Skip to main content

Max Cleland, Mapping The 'Heart of a Patriot'

Max Cleland served in Vietnam — where he lost both legs and his right arm — before being elected to the U.S. Senate. His new memoir is Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove.

37:35

Other segments from the episode on October 6, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 6, 2009: Interview with Max Cleland; Review of Dennis Diken's new album "Late music;" Commentary on the late William Safire.

Transcript

*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20091006
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Max Cleland, Mapping The 'Heart of a Patriot'

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. In his new memoir, Max Cleland
writes that in his mind he has replayed the grenade explosion again and
again, the explosion that blew away both legs and his right arm in
Vietnam. He says: My body, my soul, my spirit, and my belief in life
itself were stolen from me by the disaster of the Vietnam War.

I found solace by immersing myself in politics and public service. In
particular, I devoted myself to helping my fellow veterans and disabled
friends. But when I lost my re-election bid for the U.S. Senate in 2002,
my life fell apart. Massive depression took over.

Cleland’s new memoir is called “Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the
Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove.” It was Rove who
chose Saxby Chambliss to run again Cleland in the 2002 Senate race.

Cleland served one term as a Democratic senator from Georgia. He was the
head of the Veterans Administration under President Carter. He served on
the 9/11 Commission and was recently appointed by President Obama as
secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Max Cleland, welcome to FRESH AIR. Would you describe your memory of
what happened when the grenade that injured you blew up?

Mr. MAX CLELAND (Former Democratic Senator, Georgia): Well, I had – it
was April 8, ’68. The sun was beginning to shine. The monsoons I thought
were over. We were overlooking the Khe Sanh base, and the siege was
broken that day by - our infantry battalion with the First Air Cavalry
Division was moving into the Khe Sanh perimeter and it needed a radio
hook-up on top of a mountain, and I went to do that because I was the
signal officer for that unit.

I was the captain by then and the battalion signal officer, so
communications was my job. So I took a team and set up, tried to set up
the signal operation there, but one of my men got off a chopper and
dropped the grenade unbeknownst to me, and I saw it.

I turned around. I had my M-16 in my left hand and my steel pot on, my
flak vest on, and I reached down with it to get it with my right hand
because – thinking it might have dropped off my web gear because I had
grenades, and everybody had them, and so the thing went off.

GROSS: You didn’t know that the pin was out and that it was live.

Mr. CLELAND: No, no, no, no. No, no, no. And so boom. I looked down and
my right hand was gone, and the bone was sticking out from the right,
and then my right leg was gone, and my left leg was so badly shattered
it was amputated within the hour. I mean, I could see it off to the
left, and my boot – and I felt this massive burning sensation. I
couldn’t speak because shrapnel had fractured my wind pipe, and I was
calling for help, and I couldn’t stand up, and you know, the guys on the
hill realized after a while that it wasn’t incoming. It wasn’t an
incoming rocket so – from the North Vietnamese.

And so they ran towards me, started cutting off my uniform, and I
thought how odd, you know, somebody cutting off my uniform. There I was,
laying, dying, burning like a steak on a grill, smoking as a matter of
fact, because I was so close to the flash burns of the grenade that it
seared my flesh, which is why I didn’t bleed to death right there on the
hill, and within 15 minutes I was in the division aid station, and the
aid gave me a shot of morphine, and I said, do you think I’m going to
make it? And he said you just might.

In other words, my life hung by the balance, 50/50, and I was then flown
to a Quonset hut, where five doctors saved my life five hours later and
42 pints of blood later, only to ultimately face the question of why did
I live, why am I alive, what am I doing here, what’s the meaning and
purpose of life?

GROSS: Before we get to that existential stuff, let me just back up a
second and say that you know now that the grenade that blew up was the
grenade of a fellow soldier, but you went through years thinking that it
was your grenade, that you dropped a grenade, that somehow the pin was
out of your grenade and that you were responsible for blowing yourself
up.

Mr. CLELAND: Yes.

GROSS: How did you find out that that wasn’t the case?

Mr. CLELAND: Well, by this time I was in the U.S. Senate and I had done
a program, I think, for the History Channel on combat medics, and they
interviewed me, and I said, you know, combat medics saved my life, and
that was really true. And I talked about this experience, about, you
know, picking up the grenade, I thought it might have fallen off my web
gear or something like that.

The next day, I got a phone call, and my secretary said there’s some guy
on the phone, and a guy named Dave Lloyd(ph) said he was there on the
hill when you got blown up, and I said, well, put him through. He said,
well, it wasn’t your grenade. I said how do you know that? He says
because I was the first to you.

And I said, you were? And he said, yeah, I remember cutting your uniform
off and using my weapon belt as a tourniquet on your left leg, and I
said only somebody that was there would have known that.

So I got to meet Dave Lloyd, who lives now outside Annapolis, Maryland,
and I said tell me all about this. He even had some pictures. I couldn’t
even look at it, so – look at them, so you know, it’s not – I don’t
really want to be reminded of it except in the fact that it wasn’t my
grenade, it wasn’t my fault, and it was the fault of, I think, the new
guy who was getting off the chopper and who had, after Dave Lloyd went
to me, he went to the other guy and found out that he had grenades still
with the pins loose and then took them off of him because he was a
walking time bomb.

GROSS: Do your phantom limbs hurt? Do you have, like, residual pain?

Mr. CLELAND: No, not now. They did at Walter Reed back in ’68, but not
now. Occasionally I will have, very rarely, a real nerve shot in either
right or left leg, and that can go on for hours, sometimes all night,
sometimes all day, but that ultimately quiets down. But I don’t really
have phantom pain. I try not to think about it.

I try not think about my right hand grasping something when it’s not
there, but early on it was a problem for me for a while.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Max Cleland, former
Democratic senator from Georgia, now author of the new memoir, “Heart of
a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and
Karl Rove.”

So let’s get to the existential crisis after this happened to you. You
know, now you’re – you have only one of four of your limbs left, and you
have visions of, like, lying on your back for the rest of your life.
Your dream had always been to get into politics and to become a senator.
Before going to Vietnam, you’d been an intern for a senator. So you’d
been to the Oval Office. You’d been to the Senate, and that’s the life
you wanted.

So you decided to run for office. You ran for the State Senate and won.
What was it like to campaign when you were so physically compromised?

Mr. CLELAND: Yeah, you got that right. In my first campaign, in 1970,
virtually immediately after I got my limbs ultimately from the VA, as
soon as I got home, I realized, you know, nobody was going to give me a
job, nobody’s going to do something for me, whatever. I was living at
home with my parents.

I said this is not what I want. I’m 28 - 27, 28 - and so wait a minute.
This isn’t the life I envisioned. So I’ve got to get up and do
something. So I put on my artificial limbs. My mother and father helped
me in the mornings. I went out. By then I could drive a car. I had my
hand controls on a car and I wore my limbs. And I did my own
campaigning, my own scheduling, my own money-raising.

I did it all from my mother’s desk, for God’s sakes, and I’m not sure
how I did it, but it was really powerfully difficult, and I had never
seen anybody do anything like that, and I did it though, and it wore me
out.

As a matter of fact, I could only wear my limbs for about six hours, and
then I would start bleeding in my crotch and whatever, I mean, because
they would wear me down, and it was plastic and leather and steel on my
skin.

So anyway, it was exhausting, but I had no other alternative if I wanted
to get up and out, and believe it or not, nobody thought I could win. I
wasn’t sure I could win, and I started off way behind the eight ball,
and nobody wanted to be the Democratic nominee in that suburban
Republican county, so I got the Democratic nomination, and believe it or
not I won the general election and became Georgia’s youngest state
senator at the age of 28, and its only Vietnam veteran. This was 1970.

And during that campaign, I met a young man named Jimmy Carter, and as
they say, the rest is history. In 1977, President Carter appointed me
head of the Veterans Administration. I was 34.

GROSS: And then when he was out of office, you were out of a job again.

Mr. CLELAND: Exactly. So back to Georgia, back living with my parents.
This time I did not wear the limbs. I campaigned in my wheelchair, and I
can tell you, going up to somebody who has all their limbs and me
shaking their left hand with my left hand, and I was right-handed, it
was about as awkward as it gets, but ultimately, thank God, I won the
Democratic primary and won the final general election, and I was
secretary of state in Georgia for 12 years.

GROSS: You were thinking of running for governor of Georgia.

Mr. CLELAND: Right.

GROSS: And early on in that, I’m not sure if you’d officially declared
yet or not.

Mr. CLELAND: No.

GROSS: You hadn’t yet. Okay. So you describe this period as the first
political dirty trick against you, and I want you to describe the set-up
for that dirty trick, and it was dirty - it’s dirty in both meanings of
that word.

Mr. CLELAND: Well, that’s correct. You know, by then I had discovered
phone sex, which wasn’t bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLELAND: And a young lady that I was having that phone sex with, you
know, she, unbeknownst to me, was friends with two adult males who were
Republican, and they wanted to trap me because they saw me as a threat
running for governor in 1990 or so.

So I was embarrassed terribly because they taped me on the phone, and
then they distributed that tape to a television station…

GROSS: They taped the phone-sex conversation.

Mr. CLELAND: Right, exactly.

GROSS: And they put her up to this, right?

Mr. CLELAND: That’s correct. That’s correct. And then to the newspaper
and all that kind of stuff. So it knocked me out of the running for
governor, and that was, you know, the way it was. But that was the first
indication that the other side would go to any lengths to beat me.

GROSS: Now, you say something very funny about this incident. You say
that made it impossible for you to run for governor. It was very
embarrassing. But at the same time, it raised your political profile
because everybody knew who you were after this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And it proved that despite your handicaps, it proved you were a
full, red-blooded American male who had not lost his sex life or the
requisite machinery. The tape proved it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Do you think that there were doubts about your requisite
machinery that could have been a liability in an election?

Mr. CLELAND: Oh, I think that people see people in a wheelchair or
missing limbs or whatever, and they think, subconsciously maybe, less of
them. They think they are unable to perform certain tasks, not
necessarily sexually, but just in general.

Now, trust me, the fact that I’m human and an all-American male and
still am, you don’t want to particularly advertise that on a billboard
or a TV shot, but you would assume that people would make that
connection. However, a friend of mine told me after this incident that,
well, this really helped you probably down in South Georgia.

So I said oh my God. So it happened, but what I learned out of it was
the fact that the other side would try to wipe you out and kill you, and
they would do anything to do it.

GROSS: Max Cleland will be back in the second half of the show. His new
memoir is called “Heart of a Patriot: How I Survived Vietnam, Walter
Reed and Karl Rove.” I’m Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Max Cleland, former
Democratic senator from Georgia. He’s written a new memoir, which is
called “Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam,
Walter Reed and Karl Rove.”

Now, you got elected to the Senate. That was a thrill. It’s what you had
always wanted, to be the senator from Georgia, and it turned into one of
the more trying periods of your life, and I just want to run through a
little bit of that.

You write how on the first anniversary of September 11th you were
summoned by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the Pentagon. Who
was at the meeting, and what was it about?

Mr. CLELAND: Yeah, the first anniversary of September the 11th, since I
was on the Armed Services Committee, I guess I got selected, but there
was about 12 – I don’t know, 12, 13, 14 of us from the Senate summoned
to the Pentagon for a briefing on the so-called weapons of mass
destruction.

They put up a chart, and they had four countries. It was Bush’s axis of
evil, and it was North Korea, it was Iraq, it was Syria and Iran. Even
based on the Pentagon’s own chart, North Korea was the real threat
because they had a nuclear program going, and they had already test-
fired some missiles.

So when it came my time to ask a question, there was Donald Rumsfeld
there, there was Dick Cheney there, there was Scooter Libby there, and
several of us. And so I said: By your own chart, you know, why don’t we
invade North Korea?

I said that facetiously, not in terms of actually doing it, and there
was a silence that fell over the room. I said that to make the point
that the real enemy here, if you’re going by your own very chart, is not
Iraq.

GROSS: It sounds like you were very skeptical of the information being
presented to you at this Pentagon briefing.

Mr. CLELAND: I was, I was.

GROSS: And yet you voted in favor of going to war in Iraq. So why did
you vote…?

Mr. CLELAND: I voted for the Iraq War resolution because we did not need
for Saddam Hussein to have weapons of mass destruction or nuclear
weapons. He had already proven his ability to invade another country, in
fact, in terms of Kuwait. That was what the First Persian Gulf War was
all about.

But now the allegation was never proven, and ultimately obviously a lie,
never proven that there was weapons of mass destruction and nuclear
weapons in Iraq. That was not true, but we did not know it at the time.

And so the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, all
of them were all lined up with the same story, that we’ve got to invade
and all that kind of stuff. The inspectors haven’t found anything, but
we’ve got to invade and all this kind of stuff. So the Congress,
including me, went along with it, only to be proven wrong later.

GROSS: So you’re saying that in spite of the fact that your skeptical of
the case that they were making, you were skeptical of the information
they were presenting to you, you were skeptical that it was Iraq we
should be invading when it was North Korea who had the bomb, in spite of
all that you felt that they were still altogether making this case and
that you had to have some trust in them?

Mr. CLELAND: They really didn’t make the case to me, but I also was
covering my own rear end back in Georgia. What I found out was that when
it really came down to it, I considered my Senate seat very important. I
figured that one vote against the Iraq War resolution wouldn’t matter
because it was going to pass anyway, but that maybe I could survive and
help the kids coming back.

That didn’t work out. I didn’t survive. They went to war anyway, and now
we’re in deep trouble with those youngsters coming back. But I don’t
pretend to say that I wasn’t looking after my own rear end and my own
hide too. That’s one of the things I learned in thinking back over all
this, but they obviously were committed to going to war in Iraq, and the
Congress, including me, gave them the benefit of the doubt.

When the president says we’ve got to do this, especially in terms of the
scare tactic of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons, boy oh
boy, the Congress sits up and takes notice and tends to give the
president, whoever that may be, the benefit of the doubt.

GROSS: Now, is it painful for you to admit that part of the reason why
you voted for the war in Iraq was to save your seat? You were up for re-
election and you thought if you voted against it you’d lose.

Mr. CLELAND: That’s correct.

GROSS: So is it painful to admit to that?

Mr. CLELAND: Absolutely.

GROSS: Or are you saying, too, that that’s the way the game is played,
that’s the way politics works?

Mr. CLELAND: It’s the way the game is played, but I got wrapped up in
it. It is the worst vote I ever cast in my whole entire life, and I’ve
cast a lot, in the State Senate and in the U.S. Senate. But it was
awful, and I will live to regret that till my dying day.

GROSS: What is some of the pain that it’s cause you, to know that you
voted for it?

Mr. CLELAND: Because as it worked out, I wound up back at Walter Reed
with my own PTSD an my own depression and my own loss of my sense of
self and identity and everything.

GROSS: This is after you lost your seat.

Mr. CLELAND: Yeah, lost my job, lost my income, lost my staff, lost my
office, lost, in many ways, my mission and meaning and purpose and
destiny in life, and I lost my fiancée to boot, and I wound up back at
Walter Reed crying and slobbering and saying I’m lost and whatever, and
on the other side of the wall were veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan
who were struggling with post-traumatic war experiences, and I was
hauled in to show them that, well, one of these days you’re going to be
okay.

Well, I mean, it was like pouring salt in the wound for me to look down

the hall and see a generation later what I saw in 1968, to see that in
2007 and 2008. I mean, it was just unbelievable to me. It was a
flashback.

GROSS: Are you saying you felt guilty, that you felt personally
responsible for that?

Mr. CLELAND: Oh yeah, big time, big time, big time.

GROSS: Yeah. Max Cleland will be back in the second half of the show.
His new memoir is called “Heart of a Patriot: How I Survived Vietnam,
Walter Reed and Karl Rove.” I’m Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with Max Cleland. He’s
written a new memoir called “Heart of a Patriot: How I Survived Vietnam,
Walter Reed and Karl Rove.” Cleland lost both legs and his right arm in
a grenade explosion while serving in Vietnam. After a long period of
therapy, he entered state politics in Georgia, then in 1996 won a seat
in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat from Georgia. He was defeated in 2002
in his run for re-election.

President Obama recently appointed Cleland to serve as Secretary of the
American Battle Monuments Commission.

Let’s get to the campaign against you, when you lost your Senate seat in
2002 in a campaign against the Republican Saxby Chambliss. There’s a
very now famous ad that he ran against you and that he pulled and
revised a little bit and then put back on the air. Would you first
describe the original ad?

Mr. CLELAND: Well, keep in mind that I lost both legs and my right arm
in Vietnam and that Senator Chambliss never went to Vietnam at all.
Matter of fact he got out by a number of deferments on a trick knee. So
to insinuate in any way that I was unpatriotic or not supportive of the
country was criminal, really. And that’s why I mention Karl Rove,
because it was the Karl Rove strategy based on the Lee Atwater idea,
which Karl Rove got from him, and that is that if you have weak
positives, then you go after your enemy’s negatives.

You try – your whole purpose of the campaign is to drive your negatives
- your opponent’s negatives up, even if you have to go after their
military service. Now, therein lies the problem. Now, anything one does
in public life is fair game. I understand that. I get that. But Thomas
Jefferson said public office is public property. I get that.

But we’re talking about military service here. This started out with
McCain in South Carolina, where the five of us remaining Vietnam
veterans in the Senate all wrote a letter defending him to the attacks –
against the attacks. Then the campaign against me in 2002, and then the
Swift Boating of John Kerry in 2004. That was all calculated to take
away an asset that we possess, namely our military service, and drive
our negatives up.

Now, the ad against me showed bin Laden, and then it showed Saddam
Hussein, and then their pictures and whatever, and then morphing into my
face. Now, that’s crazy. That’s crazy, to indicate that I had, or to
look like I had anything to do with bin Laden or Saddam Hussein was
nuts. But the insinuation was that I couldn’t defend America, that I –
that somehow my votes in terms of amendments in committee on the
Homeland Security bill were somehow translated into not being able to
defend the country.

As a matter of fact, I was one of the sponsors of the Homeland Security
bill and fought for its passage. So all of that ad was basically a set
of lies, but that’s the extent to which those guys will go to win their
elections.

GROSS: Well, because of protests against that ad, the ad was modified so
that the – explain how the visual part of it was modified.

Mr. CLELAND: The protest came from McCain and from Chuck Hagel…

GROSS: Both Republicans.

Mr. CLELAND: Two Republicans – two Republican senators, my colleagues in
the Senate, and two fellow Vietnam veterans. And so supposedly the ad
was modified a little bit, but the point was made. The point ultimately
is that this - your military service should stay…

GROSS: But I should say, in the modified ad you were no longer visually…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …what?

Mr. CLELAND: But the damage had already been done.

GROSS: How many times was it shown, the original one before it was
modified?

Mr. CLELAND: You can’t – you can’t not say that you’re a liar. You know,
you can’t say, oops, I really didn’t mean that. So in so many ways that
shows what American politics has become. Bad – bad campaigning results
in bad governance.

GROSS: Now, you write that when you lost your Senate seat, your way of
coping with life after Vietnam fell apart, that the pleasure of having a
job worth doing and the money to keep you afloat were gone. You and your
fiancée broke up also. And it plunged you into this, like, terrible
depression.

Mr. CLELAND: Right.

GROSS: Can you talk about what it was like to lose your job, to lose
your sense of purpose? I mean, the only real jobs that you’d had, you
know, after the military and after you lost three of your four limbs,
was elected office. And then being…

Mr. CLELAND: That’s right.

GROSS: …appointed to the VA by President Carter. So I mean your life had
been politics.

Mr. CLELAND: That’s right. And I had used politics and public service,
and I’m public service, that’s what I do, I had used that as my way of
coping, of my way of fitting back in, of my way of finding my place in
life, in society. It was my way of earning an income, of have a little
staff around me, of having an office, of something of a place to go to.
In many ways I look back now and at the age of 28 I had the mobility
about – of about a 90-year-old. So…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLELAND: …you know, I needed some place to go. I mean I was on - in
the Georgia Legislature, be it only 40 days and 40 nights as they say.
The rest of the time, you know, is yours. So I showed up for work
virtually every day. I was a fulltime servant because that’s what I did,
4,200 a year, and so – but I needed a place to go. I needed a little
desk, I needed a little secretary. I needed, you know, a way to survive.

So politics became that for me. When I lost it, I lost everything. I
lost my way of coping, only to find myself hitting bottom in every way
in which you can hit bottom in - and finding myself back at Walter Reed
in PTSD counseling, in massive depression, dealing with how in the world
am I going to get a grip on my life anymore?

GROSS: So did you ask – have to ask yourself if you weren’t Senator Max
Cleland, if you weren’t in politics, who were you?

Mr. CLELAND: Yes, I did, because ultimately I found myself feeling like
I was back on the ground laying there bleeding to die in Vietnam in ’68
and having to find a new way of coping, a new way of becoming part of
the mainstream of American life, finding a way in which I could serve
and do my thing, which is public service. And thank God, President Obama
appointed me recently, this year, June 3rd, to head the American Battle
Monuments Commission, which runs all the cemeteries overseas – the
American cemeteries overseas, including Normandy, and I was there with
him on June 6th, the 65th anniversary of Normandy.

And that’s my mission now, that is my goal, and I want to do that very
well. But it’s paying tribute to those who lost their lives or who are
missing from World War I and World War II primarily, and it’s an honor
to serve. So I’m back in many ways doing what I like to do with a small
little office in Arlington, Virginia, with a small little staff, but
with a mission of telling the story of those who have gone before, who
didn’t make it back from war.

GROSS: After you left the Senate, after you were voted out, one of the
things that you did was get appointed to the 9/11 Commission…

Mr. CLELAND: Right.

GROSS: …which you eventually resigned from.

Mr. CLELAND: Yes. I thought the 9/11 Commission was going to be the most
important federal commission since the attack at Pearl Harbor. In those
days, when the attack occurred in Pearl Harbor in 1941, President
Roosevelt ultimately set up four different commissions, or there were
four different commissions set up over the next three or four years. But
the 9/11 Commission, I thought that was really going to be a great
commission. It turned out to be not a great commission. It turned out to
be run basically by Condi Rice’s protégé, and it turned out be very
closely held - no implication of 9/11 was to be read into the current
policy, which was to go to Warnie Rock(ph), when a good, wonderful
terrorism advisor to three to four presidents, three of which were
Republican, Richard Clarke, wrote a book, “Against” – called “Against
All Enemies,” in which he said invading Iraq after 9/11 made as much
sense as invading Mexico after Pearl Harbor.

So I thought the 9/11 Commission was going to get at all of this kind of
stuff. Instead, we found us full of wait-a-minute (unintelligible) we
found us always bogged down with having to go to court against NORAD,
against the Department of Defense and so forth, and pulling information
out of the administration was incredibly difficult. And we found
ourselves ultimately stonewalled by getting to the president’s –
presidential daily briefs, now, that from the CIA. We were not allowed -
I was not allowed to ever see any of those. So we never really got at
the core of what the president knew, what the administration really
knew, and when it knew it. So I resigned, I said, you know, this is not
a presidential commission where I can assure every American that we got
access to all the documents. And so I resigned.

GROSS: This is specifically because you weren't getting access to the
presidential daily briefs?

Mr. CLELAND: Specifically because we had a five to five vote. We almost
got that sixth vote. You had to have at least one Republican joined our
side if we were going to subpoena the White House, and the White House
didn’t want that. But they came up with some elaborate scheme, whatever,
and I said, you know, this isn't what we're about. So you know, I
resigned and I took a job with the Export-Import Bank Board.

GROSS: Do you feel like you’ve been able to make peace with yourself -
peace with the fact that what happened happened, peace with the fact
that your body is so compromised and that you can't have what average
people with average bodies have? Have you’ve been able to make peace
with that or does it still make you angry every day?

Mr. CLELAND: I have my anger. I have my deep anger. When I see people
running laps up and down the street, I wish I could do that. I try to do
my own little laps in my apartment on pillows and stuff. I wish I could
do that. I wish I could do a whole host of things I used to be able to
do. So I think that makes it more important what I can do, and what I
could do was run for public office and do those kind of things. When I
couldn’t do that any more, then that's really when I hit bottom,
emotionally and spiritually.

And - but I'm coming out of it because I've been there. I've been to a
place where I didn’t want to live anymore and I understand that place.
But it's not ultimately true.

GROSS: As the former head of the Veterans Administration under President
Carter, do you feel like you get adequate veterans benefits now?

Mr. CLELAND: I do. Now the guys coming back and gals coming back, boy,
who can replace what they have lost? Who can minister their needs?
They’ve seen war. They’ve been part of war, and we have a whole host of
things we need to do, and that healing for them really has only just
begun.

GROSS: But do you think they're getting adequate benefits?

Mr. CLELAND: It's not so much a question of benefits as it is the
question...

GROSS: Or care. Or care.

Mr. CLELAND: Well, the question of did what I do have any meaning and
purpose for the America that I love? That's the question. And so they’ll
be spending the rest of their lives trying to establish that meaning.

GROSS: Well, it sounds like when you ask yourself that question in terms
of Vietnam, your answer is no, not really.

Mr. CLELAND: That's correct. But I'm still here. You know, I'm still
alive and I try to make the best of it.

GROSS: Max Cleland, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. CLELAND: Thank you, ma'am.

GROSS: Max Cleland’s new memoir is called "Heart of a Patriot: How I
Survived Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove."
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
113506152
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20091006
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Dennis Diken's Rich And Vibrant 'Late Music'

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

Dennis Diken is the drummer for the veteran pop-rock band the
Smithereens. He's now stepped forward with an album called "Late Music."
Diken emphasizes that the side project is not a solo album; it's
credited to Dennis Diken with Bell Sound.

Rock critic Ken Tucker explains who Bell Sound consists of and he has
this review.

(Soundbite of song, “The Sun’s Gonna Shine In The Morning”)

Mr. DENNIS DIKEN (Musician): (Singing) The sun's gonna shine in the
morning. Moon's gonna light up the stars (unintelligible) all day and
into the night…

KEN TUCKER: One of the trickiest things to do when you work in the genre
of pop-rock is to avoid sounding like a ‘60s nostalgia act, frozen in an
amber mixture of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Earlier this year, a
would-be pop-rock supergroup called, Tinted Windows - featuring members
of Hanson, Fountains of Wayne and others - tried to pull off just such a
feat. I thought it worked, not many record-buyers agreed. Now comes
Dennis Diken, working with long-time friend Pete DiBella. And they’ve
crafted some awfully pretty music that echoes the past while sounding
new and fresh and vibrant.

(Soundbite of song, “Standing in That Line”)

DENNIS DIKEN WITH BELL SOUND: (Singing) There are things I can’t forget
They’re (unintelligible) All the lessons I have learned, will I ever
learn to live to learn? Take me back to where I came from. I was found
but now I’m lost. (unintelligible) Standing in that line…

TUCKER: Drummer Dennis Diken possesses a scholar’s knowledge of not just
the pinnacles of pop-rock but also the interesting underrateds, such as
Gary Lewis and the Playboys and some greats that are due for revival,
like the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Beau Brummels. Yes, I said he avoids
nostalgia, but his knowledge can’t help but seep into good songs such as
this one, “Tell All The Fools,” flooding it with urgency. And, oh yeah,
the background vocals are by The Honeys, the once-and-future girl-group
originally produced by Brian Wilson and including his ex-wife, Marilyn
Wilson-Rutherford.

(Soundbite of song, “Tell All The Fools”)

DENNIS DIKEN WITH BELL SOUND: (Singing) In the palm of your hand lies
the power to do good or bad, to face the music or turn away to good old
days, to make it through to another day. What’s around the corner, no
one could ever tell. It may be heaven, it may be hell.

TUCKER: Although Diken and DiBella are very much New Jersey-born and
bred, one of Diken’s co-conspirators here is a cynosure of Los Angeles
pop, Andy Paley. Paley is a fantastic musician and producer whom I’ve
enjoyed since first coming upon the Paley Brothers debut album in 1978.
Andy has written, produced and performed with an array of music acts in
Boston, New York and currently Los Angeles, where Dennis Diken hooked up
with him to record part of the “Late Music” album. You can hear Andy
Paley’s back-up vocals shortly after Diken’s slamming drum intro to,
"Long Lonely Ride."

(Soundbite of song, “Long Lonely Ride”)

DENNIS DIKEN WITH BELL SOUND: (Singing) It’s going to be a long, long
lonely ride, two-lane blacktop road by my side. It’s a long, long lonely
ride, (unintelligible) to your lover, say a prayer for me. It’s going to
be a long, long lonely ride, long, long…

That’s a fine bit of hard-edged pop with a nod in the lyrics to the late
‘60s hit, "Come On Down To My Boat Baby," by the one-hit wonder group
Every Mother’s Son. Speaking of lyrics, the ones on “Late Music” are
hymns to heartache — they break no new ground, but the words matter less
than the opportunity they provide for the multi-tracked harmonies that
convey yearning and bliss. Ultimately, Dennis Diken and his ad-hoc group
Bell Sound are making music with a formalist aesthetic. The best songs
here find bracing freedom within the constraints Diken imposes upon
himself and his collaborators. It’s as though he’s writing impeccable
sonnets with his drums and his singing.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He
reviewed “Late Music” by Dennis Diken with Bell Sound.

(Soundbite of song, “So Hard To Say Goodbye”)

DENNIS DIKEN WITH BELL SOUND: (Singing) So hard to say goodbye to the
setting sun, to the love that’s gone away to the only one. Waiting for
time to conjure the spell and heal the wounds that hurt me so well. Life
goes by in the blink of an eye, there’s no time to wonder. So hard to
say goodbye to the setting sun, to the love that’s gone away, to the
only one in my heart.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
113534516
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20091006
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
13:00-14:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Play And Power In William Safire’s Words

TERRY GROSS, host:

It isn’t just conservatives who will miss William Safire. His weekly
language feature in the Sunday New York Times magazine attracted a large
and loyal audience, including many people who were unsympathetic with
the political views he articulated in the op-ed column he wrote for the
Times for more than 30 years. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg has these
thoughts on what made Safire’s writings on language so widely appealing.

GEOFF NUNBERG: The headline on William Safire’s New York Times obituary
described him as an oracle of language. And the Times chairman, Arthur
Sulzberger, praised his wonderful sermons on the use and abuse of
language. His long-time agent Morton Jankelow called him the high priest
of language usage. It was all meant as tribute, of course, but that
certainly wasn’t why so many readers turned straight to Safire’s
language column when they opened the Times Magazine on Sunday morning.

They were drawn by his unremittingly jaunty prose as he laced his
observations with etymological tidbits, puns, alliterations and
allusions. The last thing they were looking for were sermons or ex
cathedra pronouncements about grammar and diction. If Safire had written
that sentence, he’d have added a parenthetical about how ex cathedra
came from the Latin for from the professor’s chair and then noted that
speaking ex cathedra wasn’t the same as telling tales out of shul.

But while he may have enjoyed his decades as the lone conservative voice
on the Times’ op-ed page, when it came to language he didn’t see any
point in standing athwart history yelling stop. As he put it, after a
while, words come to mean what most people think they mean, not what we
say they ought to mean. That’s why he abandoned his objections to the
use of verbal in place of oral, and alarmed traditionalists by accepting
the use of hopefully as a sentence adverb, as in hopefully the war will
end soon. He didn’t take any satisfaction in seeing himself as part of a
lonely and embattled minority of those who know better.

For Safire, usage standards ultimately had to rest on a broad educated
consensus, part of the common understanding that makes public discourse
possible. That’s not what people originally expected of him. When Safire
began doing his language column in 1979, the field had been taken over
by the pop grammarians as they were called - critics like Edwin Newman
and John Simon, who had turned grammar into a new front in the culture
wars. The decline of English came to stand in for a general collapse of
societal standards, under assault from unruly minorities, disrespectful
youth, officious bureaucrats, pretentious intellectuals, and educators
infected with the loosey-goosey attitudes that went by the new name of
permissivism.

Before then, usage had been a largely nonpartisan concern. Now Newsweek
could write of an outbreak of right-wing linguistic commentary, all at
once your position on who and whom became a sign of your political
affiliation. And who better to exemplify the new right-wing grammarians
than a former Nixon and Agnew speechwriter who had actually scripted the
opening act of the culture wars a decade earlier? But Safire defied
expectations and outlived several generations of pop grammarians,
precisely because he didn’t try to use language to advance any broader
cultural or political agenda. There was no apocalyptic bombast about the
corruption of English or the indignities that ignorant and lazy speakers
were visiting on the tongue of Shakespeare.

I’m always puzzled by those evocations of the Bard – it’s like pointing
at a can of paint and saying, this is the medium of Rembrandt and people
are slathering it all over their garage doors. And he disliked the
keening hyperbole of people who described grammatical missteps with
terms like ghastly, appalling and abomination. Those are words that he
reserved for talking about Nazi collaborators or the more intrusive
clauses of the Patriot Act. He wasn’t a snob, either. You can’t imagine
him comparing a poet who confused between and among with someone picking
his nose at a party, the way John Simon once did.

And he wasn’t susceptible to the grammatical vapors that affect writers
like Lynne Truss - the people who liked to describe lapses of grammar as
setting their teeth on edge or leaving them gasping for breath, as if
they’d spent all their lives up till now closeted with Elizabeth and
Darcy in the morning room at Pemberley. What was most noticeable about
the column was its almost ostentatious civility. Safire gave due
consideration to opposing points of view. And he was gracious to his
critics, to the point of printing their letters and occasionally giving
them guest columns to write. And he seemed almost to relish
acknowledging his errors and changes of heart.

After you’d read a language column on Sunday, it could be disconcerting
to pick up the weekday paper and see how relentless he could be toward
political targets like Hillary Clinton and Anita Hill. Apart from his
genuine expertise in political terminology, Safire wasn’t really a
language maven. His speculations about word origins could be dubious and
even a little dotty. And he’d get tangled in grammatical thickets when
he tried to sort out the difference between which and that.

Linguists gave him a hard time over some of those matters. And he
responded by adding a lot of us to his rolodex. I say us because he
asked me for help with some items, too. But his special gift was in
conveying his pleasure in ruminating about language. It wasn’t just that
he loved words - who doesn’t? But he really, really liked them.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist who teaches at the School Of
Information at the University of California at Berkley. You can download
podcasts of our show on our Web site freshair.npr.org.

I’m Terry Gross.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
113536418
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

52:30

Did COVID-19 Leak From A Lab? A Reporter Investigates — And Finds Roadblocks

President Biden has asked the intelligence community to investigate whether or not the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China. Vanity Fair reporter Katherine Eban shares her findings.

41:50

'Forget The Alamo' Author Says We Have The Texas Origin Story All Wrong

In their new book, Forget the Alamo, Bryan Burrough and co-writers Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford challenge common misconceptions surrounding the conflict — including the notion that Davy Crockett was a martyr who fought to the death rather than surrender.

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