Skip to main content

Johnny Gimble: 'The King Of The Swing Fiddle.'

The Grammy-winning country-music fiddler is still recording new tracks 70 years after he picked up his first instrument. Gimble's new album, Playing With Friends, features Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Garrison Keillor.

21:51

Other segments from the episode on April 8, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 8, 2010: Interview with Johnny Gimble; Review of Paul Motian's album "Lost in a Dream" and the album "On Broadway Vol. 5" featuring Paul Motian; Interview with…

Transcript

*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20100408
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Johnny Gimble: 'The King Of The Swing Fiddle'

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.

Unidentified Announcer: The Texas Playboys are on the air.

(Soundbite of music)

BOB WILLS and HIS TEXAS PLAYBOYS (Music Group): (Singing) (Unintelligible).

DAVIES: That's the unmistakable sound of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Our
guest today, fiddle player Johnny Gimble, spent years playing with the band and
is regarded by critics as one of the best to ever pick up a bow.

Gimble began playing at a young age and joined the Playboys in 1949. He played
fiddle and mandolin with Wills in the '50s, and he later became a highly
regarded studio musician in Nashville, recording with Marty Robbins, Merle
Haggard, Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins and others. He toured with Willie Nelson and
was in the house band for the TV show "Hee Haw."

At age 83, Johnny Gimble is still playing. He lives in Dripping Springs, Texas,
and performs regularly in Austin, often with his son and granddaughter. He has
a new album called "Celebrating With Friends," in which he's joined by several
musicians, including Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and members of the band Asleep
at the Will, including Ray Benson, who sings this Johnny Gimble tune called
"Under the X in Texas."

(Soundbite of song, "Under the X in Texas")

Mr. RAY BENSON (Singer): (Singing) Now I'm sittin' here lookin' at a map I got
laid out on my lap, and there ain't too many places I ain't been, but the one
place I love best is spread out all over the West, and I'm tryin' the figure
how to get back home again. Right now, I wish I was sittin' right under the X
in Texas, right in the heart of where my heart must be. No matter where I roam,
I never feel at home 'cept in Texas. Right under the X in Texas is where it's
best for me. Oh, Johnny Gimble.

DAVIES: And that was the song "Under the X in Texas," sung by Ray Benson,
written by our guest Johnny Gimble and fiddled by Johnny Gimble, and it appears
on his new CD called "Johnny Gimble."

Well, Johnny Gimble, welcome to FRESH AIR. I thought we'd talk about your early
days. You were born in Bascom, Texas, which is near – wrong? I'm wrong already,
huh?

Mr. JOHNNY GIMBLE (Musician): I was born in Tyler.

DAVIES: Tyler, which is in East Texas, right?

Mr. GIMBLE: Yeah.

DAVIES: What did your parents do? What was your life like at home?

Mr. GIMBLE: My dad was a telegraph operator for the Cotton Belt Railroad. He
worked seven nights a week from four until midnight, no vacation. And my mother
was raising nine kids.

DAVIES: And how did you get into playing music?

Mr. GIMBLE: I couldn't help it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIMBLE: I had - my dad had two younger brothers that - Uncle Paul played
the fiddle some. Just, he had an old sorry old box that he had sewn and play
"Bully of the Town" and "Blue Ridge Mountain Home" and those old songs. I think
that was an inspiration.

Then Uncle John, Dad's youngest brother, picked the mandolin some. And Dad
bought a fiddle and a mandolin, which Bill started learning to play. And he
started teaching me, which Jack was teaching Jean, who was a year older than
me. He's 85 this year. He said he's older than he ever has been.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIMBLE: But Jean started learning guitar from Jack, and Bill is teaching me
fiddle. And we wound up, all of us, playing together, and we listened every day
on the radio to the Light Crust Doughboys. It was a band that Bob Wills and
Milton Brown formed in 1932 that was on the – he was on the air until the '50s.

And the opening announcer would say: The Light Crust Doughboys are on the air.
And they'd thump the fiddle, ding dong...

Mr. GIMBLE: (Singing) Never do brag, never do boast, sing our song from coast
to coast. We're the Light Crust Doughboys from the Burris Mill.

Mr. GIMBLE: And when Bob started the Playboy band, he used that for a theme,
which helped write it with Milton, but he used it and changed it to...

Mr. GIMBLE: (Singing) The Texas Playboys are on the air.

DAVIES: Do you remember the first time anybody paid you to play music, to
perform?

Mr. GIMBLE: Yes, in fact, there was a million company at Denton, Texas, up near
the Oklahoma border, that made a flour called Peacemaker flour. And they had a
promotion man, Big Boy Green(ph), big-old 300-pound guy that hear us brothers
playing somewhere and he hired us.

He came by and hired us to go out on a Saturday morning early with – he'd pick
us up at 5:30 or six Saturday morning and drive to East Texas town down at
Lufkin or somewhere down that way. But he would pull up in front of a grocery
store. And they'd have a flatbed truck waiting, and he had speakers on top of
this old '36 Ford that he drove and an amplifier with a turntable where he
could play records. And then we'd get up on the truck and they'd put us through
a mic, and we would play music at the Peacemaker Boys, advertising his flour.

So he paid us each $2 for the day's work. The only other income I had was we
would pick cotton in the summertime, or the fall, whenever the cotton was
ready. And my dad, he'd raised a few acres of cotton, and the going rate the
cotton pickers got was fifty cents a hundred, like a half-cent a pound. But he
would pay us a penny a pound. He's paying us twice what he was paying the hired
hands, you know. But it was all I could do to earn a dollar, to pick 100 pounds
of cotton in a day. I just wasn't good at it. So when Big Boy Green started
paying us $2 for a day's playing music — which is what we wanted to do anyway —
it was a lot more fun than picking cotton.

DAVIES: So I know that you got together with your brothers, and you started
playing professionally. And I believe you hooked up with Bob Wills in 1949,
right? How did that happen?

Mr. GIMBLE: In '49, I was playing with a group in Corpus Christi, Texas. We had
a daily radio show on KWBU, and we booked out and played dances in surrounding
territory. And Bob Wills was working from Sacramento, California then, and he
would go and go on the road, playing one-nighters all across the Southwest.

And they booked him in Corpus Christi, but they left us in there to open for
him. So we played like an hour and a half, and Jesse Ashlock was the fiddle
player in Bob's band then. And so Tiny Moore, who I had met three years
earlier, Tiny doubled on fiddle. They – Jesse and Tiny would play harmony to
Bob's lead.

He heard us playing and heard me perform. And at intermission, we were
visiting, and he said I think Jesse's leaving the band. Would you be interested
in going to work with the Texas Playboys?

DAVIES: I thought we'd – let's talk about Western swing a little, and I thought
we would hear a cut from your new album, and the track I thought we would
listen to is "Somewhere South of San Antone."

Mr. GIMBLE: Right. That's one I wrote back years and years ago, I was - but
it's a true story.

DAVIES: What's the story that inspired you to write this song?

Mr. GIMBLE: It tells about how Barbara and I met beneath the Texas moon above,
and above rhymes with love, don't you know.

Mr. GIMBLE: (Singing) I fell in love 'neath the Texas moon above, somewhere
south...

Mr. GIMBLE: You can't sing when you're choked up, you know. I moved from Austin
to Corpus Christi, and then we started going together, and she'd go to the
dances. She loved, loved to jitterbug. We married in January of 1949.

DAVIES: We should hear the song. Let's listen to this track from the new album
by Johnny Gimble and many of his friends. This one, "Somewhere South of San
Antone," the vocal is done by Vince Gill.

(Soundbite of song, "Somewhere South of San Antone")

Mr. VINCE GILL (Singer): (Singing) I fell in love 'neath the Texas moon above,
somewhere south of San Antone. Her smile was fair, a gardenia in her hair,
somewhere south of San Antone. Oh, Johnny.

Mr. GIMBLE: (Singing) Many moons have passed. Now we're going back at last.
We're going to make it our home.

Mr. GILL: (Singing) Oh, she's at my side for I made her my bride somewhere
south of San Antone.

DAVIES: And that's the song "Somewhere south of San Antone" from the new album
by our guest, Johnny Gimble and the vocal there sung by Vince Gill and by you,
Johnny Gimble. I mean, you sang quite a bit in your career and still have some
voice left.

Mr. GIMBLE: I sang a verse on it.

DAVIES: Now, Bob Wills was known to enjoy a drink and more than one on
occasion. Did anybody have to look after Bob on the road?

Mr. GIMBLE: The first year and a half I was on the Wills Band, Bob would – was
not drinking. He had just come off a two-week case of flu, I guess they called
it. And when he started drinking, I heard all those stories, you know, about
things he did when he was drunk. And I never did see it.

One time we played – we were playing in Phoenix, Arizona. We were on a tour of
one-nighters through New Mexico and Arizona, going to California. And Bob, at
intermission, one of his old buddies had a bottle. And when he came back
onstage after intermission, he started mouthing off on the microphone, making
an ass out of himself, and Eldon Shamblin, the guitar player, was the band
manager, and he'd just sit over there and grumble.

So I'd heard these stories about Bob being incapacitated for a week or two
weeks at a time, and I didn't expect him to be on the bench then the next
night. But Eldon just got in the car with Bob and drove from Phoenix to the
next date, and Bob was on the stand and worked the whole four-hour dance.

So I asked Eldon after, when we started back on the bus, I said how did you get
him sober after that night in Phoenix? And he said, I got in the back seat and
sat on top of him and said Bob, the bar has closed. We've got a tour to play.

And so when it came my turn to – we used to call it babysitting when we were on
the tour in 1951, he had a pint, and I put it between the mattresses on my bed,
and when he wanted a drink, I said Bob, you can't have one. We've got to play
tonight. You've got to work tonight and tomorrow night, and we've got to finish
this tour.

I saw that fifth of whiskey that had maybe half, three or four drinks, out of
it, you know, and it was on the sink in the bathroom. So I went in there and
uncorked it and just poured it out, you know. And Bob saw me do it. He hated me
forever after that.

DAVIES: Our guest is fiddler Johnny Gimble. More after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Our guest is Western swing fiddler Johnny Gimble. He has a new CD
called "Celebrating with Friends." You were known for putting an extra string
on your fiddle. Is that right?

Mr. GIMBLE: Yeah, I was afraid you wasn't going to ask me, Dave.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Well, I know you have it there, and you've got the fifth string on
there, right? Yeah, show us that fifth string and what it does.

Mr. GIMBLE: Okay, here we go.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GIMBLE: And the low string.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GIMBLE: "Sweet Georgia Brown"

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Georgia Brown")

DAVIES: You were just playing us a little bit of "Sweet Georgia Brown." It
sounded like jazz. I mean, do you think of swing as jazz? Were you a fan of
jazz?

Mr. GIMBLE: What is jazz? Well, it's getting away from the melody and playing
whatever you're inspired to play. Like I tell about Cliff Bruner, the hottest
fiddler in Texas. I asked him – they used to call it hokum. People disregarded
it. He'd play jazz. They'd say that ain't music. It's just a bunch of hokum.

And so I asked Cliff when I was 17 years old, I got to play a show, he was
there, and said Cliff, how do you play that hokum? And he says: Can you hum it?
Can you think it? And I said, I go around humming it all the time. He said,
well, practice on your instrument until you play what you can hum, what you
think. You go through that chord progression, and you play whatever feels good.
That's where that...

(Soundbite of humming)

Mr. GIMBLE: I knew a fiddle player in Nashville, Shorty Lavender. He says oh, I
can't play jazz. I can play some country swing. It's just, country fiddle you
play, it's like...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GIMBLE: And I learned – and the first tune I ever learned on the fiddle was
called "Darling Nelly Gray." You notice that the first time Bob played "Faded
Love," it didn't have any words to it. He just played it instrumental. And I
thought well, he's playing "Darling Nelly Gray," I wonder why he calls it
"Faded Love."

And Bob's younger brother, Billy Jack Wills, was playing drums in the band, and
he said: Bob, they all want to dance to "Faded Love," but it doesn't have any
words. And he said write some. And Billy Jack was not a songwriter, but he
wrote:

Mr. GIMBLE: (Singing) As I look at the letters that you wrote to me, it's you
that I am thinking of. As I read the lines that to me were so sweet, I remember
our faded love.

DAVIES: You know, Johnny, I think we should hear it. We've got the track here.
This is Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

(Soundbite of song, "Faded Love")

BOB WILLS AND THE TEXAS PLAYBOYS: (Singing) As I look at the letters that you
wrote to me, it's you that I am thinking of. As I read the lines that to me
were so sweet, I remember our faded love. I miss you, darling, more and more
every day, as heaven would miss the stars above. With every heartbeat I still
think of you and remember our faded love.

DAVIES: And that was "Faded Love" with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Well,
Johnny Gimble, you know, you started out picking cotton in East Texas with a
big family and played with a lot of bands, and we've mentioned Bob Wills, but a
lot of other musicians over the years, Willie Nelson, and you played studio
sessions with a lot of famous folks and are still playing with your family near
Austin, Texas. I know you live in Dripping Springs. What's been the best thing
about your career? What will you remember?

Mr. GIMBLE: That's a hard question. I guess all of it together has been great.
I've had a good family. Dick(ph), you know, plays guitar and bass and plays in
our band, the Johnny Gimble and Texas Swing, and his daughter, Dick's daughter
Emily(ph), was singing. We made a CD featuring her singing.

DAVIES: Do you play every day? I mean, I know you perform a couple times a
month, right?

Mr. GIMBLE: I intend to. Yeah, but Chet Atkins used to have an expression. He
said if I don't pick that guitar up every day, it gets to where it don't know
me. I try to – I keep a fiddle hooked up in the music – we've got a music room,
and I try to pick it up. And sometimes I'll have a jam session with Pete
Fountain(ph). I'll have a CD of his I can play with.

DAVIES: The clarinet player, the jazz clarinetist, yeah.

Mr. GIMBLE: Yeah.

DAVIES: Well, Johnny Gimble, I want to wish you good health and great music,
and I thought we should end with another song from the new album. What would
you like to hear?

Mr. GIMBLE: The Merle Haggard track, I take a solo on it, on – I mean, yeah,
"Sweet Georgia Brown" he sang. I think that represents my playing probably more
than anything else on that CD.

DAVIES: Well, great. Let's hear it. Johnny Gimble, thanks so much for spending
some time with us.

Mr. GIMBLE: Thank you for all the FRESH AIR you bring us.

DAVIES: All righty. And here's Johnny Gimble with Merle Haggard from Johnny
Gimble's new CD called "Johnny Gimble."

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Georgia Brown"

Mr. MERLE HAGGARD (Singer): Here's Johnny. Tear it apart, Johnny. Sweet Georgia
Brown.

DAVIES: Johnny Gimble's new CD is called "Celebrating with Friends." You can
hear three tracks from the album, including an appearance with Garrison Keillor
on "A Prairie Home Companion" at nprmusic.com.

I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
125673057
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20100408
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Paul Motian: Two From An Anti-Drummer

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

Jazz drummer Paul Motian recorded a classic series of performances at the
Village Vanguard in 1961, playing quiet standards with pianist Bill Evans(ph).
These days, Motian still records at the Vanguard and plays slow ballads but
with some new wrinkles. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews two recent Motian
releases.

(Soundbite of song, "Bird Song")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Paul Motian's tune "Bird Song." Jazz drummers leading their
own bands tend to favor intricate rhythms and a brisk and driving momentum.
Paul Motian, with his slow tempos, loose timing and tunes that go with rainy
days, is so self-effacing, he's almost an anti-drummer. A little rustle of
brushes and the faint boom of a bass drum may be enough to nudge the music on.

(Soundbite of song, "Bird Song")

WHITEHEAD: The odd thing is, Motian's trio album, "Lost in a Dream," is a sort
of triple salute to him: from the Village Vanguard, where it was made and where
he's recorded for nearly five decades; from ECM Records, where he helped shape
the label's own penchant for slow, loose, melancholy jazz; and from his younger
side folk, Chris Potter on tenor sax and pianist Jason Moran. They get how to
play Motian's music - make the melody sing and keep the phrasing loose, but
show up on time at crucial meeting points.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Saxophonist Chris Potter catches the plaintive quality in the
melodies like he's listened to Motian favorite, Joe Lovano. Pianist Jason Moran
underplays his hand, resisting the temptation to fill up space in the absence
of a bass player. Interpreting Motian's melodies, he knows less can be more.

The album "Lost in a Dream" salutes the drummer as composer, too, reviving nice
Motian tunes of his from previous albums to remind us he's never been much for
slam-bam drum features. Even his rare solos take their time.

Listening to the trio on "Lost in a Dream" sent me back to his weird, previous
album from later last year. The quintet on "Paul Motian on Broadway, Volume 5"
plays mostly standards, if not all show tunes. In that two-saxophone band, the
phrasing is so ragged it's eerie, almost like they're rehearsing for the first
time. It shouldn't work, but it does somehow. It's haunting like a ghost.

(Soundbite of song, "Midnight Sun")

WHITEHEAD: Johnny Mercer's tune, "Midnight Sun." Those lava-flow saxophones
aren't even the eeriest thing about "Paul Motian on Broadway, Volume 5." Many
pianists sing along with their solos, no matter how much we wish they wouldn't.
But longtime collaborator Masabumi Kikuchi's vocalizations are so unearthly,
you may not realize right away that those sounds are coming from your speakers,
let alone a human mouth.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: The leader's drumming can be a little unnerving, too. Master
percussionists often keep several beats or patterns going at once, but Paul
Motian may trace a thin watercolor line of rhythm through the heart of a
performance, as if he could only play his drums one at a time. It's all part of
his quiet crusade against overplaying. There are flashier drummers around, for
sure. But few do better at creating a mood.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead is a jazz columnist for emusic.com. He reviewed two
recent Paul Motian CDs. You can hear a complete concert, featuring Paul Motion
with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, at nprmusic.org.

Coming up: Coping with noise in the modern world. This is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
125713065
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20100408
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
The 'Pursuit Of Silence' In A World Full of Noise

DAVE DAVIE, host:

If you live or work in a city, you may have noticed and gotten sick of all the
noise in our lives: sirens, bus engines, jackhammers, booming music in the car
next to us and deafening racket in bars and restaurants, not to mention all the
people yelling on the street while we're trying to sleep or barking into their
cell phones as if there's nobody else around.

Our next guest, writer George Prochnik, says there's plenty of evidence that
noise can be harmful, as well as annoying, with studies pointing to hearing
loss and even risks of higher blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.

His new book is a study of noise in the modern world and an exploration of the
benefits of silence. George Prochnik has written for the New York Times, the
Boston Globe and other publications. His new book is called "In Pursuit of
Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise."

Well, George Prochnik, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, one of the interesting
observations that you come across in looking into the physiology of hearing, is
that in the animal world, their auditory systems are designed to magnify very
faint sounds to allow them to, you know, either avoid predators or find food,
and that we as, you know, more evolved species of the animal kingdoms share
some of that. And that's why, when we're turning up our iPods or stereos, we're
damaging our hearing because evolution has made our ears magnify that so much.

Mr. GEORGE PROCHNIK (Author, "In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a
World of Noise"): It's made our ears magnify sound 100-fold from the source. So
in the vast majority of cases, when we speak of hearing damage, what we're
really talking about is damage to those amplifiers.

We depended upon our hearing to navigate a very, very dangerous environment,
and therefore, you wanted it to be as acute as possible, and there are not very
many, as one evolutionary psychologist said to me, there are not really very
many loud noises in nature.

There's thunder, and then there are those brief periods of mating season, when
animals will vocalize intensely, but most of the time, you're trying to creep
around quietly because you're either trying to kill something or not be killed.

And we, I think, have completely reversed the equation from what the
evolutionary set-up was that established our hearing parameters. Whereas we now
have almost everything amplified as loud as possible in order to make ourselves
heard in a very, very noisy world, and it simply isn't what the auditory
apparatus evolved to cope with.

DAVIES: Well, one of the things you did as you were doing your research, was to
look into those who deliberately make noise. There are a lot of commercial
reasons for people deliberating adding noise to our environment, and that was
sort of an interesting part of it.

I mean, for example, shopping, I mean, particularly shopping aimed at young
people, what did you find?

Mr. PROCHNIK: Right, well, I work not too far away from an Abercrombie & Fitch
store, and I would hear the music booming out, and I would wonder what it was
that was appealing to all the people, enough that they would want to be in an
environment, spending a lot of time, which was often at truly eardrum-
shattering levels of volume.

So what I really found as I began spending time in some of these loud stories
and speaking with the people who designed the sound for them, is that there was
a very, very careful, strategic effort to zero in on key emotions and on key
triggers of excitement.

And noise, even if we don't like to – even if we don't like to admit it, even
if we don't like noise, is a very powerful, very brutal source of real energy,
and in some of the loudest stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, this is very
obviously being exploited to create a sense of party, to create a sense of
thrill, just in being in this space.

What we know is that if you're loud at this point in our culture, it seems to
signify that you're having a good time, and it's a fun place to be, and this is
the same phenomenon that we find in restaurants, which continue to get louder
in many cities every year, and many people find this unbearable, but many
people that a restaurant is dead unless it has that noise level.

DAVIES: Is there scientific evidence about the effects of noise or sound or
music on food and alcohol consumption?

Mr. PROCHNIK: Well, there is, and it's not completely, I think, what all
restaurateurs want to hear, and this is one of the interesting things, that the
noise continues to turn up, even though the evidence for what effect this has
on dining habits is not conclusive.

People, it seems, will often not eat as much in a really loud environment.
However, what they will do is drink more. And this was shown in a rigorous
study that happened in France last year, where they looked at rate of alcohol
consumption directly tied to increasing volumes in the bar. And the louder the
noise got, the more drinks people put back - by the minute.

So that sense of loss of also of control, of sort of celebratory arousal, is
something that some restaurant spaces can benefit from.

DAVIES: You also write in the book how the European Union has mandated
measurement of noise and noise controls, which haven't really happened yet,
kind of raising the question whether – as whether government's ever going to
really make a serious impact on, at least, external noise.

The other approach, of course, is soundproofing, that you can try and control
your own environment, and there's a growing industry there. What's new in the
world of soundproofing that you discovered?

Mr. PROCHNIK: Well, what I discovered, if you want to block off your own space
from noise, and if you have the money, there are an enormous array of new
technologies that you can take advantage of. And again, as long as you have the
financial resources, you can make yourself a pretty quiet fortress.

There are all sorts of new window treatments that cut sound dramatically.
There's something called Green Glue, which looks a lot like something if you
know the Dr. Seuss book on" Bartholomew and the Oobleck," it looks like a big,
green, gooey, globby stuff that you can squeeze into just about any crack, and
it just eats up the sound waves.

There are all sorts of quiet concretes. There's quiet steel. There is an
amazing explosion of – explosion perhaps not quite the right word – but an
amazing proliferation of new technologies to soundproof private space.

But what I worry about is that these are not being shared across our society so
that there's no enhancement of our general investment in silence, and these
technologies, I think, need for them to have a real resonance in our culture.
What we need to do is find ways of sharing them with disadvantaged communities,
in neighborhood that often very, very loud that don't know about these
solutions and that certainly don't have the means to acquire them.

DAVIES: What were some of the wackier ideas in soundproofing that you came
across?

Mr. PROCHNIK: Well, the most radical idea, I think, is this notion of an
invisibility cloak that's being worked on, involving these little sonic
crystals that they're going to be able to somehow weave together and drape over
a small space or over a noise source, and actually, it will absorb all sound.

In theory, you will be acoustically invisible. I think that's the most extreme
example of what's being done.

DAVIES: There was the silence machine? This sounded really wild.

Mr. PROCHNIK: I'm sorry. Yeah, right. There's also – there's also a machine
that can be programmed to shoot a wave of sound that's exactly counter to the
noise source so that the two cancel each other out. And there actually has been
an effort to not only build but to start marketing these silence blasters that
you could then, in theory, aim at whatever noise source was torturing you and
blast it with a beam that canceled the ability of the wave to reach you.

DAVIES: So it could be an idling bus or your mother-in-law?

Mr. PROCHNIK: Or someone's cell phone - exactly.

DAVIES: So it seems that you've concluded that government isn't going to get us
to shut up. So what do we do?

Mr. PROCHNIK: Well, one thing I think that we can look towards with great hope
is the efforts being made today by some of the creative urban planners working
in this field called soundscaping, which really can mean anything that people
want.

But Soundscaping, at its best, is an effort to perhaps uncover iconic sounds of
a neighborhood by stripping away a few layers of noise - diverting traffic from
one street, closing up a series of gaps in building walls, maybe reflecting
sound from a fountain into a larger area.

There are ways that we can create perceptions of silence even in environments
that are not actually quiet, and there are all sorts of interesting interplays
here between our senses. So that, for example, it's been found that if you use
noise barriers that are aesthetic, along a highway - visually aesthetic - that
people's perception of the noise level that they're hearing drops by somewhere
between five and 10 decibels, closer to 10, actually a quite impressive amount.

In the same way, it's been discovered that in areas that have fairly large
volumes of road traffic noise, if you can find ways to break up that noise at
all with natural sounds – bird songs, wind in foliage, maybe some form of
falling water – that the perception of the overall noise drops, even though
those natural sounds actually add to the decibel level.

So I felt great excitement about ways that we could work together as a society
to build more silent spaces, which would not be just our own little cloistered-
off fortress - a soundproofed fortress - but would be accessible to communities
that haven't had experience of silence, sometimes for a generation, any
experiences to speak of; and who therefore didn't understand why they should
turn down whatever sources of electronic noise they were used to.

DAVIES: And what about refuges, I mean, like community parks, you know; places
where you can just sit on a bench and just hear the birds?

Mr. PROCHNIK: I think these are essential, and really what I advocate is that
we make more of these. You can make parks in extraordinarily small spaces that
have extraordinarily large resonance over an urban grid.

The experiment that really began in a serious way in New York in the late 1960s
was something called pocket parks, where vacant lots were taken over by
landscape designers and planted in beautiful ways and set with some kind of a
waster fall, have proven lasting oases of enormous consequence and enormous
value to the city.

I think what we really need to do is to find ways of breaking up our experience
of incessant noise with things like these small parks that are not a massive
financial investment, but that can be so important to people to give them a
sense of escape.

Even if we live in a loud neighborhood, studies have shown that when there is,
for example, a quiet side on the rear of buildings that people feel they can
get to without too much effort, the annoyance level of the noise on the front
of the buildings drops tremendously.

We have now a situation where many, many people feel besieged almost constantly
by noise. And I don't think this has to be like this. I think we can work with
that problem. We can make more refuges, and they can be modest and still have a
real effect. And maybe if we experience enough of these as a society, we'll be
stimulated to create more of them, and more people will go off on their own
personal pursuits of silence, as well.

DAVIES: Well, George Prochnik, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. PROCHNIK: Thank you very much for having me on the show.

DAVIES: George Prochnik's book is called "In Pursuit of Silence." You can read
the first chapter at our Web site, freshair.npr.org. Coming up, John Powers on
the impact of the groundbreaking drama "Twin Peaks," which turns 20 years old
today. This is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
125511963
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20100408
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Still Wrapped In Plastic: 'Twin Peaks' Turns 20

(Soundbite of music)

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Today is the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of "Twin Peaks," a
groundbreaking TV series that combined murder, drama and soap opera. "Twin
Peaks was created by David Lynch and Mark Frost. It still shows up on cable,
and there's a definitive gold box set available on DVD. Our critic-at-large,
John Powers, says even after two decades, his heart still skips a beat when he
hears Angelo Badalamenti's familiar opening theme.

JOHN POWERS: Back in the summer of 1989, I was invited to a sneak preview of a
TV pilot. I didn't know anything about it, but the moment I heard its opening
theme music, I got shivers that didn't go away.

This was TV the way I dreamed it could be: funny, menacing, mysterious. In
fact, it was so weird and wonderful that, as I walked from the theater, I
remember saying: Too bad no network will ever put it on the air.

Goes to show what I know. What I'd seen, of course, was the pilot of "Twin
Peaks," and several months later, ABC did put it on the air, creating an
instant sensation. It wasn't simply that the program was a hit or that Time
magazine put Lynch on its cover, dubbing him a genius.

Here was a show that had everyone talking the next day about the startling
things they'd seen the night before — you know, a spooky reflection of the
long-haired Killer BOB, or the time that the sexpot Audrey Horne tied a cherry
stem into a knot with her tongue.

By now, everyone knows the plot. In the small lumbering town of "Twin Peaks," a
high school girl, Laura Palmer, is found wrapped in plastic: she's been
murdered. Enter Special Agent Dale Cooper — wittily played by Kyle McLachlan —
a chipper FBI man obsessed with coffee, diner food and Tibetan mysticism.

Cooper soon discovers that far from being an amusingly offbeat outpost of
innocent Americana, Twin Peaks is a bubbling caldron of vice. Everybody has
secrets, which are uncovered in a fashion that might be called leisurely.

Here, Agent Cooper is having breakfast at a café when he's joined by the local
sheriff, Harry S. Truman, played by Michael Ontkean, and his dim receptionist
Lucy. That's Kimmy Robertson. They think he's going to name the murderer.

(Soundbite of television program, "Twin Peaks")

Mr. KYLE MacLACHLAN (Actor): (As Special Agent Dale Cooper): Trudy, two more
coffees, please. Harry, Lucy, it is an absolutely beautiful morning. A short
stack of griddle cakes, melted butter, maple syrup, lightly heated, slice of
ham. Nothing beats the taste sensation when maple syrup collides with ham.

Mr. JILL ENGELS (Actor): (As Trudy) Griddle cakes, slice of ham.

Mr. MICHAEL ONTKEAN (Actor): (As Harry S. Truman) Who killed Laura Palmer?

Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Dale) Harry, let me tell you about the dream I had last
night.

Mr. ONTKEAN: (As Harry) Tibet.

Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Dale) No. You were there. Lucy, so were you. Harry, my
dream is a code waiting to be broken. Break the code, solve the crime.

Ms. KIMMY ROBERTSON (Actor): (As Lucy Moran) The code solves the crime.

POWERS: If you ask Lynch what he cares about most, he'll tell you it's creating
a mood you want to be in. "Twin Peaks" does that with a vengeance, from its
dark, slated photography to the enveloping score by Angelo Badalamenti.

Keeping us off balance, the tone leapfrogs between the silly and the sinister,
the comic and the tragic, never more so than in Ray Wise's dazzling performance
as Laura's father, Leland Palmer, who's sobbing one moment, breaking into song
and dance the next.

"Twin Peaks" smuggled avant-garde into prime time, brimming with a surrealism
you just didn't encounter back then. Remember that weird room with the dwarf
who talked backwards? It took cultural stereotypes — the straight-arrow FBI
agent, the teen hottie, the wannabe James Dean, the corrupt small-town
businessman — and pushed them until they exploded. The result was an often-
hilarious show bursting with raw emotion.

For all its brilliance, "Twin Peaks" did lose its way. The first season was
astounding, as were the season two episodes that solved Laura Palmer's murder.
But the others were pointless, and the world quickly turned against it and
Lynch.

When he brought out his "Twin Peaks" movie, "Fire Walk with Me" in 1992, it was
pilloried, even though, after a lousy first 20 minutes, this story about Laura
Palmer is one of the most wrenching portraits of teenage life ever filmed.

But Lynch has always outlasted those eager to write him off. His 2001 movie
"Mulholland Drive" recently won most critics' polls as the best film of the
past decade, and "Twin Peaks" is today recognized as a landmark.

His work always feels dreamily timeless, and watching the series now, you're
struck by how much has come out of it, for instance, Stephenie Meyer's use of
the Pacific Northwest in "Twilight." "Twin Peaks" blazed a trail that led not
just to "The X-Files" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" but to HBO series like
"Deadwood" and "Six Feet Under."

Yet the real importance of "Twin Peaks" lay not in its direct influence —
there's still nothing quite like it on TV. It mattered because, like Dennis
Potter's "The Singing Detective in Britain," it revealed the untapped
possibilities of television. And like all the greatest works of pop culture, it
did something more. It broadened public taste. Laura Palmer, Agent Cooper and
the Log Lady didn't merely entertain us. They left the American mainstream a
whole lot wider.

DAVIES: John Powers is film critic for Vogue, and his reviews and columns
appear on vogue.com.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at NPRFreshAir,
and you can download Podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
125674254

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

42:10

Daughter Of A Numbers Runner Witnessed An Underground Economy In Action

Growing up, Bridgett M. Davis' mother booked and banked bets from their home in Detroit. She writes the role of "the numbers" in the black community in her memoir. Originally broadcast Feb. 4, 2019.

09:20

Back For Season 5, 'Better Call Saul' Keeps The Fun And Narrative Going

Fans of Breaking Bad will love some of the faces that show up this season in Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould's prequel/sequel series. It's already clear this show will be one of the year's best.

42:01

'Dark Towers' Exposes Chaos And Corruption At The Bank That Holds Trump's Secrets

New York Times financial editor David Enrich has been covering the German Deutsche bank for years. In his new book he chronicles why the 150 year old institution began shadowy practices - like laundering money, tax evasion, violating international sanctions, and lending money to Donald Trump after no other Wall Street bank would.

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