Skip to main content

Jazz Tries Bacharach.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews "The Sweetest Punch" (Decca) guitarist Bill Frisell's new CD featuring the music of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, and featuring Elvis Costello himself.



Related Topics

Other segments from the episode on December 14, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 14, 1999: Obituary for Joseph Heller; Review of Bill Frisell's album "The Sweetest Punch"; Interview with Alan Ball.


Date: DECEMBER 14, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121402np.217
Head: "The Sweetest Punch": A Music Review
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:20

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Popular as Burt Bacharach has been in the '60s and in the '90s as a composer of sophisticated pop songs, relatively few jazz musicians have played his tunes. One big reason for that, according to jazz critic Kevin Whitehead, is that Bacharach, as his own arranger, is so good at finding the right tempo, instrumentation, and overall mood for a tune, it's hard to beat or even tie him at his own game.

Still, musicians keep trying, which brings us to guitarist Bill Frisell's new CD.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, JAZZ CRITIC: Guitarist Bill Frisell grew up on '60s pop music and has played vintage Burt Bacharach tunes live from time to time. He also has a healthy habit of stepping outside of jazz in search of musical inspiration, notably, in recent years, into the world of Nashville studio pros.

Anyway, the new album, "The Sweetest Punch," features Frisell's arrangements of all the tunes Bacharach wrote with lyricist Elvis Costello for their 1998 album, "Painted From Memory," plus this earlier collaboration, "God, Give Me Strength."


WHITEHEAD: Bill Frisell's pool of musicians includes colleagues from various past projects, among them clarinetist Don Byron, alto saxophonist Billy Drewes, and bassist Viktor Krauss. Frisell is an original and influential guitarist with a flair for small-group orchestration, but "The Sweetest Punch" is oddly underwhelming.

A program of Elvis Costello-Burt Bacharach covers makes marketing sense, not least because Elvis himself appears on two tracks. In fact, the CD is out in Decca as part of Costello's multi-record deal with Decca's parent company, Universal. One of the tunes he sings, called "I Still Have That Other Girl," is a duet with Cassandra Wilson.

You could be forgiven for wondering if the singers were in the studio at the same time, although I'm told them were.


WHITEHEAD: The tunes Burt Bacharach with Elvis Costello are OK, but hardly the equal of the classics he wrote for Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, and Tom Jones back when.

Beyond that, Frisell and company sound weirdly unengaged with the material. Too often they improvise over the repeating vamps that introduce or cap a tune while playing the meat of the melody pretty straight, in pastel harmony. Those vamps can be quite catchy in themselves, and Frisell gives them attractive voicings, but they don't give a soloist as much stimulation as a good Bacharach main melody with its leaping intervals and unexpected twists.

The end result is more background music than bold statement. It's like the musicians eat the parsley but leave the steak untouched.


WHITEHEAD: If you want to hear a better jazz program of Burt Bacharach pieces, you might try saxophonist Stan Getz's 1967 album, "What the World Needs Now," reissued on CD a year ago. If you want to hear what Bill Frisell can do, he's made a lot of outstanding albums, including "Rambler," "Look Out for Hope," "Strange Meeting," "This Land," "Go West," and "Nashville," among others. He also plays very well on Don Byron's fine new CD, "Romance With the Unseen."

Frisell has made so many good records, this little misfire shouldn't harm his reputation one bit.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of "New Dutch Swing."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.



Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Kevin Whitehead
High: Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews "The Sweetest Punch," guitarist Bill Frisell's new CD featuring the music of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, and featuring Elvis Costello himself.
Spec: Music Industry; Bill Frisell; Elvis Costello

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: "The Sweetest Punch": A Music Review

Date: DECEMBER 14, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121403NP.217
Head: "American Beauty": An Interview With Alan Ball
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

"American Beauty" has been named best film of the year by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. The film won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association best director award. "American Beauty" is also on "Time" magazine's top 10 list.

My guest is the screenwriter, Alan Ball. It's his first produced screenplay, but he's had several years' experience writing for sitcoms. He's the creator and executive producer of the current sitcom, "Oh, Grow Up."

"American Beauty" revolves around two suburban families, and it's about alienation and loneliness and the ability to find beauty in the ordinary.

Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a man who barely communicates with his wife, Carolyn, played by Annette Bening, has lost touch with his teenage daughter, Janie, and detests his job as an advertising -- at an advertising magazine. In this scene, he's at the dinner table when he announces that he's made a big change in his life.


KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR: Janie, today I quit my job.


SPACEY: Please pass the asparagus.

BENING: Your father seems to think this kind of behavior's something to be proud of.

SPACEY: And your mother seems to prefer that I go through life like a prisoner while she keeps my animation jar under the sink.

BENING: How dare you speak to me that way in front of her? And I marvel that you can be so contemptuous of me on the same day that you lose your job.

SPACEY: I didn't lose it. It's not like, whoops, where'd my job go? I quit. Someone pass the asparagus.

BENING: Oh, oh, oh, oh, and I want to thank you for putting me under the added pressure of being the sole breadwinner now.

SPACEY: I already have a job.

BENING: No, no, don't (inaudible) as to who's going to pay the mortgage. We'll just leave it all to Carolyn. You mean, you're going to take care of everything now, Carolyn? Yes, I don't mind, I really don't. You mean, everything? You don't mind having the sole responsibility? Your husband feels he can just quit his job, and you don't (inaudible)...

SPACEY: Will someone please pass me the asparagus?

BENING: ... I am not going to be part of this.

SPACEY: Shut up!

I am sick and tired of being treated like I don't exist. You two do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it, and I don't complain. Now, all I want...

BENING: Oh, you don't complain? Oh, please, excuse me, (inaudible), I don't believe I got it, then. If you don't complain, what is this? Yeah, let's bring in the laugh meter and see how loud it gets on that one. You (inaudible)...

(sound of breaking dishes)

SPACEY: Don't interrupt me, honey.


GROSS: Now, are there publicists and stuff doing an Academy Award push now?

ALAN BALL, SCREENWRITER, "AMERICAN BEAUTY": Yes, there's -- that's all under way, and that's very interesting to me, because, you know, I had never even -- it's just a whole new world. And so the -- there's a whole strategy and all kinds of things like that, and it's a -- it's quite interesting. I'm...

GROSS: Tell us what you can about that, about the politics and the strategy.

BALL: Well, you know, it's a big deal, it's a big deal within the industry. And I've -- I -- in my -- for my own self, I've been -- you know, I've been signing scripts to send to all these various places, and I've been asked to appear on certain panels and screenwriting things, and that sort of thing. And I'm happy to do it, because I have sort of a real outsider mentality, you sort of just all of a sudden lucked into, you know, being in the middle of this. And also, I have a tendency to believe that the conventional wisdom of the way you approach screenwriting is not necessarily the best.

So if -- whenever I'm invited to go to those things and talk to aspiring screenwriters, I'm always happy to, because I wish somebody had, you know, said to me when I was younger and struggling, you know, the traditional three-act structure is not the only valid way to write a screenplay.

GROSS: How do you think "American Beauty" deviates from that three-act structure?

BALL: Well, it doesn't deviate entirely. I mean, there are three acts. But it does -- it fools around with structure a little bit, and there's also not a very -- I mean, I guess you could say Lester is the protagonist, but he's -- you know, he's not a very -- I mean, he certainly does a lot of things that you're not rooting for.

I think it's a little more morally ambiguous. I think it goes into deeper territory. I think it's ultimately hopefully touches on subjects that you wouldn't necessarily see in the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

GROSS: The Kevin Spacey character works for an advertising magazine. Now, I know you worked for an advertising and a public relations magazine. What kind of work did you do for those magazines?

BALL: I was an art director. I was not a writer, I was an art director. I worked in the art department. I designed infographics, in which I took meaningless information and made it look visually appealing.

GROSS: What's meaningless information?

BALL: Oh, you know, just statistics, just page after page after page of statistics about who watches what and who reads what. And it was my job to do the -- to turn it into, you know, clever little illustrated ill -- charts and graphs.

GROSS: Well, Kevin Spacey writes this great quitting letter to his boss, really nasty. Can you paraphrase the letter for us?

BALL: I think the letter is, "My job consists mostly of masking my contempt for the people in charge, and at least once a day retiring to the men's room, where I (bleep) off while I fantasize about a life that doesn't so closely resemble Hell."

GROSS: Did you think of writing letters like that when you were working?

BALL: You know what? All the anger of Kevin's character doesn't come from my time at the magazine, because that was actually a fairly -- you know, as day jobs go, it was about as good as it could get. It actually comes from my own anger at -- I was a playwright living in New York, I was producing work that I really cared about, not making a cent for it, but really being invested and passionate in it and loving it and directing it, and even sometimes acting in it.

And then I wrote a play, and I was offered a job to come out to Los Angeles and write for television. And I -- my first four years in TV were in situations that to an -- you know, to a writer, to somebody who needs his work to be meaningful, even if only to himself, it was -- I was working in situations where that was really not possible, and I was so creatively frustrated and angry at certain aspects of the -- of -- you know, just the nature of the work that I was doing, that that's who Lester's writing that letter to, (inaudible).

GROSS: Were these sitcoms that you were writing?

BALL: Yes.

GROSS: Do you want to say which ones?

BALL: No, I'd rather not. (laughs)

GROSS: Right.

BALL: But they were -- they were -- they were situation comedies that were very -- that totally revolved around the star of the show, and in each instance the star of the show had total creative control. And that's very frustrating as a writer, because you become -- basically you become a stenographer. And when you're taking dictation from someone who really doesn't think like a writer or think like, you know -- who basically looks at the show as P.R. for their own lives, you -- there's a certain amount of frustration and rage that builds up in you.

And, you know, at the time I was really frustrated, but, you know, in retrospect, thank God, because it fueled the writing of "American Beauty."

GROSS: You know what I thought was really funny, you know, when Spacey quits the job, he ends up taking a job at a fast food hamburger place.

BALL: Right.

GROSS: And he says he's looking for the least amount of responsibility. I have to say, I so related to that. I would never do this, nor would I want to work in a fast food hamburger joint, and especially for the amount of money that they pay. But there are days, you know, when I wake up, and I'm sure lots of people do, and think, Is there a way of going through life with a little less responsibility?

BALL: Oh, totally, I know, and you just want to -- yes, that's -- yes, I relate to that every day, believe me.


GROSS: And is it more so now, now that you're so successful with "American Beauty"?

BALL: Yes, and, you know, I'm -- what I'm doing now is, I'm executive producing a television show which is a tremendous amount of responsibility...

GROSS: Yes, right.

WALLACE: ... more responsibility than I've ever had in my life, and while I love it, there are certainly days when I wake up and I think, Yes, I wouldn't mind flipping burgers today. I don't want to go in and face this.

But, you know, wishing to do something and actually doing it are two different things.

GROSS: My guest is Alan Ball. He wrote the screenplay for "American Beauty." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Alan Ball is my guest, and he wrote the screenplay for "American Beauty." And he's also the creator of the sitcom "Oh, Grow Up."

The Kevin Spacey character gets a crush on his daughter's best friend, who, like his daughter, is still in high school. And it starts off kind of funny in the beginning and gets, you know, increasingly disturbing as the story goes on.

And, you know, not being a guy myself, I wonder, do you think that this is an emotion that a lot of adult men end up having to deal with and repress, these, you know, feelings of arousal for, you know, lovely teenagers who are their children's friends?

BALL: I think for Lester, he -- Angela -- he hasn't felt that way about anyone -- any woman in a long time, and she reawakens a part of him that takes him back to when he was a teenager himself and he basically had that sort of optimism and that sort of kind of energy that you feel when basically your whole life is ahead of you, as opposed to most of your life is behind you. Not most, but at least -- you know, half of your life is behind you.

You're at a point where you think anything is possible as opposed to a point where you think, Well, how can I -- what kind of compromise can I hope to settle for? And while his obsession with her may not be healthy or appropriate, I feel like his desire to have the -- to feel that kind of passion in life again is very, very healthy, and he gets confused because he thinks that she's the goal, but she's really just in sort of union terms, she's just the knock on the door, she's just the call to adventure.

And he realizes that, of course, by the end.

GROSS: In "American Beauty," the teenaged guy in the film observes life through his video camera. He's just obsessive about videotaping the world around him, particularly anything that strikes him as beautiful. And the video both preserves the moment of beauty, but it also frames it as it's happening.

BALL: Right.

GROSS: Some people may think that seeing the world through a camera distances you from what you're seeing, but it seems to connect him with the world. Has writing ever been like that for you? Has it been either distancing or something that connects you?

BALL: Yes, exactly...

GROSS: To things?

BALL: ... it's been both. And I think, you know, if anybody were to analyze me, they'd say that's what -- what -- that's what his camera represents is writing, for me. But I -- he says a very interesting thing in the scene where he shows her the video of the plastic bag. He says, "Video's a poor excuse, I know, but it helps me remember." And it's not the -- it's not the video itself, it's the moment, and he wants to preserve the moment. But he knows that the video of the moment is not the moment.

That's a very subtle distinction that may get lost on some people, but I think it's a -- it's -- that's an important part of his character.

GROSS: Do you ever think that if you didn't write something down, you'd be left with virtually no memory of it, no way of retrieving it?

BALL: I don't think that I think there'd be no memory of it. But there are certain times when I feel sort of like whatever that gateway to your subconscious is, is open. It's, like, I got to do this now or I'm never going to be able to see the clarity of this moment as clearly as I see it now.

GROSS: This videotape that you mentioned is a videotape that the character takes of what he considers to be the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, which is basically a trash bag being blown in circles by the wind on an autumn day, and there's leaves blowing too. Why did you come up with that image as the most beautiful thing?

BALL: Because I had an encounter with a plastic bag in the wind outside the World Trade Center one day that was sort of -- you know, it was sort of an epiphany. And very similar to what he experienced. And, you know, I'm sure a lot of people would look at that and say, Well, that's completely insane. And maybe it is, but I don't feel like I chose that image. I kind of feel like it chose me.

GROSS: What was so beautiful about it to you?

BALL: I don't know. There was such -- it was so -- first of all, it was so real. It wasn't artificial. It wasn't like, you know, a beautifully composed painting or a beautifully airbrushed photograph or this perfect image. You know, it was -- it was -- it was nature, it was -- it was -- and plus...

GROSS: Nature and junk.

BALL: Yes, exactly, and literally this bag circled me. It just kept circling me. And I'm sure -- you know, I'm sure, you know, it's just a coincidence. But it really -- there was something profound in that moment for me. And I've never forgotten that moment. And it kind of, like, brought me to tears, and I can't -- of course I can't remember exactly what I was going through in my own life at that time. It might have one of those moments where, you know, watching a Burger King commercial would have brought me to tears.

GROSS: Yes, exactly.

BALL: But it was a profound moment, and I -- it always stuck with me. And -- you know, there's a whole Buddhist notion of the miraculous within the mundane, and that's what I thought it was important that there is beauty in a piece of garbage flying through the wind.

And I went -- actually, when the movie opened in Toronto and I went up there for the press junket, there was somebody who said, "I want to talk to you about that moment." I went, "OK." And they went, "He says it's beautiful, but it's garbage." And I said, "Yes." He said, "Well, garbage isn't beautiful." And I went, "Oh. Well, you know, I guess it's a question of perspective, that's kind of the point." He went, "No, no, no. No. Garbage is not beautiful." And I sort of went, "OK."

GROSS: (laughs)

BALL: "Thanks for clearing that up for me." (laughs)

GROSS: Did you go with the director, Sam Mendes, when that sequence was being shot, and...

BALL: No. And I keep asking him how he shot that, and he's very -- he...

GROSS: Yes, because you have to wait for that perfect moment where that bag really is kind of poetry in motion. (laughs)

BALL: He's very mysterious about how he got it. But, you know, I think it's because it's probably very, you know, mundane. There were probably, like, four people off camera with leaf blowers, you know.

GROSS: Right.

BALL: But he says, "No, no, I don't want to tell you how I got that."

GROSS: Oh, well, eventually you'll get it out of him.

BALL: Yes.

GROSS: Do you feel that there was anything that you were able to do in "American Beauty" that you maybe wouldn't have been able to do if you were working with, say, a more experienced director or a production company that had already made a lot of movies? Because you were all first-timers, and I guess all willing to take chances.

BALL: Yes, and I also think the budget of our movie was so small that no one cared, whereas if it had been -- I mean, there was a point where there were a couple of big A-list directors looking -- reading the script, and I -- that made me very nervous, because I knew that if they signed on, and then they started getting big, big movie stars on and the budget crept upwards, then everybody would get really upset about the -- you know, really nervous about the material, and (inaudible) can't...

You know, it's so gross for him to be obsessed with a teenager. Can't they be college students? Can't they -- or in their mid-20s, and, you know, Can't Lester and Carolyn be better parents to their children? Because they're just so unlikable. And, you know, those kinds of studio notes that you get all the time. And we were very lucky, because we were very low budgeting in, you know, by mainstream standards, and we just sort of, like, floated under the radar there.

GROSS: If I were writing a movie, I would sure want Kevin Spacey to be reading lines that I'd written. (laughs)

BALL: Oh, just that he -- just when we had the first read-through, just sitting at a table and hearing him read, you know, I went up to him afterwards, I said, "Well, that was one of the great joys of my life, thank you."

GROSS: What did he do with your lines that perhaps made you hear what you had written differently than you'd heard it in your own head?

BALL: Well, interestingly enough, a lot of what he did with them was exactly what I heard in my own head. But he also -- he tempered a lot of the stuff, especially in the last third of the movie, and he made it really, really kind, you know. He found a kindness in that character that I guess always existed, but when I wrote it, I was in such a state that I was just furious with the world. And so I had always, you know...

GROSS: This is back when you were writing for sitcoms and (inaudible)?

BALL: Yes, yes. I would come home at 3 in the morning after having rewritten a script that, you know, a sitcom script which totally did not need to be rewritten, and I would just be furious and exhausted, and I would sit down at the computer and just, you know, pound out "American Beauty" for an hour before I'd go to bed.

And -- but Kevin is a -- Kevin is an amazing actor, and people always ask me, Did you have him in mind when I wrote this script? And actually, no, I didn't. I don't have actors in mind when I write this -- when I write, because the characters themselves seem real enough to me. But when his name was mentioned, I was, like, Yes! That's good, get him! He's be great, you know.

And I can't imagine anyone else playing this role. He's -- it's like he was born to play it.

GROSS: There's something slightly similar between your voice and his.

BALL: Well, people tell -- people say that, and people also say that we're sort of -- we look alike. Actually, my first day on the set, I drove onto the set, and the security guard said, "Mr. Spacey, your trailer is over there." And I said, "No, I'm the writer." And she went, "Oh, well, you have to park over there, like a mile away."

And actually some friend of mine came to the set when we were filming, and they -- my friend Nancy said, "It's freaky, it's so freaky, it's -- he's -- you guys are so much alike." I just have to take that as a huge compliment, you know.

GROSS: My guest is Alan Ball. He wrote the screenplay for "American Beauty." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Alan Ball, the screenwriter of "American Beauty" and the creator and executive producer of the sitcom "Oh, Grow Up."

Another an about "American Beauty," before we get to "Oh, Grow Up." There's two fathers in "American Beauty," Kevin Spacey and the father next door. Now, the father next door is an ex-Marine and into, like, strict discipline of his son, and also very homophobic...

BALL: Right.

GROSS: ... which sets a lot of the story i motion. Now, I know that you're gay. Does this, like, homophobic father reference come from someone in your family, or just things that you've observed and know exist?

BALL: Oh, yes, yes. I mean, I grew up in Marietta, and I grew up in the -- in Marietta, Georgia, and I grew up in the -- I came of age, like, in the early '70s, before, you know, Will and Grace and stuff like -- that kind of stuff.

GROSS: (laughs) Right.

BALL: And I grew up thinking, I'm a freak, I'm horrible, I'm evil, and there are certainly members of my family, not my immediate family, but members within my family who were viciously homophobic and just kind of aggressively bigoted. And...

GROSS: How -- what did they say to you? Did...

BALL: Oh, well, that's just the thing. When I see them, like, once every two years at a family reunion, they smile blankly, and they don't say anything. But I know behind my back they're saying I'm going to go to hell, and that I'm, you know -- that -- that -- that, you know, I -- whatever, I know, I know those things are going on in my -- behind my back. But to my face, they're very polite.

GROSS: Let me ask you about your sitcom "Oh, Grow Up," which premiered in September. Tell us what the basic premise of the, you know, of what brings the characters together here.

BALL: The basic premise is two guys who have known each other from college and who have lived together since college. They're kind of in their mid-30s. And so they sort of function as an old married couple, even though they're straight. And their third roommate is another college friend who just recently came out of the closet and left his wife. He was actually married.

So it's a married gay guy living with two straight guys who are married to each other. And then one of the straight guys discovers that he has a teenaged daughter he never knew about. And he's been sort of living the Casanova Horndog life style for, you know, 20 years. And this is sort of like a big wakeup call for him.

It's loosely, loosely, very loosely based on my own experience living in a brownstone in Brooklyn...

GROSS: And who was living in that house?

BALL: Me, some friends from college, and a dog named Mom, just like there is in the sitcom.

GROSS: When Ellen came out and the plot lines changed on her show, it was -- you know, it was quite controversial. And now it seems like every new show has to have a gay character.

BALL: Yes, I don't know that every show has to have a gay character. I mean, I thought it was (inaudible) -- I put a gay character in my show because I thought it was interesting to have straight men and gay men living together, and it just not being an issue. Because when I was living in the house in Brooklyn with straight men, it just wasn't -- it just never was an issue. And I think that's -- I just think that's interesting.

And plus, if he hadn't been gay, it would just be another show about three dumb straight guys. And, you know, it's like, well, what guest stars one of them going to date this week? But this just gave us more interesting territory and was sort of just more -- I thought -- more interesting to me as a writer.

But I know what you're saying. It's like all of a sudden every show has a gay character.

GROSS: I'm not accusing you of being copycat, don't get me wrong.


BALL: It is...

GROSS: But I'm wondering, you know, like, did you get any objections from the network or the production company, or was it, like, Oh, of course there's going to be a gay character now, no problem.

BALL: Never from the production company, and never from the network that we're on. I initially pitched to a different network, and they sort of went, Well, does the gay character have to be gay? And I think they were saying that because they already had a -- you know, shows with gay characters, and they felt like they had sort of filled that quota. They also said, Does it have to be urban? Can we make it suburban? And on those two, you know, I basically went, Yes, it does have to be urban, and yes, he does have to be gay. So we took it to another network.

GROSS: And they accepted it.

BALL: Yes. Yes, there was never a moment's hesitation.

GROSS: I saw an episode on your show in which the gay character, once realizing he's gay, figure -- goes to a gay bar and figures that now he has to figure out how to be gay, because everyone around him is behaving differently than he's used to.

BALL: Right.

GROSS: Did you go through that, figuring, like, Now what am I supposed to be?

BALL: Oh, well, sure, I still do. I mean, I live in Hollywood. In West Hollywood, everybody is, like, incredibly -- you know, they -- there are all these buff muscle boys, and they have -- you know, they live this lifestyle that -- I'm certainly not judging and saying it's not valid, but I look at it, and that is so not the life I want to lead. And I feel like there are probably a lot of gay and lesbian kids growing up in America, and they see that, Omigod, you have to be all worked out and you have to party every weekend, and you have to, you know, this is what it means to be gay.

And no, that's not what -- that's what it means to some people to be gay, but it doesn't -- it's not the only way to be gay, and to kind of judge yourself if you don't live up to that standard, I think, is kind of ridiculous. And if there -- that's sort of what that's about, because I'm never going to be done of those West Hollywood circuit boys. I just -- and frankly, I don't want to be.

But I think that is the image that a lot of America has of what gay men and what gay men are like and the kind of lives they lead. And no, it's not that like that at all. And that's why Ford is, of the three guys in the show, the most conservative, and the kind of...

GROSS: (inaudible) Ford's the gay character.

BALL: Yes, yes. He's, like, in a way he's -- he -- well, not in a way, you know, on every front he's definitely the most conservative of the three characters.

GROSS: Is being out in the business not a problem any more?

BALL: Not if you're a writer.

GROSS: Right, you're still behind the scenes, who cares?

BALL: Yes, exactly.

GROSS: You're so unimportant, who cares? (laughs)

BALL: In a way, being a writer, being gay, it has -- almost has like a little added -- it's, like, a little extra, you know what I mean? Because there's such a tradition of so many great gay writers. And there are a lot -- you know, so it's not a problem for me, being a writer, no.

GROSS: Well, I wish you happy holidays.

BALL: Thank you, you too.

GROSS: And thanks so much for talking with us.

BALL: My pleasure. It was fun.

GROSS: Alan Ball wrote the screenplay for "American Beauty." It won the best movie of the year award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer is Audrey Bentham (ph). Dorothy Farabee (ph) is our administrative assistant. Roberta Shorrock directs the show.

I'm Terry Gross.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Alan Ball
High: Writer Alan Ball's first feature film screenplay was for this year's critically acclaimed movie, "American Beauty." He's also creator, head writer, and executive producer of the new TV comedy "Oh Grow Up."
Spec: Entertainment; Radio And Television; Alan Ball; Movie Industry

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: "American Beauty": An Interview With Alan Ball
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.

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