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Matt Weiner's 'Mad Men,' A Dazzling Product

Two Golden Globe wins, 16 Emmy nominations, and a new season on its way: The AMC television drama Mad Men seems on its way to making itself a household name. Celebrating its success is creator Matt Weiner.

20:49

Other segments from the episode on July 18, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 18, 2008: Interview with Matt Weiner; Interview with Jo Stafford; Obituary for Janwillem van de Wetering; Review of the new documentary film "Gonzo."

Transcript

DATE July 18, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Matt Weiner discusses AMC show "Mad Men" and his
writing career
DAVE DAVIES, host:

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

"Mad Men," the AMC drama series set in a 1960 Madison Avenue advertising firm,
has just been nominated for 16 Emmy awards, including Best Drama Series, as
well as Best Art Direction, Costumes and Hairstyles. "Mad Men" takes us back
to a time and place where men in suits and brylcreemed hair ruled the
workplace, fueling their long hours with martinis, cigarettes, and
Alka-Seltzer. They made their living figuring out what made Americans buy
stuff. In this scene, ad man Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, is talking to a
waiter, played by Mark McGann, about why the waiter smokes Old Golds instead
of the brand of Draper's client, Lucky Strikes.

(Soundbite of "Mad Men")

Mr. JON HAMM: (As Don Draper) What is it? I mean, low tar? Those new
filters? I mean, why Old Gold?

Mr. MARK McGANN: (As waiter) They gave them to us in the service, a carton a
week for free.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) So you're used to them, is that it?

Mr. McGANN: (As waiter) Yeah, they're habit.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) I could never get you to try another brand, say my
Luckys?

Mr. McGANN: (As waiter) I love my Old Golds.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) All right. Well, let's just say tomorrow a
tobacco weevil comes and eats every last Old Gold on the planet.

Mr. McGANN: (As waiter) That's a sad story.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) It's a tragedy. Would you just stop smoking?

Mr. McGANN: (As waiter) I think I could find something. I love smoking.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) "I love smoking." That's very good.

Mr. McGANN: (As waiter) My wife hates it. Reader's Digest says it will kill
you.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) Yeah, I heard about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McGANN: (As waiter) Ladies love their magazines.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) Yes, they do.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer: (Singing) Just want...

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: A scene from AMC series "Mad Men." The first season is now out on
DVD. Our guest is Matt Weiner, the series creator, executive producer, and
writer of several episodes. He spent four years on "The Sopranos" as a writer
and executive producer. I spoke to Matt Weiner last August about creating
"Mad Men."

Well, Matt Weiner, welcome to FRESH AIR. Why was this a particularly
interesting moment for American advertising?

Mr. MATT WEINER: Well, it's interesting for American advertising because
it's sort of seen as the--1959 is actually the beginning of what's seen as the
creative revolution, and it begins with Doyle Dane Bernbach's ad for
Volkswagen, which is "Think Small," which had a very--first of all, it was
done by Jews and Italians, which was not the mainstream in advertising.
Advertising was about selling you an idealized version of yourself, and
suddenly there was this very subversive joke basically about advertising. It
was graphically different. It spoke directly to the audience and it said,
`Yeah, we're trying to sell you something. Isn't that funny? Why don't you
buy it?' And that was a sort of--the directness of that appealed to what I
think is, you know, what's always there in American culture, which is a
subversion, a sense of a problem with authority.

And once that became part of the fabric of the culture--and that ad was very
successful--by 1961, '62, almost everyone was doing that. And what we see is
advertising right now, these sort of joke ads that say, `I'm selling you
something' or something that's--I mean, advertising has always been part of
humor. When advertising itself becomes part of that and mostly fueled by a--I
would say nonwhite--even though these people are white--but a nonwhite-shoe
advertising firm attitude about it, that really was the beginning of the
creative revolution. And it took a long time for people to get onboard with
it.

DAVIES: You mentioned something about white-shoe advertising firms. What are
they? What did you mean by that term?

Mr. WEINER: White shoe advertising firms, I mean, it's the establishment of
advertising, which is the big agencies and the sort of--what we usually see
the '50s represented by is this advertising that's now seen as very kitsch,
which is a woman in the kitchen trying to get the latest technology, the man
coming home with the hat on. The "Leave it to Beaver" sort of image was
promoted by a certain kind of advertising agency, which were the ones that
were mostly successful.

And then again came something that said, `Guess what, we know your life isn't
like that. We know you're not Ozzie and Harriet, here's a car for you.
Here's a, you know, `Avis, we try harder. You don't have to be,' you know,
`We're number two.' `You don't have to be Jewish to eat Levy's rye bread.' All
of these ads were done with a sense of humor. It says we know you're not
Ozzie and Harriet, but the image of Ozzie and Harriet was promoted by
establishment corporate gigantic ad agencies.

DAVIES: And Sterling Cooper, the ad agency that's the center of...

Mr. WEINER: Yes.

DAVIES: ...this series. Is that a white-shoe firm?

Mr. WEINER: It is a white-shoe firm. It's a third-tier firm. And I think
as the show progresses, people will realize that they--I mean, dramatically
it's more interesting. They're pretty much on the wrong side of everything.

You know, one of the things I'm interested in is this white male dominance of
the marketplace, and this kind of white tiger that's disappearing. And
they're either going to have to to get onboard or not get onboard.

DAVIES: And did you find ad men from this era to talk to and reminisce about?

Mr. WEINER: I have since I wrote it. I wrote the script seven years ago,
and I really had a hard time finding any human beings who had been there who
wanted to talk to me, mostly because a lot of them were dead. These are very
hard-living people, and that was what was so appealing about it. Now, since
then, I've run into people--although most of them started in '62, '63, '64.
What I have found is a lot of women, because I think there was a huge influx
of women coming to New York in the late '60s to be secretaries and to find
their way. And I've contacted a lot of--a lot of those people have contacted
me and I've got--the reports I gotten about what's there have been amazing.

DAVIES: Let's listen to a cut from the first episode.

Mr. WEINER: Sure.

DAVIES: And this is one where there's sort of two parts to it, and at the end
of it, I'm just going to explain it.

Mr. WEINER: Sure.

DAVIES: I mean, what we hear is the central character of the series. His
name is Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm. And he's sort of lecturing one of the
junior members of the firm, Pete Campbell, who's played by Vincent Kartheiser.
And one of the things he's lecturing him about is the way this character, Pete
Campbell, had just spoken to a new secretary, who's played by Elisabeth Moss.
So it begins with this character Pete Campbell sizing up a new secretary.
Let's listen.

(Soundbite of "Mad Men")

Mr. VINCENT KARTHEISER: (As Pete Campbell) Where are you from, honey?

Ms. ELISABETH MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) Miss Deever's Secretarial School.

Mr. KARTHEISER: (As Pete Campbell) Top notch, but I meant, where are you
from? Are you Amish or something?

Ms. MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) No, I'm from Brooklyn.

Mr. KARTHEISER: (As Pete Campbell) Well, you're in the city now. It
wouldn't be a sin for us to see your legs. If you pull your waist in a little
bit, you might look like a woman.

Ms. MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) Is that all, Mr. Draper?

Mr. KARTHEISER: (As Pete Campbell) Hey, I'm not done here. I'm working my
way up.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) That'll be all. Peggy, right?

Ms. MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) Yes. Oh, and it's time for your 11:00 meeting.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) Oh, and sorry about Mr. Campbell here. He left
his manners back at the fraternity house.

(Soundbite of typing)

Mr. KARTHEISER: (As Pete Campbell) She's a little young for you, Draper.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) The future Mrs. Pete Campbell's a very lucky
woman. When's the wedding again?

Mr. KARTHEISER: (As Pete Campbell) Sunday. Did Ken tell you about the
bachelor party tonight?

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) He sure did.

Mr. KARTHEISER: (As Pete Campbell) So do I get first crack at her? Word is
she took down more sailors than the Arizona. Heh heh.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) How old are you, Pete?

Mr. KARTHEISER: (As Pete Campbell) I just turned 26.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) I bet the whole world looks like one great big
brassiere strap just waiting to be snapped.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KARTHEISER: (As Pete Campbell) You are good with words, Draper.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) Campbell, we're both men here so I'm going to be
direct.

Mr. KARTHEISER: (As Pete Campbell) Christ, are you already sleeping with
her?

Mr. HAMM: (As Don Draper) Advertising is a very small world. And when you
do something like malign the reputation of a girl from the steno pool on her
first day, you make it even smaller. Keep it up, and even if you do get my
job, you'll never run this place. You'll die in that corner office, a
mid-level executive with a little bit of hair who women go home with out of
pity. Want to know why? Because no one will like you.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that's from the AMC series "Mad Men." It's created by my guest
Matt Weiner. I just love that scene. There's so much going on there. Well,
you know, one of the things going on there, of course, is this raw ambition.
Everybody wants everybody else's office. But it's that lecherous sexism in
the office that really jumps out at you, I mean, the kind of things that you
would really never hear these days. And when you write scenes like this,
you've got to take your own post-Anita Hill consciousness...

Mr. WEINER: Right.

DAVIES: ...and make this dialogue believable. How do you do it and how do
you know you're not taking it too far?

Mr. WEINER: I think that the conversation is derived from the same kind of
conversation we have now. You know, men do speak this way to each other.
They may not be as succinct and witty as these people are, but what I love is
what Don is saying to him is, `This is an office and you are behaving badly
for your goals of achieving success at this office, and you're talking about a
woman's reputation.' And they're all very, very sort of moral stances as
defined by that period: a woman's reputation, your reputation here. You
know, what is "The Death of a Salesman"? `He was liked, but not well liked.'
These are all these standards of how to behave in a business environment.

And at the same time Don is saying, like, you know, `You're never going to
have sex in the future because you're being inappropriate.' He's not saying
anything about what he thinks of women or how women are to be treated or how
they're to be treated in his personal life. And what I really try and do is
just think about--I tried to be honest and have people speak to each other in
a frank manner. There's so much lying that goes on in this environment, and I
love the concept of the audience knowing something about a character that the
other character in the scene doesn't know, and that's just a dramatic
construct.

Pete has a line, this anti-Semitic slur that he says that's, you know, very
glancing, but if you're Jewish, very specific. He says, `Adding money and
education doesn't take the rude edge out of people.' And that's something I
overheard in my life. You know? That's not old. So what I try and do is
have people say things in as frank a manner as possible, and the attitudes
being that men somehow--white men view themselves as "us." I think every group
views themselves as us and everyone else is "them." And there's a security in
that. And every comment on every other group, every denigration is really
delivered with a kind of kindness, with a kind of pity for the fact that that
group does not understand what we are up to.

DAVIES: Did ad executives really have, you know, bottles of bourbon on the
credenza and open them up at 3 in the afternoon? Is that a myth?

Mr. WEINER: Well, here's where--this is not a myth. It depends on who you
talk to, and it depends on the agency. I have had--I can name names of people
who have seen this and said that that there is not enough drinking. There was
a wonderful e-mail that I got. Bob Levinson, who's at ICM, was at BBDO in
1960 on the Lucky Strike account, and I was terrified to talk to him after he
saw the pilot. And he said, `Do you have a time machine? How old are you?
Where did you get this?' And he gave it to someone he'd began working with,
Brandon Stoddard, who eventually became in charge of ABC, I think, and the
e-mail said, `Look at that. Remember us? The secretaries. The drinking.
The smoking.' He says, `God, I wish we were that smart.'

So, and then there's another group of people who are so--it's funny. I think
George Lois, you know, who is such an icon of advertising. Of course, his
impact was a couple of years after this, but he's been so brash about saying a
couple of things about the show. One of them was, why didn't anyone come to
him to do the show? And the other one is that we changed the world and
there's this sort of like brashness about it and how shallow they look and
this hucksterism and this Hollywood image. And, honestly, when I read his
letter about the show, I thought, `Oh my God, you're confirming everything I
thought about the personality of the person that does this.'

DAVIES: Wow.

Mr. WEINER: You know? I find that I've anecdotally heard people say, like
Jerry Della Femina said to me, `There's not enough drinking in it.' And it
obviously depended on who the person was. And when you hear the stories, they
definitely had all their meetings in the morning. They definitely went and
got drunk at lunch. And when I say "they," it's not everybody, but it's a
heck of a lot more people than do it now.

DAVIES: "Mad Men" creator Matt Weiner. We'll hear more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is Matt Weiner, creator of the
AMC series "Mad Men," which has just earned 16 Emmy nominations.

Let's talk about your visual approach to this series. I mean, it looks
different. How do you create the visual look of the series?

Mr. WEINER: Well, it was a conscious decision because I wanted to do the
period, but I didn't want the audience to have any moment of abstraction. I
didn't want to shoot it in black and white. I didn't want to glamorize it. I
wanted it to feel like we were in that space and that the people would be
real. And the first thing that happened was the ceiling, making sure that we
saw that ceiling, because that ceiling exists in all of our work spaces right
now, and I thought that was something that would...

DAVIES: Now, you mean the ceiling in the offices?

Mr. WEINER: The ceiling in the office itself. It's just...

DAVIES: Describe it. Yeah, yeah.

Mr. WEINER: It's a drop ceiling with fluorescent lights in a pattern, and
there is more venting in it now. There might be some fire safety that there
wasn't at that time. But what you see is the typical office park insurance
company ceiling, which is a drop ceiling with acoustic tiles and
checkerboarded with fluorescent lights. And obviously you don't see this a
lot on TV because it's very hard to shoot and because fluorescent lights
create a--they require a lot of color corrections. But once the production
designer and I had agreed that it was about the ceiling, and we had a director
who was really into low angles, Alan Taylor, our commercial sensibilities sort
of overlapped at Hitchcock, and we both sort of said, `Let's take advantage of
all this.'

Then it became a matter of creating the period in a realistic way. And that
means that when you do 1960, someone did not go out to a store and buy
everything that day. The women's clothing is not from Vogue magazine 1960,
because it wasn't available to regular people until 1962. Couture, you know,
takes a couple of years to filter down. The hairstyles and so forth--you
can't just look at a bunch of magazines. So if you were doing 2007, you can
look around and see there are people dressed from the '80s. There are
antiques around. There's furniture. There's--everything that went on
beforehand is existing at the same time. So Peggy is wearing a dress from the
early '50s, and the hairstyles are different on different women.

And then, of course, I felt that television and movies, in particular, the
glamour--besides having everything from the same period, is usually about a
kind of cleanliness, and some of that comes from the fact that it's very
expensive to put in the detail that you need. So I immediately said, `OK, you
look at a picture from a Herman Miller catalog of one of these offices.' The
desks still exist. They're available at Staples. We put these desks in. You
never see any of the wires from the telephones and the typewriters and the
lamps because when you take a picture, you don't want to see that. Well, you
see all that in this. You see the full ashtrays everywhere that we grew up
with. You see sweat stains and wrinkles and hair out of place. You see
clutter. You see personal items. You see bowls of candy. You see everything
but gum stuck on the bottom of the shoe.

And I told you I wrote this seven years ago. And one of the things that--AMC
gave me complete creative freedom, but one of the things that I added to the
script--other than that I shot the script I wrote back then--one of the things
I added was this moment in the pilot where Don looks up at the ceiling and
sees this fly in the light fixture, and I know that some people see it as
symbolic thing that he's trapped and he can't come up with an idea. And
that's wonderful, but honestly, as wonderful as that is, my intention really
was to say, `There is a fly in the light fixture and that fly is not period.'
There are flies in the light fixture now, and for a moment you get a sense
that this world is real.

DAVIES: You know, the lead character, Jon Hamm, I swear, he has this
archetypal 1950s look, I mean, this squared jaw and brylcreemed hair. I
mean...

Mr. WEINER: Yeah.

DAVIES: Did he have the look you wanted or is that--were you just lucky?

Mr. WEINER: No, you know, first of all, he's an amazing actor, and part of
why he was cast was because I had a philosophy, again, another philosophy
which is that I wanted the audience to believe that these characters were
these people, so I was looking for someone who was not well-known, but sort of
like James Gandolfini in "The Sopranos," if you IMDB him or anything, you'll
see that the man had been working for a very long time and been making a good
living; you just don't know him. And to tell you the truth, he came in in the
suit and had his hair combed, but he had a vulnerability and an old-fashioned
masculinity. This kind of person nowadays is cast as the boyfriend who's too
good looking, the tennis pro. He's kind of a boring, you know, leading man.
And there'll be a much more interesting, quirky, funny sort of guy who will
play alongside him. But when I heard him read the copy--the copy, oh my
God--when I heard him read the script, I got immediately a sense of a very old
fashioned masculinity. And we auditioned him and when we brought him out and
put him in the suit and gave him the haircut, you just saw, oh my God, this
is...

DAVIES: Yeah.

Mr. WEINER: This man has been missing from the screen for a long, long time.

DAVIES: You know, I feel like as we conduct this interview, we should both be
smoking Camels or Lucky Strikes because, I mean...

Mr. WEINER: Yeah, I know.

DAVIES: ...the film is suffused with cigarette smokes, as life was in the
1950s, and in particular Jon Hamm, the lead character, handles it so
effectively. It's almost like the cigarette is a character in some of his
scenes. Did you have to teach actors how to handle cigarettes, as these folks
do? And is there a health issue? There's just so much smoke on the set.

Mr. WEINER: Well, first of all, they smoke herbal cigarettes. And there
were a couple of actors who smoked when we began who no longer smoke. And I
think herbal cigarettes are unpleasant, but they are not addictive and
OSHA--or what used to be OSHA--it's approved in the workplace for them to
smoke these things.

I do not advocate this in any way, and I actually, from a creative standpoint,
do not allow anyone who has never smoked in their life to smoke on the show
because you can tell immediately. It just feels like this sort of awkward
prop and it feels, you know, and of course, actors love to have the business
and love to smoke and love to have it in the scene, for emphasis or whatever.
But Jon Hamm was someone who had been a smoker at some point in his life and
he got exactly what it was. And there is a lot of smoking. I don't find that
there's any more smoking than there was in my life growing up. But I do try
and write it in. I don't just let people come in and light up cigarettes
because it's part of the scene. The prop master doesn't walk around
beforehand handing out cigarettes to everybody.

DAVIES: Well, Matt Weiner, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. WEINER: Been a pleasure, Dave.

DAVIES: Matt Weiner, creator and executive producer of the AMC series "Mad
Men." "Mad Men" has just earned 16 Emmy nominations for its first season,
which is now out on DVD. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Jazz singer Jo Stafford, who died recently at age 90
DAVE DAVIES, host:

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

(Soundbite of "Just Squeeze Me (But Don't Tease Me)"

Ms. JO STAFFORD: (Singing) Treat me sweet and gentle
When you say good night
Just squeeze me
But please don't tease me

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: That's Jo Stafford from her 1960 album "Jo + Jazz." Stafford died
Wednesday at the age of 90. She was one of the most popular singers of the
1940s and '50s. Early in her career, she was a member of the Pied Pipers, the
vocal group that backed up Sinatra on his early recordings with Tommy Dorsey.
After leaving the group, she had hit after hit in the 1940s and '50s,
culminating with Columbia Records presenting her the diamond award for being
the first recording artist to sell 25 million records. One of her best known
recordings was "You Belong To Me."

She was married to the pianist, arranger and band leader Paul Weston, with
whom she often collaborated. Among their accomplishments are some of the most
inept sounding recordings ever made, intentionally so. They made hilarious
recordings as their alter egos Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. Terry spoke with
Stafford and Weston in 1988 after they reissued "Jo + Jazz" and "Jonathan and
Darlene Edwards' Greatest Hits." Here's Jonathan and Darlene defiling an
Ellington classic.

(Soundbite of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore")

Ms. STAFFORD: (Singing) Been invited on dates
Might have gone, but what for?
Awfully different without you
Don't get around much anymore

(End of soundbite)

TERRY GROSS, host:

Jo Stafford, when you're singing as Darlene, do you sway back and forth with
your eyes closed?

Ms. STAFFORD: In my mind I do. In my mind I do, wearing a hat and white
gloves at all times, even in the recording studio.

GROSS: One of the songs that you do is "Alabamy Bound," and it features you
singing accompanied by a chorus of overzealous, overenthusiastic male singers.

Ms. STAFFORD: Well, we did that as a sort of a put on of the Mitch Miller
sing-along, and the idea with these singers that backed us up, they were some
of the best singers in town. And we just told them to be--you know, they sang
very well, but a little, maybe a teensy bit overenthusiastic. But actually
they did their parts quite nicely, I thought.

GROSS: I thought this record might be somehow a tribute to Mitch Miller. Now
this is interesting, you'd both worked at Columbia Records, where Mitch Miller
was the head of artisan repertoire.

Ms. STAFFORD: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: How did he take to this little tribute?

Mr. PAUL WESTON: We meant...

Ms. STAFFORD: We just never asked him.

Mr. WESTON: And we've never heard.

(Soundbite of "Alabamy Bound")

Ms. STAFFORD: (Singing) Ooooh
Oooooh
Ooooh

Unidentified Male Singers: (Singing in unison) I'm Alabamy bound
There'll be no heebie-jeebies hanging 'round

Ms. STAFFORD: (Singing) Just gave the meanest ticket man on earth
All that I'm worth
To put my tootsies in an upper berth

Male Singers: (Singing in unison) Just hear that choo-choo sound

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: What was the first time that you performed together as Jonathan and
Darlene?

Mr. WESTON: I would play piano at parties, you know, after Johnny Green and
David Rose and everyone else had finished playing well, I would just play for
the fun of it and play like Jonathan. And Jo became Darlene at the end of
record sessions when Mitch Miller would send us out some junk to record and
the guys in the band and Jo hated it so much that she would do it as Darlene
at the end of the session.

Ms. STAFFORD: Just as a kind of a way to put down the song that we all hated
anyway, just for fun.

GROSS: So I can see how this tribute to Mitch Miller might have had a real
special magic for you under the circumstances.

Mr. WESTON: Boy, you hit it right on the button.

GROSS: Jo Stafford, let me ask you a few questions about your real self. You
had many very popular records during the second world war. How were you
choosing your material then? Did you especially look for records that you
thought could really have an extra special meaning to people who were
separated during the war?

Ms. STAFFORD: Well, I think the songs that the songwriters wrote took care
of that. You know, there were some great songwriters then, and I think that
the times during the war years, I mean, the times sort of dictated the content
of the material, and it was there already made.

GROSS: What kind of stories did you hear from people during the war and then
after the war about what your songs meant to them, the kind of sentimental
meaning the songs took on?

Ms. STAFFORD: A great deal. As a matter of fact, I still get them. I still
get letters saying, `I first heard you at such and such a time during the war,
and--someplace in the Pacific or flying over Europe.' I still get them, and
yes, many of the songs meant a great deal to them and to me. And I was often
like the go-between between this fellow and his girl, and what I was singing
was, quote, "their song," unquote.

GROSS: When rock 'n' roll started making it onto the charts in the 1950s, did
that make things difficult for you both?

Ms. STAFFORD: Well, at that time, I was doing television, and--a lot of
television, besides the recording. And there was kind of an attempt to get me
connected and to try and do some of that material. And it just, it wouldn't
work. I couldn't do it. But my career continued on in television, which at
that point was not that much affected by rock 'n' roll. The music on
television stayed pretty much the same for a number of years.

Mr. WESTON: I was doing television then as a conductor, and of course we
had--in the early days, they would have these rock artists as guests, and I
did a show with The Doors, with Jim Morrison and...

GROSS: Oh, no.

Mr. WESTON: And I did a show with The Mamas and the Papas, but they were
called The Big Three at that time.

GROSS: You know, Jo Stafford, you had a hit of "You Belong To Me," and then
The Duprees had a rock 'n' roll version of that years later. I was wondering
what you thought of that when that made it onto the charts.

Ms. STAFFORD: I wasn't even aware of that until some kind of a seminar we
had in which some young A&R man...

Mr. WESTON: Snuffy Garrett.

Ms. STAFFORD: ...brought it up as a--he was using it as some kind of an
example of a style that these people could do if they wanted to, and he made a
big speech about this song, "You Belong To Me," not realizing that I was
sitting next to him, had been the first one to record it and had a tremendous
hit from it. He didn't even know it.

Mr. WESTON: And he said, `This song was recorded so many years ago by
somebody, you know, who's old, you know.' And Jo's sitting there next to him.

(Soundbite of "You Belong To Me")

Ms. STAFFORD: (Singing) See the pyramids along the Nile
Watch the sunrise on a tropic isle
Just remember, darling, all the while
You belong to me

See the marketplace at old Algiers
Send me photographs and souvenirs
Just remember when a dream appears
You belong to me

I...

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: Jo Stafford and Paul Weston spoke with Terry Gross in 1988. Stafford
died Wednesday at the age of 90. Weston, her husband, died in 1996.

Coming up, we remember the Dutch mystery writer who was a motorcycle gang
member, a student of Buddhism and a cop. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Janwillem van de Wetering, who recently died at age 71
DAVE DAVIES, host:

The late Dutch writer Janwillem van de Wetering lived a varied and
extraordinary life. He was a child during the German occupation of Holland.
When he was 19, he moved to South Africa for six years, where for a time he
was a member of a motorcycle gang. He had an intense interest in
existentialism. And he was a detective novelist who not only worked as a cop
in Amsterdam but also spent two years studying in a Zen monastery in Japan.
So it's no surprise that the bantering between detectives and cops in his
crime fiction often has a philosophical edge. Van de Wetering died on July
4th in Maine at the age of 71, due to complications of cancer. In 1997, Terry
Gross interviewed van de Wetering. He told her his interest in Buddhism and
existentialism evolved out of his childhood experience during the war.

Mr. JANWILLEM van de WETERING: I grew up in Rotterdam in Holland from a
comfortable family, and everybody knew exactly what they were doing, and we
were living well. And then suddenly there was the war. All my schoolmates
were Jewish and were killed. I'm not Jewish, so they left me alone, so I had
survival guilt. But I began to seriously doubt what I was doing, whether I
should continue my life, whether this wasn't a planet that you should get away
from. And I mean by suicide, you know? Child suicide does happen from time
to time. I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. We did a lot of business
with Germans, my father did, and there they were bombing us and trying to kill
us.

Rotterdam was bombed in May 1940. It was the start of the war for the Dutch.
And I was right in the middle of it. So I thought, well, maybe I shouldn't
accept life, but then life was pretty exciting, too, because wars are
exciting. There was all that raw material, the uniforms; later there
were--the British planes came every day and there were big fights above the
lakeside where I lived, and I saw people dropping out of the sky when their
planes were downed. I saw starvation. It was a very colorful and very
strange experience. So I thought maybe I'd just hold off on the suicide and
see if I could make sense of it later.

And eventually, after college, I went to England and studied philosophy in
London. That was after a stint in South Africa, where I worked for one of my
father's companies for six years. And saw apartheid starting up, which was
another horror. So I went to England, studied philosophy and I really didn't
get the answers or any answers, except by reading Nietzsche, who also doubts
the purpose of life. And I really irritated my teachers there, I think.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Are you saying that you went to the Zen monastery because you were suicidal
and nothing in your life, not philosophy classes, nothing else was helping?

Mr. van de WETERING: No, no because my suspicion was that there was no
purpose and there was only chaos, and that was...

GROSS: No purpose to life?

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah. And that cheered me up. Because if it isn't
there...

GROSS: That cheered you up?

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah.

GROSS: OK.

Mr. van de WETERING: If it isn't there, then you don't have to worry about
it.

GROSS: Right. You don't have to have a purpose or a meaning if there isn't
one to be had.

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah. And you could still, just to be perverse, do the
very best you can.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. van de WETERING: Which is what Nietzsche, I thought, was propagating,
and I really got excited about that, and also about Heidegger and some of the
existentialists who were coming--Sartre, for instance. And my teachers were
just irritated by that and said, `Well, why don't you become a Buddhist
instead of prattling about stuff like that?' Enter the voids, enter chaos,
enter meaninglessness, as it is actually preached there, or Taoism or
Hinduism.

So I thought, yeah, why not? And so I started reading Buddhism, and Japan
seemed like a good place because someone said if get sick in Japan, you can go
to a hospital and if you get bored you can go to the cinema. And you can't do
that in Tibet or Calcutta so much. Japan is an orderly country. And also we
had been at war with them. And a lot of my relatives were in Japanese camps
in the far East. So that would be another way to get to know the people who
we had murderous relations with just shortly before. So I did go to Kyoto and
stayed two years.

GROSS: Did you have to explain all this to your Zen monk? I mean, to your
Zen teacher?

Mr. van de WETERING: No, no. No, he was a great guy. That's why I stayed
two years. Because when I came in, he said through an interpreter, `So what
do you want?' And I said, `Well, I'd like to know if there's a purpose to
life.' And he said, `Well, do you think there is?' And I said, `No, I rather
think there isn't.' He said, `Ah, that's great. Because at the end of your
training, you will find that it was all a big joke anyway.' And I said, `Well,
you know, concentration camps are a joke?' And he said, `Yeah. Maybe. You
know, why don't you follow the method and come to some understanding?' And
then I said--and also I'd been in money-making businesses and I was bored with
money. And he was a great actor. He got up and he said, `Don't tell me you
don't have any money.' And I said, `No, no. It's OK. I brought some money.'
And he said, `Oh.' He said, `What a relief. Because this monastery is a very
expensive place to run, and things keep breaking down. They have to be fixed,
and I smoke a lot of cigarettes. Cigarettes are getting very expensive. And
if you have no money, I can't possibly have you here. I'll have to throw you
out.' So I said, `No, no. Don't worry. I have money.' And then he charged me
something like $6 a month.

GROSS: That's nothing. I mean, right.

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah. And I realized that these guys were wise guys,
you know. They were having fun with me, and I liked that. I thought that was
very amusing.

GROSS: So when you left the monastery after two years, did you feel any
differently about the meaning of life?

Mr. van de WETERING: No, I thought I have completely wasted my time. I was
really depressed when I left. I never understood my koan, and I liked the...

GROSS: The Zen koan.

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah.

GROSS: They're the riddle that the...

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah, that the guy would...

GROSS: ...teacher would give you. Mm-hmm.

Mr. van de WETERING: And I was terrible at meditation, and my legs always
hurt and I couldn't stand the food, and the only guy I really liked was the
teacher, and he was dying. He was suffering from Parkinson's disease. He
would have to retire pretty soon. And I thought I completely wasted my time.
And I left and went to South America and got a job with a Dutch firm there,
and for a while I looked back thinking, what the hell was I trying to do
there? But then it became clear that it had been a very meaningful exercise
in meaninglessness. And I still think it's the greatest thing that even
happened to me now.

GROSS: I want to get back to what happened to you when you were young, when
you were--how old were you when World War II started?

Mr. van de WETERING: Nine. Nine.

GROSS: And you were going to a very expensive private school because your
father was a financier and he had a lot of money.

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah, everything was just dandy.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. van de WETERING: I walked through a park to school every day. But I did
get mixed up in a hunger uproar one day. I strayed to the wrong side of town,
and this was the '30s. So I was maybe three, four years old. And it was the
Great Depression. And people were starving, and they were being subdued by
Dutch military police with bearskins on horses, and they rode their horses
right into these poor people and then threatened them with sticks and sabers.
So I knew something was amiss even before the war started.

GROSS: And during the war, during the German occupation of Holland, you said,
what, that all of the Jewish students in your class were taken to Treblinka
and you were the only student who wasn't Jewish.

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah, and two little boys who I always rather liked,
they were Germans that happened to be in Holland. And they appeared at school
in Hitler uniforms. And they were my schoolmates, you know.

GROSS: Did you...

Mr. van de WETERING: What did they know? They were 10, 11 years old at the
time.

GROSS: So all the Jewish students taken together at the same time?

Mr. van de WETERING: No, no. They went by address. If you lived in a
certain part of town. But most of them would have lived in the same area.

GROSS: So every day there were fewer students?

Mr. van de WETERING: There were fewer students, yeah. And they were wearing
these yellow stars and it was all ridiculous. But then later, we lived in a
big house, a villa on the lakeside, and it was commandeered by the German
army, but only half of it. So we had these--we were living in it, and German
officers were living in it. And the officers all happened to come from
Dresden in Germany, and that was one they completely destroyed, I think by the
American Air Force, or by the British.

GROSS: The fire bombing.

Mr. van de WETERING: The fire bombing. So I saw the distress of these kids,
you know. They were young officers in their 20s. And the next thing, they
were sent to Russia, and that was a one-way ticket, too, because nobody come
back from Russia in those days. So the suffering was universal. It wasn't
just--you couldn't say, `Well, if the Germans--the Germans are bad guys and we
are good guys.' It was a very mixed picture.

GROSS: One of the characters in your mystery series is a jazz musician, he
plays trumpet. And I understand that that's one of your ambitions--one of
your regrets, actually, that you don't play.

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah.

GROSS: Why don't we end the interview with one of your favorite jazz
trumpeters. Would you like to choose somebody?

Mr. van de WETERING: Oh, Miles Davis. Who else?

GROSS: Miles Davis?

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah.

GROSS: OK. Is that how you would have liked to play if you could play?

Mr. van de WETERING: Well, I don't want to imitate him, but I'm very pleased
at least somebody can play, because if I listen to him, all my questions
really fall away. Music is such a direct way, and on his level, it's just
beautiful.

GROSS: Any particular Miles period you'd like to select?

Mr. van de WETERING: Well, he had his own composition, "So What?"

GROSS: Of course. The perfect choice for you.

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah.

GROSS: We'll play "So What?"

Mr. van de WETERING: Yeah.

GROSS: Janwillem van de Wetering, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. van de WETERING: Thank you.

DAVIES: Janwillem van de Wetering speaking with Terry Gross in 1997. Van de
Wetering died earlier this month at the age of 71.

(Soundbite of "So What?")

DAVIES: Coming up, John Powers on "Gonzo," the new documentary about Hunter
S. Thompson. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview:
Review: John Powers on the new documentary "Gonzo"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

Writer Hunter S. Thompson died in February 2005, but his death has done
nothing to diminish interest in his work. In theaters now there's a new
documentary about him by Alex Gibney called "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr.
Hunter S. Thompson." The actor Johnny Depp reads passages from the writer's
work. Critic at large John Powers says it's particularly interesting to watch
the film as we head toward this fall's presidential election.

Mr. JOHN POWERS: The late Hunter Thompson came in many different flavors.
There was the canny reporter who rode with the Hells Angels, the literary
outlaw who battled psychedelic lizards, the political junkie who once said
that he looked forward to Election Day the way sex addicts look forward to
orgies. And then, of course, there was the cultured hero, complete with
aviator glasses and cigarette holder whose persona would be set in stone by
Doonesbury's Uncle Duke, and by movies starring Bill Murray and Johnny Depp.
They're all on display in Alex Gibney's "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr.
Hunter S. Thompson." Although not a great documentary--there's too much rock
music and not enough perspective--the movie provides a useful primer on the
last American writer to become a pop icon.

And it's doubly worth seeing in this election year because Thompson's
political writing, especially "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972"
reminds us that campaign coverage was once far more ambitious than it now is.
Thompson's coverage of the '72 elections in Rolling Stone was probably the
most sustained piece of mind-blowing political reportage ever to appear in our
mass media. It was a witch's brew of prophetic Jeremiad, drug-induced
craziness and unrepentant fictionalization. Placing this gonzo sensibility at
the very center of the story, he wouldn't let mere factuality get in the way
of the truth. And the strange thing was, millions of people of many different
kinds loved his extravagance. Here Pat Buchanan praises Thompson's work, and
then Johnny Depp reads an example of what tickled Buchanan so very much.

(Soundbite of "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson")

Mr. PAT BUCHANAN: There was no one quite like Hunter. It was on the edge
and beyond the edge, and it was very funny. I remember he wrote about Hubert
Humphrey, the great father of the civil rights movement, they ought to--they
ought to--what he said? `They ought to stuff Hubert in a goddamn bottle and
send him out with the Japanese current.'

Mr. JOHNNY DEPP: (Reading) "There is no way to grasp what a shallow,
contemptible and hopelessly dishonest old hack Hubert Humphrey really is until
you've followed him around for a while on the campaign trail. Hubert Humphrey
is a treacherous, gutless old ward healer."

Mr. BUCHANAN: He had a view of the ridiculousness of it all.

Unidentified Man: Thank you. Shalom. Shalom.

Mr. BUCHANAN: And Hunter did some of his best work on liberals.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. POWERS: Now, Thompson was hardly the only one to write with a verve
about presidential elections. From Norman Mailer's famous essay about John
Kennedy in 1960 to Richard Ben Cramer's whopping book about the 1988 race,
this was an era filled with memorable writing about the run for the White
House. Still, even by these standards, Thompson was exceptional. His words
were like a bracing acid bath. I read his coverage as it came out, and I
remember laughing out loud at its sheer outrageousness, like the time he
pretended that the dull, churlish Democratic candidate Edmund Muskie was
actually using the Amazonian hallucinogen ibogaine.

Thompson was always a superb hater, and he was at his best filleting liberals
like Humphrey and Muskie. He hated Nixon, too, of course, writing that Nixon
could shake your hand and stab your back at the very same time. But he was
actually far less insightful about Nixon than was, say, Gary Wills. And when
it came time to championing politicians, he was far from reliable. It's worth
remembering that the one candidate who most benefited from Thompson's gonzo
endorsement was none other than Jimmy Carter.

By Carter's election in 1976, Thompson's cultural moment had begun to fade.
In his prime, the mainstream media had been so suffocatingly monolithic that
he came off as a groundbreaking iconoclast, putting in print things that
nobody else would dare. I remember gasping when he suggested that Humphrey
should be castrated. But nobody today would gasp. For a generation raised on
the fervor and coarseness of talk radio and the blogosphere, Thompson's
wildest political writings probably seem almost routine.

At the same time, the mainstream media learned precisely the wrong lesson from
Thompson's career. Rather than grasping at the crucial things to be a strong,
singular voice, political reporters saw that you could become a star by making
yourself the center of the story, usually by playing the visionary pundit, as
when Chris Matthews leapt to declare Hillary Clinton finished for losing New
Hampshire on the night she actually won it. Where Thompson had no desire to
become an insider, which left him free to say what he really thought, today's
political media want to appear outspoken and independent but also have a big
network gig. Their patron saint is Tim Russert, who had the powerful mourning
at his funeral. It was always Thompson's pride that he never saw a boat that
he didn't want to rock. Such pride seems a bit old fashioned at a time when
magazines and TV news are terrified of offending advertisers or jeopardizing
their access. We're inundated by campaign news, but none of it seems bold.
If you want to feel some real fear and loathing, just ask yourself, would any
big publication, including Rolling Stone, be willing to run Hunter Thompson's
campaign coverage today?

DAVIES: John Powers is film critic for Vogue.

You can download podcasts of the show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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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