Skip to main content

Joe Lovano: Drawing On 'Bird'

In the 1940s, Charlie Parker, nicknamed "Bird," was a prime mover behind the new style of bebop, with its refined harmonies, offbeat rhythms and abstract melodies played at breakneck speed. On Bird Songs, Joe Lovano looks for new ways into Parker's material.

06:08

Other segments from the episode on February 23, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 23, 2011: Interview with Allison Pearson; Review of Joe Lovano's new album "Bird songs."

Transcript

*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20110223
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Allison Pearson's 'Love' Affair With Keith Partridge

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Watching the Justin Bieber craze makes you wonder, or maybe it makes you
remember, what's it like to be a tween or teen in love with a pop idol. That's
the state of mind that Allison Pearson penetrates in her new novel, "I Think I
Love You."

The novel opens in 1974 and gets deep into the mind of Petra, a 13-year-old
girl in Wales in love with pop star David Cassidy, who had the hit song "I
Think I Love You" and also starred in the TV series "The Partridge Family,"
about a mother and her five children who play in a band together.

(Soundbite of song, "Come On, Get Happy")

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY (Music Group): (Singing) Hello, world, there's a song that
we're singing. Come on, get happy. A whole lot of lovin' is what we'll be
bringing. We'll make you happy.

GROSS: The second part of Allison Pearson's novel takes place in 1998, when
Petra is divorcing and raising a daughter and ends up meeting the writer
responsible for many of the David Cassidy fan magazine articles that Petra
studied religiously as a teen, articles that helped manufacture Cassidy's
image.

"I Think I Love You" is Allison Pearson's second novel. Her first, the
bestseller "I Don't Know How She Does It," is about a working mother who can't
manage the change of gears between home and the office.

Allison Pearson, welcome to FRESH AIR. I'd like to start by asking you to do a
short reading from the first chapter of "I Think I Love You." Would you briefly
just set it up for us before you read?

Ms. ALLISON PEARSON (Author, "I Think I Love You"): This is Petra in her
bedroom at home, in 1974. She's 13 years old, and she's reflecting on her plan
to eventually get together and meet David Cassidy.

(Reading) The cancellation of the David Cassidy tour at the start of 1974 was a
bitter blow, but it also came as a relief. It gave me more time to perfect my
plan for meeting David, when he came later to London in the year, maybe autumn.

He would call it the fall, which seemed perfect for me. I knew that somehow, I
would have to travel to London or Manchester because Wales was so small, it had
no concert venue big enough to hold all the fans. I wasn't sure how I would get
there: no money, no transport, a mother who disapproved of pop stars. But once
I got there and was safely outside the concert hall, I knew that everything
would be fine.

I would be hit by a car, not a serious injury, obviously, just bad enough to be
taken to the hospital by ambulance. David would be told about my accident, and
he would rush to my bedside. Things would be awkward at first, but we would
soon get talking, and he would be amazed by my in-depth knowledge of his
records, particularly the B-sides.

David would be impressed by my command of American. Jeez, he would smile and
invite me to his house in Hawaii, where I would meet his seven horses, and
there would be garlands around our necks, and we would kiss and get married on
the beach. I was already worried about my flip-flops.

Yes, it was a kind of madness. It didn't last all that long, not in the great
scheme of a life, but while I loved him, he was the world entire.

GROSS: That's Allison Pearson, reading from her new novel "I Think I Love You."

So of all the teen idols in the world, why did you choose David Cassidy?

Ms. PEARSON: I think the truthful answer is he was around at the time. I mean,
you can usually date a woman by...

GROSS: At what time, when you were 13?

Ms. PEARSON: I was 13 in 1974, and he bestrode my teenage world like a colossus
in a white jumpsuit with silver embroidery. Girls slightly younger tended to be
Donny Osmond girls or Michael Jackson girls. But for my generation, it tended
to be David Cassidy or, in America, it was Bobby Sherman, I know.

GROSS: So was "The Partridge Family" big in Wales when you were growing up?

Ms. PEARSON: It was broadcast very infrequently, and so it was very frustrating
to us. I know in the States, it was on Friday evenings, and it was a big deal,
but it was only broadcast intermittently. So we felt very lucky if it was ever
on.

But David Cassidy started to feature very heavily in the fan magazines, and I
would get, you know, one magazine a week, which was my sort of research
material on him. And another feature of the teen fan, I think, is that you
muster all this information.

You become a kind of rabbinical scholar of the material just in case, you know,
David Cassidy happened to be in South Wales, which was 5,000 miles away from
his home in California. But, of course, you never knew when the moment might
come, and you would need to have all the facts of him at your disposal so he
would like you better.

In fact, I taught myself lots of American expressions, which Petra does in the
book, just so he wouldn't sort of think that you were a stupid Welsh girl.

You know, the things that - you know, Americans say mad meaning angry, not
crazy; and bathroom, not loo, all these, you know, these crucial distinctions
which were going to endear me to him.

GROSS: So you studied the fanzines, you know, the David Cassidy magazines and
the pop magazines, to see what did you need to know about him so that he would
love you.

You have a lot of that kind of writing in your book, and I don't know: Did you
write the fan magazine stuff that's in your novel, or is that actually borrowed
word-for-word from real magazines?

Ms. PEARSON: Some of it was borrowed from magazines, and some of it was
improvised by me. The book starts with a cutting, which I absolutely love,
which came from a real magazine, and I found it, and it was called "How to
Kiss: Part Two." And even more hilariously, at the end, it said: Next week,
"How to Kiss: Part Three."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEARSON: I thought: Oh my God. How complicated can this thing be? And one
thing that struck me, because I bid on eBay for lots of these magazines of that
era, and one thing that struck me was how much fear these magazines put into
the young female reader because it's always, you know, how to be popular, you
know, worried that your neck's too long, or your knees are too knobbly(ph) or
whatever.

So all of these magazines, with the purpose of apparently encouraging you, make
you feel worse and worse, and I don't know if you can cast your mind back to
being 13, but the teenage girl feels probably the most horrible creature on the
planet when she's 13 anyway. It's such a difficult age, I think.

GROSS: Let me read an excerpt of that "How to Kiss: Part Two," that begins your
book. And this from Sixteen magazine, a real magazine. (Reading) Don't make
these mistakes. One, don't be nervous. So you're nervous already, reading that,
right?

Two, don't spend too much time practicing so that's all you can think about
when the time comes. Three, don't look flustered or nervous. Don't look as
though you're afraid.

Four, don't close your eyes all the way, until you're sure your lips are going
to meet his and his lips are going to meet yours. He may be just as nervous as
you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Like, there's so much to worry about with just, like, a kiss. So one of
the things that Petra reads in one of the articles about what David likes, what
David Cassidy likes, is that David likes girls with sparkling free and easy
personalities, blah, blah, blah. Most of all, he likes girls who are fun. He
likes girls who are individuals, who never try to be like anyone else.

And she thinks to herself: Well, I don't even know who I am yet.

Ms. PEARSON: Well, she's the unformed self. And I think one of the challenges
of - in the first part of the book was recreating that 13-year-old mindset when
you're still constructing yourself, aren't you? You're still wondering who you
are. And, of course, it was trying to get that kind of feeling of transparency,
of looking back to that young girl.

One thing that did give me pause for thought, when I told my female friends now
that I was writing about a 13-year-old girl, without exception they all said: I
would not go back to being 13 for a million pounds. So I think it's a - you
know, it's a uniquely vulnerable and quite traumatic age to be, particularly
given the friendship groups at school.

GROSS: Part of your novel is set at one of the magazines that cranks out all
this David Cassidy fan literature. And the main writer, who writes the David
Cassidy stuff, is so cynical about it. It's not what he wants to be doing. It's
not the music he likes. He's not writing anything he believes. He's never even
met David Cassidy, yet he's pretending to either be David Cassidy or to know
everything about David Cassidy.

Did you visit any of the teen magazines before writing this?

Ms. PEARSON: No, I didn't, but I heard about this guy whose job on one of the
magazines was to airbrush out David Cassidy's pimples because he famously had
very sort of stress acne. And originally, when I started writing the book, I
was trying to write it all through the 13-year-old girl's perspective, but I
wanted to introduce these deeper, more satirical scenes, about the way the
girls are manipulated, and I just couldn't do it through Petra's young voice
because she's all blind trust and romantic yearning. And I thought: How am I
going to introduce any of this cynicism?

And I went to an Osmonds and Cassidy reunion concert with a friend of mine who
is a rock critic, and Tim was sitting next to me in the dark, and I could see
he was scribbling down all these kind of hilarious comments about, why are all
these women screaming? You know, what is going on on the stage? What is this
strange thing?

And of course, that gave me Bill. I suddenly saw Bill, who will be the
journalist writing the David Cassidy letters to the fans, thinking: Who the
hell is this American Nancy-boy that's driving all these girls wild? You know,
he looks like a girl. He can't even sing.

So I wanted to get in that male bewilderment at this sort of female teen
phenomenon.

GROSS: When did you realize that the person you invested so much romantic
fantasy in, David Cassidy, didn't really exist in the sense that the David
Cassidy you loved was really manufactured? I'm not saying David Cassidy isn't a
real person, but that presence that you fell in love with was manufactured.

Ms. PEARSON: I don't think I thought about it at the time at all because I
think that this teen-idol phase probably lasts for about - between nine months
and a year and a half. It doesn't last very long.

And I think that the love for them is incredibly powerful. It's like a tsunami.
But then it goes out like the tide. It just - it just disappears, and you don't
think about it.

It was much later in life, I think in 2004, I was asked to go and interview
David Cassidy by the magazine I worked for, and I bought his autobiography,
"Come On, Get Happy." And of course, I started reading that, and it was
absolutely jaw-dropping stuff about groupies and, you know, the kind of life he
had.

And what struck me, Terry, so forcefully, was that, as a grown woman and the
mother of two children, I was not shocked by what he was writing about. But I
could feel within myself, the 13-year-old girl who had loved him was really
shocked.

And I thought: Now isn't that interesting? We carry our younger selves with us
our whole lives, and we can measure out of lives somewhat by music we've loved
or icons we've loved. So that was my first kind of real vertiginous falling
perception, that this creature David Cassidy that I had loved was a
manufactured being.

I mean, he was as much a victim of it as the girls were. And I thought there
was something darker there to tap into.

GROSS: Did that interview inspire the book, or were you already planning on
writing your book?

Ms. PEARSON: I was already planning on writing the book. And in a way, going to
see him was me testing myself to see what my kind of reaction to it would be
because I thought that - as a fictional writer, I thought that would be very
interesting.

And one of the things I remembered about him - in fact, I realized that I
remembered more about David Cassidy than about guys I'd actually been out with.
And I had read, when I was a child, that his favorite color was brown.

And so for about 18 months of my precious adolescence, I had worn brown; and of
course, I looked absolutely dreadful in brown because I was a very sallow, a
skinny little girl. I looked yellow in brown.

But going to Florida to see him, I remember thinking: Should I wear brown to
this interview? I was thinking: Do I go as the woman I am now, or do I go as my
younger self? I mean, it was just - it was this confusion. You know, who is it
I'm taking to interview?

And in the cab on the way to David Cassidy's house, I remember thinking: Please
don't let me pity him. I thought: I can deal with any reaction, but I just
don't want to pity him, you know, because it was very important to me that
someone who had, you know, had loomed so large in my imagination.

But of course, the other thing, the book isn't just about David Cassidy. The
book is about love and its delusions. And really, that's the conclusion that
Petra comes to later.

You know, when she says to Bill, later on, when they're grownups: It was all
fake. It didn't mean anything. It was just ridiculous. And he says: No, it was
a wonderful love story, and you told it to yourself with all your heart, and
you made it true.

So we go on telling ourselves love stories with all our heart, and we can make
them true.

GROSS: But, you know, the love story you told yourself about David Cassidy, and
you say that those teen-idol love stories become a narrative, like your first
real, like, romance narrative. Was that a good template to build a genuine
relationship on? Like, where did that lead you in real life?

Ms. PEARSON: Well, of course, no, it isn't a good template to base it on. And
in fact, in the second part of the book, when Petra's a grownup, she's emerging
from a marriage where she has married a man who is another fantastical
projection, who is a glamorous cellist and a very brilliant, charismatic figure
but really not the man for her, a man who has made her, a brilliant cellist,
feel like she's playing second fiddle. So she's made another bad choice.

I'm not saying in the book that the teen-idol template is necessarily the one
we carry with us. But I do think it's a dress rehearsal for love, and I do
think that it's a safe place for a young girl to put her deep affections
because the guy in the poster on the wall is never going to hurt you. You know,
it's trying out love for size, really.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is novelist and newspaper columnist
Allison Pearson. She wrote the bestselling novel "I Don't Know How She Does It"
and the new novel "I Think I Love You." Let's take a short break, and then
we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Allison Pearson, author of the bestseller "I Don't Know How
She Does It" and the new novel "I Think I Love You." It begins in 1974, when
the main character, Petra, is obsessed with pop idol David Cassidy. Then the
novel fast-forwards to 1998, when Petra is divorcing and raising a daughter.

The mother in your book, the main character in your book, thinks that she
doesn't want her daughter wasting her life hating her body. And her biggest
fear about her daughter is that she'll be anorexic.

You have a daughter who's how old?

Ms. PEARSON: She just turned 15.

GROSS: What are your fears about your daughter and the kinds of problems that
teenage girls face nowadays?

Ms. PEARSON: Well, my daughter is, as Petra in the novel, she is going through
her teen-idol phase. So she was staring last night at the latest Justin Bieber
bible. So she's scrutinizing that, and she's absolutely in love with Robert
Pattinson, the vampire in the "Twilight" books. And so I'm - I think I'm facing
becoming a mother-in-law to a vampire, Terry...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEARSON: ...is my forthcoming... I'm not quite sure of him as a son-in-law.
We'll have to get married in the dark, I think, won't she?

I think that what struck me, digging deep into my own memories of those years,
is the astounding vulnerability of it and that self, as you've said, you know,
inventing itself.

And I think even though they're bombarded with different things now, I mean, my
childhood was so boring compared to Evie's(ph) childhood. I mean, Evie's
bedroom looks like Cape Canaveral. I mean, honestly, it's got a computer and
iPhone and iPod. And, you know, I had a little, tiny, you know, Motorola record
player and a few, just a few records, you know, some soundtracks from "My Fair
Lady" and "The Sound of Music," and of course a couple of Beatles albums and
David Cassidy, of course.

So we didn't have very much. I think these idols dominated our imaginations in
a way that the more distracted, modern, teen imagination is not quite so
dominated.

But the fears are still the same, you know, her having the courage to become
her own best self, not being intimidated or defeated by the group around her as
she struggles to find popularity.

I think the female is programmed to pick up information which will help her
get, you know, get knowledge about the world and will make her popular. I think
it's - you know, I think it's extremely fundamental. I think it's - you know,
it's hard-wired, I think, really.

So wither her, with Evie, I suppose I would want her to have confidence in her
young self and to feel that, you know, she is pretty and attractive. But, of
course, that's a doomed hope because, you know, she's a young girl, and she'll
say, you know, I'm not the cleverest, I'm not the prettiest, I'm not the most
popular.

So I think the lesson that Petra learns as the mother in the novel is that the
little child, you can make the world safe for them, but once they're a
teenager, you can't really protect from this stuff. They have to learn it for
themselves.

GROSS: You have a couple of lines about cliques. Would you read that for us?

Ms. PEARSON: This is Petra reflecting on the fact that she has recently been
admitted to queen bee Jillian's group with mixed consequences.

(Reading) You chose the kind of friends you wanted because you hoped you could
be like them and not like you. To improve your image, you made yourself more
stupid and less kind. As the months passed, the tradeoff for belonging started
to feel too great, the shutting down of some vital part of yourself just so you
could be included on the shopping trip into town, not have to sit on your own
at lunch or have someone to walk home with.

Now, among friends, you are often lonelier than you had been before. The
hierarchy of girls was so much more brutal than that of boys. The boys battled
for supremacy out on the pitch, and after, they showered away the harm. The
girls played dirtier. For girls, it was never just a game.

GROSS: Did you do things that you wished you hadn't to get in with a clique
when you were 13?

Ms. PEARSON: I think one of the autobiographical things in the book, which I
remember with such a sort of electric shock of pain, is that our Jillian in our
group - I remember saving up my pocket money to buy her a special Mary Quant
eye-shadow compact and handing it over and thinking that by giving her this
generous gift, you know, my young life would be transformed: I would become the
close friend. Jillian and I would be, you know, invited round to her fabulous
house to listen to records and so on.

And about a week or so after I had given her this gift for her birthday, one of
the other girls in the group produced the eye-shadow compact in the girls'
bathroom at school, and she said: Oh, Jillian gave this to me. Isn't she
fabulous?

Oh, Terry, my God. Everything I was went - fell down a mineshaft of humiliation
and misery. So I put that in.

I think you should always, to make the connection with the reader, if you can,
always put in those moments you can hardly bear, even in retrospect.

GROSS: My guest, Allison Pearson, will be back in the second half of the show.
Her new novel is called "I Think I Love You." I'm Terry Gross, and this is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Allison Pearson, author of
the bestseller "I Don't Know How She Does It," about a working mother that is
been adapted into a film starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Pearson's new novel, "I
Think I Love You," opens in 1974, when the main character, Petra, is 13 and
obsessed with pop star David Cassidy. Then the novel fast forwards to when
Petra is raising a daughter of her own. Allison Pearson has a daughter who is
15.

You point out in your novel that 14-year-old girls increasingly choose to dress
like hookers, while 40-year-olds dressed like teenagers. Now, you've written -
you're a columnist for a newspaper in England, and you've written about popular
culture over the years. You're a former TV critic. You have a real
understanding of popular culture, how it works, the impact it has on teenagers.
But when it has an impact on your teenage girl, if you see your teenaged girl
dressing like a hooker or if you see your teenage girl investing maybe a little
too much energy into her romantic idol, do you intervene? Or do you just stand
back and say: Yes, I know. That's how pop culture works on young teenage girls.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It happened to me. It's happening to her. She'll get over it. Let's
just, you know, be calm about it. Which approach do you take?

Ms. PEARSON: I think it's harder to be philosophical as the actual physical
mother, rather than the all-wise, all-seeing novelist. Well, I think of women -
mothers down the ages are doomed to repeat the phrase: You're not going out
looking like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEARSON: So - and, of course, they are becoming sexualized younger, even
though they don't really know what it is. I mean, I think they try on these
attitudes. I notice all young girls now in these snapshots they take of
themselves on their phones, all adopt these very kind of pouty, sensuous poses.
They're putting on the kind of sexual clothes younger and younger. I mean, in
my era, I think we were just that much more innocent. But I still think the
teen idol for them is a safe refuge. It's kind of safe sex, really. It's a pre-
sexual feeling.

But they whip each other up. I was watching Evie and her friends the other day
talking about Justin Bieber, and they whip each other up into a frenzy. It's
like some witnessing - it's like being Margaret Mead, witnessing some kind of
anthropological ritual in a tribe. It's really incredible. And I think it's the
right of passage.

And one of the things in the book it's a lot of people think, oh, teen idols,
how cute. Teen fans, aren't they sweet? In fact, actually, underneath it all,
there's something really quite frightening and brutal about it.

I mean, David Cassidy himself says that, you know, he was scared when these
girls were crawling, swarming over the trunk of the car he was in, you know,
wanting to take a piece of him home for their bedside table. But it was very
frightening. And I think that some of these emotions that are swirling around
are really kind of dangerous. That young female sexuality, before it's got
anywhere to go, is actually highly combustible.

GROSS: So getting back to the question of whether you intervene or not as a
mother, like if your daughter goes out dressing more like a hooker, do you say
something? Or if you think she's going too far in her idolization of Justin
Bieber or the star of "Twilight" series, do you try to put the brakes on? Or
just do you just leave it alone, thinking you don't really have any power in
that situation anyways, or it's wrong to intervene?

Ms. PEARSON: I definitely intervene when she comes clomping down the stairs in
her high heels and her teeny shorts. They're all wearing these teeny shorts
these days, even in the dead of winter. So I definitely will make some comments
about that. But when I wrote "I Don't Know How She Does It," various mothers of
teenagers who were a little further down the motherhood track than I was, they
gave me very good advice. They say learn to pick your battles. If you're
worried about her getting her ears pierced because she's going to look trampy,
just think about when she asks for a belly button ring. You know, just pick the
things that you actually feel the most strongly about. So that's some wisdom
I've tried to import into my own mothering, think: Do I really mind about that?

When it comes to the teen idol, Terry, quite honestly, I could say anything to
her about Robert Pattinson, and it would just absolutely be water off a duck's
back. She, you know, my input to her is just, it's of no relevance whatsoever,
because she and Rob and Justin, they exist in the dream kingdom, and I'm just a
boring grown-up pointing out these things. You know, I don't even intervene
when she covers her entire wall, you know, in posters of these calf-like young
boys.

I should tell you a funny story, that when I was writing the novel, I papered
my tiny office at the top of our house with posters of David Cassidy, which I'd
excavated from my attic - my mom's attic – and had bought on eBay. And Anthony,
my husband, came in one morning and he said, my God. He said it looks like the
lair of a serial killer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEARSON: And I thought there was something about that that degree of
obsessiveness, slightly worrying obsessiveness that's entirely true to the teen
fan experience.

GROSS: My guest is Allison Pearson, and she's the author of the bestseller "I
Don't Know How She Does It" and the new novel "I Think I Love You."

Let's talk a little bit about your bestseller "I Don't Know How She Does It,"
which is about a woman who has to balance her working life at a hedge fund with
her home life as a mother. And the change of gears, as she says, between home
and work, is just unmanageable.

So there's a famous opening scene in which the mother buys mince pies for a
school function and then distresses them. She kind of, like, messes them up a
little bit so that they don't look store-bought. They look like they're home...

Ms. PEARSON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: They look imperfect, like a home-baked pie would look. Is that kind of
thing you ever found yourself doing?

Ms. PEARSON: I didn't find myself doing that, but I found myself doing lots of
similar things. I think that...

GROSS: Give us a couple of examples.

Ms. PEARSON: There was a school fair, and I sent in some jam, which had a
homemade label on it, but actually, it had been a shop-bought jam. So that was
my act of fakery.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Who did you do that for?

Ms. PEARSON: Fake...

GROSS: Did you do that to make yourself look like a better mother? Or did you
do that so that your daughter would feel that she had a better mother? Were you
proving something to your peers, or to your daughter and her peers?

Ms. PEARSON: I think it's both. I think you want your child to feel they have
the right kind of mother. And I think with some of the other mothers who will
be feeling, oh, that woman's never around that much. Typical of her to, you
know, to just throw any old thing down on the table. So I think that because my
generation, we were allowed to do the jobs our fathers had done, that we
retained our mother's responsibilities, so we were leading this sort of double
life where you ended up faking it.

I think that because my mother was a stay-at-home mother and was an extremely
good baker, always had food on the table by the time we got home from school
and so on, I think we carry that memory of the template of a good mother with
us whilst trying to negotiate this new world that's opened up to us, which is
of being, you know, having a career. But when they were smaller, I was eaten up
with the fear that I was letting them down or was not being a good enough
mother.

I think that one of the reasons I really wanted to write "I Don't Know How She
Does It," even though I was a working mother who had no time to write a book
about an exhausted working mother, I had to write it at 4 o'clock in the
morning. It was another thing on the giant to-do list. But I felt amongst my
friends this both kind of comic madness, really. And beneath the comic madness
of sharing all those things you've forgotten to do or you weren't on the right
list for some school trip or something, beneath that was a real yell of pain.
And I think that "I Don't Know How She Does It" is described as a sort of
great, uproarious comedy. But for me, it was a tragedy written at a comic pace.

GROSS: Your character says, all I know is I didn't want to be my mother. Is
that a fear of yours?

Ms. PEARSON: I think my fear was that my mother was abandoned by my father when
we were still quite young. And we had no money, and she was frightened of the
phone bill. She had a little book next to the phone in which she would write
the number of minutes of any calls she would make, and she would add up the
sums for the - how much the phone was going to be. And as we got older, if we
were ever on the phone, she would always be shouting at us to get off the
phone. And at that time I just thought she was just being horrible. But now, of
course, I realize the fear, the fear of not being able to pay bills. So we had
no car, we had to walk everywhere or take the bus.

And I think at some level in the back of my mind, I just had this sense that I
would - if I was ever abandoned by a man, I would be sure that I had a way of
making my own living. And that was not conscious, Terry. That was not - really,
that was not conscious. But now, looking back, I realize that there was no way
I was going to be, you know, left with children and no means of making a
living.

GROSS: My guest is Allison Pearson, author of the bestseller "I Don't Know How
She Does It." Her new novel is called "I Think I Love You."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Allison Pearson, author of the new novel "I Think I Love
You." Her first novel, the bestseller, "I Don't Know How She Does It," is about
a working mother of two who can't deal with the competing demands of home and
office.

This next question is going to strike a lot of people - and it might strike you
this way, too – as either being stupid or rude. So if it strikes you as either,
please feel free not to answer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So here it comes: Being a working woman, you know, a writer who has a,
you know, a newspaper column, after you had one child and realized how hard it
was to work, you know, and be a mother, why did you have a second child? What
did you think about - I'm assuming, you know, that it was a choice that you
made, but that might be a false assumption. But having already experienced the
difficulty, why did you decide to have a second child?

Ms. PEARSON: Well, I hoped to...

GROSS: Is that a horrible question?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEARSON: No, it's a reasonable question. Two is harder than one, of course,
you know. I think that one was, you know, one was reasonably manageable. And
then, you know, I definitely wanted to give her a sibling, because she would
say to me, you know, I don't want to be a lonely – meaning, I don't want to be
an only. I don't want to be a lonely child, she'd say to me when she was about
three.

But let's take that question and examine it for what you're saying. You see, my
strong feeling is that women have changed enormously to accommodate being
mothers and working. But the world of work has not changed to accommodate the
fact that now almost half of the people in work are women and many, many
hundreds of millions of them are mothers.

So I would say to you: Why should I deliberately limit my family because work
is too hard to combine with motherhood? How about work becoming slightly easier
to combine with motherhood so that women can fulfill both the things that they
want to do, which is to be - to have wonderful children, which are the great
lights of most of our lives, and to have a career?

And the extension of what you're saying is since "I Don't How She Does It," I
go into lots of firms and I talk to young women who are in their early 30s, and
I tell them to go home that night and get pregnant, because they are telling me
that there's no time. I can't get pregnant now, because it would be so bad for
my job. It will, you know, I'll lose my bonus. I'll lose my place on the
ladder. And I say don't let work structures dictate the, you know, the concerns
of your heart.

In "I Think I Love You," there's a woman working in a magazine who has
postponed and postponed having children. And I say in the novel: This was the
great delusion of our age, that love could be held waiting in a holding pattern
like airlines above an airport, waiting for you to call in the plane until you
were good and ready. But love and motherhood and pregnancy will not wait
endlessly.

GROSS: Now, you're talking about the importance of having your family, deciding
what your family priorities are and making work adjust to that as opposed to
the other way around. And you have two children. You have a, you know, a
successful career, two novels, you're a newspaper columnist, former TV critic.
You wrote a column not long ago about realizing you were suffering from
depression, and that you really had to cut back on the things that you were
doing.

Can you talk about that a little bit and how much - and again, if this is too
personal just say so - but how much of that you think was situational, it was
just like having too much to do? Because I think this was at same time that
your mother was sick. Your mother had had two heart attacks. You were going
back and forth to take care of her and, of course, having two children to deal
with too, plus your work.

Ms. PEARSON: I think that I was deceiving myself because I think because I'd
written "I Don't Know How She Does It," I had somehow inoculated myself against
the virus of depression. I think Kate in the book, in retrospect, probably is
suffering from depression. She's certainly suffering from the stress eczema,
which now plagues me, or plagued me in the run-up to me realizing I was
depressed.

I think the thing about the crazy juggling act is that you can just think this
is just how it is and for a long time you can go on just absorbing all the
pressure. I think that it took me a long time to realize what was happening to
me. I just had accustomed myself to the way I was maybe, you know, long periods
of not going outside, just certain insomnia, waking at four in the morning,
that kind of thing, feeling that I just wanted to, not to commit suicide, but
to feel I just wanted someone to throw the switch so I didn't have to be for a
while. Just so I could just, someone could just turn, you know, like with a
computer, let's just let the whole system go down for a while because I can't
cope.

And it was news to me that I was - that I finally did seek professional help
and the person said you're having a very serious clinical depression.

And I wrote in the column that because Petra in "I Think I Love You" has an
obsession with filling in questionnaires and coming out by choosing the right
letter of the questionnaire: A, B, C or D, so she will reveal herself to be the
right kind of girl. And in the psychiatrist's office I was given a
questionnaire to fill in which was these rather macabre things, like I no
longer have any appetite for life. You know, my life fills me with dread and it
was A, B, C or D. And even at that moment, even in extremist, I was still
desperately trying to pick the one that would make me the right kind of girl to
be, which, of course, in retrospect is very funny.

And even at the time I remember a sort of slightly bitter laugh, thinking
Allison, you're still trying to be the best kind of girl to be, which probably
is the perfectionism in Kate and in myself which was driving us nuts.

The one thing I would say, Terry, is that by the time I wrote that article
about depression, the beast no longer had me by the throat. I was able to look
back on it by the time I wrote that piece. The fact that you could ever
organize your thoughts into something that's insightful or even amusing about
depression means that you have moved beyond it a little bit because certainly
at its height I was not capable of reflecting like that on my experience.

GROSS: So I think a lot of our listeners know that you are married to Anthony
Lane, who reviews movies for The New Yorker. And you used to be a television
critic before you became a columnist, so you both have backgrounds in
criticism. At what point do you give each other your writing to look at and how
hard are you, how honest are you with each other's writing when you're looking
at it before publication?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEARSON: Oh boy, that....

GROSS: Or even after publication?

Ms. PEARSON: That's a very good question. He shows me never, because he's a man
and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEARSON: ...he has absolute cast-iron confidence, as he should because he
is the most brilliant writer of prose. I love him, but I love his prose almost
more, the great dancing intelligence of him alive on the page. Me, I would show
him every three minutes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEARSON: Because such is the all too typical female self-doubt. No, to be
honest, I rely on his judgment. I have a great critic on the premises and I
would show him a chapter and I would ask for his input. And he will zero in
almost inevitably on the sentence I have been thinking is not quite correct. So
there's some very symbiotic relationship between us when it comes to writing.
He almost always knows where I'm uncertain and will kind of prod me in the
right direction.

But I should also say that I have - I am much more sentimental. I have a much
sweeter tooth for writing than he does. He's a very - he's a sort of austere,
T.S. Eliot, Henry James man, which I'm not. And I'm more of a W.B. Yeats girl,
I guess, so I tend to go in for a sort of more romantic sentimental stuff. And
he always kind of puts a big line through it and says this has got to come out.
And I say but that's the bit that's going to make people cry, so we're keeping
it in, and I always keep it in. And you know what, Terry? It's always the place
where people cry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEARSON: So he doesn't know everything.

GROSS: Allison Pearson, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

Ms. PEARSON: Thank you so much. My pleasure.

GROSS: Allison Pearson's new novel is called "I Think I Love You." You can read
an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org.

Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews a new tribute to Charlie Parker, the album
"Bird Songs" featuring Joe Lovano's Us Five.

This is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
133871975
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20110223
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Joe Lovano: Drawing On 'Bird'

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

Jazz saxophonist Joe Lovano respects those who've gone before him. He is the
son of Cleveland's saxophonist Tony "Big T" Lovano, an apprentice in the bands
of Woody Herman, Mel Lewis and Paul Motian.

Lovano's new album pays tribute to saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.

(Soundbite of song, "Passport")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Joe Lovano's Us Five on Charlie Parker's tune "Passport,"
where they grab one line from the melody and turn it into a catchy repeater
riff. It's from their new album of Parker tunes, "Bird Songs."

In the 1940s, Charlie Parker, nicknamed Bird, was a prime mover behind the new
style of bebop, with its refined harmonies, offbeat rhythms and abstract
melodies played at breakneck speed. Bird's saxophone style was the key: Even
musicians who played other instruments modeled their styles on his, and his
compositions sounded very like his improvisations. That mirroring gives his
best records amazing coherence.

Here's Parker on his "Moose the Mooche."

(Soundbite of song, "Moose the Mooche")

WHITEHEAD: Bird's tunes and improvisations are such a good fit, it's not
surprising other musicians who play them aim for the same cohesion. But on
"Bird Songs", Joe Lovano looks for new ways into the material.

Here's his take on "Moose the Mooche."

(Soundbite of song, "Moose the Mooche")

WHITEHEAD: When Joe Lovano plays Charlie Parker tunes, he may lower the tempo
and temperature, as on "Moose the Mooche" where he brings out Parker's lyricism
and blues feeling. Or he'll look for some parallel to Parker's method. The
quintet classic "Ko-Ko" featured Bird's alto sax and Max Roach's drums. Lovano
plays "Ko-Ko" on his usual tenor, in a trio with Us Five's double drummers:
Francisco Mela from Cuba and New Jersey's Otis Brown III. That open format
gives them all plenty of elbow room, and lets Lovano show off his broad and
tender tone.

(Soundbite of song, "Ko-Ko")

WHITEHEAD: On "Ko-Ko," Joe Lovano moves away from Charlie Parker's sound while
invoking his spirit. Bird loved draping new melodies over the chords to old
tunes; on "Blues Collage," Lovano, pianist James Weidman and new star bassist
Esperanza Spalding each play and improvise on a different Parker blues tune.
It's an exercise in fortuitous counterpoint.

(Soundbite of song, ""Blues Collage")

WHITEHEAD: Joe Lovano's album "Bird Songs" makes the implicit point that
everyone in modern jazz draws on Charlie Parker some kind of way. Bird was a
key inspiration for Lovano's own dexterity on several saxophones here: tenor
and alto, mezzo-soprano and the newfangled aulochrome, which looks and sounds
like conjoined twin soprano saxes. He also learned a lot from John Coltrane,
Ornette Coleman and drummer and sometime boss Paul Motian, but Lovano pours it
all into his own touching, sweetly melancholy sound.

Retooling Parker tunes, he confirms the way to honor an innovator is not by
being a copycat, but by finding your own voice.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the jazz columnist for eMusic.com and author of the
new book "Why Jazz?: A Concise Guide." He reviewed "Bird Songs" by Joe Lovano's
Us Five on the Blue Note label. You'll find a link to a performance by the band
recorded last month at the Village Vanguard, where they played compositions
featured on the new album, on our website, freshair.npr.org, where you can also
download podcasts of our show.

I'm Terry Gross.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
133992723

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?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

'Underground Railroad' Director Barry Jenkins Sees Film As An 'Empathy Machine'

Director Barry Jenkin's new series is based on Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about an enslaved teenage girl who escapes from a brutal Georgia plantation. He says it was the most difficult undertakings of his career.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

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

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue