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Loretta Lynn's Full Life

Country singer Loretta Lynn married at 13, had six children and created controversy by singing songs about divorce and the pill. Here, she talks about her decades in the music business, her relationship with her husband and a new tribute album, Coal Miner's Daughter.

38:16

Other segments from the episode on November 10, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 10, 2010: Interview with Loretta Lynn; Interview with Eli Wallach.

Transcript

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Loretta Lynn: After Strife, A Full Life

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Loretta Lynn, recorded her first single 50 years ago. It was a
song she called "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl." This year, she was honored with
a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lynn is famous for her singing and songwriting. She's had 16 number one
country hits, and she's also famous for her life story, which was told
in the 1980 film "Coal Miner's Daughter," starring Sissy Spacek as
Loretta Lynn. The film was adapted from Lynn's 1976 memoir, "Coal
Miner's Daughter," which described how she grew up in poverty in eastern
Kentucky, became a wife at age 13 and, after having four children,
started writing songs and performing. A new edition of that memoir was
published in September, with a new preface by Lynn.

And there's a new tribute CD that features her songs recorded by The
White Stripes, Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, Carrie Underwood, Martina
McBride, Alan Jackson and others. Lynn joined Sheryl Crow and Miranda
Lambert in a version of Lynn's song "Coal Miner's Daughter."

Let's start with Loretta Lynn's first recording, "Honky Tonk Girl," and
then we'll hear the version on the tribute album performed by Lee Ann
Womack.

(Soundbite of song, "Honky Tonk Girl")

Ms. LORETTA LYNN (Musician): (Singing) Ever since you left me, I've done
nothing but wrong. Many nights I've laid awake and cried. We once were
happy, my heart was in a whirl, but now I'm a honky tonk girl.

Ms. LEE ANN WOMACK (Musician): (Singing) So turn that Jukebox way up
high, and fill my glass up while I cry. I've lost everything in this
world, and now I'm a honky tonk girl.

GROSS: So we heard Loretta Lynn singing her song, "I'm a Honky Tonk
Girl," and then Lee Ann Womack from the new Loretta Lynn tribute, "Coal
Miner's Daughter."

Loretta Lynn, what a great pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you
so much for coming.

Ms. LYNN: Thank you, Terry. It's very nice to be on your show.

GROSS: Now, did you pick the performers on the new tribute CD, and did
you talk with them at all about the songs?

Ms. LYNN: No, I didn't talk to them. I just told them - my manager, who
I would like to have on the, you know, the record, and the next thing I
knew, they were here, and we did the album.

We had a good time. Me and Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert did the video
down at my house, and we worked there all day long. So we had a good
time.

GROSS: Now, the song we just heard, that's the first song you wrote. It
was your first record, released in 1960.

Ms. LYNN: Right.

GROSS: You say you wrote it in 20 minutes on a $17 guitar that your
husband bought for you.

Ms. LYNN: That's true.

GROSS: Because he thought you sang well. And you wrote a song because he
told you to. Do you think you ever would have written or performed if
your husband didn't say that's what you should do?

Ms. LYNN: No, I wouldn't have because I was too bashful. I wouldn't get
out in front of people. I wouldn't – you know, I was really bashful, and
I would've never sang in front of anybody.

GROSS: So when you wrote "Honky Tonk Girl" with absolutely no
songwriting experience, how did you approach writing a song?

Ms. LYNN: You know, I just sat down with my guitar. I was outside. In
fact, I was leaning up against the old toilet out there on the West
Coast, in Washington state. And...

GROSS: Did you say the toilet?

Ms. LYNN: The old toilet, yeah.

GROSS: Okay.

Ms. LYNN: And I sat there and wrote "Honky Tonk Girl" and "Whispering
Sea."

GROSS: So what made you think of the story that you tell in "Honky Tonk
Girl"?

Ms. LYNN: Well, I think I probably listened to a bunch of people, you
know, their songs and stuff. And I figured, well, I can – if they can
write, I can, too. So just said, hey, I'm going to tell a story. And
that's what I did.

GROSS: And had you hung out at honky tonks, or did you know them from
songs?

Ms. LYNN: No, when I first started writing, my husband got me a job at
this little bar. And me and a steel player and my brother, he played the
fiddle and sang. So we sang together. And so we really had a good time,
you know, and I wrote "Honky Tonk Girl" and "Whispering Sea" during that
time.

GROSS: So you were doing some performing?

Ms. LYNN: Yeah, I just had started. In fact, I had never sang in front
of anybody until my husband pushed me out there, you know. I'd never
been out and sang for anybody.

GROSS: But at home you sang.

Ms. LYNN: I rocked the babies to sleep, and in Kentucky, when I was
growing up with my sisters and brothers, we all sang and rocked the
babies to sleep, you know, but that was about as far as we ever did, you
know.

GROSS: So when you recorded your first single, "Honky Tonk Girl," you
were 24. You'd already been married for 11 years because you got married
when you were 13, and you already had four children. Do I have that
right?

Ms. LYNN: I had four kids, uh-huh.

GROSS: And the twins came a little bit later.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah, the twins come later.

GROSS: What was your life like as a wife and mother before you started
recording?

Ms. LYNN: It wasn't easy. Me and my husband both worked. I took care of
a farmhouse. I cleaned and cooked for 36 ranch hands and...

GROSS: Wow.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah, before I started singing. And so singing was easy. I
thought: Gee whiz, this is an easy job.

GROSS: Wait, so you cooked and cleaned for 36 ranch hands and had four
children?

Ms. LYNN: Uh-huh, sure did. Paid the rent on the old house that we lived
in, and that's what I did to make the rent, yeah.

GROSS: Wow.

Ms. LYNN: It wasn't easy, let me tell you. Life was hard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So when you made your first appearance on the Opry, which was the
same year that you recorded "Honky Tonk Girl," you weren't used to
performing on such a prestigious stage in front of an audience like
that.

Ms. LYNN: Oh, no.

GROSS: Did you know how to perform onstage in a place like the Opry?

Ms. LYNN: Not really. I just got out there with my guitar and I sang. I
mean, I just did it just like I was doing it at home, you know. I never
thought about it being the Grand Ole Opry because if I had, I wouldn't
have been able to have done it. You just pretty well got to figure,
well, you know, this is something I could do every day.

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's so much like what you do every day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: My guest is Loretta Lynn, and there's a new Loretta Lynn tribute
CD called "Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn," and it
features, among others, the White Stripes, Carrie Underwood, Lucinda
Williams, Steve Earle and Allison Moorer.

So the next song we're going to hear is a song that you first recorded
in 1966, "Don't Come Home A'Drinking (With Lovin' On Your Mind)." And
this is a great song. Gretchen Wilson sings it on the tribute CD.

We're going to hear your version. But first I want to hear the story of
how you wrote it. You'd already had about six years of songwriting
experience behind you. You probably were no longer leaning against the
toilet when you wrote this.

Ms. LYNN: I was probably – Doo had fixed me a little writing room at
this time, out in Goodliesfield(ph).

GROSS: Doo is your husband, was your late husband, yes.

Ms. LYNN: Doo was my husband, yes. And he's the only one I've ever had.
And so he fixed me this little writing room, and I'd go out there and
I'd write. And this was one of the songs that I wrote was "Don't Come
Home A'Drinking (With Lovin' On Your Mind)."

GROSS: And at this point, did you feel like I know how to write a song?

Ms. LYNN: Oh, yeah. When I wrote "Don't Come Home A'Drinking," I knew I
could write because I'd had quite a few on the charts by that time.

GROSS: Now, you've said that your husband is in every song that you've
written, in a large way or in a small way.

Ms. LYNN: Still is. I mean, if I write a song, he's in there somewhere.

GROSS: Were you thinking of him when you wrote this song?

Ms. LYNN: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Would he come home after drinking like that?

Ms. LYNN: Why, sure. If a man drinks, he's going to come home drinking.
He liked to drink.

GROSS: Was this song intended to send him a message at all?

Ms. LYNN: Not really. I probably told him many times. I didn't have to
sing about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay. Well, let's hear the song.

Ms. LYNN: All right.

GROSS: "Don't Come Home A'Drinking," recorded in 1966 by Loretta Lynn,
and it was a number one Country Music Chart hit.

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Come Home A'Drinking (With Loving On Your
Mind)")

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) Well, you thought I'd be waiting up when you came
home last night. You'd been out with all the boys, and you ended up
half-tied. But liquor and love, they just don't mix; leave the bottle or
me behind, and don't come home a-drinking with lovin' on your mind.

No, don't come home a-drinking with lovin' on your mind. Just stay out
there on the town and see what you can find 'cause if you want that kind
of love, well you don't need none of mine. So don't come home a-drinking
with loving on your mind.

GROSS: That was Loretta Lynn, recorded in 1966, and there's a new
Loretta Lynn tribute CD, and on that CD, that song is performed by
Gretchen Wilson.

And there's also a new edition of Loretta Lynn's famous memoir, which is
called "Coal Miner's Daughter." And the new CD is called "Coal Miner's
Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn."

Now, when you started performing, Patsy Cline was your mentor until she
died.

Ms. LYNN: But, you know, she hadn't been in the business that long when
I come to Nashville. She'd only been singing two or three years. And
yeah...

GROSS: So she must have really related to what you were going through.

Ms. LYNN: Oh, yeah. We talked a lot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What were some of the things that she taught you that really
helped you a lot, things relating to, you know, from clothing to
performing style to dealing with the music industry? Yeah, go ahead.

Ms. LYNN: Well, she kind of helped, you know, with the style and
everything that I was – you know, I was in blue jeans and a T-shirt or
blue jeans and just a Western shirt. And she taught me a lot, how to
dress and...

GROSS: What did she tell you about how to dress?

Ms. LYNN: Well, she told me to get out of the jeans, you know. Of
course, I'd wear them until we'd get to the radio station, and then I'd
get in the backseat and put on my dress. And I'd take the dress off and
go back into my jeans and wait until the next radio station.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: And then I'd go back into my dress again.

GROSS: And did she give you any advice about performing?

Ms. LYNN: Not really. I think she wanted me to learn that on my own, and
I think it's best for every artist to learn on their own what they're
going to do on stage and how they act. And I don't think anybody else
can teach you that.

GROSS: My guest is Loretta Lynn. This week, a new tribute album was
released called "Coal Miner's Daughter." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is country music star Loretta Lynn. Her memoir, "Coal
Miner's Daughter," was published in a new edition in September. This
week, a new tribute album was released, also called "Coal Miner's
Daughter."

I want to play another song that you wrote, and this was a song that was
actually pretty controversial at the time it came out, and it's called
"Rated X."

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: And I'm going to let you describe what the song's about.

Ms. LYNN: Well, it's about a woman that's been married and divorced, and
I'll just let you listen to it.

GROSS: Okay, and what I want to do, I want to go to the tribute CD. The
White Stripes have a really good reworked, like, reinterpreted version
of this.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: And I know you've worked with Jack White before. He produced a
terrific album of yours in 2004 called "Van Lear Rose."

Ms. LYNN: Right.

GROSS: So do you want to say anything about the White Stripes' version
of your song?

Ms. LYNN: Well, I think whatever Jack does is good. I mean, you can't –
I mean, he's good. You have to love him. So this is good.

GROSS: Okay, so this is the song Loretta Lynn wrote. She recorded it in
1971. It's called "Rated X," and here's the White Stripes from the
Loretta Lynn tribute album "Coal Miner's Daughter."

(Soundbite of song, "Rated X")

The WHITE STRIPES (Music Group): (Singing) Well, if you've been a
married woman, and things didn't seem to work out, divorce is the key to
being loose and free, but you're gonna be talked about.

Everybody knows that you've loved once; they think you'll love again.
You can't have a male friend when you're a has-been, on a woman you're
rated X.

And if you're rated X, you're some kind of gold that even men turned to
silver try to make. But I think it's wrong to judge every picture if a
cheap camera makes a mistake.

So if your best friend's husband says to you that you've started lookin'
good, you should've known he would, and he would if he could, and he
will if you're rated X.

GROSS: That's the White Stripes from the new Loretta Lynn tribute album,
"Coal Miner's Daughter," and also Loretta Lynn's famous memoir, "Coal
Miner's Daughter," has been published in a new edition.

GROSS: Now, we were talking before about writing from a woman's point of
view, which "Rated X" most certainly is. You know, about what it's like
to be a divorced woman, when men think that you're available and try to
take advantage of you, and you have a reputation. So why was the song
controversial?

Ms. LYNN: I think it was because, you know, you've been a married woman.
I think when you write about it, they take it to heart, too, you know,
they – people do. So I think that was it. It just starts out if you've
been a married woman, things didn't seem to work out, divorce is the key
to being loose and free. So you're going to be talked about. So that's
exactly how it is, you know.

GROSS: When you called it "Rated X," I mean, do you think some people
thought, oh, this is going to be a very provocative, sexy song because
it's called "Rated X"?

Ms. LYNN: Yeah. A lot of the disc jockeys, you know, banned it before
they even listened to it. And, you know, after it got way up in the
charts and they all flipped the record, started listening to it and
playing it. But, you know, another old, dirty record from Loretta Lynn.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now, something that was even more controversial than "Rated X"
was your song "The Pill," which is about...

Ms. LYNN: That's right. The pill was on the way and, you know, we have a
lot of them that says it like it is. So that's really, I guess we're not
to talk about the way it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: This has some lyrics that I think, you know, really were
controversial in some country music circles at the time. And the lyrics
include: This old maternity dress I've got is going in the garbage, and
you've set this chicken your last time because now I've got the pill.
I'm tearing down this brooder house 'cause now I've got the pill.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: So the song sounds autobiographical in some ways. I'm not saying
that you are necessarily angry in the way that the character in the song
is angry, but you had six children.

Ms. LYNN: I had six kids. I lost three.

GROSS: You lose three?

Ms. LYNN: I lost three.

GROSS: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize that.

Ms. LYNN: I was about five and six – well, it wasn't, you know, I lost
them before they were born.

GROSS: Oh, so you had six and lost three others? Wow.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: That's a lot of pregnancies.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right, okay, stating the obvious. Did you share the song's anger?

Ms. LYNN: Well, I sure didn't like it when I got pregnant a few times.
You know, it's hard for a woman to have so many kids. And, well, at the
time, I guess I had four. And then I got pregnant and had, you know,
with the twins. But yeah, I was a little angry.

GROSS: Let's hear it, and this was released in 1975, recorded in 1972.
This is Loretta Lynn, "The Pill."

(Soundbite of song, "The Pill")

Ms. LYNN: You wined me and dined me when I was your girl, promised if
I'd be your wife, you'd show me the world. But all I've seen of this old
world is a bed and a doctor bill. I'm tearin' down your brooder house
'cause now I've got the pill.

All these years I've stayed at home while you had all your fun, and
every year that's gone by, another baby's come. There's gonna be some
changes made right here on nursery hill. You've set this chicken your
last time 'cause now I've got the pill.

This old maternity dress I've got is goin' in the garbage. The clothes
I'm wearin' from now on won't take up so much yardage. Miniskirts, hot
pants and a few little fancy frills. Yeah, I'm makin' up for all those
years since I've got the pill.

GROSS: That's Loretta Lynn, recorded in 1972. It was released in '75.
The song is called "The Pill." Now, you've said that you never even used
the pill as birth control.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Well, if I'd had it, I'd have used it. At the time that...

GROSS: I see.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah because, see, back when I was having all the kids, we
didn't have birth control pills. Or if we did, I didn't know anything
about them.

GROSS: Well, you write that there's a lot you didn't know about, that -
you were 13 when you got married in 1947, and you say you didn't...

Ms. LYNN: Didn't know anything about sex, either, did I?

GROSS: No, you say you didn't know anything about sex or even pregnancy.
You say when you got pregnant, you didn't even know the word. Is that
right?

Ms. LYNN: Well, I don't know. I guess we just called it having a baby.
We didn't call it pregnant. Back in Butcher Holler, there was a lot of
things we didn't know, a lot of things they still don't know back there.

GROSS: When I think of you getting married at 13, it just seems so
young.

Ms. LYNN: Well, it is. It is way too young, you know.

GROSS: What made you think that you were ready?

Ms. LYNN: Don't ask me. I was 13.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So when you got married, about a year afterwards, you moved to
the state of Washington.

Ms. LYNN: Washington state.

GROSS: Far away. Did you feel lost for a while when you moved away from
your family and everything you knew?

Ms. LYNN: Oh yeah. Yeah, daddy said: He told me he wouldn't take you
away where I couldn't see. And here I was 3,000 miles away, two months
after he married me.

GROSS: Wow, I was thinking what it must have been like for you to be,
you know, so far away from home at the age of, like, 13, 14, 15, having
children already. You probably had no idea you were ever going to become
famous.

Ms. LYNN: No, never. And I still don't. I'm not famous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: I'm just me.

GROSS: Loretta Lynn will be back in the second half of the show. The new
Loretta Lynn tribute CD is called "Coal Miner's Daughter," which is also
the title of her 1976 memoir, and it was recently published in a new
edition. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with country music star
Loretta Lynn.

Her life story was made famous in the 1980 film "Coal Miner's Daughter,"
starring Sissy Spacek as Lynn. The memoir it was based on has been
published in a new edition. And this week, a new tribute album was
released, also called "Coal Miner's Daughter," which includes
performances by The White Stripes, Steve Earle, Allison Moore, Carrie
Underwood and Lee Ann Womack.

Well, I want to play another song.

Ms. LYNN: Okay.

GROSS: And this is a song that's covered on the new tribute album, but
we'll hear your version and this is "After the Fire Has Gone." And it's
one of the hit duets that you recorded with Conway Twitty. So this song
is attributed to L.E. White, a songwriter I'm not familiar with.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah. L.E. White wrote this song. It was one of Conway's
writers.

GROSS: Oh I see.

Ms. LYNN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And so they brought the song to you.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: How did you start recording with Conway Twitty? These duets are
so good.

Ms. LYNN: Me and Conway went overseas. There was a whole crew of people
went overseas to, you know, perform. And me and Conway started singing
in the dressing rooms, so we thought, well, when we get home we'll sing
to Owen Bradley and see what he thinks. So we went home...

GROSS: Owen Bradley was your producer.

Ms. LYNN: Our producer, yeah.

GROSS: And obviously he liked it.

Ms. LYNN: He loved it. He says, ya'll get in the studio and let's
record, so that's what we did.

GROSS: Some of the songs are like, oh, we're so attracted to each other
but it's wrong so we really shouldn't, and then...

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And this one is "After the Fire Has Gone."

Ms. LYNN: "After the Fire Has Gone."

GROSS: So this was recorded in 1970. It went to number one on the
country charts. And..

Ms. LYNN: Yeah, everybody thought me and Conway had a thing going, you
know?

GROSS: Oh, oh, but you didn't?

Ms. LYNN: Because of the songs we recorded. But me and Conway were
friends. We wasn't lovers.

GROSS: Right. So, on the tribute album, on the Loretta Lynn tribute
album "Coal Miner's Daughter," this duet is covered by Steve Earle and
Allison Moorer, who are in fact, married. But we're going hear your
version with Conway Twitty. So here it is.

Ms. LYNN: Okay.

GROSS: This is Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty.

(Soundbite of song, "After the Fire Has Gone")

Ms. LYNN and Mr. CONWAY TWITTY: (Singing) Love is where you find it.

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) When you find no love at home.

Ms. LYNN and Mr. TWITTY: (Singing) And there's nothing cold as ashes
after the fire is gone.

Mr. TWITTY: (Singing) The bottle is almost empty, the clock just now
struck 10:00. Darling, I had to call you to our favorite place again.

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) We know it's wrong for us to meet but the fire's
gone out at home.

Ms. LYNN and Mr. TWITTY: (Singing) And there's nothing cold as ashes
after the fire is gone. Love is where you find it...

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) ...when you find no love at home.

Ms. LYNN and Mr. TWITTY: (Singing) And there's nothing cold as ashes
after the fire is gone.

GROSS: That's Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, recorded in 1970, a song
that went to number one on the country charts. And that song is covered
by Steve Earle and Allison Moorer on the new Loretta Lynn tribute CD
"Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn."

Now there's one kind of song you've written that I haven't asked you
about and that is the I am so angry you better be careful 'cause if you
take my man I will actually hit you kind of song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Is that "Fist City?"

GROSS: I'm thinking of "Fist City," yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Oh.

GROSS: And it's not exactly a sisterhood is powerful kind of song. The
lyric is: if you don't want to go to fist city, you'd better detour
around my town...

Ms. LYNN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...or else I'll grab you by the hair of your head and lift you
off the ground.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: So tell me about writing a lyric like this where, I mean, it's
like real physical anger.

Ms. LYNN: Well, there was an ol' gal that tried to take Doolittle away
from me and...

GROSS: There was somebody who tried that?

Ms. LYNN: Yeah, there was somebody and - but she didn't make it.

GROSS: Did you threaten her?

Ms. LYNN: Yes I did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: With more than a song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And not in rhyme.

Ms. LYNN: That's right. It didn't rhyme it all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What did you tell her?

Ms. LYNN: I just told her back off. She's playing with the wrong Bill.

GROSS: You know, what's amazing to me, like why would somebody that they
could compete with you? And also, maybe I'm speaking out of turn here,
but like, why would your husband...

Ms. LYNN: Well, that's how women take your husband away from you all the
time, so they all think that, you know?

GROSS: Yeah. Right.

Ms. LYNN: Are you married?

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Ms. LYNN: Oh, Lord...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: He'll kill us. He'll kill us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Don't let him hear this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: We're okay.

Ms. LYNN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So was it right after this incident that you sat down and wrote
the song?

Ms. LYNN: You know, I don't know exactly when I wrote the song, but I'm
pretty sure that I had some things in mind when I wrote it. I won't talk
about it.

GROSS: That's fine. But do you think she knew that it was about her?

Ms. LYNN: I just imagine.

GROSS: You imagine that she did?

Ms. LYNN: I imagine she did.

GROSS: Okay.

Ms. LYNN: I probably told her.

GROSS: Oh, nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: Okay. So this is "Fist City." This is Loretta Lynn, one of her
many hits.

(Soundbite of song, "Fist City")

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) You've been making your brags around town that
you've been a loving my man. But the man I love, when he picks up trash
he puts it in a garbage can. And that's what you look like to me and
what I see is a pity. You'd better close your face and stay out of my
way if you don't want to go to Fist City.

If you don't want to go to Fist City you'd better detour around my town
'cause I'll grab you by the hair of the head and I'll lift you off of
the ground. I'm not a saying my baby is a saint ‘cause he ain't and that
he won't cat around with a kitty. I'm here to tell you gal to lay off of
my man if you don't want to go to Fist City.

Come on and tell me what you told my friends if you think you're brave
enough. And I'll show you what a real woman is since you think you're
hot stuff. You'll bite off more than you can chew if you get too cute or
witty. You better move your feet if you don't want to eat a meal that's
called Fist City. If you don't want to go to Fist City...

GROSS: So that was "Fist City" featuring Loretta Lynn. And I should
mention, too, that Loretta Lynn's famous memoir "Coal Miner's Daughter"
has been published in a new edition.

I want to play another song and this is something more recent than what
we've been hearing. This is your collaboration with Jack White. He
produced an album of yours in 2004, "Van Lear Rose." How did you meet?

Ms. LYNN: I went to Detroit to work and Jack White come to see me and,
of course, he told me about when he was little - he was about nine years
old - when "Coal Miner's Daughter" come out, he stayed in the theater
the whole time all day long and watched "Coal Miner's Daughter" over and
over and over.

So when he got a chance to work with me, he says - I told him I had to
go home because I said I've got to hurry because I got to record
tomorrow. He says, well, how about me come and being the producer? I
said, well, why not? That's how we got together. So he was in Nashville
by the time I was and we recorded and that's how we started. He lives
here in Nashville now.

GROSS: Oh, I didn't realize that.

Ms. LYNN: Oh, yeah, he lives here in Nashville.

GROSS: Oh.

Ms. LYNN: So, yeah.

GROSS: So you're good friends now.

Ms. LYNN: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Oh, great.

Ms. LYNN: We've always been good friends, ever since we did the album.

GROSS: The track I want a play is called "Miss Being Mrs." You wrote all
the songs on this album and this is one of my favorites. I like the song
a lot and also I just love how stripped down it is. It's just you and a
guitar. Is that Jack White on guitar?

Ms. LYNN: That's Jack White.

GROSS: Okay. Do you want say anything about writing the song?

Ms. LYNN: Well, you know, I don't like to talk about the way I write
songs. I just let people hear them and they know what I'm talking about.

GROSS: All right. Good enough. So this is Loretta Lynn from the 2004
album, "Van Lear Rose," produced by Jack White, who is accompanying her
on guitar.

(Soundbite of song, "Miss Being Mrs.")

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) I lie here all alone in my bed of memories. I'm
dreaming of your sweet kiss. Oh, how you loved on me. I can almost feel
you with me here in this blue moonlight. Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight.

Like so many other hearts, mine wanted to be free. I've been held here
every day since you've been away from me. My reflection in the mirror,
it's such a hurtful sight. Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight.

Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight. Oh, and how I loved them loving arms that
once held me so tight. I took off my wedding band and put it on my right
hand. I miss being Mrs. tonight.

GROSS: That's my guest Loretta Lynn with Jack White on guitar from the
album "Van Lear Ross," which Jack White produced of Loretta Lynn's songs
in 2004.

Your husband, who we've spoken a little bit about, died in 1996 and you
didn't perform for a while after that. How has your life changed since
he's been gone?

Ms. LYNN: Well, not for the better. I mean, I miss him so much, you
know? He kind of kept things going like me recording and he'd always
tell me how good I was, you know, and that always helped a lot. And he
would say, you know, we need to get a new record out or whatever. He
always kept me moving. And if it hadn't been for him I wouldn't have
been singing, period. Because he thought I could sing and that's - he
put me to work.

GROSS: You know, as so many people are I think kind of baffled a little
bit by the relationship because it seems in some ways to have been a
very rocky relationship, and at the same time you stayed with him
throughout...

Ms. LYNN: We had a - I think we had a relationship; we fought one day
and we'd love the next, so I mean that's - to me that's a good
relationship. If you can't fight and you if can't tell each other what
you think, why, your relationship ain't much anyway.

GROSS: You don't need him anymore to tell him you're a good singer,
right? I mean, you know that, right?

Ms. LYNN: Well, I don't know about that, but I try.

GROSS: So this year was the 50th anniversary of your first single.

Ms. LYNN: Right.

GROSS: This year you've got a Lifetime Achievement Grammy. How much are
you performing now?

Ms. LYNN: I'm performing quite a bit. We've been home for two, three
weeks. It's been quite a bit of time off for us because we don't usually
take that kind of time off. But I work a lot. But I like it. I don't
like to sit down. I don't like to not do something.

GROSS: Well, Loretta Lynn, it's really been great to talk with you.
Thank you so very much.

Ms. LYNN: It's been nice to talk to you, honey.

GROSS: The new Loretta Lynn tribute CD "Coal Miner's Daughter," was
released this week. Lynn is featured on one track with Sheryl Crow and
Miranda Lambert singing the title song.

(Soundbite of song, "Coal Miner's Daughter")

Ms. LYNN, Ms. SHERYL CROW AND Ms. MIRANDA LAMBERT: (Singing) Yeah, I'm
proud to be a coal miner's daughter. I remember well, the well where I
drew water. The work we done was hard at night we'd sleep 'cause we were
tired. I never thought of ever leaving Butcher Holler.

Well a lot of things have changed since way back then and it's so good
to be back home again. Not much left but the floor. Nothing lives here
anymore, except the memories of a coal miner's daughter - except the
memories of a coal miner's daughter.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
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An Honorary Oscar For Actor Eli Wallach

TERRY GROSS, host:

Eli Wallach is getting an honorary Oscar on Saturday, a Lifetime
Achievement Award. The nearly 95-year-old actor has appeared in more
than four dozen films over the past five decades. We're going to listen
back to an excerpt of the interview I recorded with him in 1990.

Tennessee Williams gave Wallach one of his first big breaks, casting him
in a production of the "Rose Tattoo." Wallach made his film debut in
"Baby Doll," which was also written by Williams. In 1960, Wallach was
the heavy in the "The Magnificent Seven." Six years later, he played
another heavy in a film of heavies, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
His other movies include "The Misfits," "The Victors," "How the West Was
Won" and "Godfather III." This year, he was featured in "The Ghost
Writer" and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."

Wallach was a charter member of the Actors Studio, where the actors
practiced a technique that became known as the Method. Here's what he
had to say about the Method.

Mr. ELI WALLACH (Actor): All of it, basically, was an antidote from the
cliche, from the conventional. You know, when an actor says I remember,
and he always looks up at the sky, you think, what is he seeing up
there? But that was a signal that he's remembering. And the Method
basically was to destroy all that and to get to the truth of the
situation. So the studio was like a laboratory. We were professional
actors in the theater, but we could go there and work out. I could go
and do a scene from "Hamlet" with Billy Dunning(ph), for example. I'd do
the closet scene.

I never forget taking Sir Laurence Olivier to the Actors Studio. And he
said well, I can see you're nitpicking now, you know. And I said well,
you did it too. You have your way of working. Olivier, for example, gets
into a character by putting on the externals. He puts on the nose and
the robe and so on, and that's the way he gets it. Others say: Which
comes first? Do you find the truth of the situation?

I've played all sorts of characters, bandits. I've played a lot of
bandits. And one time I figured out, you always see them holding up the
train or breaking into the bank. You never see what they do with the
money. It's always the pursuit of it. I wanted to show the reverse side
of the coin. I wanted to show the wealth this guy ostentatiously had, so
I put on red silk shirts and gold teeth and silver saddles. And that's
the way the Method helps, a kind of a technique that you work at to
bring a character to life.

GROSS: Is that "The Magnificent Seven" you're talking about?

Mr. WALLACH: That was "The Magnificent Seven." Yeah.

GROSS: Since you've brought up how many bandits...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...you've played, let me bring up a couple of films you've played
them in. One is "The Magnificent Seven," and you played the head of a
band of Mexican outlaws...

Mr. WALLACH: Right.

GROSS: ...who raids a village and keeps this village under the outlaw's
control. "The Magnificent Seven" is a group of kind of renegade
freelance fighters who save this Mexican village. How'd you get cast in
that role? First of all...

Mr. WALLACH: I don't know.

GROSS: ...you were Mexican and...

(Soundbite of clearing throat)

Mr. WALLACH: I don't really know. I know that when I first read the
script, I said, well, I want to play crazy - it was based on the "Seven
Samurai."

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WALLACH: I want to play the crazy samurai. Oh, no, they said. That's
the love interest. Horst Buchholz is going to play it. What do you want
me to play? They said the head bandit. I said well, in the Japanese
movie, you just see his horse's hooves, and he's a man with an eye
patch. I don't want to play that.

Then I read the script carefully, and I come in - ride into town on the
first minute of that movie, shoot somebody and ride out. The next 50
minutes of that movie are devoted to me, saying: Is he coming back? When
is he coming? I said I'll do it. I'll do it. And I loved it. I used to
arrive on the set early in the morning, put on my outfit, get on my
horse with my 35 bandits, and we'd go for an hour ride through the brush
in Tepotzotlan, in Mexico. I loved it. I loved it.

GROSS: Did you have to learn gunplay and horse riding for the role?

Mr. WALLACH: No. If it says I shoot somebody, I shoot them. I never
forget what my son said. Yul Brenner shot and killed me in this movie.
And my son was about seven, and he said to me, gee, dad. Couldn't you
outdraw Yul Brenner?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: I said, Peter...

(Soundbite of clearing throat)

Mr. WALLACH: ...when you read the script, you read whether you're shot
or not shot. So I love those kind of films. They're fun.

GROSS: Now another famous Western that you did is "The Good, the Bad and
the Ugly."

Mr. WALLACH: Right.

GROSS: Now this is the most celebrated of the Spaghetti Westerns.

Mr. WALLACH: Correct.

GROSS: And the director, Sergio Leone, is now considered one of the
great directors of our time. He was not known, though, when you worked
with him on the "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." Did you think of him
as a great or a potentially great director then?

Mr. WALLACH: No. When - I was making a film in California when the agent
out there said there's an Italian here who wants you to be in a movie. I
said what kind of movie? He said a Western. I said - he said a Spaghetti
Western. I said that's an anomaly. That's like Hawaiian pizza. I don't
know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: He said he wants you to look at a few minutes of one of his
other movies. And I looked at a few minutes, and I said I'll do it.
Where do you want me to go? He said I want you in Rome on such and such
a date. And I arrived, and I spent the next four-and-a-half months
working every day on that movie. And it was an exhilarating experience.

GROSS: You played a Mexican in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

Mr. WALLACH: Yup.

GROSS: So, once again, you had to do a Mexican accent, but it was a
light one. It was kind of light Mexican accent.

Mr. WALLACH: Yes.

GROSS: I want to play a short clip from the movie.

Mr. WALLACH: Oh.

GROSS: Okay. And this is the scene - if anyone remembers the story, I'm
sure a lot of our listeners do, you and Clint Eastwood this scam going.
There's a big price on your head.

Mr. WALLACH: Right.

GROSS: So Clint Eastwood brings you into the law.

Mr. WALLACH: Right.

GROSS: And just they're about to hang you, he cuts you loose and you
both ride away and you split the bounty.

Mr. WALLACH: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So you split the price that was on your head. So this is after
the first time, when you're about to be hung. Clint Eastwood frees you,
and you're splitting up the bounty.

Mr. WALLACH: Right.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly")

Mr. WALLACH: (as Tuco) There are two kinds of people in the world, my
friend. Those with a rope around their neck and the people who have the
job of doing the cutting. Listen, the neck at the end of the rope is
mine. I run the risks. So the next time, I want more than half.

Mr. CLINT EASTWOOD (Actor): (as Blondie) You may run the risks my
friend, but I do the cutting.

(Soundbite of birds)

Mr. EASTWOOD: (as Blondie) If we cut down my percentage - cigar? Liable
to interfere with my aim.

Mr. WALLACH: (as Tuco) Hmm. But if you miss, you had better miss very
well. Whoever double crosses me and leaves me alive, he understands
nothing about Tuco.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: (as Tuco) Nothing.

GROSS: I love that little sadistic laugh at the end.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: But I don't think it's a very good Mexican accent. I, you
know, it's standardized. It isn't - I didn't do the cliche of a, I
think, maybe I do like that. You know, I don't - I didn't do that. I
wanted specifically to be clear in what I was saying.

GROSS: We're listening back to a 1990 interview with actor Eli Wallach.
He's getting an honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement on Saturday.

We'll hear more of the interview after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our 1990 interview with actor Eli Wallach. He's
getting an honorary Academy Award Saturday for Lifetime Achievement.

In the Italian Westerns that you made, especially in "The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly," everything's dubbed, right...

Mr. WALLACH: Right.

GROSS: ...afterwards?

Mr. WALLACH: Right.

GROSS: So in these international casts, everybody's talking in their own
language...

Mr. WALLACH: Exactly.

GROSS: ...and it's dubbed in afterwards.

Mr. WALLACH: It's the Tower of Babel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: It really is. But you wait until they stop speaking, or you
know what a sense of what they're saying.

GROSS: Why did they do it that way?

Mr. WALLACH: Because it's easier and cheaper. An airplane flies over,
they don't stop a scene. They drop a wrench in the middle of a scene, it
makes a noise, they don't care. Two other Italians over in a corner will
be arguing about something. One director said to an Italian actor who's
playing with me, he said to me, the Italian actor said, I don't like
Americans. I said why? He said I lost my arm in the war. I said well, I
don't know. What could I do? He's not an actor. So the director said I
want you to count from one to 10, angrily. So the man said one, two,
three (Italian spoken). And then when they dub it in, he's playing a
wonderful scene, an angry actor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: Well, that's movies.

GROSS: "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is really one of the most kind
of brutal, sadistic Westerns, in a way...

Mr. WALLACH: No, it's done with tongue in cheek. It's not brutal.

GROSS: I know. I know there's a lot of humor in it. But what kind of
mood did Leone tell you that he wanted?

Mr. WALLACH: One of the things he said to me, he said, I want every shot
to be done like the Vermeer. I want the light to come in from the side
windows. And he said to me, I don't want you to have your gun in a
holster. I said, where will I put it? He said with a lanyard around your
neck. I said, oh. And then it dangles between my knees, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: He said, yeah. He said when you want it, you twist your
shoulders, and I cut and the gun is in your hand. I said, show me. He
put it around his neck, he twisted his shoulder, he missed the gun, it
hit him in the groin, and he said, keep it in your pocket.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: And that's, that's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's interesting that you became a kind of action hero when you
were well, probably in your 50s already.

Mr. WALLACH: When "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?"

GROSS: And "The Magnificent Seven."

Mr. WALLACH: Yeah. No, I was a little younger.

GROSS: No, you must have been in your 40s in "The Magnificent Seven."

Mr. WALLACH: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: But, you know, like today, most action heroes are a lot younger.
It's like they start off in their 20s and 30s playing that kind of role.

Mr. WALLACH: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: Did you feel like it was an odd match?

Mr. WALLACH: Well, you wear very tight pants in these movies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: And to get up on a horse, they'd always have to cut. I'd
put my foot in the stirrup, but then they'd cut away to someone looking
at me, and the next thing I was on the horse.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: So, no, I tell, you in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," I
did most of the stunts, and they were very dangerous. I was sitting on a
horse with a noose around my neck, and Clint's supposed to shoot the
rope. Then - they put a little charge of dynamite in the rope, and it
would explode. And then I would ride off on this horse. I said, did you
put any cotton in the horse's ears? They said, what do you mean, cotton
in the horse's ears? I said he can hear the explosion. He's going to be
terrified. My hands are tied behind me.

Well, they didn't do it. They shot the rope, and that horse took off. I
- and I'm riding not using reins, just using my knees and praying that
that horse would eventually stop, and eventually he did. But it was
frightening. The horses I get in America, in American films are trained.
They know how to hit their marks. They shift their weight. They look
great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: But when you get into a foreign movie and they bring out a
horse, I say I want the gentlest, sweetest horse. And he usually turns
around and looks at me when I sit on him and thinks, oh, God. I've got
this guy for three weeks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLACH: But I like riding.

GROSS: I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. WALLACH: Pleasure.

GROSS: Eli Wallach, recorded in 1990. On Saturday, he's getting an
honorary Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
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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.

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