Skip to main content

Lester Young, A Centennial Appreciation

Tenor saxophonist Lester Young was born one hundred years ago on Aug. 27, 1909. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead makes the centennial.

09:53

Other segments from the episode on August 28, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 28, 2009: Interview with Ellie Greenwich; Interview with Danny McBride; Tribute to the tenor saxophonist Lester Young; Review of the film "Taking Woodstock."

Transcript

*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20090828
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Songwriter, ‘Pack’ Leader Ellie Greenwich

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

Songwriter Ellie Greenwich died Wednesday in New York at the age of 68.
Greenwich co-wrote many of the girl-group hits of the 1960s, including these:

(Soundbite of song, “Be My Baby”)

Ronnie Spector (Lead singer, The Ronettes): (Singing) The night we met I knew I
needed you so, and if I had the chance, I’d never let you go. So won’t you say
you love me. I’ll make you so proud of me. We’ll make them turn their heads
everyplace we go. So won’t you please be my little baby, baby my darling, be my
baby now?

(Soundbite of song, “Da Do Ron Ron”)

THE CRYSTALS (Musical Group): (Singing) I met him on a Monday and my heart
stood still, da do ron ron ron, da do ron ron. Somebody told me that his name
was Bill, da do ron ron ron, da do ron ron.

(Soundbite of song, “And Then He Kissed Me”)

THE CRYSTALS: (Singing) Well, he walked up to me, and he asked me if I wanted
to dace. He looked kind of nice, and so I said I might take a chance. When he
danced, he held me tight, and when he walked me home that night, all the stars
were shining bright, and then he kissed me.

(Soundbite of song, “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry”)

THE CRYSTALS: (Singing) Today I met, the boy I’m gonna marry. He’s all I wanted
all my life and even more. He smiled at me, and cheesy music started playing:
Here comes the bride when he walks through the door.

(Soundbite of song, “Not Too Young to Get Married”)

Darlene Love with Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans (Musical group): (Singing) Oh
no, we’re not too young, young to get married, not to young, young to get
married. What kind of a difference can a few years make? I’ve got to have you
have you now, or my heart will break. Not too young, not too young to get
married, not too young, young to get married. I couldn’t love you more than I
do today.

(Soundbite of song, “Chapel of Love”)

THE DIXIE CUPS (Musical Group): (Singing) Because they’re going to the chapel,
and they’re gonna get married, going to the chapel, and they’re gonna get
married. Gee, I really love you, and we’re gonna get married, going to the
chapel of love, going to the chapel of love.

DAVIES: All the songs we’ve just heard were co-written by Ellie Greenwich and
Jeff Barry, who were briefly married. With the exception of “Chapel of Love,”
which Greenwich and Barry co-produced, all the records we heard were produced
by Phil Spector, the first real genius of pop production.

Ellie Greenwich didn’t write exclusively for the girl groups. Her songs include
“Leader of the Pack,” recorded by the Shangri-Las; “I Wanna Love Him So Bad,”
by The Jelly Beans; “River Deep - Mountain High,” done by Ike and Tina Turner;
“Maybe I Know” by Lesley Gore; “I Can Hear Music,” recorded by The Beach Boys;
and “Doo Wa Diddy,” performed by Manfred Mann.

Greenwich was one of the few women to break into pop songwriting in the early
‘60s. She grew up in Levittown on Long Island, and she got her start when she
was hired as a staff writer by the songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller.

She worked out of the Brill Building in Manhattan, the headquarters of many of
the Top 40 songwriters and producers in the ‘60s. When the British Invasion
took over the charts, and groups started performing their own, original
material, a lot of songwriters ended up out of work. Greenwich went on to write
jingles and also co-produced many of Neil Diamond’s early hits.

Terry interviewed Ellie Greenwich in 1986, at a time her career was enjoying a
brief resurgence with a Broadway review of her songs, which introduced her to
listeners who never stopped loving her songs but never knew who wrote them.
Terry asked about the song “Chapel of Love,” one of the first hits that
Greenwich co-wrote and co-produced.

Ms. ELLIE GREENWICH (Music Producer; Songwriter): That song had originally been
cut by The Ronnettes. Phil Spector had cut it with the Ronnettes but never put
it out. Why? Do not ask me. And we always believed in that song. We knew it had
to be a spring release or a summer release because of the nature of, you know,
chapel, getting married, June weddings, the whole thing. And what happened was
when they did not put that – when Phil Spector didn’t put that record out, Jeff
and I said we have to do something with it. And just at that time, a gentleman
named Joe Jones came up from New Orleans with a whole slew of people.

Amongst them was three girls, which we eventually named The Dixie Cups, and
here are all these singers just hanging out at the office – you know, Leiber
and Stoller’s office, and we said hmm, girls, come here a minute. And we went
to the piano, and we played it for them, and they sang. It’s very – I mean,
anybody could sing “Chapel of Love,” you know? And we said we have to go in and
make this record, and it’s funny. In my whole career of being in the studio
producing, there were only two songs that I literally walked out of the studio
and said either these records are going to be zippity-do-nothing, go nowhere or
number one records. That was “Chapel of Love” and “Leader of the Pack.”

TERRY GROSS, host:

Did you have a special rapport with the singers in the girl groups, being a
woman yourself?

Ms. GREENWICH: I think initially – it’s funny. Back then, because I was so
involved in the productions and working with the – working on the background
vocals and what have you, I was not just, well, here’s my song, see ‘ya; I got
involved in everything. And it wasn't that accepted back then, a female being
in that end of the business. A songwriter, a lyricist - automatic acceptance. A
background singer - automatic acceptance. A writer – because Carole King and I
were really the only female writers then that I know of that actually sat down
at the piano and sang a song and, like, really got involved, and that wasn’t –
because there were so few of us that, you know, it was sort of, like, looked on
and walked away from a little bit.

But what happened was eventually, the girls said gee, we have someone we can
really relate to, somebody we can talk to. We have headaches today. We want to
tell somebody. Who’s going to understand better than Ellie?

So eventually - at first it was like, well, who does she think she is, giving
us orders here or telling us what to do? But on the other end, if you just were
very open with them, they saw you could be their friend, and then it became an
asset to be a woman dealing with girl groups.

GROSS: How much did you, when you were starting, and did the groups that you
wrote for, really know about love and sex?

Ms. GREENWICH: We really knew – we knew very little. We really were, as we
said, the good girls. And we just knew what we read, and we knew what we
fantasized about, and our experiences really were very limited. But if you
don’t write about what you’ve experienced, you certainly can write about
fantasy. So it comes out the same way.

GROSS: What were some of the problems that you had breaking in and getting
accepted, being a woman because you just pointed out there really weren’t many
women songwriters in the early ‘60s?

Ms. GREENWICH: Well, I think I was very fortunate in that most of the early
things I got involved in became hits. So what choice did so many of these
people have when I said, well hey, you know, I have a little track record here.
This was a hit, and this is doing well in the charts, and I’m doing, you know –
and it was almost like, well, we don’t love – you know, like, the musicians
would say we don’t love a woman telling us to go like this on your guitar, but
I said look at me as a thing. Forget, you know - and I think because of my
success, it made it a little easier. Plus, I did a lot of co-producing with
Jeff. So I had a little male protector on one side, you know. So I think the
combination of the success and having Jeff there, they really didn’t have much
of a choice, did they?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What was your technique for writing songs together?

Ms. GREENWICH: Very often, we would get ideas separately and then come to one

another with our ideas. We would generally have a title first, or write what
we call our hook line or our chorus. Sometimes I played piano; sometimes Jeff
would play the piano, once again both of us doing both. Sometimes we would
actually both sit down at the piano and, like, almost kill each other because
I’m playing one thing, and he’s playing another. But we did complement each
other, and we found a way, for some reason, that the songs just happened with
us. It was the most natural – with whomever I’ve written with since, Jeff and I
still had the most natural writing partnership that I’ve ever experienced.

GROSS: You got married to each other, and you know, after all, you’d written
songs like “Chapel of Love,” you’re writing all these – “(Today I Met) The Boy
I’m Gonna Marry,” all these great love and wedding songs, “Not Too Young to Get
Married.” Did you think that you were going to have a marriage that was
everything that the songs said marriage was going to be?

Ms. GREENWICH: Well, I have to, like, clue you in on something. I was - I grew
up in Levittown, Long Island, on the corner of Starlight and Springtime Lane,
you tell me if I thought my marriage was – yes, I did. I really believed in
that little house with the white picket fence and together forevermore and
absolutely that I was really a dreamer, and I think that still can happen.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen for us, and I think that was partly the
business’s fault, but yes, I was very much a hopeful romantic.

DAVIES: Songwriter Ellie Greenwich, speaking with Terry Gross. Here’s another
hit she co-wrote.

(Soundbite of song, “Baby I Love You”)

THE RONETTES: (Singing) Have I ever told you how good it feels to hold you? It
isn’t easy to explain, and so I really keep trying. I think I may start crying.
My heart can’t wait another day. When you kiss, I just have to say: Baby, I
love you. Baby, I love you. Baby, I love only you. I can’t live without you.

DAVIES: That’s The Ronnettes. More with Ellie Greenwich after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let’s get back to Terry’s interview, recorded in 1986, with songwriter
Ellie Greenwich, who died on Wednesday.

GROSS: One of the big hit songs that you wrote was “Leader of the Pack,” which
you co-wrote. And it was performed by the Shangri-Las, who I always think of as
being the tramps of the girl groups because they had such a tough…

Ms. GREENWICH: You think they were trampier than The Ronnettes?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GREENWICH: I mean, Terry, please.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: How did you get to work with those Shangri-Las?

Ms. GREENWICH: Well, there was a guy that I knew named George Morton whom we
could see was also one that was a little eccentric and, like, would never show
up on time, so we ended up calling him Shadow Morton. So George calls me. He
has this tape and a bunch of girls he wants me to hear.

(Unintelligible) came to the office, and this thing went on. He did this male
narration. It was seven minutes long. I said no, we can’t do that, but there
was something very interesting in this song - different. I said who was this
singing? You know, wow, it’s a very different sound. I saw a picture of them
and said hmm, see, there’s – what an added thing, what an interesting-looking
little group here - and met with them, and the record came out. Big hit. It’s
now time for a follow-up.

So Shadow says we’ve got to write something together. And at that time, when
you made money, you bought yourself boots or motorcycles. I mean, that was
really what it was all about. So everybody, every male, Jeff, Shadow, the
engineer, the writer, they all had motorcycles, and they were always riding
motorcycles.

I said why don’t we do something with motorcycles? Okay, we can call it,
there’s always the leader, the head of the group. I said no, it doesn’t sound
good, and we just threw titles around. Leader of the pack sounded important,
and Shadow Morton also had a habit of writing little soap operas. His songs all
became these little mini-soap operas, right?

So with his influence, we melodically did certain things, whatever. It had to
be a sick song, let’s get… And Jeff had written “Tell Laura I Love Her,” so he
was used to being involved with the sick element. This was new for me. I said
hey, as long as it’s not too disgusting, then I can deal with it.

So I think we had everything, from the sound effects, to motorcycles, to boy-
loving – you know, the girl loving the boy that’s forbidden. We had all these –
death, my God. I mean, it was like everything was in there, and once again,
like I said, and there’s the way she, Mary, sounded, the way the whole group
looked. I thought the picture was a perfect picture, and the record was just a
perfect kind of a thing to be a top record.

GROSS: Why don’t we hear it, okay?

Ms. GREENWICH: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: This is “Leader of the Pack,” co-written by my guest, Ellie Greenwich,
and performed by the Shangri-las.

(Soundbite of song, “Leader of the Pack”)

THE SHANGRI-LAS (Music Group): Is she really going out with him? Well, there
she is. Let's ask her. Betty, is that Jimmy's ring you're wearing? Mm-hmm. Gee,
it must be great riding with him. Is he picking you up after school today? Uh-
uh. By the way, where'd you meet him?

THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) I met him at the candy store. He turned around and
smiled at me. You get the picture? Yes, we see. That's when I fell for the
leader of the pack.

(Soundbite of motorcycle)

THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) My folks were always putting him down, down, down.
They said he came from the wrong side of town. Whatcha mean when ya say that he
came from the wrong side of town? They told me he was bad, but I knew he was
sad. That's why I fell for the leader of the pack.

(Soundbite of motorcycle)

THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) One day my dad said: Find someone new. I had to tell
my Jimmy we're through. Whatcha mean when ‘ya say that ‘ya better go find
somebody new? He stood there and asked me why, but all I could do was cry. I'm
sorry I hurt you, the leader of the pack.

(Soundbite of motorcycle)

THE SHANGRI-LAS: He sort of smiled and kissed me goodbye. The tears were
beginning to show as he drove away on that rainy night. I begged him to go
slow. Whether he heard, I'll never know.

THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) Look out, look out, look out, look out.

I felt so helpless, what could I do? Remembering all the things we'd been
through. In school they all stopped and stared. I can't hide the tears, but I
don't care. I'll never forget him, the leader of the pack.

(Soundbite of motorcycle)

THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) The leader of the pack, now he's gone.

(Soundbite of squealing tires)

THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) The leader of the pack, now he's gone.

GROSS: That really still sounds great.

Ms. GREENWICH: It’s fun, isn’t it?

GROSS: It really is. How did you decide to get in the screeching wheels and the
motorcycle revving up, all the sound effects? Why did you put it in?

Ms. GREENWICH: Well, we had to. I mean, how could you have a song of a
motorcycle without a motorcycle sound in it? I mean, that was half the record -
the gimmick, the gimmick. That was the gimmick part of the record.

GROSS: Rock music was the music of rebellion, and it really separated children
from their parents. Parents were listening to Steve And Eydie Gorme, and the
kids were listening to your records, but you were from the suburbs. You were
from Levittown. Did you feel like you had to act a little tougher than you
really were in order to fit in or anything like that?

Ms. GREENWICH: No, I was not a rebel, and I’ll never, never be… No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GREENWICH: I didn’t feel I had to prove anything or be that different or
whatever. I just – first of all, once again, most of the songs that I had the
hits with were very romantic, nice songs. I mean, you know, my most off-color
song was “Hanky Panky,” you know, and when people say – and yet, my baby does
the hanky panky. She dances, she this, she kisses me, whatever you want it to
mean. I left the door wide open. I never said it, you know?

GROSS: Did your parents like your songs?

Ms. GREENWICH: Funny. My parents, may they rest in peace, were very supportive
of what I wanted to do, didn’t quite understand what it was. When my mom used
to tell her friends, like, well, you know, my daughter’s a songwriter, they
would say well, gee, we’re really sorry. So she changed the term to well, my
daughter’s in musical productions. Well, that’s just wonderful.

Then it made more sense to them, you know, and what happened was because I
started having success so earlier, they were very, of course, fearful, like,
what was she going to get into in this – they’ve heard such stories about the
music business, the industry’s so crazy. But I mean, I am level-headed, you
know, and they did see that, and they were very happy for my success because I
was very happy with it. I mean, I was doing my first love. I was earning a
living at it, you know, I was married. I mean, I had all bases covered at that
time in my career. So they were very happy for me, really very proud.

DAVIES: Songwriter Ellie Greenwich, speaking with Terry Gross in 1986.
Greenwich died Wednesday in New York. She was 68. We’ll close with Ellie
Greenwich singing one of her hit songs. I’m Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry”)

Ms. GREENWICH: (Singing) Today I met the boy I’m gonna marry. He’s all I wanted
all my life and even more. He smiled at me, and cheesy music started playing:
Here comes the bride when he walks through the door.

Today I met the boy I’m gonna marry, the boy whose life and dreams and love I
want to share, for on my hand, a band of gold appeared before me, the band of
gold I always dreamed I’d wear.

When we kissed, I felt a sweet sensation. This time it wasn’t just my
imagination.

Today I met the boy I’m gonna marry…
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
112331204
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20090828
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A

..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Danny McBride, Pitching For Laughs In ‘Eastbound’

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross. Our next guest
is actor Danny McBride. Last summer, he was in two hit films. In the comedy
“Pineapple Express” - a hybrid stoner and action film - he played a drug dealer
who was beaten and shot and shot and shot again, but like a lot of characters
in far-fetched action films, just kept on going. In “Tropic Thunder,” a comedy
about actors making a jungle war movie, he played the pyrotechnics expert on
the set. Now he’s starring in the HBO comedy series “Eastbound and Down.” The
DVD of its first season is now available. McBride plays Kenny Powers, a relief
pitcher famous for his fastball and his big mouth. When he loses his fastball
and becomes even more obnoxious, he finds himself exiled from the big leagues,
so he reluctantly takes a job as the substitute gym teacher in his old middle
school. In this scene, he has his kids dressed up as gladiators with fencing
swords when the principal walks in.

(Soundbite of HBO series, “Eastbound and Down”)

Mr. DANNY MCBRIDE (Actor): (as Kenny Powers) From this moment on, you guys are
no longer little kids. You’re cold, calculated murderers. This is the mindset
you gotta be in if you want to be a champion. You got me? Cutty, what do you
need, bro?

Mr. ANDREW DALY (Actor): (as Principal Terrence Cutler) Oh, no. I’m just
observing the class. Carry on, please, because I’m awfully intrigued.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRIDE: (as Kenny Powers) Class, do we want the principal of the school in
our secret meeting of learning?

Unidentified Group: Hell, no.

Mr. DALY: (as Principal Terrence Cutler) Well, it’s really not up to any of you
guys. It’s just part of my job. I have to observe my teachers.

Mr. BRIDE: (as Kenny Powers) The people have spoken, Cut. Hit the halls, baby.

Mr. DALY: (as Principal Terrence Cutler) Okay. Let’s just try and clean up some
of our language, and I’ll just stand over here. That’s fine with me.

Mr. BRIDE: (as Kenny Powers) That’ll be great for me.

Mr. DALY: (as Principal Terrence Cutler) I’ll tell you. Most of the teachers on
the staff don’t have a problem with me observing, but…

Mr. BRIDE: (as Kenny Powers) Well, I think you’re about to find out that I
ain’t like most of these goddamn teachers.

Mr. DALY: (as Principal Terrence Cutler) Okay. How’s that? Am I out of your
peripheral?

Mr. BRIDE: (as Kenny Powers) Anyway, so besides getting shot in the back of the
head, do you know what else Abraham Lincoln did? He was a champion wrestler in
high school, and I’m not making that up.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Danny McBride, welcome to FRESH AIR. So, you were a substitute teacher before
you started working as an actor and screenwriter. Did you take any experiences
from your days as a substitute teacher and put them into “Eastbound and Down”?

Mr. MCBRIDE: You know, that was one of, I think, the first ideas of where
“Eastbound” came from was, I remember I was subbing, and I’d been living in
L.A. for a few years and really hadn’t gotten anywhere, and I went back to
substitute teaching. I think I was subbing like for a German class or
something. I don’t speak German or anything, and I can remember introducing
myself to class on the first day, saying, you know, I’m Mr. McBride. And I
started to find myself, like, justifying why I was there to these high school
kids who couldn’t care less.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: I just felt like, you know, this is just a stop on the way for me.
I don’t really plan on doing this forever. And I think it was that sort of
arrogance, you know, which has kind of inspired Kenny Powers, of, like, you
know, I didn’t really mind subbing. I thought it was actually pretty cool and
it gave me some good ideas for writing, but I was just thinking the whole time,
God, if I didn’t like doing this, this would be a horrible thing to have to
come home and do after you’ve fallen from grace.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: The funny thing is, too, it’s such an insult to the students to say, I
don’t really want to be here.

Mr. MCBRIDE: Yeah, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: This isn’t really what I do. I should be doing something much better
than this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: Than shaping your minds.

GROSS: Then your – yeah. This is just like an unwanted stop along the way,
being here with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Because you get no respect at all as a substitute teacher.

Mr. MCBRIDE: None. All they care about is what kind of car you drive and, yeah,
they don’t care.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Danny McBride, and he’s now
starring in a series that he also co-writes on HBO called “Eastbound and Down.”
Let’s talk a little bit about “Tropic Thunder,” and “Tropic Thunder” is about
actors making a jungle war movie on location, inspired by “Rambo” and all the
other movies like it. And you play the special effects and pyrotechnics expert
on the set, so you’re the guy who does, like, you know, the dynamite blasts and
the fire and the napalm. And I want to play a scene from the film. You’re in
the jungle talking with the grizzled war hero who’s the military consultant for
the film. He’s played by Nick Nolte. And the movie that you’re making is based
on his memoir, “Tropic Thunder.” Here’s the clip.

(Soundbite of movie, “Tropic Thunder”)

Mr. MCBRIDE: (as Cody) We’re gonna light these boys up today, huh? Blow some
sense into these young men. Yeah, I don’t want to come off as weird or
anything, but I might be your biggest fan. Yeah. “Tropic Thunder” is kind of
like my “Catcher in the Rye.” Yeah, I’ve never been in the military per se, but
I have lost an appendage in the line of duty - “Driving Miss Daisy,” first
studio gig. Yeah. That’s a pretty cool sidearm you got there. What is it?

Mr. NICK NOLTE (Actor): (as Four Leaf): I don’t know what it’s called. I just
know the sound it makes when it takes a man’s life.

Mr. MCBRIDE: (as Cody) Okay. Damien, we’re go for explosion. Ready to kick the
tires, light the fires on your say-so. Damien, we’re go for explosion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I love the idea that you, the special effects man, lost a finger in
“Driving Miss Daisy,” which is…

Mr. MCBRIDE: …which was a special-effects-heavy film, of course.

GROSS: Oh, that’s such a slow-moving film about, you know, a driver and a woman
that he drives.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So what did you learn about pyrotechnics, playing the pyrotechnics
expert?

Mr. MCBRIDE: I learned a lot. I got to shadow - I got to shadow the special
effects guys, and I learned how to use a flamethrower, which was probably the
highlight of my education there. And it was crazy. It was like going to movie
star camp. You know, you’re there on location in Hawaii, and there’s guys from
like Nolte to Jack Black to Robert Downey, Jr. Everyone has such a different
process, and you’re sitting there just kind of taking it all in. It was really
amazing.

GROSS: Well, speaking of process, Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder” plays
an actor - a white actor who’s playing an African-American soldier. And
because, you know, the character Downey plays is such, like, the method actor,
he starts to convince himself that he is black, and he never gets out of
character. So he acts black even when he’s not on the set. And since Downey is
such an eccentric actor to begin with, what was it like to work with him
playing this parody of like the worst cliche of the method actor?

Mr. MCBRIDE: It was pretty amazing. I mean, you would - we would be around
Downey all day on the set, and I would just forget it was Downey, you know. At
nighttime, we’d see him for dinner, and I’m like, oh, yeah. I keep forgetting
that Robert Downey, Jr. is in this movie. That’s not –that’s him in the
daytime. But, you know, one of the things I remember early on, it was like the
second day of filming, I think, and in between takes, the sound guys, you know,
they’ll usually cut off everybody’s mics, but for some reason, I think they had
- by accident had left Downey’s mic on.

And I had an earwig in. I could hear what he was saying. He was still mic'd in
between the take, and I can remember just like watching him, and I could, you
know - I watched him kind of leave the set. And he was like walking back to the
trailers, and I’m like, oh, that’s crazy. They’re leaving his mic on. I can
hear him talking to himself. And he was just still in character going back to
his trailer, talking about how he was going to go drain the lizard. And he was
just still speaking in his voice from there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: It’s like he’s not dropping it at all. It was pretty impressive.

GROSS: That’s really funny, because he’s like doing what his character does,
which is like staying in character.

Mr. MCBRIDE: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: He doesn’t drop character until the DVD commentary, he says.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That’s really so funny. But he’s so terrific in it. So, were you ever
afraid being around any of the fires and explosions in the movie?

Mr. MCBRIDE: The only one that was a little tricky was that first real big
explosion in “Tropic.” They had the rest of the crew like a mile away from the
explosion, and I was the closest one to the explosion. They had me up in the
tower with a camera guy and an AD. And they were like, you know, you should be
okay here, even though we’ve moved the rest of the crew a mile away from this
explosion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: And they literally had a fire blanket up there. They’re like, if
you feel like, you know, really immense heat, just duck and put this blanket
over yourself. And so I’m expecting like a fireball to come shooting into that
tower. And then, of course, when it goes off, it wasn’t anything too scary. I
wish I had been a little closer, actually.

GROSS: The last year or so has been really big for you. You were in “Tropic
Thunder” and “Pineapple Express” over the summer, and “Foot Fist Way” opened -
when, like a year or so ago?

Mr. MCBRIDE: Yep.

GROSS: And so, you’ve gone - and now you’ve got your TV series on HBO. So
you’ve gone from, you know, pretty big obscurity to, you know, some degree of
relatively sudden fame. So how’s that affecting your life, and how is that
affecting your thoughts on what it’s like to be kind of famous?

Mr. MCBRIDE: I guess, you know, what I mean, I guess the main difference is I’m
just not worried about how I’m going to pay for my car insurance or health
insurance anymore. I mean, I’ve still surrounded myself with all the guys that,
you know, that I went to school with, and we all hang out together. And so, you
know, my personal life hasn’t really changed that much since before all this
began. I think I can just rest easier that I’m not bouncing checks right and
left anymore.

GROSS: Were you bouncing checks?

Mr. MCBRIDE: I was always living in overdraft when I was in L.A. It was hard
not to. I mean, I was just PA’ing or waiting tables, doing whatever I could do
to kind of make ends meet.

GROSS: Right. Right. So, you mentioned now you can buy health insurance. So do
you have like a group plan? I mean…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Because it’s not like you have an employer, per se.

Mr. MCBRIDE: You can get very good health insurance through SAG and the Writers
Guild, so that’s what I signed up for.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Good. okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: All right.

Mr. MCBRIDE: You sound like my mom. She’s very proud that I have health
insurance. That’s probably the thing she’s the most proud about with
everything. It’s like, good, you have health insurance. If something happens to
you, we’re not going to lose our home.

GROSS: Well, Danny McBride, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. MCBRIDE: Cool. Thank you.

DAVIES: Danny McBride stars in the HBO comedy series, “Eastbound and Down.” Its
first season is out on DVD. Coming up, Kevin Whitehead profiles Tenor
saxophonist Lester Young. This is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
112332195
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20090828
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Lester Young, A Centennial Appreciation

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Tenor saxophonist Lester Young was born a hundred years ago yesterday, on
August 27th, 1909. He came to prominence in the 1930s as a member of Count
Basie’s band and as a sideman with Billie Holiday. Later, he went out on his
own and took part in stage jam sessions on Jazz at the Philharmonic tours. Jazz
critic Kevin Whitehead says as a saxophonist, Lester Young was an original who
inspired some of jazz’s hottest and coolest players.

(Soundbite of music)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Lester Young, playing the blues in 1944, sometimes riding one
repeated note, a move copied by Illinois Jacquet and umpteen rhythm and blues
saxophonists. In the 1930s, Young set the tone for jazz musicians who seem a
little too cool for the world. He was a contrarian, even held his saxophone at
an odd angle. David Stone Martin once drew him playing before the Tower of
Pisa, leaning the other way. And he had a gift for memorable, metaphorical
slang. Lester on caring for his baby daughter: I don’t mind the waterfall, but
I can’t stay in the mustard. He nicknamed everybody and everything, but friend
and colleague Billie Holiday gave him his nick name: Prez, short for president
of the tenor saxophone.

(Soundbite of song, “A Sailboat in the Moonlight”)

Ms. ANITA O’DAY (Singer): (Singing) A sailboat in the moonlight and you.
Wouldn’t that be heaven, a heaven just for two? A soft breeze on a June night
and you, what a perfect setting for letting dreams come true. A chance to sail
away…

WHITEHEAD: When Lester Young was coming up, he often got compared to reigning
tenor sax champ, Coleman Hawkins. Prez didn’t set out the contradict Hawk, he
just followed his own lights. But the contrast was striking. Hawkins was all
poise and elegance, weaving rhapsodic melodies out of notes found in or implied
by a tune’s ever-changing chords.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Prez’s tone was lighter, and his lines floated over the chords, as
if he got to the changes a little earlier, or late. It gave his solos an aloof,
detached quality.

WHITEHEAD: But he also had an airborne sense of swing beyond Hawkins.

(Soundbite of song, “Lester Leaps In”)

WHITEHEAD: Count Basie’s “Lester Leaps In,” 1939. Three years earlier, after
kicking around the Midwest and Southwest for years, Lester Young had come east
with Basie’s blues-drenched Kansas City Band. En route in Chicago, they cut a
classic small-group date, including blues shouter Jimmy Rushing.

(Soundbite of song, “I May Be Wrong”)

Mr. JIMMY RUSHING (Singer): (Singing) I may be wrong, but I won’t be wrong
always. And I may be wrong, but I won’t be wrong always. You’re gonna long for
me, baby, one of these old rainy days.

WHITEHEAD: That’s the blues as music of defiance, maybe blue but won’t be blue
always. But Lester Young also knew the woeful blues. He was drafted in World
War II, and, predictably, an odd-talking, contrary African-American pothead
with a white wife didn’t really fit the ‘40s Army. He was court-martialed and
locked up for 10 months. Legend says he was a broken man ever after, but
friends denied it and he didn’t always sound it.

(Soundbite of music, “Ding Dong”)

WHITEHEAD: “Ding Dong,” 1949, with bebop drummer Roy Haynes. After the war,
bebop was jazz’s new way, and boppers dug how Young leaned behind the beat to
sound relaxed and yet build suspense. Charlie Parker’s alto could sound like
early Prez, speeded up. But after the war, Young’s ballads could get more
heavy, less aloof and detached, even his blithe old way of harping on one note
could sound forlorn.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: In the 1950s, Lester Young made some nice records but went into slow
decline, mired in depression and drink. He was bitter about the greater success
of some cool white saxophonists he inspired. He once quipped, Stan Getz the
money. Young’s solo on Billie Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow,” from the 1957 TV
show “The Sound of Jazz,” finds him all but fading away on camera. It’s worth
seeing on YouTube, also for the way Billie looks at him.

(Soundbite of song, “Fine and Mellow”)

Ms. BILLIE HOLIDAY (Singer): (Singing) He wears high-trimmed pants...

WHITEHEAD: Lester Young insisted jazz musicians needed to find their own
styles, and in fairness to admirers, Illinois Jacquet, Charlie Parker and Stan
Getz, none of them sounded quite like him. So they got the message. As Prez
himself once put it, originality is the thing. You can have tone and technique
and a lot of other things but without originality, you ain’t really nowhere.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead teaches at the University of Kansas and he’s a jazz
columnist for eMusic.com. Coming up, David Edelstein on the new film, “Taking
Woodstock.” This is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
112331500
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20090828
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
'Taking Woodstock': Bystanders At The Revolution

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Yet another event to mark the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival
is director Ang Lee’s new film, “Taking Woodstock.” Set in White Lake and
Bethel, New York, it’s based on a 2006 memoir by Elliot Tiber who had a front-
row seat - not at the concert itself, but at negotiations that led up to it.
Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Ang Lee’s last film was called, “Lust Caution,” which is an
apt description of the play in all his work between yielding to messy feeling
and exercising discipline, holding back. He’s among the last directors I’d
think of for a movie about the 1969 Woodstock festival, which was, at least in
the popular imagination, all yielding and no holding back. But it’s easy to see
why Elliot Tiber’s temperate memoir, “Taking Woodstock,” caught his fancy.
Tiber, born Teichberg, was a closeted, young gay man, an heir to a seedy, debt-
ridden Catskills motel. When the proposed festival was expelled from several
small New York towns whose elders feared a glut of filthy, nasty hippies, Tiber
saw an opportunity and contacted its planners.

He found them a spot at Max Yasgur’s nearby farm. His parents’ motel became a
planning hub and well, by the time Joni Mitchell got to Woodstock, they were
all stardust and golden. Lee and his producer and screenwriter, James Schamus,
have made a film that’s gentle and rather tepid. It’s pleasant, but over its
two plus hours, it doesn’t build up much counter-culture fervor. Lee always
seems like a visitor to whatever milieu he’s depicting: ancient China, the old
West, the hippie-dippie ‘60s. And he brings a cool, cerebral eye to a setting
that cries out for the hustle of a Robert Altman movie.

Most of the emotional weight in “Taking Woodstock” is on transactions, like
this one for motel rooms between Demetri Martin as Tiber(ph) and Jonathan Groff
as organizer Michael Lang in a vest with no shirt, looking like a scrubbed
hippie Adonis from a stock company production of “Godspell.”

(Soundbite of movie, “Taking Woodstock”)

Mr. JONATHAN GROFF (Actor): (as Michael Lang) You know, we’re going to need a
place for people to crash while we prepare the festival. Your place looks
pretty cool. How many vacant rooms do you have for the next couple of weeks?

Mr. DEMETRI MARTIN: (Actor): (as Elliot Teichberg) Well, it depends on how you
define room.

Mr. GROFF: (as Michael Lang) You know, how many people can crash with you, what
do you guys charge?

Mr. MARTIN: (as Elliot Teichberg) Let’s see, it’s $8 a night, but that can be
for doubles. And we have a weekly discount of course, plus the cabins, you can
get cots so four people per - about a 150 I’d say, you can get about 200
people.

Mr. GROFF: (as Michael Lang) Hey man, let’s make it easy. Why don’t we just buy
the El Monaco out for the season? Figure out the costs, write it down, we’ll
take a look at. But if we don’t use all the rooms, you can rent out the free
ones. We need to keep some clean up crews around afterwards and if you’ve got

some bigger spaces for offices, that kind of thing, we need to put in some
phones and have some space to park vehicles. You know where we’re going?

EDELSTEIN: Part, but by no means all the problem with “Taking Woodstock” is
Demetri Martin. On his Comedy Central show, he’s a deadpan genius, dropping
one-liners that seem to come from the dark side of the moon, yet illuminate
everything. But the part of Elliot Tiber(ph) taps nothing except his bland
ingenuousness, and he ends up a dull bystander. In his memoir, Tiber doesn’t
have a sparkling personality either, but early chapters detail the pain of
being in the closet, and reveal he was at the Stonewall bar in Greenwich
Village the night of the police raid. Imagine throwing rocks at police at
Stonewall and then grooving at Woodstock. You’ll have to imagine. There’s no
hint of that side of Tiber(ph) onscreen.

The other characters leave you just as indifferent — even Emile Hirsch as a
traumatized Vietnam vet and Liev Schreiber as a giant transvestite named Vilma,
who becomes the motel’s director of security. Schreiber goes against the grain
and plays Vilma straight and matter of fact. But the movie needs more
loopiness, more risk-taking. Well, there is one vivid performance - the British
actress Imelda Staunton, fresh from her turn as “Harry Potter’s” most sadistic
instructor, as Tiber’s monstrous, penny-pinching Jewish hysteric of a
matriarch. Watching Staunton’s high-pitched Yiddish accented rants, you don’t
know where to look. She’s amazing and awful. Her stylized performance is in a
different key than everyone else’s.

The experience of Woodstock inspired Tiber to leave his parents and embrace his
sexuality. But onscreen, it’s studied, as if the director were an android
reproducing transcendence without experiencing it. There is one evocative
moment, when Tiber(ph) hears the first stirrings of the concert through the
trees – thrilling yet ghostly. But the show itself is never glimpsed. Sure,
Tiber was busy at the motel and the filmmakers couldn’t afford half a million
extras, but seeing nothing is a bummer, man. The sheer scale of Woodstock is
central to its place in history.

The movie ends with motel leave takings and an illusion to the groovy next fest
at Altamont. What a cynical way to cap things off. “Taking Woodstock” is a
celebration that feels like a dirge.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. You can download
podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org.

For Terry Gross, I’m Dave Davies.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
112336913
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

32:42

In 'Heaven, My Home' Attica Locke Shows A Part Of Texas We Don't Usually See

Locke says her new novel "was about place before it was about a character." The story follows a black ranger who patrols East Texas searching for the missing son of an Aryan Brotherhood leader.

50:30

Ronan Farrow: 'Catch And Kill' Tactics Protected Both Weinstein And Trump

Ronan Farrow's 2017 exposé of the sexual misconduct allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein in The New Yorker earned him a Pulitzer Prize and helped usher in the #MeToo movement. Now, in his new book, Catch and Kill, Farrow writes about the extreme tactics Weinstein allegedly took in an attempt to keep him from reporting the story.

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