Skip to main content

Hillbilly Revivalist Big Sandy.

Big Sandy is the lead singer of the Fly Rite Boys a band that combines rockabilly, western swing, and hillbilly boogie sounds. They are currently on tour and have a new album “Night Tide” (High Tone Records). With it, they’ve taken a darker more personal bent. Big Sandy and his Fly Rite Boys have been making music together since 1988 and have recorded seven albums all told, including BIG Sandy's solo do-wop tribute, “Dedicated to You.”


Other segments from the episode on December 12, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 12, 2000: Interview with Big Sandy; Interview with Esther Sternberg; Review of the album "Threepenny Opera."


DATE December 12, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Big Sandy talks about his new album and his influences

(Joined in progress) ...Orange County, California, and is now in his mid-30s.
He started his band the Fly Rite Boys in 1988. They have several CDs. The
latest one is called "Night Tide," and it has a sadder, lonelier sound than
their previous recordings. Let's start with Big Sandy's song, "When Sleep
Won't Come." It's inspired by Spade Cooley, the Western-swing band leader of
the '40s who was imprisoned for killing his wife.

(Soundbite from "When Sleep Won't Come")

BIG SANDY (Lead Singer of the Fly Rite Boys): (Singing) 4 drags into 5:00,
I'm wide awake, wondering how much more of this that I can take. I wish I
knew what to do when sleep won't come. Heaven knows I loved her more than I
can tell. Now the memories haunt me in this lonely cell. I wish I knew what
to do when sleep won't come. Every night I lay me down and try to close my
eyes. I can see her face and hear her crying. Well, maybe if I could be king
again for just a day, I could close my eyes and drift away. The minutes grow
so slowly...

GROSS: That's Big Sandy from his new CD called "Night Tide."

Welcome to FRESH AIR.

BIG SANDY: Hi, how you doing there?

GROSS: This song that we just heard is based on the life of the band leader
Spade Cooley, who killed his wife while his daughter watched and then was, of
course, put in prison. So this is, I guess, inspired by his story of being
sleepless and in prison, haunted by what he'd done.

What made you think about writing a song about him?

BIG SANDY: Well, at that time, I had a friend of mine who was doing time in
prison, a guy I'd grown up with and who just kind of went down the wrong path,
you know, and begun a downward spiral with drugs and just kind of--it
escalated and, well, he ended up being locked up. And I just was--had that on
my mind and I was kind of thinking what it might be like for a person,
anybody, like, doing time and to be alone with their thoughts and their
conscience. And I was--had recently read an article about Spade Cooley, and I
thought maybe I'd write a song from his perspective, you know, still alo--like
I said, alone with his thoughts at night. And he's somebody whose music
really moves me, and I thought it was such a tragic story, you know. I just,
I don't know, I guess that's what was going through my mind.

GROSS: Has your friend in prison heard the song and does he know that he's
part of the inspiration for it?

BIG SANDY: No, he never got to know that. I--actually he passed away. It's
kind of a--quite a tragic tale there in itself. He actually tried to escape
and led the police on a chase and ended up putting a gun to his own head
before they caught up with him.

GROSS: Wow. Did you think that the escape itself was a form of suicide

BIG SANDY: Boy, I--it's hard to say. They're still investigating the

GROSS: Right.

BIG SANDY: It may not have played out the way it was reported.

GROSS: I see.

BIG SANDY: There's something we're not sure about yet.

GROSS: Right.

BIG SANDY: But, anyway, so those sort of things were on my mind at the time.

GROSS: I think that your band Big Sandy and His Fly Rite Boys started kind of
as a rockabilly band. Then you got more into country-western music, and
there's a lot of more just country-oriented music on the new CD. Can you talk
a little about the change of directions you've taken as a performer?

BIG SANDY: Yeah, well, this band started out in 1988, and we were pretty much
just a straight-ahead rockabilly band. And I was in--well, we all were in a
few different rockabilly bands in the LA area before the Big Sandy thing
began. But I'd always listened to country music, Western-swing, honky-tonk,
as well as, you know, rhythm and blues, R&B, doo-wop. But when we began, I
sort of was--I didn't want to let any of that influence my music. I was, you
know, it seems silly now looking back, you know. As time has gone on I've
kind of dropped my guard and let all the other--these other styles, like, fall
into the music. I--it's stuff that I've always listened to at home, but for
whatever reason, I'm not sure now looking back, but I didn't want it to be
mixed in with what we were doing at the time, you know.

GROSS: Your birth name is Robert Williams, but you perform under the name of
Big Sandy. Is Big Sandy a persona or just a nickname?

BIG SANDY: Well, I guess it's become a persona. It's something I slip into
before I go onto stage. I began singing. I started to realize that I could
become somebody else, be somebody that I'm not really in everyday life--be
kind of quiet and shy, I guess, during the day, but when I step on stage, I
really kind of shift into this other personality, and I guess that's become
Big Sandy.

GROSS: Well, let's pause for another song from your new CD. And this is a
Roger Miller song called "A Man Like Me." Now I grew up with a couple of songs
by Roger Miller that I really didn't like, "King of the Road" and "Dang Me."
And I've heard a lot of songwriters over the years speak in--speak with awe of
Roger Miller and his songs. I've really never understood it because I know
"King of the Road" and "Dang Me." This song helps me understand why
songwriters admire him so much. Tell me why you chose to include this song on
your new CD.

BIG SANDY: Well, as the songs were coming together for this album, it--there
was a--seemed to be a little bit of a theme developing, a theme of, like, sort
of darkness or loneliness, and the Roger Miller song "A Man Like Me" had
already become, like, a band favorite. It was something we listened to a lot
on the bus. And, you know, I like to spend time before a trip, you know,
making up tapes for the road and that was something-- a song that everybody
seemed to get into. And stylistically it's sort of area--territory I kind of
want to move more into, doing a little--some more of the country shuffles,
like late '50s, early '60s sort of thing. I know what you're saying about
Roger Miller, you know, a lot of people know him for his wacky sort of novelty
things, and he--but when he wrote a serious song, it was a serious song and
the human side of Roger Miller is pretty amazing, or at least what he shows in
a lot of his music, you know.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is "A Man Like Me" from Big Sandy's new CD
"Night Tide."

(Soundbite from "A Man Like Me")

BIG SANDY: I walked the streets and ringed my hands, trying hard to
understand. But I just can't make myself believe that it's for good she's
gone. Why must I go through this pain? Day and night it's all the same.
Heaven help a man like me who walks alone. Well, honky-tonks have no...

GROSS: That's the Roger Miller song "A Man Like Me" from the new Big Sandy
CD, "Night Tide."

I have to say, I really love your singing, and I think that song is a good
example of why. Now I know that you listened to a lot of music in your
parent's record collections...


GROSS: ...when you were growing up. What kind of music was in your mother's
and father's collection?

BIG SANDY: Well, my mother had and still has a lot of 45s, mainly doo-wop and
R&B. She just really loves all the--especially the LA groups. She really
goes for the LA vocal groups' sound. And my father, on the other hand, had a
lot of country, rockabilly, Western-swing records, 45s and 78s and him and I
used to spend a lot of time on the weekends going around looking for records
at thrift stores and junk shops. And I was just surrounded by all kinds of
records growing up. And while the other kids would, you know, maybe be out,
you know, playing football or tossing the ball around with their pop, you
know, me and my dad were--that's what we did together, you know. I'd look
forward to every weekend, you know. And we still do it from time to time, you
know. And sometimes I, you know, as often as I can, you know, we're on the
road quite a bit but, you know, when I'm back in town, I'll go and visit him
and we still--we'll sit around and talk about records. And he'll show me some
of his latest finds. You know, we still have that bond. That was a thing I
shared with my father but also with my mother. Like, there was a time,
earlier in their marriage, when my father would kind of be away a lot, and I
wasn't sure where he was, you know. I thought he was working but he'd be gone
for a few days at a time, you know. He'd just kind of go off on these
drinking binges. But during that time, I just had like really vivid memories
of my mother sitting at home, you know, waiting for him to come back, you
know, listening to her, like, doo-wop records, you know, and it was before any
of the other kids came, but, like, that was just something special that her
and I shared. I mean, even without even talking about it, it was kind of
like, we had little moments, you know.

GROSS: So the music helped connect you to your mother.

BIG SANDY: Yeah, I think so, you know. Yeah, she--I mean, she still gets out
those old records now. We kind of reminisce together, I guess, you know.

GROSS: My guest is Big Sandy. His new CD is called "Night Tide." More after
a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest, Big Sandy, writes and sings rockabilly, Western swing and
honky-tonk music. His new CD is called "Night Tide."

Well, you have a CD that you did a couple of years ago called "Dedicated to
You," that's a album of mostly doo-wop songs.

BIG SANDY: Yeah, yeah, that album was mainly for my mother, you know. I'm
not sure why but I guess that I afraid to really attempt any of the doo-wop
and R&B material. I just--something that I held in such high regard, I didn't
think I would be able to touch it, you know, vocally anyway, you know. But
I'm glad that the guys at High Tone Records, you know, convinced me that it'd
be a good idea. It--I guess in the back of my mind, it's something that I'd
wanted to do for a long time but I needed a little push, you know.

GROSS: Well, there's a song that you do in here, "I'm Leaving It All Up to
You," that was a hit by Don & Dewey and you actually recorded it with Dewey
Terry from the original Don & Dewey. How did you get him to record this with

BIG SANDY: Well, I first met Dewey in '91 over in England. We were doing a
rock'n'roll festival together. And he went out of his way to--I mean, he was
such a cool guy to me, you know, I was just like in awe of him, you know. And
I told him how much his music meant to me. And I told him, you know, I would,
you know, rattle off songs, like that, you know, `This 45 and I like the flip
side of this one.' And we became friends, and we kept in touch and, you know,
we've done shows--a few shows together over the years. And I've gone to see
him perform when he's been doing little lounge acts or, you know, playing in
little bars around LA. And when we started putting together the concept for
the "Dedicated to You" album, his was a name that came up, that popped up in
my mind right away.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear the duet that you did with him. Do you want
to say anything about it before we play it?

BIG SANDY: Just that it was just so amazing, like, standing next to him in
the studio, singing alongside of him. It was quite an experience. I mean,
really beyond words.

GROSS: OK, well, this is from Big Sandy's CD "Dedicated to You" and this is
Big Sandy with Dewey Terry of Don & Dewey.

(Soundbite of duet by Big Sandy and Dewey Terry)

BIG SANDY: I'm leaving it all up to you. You decide what you're going to do.
Now do you want my love or part we do? I was a fool in the past. Might have
known it couldn't last. Now do you want my love or part we do? My heart in
my hand. I don't understand. What have I, what have I done wrong? I worship
the ground you walked on. That's why I'm leaving it up to you.

GROSS: That's music from Big Sandy's CD, "Dedicated to You." He has a new CD
which is called "Night Tide." We talked a little about your parents and
music. Your grandfather on your mother's side was in a mariachi band.


GROSS: What did he play and what did he wear when he played?

BIG SANDY: Well, he just--he wore the traditional, you know, outfits that
they wear. What do they call those? I don't know. But I never knew my
grandfather, you know. I only know stories, you know, from--that my
grandmother used to tell when she was around, you know. And I've seen a
couple of old pictures, you know. He played guitar and, I guess, you know, he
had an old Martin. And my grandmother tells me he used to keep a rattlesnake
rattle inside of it for good luck or something. I'm not sure what that's all
about, but I wish I knew more about him and about that side of the family, but
I just don't know.

GROSS: So what's the ethnic mix of your family?

BIG SANDY: Well, my mother's family's from Mexico, from Durango, Mexico. And
they came into the states here through El Paso, and I believe my grandmother
moved to California in the '30s. My father's side, well, he's of, like,
English and Irish decent. I, you know--not sure exactly what the background
is on that side. He--I know some of the family was from Oklahoma. And--but
there's another part of his family from Utah, and I'm not sure what the
complete story is there.

GROSS: You know, I'm thinking, a lot of kids when they're growing up
who--they spend their money--or some of their money on records and their
parents berate them for it. And sometimes parents even want to throw out
record collections. This was particularly true probably few decades ago, but
it must have been nice to have parents who really respected you for wanting to
buy records and shared your love of music.

BIG SANDY: Well, I feel pretty lucky about that. Though it is funny, you
mentioned about parents making you throw away records. You know, my dad did
go through one little phase where he kind of, you know, had--somebody had
taken him to a Billy Graham crusade, and he came back with this new thing, you
know, like, we were getting rid of all this--these evil records in the house,
you know.

GROSS: Uh-oh.

BIG SANDY: And--yeah, and my mother and I hid some of them, we stashed them
away, you know. I thought that was kind of funny. But he--fortunately, that
was a short-lived phase for him, you know.

GROSS: Did he throw out his own collection?

BIG SANDY: Oh, he--yeah, you know, it--pretty sad, you know. But this was
like in the early '70s, you know. But we--I mean, we've--he's amassed quite a
few records since then, you know. I mean, so--more than he had gotten rid of
originally, you know.

GROSS: What did he do to earn a living? You've managed to earn your living
in music. What did your father do?

BIG SANDY: He's a welder. He still works at the same place that he's worked
at--I mean, he's worked at Associated Concrete Products in Santa Ana,
California. He's worked there since the early '60s.

GROSS: Many of the songs on your new CD are originals--are songs that you
wrote. How did you start writing songs? And I'm wondering if you have
certain role models who you've looked to--that you've listened to a lot in
terms of figuring out what makes a good song.

BIG SANDY: Well, I'm still trying to figure out what makes a good song. But
just as I've learned or am learning to sing from listening to old records, I
have sort of figured out what the basic framework for these types of musics
are, like, provided, I guess, like a sort of foundation for me, you know. I
can listen to a Lefty Frizzell song and there's the structure right there. I
see that's what a country song should be, just using that as an example. But
as time has gone by, like, I want to bring more of own--more of myself to the
music. And I don't know, guys like Dave Alvin have been a big influence on
me. Like, just, in the fact that somebody like Dave, who is deeply moved and
influenced by older forms of music but has not let the framework of these
older styles, like, confine him. He's used that as a starting point and has,
like, branched out with something that is definitely his own and that's, I
think, the challenge that I've set for myself. And I think I'm not quite
there yet, but I feel progress there, and I'm happy with the way things are
going. But I think I'm just now kind of letting my guard down and allowing
myself to be a little more honest with my music, rather than just trying to
recreate things that have been done before, you know.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite of your originals on the new CD?

BIG SANDY: Oh, "Between Darkness and Dawn" is a pretty personal song for me,
and that's one I was happy with.

GROSS: What's personal about it?

BIG SANDY: Well, I guess I was just sort of reflecting on just sort of a
personal struggle, you know, with just the basic--I mean, the most basic thing
between, you know, good and evil. You know, but--all of us, the kids in our
family, we were raised up going to church. And kind of, you know, the whole
family did that thing for a while, you know. And, even though you fall away
from it, you still have some of those beliefs tucked back inside of your mind
somewhere. And some of the things I can--you can get involved with, with the
sort of, you know, life that comes along with being on the road and being in
clubs and bars every night, just kind of doesn't completely sit right
somewhere inside, and it's just kind of, basically, about that struggle, you

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

BIG SANDY: Well, thank you, I appreciate it.

GROSS: And why don't we hear "Between Darkness and Dawn" from Big Sandy's new
CD, "Night Tides."

(Soundbite of "Between Darkness and Dawn")

BIG SANDY: Well, when did I stray from the path and wander in the night? I'm
deep within this world of sin. It's so far from the light. Here by the
wayside, I feel I can't go on, lost between darkness and dawn. Well when did
I fall from his hand into this world so strange? And though I try, it seems
that I am too weak to make a change. I'm just a sinner, I sing a sinner's
song, lost between darkness and dawn.

GROSS: Big Sandy and the Fly Rite Boys from the new CD "Night Tide." I'm
Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


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

Interview: Dr. Esther Sternberg talks about stress and stress
response in humans and animals

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Many stressed-out people and their doctors have reached the conclusion that
stress leaves us more vulnerable to illness. Now scientists are discovering a
biological explanation for this phenomenon. My guest, Dr. Esther Sternberg,
is one of the researchers studying the connections between the brain, the
endocrine system and the immune system and how these connections explain the
effects of stress on health. She's the author of "The Balance Within: The
Science Connecting Health and Emotions." She's also a physician trained in
rheumatology, and she directs the neural immune program at the National
Institutes of Health.

She says when you're under stress, hormones are secreted and nerve pathways
are activated. Those changes also affect the immune system, making it less
able to fight invaders. I asked Dr. Sternberg to explain the body's stress
response when adrenaline and other hormones are released.

Dr. ESTHER STERNBERG (National Institutes of Health): What's happening when
all these events are happening at the same time is that many parts of your
body are getting ready or being readied to fight or flee. And stress,
therefore, is a very important part of life. Because when you think of it,
if you're an animal in the wild, if you're a field mouse and you arrive in a
new field, and a cat comes along if you're not stressed, if you're just
relaxed and go to sleep, you're going to be eaten. You have to have a certain
level of stress response to protect you, to allow you to recognize that
there's a threat and help your heart start beating fast so you can pump blood
to your muscles so you can get ready to run. And you have to feel and
recognize that you're stressed, otherwise you're going to just stay in that
dangerous place, and you won't have any reason to leave.

GROSS: But over the long period of time, the adrenaline isn't going to be
good for you?

Dr. STERNBERG: Correct. So the problem arises, if you're that field mouse
and the cat goes away and you're still standing there feeling stressed and you
actually freeze because you're feeling stressed, or you can't move and your
heart continues to beat fast and you continue to pour out all these stress
hormones, and that's when you can have effects on the body and physical

GROSS: What's the relationship of the adrenaline to the physical illness that
you might get?

Dr. STERNBERG: Adrenaline and other nerve chemicals also have effects on
immune cells. The body really has many back-up systems, which are quite
wonderful. Immune organs like the spleen or the thymus have nerves coursing
through them so that there are rich networks, lacy networks of nerves in
these organs so that immune cells sit very closely up against the nerves. And
when you are stressed, nerve chemicals like adrenaline--adrenalinelike nerve
chemicals can pour out and can affect how these cells are developing within
the immune organs. So, in general, stress and stress hormones and different
immune--and different nerve chemicals turn down the ability of the immune
system to fight infectious disease.

GROSS: How does the brain communicate to the rest of the body that you're
stressed out?

Dr. STERNBERG: The brain sends signals to the rest of the body that you are
feeling stressed through hormones and nerve chemicals. So there's a part of
the brain called the hypothalamus that when you're feeling stressed, when
you're exposed to some stressful event, or even if you remember a stressful
event, that part of the brain turns on and starts pouring out a hormone
called CRH--it's short for corticotropin releasing hormone--and that hormone
goes into the bloodstream and makes the pituitary gland, which sits underneath
the brain, pour out another hormone, ACTH. And that hormone goes into the
bloodstream and makes your adrenal glands, that sit down on top of your
kidneys like little hats, they start pouring out cortisol.

Now anybody who's used cortisone cream on a poison ivy rash, if you've had
allergic rhinitis or asthma and inhaled cortisone spray, you know that
cortisone is the most potent anti-inflammatory drug that our bodies make. And
I say drug because it was first discovered in the context of a drug. But it
turns out it's the brain's way of tuning down the immune system. The brain
has to have a way to tell the immune system to shut off when the inflammation
is no longer needed. And it happens through this system of hormones, this
cascade of hormones.

GROSS: But does the cortisol do anything to help us cope with the stress?

Dr. STERNBERG: Oh, yes. Yes. Cortisol turns off the stress response. So
when your brain starts pouring out the hormone CRH, and that makes your
pituitary gland make ACTH and your adrenal glands make cortisol, cortisol goes
back up through the bloodstream and shuts off that loop. So under normal
circumstances, it doesn't go out of control. If you wouldn't have cortisol,
your stress-hormone response would just spiral out of control. So you've got
to have cortisol.

But cortisol, at the same time, also shuts down the immune response, and in
some cases that's good, but if it's an inappropriate situation, that's bad.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Esther Sternberg, and she's the
author of the book "The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and
Emotions." She's a scientist at the National Institute of Health.

Well, now that scientists can really study the biology of stress and its
effect on the immune system, what do scientists know about what you can do to
counteract those effects and boost the immune system when you need to or to
diminish the impact of stress?

Dr. STERNBERG: Well, there's many parts of that question. Just as there are
many different ways that the stress system can affect the immune system at
many different levels--as I described, in immune organs or through the
bloodstream, through different nerve chemicals, through nerves, through
hormones--you can imagine that we can begin to attack the system in different
ways, depending upon the problem in a given individual. So--or you can--but
you can also think of it in a more global way. That is, if stress--if
perceiving that something is stressful is causing all these cascade of
hormones to have a negative effect on the immune system, then perhaps the most
efficient way to deal with it is rather than at the end point--you know,
figuring out what kind of drugs we can give to interfere with the effects of
those stress hormones on immune cells, which is one approach--we can also go
to the other end and say, `Well, what can we do that can change our ability or
that can change our perception of an event as stressful or at least that can
help us to respond with less of an outpouring of these stress hormones than we
might otherwise do?' And that end of things, that approach to the problem is
really summarized in many of the approaches of what we call complementary and
alternative medicine.

And I think the many different ways that people have evolved over the
centuries and through different cultures that different individuals find
useful tell us something about the many different ways that we can learn to
change our perception of an event as stressful; learn to, perhaps, disconnect
a little bit of that response to the outside world and maybe tone it down so
we don't have quite such an outpouring of hormones. I'm not saying that it's
totally possible to do that, but I think what understanding this science is
helping us scientists and physicians do is understand the extent to which we
are able, either consciously or unconsciously, or to actively learn how much
we can change our stress responsiveness so that we can not have quite such a
deleterious effect of stress on the immune system.

GROSS: So practically speaking, we might be talking about, for instance,

Dr. STERNBERG: Yes. Practically speaking, we're talking about things like
meditation. We're talking about even psychotherapy. And in the book, I
speculate in that perhaps one of the common features of many of these kinds
of approaches is learning; really learning. And in the chapter that I titled
Can Believing Make You Well?, it's an exploration of whether we can really
relearn how to perceive an event as stressful or less stressful or more
stressful and what the scientific evidence is that suggests that there is some
degree that we can change our responses to these kinds of events.

GROSS: My guest is Dr. Esther Sternberg, author of "The Balance Within: The
Science Connecting Health and Emotions." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Dr. Esther Sternberg. She directs the neural immune
program at the National Institutes of Health. Her new book is about the
biological connection between stress and illness. I asked her if some people
are genetically predisposed to stress.

Dr. STERNBERG: That's a very good question, and I can answer it best based on
animal studies. So there's no question that there are strains of
rats--there are strains of mice, also--that genetically have a very high
stress response or a very low stress response. And, in fact, those are the
rat strains that I work with. And one of those strains, the low-stress
responsive strain, when placed in a novel environment, which is a universal
stressor--novelty, newness turns on our stress response. So if you take those
low-stress rats and put them in a new cage, they're perfectly happy. They
explore. They look around. They don't act stressed at all.

If you take their high-stressed cousins and put them in a new cage, they
freeze. They stay in one place in the middle of the cage and they start
running around an chasing their tail, which is a behavior of rats that are
stressed out. And if you measure their stress hormones, the high-stress rats
will have high-stress hormones and the low-stress rats will have low-stress

So--and these were strains of rats that were bred to be genetically unique and
different from each other. And so there's clearly a genetic component to your
stress responsiveness. And I think if you think of people--of all the people
you know, some people are just more twitchy, they're more anxious, they're
more responsive to the same event that somebody else will be relaxed about.

GROSS: Now in the case of the rats, you can't accuse them of being more
stressed out because they're over intellectualizing.

Dr. STERNBERG: What I like to say is that no amount of psychotherapy is
going to make the high-stress...

GROSS: Exactly. Right.

Dr. STERNBERG: ...rats relax.

GROSS: Exactly. So sometimes it goes beyond that.


GROSS: It's just something that's wired into you.

Dr. STERNBERG: It's wired in. So in these particular rats, they're extremes.
They truly are extremes. Although there are probably events in early
development--environmental events; all kinds of events--that can modulate
their stress responsiveness to a certain degree, depending upon how tightly
your stress response is set; how finely tuned it is. You may or may not be
able to intervene with things like meditation or psychotherapy.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Esther Sternberg, and she's the
author of the new book "The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and
Emotions." She's a scientist at the National Institute of Health.

You know how mothers always warn their kids, `Don't go out in the rain. Don't
go out in the cold without a scarf'?


GROSS: Maybe they should really be warning, `Don't be stressed.'

Dr. STERNBERG: Well, no, no. Actually, your--I'm a mother, so I can relate
to this a lot. I mean, I feel like not going out in the cold, eating your
vegetables and eating well and sleeping well are all speaking to avoiding
physiological stress, OK? When you think of it, going out in the cold--heat,
cold, extremes of cold are physiological stressors. So we talked about
psychological stressors. And all those different categories that you're now
talking about are physiological stressors.

One interesting thing that is actually very new in this science is that
different kinds of stressors, if they're physiological or psychological or
immune, activate different brain pathways. And so this is really a very
exciting area of research for the future to try to understand whether
different kinds of stressful stimuli can have different kinds of effects on
the immune system, depending upon the patterns of the parts of the brain that
they affect.

GROSS: What do you do when you're under stress, believing, as you do, that
stress can lead to a weakened immune system?

Dr. STERNBERG: I also talk about that in the book, in a way. Well, I talk
about how I started writing the book right after my mother died from breast
cancer, and I was really in a period of great stress, upheaval, grief. And
as I was writing the book, I found that what I would do is I would come home
from work every day, and I had this incredible urge to build a fire. And I
would build the fire in the fireplace and sit in front of the fireplace and
write the book. And as I was writing some of the chapters on stress and on
belief, I suddenly realized, `Well, I'm doing this. What am I doing to find
this place of peace? And what is it about the ritual of building a fire and
sitting here listening to music while I'm writing a book that is bringing me
to that place of peace?' And I think if you can find that in yourself and go
to those places in your mind at any time during the day when you need to,
that's certainly one way to feel less stressed.

I think another point that I make in the book, and that I certainly make when
I lecture around the country, is that you don't always want to be getting rid
of your stress response. You need that stress response. You don't always
want to be meditating. If I were sitting here meditating right now, there'd
be dead air time and you'd be stressed and I'd be relaxed and the listeners
would be bored. So I need to have a certain level of stress in order to be

I talked to a Navy pilot who flies F-14s off of aircraft carriers, and I asked
him, `When you're flying, when you're landing these airplanes on these little
aircraft carriers, or big aircraft carriers in the ocean, are you feeling
stressed?' And he sent me, in response, a picture over the Internet of him
flying this F-14 perpendicular to the ocean about 80 feet off the ocean and
then 10 feet off the edge of the aircraft carrier, and there are all these
people on the bridge of the aircraft carrier waving their arms. And he said,
`There's only one person in this picture who's not stressed, and that person
is the pilot, himself.' And the reason is because the pilot is in control.
He is not meditating. He's not relaxed. The last thing he wants to be doing
is meditating at that moment. But he has learned to control his stress
response and make it work for him.

So I think the other important thing to remember when you're thinking about
stress is you don't want to get rid of it all. You don't want to be relaxed
and mellow all the time. You need to, at times, be at your peak and
performing and controlling your stress response and letting it work for you.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Dr. STERNBERG: Well, it's been a great pleasure.

GROSS: Dr. Esther Sternberg is the author of "The Balance Within: The
Science Connecting Health and Emotions."

Coming up, the 1954 revival of the "Threepenny Opera." Lloyd Schwartz
reviews the cast recording, which has just been re-issued. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Review: Re-release of the cast recording of Kurt Weill's
"Threepenny Opera"

One of the most famous original cast albums is not from a Broadway show but
from an off-Broadway one, the legendary 1954 production of Kurt Weill's
"Threepenny Opera." It starred his widow, Lotte Lenya, and became the longest
running musical of its time. That album has been re-issued on CD. Classical
music critic Lloyd Schwartz has a review.

(Soundbite of music from "Threepenny Opera")


When I was finally old enough to see Kurt Weill's "Threepenny Opera," the
off-Broadway production had already been running more than six years. None
of the original cast members--Lotte Lenya, Joe Sullivan(ph), Bea Arthur, John
Astin, Charlotte Rae--was still in the show, but I loved it anyway. And I
can't think of a better way to wrap up the Kurt Weill centennial year, the
100th anniversary of his birth and the 50th anniversary of his death, than
with the new re-issue of the original cast album.

The appearance here of Lotte Lenya as Jenny Diver, the role she created in the
original Berlin production in 1928, automatically gives this recording major
historical significance.

(Soundbite from "Threepenny Opera")

Ms. LOTTE LENYA (Jenny Diver): (Singing) Remember Julius Caesar's fame.
Recall his destiny. Of all the dogs, top dog was he, but his best friends
did him in finally, and all because top dog was he. He screamed, `A root, et
tu, yeah, Brute.' I hope you've got the moral now, but I'll spell it for you
anyhow. His high position put him on the spot. Is it worth it to be top dog?
Guess not.

SCHWARTZ: I also love the performance of the "Barbara Song," sung on his
recording by Beatrice Arthur decades before "Maude" and "Golden Girls." Her
expressive baritone is perfect for the role of Lucy Brown, the jail keeper's
daughter who once tried to save herself for the perfect man, but who all to
easily loses her upright, perpendicularity to the charms of Mack the Knife.

(Soundbite from "Threepenny Opera")

Ms. BEATRICE ARTHUR (Lucy Brown): (Singing) I used to believe in the days I
was pure, and I was pure like you used to be. My wonderful someone will come
to me someday and then it will all depend on me. If he's a fine man, if he's
a rich man, wears a fine cravat, smokes a cigar and if he's gallant and treats
me like a lady, then I shall tell him, `Sorry. Chin up high. Keep your
powder dry. Don't relax or go too far. Look, the moon is gonna shine till
dawn. Keep the little rowboat cruising on and on. You stay perpendicular.'
Oh, you can't just let a man walk over you. Cold and dignified is what you
are. Such a whole lot of things can happen, so firmly say, but sweetly,

SCHWARTZ: I met Bea Arthur once backstage at Boston Symphony Hall, where she
was taping a Pops concert. I told her how much I admired this recording and
she was touched that someone remembered it. She said she still considered
this production, especially working with Lenya, the best thing she ever did.

The most controversial aspect of this "Threepenny Opera," was the adaptation
by composer Marc Blitzstein, who shortened it, simplified Weill's original
orchestration, and supplied his own English translation. Many Weill
aficionados condemned the way Blitzstein cleaned up Bertolt Brechts' nastier
lyrics. In fact, those lyrics were expurgated only for the album because
someone from the record company showed up at the recording session with a list
of objectionable phrases, which Blitzstein changed on the spot in order to
save the recording. The original "Mack the Knife" was far more degenerate
than in the lyrics we know. Still, no one has yet come up with a more
memorable or singable English version, so it's wonderful that the new CD
closes with a performance if "Mack the Knife" with Lotte Lenya exuberantly
accompanied by Mark Blitzstein from an unknown TV interview show just before
the opening and only recently discovered in Lenya's personal archive.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix and
teaches creative writing at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "Mack the Knife")

Ms. LENYA: Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear, and he shows them pearly
white. Just the jackknife has my keys, dear, and he keeps it out of sight.
When the shark bites with his teeth, dear, scarlet billows start to spread.
Fancy gloves, though--Where's my keys, dear?--so there's not a trace of red.
On the sidewalk Sunday morning, lies a body oozing life. Someone sneaking
around the corner, is that someone Mack the Knife? From a tugboat by the
river, a cement bag's dropping down. The cement's just for the weight, dear.
Betcha Mack is back in town. Louie Miller disappeared, dear, after throwing
out his cash. Have you noted Mack, he's loaded? Did our boy do something

Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear, and he shows them pearly white. Just a


GROSS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


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

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


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

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


This Romanian film about immigration and vanishing jobs hits close to home

R.M.N. is based on an actual 2020 event in Ditrău, Romania, where 1,800 villagers voted to expel three Sri Lankans who worked at their local bakery.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

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

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

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue