a little robbing, not wholesale burglary, just a specific - just looking for a certain item. And if you do it, well, let's just say your little problem goes up in smoke.
SCOOT MCNAIRY: (As Maurice LeFay) What are we talking about?
MCGREGOR: (As Ray Stussy) A stamp.
MCNAIRY: (As Maurice LeFay) A stamp? Like a postage stamp?
MCGREGOR: (As Ray Stussy) Yeah.
MCNAIRY: (As Maurice LeFay) Cool. Cool. So, I mean, I know I'm the moron, but...
MCGREGOR: (As Ray Stussy) It's not that kind of stamp, numb nuts. It's a vintage stamp. It's got, you know, sentimental value. For me, it's my stamp.
MCNAIRY: (As Maurice LeFay) Your stamp?
MCGREGOR: (As Ray Stussy) Yeah. But it's, you know, at someone else's house temporarily.
MCNAIRY: (As Maurice LeFay) Cool. Cool. So why not just ask for it back?
MCGREGOR: (As Ray Stussy) Well, it's, you know, complicated. Just get the damn stamp.
DAVIES: And that is Ewan McGregor with Scoot McNairy in a scene from the first episode of the third season of "Fargo" directed by and created by our guest, Noah Hawley. Ewan McGregor plays the parole officer, Ray. He also plays Ray's brother, Emmit Stussy, right? Completely different characters.
The brother is a successful parking lot magnate. And then Ray, the parole officer, is kind of a - you could call him a loser, somebody who's sort of never quite gotten his life together. And he is so good in these two roles. It was two-thirds of the way before the episode before I recognized that it was the same actor. And I know this actor.
DAVIES: Have you ever cast anyone in two roles before?
HAWLEY: I haven't. And it was part of the original idea, you know. It always comes with a sort of setup. In the first year, it was two men in an emergency room. And the second was a woman driving home with a man sticking out of the windshield of her car. And then this year, it was these two brothers. And they had this feud between them. And they're played by the same actor. You know, what's interesting is that I don't like heroes and villains to be so clear.
And if you cast the same actor in both roles, then you obviously have a family resemblance because they are actually the same person. But you also can't necessarily root entirely for one and against the other because they are the same person. And, you know, one of the best ideas that we had in creating these characters was, you know, the moment that Ewan agreed to shave his head to play the balding, portly brother, it freed us up to put any kind of hair we wanted on the older, richer brother.
And so we thought, well, why should either of these brothers look like Ewan? And if you notice, you know - so we put Emmit in a curly haired sort of like, you know, jock-from-the-'80s kind of hair. But he also is wearing these brown contact lenses that change his eyes, which is very dramatic. Originally, he was going to wear those contact lenses to play Ray, but we liked them so much better as Emmit because with Ray, then you really get Ewan's eyes. You really see that - the empathetic human in there.
DAVIES: What's it like directing a scene in which both brothers appear and you've got the same actor?
HAWLEY: You know, there's some technical issues to it. You know, you want to film it the way you would film any other conversation between people. So, you know, if you're on two sides of a table, you would have Ewan playing Emmit on the left hand side. And he would do his scene. And then you'd send him off for about an hour and a half to get turned into Ray. And he'd come back and sit in the other chair and play against a different double.
And, you know, it's testament to his abilities that, you know, he - not only is he acting against a stand-in basically, you know, he's - he then has to remember how he played the scene because he's sort trying to act against himself. And he was really - it was really amazing to watch him do that. One of his stand-ins - I won't say which one - was really a terrible actor.
HAWLEY: And he muscled through it. He pretended the guy didn't exist basically. He just - he acted against a role that was in his head, which was really impressive.
DAVIES: Did you see him as one character getting more sympathetic to the other because after all, it's, like, him?
HAWLEY: I think so. It was interesting, you know, because he and Mary Winstead who plays Nikki, you know, Ray and Nikki are - she's his parolee, and he's the parole officer. And they have this sort of storied love affair based on probably just breaking every law there is to break. And they both loved this relationship so much. I think it was such a unique cinematic relationship for both of them that if you asked him to choose which role he liked being better, I think he just liked that feeling of being in that relationship because the two of them, you know - they were just together through thick and thin. And they had this innocence to them, even though they had a criminality as well which was really fun.
DAVIES: Our guest is Noah Hawley, the creator of the third season of the series "Fargo" which airs Wednesday nights at 10 on FX. He also has a best-selling novel "Before The Fall" which comes out in paperback next month. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, we're speaking with Noah Hawley. He created the "Fargo" series on the FX Network. It's now in its third season. It airs Wednesday nights at 10. He also has a best-selling novel, "Before The Fall," which comes out in paperback in June.
Well let's hear another scene. Season 3, like the original film and Season 1, has a smart, likeable female cop. It's Gloria Burgle, who's played by Carrie Coon. And she's the chief of a small town police department that's being merged into the larger county force. As this is happening, she is investigating the murder of her stepfather. And in this scene, she has a tense meeting with her new boss, the sheriff, who's played by Shea Whigham The sheriff speaks first about the kind of shop that Gloria's been running. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FARGO")
SHEA WHIGHAM: (As Moe Dammick) This is the problem right here. It's not even a proper police station. What do you keep prisoners?
CARRIE COON: (As Gloria Burgle) There's a storeroom - computer boxes, paper towels. Or we drive them 10 miles to Paynesville.
WHIGHAM: (As Moe Dammick) Wait - you said computer boxes. Where are the computers?
MARK FORWARD: (As Donny Mashman) They're in the boxes. Chief doesn't like computers. Well, old chief. Sorry, Chief.
WHIGHAM: (As Moe Dammick) You don't like them?
COON: (As Gloria Burgle) It's not that I don't like them. I don't like them, but that's not - the old way works just fine. Type out a report; send it via telex.
WHIGHAM: (As Moe Dammick) You know what year it is, right? The future - we don't use - who uses telexes anymore?
COON: (As Gloria Burgle) So that's why no one ever writes me back. The point is if I need a record search or priors run, I just call Jerry (ph) at county.
FORWARD: (As Donny Mashman) Yeah or Louanne (ph) if Jerry's sick or out or something.
WHIGHAM: (As Moe Dammick) I'm sorry to be doing this today with the loss of your father and all.
COON: (As Gloria Burgle) Stepfather.
WHIGHAM: (As Moe Dammick) But you need to get with the program. It's not the '50s anymore where people don't lock their front doors.
COON: (As Gloria Burgle) People don't like their front doors - not here.
FORWARD: (As Donny Mashman) Although they might now after what happened to Ennis - just saying.
COON: (As Gloria Burgle) Chief, as much as I want to hear about this future you come from, I got a potential witness to interview who may have seen our perp gas up on his way out of town. So I'm going to...
WHIGHAM: (As Moe Dammick) You know what? I'm going to go ahead and pretend you didn't just mouth off to me like my teenage daughter. And I'm going to go ahead and let you brace your witness. And then I'm going to let you take a few days off to grieve. But this is a done deal.
DAVIES: And that is Shea Whigham and Carrie Coon in a scene from the third season of "Fargo," created - and that scene directed - by our guest Noah Hawley. This is set in 2010. The other series have been set in earlier times, one of them in the '70s. And there's this Minnesota courtesy and niceness that all these characters have. And here, it's like it's running up against - I don't know - a different age, a digital age. Is that part of what's going on here?
HAWLEY: Yeah. There's always a sense of threat and danger in the show. And, you know, one of the reasons I set it more contemporary is, you know, I wanted to play with this idea that Minnesota nice itself is under some kind of threat. Minnesota nice as a sort of sense of courteousness and an exaggerated sense of community and friendliness that was born from a small group of people living in what, for much of the year, was a frozen tundra, you know, who as a sort of way to band together created this sort of exaggerated friendliness and also this sort of Lutheran humility where people don't burden each other with their feelings.
And that now, obviously in our modern age, runs up against an ethos where people - they post pictures of every meal they eat and every thought they have goes online. And, you know, what does that do to this sort of reticence to overshare. And, you know, if you can replace a real community with a virtual community, what happens to the real community?
DAVIES: Right. And Gloria's not even on Facebook (laughter).
HAWLEY: No - she - yeah, she's a woman out of time on some level. And she's both - you know, I mean, when we meet her, she's going through a divorce, so she's sort of both married and divorced. And she's both chief and not chief. I mean, she's existing in this dual state of being. And she's really, you know - automatic doors don't open for her, and the automatic faucets don't recognize her. And, you know, there's this element to her, this unsettled element, where the sort of modern world is almost refusing to see her - that becomes part of this - the show.
DAVIES: I always look forward to the accent with another season. And my wife gets annoyed because, you know, after a while, you know, I just sort of start, well, kind of talking way. I wondered, do the actors on the set do it to each other and have fun with it? And do you do it?
HAWLEY: You know, we - in the writers' room, we used to have a jar that every time you used the accent, you had to put a dollar in it. But it does - you know, it's written in a kind of vernacular that lends itself to the accent, certainly. I'm always amused because no two actors ever do the same version of it. And some of them are really pronounced. And people like Carrie Coon, who's you know, from Ohio and went to college in Wisconsin - she's spot on.
And then, you know, you have other actors who, you know, who don't even try on some level. In our first year, Kieran Culkin didn't even - I mean, that wasn't part of the job as far as he was concerned, I don't think. He created a memorable character. But I do remember Jeffrey Donovan saying to me at one point, like, am I the only one who's doing the accent?
HAWLEY: But Jeffrey was interesting because, you know, he's from Massachusetts. And the way they form their vowel sounds is completely opposite. And he had to train himself to do the Minnesota accent by literally holding his jaw in place. And it created this physicality in that role of Dodd, where he literally became this stiff person. He walks with a stiff-legged gait. And he has this very stiff physicality to him that came from trying to do the accent, which I thought was really interesting. And then the next thing he did was he went to play JFK for Rob Reiner. And he butchered his own Massachusetts accent because he was still doing Minnesota.
DAVIES: You know, the music in the "Fargo" series is really great. It really helps tell the story. And I thought we'd play one example that really caught my ear. There's this parole officer Ray and his girlfriend Nikki, who are in a relationship they're not supposed to be involved in. She's an ex-con, and he shouldn't be dating her. So there are these ambitious folks who are, you know, skating on the edge of the law. And their game isn't drugs or running guns. They're aspiring Bridge players, the card game.
And there's a scene where the couple are going to a regional Bridge tournament. They've got big plans. They're going to make big money eventually with Bridge. As we see them enter this hotel or conference center and go to the registration table and then join the other players, we see them striding in confidently, ready to make their mark. And this is the music we hear. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRISENCOLINENSINAINCIUSOL")
ADRIANO CELENTANO: (Singing unintelligibly).
DAVIES: And that's music from the third season of "Fargo," created by our guest Noah Hawley. Well, that music certainly reminds me of playing cards (laughter). What's going on here?
HAWLEY: I'm bringing both stamp collection and the game of Bridge back...
DAVIES: Yeah, yeah.
HAWLEY: ...Single-handedly. You know, it's interesting. It's a song that I can't remember where I heard it the first time. But it's an Italian-pop song, I believe, from the '60s.
DAVIES: '72 - I looked it up. Yeah.
HAWLEY: Right. It's written in fake English. So it's basically meant to sound like English, but has no actual words in it, which for a show about people who can't communicate, seemed like a perfect choice - that it's the song that's all attitude with no meaning to it on some level. And it kind of - it does create this energy for these two people coming into this Bridge tournament, you know, which makes the game seem very cool and very sexy.
And they're walking in in slow motion. And I told her, you're on top of the world. And I told you, and you're terrified. And if you look at their faces, it's this great marriage of confidence and fear. And this song does - it really gives you a feeling. It's a fun song. It puts you forward in your seat. And yet, it's ultimately meaningless.
DAVIES: If people want to look it up, Adriano Celentano is the Italian artist who made it. And there's a fun YouTube video of it. Where did you come up with the idea of Bridge, the card game, as being this couple's obsession?
HAWLEY: Well, I knew he was her parole officer. And she was on parole for crimes that, you know, we'll get a sense of to some degree. But I also wanted them to have something positive that they were working toward. You know, they're not bad people. They have an aspiration. And I thought, well, it's interesting if they're playing cards. You know, it's a little bit of the "Lebowski" bowling. I mean, there's no more-throwback game than bowling than Bridge, really. And so that seemed really good.
But the more I looked at the game of Bridge, the more fascinating it became because it really is a hugely complicated game that touches on elements of quantum mechanics. And there are 58 octillion possible deals and all of these very - you know, that she refers to the Murray Appelbaum discovery play. The language of Bridge is really fascinating and fun as well. And I wanted the sense that Nikki, that Mary Winstead's character, is really the brains of the operation and that she's a strategist. And Bridge is a huge game for strategy. And so it just became this sort of perfect marriage of something that I thought was kind of funny that then the more that I read about it, the more it seemed to really tell you something about her and him and a perfect marriage of meaning and comedy for me.
DAVIES: Noah Hawley is the creator of the cable TV show "Fargo" now on its third season on FX. He'll be back in the second half of the show. Also, the music of the Art Ensemble of Chicago - there's a new book out about the group. And our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review. Here's more music from "Fargo." This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. We're speaking with Noah Hawley, creator of the FX series "Fargo," which is now in its third season. Hawley's also written a best-selling novel, "Before The Fall," which comes out in paperback next month. And he's also the creator of the FX series "Legion," which is loosely based on a character from the Marvel Comics "X-Men."
Let's begin with a clip from the FX series "Legion." We meet a guy named David Haller, who is at the center of the story. He's a diagnosed schizophrenic who spent years in a mental institution. And this is a scene in the first episode. He's at a group therapy session. We hear David - he's played by Dan Stevens - and another patient, a woman named Syd who's played by Rachel Keller. The scene begins with a psychiatrist addressing David, and then we hear Syd chime in.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LEGION")
DAN STEVENS: (As David Haller) I saw things.
DAVID FERRY: (As Dr. Kissinger) Delusions, you mean. We talked about that - your brain chemistry, how your illness simulates voices, all of the hallucinations you described - the devil with yellow eyes.
RACHEL KELLER: (As Syd Barrett, chuckling).
FERRY: (As Dr. Kissinger) You have something to add?
KELLER: (As Syd Barrett) No. Please keep talking so we can all pretend that our problems are just in our heads.
STEVENS: (As David Haller) What does that mean?
KELLER: (As Syd Barrett) It means that you're in here because somebody said you're not normal. Like, normal's this suit we're all supposed to - but you know who else wasn't normal? Picasso, Einstein.
AUBREY PLAZA: (As Lenny Busker) Oh, I like her (laughter). I like you. You got what the kids these days call moxie.
STEVENS: (As David Haller) You know, just so I'm clear, are you Einstein or Picasso in this scenario?
KELLER: (As Syd Barrett) Whatever. All I'm saying is - what if your problems aren't in your head? What if they aren't even problems?
DAVIES: And that was Dan Stevens and Rachel Keller also we heard a bit of Aubrey Plaza there in a scene from the FX series "Legion" created by our guest Noah Hawley. This is a fascinating story because it begins in one way and then grows. It's really about a guy who, you know - who's had a certain view of himself for years. He thinks that all of his hallucinations are the result of a disease. And that version of him gets challenged, right?
HAWLEY: Yeah. It's a very subjective show as opposed to "Fargo" which under the auspices of a true story is told very objectively. You know, as a filmmaker, I was interested in doing something where you, the audience, are really experiencing the world as David experiences it. And as you said, you know, he spent the last, you know, 20 years being told that he has schizophrenia. And at a certain moment, he's told that he doesn't and that those things - hearing voices and objects moving and those sorts of things that he thinks are - he's experiencing because of his mental illness are actually happening. And he has power over them, etc., which on some level could very well be his psychosis coming on.
And I think the danger for him is if once he believes that he isn't mentally ill, I mean - that's what people's mental illness does to them. It convinces them they don't need the medication, and they're better now and they're fine. And so I like that the story allowed me to really tell - to talk about mental illness even as it, you know - it takes a flight of fancy into this more comic book world.
DAVIES: Right. In the end, it becomes apparent he has special powers, that it's not schizophrenia. But he doesn't know that, and we don't know that for a long time. Dan Stevens, the guy who plays the central character David Haller - people will remember him from "Downton Abbey" when he played the suave and sophisticated Matthew Crawley. In fact, I didn't even recognize him. He does such a terrific job of playing this nervous, scattered apparently schizophrenic guy. How did you and he get the right feeling effect for that character?
HAWLEY: Well, you know, I met Dan, you know - it's something that - I mean, there are 500 shows on TV and whoever - who knows how many movies, and everyone is always looking for a leading man between the ages of 35 and 45. And I was honestly astonished that no one had snatched him up because he's a treasure, really. And, you know, not only is he a great romantic lead, obviously, but, you know, he can also play a villain as well as a hero.
And one of the things that I really liked about him is the danger when you have a character who is so inward facing, you know, the danger is that you end up with a character who's very closed off to the audience. And, you know, certainly in dealing with mental health stories, they can end up feeling very much like a place you don't want to be as an audience member. And, you know, with Dan, there's always the sense that he's fighting something that he might not win against, but he's going to try. He's not going to give up.
DAVIES: A lot of the story is told visually, and there are a lot of situations where when I'm watching, suddenly the characters are transported to some other place, and we're not sure if it's real, if it's imagined, if it's a flashback. And it's unsettling and confusing maybe, but it occurred to me that it might in some way kind of simulate what he's going through when he doesn't know quite what reality is.
HAWLEY: I mean, I think there are people who are faced with multiple realities that they have to live in, and they have to sort of function in which it does. It creates a very visual sense of storytelling, and a lot of the time, you know, the most impactful images you see aren't connected to information. And they cut through your expectations of what you're watching because suddenly something happens that you're not prepared for visually, and it really makes an impact. And a lot of that impact, you know, is often unsettling.
And, you know, the "Legion" character is a spinoff from the "X-Men" and the full title of the "X-Men" is the "Uncanny X-Men." And that word uncanny is very specific, and it's something that Sigmund Freud wrote a whole essay about, this idea of the uncanny. The best way to describe it is when familiar things act in unfamiliar ways and why that's so frightening to us. You know, the perfect example is a haunted house. Right? Your house isn't supposed to do that. And, therefore, that becomes - it's sort of more horrifying than things that we don't know what to expect from. And I wanted to play with that all as a filmmaker, the sense of disorientation not to confuse you, but more to put you into his state of mind and to say at this moment in the first hour you know as much as he does, and you're seeing things as he's seeing them. And they're very frightening and unsettling. And then as we go and he gets more clarity, we will also get clarity.
DAVIES: As the story develops, it becomes apparent that David isn't just mentally ill. He's got these special powers to, you know - with his mind. He can actually control and move things, and he meets with others who want to train him to use those powers, and then list them in a good cause.
You know, I'm not a Marvel Comics guy - apologies to those who are. And I didn't know that Legion was an X-Men character, and I have to say I'm glad I didn't because I watched the story unfold kind of on its own terms. And I wonder if you thought about that story because that's clearly the way you tell it. And are there ways you wanted to kind of diffuse the expectations that might come from people who expect him to be a superhero?
HAWLEY: Well, I approached it the same way that I approached "Fargo" which was to say with great respect to the underlying material, but also a desire to tell my own story to sort of channel the intent. And, you know, this idea in the comic - you know, David Haller has multiple personalities and each personality has different powers. And, you know, I didn't really avail myself literally to the elements of the comic, but they sort of work their way in figuratively or metaphorically - or, you know, maybe all of these other people that he's involved with are elements of his own personality and maybe Dorothy never left Kansas after all.
HAWLEY: You know, I think all of those elements are really - they're fun for fans, you know, because then you're finally telling them a story based on characters they love that they don't know, which I think can be very exciting. And also it liberates me to kind of do what I am interested in with the story.
DAVIES: I read that at one point last year, you were running three different writers' rooms - one for "Fargo" season three, one for "Legion" the FX series, one for "Cat's Cradle" which is based on a Kurt Vonnegut novel. You're adapting the novel before the fall for a screenplay. How do you do all that?
HAWLEY: I like to joke that I found a rift in the space time continuum, and I go there for years at a time. But the reality is it's, you know, it's one word at a time really. You know, I also have two young kids. And I want them to know me and a wife that I love who I want to be happy with me. And so I juggle a lot of things. But, you know, I like to try to take my kids to school in the morning, and I try not to work on the weekends.
So the answer is I just, you know, I'm very productive in the time that I have available to me, and there are obviously weeks and months where I have to be away if I'm directing and - but in general, I try to build the work around my life as opposed to my life around the work.
DAVIES: So if you decide I'm going to write between 3 and 5 p.m. today, can you do that and count on it coming?
HAWLEY: Yeah. I mean, that's the skill that television teaches you - right? - is, you know, as a showrunner you're doing nine jobs. You're both the lead writer and, you know, you're at - any one moment you're prepping an episode, shooting an episode and editing at least two episodes. And, you know, you're also interacting with the network and the studio, and you're dealing with budget issues and production issues.
And so, you know, you'll come in in the morning, and you'll say, well, when do I write? And they'll say, well, you can write between 4 and 6. And that's when you have to write. And, you know, there's no muse. It's the craft of writing, the inspiration for writing has to be the writing itself. And so - which isn't to say that there aren't days that I don't have anything, and those days I tend not to push it because I know that a bad writing day is not a productive writing day. But, you know, I guess I have a really good sense of how long something's going to take me.
And, you know, I'm a good first-draft writer, and a lot of what you see, you know, is my first considered pass on something. And, you know, we go into production and I'll tweak some scenes here or there. But in general how it comes out is how it goes on the screen.
DAVIES: Noah Hawley, thanks so much for speaking with us again.
HAWLEY: Thank you.
DAVIES: Noah Hawley is the creator of the FX series "Fargo" now in its third season. It airs Wednesday nights at 10. He's also the creator of the FX drama "Legion" which has been renewed for a second season. And Hawley's best-selling novel "Before The Fall" is out in paperback next month. Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new book about the jazz group the Art Ensemble of Chicago. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. In Chicago in the 1960s, a group of black composers formed the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians dedicated to making original music that freely crossed genre lines. The AACM's flagship band was the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says a new book about the Art Ensemble explains how well they took care of business onstage and off.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET IN LINE")
THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO: Get in line (unintelligible). Get in line.
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: The Art Ensemble of Chicago was a freewheeling, anything goes kind of band. But as Paul Steinbeck stresses in his illuminating book "Message To Our Folks: The Art Ensemble Of Chicago," its four founding members were all ex-military and ran their low-budget, audience-building tours with military discipline. They crammed their heavy vehicles with equipment, did their own cooking and slept in tents. That mobility and cooperative spirit let the young band move their operation to Paris in 1969. That trip made their reputation. They stayed two years and recorded a boatload of albums that showcased their stylistic range and flashes of theatrical humor.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO COMPOSITION, "A JACKSON IN YOUR HOUSE")
WHITEHEAD: The diverse backgrounds of the Art Ensemble's founders fed their polystylistic music. Malachi Favors was an established jazz bassist who'd come up playing in church. Joseph Jarman was well-versed in theater, poetry and John Cage's random procedures while fellow saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell explored abstract structures. Lester Bowie was a natural comedian who could make the trumpet talk. He also had a head for business having already run his then wife Fontella Bass's rhythm and blues band. She sang on a couple of the Art Ensembles French records.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEME DE YOYO")
FONTELLA BASS: (Singing) You're fanny's like two sperm whales floating down the seine. Your voice is like a long fart that's music to your brain. Yeah.
WHITEHEAD: Bassist Malachi Favors had introduced the idea of playing so-called little instruments for added color, never mind that the Art Ensemble's percussion array was enormous. They had no drummer for a while, so everybody pitched in. In Paris, they acquired a fifth member, Famoudou Don Moye. A jazz drummer well-versed in traditional African rhythms, he brought more focus to the band's percussion jams.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO COMPOSITION)
WHITEHEAD: In his book "Message To Our Folks," Paul Steinbeck examines a few recordings in great detail, looking at ways the Art Ensemble of Chicago flowed between composition and collective improvisation and among the sound worlds of jazz, experimental music and more. Steinbeck also describes their shrewd business sense. Their management targeted performing arts networks that paid better than jazz clubs. And they courted the prestigious ECM label, which recorded the band's atmospherics beautifully. That late-'70s ECM deal raised their profile and got them out on the road even more.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO COMPOSITION, "JA")
WHITEHEAD: Author Paul Steinbeck doesn't say the Art Ensemble peaked in the 1980s, but he speeds through their later years. Longtime improvising bands can start to repeat themselves. The Art Ensemble changed up the set list from night to night, but you weren't surprised if they began a concert with atmospheric percussion and ended with a heavy swing.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO COMPOSITION, "DREAMING OF THE MASTER")
WHITEHEAD: In the 1990s, Joseph Jarman took a long sabbatical, weary of the road. Lester Bowie died in 1999 and Malachi Favors Maghostut in 2004. A few last albums, with or without replacements, mostly lacked the old magic. But a decades-long hot streak is nothing to sneer at. Paul Steinbeck's book reminds us the Art Ensemble of Chicago got gratuitously trashed in Ken Burns' "Jazz" series as a misguided band without an audience. But Steinbeck's message to our folks demonstrates how well they succeeded on their own terms. They made just the uncompromising music they wanted to, and they made it pay.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO COMPOSITION, "HAIL WE NOW SING JOY")
DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and TONEAudio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed the new book "Message To Our Folks: The Art Ensemble Of Chicago" by Paul Steinbeck.
Coming up, quotations and misquotations are everywhere thanks to the internet. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg talks about getting them right and whether it matters. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, the web - they're all teaming with quotations - some political, some inspirational, some merely wise or funny. A great many are attributed to authors who never said them. Does it matter when we get a quotation wrong? Our linguist Geoff Nunberg says not always.
GEOFF NUNBERG, BYLINE: It wasn't a serious political gaffe, but it was awkward. On February 12, the Republican National Committee tweeted a picture of the Lincoln Memorial along with a quote in the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years - Abraham Lincoln. You'd have figured the party of Lincoln would have come up with something a little more consequential than an adage about staying spritely in your declining years. It didn't sound very Lincoln-esque, and people quickly pointed out that he never said anything of the sort.
Some people took that tweet as another occasion to deplore the plague of bogus quotations on the internet. That's fair enough, but quotations can be bogus in different ways. Some are purely fraudulent as when people ascribe a modern political sentiment to some historical figure to give it a phony pedigree. It's sort of like slapping a thick coat of varnish on a recent painting and trying to pass it off on eBay as a Rembrandt. The Thomas Jefferson website at Monticello has a whole section reserved for the anachronistic quotations that people have put in his mouth to make him sound like an old-fashioned populist or a modern conservative.
And over the years, people have used spurious quotations to create apocryphal Lincolns of every stripe - the Lincoln who opposed prohibition, the Lincoln who championed the rights of labor, the Lincoln who warned against inciting class hatred. But most of the misattributed quotations you run into weren't contrived to deceive anyone. In a new book called "Hemingway Didn't Say That," Garson O'Toole traces the checkered histories of a number of familiar quotations as they're passed along from one speaker to another filched and appropriated and often streamlined along the way. Leo Durocher's remark the nice guys are all in seventh place gets polished into nice guys finish last.
Sooner or later, the quotations invariably drift into the orbit of some certified luminary like Winston Churchill or Mark Twain. You could think of those as brand names that provide a guarantee. If Nietzsche said it, it must be deep. If Oscar Wilde said it, it's terribly clever. The origins of these sayings are usually murky. With quotations, even the originals aren't original. On his website, O'Toole traced the adage that the RNC tweeted back to an ad for a 1947 book on aging gracefully by a gerontologist named Edward Stieglitz. But there's similar wording in a 1910 advertisement for a laxative called DeWitt's Little Early Risers that promised to add years to your life and life to your years. It wasn't until around 2000 that the remark attached itself to Lincoln.
This is really a new way of getting a quotation wrong. The RNC quotation isn't about enlisting the historical Lincoln as an ally in some modern political debate. This Lincoln isn't a political figure or even a historical one. He's more like a Disneyland animatronic Lincoln dispensing upbeat soda-fountain philosophy. He's the Lincoln who is often quoted as saying people are as happy as they make up their minds to be, which as it happens was attached to him in Disney's 1960 film "Pollyanna." These implausible retributions have flourished in the age of the internet.
Visit the quote-a-day websites, and you'll find figures from George Bernard Shaw to Nelson Mandela credited with inspirational bromides that they couldn't possibly have uttered. Sometimes it takes only a slight change in an actual quotation to completely alter its meaning. In his "Life Of Samuel Johnson," James Boswell recalls how Johnson once abraded him from repeating some fashionable platitudes. My dear friend, clear your mind of can't. In recent years, that remark has been reinvented as a motivational slogan simply by inserting an apostrophe before the T of can't to turn it into a contraction. That's all it took to transform it into exactly the kind of fatuous cliche that Johnson urged Boswell to clear his mind of and to transform the most caustic wit in all of English literature into an apostle of positive thinking.
We do quotation differently now. Time was when it was chiefly a literary device, a way of weaving an essay or speech into an ongoing conversation with the past. Writers pulled familiar quotations from the pages of Bartletts or novel ones from the literary scrap books called commonplaces that they kept, a kind of pre-digital Tumblr. Emerson said that the next best thing to inventing a good sentence was being the first person to quote it. You might have seen an isolated epigram under a yearbook photo or on the lintel of a library door or as a filler in a snippet magazine like The Reader's Digest, but it wouldn't have made sense to broadcast a single quotation all by itself.
It took the internet to democratize erudition and set quotations free. Now they're self-sufficient atoms of wisdom that make their own way in the world, passed along in chain mails, tweeted, posted on Instagram and Pinterest boards, inscribed on bracelets and household items. It's true that the websites of inspirational quotes often make a hash of history. But you'd have to be an awful pedant to spend your time railing at the sloppy scholarship on motivational posters and coffee mugs. As long as they inspire and they console, most people couldn't care less who actually said them. In the words of the Chinese proverb - or possibly the novelist Rossman Layman (ph) or perhaps Gustave Flaubert, it's the thought that counts.
DAVIES: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist and teaches at the University of California Berkeley School of Information. On tomorrow's show, Susan Burton had the best of intentions when she was released from prison.
SUSAN BURTON: I wanted to be brave, and I wanted to be strong. And I wanted to be successful.
DAVIES: Burton talks with us about the obstacles that kept her from starting a new life after prison and how she eventually started a program that houses newly released women in the Watts neighborhood of LA. Hope you can join us.
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DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie and Thea Chaloner. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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