Skip to main content

A Mainstream News Reporter Reacts to Larry Flynt's Exposés

Linda Douglass is the senior congressional correspondent for ABC News. She'll talk about how she handles rumors and allegations of officials' sex lives, and she'll tell us her opinion of the Flynt investigations.

09:09

Other segments from the episode on December 22, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 22, 1998: Interview with Larry Flynt; Interview with Linda Douglass; Interview with Randy Newman.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 22, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122201np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Larry Flynt
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Who would have thought that "Hustler" magazine publisher Larry Flynt, that ambiguous figure and First Amendment lore, would become a major player in the impeachment story? As Ken Starr's investigation into the president's relationship with Monica Lewinsky heated up earlier this year, Flynt took out a full page ad in Washington, DC papers offering a million dollars to women who could prove they had adulterous affairs with members of Congress.

Since then Flynt's team of investigators has been checking out these claims. Last Thursday, House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston said he knew his personal life was being investigated. He admitted to having had affairs, but said he wouldn't be intimidated. On Saturday, he announced he would resign from Congress. Late yesterday, we spoke with Larry Flynt about his investigation and his motivation.

GROSS: Had you told Livingston that you were investigating his private life?

LARRY FLYNT, PUBLISHER "HUSTLER" MAGAZINE: Yes, he was aware of it.

GROSS: Did you want him to be aware of it?

FLYNT: Not particularly, but there were several sources involved, and I'm sure that they spoke with him.

GROSS: Is his resignation an example of the kind of reaction you were looking for when you started this investigation? Is this what you wanted?

FLYNT: No. When I ran the ad in "The Washington Post" offering up to a million dollars for women to come forth that had had an adulterous affair with their congressman or senator, I only wanted to expose the hypocrisy that existed in Washington. In that if they were going to sit in judgment of the president, then they should not have any skeletons in their closet.

GROSS: A lot of people are surprised that if you had this information you didn't publish it sooner to coincide with the impeachment hearings.

FLYNT: Well, you see, we made a calculated decision. We ran the ad in "The Post" that anything that turned up from the ad, we'd do everything in one expose. And considering that Livingston himself upstaged us, I think it was probably a bad decision.

So, since there is still some other members of Congress that are under investigation that we feel pretty confident about, we may rethink our position on how we're going to release the reports.

GROSS: Now, do these other congressmen that you're investigating know that you're trying to get dirt on them?

FLYNT: I can't say in absolute certainty that they do, but one of the last things that we do in an investigation is to contact the person being accused to give them an opportunity to admit or deny.

GROSS: What's the difference to you whether somebody admits or denies? Do you go forward one way or the other? Does it change the tone of your article?

FLYNT: No, it doesn't change the tone of the article, because we just feel it's only the right thing to do because we're not going to approach them if we don't have the evidence.

GROSS: So you're asking somebody to confirm or deny for purposes of truthfulness so that -- for purposes of accuracy?

FLYNT: No, just to give them an opportunity.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

FLYNT: You know, I realize that the landscape is changing on this form of investigation, because if someone makes an accusation you can go with it and then it's up to the party being accused to admit or deny. But I felt when I started out that I had to employ the highest standards of journalism in doing this investigation because I didn't want people to dismiss it by saying, "Consider the source."

GROSS: So, what are you doing to fact check the allegations that women have sent in to you?

FLYNT: Well, I have two of the best investigative reporters in the country, and I also hired a firm in Washington, DC that is made up of all former FBI and CIA operatives who are assisting the investigation and they're working in anonymity. That was the only way I could get them to undertake the project.

GROSS: The reporters are anonymous too?

FLYNT: Yes.

GROSS: Are you paying them a lot of money?

FLYNT: A lot of money.

GROSS: So, what's the response been so far to your ad?

FLYNT: We got over 2,000 calls within the first 10 days after we ran the ad, but most of those were all bogus or crank calls, so we narrowed it down to 48 that we felt deserved the merit of our investigation. And then we narrowed it down now to about 10 that is very active.

GROSS: Now, how have you decided which congressmen to -- is a congressmen -- is it senators and people in the House?

FLYNT: Only one senator, everybody else is House members except one high-ranking official in the Republican organization.

GROSS: Now, are you using your own political feelings to prioritize who really gets the sternest investigation? In other words -- for example, say there is somebody whose politics you agree with and who you feel also hasn't moralized sexually, but they've had affairs. Would you investigate them anyway?

FLYNT: Look, I'm the first to concede that I'm totally partisan in this issue. I just felt it was absurd in terms of what they're doing to the president or trying to do to the president. And, you know, I still think that people's sex lives should remain private, and I know that sounds like a paradox with me exposing the sex lives of people on the Hill, but, you know, desperate times require desperate measures.

When Ken Starr and Henry Hyde got in the mud first, I just decided to jump in there with them, and it's not going to end until someone raises the white flag because I'm going all the way on this.

GROSS: Yeah, but, you know, a lot of people have been using the term "Sexual McCarthyism" and obviously that's something that you would like to fight, but aren't you just kind of adding to it by investigating people's private lives like this?

FLYNT: Well, look what they did to the president. I'm a big supporter of President Clinton. I voted for him twice. I think he's done a good job as president, and those right-wing Republican bullies, you know, they deserve everything they've got coming to them because they should not be sitting in judgment on the president if they've got skeletons in their own closet.

GROSS: Why did you first take out the ad offering to pay women for information about congressmen who had had adulterous affairs with them?

FLYNT: Well, you know I did that in 19 -- I did the exact same thing in 1976 after the Wayne Hayes-Liz Ray debacle where you had this girl on the payroll that did not know how to type or answer the phone, you know. So, this is not something new. I mean, after a quarter of the century, and I was basically just wanting to expose the hypocrisy in Washington.

No one else was addressing this issue. I mean, the mainstream media has a lot of the same sort of information that I have. They don't deal with it unless they absolutely have to.

GROSS: How do you know that the mainstream media have some of the same information?

FLYNT: Because I've got a very few people -- quite a few people that are good friends of mine that I talk to on a regular basis.

GROSS: What kind of...

FLYNT: ... I have even gotten -- I have even got tips from people who can't get their own organization to go with the story, and they give it to me.

GROSS: What kind of reaction have you gotten, though, from mainstream journalists? Have you heard from a lot of journalists who think that you are doing something that's going to be very problematic, very bad for journalism?

FLYNT: Well, it cuts both ways. Some people see me as this stumphead, I just like for them to call me Mr. Stumphead. There are other people that see me as doing something very courageous. So, there's both sides of the coin.

GROSS: Some people have wondered if the White House is behind or at least connected with your investigation. Any connection?

FLYNT: No way whatsoever. I get asked that at almost every interview, and I don't take my marching orders from the White House. I have no contacts inside the White House.

GROSS: Are you leaking them any information?

FLYNT: Absolutely not. But they'll be getting a lot of it.

GROSS: What do you mean they'll be getting a lot of it?

FLYNT: Well, there's more shoes to drop, and there are some big fish in there too.

GROSS: What's the status of your investigation now? What are your plans -- how many more people are you looking into?

FLYNT: Well, we have approximately a dozen investigations that we believe very strongly in, and we're very close to wrapping them up now. So, we're going to making the decision on how the information is to be released.

GROSS: Will it most likely be released in "Hustler" magazine or are you thinking about other outlets?

FLYNT: Well, see, that's the problem. If it were released in "Hustler", you know, we're working on the March issue now. So, there's a thought among our people that that's too long. That we should just release it at a press conference and post it on the Internet, but we're going to be -- we're going to be making that decision sometime this week.

GROSS: So, what's the soonest that you'll make the information available do you think?

FLYNT: Oh, I would say within a few days.

GROSS: OK. Just one last question. What's it like for you to suddenly be a player in one of the most important political stories of the century? Is this a role you had ever envisioned for yourself?

FLYNT: Look, I've been shot, paralyzed, imprisoned, thrown in jail in the last 25 years for fighting for free expression of the First Amendment, and I consider this all, you know, just part of that battle.

GROSS: Well, Larry Flynt, thank you very much for talking with us.

FLYNT: Thank you.

GROSS: Larry Flynt is the publisher of "Hustler" magazine. We called Congressman Bob Livingston's office for a response, and his aide referred us to Livingston's public response last Thursday.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Larry Flynt
High: Larry Flynt joins us to discuss his investigation into the private lives of congresspeople. Flynt is the publisher of "Hustler" magazine. He says he's gathering information on other officials, not just Robert Livingston, who resigned as Speaker of the House, and from Congress altogether, following the release of information on his affairs.
Spec: Politics; Pornography; Media; Government; Congress; Larry Flynt

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Larry Flynt

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 22, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122202NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Linda Douglas
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:18

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Larry Flynt says that he decided to expose the sexual hypocrisies of congressmen because the mainstream press was unwilling to do it even though they had some of the same information he did. This morning we called Linda Douglas, ABC's senior congressional correspondent and asked for her reaction to Flynt's investigation.

Larry Flynt says that members of the mainstream press have some of the information that he has, but they just wouldn't print it. I'm wondering if you've had access to information about the private lives of congressmen that you are considering going with or have chosen not to go with.

LINDA DOUGLAS, ABC NEWS SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. What mainstream reporters get most the time are 15th hand rumors; buzzes in the hallways, scuttlebutt, gossip, that sort of thing. The kind of information that no good reporter should ever go with.

I think the difference here is that we don't really take the time to check it out. I can't recall ever having made a series of phone calls to try to chase down a rumor about somebody's private life.

GROSS: Larry Flynt's point of view is some of the people in Congress are hypocrites. They are trying to force the president out of office because of his infidelities when these members of Congress have had infidelities themselves.

So Larry Flynt has taken on the job of exposing the hypocrisy, and I'm wondering if, from your point of view, that argument holds. That these congressmen are being hypocrites and therefore the press ought to be revealing their infidelities.

DOUGLAS: Well, I think the first part is slightly correct, not totally correct, but a little correct. And the second part isn't. That is that there is some hypocrisy on the part of members of Congress who criticize the president's morality with respect to infidelity, not other aspects of his morality.

Does that mean that the hypocrisy is so relevant to the debate that we should be finding out which ones of them are hypocrites when it comes to infidelity? I think the answer there is no, because, in the case of Clinton, what's really at issue with many of the journalists who covered Clinton all the way through his '92 campaign is the question of his candor, is the question of his honesty.

That is as much a part of this issue involving the president and the members as is the infidelity itself. Now, when you have a member of Congress who is a serial infidel, someone who regularly cheats on his wife and who then also represents himself as a Christian right, conservative champion of family values; you have to think that through because that is a hypocritical position for him to be taking. If he's a guy who is less than faithful in his private life, but promotes faith in his public life you're dealing with hypocrisy there.

GROSS: You say that people in the mainstream press had heard rumors about congressional affairs, maybe including Livingston's affairs, and decided not to pursue it. At least the people you know decided not to pursue it. Would there have been a point where, if you had the information, you would have decided to pursue it?

DOUGLAS: Well, if Livingston, and I didn't personally here rumors about Livingston, others of my colleagues did. We hear so many rumors in the hallways of the Capitol. I mean, you should just know that there's nothing unusual about this, it's just, you know, constant whispering going on about everything just because there's a lot of people here.

But I suppose if Livingston had condemned President Clinton for infidelity, and called him an immoral man because he cheated on his wife, and had made an issue of that aspect of the story then I think we would have to think pretty hard about finding out if he was being hypocritical.

But most of the Republicans who attacked the president were aware that they would open themselves up to those kinds of investigations, and they were all very careful. And, in fact, many of them deeply believe that this was not about the president's sex life, it was really about his truthfulness.

And so then the question with Livingston is whether there was something he was lying about. Whether it was infidelity or some other issue. If he's condemning the president for lying, is he lying about something too?

GROSS: A lot of people would argue that even though the Republicans are saying this is about lying, it's not about sex, that the Starr report was so filled with sex and so filled with whose hand was where, and what did they do with the cigar, and, you know, did they complete the act and all of that; that it's disingenuous, some would say, to say this isn't about sex.

DOUGLAS: I think you're absolutely right. And that is why I felt compelled in my reporting to put some of the more graphic exchanges between the members of the judiciary committee into the stories I put on. This is about lying, but it is also about lying about sex.

And the public is obviously making a judgment about that, and so I think it would be disingenuous of us as journalists to side step the substance of what the lie is about. Now, whether the Republicans are also taking the next step in condemning the president for cheating on his wife or for having this relationship with a woman who's younger -- all the sexual aspects of this.

That doesn't -- they've been very careful not to do that, so, therefore, pursuing them for hypocrisy in that area is a little questionable. But, certainly, we can't make the case that this, at the heart of this story about the president, is his sexual behavior with Monica Lewinsky.

GROSS: Larry Flynt has paid people to come forward and give information about affairs they had -- adulterous affairs they had with members of Congress. Do you think that's going to effect your work?

DOUGLAS: Well, we do have a policy at ABC News where we don't pay anybody for news. And that should be the policy that is adhered to by every journalist. You cannot trust information that comes to you as a result of a payment.

I mean, I feel the same my about police snitches in many ways, and witnesses in court, and expert witnesses and so forth. People who take money to give information to the public are not the most trustworthy people. So, I don't think that that aspect of his investigation will have anything to do with the way it we report the story.

I also don't think that his revelation, if they really do destroy a couple of public officials by the end of this siege of his in January, will encourage the rest of us to go out and snoop around into people's private lives. I think there still is the belief, you know, starting with Gary Hart and moving up until today; that it has to be something which effects the public actions of the public official or it's really not relevant.

GROSS: Now, you're saying that you wouldn't go with the type of information that Larry Flynt is beginning to make public now. On the other hand, Larry Flynt is planning on holding a press conference to make information public about other congressional investigations he has begun with information he's ready to go public with about the sex lives of other congressmen.

I imagine most of the mainstream press will be represented at that press conference, and that eventually they will be publishing or going on the air with that information even though they chose not to investigate themselves.

DOUGLAS: Well, luckily that's not a decision I'm going to have to make. That's going to be a decision that will be made by my bosses at ABC News. And I think it's going to be a tough decision. I don't know how we can avoid covering it because it is going to be, as you say, a big story.

On the other hand, do we destroy people's lives because Larry Flynt has taken money from informants and put it out there. He's claiming that it's true, he's claiming he's investigated it, but I'm not sure how we're going to handle that. I mean, that is really -- that's really a decision that I, luckily, don't have to make.

What I suspect may happen, though, and this is something I would have to deal with, is that as Livingston did; some of these members will get wind of the fact that "Hustler" magazine's Larry Flynt is about to identify them as infidels, and they'll come out and make public statements before Flynt even does his thing.

That is probably something that we will have to deal with because that will spark a reaction among that members colleagues, and it might even cause a member to resign. So, those are the kinds of things that -- I would certainly have to deal with those.

GROSS: Linda Douglas is ABC News senior congressional correspondent.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Linda Douglas
High: Linda Douglas is the senior congressional correspondent for ABC News. She'll talk about how she handles rumors and allegations of officials' sex lives, and she'll tell us her opinion of the Flynt investigation.
Spec: Politics; Government; Media; Congress; Pornography; Linda Douglas

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Linda Douglas

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 22, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122203NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Randy Newman
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER-SONGWRITER, RANDY NEWMAN)

You're the miracle
You get fooled deep
Won't have to run through the jungle
And scuff up your feet

You just sing about Jesus
And drink wine all day
It's great to be an American

GROSS: That's Randy Newman singing one of his best-known songs. It's included on his new four CD box set, "Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman." It collects his studio recordings, including such classic says "Davy The Fat Boy," "Lonely at the Top," "Political Science," "Rednecks," and "Short People." It also features demos and other previously unreleased tracks. And his scores from such films as "Rag Time," "The Natural," "Parenthood," and "Toy Story."

Randy Newman, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

RANDY NEWMAN, SINGER-SONGWRITER; MUSICIAN: It's good to be here.

GROSS: I want to focus on that third CD, the CD of mostly demos and previously unreleased material. The first song on that CD is called "Golden Gridiron Boy," and this is a song about not getting the girls and not being a football hero. How did you write this song?

NEWMAN: I don't know. It sounds like I wrote it with my foot. No, but I was 18 -- actually I got it wrong, it should have been "Gridiron Golden Boy." I mean, that's the way I wrote it, but I must have got flustered at the recording session.

And I think Lenny Waronker called me and says, why don't you write a song -- I started writing songs when I was, like, 16, and it was football season and he was a giant football fan and I was a football fan. And he says, why don't you write a football song?

As if it were, you know -- the last one, I think, was the Desi Arnaz movie which was like 30 years before anyway. As if it weren't a completely archaic form in the first place. Besides, you know, the nerd doesn't end up getting the girl or anything. It was a very strange effort.

GROSS: Speaking of strange, this record was produced by Pat Boone. How did you get hooked up with Pat Boone?

NEWMAN: My father was a doctor and Pat Boone was a patient. And he heard me sing, and was one of the first people, actually, that liked the way I sung. So, I'm forever grateful to him.

GROSS: Now, did you think of yourself as needing to make a good clean fun Pat Boone kind of record?

NEWMAN: No, I didn't think anything. I said, there it was and they got an arranger, and I went in there and they had this silly cheering on it. I don't know if I thought it was silly at the time. I would hope so.

GROSS: Let's hear "Golden Gridiron Boy." Do you want to say anything else about it before we spin it?

NEWMAN: No, I'll say what I said in the liner notes of the box set, love means never having to say you're sorry.

GROSS: OK, this is Randy Newman recorded in 1962.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER-SONGWRITER RANDY NEWMAN PERFORMING "GOLDEN GRIDIRON BOY")

In his football uniform
He looks 10 feet tall
All the girls run after him
And my girl is in front of them all

Cause he's a football hero
She's in love with him
In every game
It's still the same

She talks of nothing but him
When he makes a touchdown
She goes wild with joy
And every score I lose more ground

To her golden Gridiron boy
I'm too small to make the team
I can only play in the band
But I'm big enough

To have a dream
That one day she'll understand
And I'm the one who loves her
And he loves the cheers of the crowd

One day she'll see what she means to me
And I know that she'll be proud
Well I'm too small to make the team
I can only play in the band

But I'm big enough
To have a dream
That one day she'll understand
He's just after glory

That's all he ever wants
And that's the inside story
Of a golden gridiron boy
Yeah that's the inside story

Of a Golden Gridiron boy

GROSS: Randy Newman, did you expect that to be a hit?

NEWMAN: No, I didn't. I don't think I did.

GROSS: And you were right.

NEWMAN: I was right, yeah. I almost never -- all it's been is like a skeleton in the closet. But, you know, it's a very sad, sad song when I really listen to it. The guy -- I'm too small to make the team, wow.

GROSS: I can only play in the band.

NEWMAN: Quite an admission, yeah. I didn't exactly have my finger on the pulse of the American public's desire for heroes, you know.

GROSS: So, did this experience discourage you since nothing happened with the record or did it encourage you because at least you got a record made?

NEWMAN: No, it was -- I knew it was an aberration. I hadn't planned on having a career as a singer in anyway. For a while thereafter I just wrote and that's when I thought, I do, and then vaguely I thought I'd do movies someday like my uncles did. I kept studying music.

So, I don't remember it as being very important to me. I mean, there's nothing less important than a record you put out that disappears in half a day, you know. I don't remember waiting, oh boy, this could be -- you know, I could go on one of those Dick Clark tours. I didn't think of it that way.

GROSS: So, you weren't expecting to be a singer, but you were hoping to be a songwriter. You were a songwriter. You were writing for a publishing company.

NEWMAN: That I was.

GROSS: What was your image of the songwriter back then? This is a kind of a transitional period in the early '60s. You know, you're past Tin Pan Alley, you're kind of in the end of the Leiber and Stoller era, and right at the kind of dawn of the period where bands were going to be writing their own songs.

NEWMAN: The image that I cherish and love is the image -- I don't know whether you would remember who -- I remember Donald O'Connor and Sid Field. I think they used to play this song where they'd say, listen to this, listen to this. Jimmy Cagney had a movie like that once, except he was a writer. I can't think of what it was -- with Pat O'Brien.

I loved the idea of these two guys getting all excited about some Korean War song or something. The image I had was that ancient motion picture image of Tin Pan Alley and, you know, two guys hammering it out. And it was also of Carole King and Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and the people who were very successful contemporaneously with my attempts to write songs for people.

GROSS: Randy Newman is my guest, and he has a new box set called "Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman." I want to get to another track from the third CD on your four CD box set, and this is the CD of demos and other mostly previously unreleased material.

This is a song called "Love Is Blind" which is -- just as the first song that we heard, "Golden Gridiron Boy," is very out a character for you. This kind of cheerful -- well not cheerful, but an upbeat football song.

NEWMAN: It's a generic lyric.

GROSS: Yeah. Exactly.

NEWMAN: That's what it is.

GROSS: Right. You say in the notes that you wrote it when you were 18.

NEWMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: So, you were 18 and already writing that love is bitter, love is hopeless, love is blind. It leads me to think that you already had a sense of your self as writing more dark and cynical songs than your average songwriter.

NEWMAN: Well, there were some pretty lugubrious love songs. I mean, a lot of them are pretty bleak, you know, you stop loving her today, and a lot of country things. But I was a pretty down cat, I guess. I don't know.

GROSS: Well, let's hear this song "Love Is Blind" written in about 1962. The recording we'll hear is 1968. And this is from Randy Newman's box set "Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER-SONGWRITER RANDY NEWMAN PERFORMING "LOVE IS BLIND")

They say that love is a sweet thing
And for lovers the sun will always shine
But in spite of what they say
I think of love this way

Love is bitter love is hopeless love is blind
I learned the hard way
Love can last through the years
I've spent a thousand empty years today

Hiding behind veiled tears
Now poets may write about love
Wise men may say his prayer
But I'll always remember

As I go through the empty days
Love is bitter love is hopeless love is blind

GROSS: That was "Blind" one of the demos on Randy Newman's box set, "Guilty." What were you saying there?

NEWMAN: I was laughing at the ending. I was just sort of aimless wandering, you know, in the motion picture movie business we call it "grazing."

LAUGHTER

I was waiting to end it. I know where I should have gone, but I didn't go there. It made me laugh.

GROSS: Well, that was a demo. Did you ever record it other than that for yourself?

NEWMAN: No. I never thought enough of it.

GROSS: Well, I like it a lot. Why don't you like it?

NEWMAN: I do too.

GROSS: OK.

NEWMAN: Oh, "veil of tears."

GROSS: Oh, sure.

NEWMAN: Things like that. Yeah, sure, but I grew to not be able to stand that stuff coming from myself. I mean, I'll listen to records and love them, and they'll have lyrics like that in them. But I can't do it. You know, it's like if you know better, don't do it.

GROSS: I just figured I could put kind of like quotes around the veil of tears and say, oh, that's a little tip of the hat to the genre.

NEWMAN: Well, that's being too kind. It's just, you know, none of it was heartfelt and I don't think I'd been in love with anybody. I certainly didn't have all the sophisticated, you know, bitter and blind at 18. So, I mean, I hope not.

But I just didn't think of recording it. I like it too. I like everywhere it goes. There's a harmonic, you know, structure of it -- it sounds like me. It's what I do today.

GROSS: My guest is Randy Newman. His new box set is called "Guilty." We'll talk more after our break.

This Is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest is Randy Newman, and he has a new four CD box set called "Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman."

When you started to think of yourself as a singer who could do the songs that you were writing, how did it change your songwriting?

NEWMAN: Oh, that's really a good question. I think it made it more difficult because I was stricter about what I would say. Now, "veil of tears," I'd have been happy if, you know, Neil Diamond had recorded it or somebody else had recorded it. Garth Brooks, you know, even now.

But I'm not going to say "veil of tears" unless it's a movie and it's really called for. It would take a lot -- the situation would have to be, or almost would have to be a "veil of tears" for me to do it.

GROSS: I think that your becoming a singer opened up your songs in terms of subject matter too. I mean, how many other singers would be willing to sing songs in the persona of a racist or of someone who is very basic and unsure of themselves in a way that a lot of the characters in your songs are?

NEWMAN: True. Actually, you know, there's more of it lately than there ever has been. Alanis Morrisette does it, you know, a lot of these great girl writers are willing to admit to insecurities and bad behavior with knowledge. People write songs when they behave badly, you know, "She's Having My Baby," and things like that. And don't realize it, you know.

But if it's a conscious, artistic thing, you know, some of the rap is that way. It's very unusual, you're right. It's an unusual persona -- to take on a persona that's less than heroic or admirable. But I started doing it in '65, and I still didn't think of myself as necessarily having a recording career. I'm so precise about this date, because of this box set I can hear that "Simon Smith" was the first song that I wrote that was a little, I believe, a little off center. Maybe there was an earlier one, I don't know.

GROSS: Well, I want to get to another song from the third CD of the box set. And again, this is the CD with the previously unreleased sessions and the demos. And a couple of the tracks from the CD are from a live album that was released, though I think it might not have been terrifically distributed.

And the song I want to play is called "Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong." And it's a waltz about sex not quite measuring up to what it's supposed to be.

NEWMAN: Or the individual not measuring -- yeah, yeah, you're right. You're right.

GROSS: Well, both. Insecure about his performance and the response that he's getting in himself.

NEWMAN: That's right, yeah.

GROSS: So many pop songs are supposed to be sung in the voice of the seducer who's bragging about how good a lover he is. Did you intend this to subvert that kind of song.

NEWMAN: Yeah. And it's really a great idea because it's a widespread thing, you know, people don't necessarily talk about it. You have no idea from knowing the person, in my experiences at least, what they're like sexually or -- you can't even guess at that. That and money.

You can try and borrow five dollars from somebody you've known for 30 years and they won't give it to you, and it's a complete unknown. And I really like -- this song is short, but I always thought it was a great idea for a song. I wished I'd done more, but I couldn't think of what more to do.

GROSS: Let's hear it. This is "Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER-SONGWRITER RANDY NEWMAN PERFORMING "MAYBE I'M DOING IT WRONG")

Maybe I'm doing it wrong
Maybe I'm doing it wrong
Just don't move me the way that it should
Maybe I'm doing it wrong

There ain't no book you can read
There ain't nobody telling him
And don't think I'm getting
What everyone's getting

Maybe I'm doing it wrong
Sometimes I'll throw off a good one
At least I think it is
No I know it is

I shouldn't be thinking at all
I shouldn't be thinking at all
Maybe I'm doing it wrong
Maybe I'm doing it wrong

Just don't move me the way that it should
Maybe I'm doing it wrong

GROSS: That's "Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong" from Randy Newman's 1971 album "Live." It's included in his new box set "Guilty." We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest is Randy Newman, and he has a new CD box set called "Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman."

This is a really good season for you in the movies. You wrote the score for "Pleasantville."

NEWMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And for "A Bug's Life," and I think you have one song in "Babe," in the new "Babe."

NEWMAN: And one in "You've Got Mail."

GROSS: Wow. That's a lot.

NEWMAN: (SINGING) It's a Randy Newman Christmas. Everybody gets to go. It's a Randy Newman Christmas, so go out and see the show.

GROSS: Shows.

NEWMAN: Yeah, but I can't. I could. I'm not Steven Sondheim, I'm not that strict.

GROSS: Yeah, well, it's funny that, you know, Mr. Cynic, Randy Newman, has all this Christmas movies.

NEWMAN: That wasn't bad.

GROSS: That wasn't bad. Your next box set can include that out take.

NEWMAN: Yeah, the Randy Newman Christmas.

GROSS: Yeah. So, I do think it's kind of funny that you, of all people, should have all these Christmas movies now.

NEWMAN: It is, but I mean, you know, I can do it. I mean, my music has always been -- I've always liked pretty music sort of. And yet, my literary sensibility is not, you know, "The Little Match Girl." So, there's a bit of a dichotomy.

GROSS: You come from a film music extended family. Your uncles were Lionel and Alfred Newman.

NEWMAN: Emil Newman (ph), the forgotten Newman.

GROSS: Alfred Newman was head of music for 20th Century Fox. Film scores include "Grapes of Wrath," "Hunchback of Notre Dame," "Captain from Castillo," "All about Eve," "Wuthering Heights." Did your uncles being in the film music business help you think about music as being part of storytelling?

NEWMAN: Maybe. The first album sounded like I was trying very much to get things in the right place, to put people -- the song "Cowboy," you know, I didn't use a piano on it because it was an indoor instrument. It used to be in movies you pay attention to stuff like that where -- I didn't like it when I heard a piano outside somehow. It took me inside.

Now, they've done it so often that I don't think the convention necessarily holds anymore. But, yeah, I think it probably did. I had never thought of it before, but yeah.

GROSS: Did having them in the family prevent you from being willing to sell your soul in order to make it in Hollywood?

NEWMAN: I never had a romantic view of Hollywood, and I never had -- because, you know, the actors weren't around by the time they were working on the picture. And I would see that, you know, I'd hear them talk about this director or that actor or actress. There was never any glamour to it, for me, particularly.

I don't know. Maybe you sell your soul a little when you do a movie anyway -- movie music. But I don't feel that way, I think I've done some of my best work writing stuff that I never would have gotten to had I not been -- had not the movie dictated that I write something like that.

Like "The Natural," I mean, I'm not going to write heroic music like that, I don't think. Or at least if I did, it would be very dissonant I think. And I'm glad I got to it.

GROSS: I thought we could hear some of your new orchestral movie music, and this is not from the box set, this is from the CD of "A Bug's Life," and you did the score for the movie. And I thought we'd play "Victory." This is a really interesting piece. I don't know if you remember them by name or not. Is that a no?

NEWMAN: No, I don't remember them.

GROSS: Well, why don't I play some of this and then you can tell us a little bit about writing it and about how it's used in the actual movie.

NEWMAN: Sure.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- "VICTORY" COMPOSED BY SINGER-SONGWRITER RANDY NEWMAN FOR THE FILM "A BUG'S LIFE")

GROSS: Music Randy Newman composed for the film "A Bug's Life." Some of that really hearkens back to classic adventure film scores.

NEWMAN: Yeah, but it's 20th-century, you know. I might not have known I could do that if -- had it not called for it. It's a grasshopper chasing a -- flying through the air chasing an ant, but to me it's -- but it brought forth in me some sort of, you know, like Bartok on a bad day. At least, you know, it's sort of decent 20th-century music. And technically difficult.

And unbelievably well played by, you know, there's one crummy horn entrance, but that's all right. But those musicians had that music, and then we did in an hour and a half -- that one thing. And that is really difficult for everybody.

For the piccolo players, for the horn players, phenomenally difficult, for the trumpet players sort of difficult, and the violin players, very very difficult. It's an unbelievable orchestra that we have out here, and the best reading orchestra -- there couldn't be a better one in the world. It's impossible. They sit down and a play that thing, and that's hard.

GROSS: It must be pretty exiting for you to hear played what you've only heard in your head before.

NEWMAN: Yep. It's about the best thing I do. I like it so much that I'm willing to put up with a lot of down side to that job to do that. I really liked hearing that just now.

Listening to me sing, it's more important -- songs, I guess, and songwriting, but I don't know how loud this is in the movie, but it's not the main thing going on. When the ant gets away, is the main thing. But I like that.

GROSS: It sounds really good to me.

NEWMAN: Yeah, me too.

GROSS: Randy Newman, thank you very much for talking with us.

NEWMAN: Great pleasure, as always.

GROSS: Randy Newman's new four CD box set, "Guilty," is on Rhino Records.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Randy Newman
High: Singer-songwriter Randy Newman. Rhino Records has just released "Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman," a new four CD box set that includes an entire disc of previously unreleased tracks. Newman's most popular songs include "Short People" and "I Love L.A." He's also written music for the films "Ragtime," "The Natural," and "Toy Story" among many others. His last album was "Faust," and he's planning on releasing a new album soon.
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Profiles; Randy Newman

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Randy Newman
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

42:54

John Brown And Abraham Lincoln: Divergent Paths In The Fight To End Slavery

In The Zealot and the Emancipator, historian H.W. Brands reflects on two 19th century leaders who fought the institution of slavery in different ways: one radical and the other reformist.

31:39

How Women Have Been 'Profoundly' Left Out Of The U.S. Constitution

As a teen, Heidi Schreck debated the Constitution in competitions. A film of her Broadway play, What the Constitution Means to Me, is now available on Amazon Prime. Originally broadcast March 2019.

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