DATE July 10, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Edmund Andrews discusses his experiences while in
Iraq and reporting for The New York Times on Iraq's economy
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Journalist Edmund Andrews returned home late last week after covering Iraq for
two months. He's a New York Times economic correspondent based in Washington,
DC, and he's a former foreign correspondent. After writing about the Bush tax
plan, the Fed and the politics of American economic policy, Andrews wanted to
report on the economy of the new Iraq. He had previously written about the
rebuilding of post-Communist countries, but he assumes that reshaping Iraq's
economy is going to be different, in part because of the unique legacy of
Saddam Hussein; in part because it's the United States that now has
responsibility for the country. A lot of things in Iraq have not gone as the
Bush administration predicted. One example is the strength of the Iraqi
currency, the dinar.
One of the things that you wrote about the Iraqi economy was the dinar.
Americans expected it to collapse, in part because it has Saddam's picture on
the bill. What were the expectations for the dinar?
Mr. EDMUND ANDREWS (The New York Times): You're right. A lot of people
expected the dinar to collapse. It has been a very weak currency leading into
the war. Its official value set by the Iraqi government was, I think, $3 to
the dinar, and on the street, it was worth typically around 2,000 dinars to
the dollar. And before I left for Baghdad, I interviewed people at the
Treasury Department, and their prediction, their assumption really is that the
dinar was essentially going to disappear, that the country would need a new
currency, but in the meantime, dollars would be the currency for the
foreseeable future. The Treasury didn't expect, didn't want Iraq to become a
dollar economy, but they surely expected that the Saddam dinars were going to
be worthless, collapse, and the dollars would do the job until something new
and more stable was devised.
GROSS: But that's not what happened.
Mr. ANDREWS: That's not at all what happened. And this was a personal
surprise to me because when I was getting ready to go to Iraq from Kuwait, I'd
been told to stock up on small denomination dollar bills. It never even
occurred to me that I would be needing to get dinars. When I arrived, the
first thing I found, as everybody else did, was that if you paid a bill in
dollars, you are going to pay more. They are going to give you a haircut of
about 20 percent, and it wasn't because they were taking advantage of you.
It's because they truly didn't really like dealing in dollars. They had to
change them. The dinars were still the most comfortable currency for them to
The bigger surprise was that in the real market of life, on the streets, the
dinar stabilized in value, actually increased in value. Before the war or
during the war, I believe dinars were trading at about 3,000. That was
probably the low point. Somewhere around 3,000 dinar to the dollar. But the
value went up, and within a few weeks of the time I arrived, the dinar had
actually risen to the point where a dollar was worth only 900 dinars. So it
was an incredible rise in value that occurred. There are a lot of theories as
to why it happened. One simple reason is that they stopped printing dinars or
new dinars, so the stock of them was very stable. There wasn't a need for
them to lose value. And they were, in fact, the most practical currency for a
lot of people.
The other thing that really, I think, caught the Americans by surprise, I
don't think they were thinking about this clearly enough, was that they were
paying Iraqi government workers in dollars. They were handing out $20
emergency payments, the famous $20 emergency payments they gave to millions of
people. These were in dollars. And then the salaries and pensions, as they
began paying them, were also in dollars. These all ended up flooding the
market, and they were, again, a currency that people preferred not to use,
just for practical reasons. And so the dollar just took a steep fall in
The final wrinkle in that story is that the demand for dinars got so high that
the US government had to swallow its pride and start printing extra batches of
the basic 250 dinar note just to keep up with demand for regular business.
GROSS: So were the Americans printing dinars with Saddam Hussein's picture on
Mr. ANDREWS: Yes, they did.
Mr. ANDREWS: They didn't like it, but they did it.
GROSS: Well, another complication in this story, which you wrote about for
The New York Times, was that a lot of people had 10,000 dinar notes--I mean,
denominations of 10,000, because when they were getting ready for war, they
wanted to have bigger notes so that they could travel more lightly, you know,
have fewer bills to carry. But they couldn't get change at the stores. So
they went to the bank and there was a run on the bank. Why don't you describe
the scene when you got to the bank and what it was about?
Mr. ANDREWS: Well, imagine, if you will, dozens of people, maybe even a
hundred, lining up outside of a bank at 5:00 in the morning just for the
chance to change their big 10,000 dinar notes into smaller notes. Then
imagine, if you will, come the time of the bank opening, about 8:30 in the
morning, protected by two huge tanks, razor wire all over the place to guide
people through just a very narrow channel, one person at a time, into the
bank, and then tempers rising with each passing minute and hour as all of
these people find out that they cannot--the bank will really not give them
basic change. They would not change their 10,000 dinar notes into an
equivalent number of 250 dinar notes.
And the scene was just extraordinary. We just stumbled upon it one day. It
turned out to be taking place day after day; people screaming, yelling,
accusing the bank of favoring the wealthy or their own employees, the soldiers
desperately trying to keep order. I'll never forget this one poor sergeant
standing on his tank or standing right in front of his tank and hollering out
in English, you know, `No more money. There is no more money. Do you
understand?' and pleading with people to give up for the day and go home and
maybe try again, because at some point in the future, they might be able to
get change. There might be some relief to this ridiculous currency shortage.
So suddenly these people realized that as many hours as they had been waiting,
in all of that heat and with the numbers that they had been given to stand in
line, they still weren't going to get the change that they wanted, and they
had to go home. And it was enormously frustrating for them, and I felt sorry
for the GIs who were trying to explain this in English.
GROSS: So they had money. What they didn't have is like small enough
denominations of the money.
Mr. ANDREWS: It looked like a run on the bank where the bank was unable or
unwilling to let people withdraw their money. What it really was was simply
an inability to make change, one of the simplest things in the world, but in
postwar Iraq, it turned out to be a highly complicated problem.
GROSS: The dinar comes in two denominations, 10,000 and 250 dinars. What are
they each worth in American dollars?
Mr. ANDREWS: A 10,000 dinar note is worth about $7, and the 250 dinar note is
worth about 20 cents, depending on the rate of exchange that day. And the
problem is that for most of your shopping, you have no choice but to use the
250 dinar notes, which means that you have to carry around wads of these bills
several inches thick and be very quick at learning how to count them. And in
two months, I never actually got the hang of flipping those bills fast enough
to count them properly.
GROSS: My guest is Edmund Andrews, and he writes about economics for The New
York Times. He just got back from Iraq, and one of the stories he was
covering there is the state of the new Iraqi economy.
And I'm sure there's a lot of people in Iraq who would like to start their own
businesses now. Can you just like start a business or do you need
Mr. ANDREWS: This is the question that Iraqis keep asking. They've been so
used to being told what they have to do, they are begging to know what the
rules are. And the Americans, unfortunately, have not been able to tell them
very much about this. The beautiful thing about Iraq at the moment is that it
is almost a country without rules, without laws. So you, for the moment, can
do almost anything you want. You can import and export to your heart's
content. There are no tariffs at the border. There's no customs checks by
the Iraqis. Nobody's going to stop you from setting up a business. At some
point, you're going to have to deal with the authorities, but that time has
not come. So it is a free-for-all economy.
GROSS: So do you think that a lot of international businesses are ready to
move into Iraq and to conquer a new market?
Mr. ANDREWS: No. I think that they are fascinated by Iraq. I know this.
I've spoken to a lot of executives from Western companies now not in Iraq,
outside of Iraq, and what they generally say is, `We're fascinated. It's a
big country. It's a complex one with potentially a lot of wealth. We want to
be there, but it's too early. The country is too unstable. We don't know
what the rules are. We just don't know how to approach this place yet,' and
so it's a black box to them. Nobody really knows what to do.
GROSS: So some things are just stalled.
Mr. ANDREWS: Correct. It's very stalled. And I have to say that I'm just
not impressed by the speed and the effectiveness with which the coalition
authorities have tried to deal with these issues. In fact, I've been outraged
in a couple of cases at their willingness to shoot down business projects
because they, for one reason or another, didn't feel that they had the
authority to allow things to happen.
The worst case was, I think, cell phones. Iraq, Baghdad--none of the cities
have proper telephone communications because the phone systems were knocked
out so badly. It's really very easy to set up a cell phone system. It can be
done really in a matter of weeks, if not for the whole city, just for, say,
several thousand phones, 50,000 phones. It's not that hard. And the
Americans absolutely refused to award any licenses to anybody on any terms.
And my argument to some of them was, `Look, I understand how you don't want to
give valuable phone licenses to countries before you have a true Iraqi
government, but couldn't you at least offer the possibility that companies
could have a two-year license and then it would be completely up for
renegotiation with the new government?' That was impossible, and so as a
result, Iraq still has no proper phones of any kind, cellular, landline,
nothing. I should say they do have some fixed-line phones, but most people
don't have any service. We certainly didn't. Our only communications were by
GROSS: My guest is New York Times economic correspondent Edmund Andrews. He
spent two months in Iraq and returned home late last week. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Edmund Andrews. He is a
reporter for The New York Times. He's an economics correspondent based in
Washington, but he's spent the past few weeks in Iraq. He returned on Friday
night, and he was mostly writing about economic issues in the new Iraq.
What were you able to see about the black market in Iraq?
Mr. ANDREWS: Oh, it's lovely. It's a wonderful thing. It's not a black
market really, because there are no laws. I guess a black market is when...
GROSS: Oh, that's an interesting point.
Mr. ANDREWS: ...you're doing things in violation of the law.
Mr. ANDREWS: One of the early experiences I had was going to the Kurdish
stolen car market, which was very out in the open, and it was a place where
you could buy all kinds of SUVs and trucks and some sedans, but really, fairly
late model ones, most of which had been taken from the government, looted from
the government, and were up for sale for, say, $5,000, $6,000; some of them
hot-wired. And if you needed it, you could get a driver's license for about
12 bucks, passport, inspection stickers, anything else you needed.
GROSS: So when you went to the stolen car market, were you in the market for
a car or were you just there to report on it?
Mr. ANDREWS: Of course, I was just there to report on it, but if I did find a
good one at a good price...
GROSS: So how did they treat you as a reporter?
Mr. ANDREWS: People were pretty nice. They knew I was a reporter, in that
case. There was no secret about it. They were reluctant to let me take any
pictures while I was there, but they didn't mind me asking questions. The
scariest thing I had in the stolen car market was when the US troops arrived
because somebody had complained to them that a person who had just bought a
car at the market had stolen it from him. And when the troops arrived, there
must have been 300 people who suddenly, at a moment's notice, just ran clear
across the lot and out the other end, and every car on the lot started firing
up and driving off as fast as it could, and I was scared to death. I was sure
somebody was going to start shooting. It turned out, what it was was the
soldiers coming to figure out what had happened. But aside from that, it was
a very friendly place.
GROSS: It sounds like very few people are actually employed now in Iraq. I
mean, look at all the problems that the businesses are having. What struck
you about unemployment in Iraq?
Mr. ANDREWS: It seems nobody knows what the unemployment level in Iraq is.
You see estimates that range from north of 30 percent to 50 percent or more of
the people being unemployed or underemployed. What was striking to me was
that the US government--one of the things was that the US government was
subsidizing, really, a lot of the underemployment by keeping people on
payrolls, even though they weren't doing anything. All of the state-owned
companies, all of the government ministries and, indeed, some of the sort of
mixed enterprises, public and privately owned, continued to keep people on
their payrolls, even though there was absolutely no work to be done. And the
Americans were surprisingly blunt about this. One person told me, `It's just
not worth it to inflame things even more by putting people out of work. The
least we can do is throw a few more dinars into the economy.' So you had
really a make-work society in the evolution, exactly the kind of thing we are
supposed to detest in this country, but a make-work society evolving, and one
that was being underwritten by the US government.
GROSS: Did you get a sense of what the Iraqi attitude was toward the
Americans who were paying them even though they weren't working?
Mr. ANDREWS: The people I talked to had a curious sense of entitlement. Now
a lot of these people were in the government ministries or in the state-owned
companies, and the curious thing to me was that nobody thought it was strange
that they should be getting paid for no work. It was just what they expected.
They had done nothing to lose their job or prevent their ability to work. It
was somebody else's fault. So what should be strange about getting paid for
no work? And I don't know how this is going to work its way out. At some
point there will be a shock. There absolutely will be a shock. It will not
go on. And I fear that it will be an ugly, angry situation when that happens.
GROSS: Do you think that there's any models from other countries,
post-Communist countries, for instance, for how the Iraq economy might get
back on its feet and for how, like, you know, a kind of business model or
economic model might be established for the future?
Mr. ANDREWS: I don't have a good answer to this question. Nothing really
matches. But let me just lay out for you, I guess, what I think are the
building blocks here. Iraq, of course, has oil. It has a lot of oil, and
that can provide a lot of money for, you know, building a basic
infrastructure, becoming, you know, a modern country from the standpoint of
bridges and phone networks and things like that. What Iraq also has, and it's
interesting to me, it's a complicated country with a business class that goes
back far before the Baath regime, far before Saddam Hussein. These are, some
of them, big merchant families, and then you have a very large population of
just sort of street merchants and traders. So there is an entrepreneurial
history in the country that's very encouraging.
The one question that I keep asking myself is what is the danger of a
kleptocracy evolving where a small group of people in power essentially
manages to gain control of the most important assets in the country, and in
Iraq's case that would be oil. It's hard to know. The government is clearly
going to stay in control of the oil for a while, and the question then becomes
who is truly controlling the government and who's going to be benefiting? We
just don't know if there's some powerful elite that will seize command there.
GROSS: Before you went to Iraq, you were in Washington, which is where you
are, again, now, covering economic issues for The New York Times, and you'd
been writing a lot about the Bush administration tax-cut plan. You were
writing a lot about, you know, problems with the economy in general. Then you
go to Iraq, and you see Americans basically handing out money to Iraqis, and
you also see the Americans having to assume responsibility for a country and
for its infrastructure and its people. I'm just wondering some of the things
that got you to think about watching the tax cuts here and the new
Mr. ANDREWS: Well, it's clear that the basic American formulas were not going
to work in the short term. They had all these terrific crises to deal with,
so notions of deregulation and low taxes were nice, but beside the point you
were dealing, suddenly, with a country that had no taxes in the first place
really, that had no law, no regulations. So suddenly the prescriptions that
sound very good in the United States--`Let's stimulate the economy with lower
taxes. Let's give free enterprise a broader rein by reducing burdensome
regulation'--none of those things are relevant in Iraq. They didn't have
regulations. They had no taxes at that point. Their problems were much more
basic: electricity, security, order. And that's where the Americans found
themselves suddenly gasping for breath and falling short.
GROSS: And having to come up with different solutions.
Mr. ANDREWS: Yes.
Mr. ANDREWS: Embarrassing ones.
GROSS: What do you mean?
Mr. ANDREWS: Well, I mean, two embarrassing ones were to essentially condone a
fairly large make-work economy, paying people for not going to work. And the
second, of course, was being forced to print Saddam dinars because they hadn't
figured out the currency problems over the long haul.
GROSS: Edmund Andrews is an economic correspondent for The New York Times.
He's just spent two months in Iraq. We'll talk more in the second half of the
show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Coming up, witnessing the looting of an archaeological site in Iraq.
We continue our conversation with Edmund Andrews, economic correspondent for
The New York Times. Also, the pop rock and alternative country music of the
Jayhawks. We meet the group's lead singer and songwriter, Gary Louris.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Edmund Andrews, an
economic correspondent for The New York Times. He just spent two months in
Iraq, and returned home late last week. His ambition was to report on the
state of the economy in the new Iraq, but he ended up covering other stories
While you were in Iraq, I'm sure that like everyone else who was there you saw
looting and crime. What is the worst looting that you witnessed?
Mr. ANDREWS: The worst looting that I saw personally, by far the most
shocking thing I think I encountered the entire time I was there, was the
looting at archaeological sites. Iraq has about 10,000 registered
archaeological sites. It really is the cradle of civilization. And what was
happening was that people who had worked these archaeological sites for many
years under the guidance of foreign archaeologists or under Iraqi teams had
suddenly realized it was open season. And they were excavating tons and tons
and tons of dirt at some of these sites and pulling out just extraordinary
treasures, 3,000, 4,000 years old: entire urns, parts of statues, many, many,
many cuneiform tablets. It was shocking. It was horrifying. And it was
something that the Americans were totally unaware of at first and felt unable
to do much about because these were often remote sites. But it was terrible.
Imagine, if you will, 150 or 200 people crawling all over an archaeological
site with dozens of holes almost reminiscent of the movie "Holes," really, in
the desert and people pulling things out of the ground almost by the minute.
It was extraordinary and shocking. And that damage, we won't even know how
much was lost. These are things that were, of course, never categorized. But
it was obvious from the range of things that I saw that the loss is huge. And
of course the archaeological sites have been destroyed. You can't make sense
out of what was there anymore because everything has been turned upside down.
So that was far and away the worst thing I saw.
GROSS: So it must have been kind of bizarre to watch this going on in the
open and no authorities there to pay attention and stop it.
Mr. ANDREWS: I have never been so scared in my entire life. I was absolutely
terrified to go there. The only reason I did was I was escorted by a woman, a
German archaeologist who knew many of the people on all sides and felt that
she had their trust. But even so I was just absolutely terrified. There were
huge numbers of guns out there. This was a long way from any town. And there
was a lot of money at stake. It was a frightening thing to be at, and once I
got there I even forgot the safety aspects. I just found myself mesmerized by
this extraordinary activity. I've just never seen anything like it. I've
never imagined anything like it.
GROSS: Were you victimized at all while you were in Iraq?
Mr. ANDREWS: Amazingly, no. I came out of Iraq without a scratch. I began
to feel by the end of my stay that I had been so lucky. I was surely going to
get robbed or worse on the way out. There's a road that goes from Baghdad to
Jordan, and Jordan was one of the places you would fly out of. And there's a
notorious section of that road outside of a town called Ramadi in Iraq where
many, many people had had their cars hijacked and robbed, and some people had
even been kidnapped to be returned later. Dreadful place. And I was just
sure that I was going to get nailed there on my way out, but I avoided it. I
had a number of colleagues who did get robbed on that road and on the road
from Kuwait. It happened, and it increased in frequency.
GROSS: Were there things that you did to protect yourself?
Mr. ANDREWS: Well, I thought about taking an armored car, at least past
Ramadi, but what I did was what most people do in that case, I contracted with
one of these services that drives the route regularly. They all drive GMC
trucks and it worked out very well. I was really kind of amazed. I was very
impressed. When we got to Ramadi, we had about--I was driving in one car and
there was another GMC truck behind. But once we got into the clear danger
area, the area I knew was bad, suddenly it was nine of these GMC trucks that
converged out of nowhere and formed sort of a convoy, three abreast, three
abreast, three abreast. And there was no way driving at 100 miles an hour
that that convoy was going to get stopped. So that's one of the things that
you do. And it worked very well.
GROSS: A hundred miles an hour. You'd better hope that they're well
coordinated, all these trucks.
Mr. ANDREWS: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. ANDREWS: It was my pleasure.
GROSS: Edmund Andrews is an economic correspondent for The New York Times.
He just spent two months in Iraq.
Coming up, the pop rock and alternative country music of The Jayhawks. We
meet the band's lead singer and songwriter, Gary Louris. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Gary Louris discusses "Rainy Day Music," the latest CD
by his band The Jayhawks
TERRY GROSS, host:
The pop rock and alternative country band The Jayhawks may not have the
biggest following, but they have a devoted one. Their latest CD, "Rainy Day
Music," has gotten many rave reviews. A review in Rolling Stone says, `Alt
country music is a seductive and unapologetic embrace of stuff that modern pop
culture has left in the dust: heartland melodies, steel guitars, heroines
named Sara Jane. And few groups are more seductive or unapologetic than The
Jayhawks. "Rainy Day Music" is all lilting vocals and gentle acoustic
My guest, Gary Louris, is The Jayhawks' lead singer and songwriter. The band
was formed in Minneapolis in 1985. Co-founder Mark Olson, who would share the
lead singing and songwriting with Louris, left the band in '95. The new CD
features guest appearances by Jakob Dylan, Matthew Sweet and Chris Stills.
Let's start with a song co-written by Gary Louris and Matthew Sweet. This is
"Stumbling Through The Dark."
(Soundbite of "Stumbling Through The Dark")
THE JAYHAWKS: (Singing) You're so in love, girl, so much in love, girl.
Running around in circles, why, you know it's a crime. No less, no more than
emotion, no less, no more than emotion. Try to attach a meaning to words that
you've heard. Stumbling through the dark, seems I'm stumbling through the
dark. Everybody's stumbling through the dark.
GROSS: That's "Stumbling Through The Dark" from The Jayhawks' new CD, "Rainy
Day Music." My guest is Gary Louris, the lead singer and guitarist from the
band, co-founder of the band.
Welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. GARY LOURIS (The Jayhawks): Thank you.
GROSS: How would you describe the sound of your new CD compared to earlier
Mr. LOURIS: I think it's more acoustic guitar based than our other records.
It's a very live record, which is not something we've always done. This is I
think, other than...
GROSS: By live, you mean not like overdubbed or...
Mr. LOURIS: Not overdubbed. Really I played the acoustic guitar and sang at
the same time, and Marc played the bass and Tim played the drums. And
sometimes we had a couple other people. But basically all at the same time
together in the same room, as opposed to many people who--we've done it in the
past--do the drums in April and you find yourself singing the song in July,
you know, and piece it all together to make it sound like it was all done at
the same time.
GROSS: Well, one of the things I really like about The Jayhawks is the
harmonies, and I think that harmony sometimes like disappears from pop music.
or--I don't know. It's great to hear good harmonies. Are they important to
Mr. LOURIS: Yes. I think songs are kind of--the importance of the song is
kind of disappearing, too.
Mr. LOURIS: And not to be somebody like, `Ah, the good old days,' but songs
and harmonies, you know, there seems to be no room for harmonies because
there's too many drum machines or whatever on there. In a certain way I feel
like we're out of time and doing something that seems less and less of today.
GROSS: What was the good stuff on the radio when you were growing up and
first starting to play and write songs? And what was the stuff that you,
like, really hated?
Mr. LOURIS: What I really hated? Well, I hated country music probably
growing up. It took me a long time to appreciate it. You know, I listened to
a lot of British rock, the Kinks and things like that, and Motown, I think,
and then I definitely went through a punk rock period and my art rock period
and listened to all kinds of different things. But music I hate--probably
country music was something I hated at the time, ironically.
GROSS: Yeah, very ironically since a lot of people, you know, consider your
band part alternative country. What did you hate about it and what changed
Mr. LOURIS: Oh, it sounded very square to me, but it can be really heavy, the
stories they tell. And it's quite powerful stuff. I'm talking about the
'50s, '60s, '70s country really.
GROSS: And what was in your parents' collection, their record collection?
Mr. LOURIS: My parents were--my mother loved Andy Williams. She just
loves--Andy `Baby,' you know, she'd call him, and Ella Fitzgerald. My dad
really was easy listening. I just remember sitting in the old, you know,
Bonneville driving somewhere, and he'd always have easy listening on. So to
this day I'll turn on an easy listening channel to take me back to the '60s.
Otherwise, you know, Mantovani, and we, like, really--our record collection
was this little thing of, like, 20 records in the living room in the corner,
and it wasn't really a big deal at our house.
GROSS: Does it scare you to think that maybe like your musical genetics is,
like, Andy Williams and Mantovani? That's what you were exposed to first.
Mr. LOURIS: Oh, gee. That would be--that would not be good. No, God, I hope
not. I hope I wasn't absorbing that.
GROSS: Now I want to quote something about The Jayhawks that was written in
The New York Times a couple of years ago. This is when your previous CD
"Smile" came out. It was written by Karen Schoemer. The article--this was in
The Sunday New York Times--was headlined What if you Made a Classic and No One
Cared? And here's an excerpt. ""Smile""--the name of the CD--"aspires to be
nothing less than a classic, the kind of album teen-agers stumble upon and
hold dear for the rest of their lives. It wants to join a club with Van
Morrison's "Astral Weeks," The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," Big Star's "Sister
Lovers" and other rock 'n' roll benchmarks of loneliness and disillusion from
the '60s and early '70s. There's just one problem. In this day and age,
who's going to care?"
What was your reaction to that article, and did you share her sentiments,
that, you know, this album's really good and it's just like no one's going to
notice, no one's going to care?
Mr. LOURIS: What I remember about that article is I remember picking it up
and, you know, feeling pretty good about the nice things she was saying, but
remembering that everybody else wasn't so happy--the record company, our
producer; they just didn't want to hear that, that people were not going to
care, that people weren't going to listen, that people weren't going to buy
it, because I think they were still hoping they would.
I think I'm just resigned to the fact that we're never going to achieve a
level of stardom, you know, and maybe it will take a while for people to come
back to this music and appreciate it more. But, you know, it's not like a sob
story. We have really loyal fans. But, yes, we would certainly love to
appeal to more people.
GROSS: Now, ironically, here's this record that--you know, we're talking
about how Karen Schoemer wrote in The New York Times that, you know, `Great
record, but who's going to hear it?' You know, `Who's going to care?' One of
the tracks on this record ended up on a Ralph Lauren commercial and everybody
heard it. They didn't necessarily know what they were hearing. They didn't
necessarily know it was The Jayhawks, but a lot of people heard it. And the
song is "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me." Let me play it. Let me play the
record, and a lot of people will recognize it, and then we'll talk about it.
Mr. LOURIS: OK.
GROSS: This is The Jayhawks from "Smile."
(Soundbite of "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me")
THE JAYHAWKS: (Singing) Our world never ends. It's only the beginning. And
we can't pretend to discover it's near. We talk for hours at a time, and I
came to my senses. No more than a friend, you're my perfect lover. I'll
never be all you want me to, but that's all right, 'cause I'm going to make
you love me, I'm going to dry your tears, and we're going to stay together for
a million years.
GROSS: That was The Jayhawks from their previous CD "Smile." My guest is
Gary Louris, one of the co-founders of the band, the lead singer and
Gary, what's the story behind the song and then how did it end up getting used
on a commercial?
Mr. LOURIS: I guess it was written originally about an old girlfriend, which
is probably why my wife doesn't like the song at this point. And it was a
song that from the beginning, when we first started playing those demos to the
record company, Columbia, they initially said, `That's the song you got.
That's the single,' and they proceeded to push me to rewrite the chorus and
turn it into a bigger, bigger song, and that's something I haven't done very
much of. And I don't know if I'd do it again, but I ended up going to people
I respected, like Paul Westerberg and Jakob Dylan and Dave Pruner(ph) and a
bunch of my friends, people I knew, and rewriting this song, trying to come up
with a bigger chorus and ended up doing it over the phone with some guy from
Nashville who came up with a good idea and we ran with it.
So it basically was the single that almost kind of happened, didn't. And then
one day I was out actually in Cape Cod with my family, just kind of having a
little vacation, and got the call saying, `Ralph Lauren wants to use your
song.' And, you know, I think in a dream world I wouldn't have to use my
songs for commercials. I don't like seeing my favorite songs used for a
product, you know. I like to think that they're more sacred. But considering
that Ralph Lauren's a pretty--I think it's a pretty cool company, we went for
Now we didn't have to go through the actual viewing, because it was never
really shown in the Midwest. I think it was more of an East/West Coast kind
of thing from what I understand, so I've actually never seen the commercial.
GROSS: You've never seen it? Huh.
Mr. LOURIS: No. So, no, I'm not...
GROSS: The funny thing is, I have seen it, and I can't remember the
commercial; what I remember is the song. So...
Mr. LOURIS: I think I was disappointed when I saw the commercial as I was--I
had heard all these cool things, and basically it was just two models hanging
out on a yacht. And I was thinking, you know, `What does this have to do with
The Jayhawks?' But, you know, you do what you have to do nowadays, I guess,
to make a living, and that was one of--a concession kind of.
GROSS: So did you think twice before saying yes or...
Mr. LOURIS: No, I actually didn't. I remember thinking twice back in the
early '90s and almost regretting that I did. I think Levi's asked us to write
a song in the '90s, and back then we were a little more--maybe we were more
idealistic and less jaded and, you know, we said no. But they basically said,
`Can you do a--write "Waiting for the Sun," but use 501 jeans in the lyrics
somehow?' And it was a little uncomfortable.
GROSS: So you said that the bridge for...
Mr. LOURIS: "Waiting for the Jeans" I guess it could have been called.
Mr. LOURIS: Excuse me.
GROSS: You said the bridge for "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" was rewritten
to make it...
Mr. LOURIS: Oh, the chorus. The chorus.
GROSS: The chorus? OK.
Mr. LOURIS: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: So what was it originally?
Mr. LOURIS: It was called "Someone We All Knew," and, you know, it was a
special little song. It had a very small, little chorus that was subtle, but
kind of cool. But you know, it's a tough call when you go out and play a song
every night and try to figure out whether you made the right decision in
rewriting it. But...
GROSS: Does the other song have a life, the original version?
Mr. LOURIS: It's on a little CD that we sell at shows only that we made
ourselves. It's called "Live from the Women's Club," and it's us playing
acoustically. And then we've added a couple of the demos that we've made in
the past as a little bonus. And people can be the judge if they listen to it.
It's called "Someone We All Knew." That's what it used to be.
GROSS: Well, you brought one with you. So why don't we hear it?
Mr. LOURIS: All right.
(Soundbite of "Someone We All Knew")
Mr. LOURIS: (Singing) Oh, the world never ends. It's only the beginning.
Oh, tell me you're mine. Please pinch me, I'm dreaming. We talk for hours at
a time just to tell me your stories. You're more than a friend; you're my
perfect lover. I'll never be all you want me to, but that's all right.
Someone we all. Someone we all. Someone we all.
GROSS: That was the original version of what is now "I'm Gonna Make You Love
Me." Any other thoughts on that?
Mr. LOURIS: I think for a while I thought, `Well, why did I get talked into
changing this song and turning it into what'd be considered more of a
commercial song?' And I always held it very dear and many times felt like I
don't even know if I want to play it anymore, because it felt a bit like a
sellout. And now I've gone back and we've tried playing it the old way to
see--and I think it probably is better the way it ended up, you know. So
sometimes you're not always the best judge of your own song.
GROSS: Because it's so hard to get indie rock played on music stations, and
because so many people who make commercials seem to want to have, like, hip
indie rock music on their commercial, do you think that some people are
finding out about bands now through commercials, you know, whereas in the
past, it was like, `Oh, my God, you sold out. Your music's on a commercial'?
Mr. LOURIS: Uh-huh.
GROSS: Do you think that people hear music on commercials in a different way
now and actually find out about good bands from commercials?
Mr. LOURIS: I think so. Actually, some of the more interesting music I've
heard is usually on a commercial, mainly because the radio stuff is usually so
incredibly boring. But I think Moby had a lot to do with that. I think that
his manager realized that he was probably not going to get radio play at the
time, so somehow he got some incredible amount, like, 800 licenses, on that
record. So they used his music and music off that record like 800 times on
different commercials, and I think that's what made him a star.
GROSS: My guest is Gary Louris, lead singer and songwriter of the band The
Jayhawks. Their latest CD is called "Rainy Day Music." More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Gary Louris, lead singer and songwriter of the band The
Jayhawks. Their latest CD is called "Rainy Day Music."
And Mark Olson, who was in the band till--What?--'95...
Mr. LOURIS: '95.
GROSS: ...he was your songwriting partner for the first 10 years of the band.
Did you have to learn how to write songs without him after he left and the
Mr. LOURIS: No, I didn't. That doesn't mean that I don't miss him as a
writer or that he wasn't important to me, because he was, or is. As time may
play out, we may write some songs. We have written some songs together over
the last couple years, and we may write some more at some point.
GROSS: Is it hard to keep the band together when one of the founders leaves?
Mr. LOURIS: Well, it was pretty devastating. I mean, it was--because I
thought we were kind of on to something. And to this day, I'm a little bit
bitter, but you know, I can't--I don't know why.
GROSS: About him leaving?
Mr. LOURIS: Well, you know, at the time, I totally understood it. But you
know, looking back, you think of what could have been and you think--I
understand totally why he did it; it made sense that, you know, he wanted to
be with his wife and to make music with her and be with her. But you know,
you can't help but wonder what we would have done.
But you know what? Once he left, we kind of said, `Well, I think that's
probably going to be it.' I remember it was very emotional. It was, like,
around Halloween and we were sitting at my house and we were working on some
new songs, and I could tell something was weird. And he left and he called me
about five minutes later--this is in St. Paul--and he said, `I've got to come
back over,' and I kind of knew it. And he came back and just said, `I can't
do it anymore. I got to--I can't start this all up again.' And we both kind
of cried and hugged each other and said, `Oh, that's it, man. That's it.'
A couple weeks later, I started realizing that the rest of the band really
wanted to stick together. Everybody was, like, `We've got to keep going.'
And we were a band. I mean, yes, it was kind of the Mark and Gary show, but
Marc Perlman and Karen Grotberg and Tim--they're all really talented--we are
and were really talented people, and they wanted to keep going. And we worked
so hard to get where we were. It took, like--it wasn't easy for us to get
where we were. And if anything, we had too many songs, so we decided to
GROSS: And are you comfortable performing the songs that he wrote before he
Mr. LOURIS: Well, I don't. I never--I write songs that only I wrote or I
co-wrote. But I will not write a song--I will not perform...
GROSS: Perform a song, yeah.
Mr. LOURIS: I will not perform some of my favorite Jayhawks songs. Actually,
"Two Angels" is one of my favorite Jayhawks songs of all time--"Nevada,
California"--can never play those, which is too bad, but I can't go there, as
GROSS: Gary, a pleasure to talk with you. Thanks so much for coming to talk
Mr. LOURIS: Well, it's a pleasure.
GROSS: Gary Louris is the lead singer and songwriter for the band The
Jayhawks. Their new CD is called "Rainy Day Music."
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with another track from The Jayhawks'
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. LOURIS: (Singing) One ...(unintelligible) I know it well. We lived the
dream so sweet, so sweet. I see Billy in the snow ...(unintelligible). We
could have laid there until the afternoon. Our cut runs deep, so deep, so
In the eyes of Sara Jane, I see the happy times again. In the eyes of Sara
Jane, I see the happy times again.
We couldn't sleep...
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