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Grammy Special: David Bowie

It's been over 30 years since David Bowie created the gender-bending Ziggy Stardust, and produced the now classic album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. On Tuesday, the musician and songwriter will receive a 2006 Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.

11:16

Other segments from the episode on February 3, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 3, 2006: Interview with Merle Haggard; Interview with Eric Clapton; Interview with David Bowie; Review of television shows.

Transcript

DATE February 3, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Country music singer Merle Haggard in 1995 interview
discusses life in prison, turning his life around and his music
career
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

Next week at the Grammys, country music singer Merle Haggard will be one of
the recipients of a Lifetime Achievement Award. On today's FRESH AIR, we hear
from Haggard as well as two other recipients, Eric Clapton for the band Cream
and David Bowie.

Music critic Peter Guralnick has said about Merle Haggard, quote, "There is no
one in contemporary popular music who has created a more impressive legacy or
one that spans a wider variety of styles." Unquote. Haggard's best known
songs include "Mama Tried," "The Bottle Let Me Down," "Okie from Muskogee,"
and "Today I Started Loving You Again." He was inducted into the Country Music
Hall of Fame in 1994. Last year, Haggard was on tour with Bob Dylan. Ten of
Haggard's early albums from the 1960s and '70s have been remastered and will
be reissued this month.

As a young man, Merle Haggard was in and out of prison and hardly seemed
destined for success. Those prison experiences are reflected in many of his
songs. Before we hear a 1995 interview Terry Gross recorded with him, let's
hear Haggard sing one of his best known compositions, "Mama Tried."

Mr. MERLE HAGGARD: (Singing) "The first thing I remember knowin' was a
lonesome whistle blowin', and a youngun's dream of growing up to ride. On a
freight train leaving town, not knowin' where I'm bound, and no one could
change my mind but Mama tried.

The one and only rebel child from a fam'ly meek and mild, my mama seemed to
know what lay in store. 'Spite all my Sunday learnin' toward the bad I kept
on turnin' 'til Mama couldn't hold me anymore.

I turned 21 in prison doin' life without parole. No one could steer me right
but Mama tried, Mama tried. Mama tried to raise me better but her pleading
I denied. That leaves only me to blame 'cause Mama tried."

TERRY GROSS: Merle Haggard, is this song autobiographical?

Mr. HAGGARD: Well, it really is very close, at least. There's some things
we fudged on slightly to make it rhyme, but the majority of it, I would say 97
percent of it's pretty accurate, I guess.

GROSS: Your father died when you were nine, is that right?

Mr. HAGGARD: Nine.

GROSS: So your mother had to raise you alone after that?

Mr. HAGGARD: Yeah, and I was, to say the least, probably the most
incorrigible child you could think of. I was just--I was already on the way
to prison before I realized it, actually. I was really kind of a screw-up but
I really don't know why. I think it was mostly just out of boredom and lack
of a father's attention, I think.

GROSS: I think you were 14 when your mother put you in a juvenile home?

Mr. HAGGARD: No, she didn't put me in a juvenile home. They--the
authorities put me in there for truancy, for not going to school. They gave
me six months in like a road camp situation and I run off from there and stole
a car, and so then the next time I went back it was for something serious and
then I spent the next seven years running off from places. I think I escaped
17 times.

GROSS: How would you escape from reform school and youth institutions?

Mr. HAGGARD: Well, there were different institutions and different methods.
Some of them were minimum security, some of them were maximum security, and
some of them were kid joints and some were adult jail houses. I just didn't
stay nowhere. I was just--I think Will Sutton was my idol. At the time I was
in the middle of becoming an outlaw and escaping from jail and escaping from
places they had be locked up in was part of the thing that I wanted to do.

GROSS: So what was your most ingenious escape?

Mr. HAGGARD: Probably the one that was most ingenious was one that I didn't
actually go on. I was at San Quentin. I was all set to go with the only
completely successful escape out of San Quentin, I think, in 21 years, but the
people that gave me the chance to go were the same people that talked me out
of it because they felt like I was just doing it for the sport of it and then
it was a very serious thing to the other fellow that was going, and they had a
big judges chamber sort of desk that they were building at the furniture
factory in San Quentin and I had a friend who was building a place for two
guys to be transported out. That was before they had x-rays and things of
that nature. They just--I could have gone and I didn't go and the guy that I
went with wound up being executed in the gas chamber. He went out and held
court in the street, killed a highway patrolman and so it was really good that
I didn't go.

GROSS: Was that a real sobering experience for you?

Mr. HAGGARD: Yeah, I've had a lot of those things in my life and you know,
those are the sort of things that a guy, unknowingly like myself, I guess I
was gathering up meat for songs, you know. I don't know what I was doing. I
really kind of was crazy as a kid and then all of a sudden, you know, while I
was in San Quentin I just--I one day understood, I saw the light and I just
didn't want to do that no more, and I realized what a mess I had made out of
my life and I got out there and stayed out of there. Never did go back and
went and apologized to all the people that I had wronged and tried to pay back
the people that I had taken money from, borrowed money from or whatever. And
I think when I was 31 years old, I paid everybody back that I had ever taken
anything from, including my mother.

GROSS: What did you say to your mother when you changed your life around?

Mr. HAGGARD: It was just obvious. There was no--I don't think there was
ever any time that anybody in my family was worried about me staying with
this. It was just the way that, you know, some people grow up in the Army and
you know it's hard to be 18 years old. And you know, they send 18-year-old
boys to war because they don't know what to do with them, and I was one that,
I wound up going to prison rather than war. And instead of growing up in the
middle of a battle field with bullets flying around me, I grew up when the
isolation ward of death row and that's where the song, "Mama Tried," gets
close to being autobiographical.

GROSS: You were on death row?

Mr. HAGGARD: Yeah, I was--I got caught for making beer, making some beer up
there, and I got too much of my own beer and got drunk in the yard and got
arrested. It's hard to get arrested in San Quentin, but I did. And they sent
me to what was known as the shelf and the shelf is part of the north block
which you share with the inmates on death row. And it's kind of like
the--there's not too many more stops for you, actually. And that was the, as
you put it, sobering experience for me. I wound up with nothing to lay on
except a Bible and an old concrete slab and woke up from that drunk that I had
been on that day and I could hear some prisoners talking in the area next to
me. In other words, there was an alley way between the back of the cells and
I could hear people talking over there and I recognized the guys being Carol
Chessman, a guy they were fixing to execute, and I don't know, it was just
something about the whole situation that I knew that if I ever got out of
there--if I was lucky enough to get out, I made up my mind while I still had
that hangover that I was all finished.

GROSS: How were you lucky enough to get out?

Mr. HAGGARD: Well, I went back down on the yard and went down and asked for
the roughest job in the penitentiary, which was a textile mill, and went down
and just started building my reputation, you know, just started running in
reverse from what I had been doing and started trying to build up a long line
of good things to be proud of and that's what I've been doing since then.

GROSS: Back in the days when you were in prison, was music a big part of your
life then? Were you singing, playing, writing songs?

Mr. HAGGARD: Yeah. Yeah, I was already into doing that. I really didn't, I
don't think believe that I sincerely had a future in it. I think I was just
kind of like doing what I thought was probably a waste of time or a hobby at
the very most and maybe some extra money on the weekend sort of thing. But
that's, you know, when I was in San Quentin. I still didn't really thoroughly
realize that I had to do this the rest of my life and that it was going to be
this successful for me and I was going to, you know, have all the things
happen that have happened. I had no idea. You could never have convinced me
of the minute amount of the success I have had. I would have never believed
it.

GROSS: Did your music ability have anything to do with people noticing you in
prison and thinking that you could make it when you got out? And did that
help you at all in the warden's eyes?

Mr. HAGGARD: Yeah. That was the basic reason I think that these friends of
mine taught me how to go out on that escape. They felt that I had talent and
they felt that I was just an ornery kid and could probably make something out
of my life and, you know, believe it or not, in the penitentiary, there are
some pretty nice people and very unfortunate people. And they love to let
somebody, so to speak, get up on their shoulders, you know. They like to
boost somebody over the wall if they can. If they can't make it themselves,
they, I think, sincerely love to see someone else make it.

BIANCULLI: Country singer Merle Haggard, speaking with Terry Gross in 1995.
We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 1995 interview with Merle Haggard. Next
week, he'll receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy ceremonies.

GROSS: Tell us the story of how you got your first guitar.

Mr. HAGGARD: My first guitar.

GROSS: Yeah. Or how you started to play guitar.

Mr. HAGGARD: Well, I...

GROSS: Who's ever it was.

Mr. HAGGARD: I have an older brother named Lowell and Lowell had a service
station at the time and there was a guy came in and wanted a couple of dollars
worth of gas and didn't have no money and he left a little old Bronson, sort
of a Stella, Sears and Roebuck type guitar as collateral. And he never did
come back after it. And that old guitar sat in the closet there for a couple
of years and finally I think my mother showed me a couple of chords. My
brother didn't know how to play and my dad had passed away. He was a musician
in the family. So Mamma showed me a C chord that Daddy had showed her and she
didn't know how to make a C chord very good. But I went and took it from
that. I beat around on that old Bronson. I think it was a Bronson guitar.

GROSS: I imagine when you first got the guitar you were playing the songs you
heard on the radio. How did you start writing songs yourself?

Mr. HAGGARD: Well, about the same times that I discovered Jimmy Rogers, I
was about 12 years old, I discovered Hank Williams. And I remember seeing on
the yellow MGM records there was the artist's name and then there was another
name underneath that artist that was small, very small letters. And it said
composer. I didn't know what a composer was. I asked my mother, `What does
this mean?' And she said `I don't know,' and she called the record store and
they told her, `That's the writer. That's the guy that writes the songs.' And
it seemed to me very important to have your name in both places there. I
noticed that Hank Williams had a little extra clout because he wrote his own
songs. Jimmy Rogers the same thing, you know. And so I felt it was just as
necessary to become a songwriter as it was to try to learn to play the guitar
or, you know, it's certainly a tool that most people, I think, in the business
would like to be a singer/songwriter if they could be because if they could
be, because it is, in some way, your retirement, you know. You can have a
great career and if you don't write songs or have a publishing company or
something to lean back on when it's all over, it's a pretty hard drop back to
reality, you know. And once you've learned to live under the conditions I've
learned to live under, you better have yourself a publishing company or I'll
have to go back to being an outlaw.

GROSS: When you started writing songs, did you realize that you could write
autobiographical songs from your own life or did you think you had to copy
other people's songs?

Mr. HAGGARD: Well, I really didn't realize what method to take first. I
must've wrote maybe 1500 songs that weren't any good or at least I, you know,
never kept them. Then finally, with a lot of help and a lot of people who had
written hit songs, I had become friends with, such as Fuzzy Owen, who became
my personal manager, he was a songwriter and he helped me--he taught me how to
write songs. And finally, I wrote one that was worth keeping and I think I've
written about 300 keepers or so, maybe 400.

GROSS: Do you remember the first one that you thought this is worth keeping?

Mr. HAGGARD: Yeah. It was a sort of a rock 'n' roll song. An Elvis-type
rock 'n' roll thing. It was called, "If You Want To Be My Woman." And Glen
Campbell opened his shows with it for years and I still do the song. I wrote
it when I was about 14.

GROSS: Could you sing a couple of bars of it?

Mr. HAGGARD: (Singing) "You like riding in the country in my Cadillac and
you keep--I don't know--I can't--you keep pushing me back." Something about
duh-duh-duh-duh-duh--on the money that I earn but you refuse to give me
something equal in return. Don't look at me, like maybe you don't understand.
If you want to be my woman, you know you got to let me be your man."

GROSS: Now, during all the years that you were in and out of prisons and
reforms schools, did you ever think I can make a living with music?

Mr. HAGGARD: No. The very best, I counted on extra money as you know, like
maybe a hobby, you know. I figured I was gonna have to have some other means
of employment, you know, or support.

GROSS: So what made you think, well, I can make a living out of this?

Mr. HAGGARD: When I came out of the penitentiary I went to work for my
brother digging ditches and wiring houses. He had an electrical company, Tag
Electric. And He was paying me $80 a week. This was 1960. And I was working
eight hours a day there. And I got me a little gig playing guitar four nights
a week for 10 bucks a night. And there was a little radio show that we had
broadcast from, this little nightclub called High Pockets. And it just all
started from that. Some people that had, that was local stars around, heard
me on this radio program and came down and offered me a better job in town.
And it was just a matter of weeks until I was part of the main clique in
Bakersfield. And it was hard to get in that clique. There was a lot of
people like Buck Owens and there was people like--Bakersfield was some sort of
a, I don't know, it was like country music artists found their way to
Bakersfield and then had this success there. I don't understand why,
actually. It may be because of the migration that took place in the '30s or
wherever. There was a lot of people that came out there from Oklahoma and
Arkansas and Texas that had a lot of soul. And this thing we call country
music kind of came out of those honky tonks, you know, and some of the same
areas that a lot of other things came out of.

GROSS: Was it hard for you to adjust to success and stardom having come from
poverty and, you know, having lived in prison off and on for so many years? I
think it's hard for a lot of people to adjust to that.

Mr. HAGGARD: There's a thing that happens like when you leave the
penitentiary and you've been there for three years, you have friends and you
have a way of life, a routine and a whole way of life that you just give up
all of a sudden. One day you're there and the next day you're not there and
you have any more friends from the outside 'cause things went on when you
left. And you can't find anybody there. And the people you left behind in
prison are really your only friends. And there's a period of adjustment that
took me about 120 days, I don't know, about four months. A couple of times, I
really wanted to go back. And it's really a weird sensation. It's the
loneliest feeling in the world about the second night out of the penitentiary.

BIANCULLI: Merle Haggard recorded in 1995. Next week, he'll receive a
Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys. Ten of his early albums will be
rereleased this month. I'm David Bianculli and this is Fresh Air.

Mr. HAGGARD: (Singing) "Did you ever steal a quarter when you was 10 years
old? Ever wear with a Brogan with a hole in the sole? Did you ever ride a
freight train while runnin' from the law? I've done it all, lawd, lawd, I've
done it all.

Did you ever spend a winter in a dirty jail? Did you ever buy a topcoat a
rummage sale? Did you ever spend a Christmas inside detention hall? I've
done it all, lawd, lawd, I've done it all."

Well, I picked...
(Announcements)

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Profile: Television shows on, off and going off the air that break
once-standard mold of prime-time TV dramas
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

At this point in the show, I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about
television and some shows that are on the air, off the air, going off the air
and long gone from the air. I want to talk about "24" and "Lost" and "The
Book of Daniel" and "The West Wing" and "Reunion" and "Threshold" and
"Wiseguy" and "Twin Peaks" and what they all have in common. They're all
shows that break the once standard mold of prime-time TV dramas, the rule that
said each hour of every series could stand alone and be shown and enjoyed in
almost any order, like cards shuffled in a deck. These other ground-breaking
shows all promise longer, drawn out, episodic stories, more like daytime soap
operas, but with finite mysteries to solve, from the murder of Laura Palmer or
the alien invasion of the planet Earth to the election or murder of a
president.

It's an exciting, often very satisfying development, these complex methods of
TV storytelling. Sometime, they get to tell and finish their tale in a way
that makes it read like a complete novel. "The Prisoner," starring Patrick
McGoohan as a secret agent abducted to a mysterious island, pulled it off way
back in 1968. "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" did just a few years ago. And "The
Sopranos," which finally returns next month, is doing it now.

The novel approach to TV is anything but novel, really. "Masterpiece Theater"
has been doing it for 30 years and is doing it brilliantly today with "Bleak
House," a terrific adaptation of the Charles Dickens' novel. That novel, by
the way, was written originally for newspapers the same way it's rolling out
now on television, in weekly episodic installments. But with "Bleak House,"
then and now, you can start the story comfortably reassured that eventually,
it will come to a natural conclusion. Get away from PBS and maybe HBO and
Showtime and that's not true.

What's really infuriating about TV today is one of these shows starts on its
ambitious path and pulls you along then doesn't get to finish. When the
ratings go south, the shows are taken off the air and viewers are left with a
painful case of TV interruptus. I'm not talking about the unfunny sitcom,
"Emily's Reasons Why Not" being yanked off ABC after one episode. I'm not
talking about a horrible reality show being jettisoned early so we'll never
know who won the ranch in the will on CBS or survive the world's most
obnoxious boss on Fox. But I am talking about "The Book of Daniel," which
NBC, responding partly to advertiser dropout, but mostly to low ratings, has
pulled from the air after a handful of increasingly endearing episodes. For
now, you can still watch new episodes of "The Book of Daniel" on Friday nights
but not on NBC. You can only see it if you go to NBC's Web site, where one of
the last few shelved hours will be streamed each week.

That's a far cry from broadcasting on an actual network. But it's a lot
better to what's happened to "Reunion" or Fox or "Threshold" on CBS.
"Threshold," like "Invasion" on ABC and "Surface" on NBC, was one of this
year's slowly unfolding sci-fi mysteries in the wake of last year's successful
"Lost." In my opinion, "Threshold" was the best of the three new shows. But
not enough viewers agreed so "Threshold" has been gone from CBS since November
and isn't scheduled to reappear. What'll happen to those sneaky aliens trying
to infect and overrun our planet? We'll never know.

Similarly, there will be no Web cast on Fox explaining who was the murderer on
"Reunion." Each episode in that show was supposed to take us forward in time
one year from 20 years ago to the present and unmask the killer in the finale.
Instead, all we're getting is a Fox executive's apology and the announcement
that the killer probably was Sam's daughter.

Five years ago, when a different set of Fox executives unveiled a show called
"24," with its unique real-time format, TV critics tried to extract from those
executives a promise that if they started the series, it would definitely last
all season. The executives refused. It's only because audiences warmed up to
Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer that we got to see his wife die at the end of
the year and all his bad days since.

In the 1990s, "Wiseguy" hedged its bets by telling stories that spread over
part of the season, what it called a story arc. "Twin Peaks" teased viewers
too long before revealing Laura's killer and ended up leaving with one of TV's
most unresolved cliffhangers, Dale Cooper possessed by the spirit of Bob.

That should have taught us a lesson, but thanks to "Lost" being so successful
and so good, we're all risking being left at the altar again with its many
imitators, or even worst, left just a few weeks into a TV romance.

"The West Wing" will go out this May with a chance to finish its story at an
opportune point, the peaceful transition of power from one presidential
administration to another. For me, the show has been so good the last 18
months during this latest election cycle that it should have been renewed by
NBC and allowed to follow its new chief executive into office. But not enough
people are watching so "The West Wing" is leaving. But at least it's ending
and gets to go out with dignity, and at least I get to watch it on my TV set,
not on my laptop.

(Announcements)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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