DATE January 30, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Al Kooper discusses his career as a musician,
composer and performer
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.
Musician, composer and producer Al Kooper turned 60 on Thursday. He hasn't
performed in public much in the last several years due to health problems, but
he'll be back on stage tomorrow night for a 60th birthday celebration at the
Berklee Performance Center in Boston, and on Wednesday for another birthday
appearance at Joe's Pub in New York. And he's at work producing a box set
reissue of music by the late guitarist Mike Bloomfield.
In 1965, Kooper co-founded The Blues Project. A couple years later, he formed
the band Blood, Sweat and Tears and wrote most of their early songs. He
played on Bob Dylan's albums "Blonde on Blonde" and "Highway 61 Revisited,"
and played the famous organ line on Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone." He's also
played on recordings by the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison,
and produced records by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Nils Lofgren and Rick Nelson. He
started his career when he was still a teen-ager. His memoir, "Backstage
Passes and Backstabbing Bastards," is filled with interesting
behind-the-scenes stories about pop and rock in the '60s, '70s and '80s.
Terry Gross spoke to Al Kooper in 1998.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Your big pop success as a songwriter was "This Diamond Ring," which was
recorded by Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Gary being Jerry Lewis' son. And you
say in your memoir that you wrote that song with an R&B group like The
Drifters in mind. So how did it end up being performed by Gary Lewis instead
of The Drifters?
Mr. AL KOOPER (Musician): Boy, it beats the hell out of me. I was amazed.
My publisher at the time, Aaron Schroeder, saw me in the hallway and he said,
`Well, we got a record on that Drifters song you wrote.' I said, `Oh, the
Drifters cut it?' He said, `No, no, no, no. Snuff Garrett cut it.' Snuff
Garrett was a West Coast producer known for producing Bobby Vee and people
like that. And I said, `Since when is Snuff Garrett cutting R&B records?' He
said, `Well, he's not.' I said, `Oh, dear.' He said, `Well, I have the
record. Do you want to come upstairs and hear it?' I said, `Well, just out
of curiosity, I'd like to hear what Snuff Garrett did with "This Diamond
Ring." And so I went upstairs and he played the record, and I was just
heartsick. I thought it was terrible. I was just--I admonished him after he
played the record and said, you know, `Don't even waste my time playing me
things like this again. That's the worst thing I ever heard.' Of course,
GROSS: Of course it became a huge hit.
Mr. KOOPER: Yeah. Two months later it was number one in the country. And
I'd say, `Hey, I wrote that song.'
GROSS: What do you think about the arrangement now?
Mr. KOOPER: Oh, I still hate it. I still think it's an insipid, horrible
record. And, as a matter of fact, I went in later years and, at much expense
to my credibility, recorded the song on one of my solo albums to show people
where it came from and what it was like, because I actually think it's a good
song. I just couldn't stand the Gary Lewis interpretation.
GROSS: OK, we're going to hear both of those versions back to back. We're
going to hear the Gary Lewis version, and then the version that you cut with
the arrangement that you originally had in mind, the version you cut in the
1970s. So here it goes...
Mr. KOOPER: You know, it's even...
Mr. KOOPER: It's even funnier if you play it the other way around. If you
play mine first, and then play Gary Lewis', which is, you know, the way I saw
it. It's even funnier that way.
GROSS: I'm willing to give that a shot. Is our engineer ready to do that?
Mr. KOOPER: OK.
GROSS: Our engineer's ready to do that. Let's go. This is Al Kooper,
followed by Gary Lewis' version of Al Kooper's song, "This Diamond Ring."
(Soundbite of "This Diamond Ring")
Mr. KOOPER: (Singing) Who wants to buy this diamond ring? She took it off
her finger, now it don't mean a thing. No. This diamond ring don't shine
for me anymore. This diamond ring don't mean what it did before. So if
you've got somebody whose love is true, won't you let it shine for you now?
(Soundbite of "This Diamond Ring")
GARY LEWIS & THE PLAYBOYS (Musicians): (Singing) Who wants to buy this
diamond ring? She took it off her finger, now it doesn't mean a thing. This
diamond ring doesn't shine for me anymore, and this diamond ring doesn't mean
what it did before. So if you've got someone whose love is true, let it
shine for you.
GROSS: OK. Al Kooper, guess what? I like the Gary Lewis version. I'm not
saying I don't like yours, but I like the Gary Lewis version. I think it's a
fun pop hit.
Mr. KOOPER: Well, so did many millions of people.
GROSS: Is the interview over now?
Mr. KOOPER: It's a sad thing.
GROSS: No, but it's pop. I mean, you know, it's got...
Mr. KOOPER: It's happy. You can do the mouse to it. It's, you know...
GROSS: (Laughing) You don't like that kind of like kettle drum or whatever
is on there?
Mr. KOOPER: A timpani? No, no.
Mr. KOOPER: It's great in, you know, certain things. It was great in the
GROSS: (Laughing) So what did the Gary Lewis version do for your career? Did
it help it a lot?
Mr. KOOPER: Yeah, it helped it tremendously, as a songwriter. Right after
that, we had a Top 20 record by Gene Pitney called "I Must Be Seeing Things."
GROSS: Want to sing a few bars of that refresh our memory?
Mr. KOOPER: Well, I'll recite the opening lyrics. I used to write the
music, and I wrote with two other guys and they wrote the words, as I was sort
of lyrically deficient at the time and actually lyrically challenged at the
time. And this one, typical of its time, said, `Isn't that my girl? And is
that my best friend? Aren't they walking much too close together? And it
don't look like they're talkin' about the weather.' And then it goes, you
know, `Hey, I must be seeing things, this can't be,' like that. That was
typical of those songs we wrote at that time.
GROSS: Well, in the 1960s, you met Bob Dylan through Dylan's record producer
of the time, Tom Wilson. And this was in what year, about?
Mr. KOOPER: 1965.
GROSS: '65. And Tom Wilson had just cut Dylan's first electric single,
"Subterranean Homesick Blues." And he invited you to watch Dylan at a
session. And you were determined, you say, to do more than watch. You wanted
to actually play on it. The session turned out to be the session for "Highway
61 Revisited," in which "Like A Rolling Stone" was recorded. And you played
Hammond B-3 on "Like A Rolling Stone." How did you get to play on it?
Mr. KOOPER: Well, I was just determined to play. I was a guitar player at
the time, and I stayed up all night practicing. And I had actually an
inflated opinion of my ability as a guitar player. Then I got to the session,
and at the time I was playing guitar on records as a session musician. So the
other musicians that were there early when I got there did not think it was
unusual for me to be there with my guitar because I'd played sessions with
them, and they knew that I did session work. And I set up my stuff and I sat
down, and I waited. And Dylan came in with a guitar player who was roughly my
age. And he sat down and started warming up. And I realized I was in way
over my head. He was the best guitar player I'd ever heard in my life, just
warming up; just those things he was playing were way beyond my grasp as a
player. And I said to myself, `I got to get out of here before I really
So when there was a moment, I took my guitar and put it in the case and put it
against the wall, and I went in the control room where I belonged and watched
the session. And Tom Wilson came in and he hadn't seen me sitting out there
with the guitar. So that was very good. And then, during the session, they
had someone playing the organ and they moved him over to piano, actually. His
name was Paul Griffen. He was a studio keyboard player. And I walked over to
Tom Wilson and I said, `Hey, why don't you let me play organ on this? I got a
great part for this.' And he went, `Oh, man, you're not a organ player,
you're a guitar player. You don't play the organ.' And I said, `Oh, yeah,
yeah, I got great part for this, Tom.' And just at that point, they called
him for a phone call. And I thought to myself, well, he didn't say no. He
just said I wasn't an organ player.
And so I went out and sat down at the organ. And, as a matter of fact, if
Paul Griffen hadn't have left the organ switched on, that would have been the
end of my career, because it's very complicated to turn on a Hammond B-3
organ. It takes about three separate moves. And you have to know what you're
doing. And I didn't. But it was on already, so I was saved. And then Tom
Wilson came back out and he said, `OK, this is take six.' And then he saw me.
And he said, `Hey, what are you doing out there?' And I just started
laughing. And he was a gentleman. He just said, `OK, OK, let's go. We're
rolling. This is take seven.' I guess he thought, you know, if I wanted to
do this so bad, he would stand behind it because he was my friend.
GROSS: When you had told Tom Wilson that you had a part worked out in your
head, did you really?
Mr. KOOPER: No. Of course not. Ninety percent ambition.
GROSS: (Laughing) OK, so then what happened? They start performing the song.
Mr. KOOPER: Well, they were rehearsing for a second, and I kind of got to
thinking. And the speaker to the organ was very far from where I was sitting
at the organ, and it was covered by baffling so that it wouldn't leak into
other microphones that were on in the studio. And so I couldn't actually hear
what I was playing. And if I put the headphones on, I could kind of hear a
little bit of it, but hear other things that were much louder, like the
guitar. And I didn't have any music to read. I had to do it by ear, which I
was used to doing because of playing on sessions as a guitar player. And I
just kind of, you know, muddled my way through it. And it was the only
complete take of the day. So they went in to play it back and listen to it,
and during the playback Dylan went over to Tom Wilson and said, `Hey, turn the
organ up.' And he said, `Oh, man, that guy's not an organ player.' He says,
`I don't care, turn the organ up.' And that's how I became an organ player.
GROSS: Let's hear "Like A Rolling Stone" with my guest Al Kooper featured on
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. BOB DYLAN (Musician): (Singing) Once upon a time, you dressed so fine,
threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you? People call, say, `Beware,
doll, you're bound to fall.' You thought they were all kidding you. You used
to laugh about everybody that was hanging out. Now you don't talk so loud.
Now you don't seem so proud about having to be scrounging for your next meal.
How does it feel? How does it feel to be without a home, like a complete
unknown, like a rolling stone?
GROSS: That's my guest, Al Kooper, featured on organ. Now in your memoir you
write that you used to take records that were, like, bands copying what they
heard on Dylan records and play them for Dylan, and that that would be really
amusing. So I brought in one for you to hear. I don't know if you know this
one or not, but this is one that I think is really so inspired by "Like A
Rolling Stone" and has, I don't know, a kind of cheesy organ or electric
piano, I'm not sure which it is, that seems to be inspired by your part. So
let me play it for you and see what you think?
(Soundbite of "A Public Execution")
MOUSE & THE TRAPS: (Singing) Some words are best not spoken, some things are
best not said. But since this is your public execution, I think I'm going to
go right on ahead. The mailman brought your letter, babe, where you told me
how you're feelin' about the things he said he told you, that is, I'm such a
heel; that I could never be honest, that to you I'd always lied. When he saw
me take some other hide for a two-wheel pony ride. You at least might have
asked me if the scene was really what it seemed. But like a queen ruled by
her jester, your conclusion was esteemed. You said I disappointed you with
all the things I've done...
GROSS: OK, that was a song...
Mr. KOOPER: Don't tell me what it was, 'cause I'm going to tell you what it
GROSS: Oh, good. OK. Go ahead.
Mr. KOOPER: That was Mouse & the Traps with "A Public Execution."
GROSS: Correct. And it's one of the records on that great anthology,
"Nuggets." A little "Wooly Bully" action in there too, I think.
Mr. KOOPER: Well, yeah, it is, by the way, a very cheesy organ, probably a...
Mr. KOOPER: ...Farfisa.
Mr. KOOPER: And, yeah, that was one of the records that we laughed at back
GROSS: So you played that for Dylan when it came out?
Mr. KOOPER: Well, it was--we both used to listen to them. It wasn't--you
know? I'd go to the record store, and then we'd go back to his house and then
we'd put all these records on and just sit there and laugh.
DAVIES: Musician, composer and producer Al Kooper speaking with Terry Gross.
They'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with musician, composer and
record producer Al Kooper. He told Terry he formed Blood, Sweat and Tears
because he wanted a group that featured horn arrangements. They spoke in
GROSS: Why don't we hear "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know." And we'll
start this a little deep into it, where the horns start to become prominent.
This is Blood, Sweat and Tears. My guest is Al Kooper.
(Soundbite of "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know")
BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS: (Singing) When I wasn't making too much money, you
know where my paycheck went. You know I brought it home to baby, and I never
spent one red cent. Is that any way for a man to carry on? You think he
wants his little loved one gone? I love you, baby, more than you'll ever
know, more than you'll ever know. I'm not trying to be any kind of man, I'm
trying to be somebody you can love, trust and understand. I know that I can
see, yeah-hey-hey-hey, a part of you that no one else can see. I just got to
hear, to hear you say it, it's all right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I'm only flesh
and blood, but I could be everything that you demand. I could be president of
General Motors, baby, or just a tiny little grain of sand. Is that any way
for a man to carry on? You think he wants his little loved one gone? I love
you baby; I love you, baby; I love you more than you'll ever know.
GROSS: Al Kooper, had you worked with horns like this before?
Mr. KOOPER: Just in--there was a period of my life where I wrote ghost
arrangements, and I wrote for horns in that situation. But I had not really
been in a band with a horn section, no. I had admired Maynard Ferguson's jazz
group, which had a large horn section, and that was sort of my model for
Blood, Sweat and Tears.
GROSS: I know you write in your book that aging in pop business is always
held against you; that, you know, if you're older, you're seen as not being
cutting-edge anymore and, you know, therefore, washed up.
Mr. KOOPER: Yeah, I think that's a pretty accurate portrayal of the music
Mr. KOOPER: Except maybe, you know, in the blues area, where...
Mr. KOOPER: ...they respect seniority.
GROSS: That's true. That is really true. Yeah. It's true in some rock 'n'
roll, too, like, you know, the Rolling Stones can get as old as whatever
Mr. KOOPER: Oh, yeah. No, there are exceptions to the rule, and there are
people that are really fortunate enough to keep going. But there are many
that don't. And the other thing is that, you know, you take a person like Bob
Dylan or Sly & The Family Stone--these are people that made incredible music.
And yet the society is geared up and insists that they must continue doing
that for the rest of their lives or they're horrible people or they're washed
up, they're through. But, I mean, if you look at the body of work that Sly &
The Family Stone left us, it doesn't matter if he writes another song again.
He changed music forever and was an incredibly strong influence on the way
music is being played today in the R&B field. Everyone owes a debt to him.
And yet, you know, people go, ah, he's through, he's a drug cas--he is none of
those things. He is a strong influence in the history of music.
GROSS: Al Kooper, I really appreciate your talking with us, and I want to
thank you very much.
Mr. KOOPER: It was my pleasure.
DAVIES: Musician, composer and producer Al Kooper speaking with Terry Gross
in 1998. Kooper celebrates his 60th birthday next week with performances in
Boston and New York. For Dave Davies, this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of orchestral music and chorus)
DAVIES: Coming up, composer Howard Shore. This is music from the score of
his film "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which just won a
Golden Globe. Also, David Edelstein reviews "Finding Nemo" and "The Triplets
of Belleville," two Academy Award nominees for best animated feature. And
David Bianculli remembers Jack Paar.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Movies "Finding Nemo" and "The Triplets of Belleville"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.
The leading contenders for this year's best animated feature Academy Award are
the Pixar blockbuster "Finding Nemo," now on DVD, and a surreal French
fantasia called "The Triplets of Belleville," which is still opening in
theaters across the country. Film critic David Edelstein looks at the contest
and the movies.
DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:
Oscar voters don't have all that many candidates to nominate for their best
animated feature category, but this year, they've got two big winners, movies
as good as anything with flesh-and-blood actors and, in many cases, better
acted. "Finding Nemo" and "The Triplets of Belleville" could hardly be more
distinct from each other. One is the triumph of computerized corporate
moviemaking, the other so bizarrely idiosyncratic that you wonder what on
earth you're watching, even while your jaw is on the ground.
"Finding Nemo" deserved to be the smash that it was. From Pixar, you expect
astonishingly fluid 3-D animation, dazzling dimensional detail, a rollicking
pace and a script packed with patter and in-jokes. What you might not expect
is the beauty. It's clear the folks who put the film together under the
direction of Andrew Stanton became intoxicated by their underwater settings.
Every frame contains hundreds of decisions about light and color and movement.
And more important, they're inspired decisions. You also expect the usual
Disneyish homilies and characters suitable for fast-food tie-ins.
But "Nemo" goes a little deeper. The protagonist, Marlin the clownfish,
voiced by Albert Brooks, is helpless to save his wife and 399 of her eggs from
being devoured by a predator. Only one egg--that's Nemo--remains. Marlin
becomes the classic overprotective parent, and the upshot is that his kid
becomes defiantly reckless and gets himself netted. In the course of Marlin's
desperate odyssey to find his son, he picks up a sidekick, a skinny purple
fish named Dory with the voice of Ellen DeGeneres, who suffers from short-term
memory loss and whose interjections are both absurd and weirdly pertinent.
Meanwhile, the thrills come literally in schools.
But "Nemo" doesn't change the way you see the world or the culture or your own
body. It doesn't play with your perceptions of space and time, which the
greatest animation can.
Sylvain Chomet's "Triplets of Belleville" is the story of the elderly gnomish
Madame Souza, whose grandson is kidnapped from the Tour de France by French
wine-swilling gangsters and taken to a distant metropolis across the ocean,
and how she and her train-loving pooch fall in with three ancient
frog-slurping sisters who used to be nightclub chanteuses, and still are,
although the act itself is a surreal ghost of its former self. Actually, that
act is pretty surreal to begin with.
Here's the opening flashback with the triplets singing their nonsense theme
song, which, incidentally, has also been nominated for an Oscar, I'd wager the
first best song nominee to blend '30s French slang with words like cucka and
poo-poo. This nightclub scene is like a scratchy '30s Max Fleischer cartoon.
It features caricatures of Josephine Baker, Django Reinhardt and Fred Astaire,
whose shoes sprout teeth and eat him alive.
(Soundbite of "The Triplets of Belleville")
Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language) Poo-poo cucka, (singing in
EDELSTEIN: Why is this loosely plotted oddity both a retro and avant-garde so
powerful? In part, it's the old-fashioned 2-D animation with its tension
between wiggly and boxy, and its soundtrack inspired by the slapstick lyricism
of Jacques Tati. But it's also because Chomet makes you see the solidity and
the fleetingness of the world at the same instant. Those aged triplets with
their sloping shoulders and bony fingers--they move when the spirit takes
them, like basketball players. That homuncular grandma with wisps of hair
above her lip. There's a fierceness to her spirit that carries her across the
Atlantic in a tiny rowboat. Those skeletal bicyclists with huge rock-hard
calves; they keep pedaling even as they're wasting away from exhaustion and
despair. Underneath this whimsical, Be-Bop hallucination of '30s nightclubs
and gangsters and oceanliners is an ode to the tenacity of the life force even
amid the most grotesque decay.
"The Triplets of Belleville" is in a league of its own. It makes even the
undersea miracles of "Finding Nemo" seem earthbound.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate. Coming
up, film composer Howard Shore. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Howard Shore discusses the scores he wrote for "The
Lord of the Rings" and other films
(Soundbite of music)
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Composer Howard Shore won an Oscar for the score he wrote for the first film
in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Fellowship of the Ring." Earlier
this week, he received two nominations for his music in the third and final
film, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." And last weekend, he
won two Golden Globe awards for his work on the film, best original score and
best original song.
Shore has scored more than 60 films, including "Seven," "The Silence of the
Lambs," "The Score" and "Analyze This." He's had a long collaboration with
Canadian film director David Cronenberg, and wrote the music for Cronenberg's
films "Scanners," "Videodrome," "The Fly," "Dead Ringers," "Naked Lunch" and
"Crash." Back in 1975, Shore was one of the founding members of "Saturday
Night Live." He wrote the show's theme and served as music director until
When Terry spoke with Howard Shore in 2002, she asked him about the music for
"The Lord of the Rings."
TERRY GROSS, host:
Was there any music that you studied or immersed yourself in to help bring to
life a non-existent time in a non-existent place?
Mr. HOWARD SHORE (Composer): Well, Middle Earth is 6 to 7,000 years ago,
and Peter Jackson didn't want to create a fantasy world. He wanted to create
a historical feeling for the story, in the sense as if it had actually
happened, so all of our work is really based on making it as real as possible.
There wasn't any one particular piece in my research that I looked at, that I
followed, but the research led me to studying a lot of work that was created
before Tolkien wrote "Lord of the Rings," and then I studied everything in the
last 50 years on how "Lord of the Rings" affected popular culture in terms of
music or literature or cinema, and that actually did lead me in a lot of
directions. And once I had absorbed what I felt had been done in this world,
I then put it all aside, and, of course, I wanted to feel what was my voice
and what would I create, and what was the feeling that I was comfortable with
as an artist to create in this world.
GROSS: Now you did several scores for the Canadian filmmaker David
Mr. SHORE: Yes.
GROSS: ...including "Scanners," "The Fly," "Videodrome," "M. Butterfly,"
"Naked Lunch," "Dead Ringers."
Mr. SHORE: Yes.
GROSS: How did you meet, and why such a long collaboration?
Mr. SHORE: "Spider" is the last film I just finished with David. That's our
10th film, and it's been over 20 years. But we somewhat grew up making
movies. And David's a few years older than me, and I knew him in Toronto.
And he was sort of an older kid that was very wise and was making 8mm movies,
and then he started making 16mm movies, and I knew about him. And I always
thought it would be wonderful to, at a certain point if I had enough
experience, to approach him about doing one of his films. And I finally did
in the late '70s, and I worked with him on a film called "The Brood." And it
was actually the first film that he had worked with a composer and I had
worked with a director. So our whole, you know, learning process has been
growing up together and making movies. I've learned so much from him about
how to make movies. He's such an amazing director, and the process just
GROSS: Let's hear an excerpt of how your music is used in the film
"Scanners." "Scanners" is a film about a group of people who have this
ability to read other people's minds, to read their thoughts. And you think
that that would be a good thing, that you'd want to read other people's
thoughts. But what happens is that it's so intense to have all these other
voices in your head, all these other thoughts and voices from other people,
that your head can just literally explode from the pressure of all that
information and all those voices inside your head. Now two brothers who are
the best scanners, the best readers of other people's minds, are also--they're
each other's archenemies. And this is, like, the final contest between them
at the end in which they're both scanning each other's minds. And their
bodies are kind of, like, exploding in the process. As we hear this music,
their veins are starting to kind of rise above their skin and kind of pop,
and their faces are distending and contorting. So let's hear that final scene
in the showdown between the two brothers who are scanners.
(Soundbite of "Scanners")
Unidentified Man: All right. We're going to do it the scanner way. I'm
going to suck your brain dry. Everything you are is going to become me.
You're going to be with me, Cameron, no matter what. After all, brothers
should be close, don't you think?
(Soundbite of music; stretching and straining noises)
GROSS: That's an excerpt from the David Cronenberg movie "Scanners." My
guest Howard Shore did the music.
You know, mixed into that music we're hearing, like, other kinds of sound,
including what sounds like it might be, like, the growling of tigers and maybe
machinery mixed under that, just to give you the sense of, like, the agony of
the scene that we're witnessing. What is happening with the music there?
Mr. SHORE: Right. This is a very early film of mine. I think this was maybe
the second film that I did. And this is quite an experimental piece using
orchestra and using electronics, but pure electronics. These are sounds that
I've created through tape manipulation. They're sounds that I had recorded,
and by the use of tape--this is precomputers, presynthesizers, this piece--and
it was using older tape techniques, musique concrete tape techniques of the
'50s. When I was growing up in Toronto, I was interested in a lot of these
techniques. And as a kid, I was interested in tape recorders and splicing
pieces of sound together. And I heard Toru Takemitsu's--the great Japanese
composer--I heard his music very early on when I was 10 and 11. And I was
experimenting with these type of techniques quite early on.
So working on "Scanners," I think maybe in my late 20s, I finally had a chance
to use some of these techniques with an orchestra, and was able to actually go
into a recording studio and try some of these things that I'd been
experimenting with for years.
GROSS: Well, it's really interesting to me how you're able to work all these
kind of edgy musics into your scores. Let's listen to an excerpt of your
score for "Naked Lunch." And this was the David Cronenberg adaptation of the
William Burroughs novel.
Mr. SHORE: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: And, you know, William Burroughs and his fellow Beat writers were very
involved with Charlie Parker. Ornette Coleman is much more avant-garde, and
very interesting that you managed to use him on the sound track for this.
Before we hear it, tell us why you wanted to work with Ornette Coleman for the
Mr. SHORE: I had met Ornette Coleman in New York, and I knew that--you know,
just growing up in the '50s--I mean, I was a huge fan of Ornette's, and I
asked him to do the film. The period that he was creating, his music in the
late '50s, and "Naked Lunch" coincide perfectly. And Ornette, of course, was
aware of Burroughs and Burroughs of Ornette. So the expression that Ornette
had in music in the late '50s was very similar to what Burroughs was creating
on the page in that same period. So there's like a perfect connection to
Burroughs' state of mind in the '50s was to work with Ornette. And he was
fascinated with the project and wanted to work on it. And it was a wonderful
GROSS: How did the collaboration work?--because he's playing against a
more symphonic piece that you've written.
Mr. SHORE: Yes.
GROSS: Could you talk about what he's doing and what you've composed behind
Mr. SHORE: Right. He's working with me in a very improvisational way. I
created a structure and a form for Ornette to express himself in.
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear an excerpt of that score? And this is Howard
Shore's composition for the sound track of "Naked Lunch" with saxophonist
(Soundbite of music from "Naked Lunch")
GROSS: Music from the sound track of the film "Naked Lunch," composed by my
guest Howard Shore, with saxophonist Ornette Coleman improvising within that.
What did you tell Ornette Coleman when you asked him to perform on the sound
Mr. SHORE: We had many, many discussions about the piece. It wasn't so much
telling Ornette what to do. It was more working with him as a peer and
expressing my--it was as if you were playing with Ornette in his group. And
it was a very harmolodic process where all parts are equal. So I'm expressing
ideas that Ornette is expressing, and then I would express another idea.
So we worked together sort of very, very carefully and, you know, before the
recording, in rehearsals with sketches of what I was writing. And then the
sessions were done in a very open, creative, free way.
DAVIES: Composer Howard Shore speaking with Terry Gross in 2002. His work on
the third "Lord of the Rings" film, "The Return of the King," has won two
Golden Globe awards and earned two Oscar nominations. Coming up, David
Bianculli remembers Jack Paar.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
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Analysis: Tribute to late-night talk-show host Jack Paar
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Jack Paar died this week, and TV critic David Bianculli says fans of quality
television and genuine conversation have reason to be very sad, even though he
retired from the medium more than 40 years ago.
I teach a college course in TV history and appreciation, and the longer I
teach it, the more I have to teach because the students keep getting younger.
Actually, they're just born later, but their frame of reference keeps getting
narrower. College students who are 20 now and who really started absorbing
mature mass media less than a decade ago have a lot of ground to make up. For
them, nostalgia is "Saved by the Bell," and they've never known a TV world
without cable. Fewer of them each year have seen a single complete episode of
"The Honeymooners." Most of them by now haven't even seen a single frame of
"Twin Peaks." And to them, the only host of "The Tonight Show" they've ever
seen and known is Jay Leno. But in the history of television, late-night TV
in particular, Jack Paar was something truly special.
NBC's "Tonight Show" began 50 years ago with Steve Allen as the pioneering
host. Allen's tenure lasted for three years. He told jokes, joked around
with his very funny gang of supporting comics, interviewed and showcased a
wide range of talented guests, played piano and played with the medium of TV
itself. Jack Paar, except for the piano playing and TV trickery, did the same
sort of thing, but he did it very differently. Jack Paar's "Tonight Show,"
which lasted from 1957 to 1962, treasured talent and conversation above all
else. If you can imagine this, guests were discouraged from plugging their
current films or projects. Paar just wanted people to come on and perform,
and then he wanted to sit down with them and talk. It was Paar who
established the format of desk and couch, which pretty much has been the
standard ever since. But Paar also presented a free-wheeling, unpredictable
type of television that all of these years later remains singularly rare.
Paar didn't write his monologues or prepare his introductions; he just talked.
For the first few years of "The Tonight Show," he did all that live, the
ultimate high-wire act. And the people he was interested in talking to
weren't just movie stars. He invited authors and artists and politicians. He
went to Cuba to sit down with Fidel Castro. And during the 1960 presidential
race, he had both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon as guests, making separate
and equally memorable appearances.
(Excerpt from "The Tonight Show")
Mr. JACK PAAR: I have noticed that if you watch political programs, they are
asked political questions and the answers are political answers. And
sometimes, I must say, I watch shows for a half-hour, and when it's all over,
no one said anything when it's all over. But there is a chance that in this
relaxed atmosphere of "The Tonight Show" you can meet people who aren't on
guard, not as tense and perhaps not as political as you would meet them on
other news type shows.
BIANCULLI: Paar made stars out of such new talents as Bill Cosby, Woody Allen
and the Smothers brothers. Most of all, though, he's remembered for his
spontaneity. No one knew what Jack Paar would say or do next. His
personality was high-strung and very sensitive. Even after he began
pretaping the show, Paar was famously unpredictable. In February of 1960,
Paar told a joke during his opening monologue that involved the bathroom. The
quaint term he used then was `WC,' or `water closet.' NBC cut the joke from
that evening's broadcast, and the next day, Paar waited until the show began
taping, then quit right there on a taped program he knew NBC would have no
choice but to air. Paar stayed away for a month, then returned with one of
the best punch lines in the history of late-night TV. Here's the way Conan
O'Brien set it up in an NBC special from 2001.
(Soundbite of NBC special)
Mr. PAAR: There must be a better way of making a living than this. You have
been peachy to me always.
BIANCULLI: When Paar walked out, guest hosts filled in, including a young
comic and game-show host named Johnny Carson. Finally, NBC and Jack Paar
buried the hatchet and Jack's first night back was national news.
(Soundbite of "The Tonight Show")
Mr. PAAR: I believe my last words were that, `There must be a better way of
making a living than this.' Well, I have looked...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PAAR: ...and there isn't.
BIANCULLI: I met Paar long ago, and he was exactly the same in person as he
was on the air. That's the simple secret to hosting that kind of television
show, but pulling it off is not so simple. Arthur Godfrey had that gift, but
also had a sour personality. Tom Snyder had it. Right now on TV, Regis
Philbin has it, and when he chooses to, so does David Letterman. None of
those current shows, though, embrace pure conversation and true
unpredictability the way Jack Paar did. Four decades later, what he
accomplished and what he cared about remains just as rare, and you can hear
his gift for smooth but casual speech even in his farewell appearance from
(Excerpt of 1962 program)
Mr. PAAR: It's time to leave you now. I never thought of myself as a
complex personality, but sometimes it turned out that way. And now even in
leaving it's ironic that I say goodbye only to be followed by 10 repeat
programs this summer. I find it harder to get off television than it was to
get on it. Randy keeps referring to this as my sabbatical, and I keep telling
her if she uses words like that to her father, he's not going to go on paying
to send her to school. But I looked it up, and I find that though it means
any rest period, it comes from the ancient Hebrew and originally meant `every
seventh year during which the fields were left untilled.' You know, you can
only work a field so many seasons in a row before it becomes barren. Then you
must let it lie fallow for a time so the soil becomes fertile and new growth
can take root. I don't think Paar's half acre is completely worn out, but
it's gotten a little dry lately. And no wonder, my sabbatical is two years
There are great opportunities for new talent in television. I know from my
own beginnings in radio how important that first break can be, and I've tried
to offer such a beginning to new performers on this program. In a sense,
that's what I'm doing now, too. Having run out of fresh, exciting, new ideas
to bring you myself, I feel I should give somebody else a turn.
BIANCULLI: Jack Paar was brilliant. He was even smart enough to predict that
someone else big might come along to till his field. Paar's replacement on
"The Tonight Show" was Johnny Carson, who hosted the program for the next 30
years. He's another guy I have to teach my students about these days, but
believe me, it's my pleasure.
DAVIES: David Bianculli is TV critic for The New York Daily News.
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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.