Skip to main content

Melancholy, Restrained, and Elegant.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "Matters of Chance" the new novel by Jeannette Haien (Harper Collins)

05:12

Other segments from the episode on November 19, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 19, 1997: Interview with Stanley Kutler; Interview with Jessica Williams; Review of Jeannette Haien's novel "Matters of Chance"; Obituary for Saul Chaplin.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 19, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111901NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Abuse of Power
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

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

Recently released Nixon White House tapes offer a more detailed picture than we've ever had of Nixon's involvement in Watergate. Now, the tapes have been transcribed and edited by historian Stanley Kutler for his book "Abuse of Power."

Kutler says these new tapes provide a massive, overwhelming record of Nixon's involvement in, and his instigation of, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. They expose a level of culpability far greater than imagined 25 years ago.

The first Nixon tapes, about 40 hours worth, were released in April of 1974. Nixon resigned soon after, in August. Nixon tried to prevent the release of the remaining tapes, but over 200 more hours detailing his abuse of power have been released as a result of a lawsuit against the National Archives and the Nixon estate, filed by Kutler and the group Public Citizen.

The tapes still can't leave the archives, so we can't play them on the radio. The tapes begin shortly after the New York Times published "The Pentagon Papers" -- the secret history of the war in Vietnam. The recordings detail how Nixon tried to destroy Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the papers.

The group of former CIA agents known as the "plumbers" broke into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist looking for incriminating information. The plumbers were later caught breaking into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate, leading to a massive coverup which the tapes document.

One of the big questions about Watergate is: why did Nixon try to cover it up instead of letting other people take the fall?

STANLEY KUTLER, HISTORIAN, AUTHOR, "THE WARS OF WATERGATE," AND "ABUSE OF POWER": I think I've -- I've got another dimension to it. I think that the standard answer that I and others have often given for the institution of a coverup is because there was a need to protect the president from the -- any revelation of the so-called "White House horrors" of the first term -- that is, the existence of the plumbers which engaged in illegal break-ins and the Houston Plan, which also authorized illegal break-ins; the IRS abuses; the enemies list, and so forth.

Those are the standard reasons given for the coverup. But here in these new tapes, Nixon on two occasions -- once when he's talking about the plumbers break-in of Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office and one -- and one -- and a second when he's talking about the authorization of illegal break-ins under the so-called "Houston Plan." He says: "I cannot admit that the President of the United States authorized illegal acts."

It was a kind of psychological moment. Here was the man who for 25 years had championed himself as the advocate of law and order -- the man of high-tone moral principles -- is now going to go out and admit that he authorized second-storey men to engage in illegal break-ins for his administration? It was really more than he could bear to face.

Ironically, I would argue that had he said this, his supporters would have still supported him and he might still have gotten away with it. But he found himself -- that he couldn't bring himself to say those things because they -- such an admission clashed so violently with the self-image he had projected and nurtured so carefully through the years.

GROSS: You know, Nixon says in 1973: "the coverup is what hurts you..."

KUTLER: Yes.

GROSS: ... not the issue. It's the coverup that hurts. So he seemed to, at the same time, order the coverup and be aware that a coverup is a really dangerous thing.

KUTLER: Oh, it was incredibly perceptive of him. He realized that the coverup was the truly dangerous thing that he was engaged in. And ironically, you find him talking quite often about the Alger Hiss case, and he says the thing that helped him -- Nixon -- the most in the Hiss case was the perceived attempt on the part of the Truman administration to cover it up. They really weren't trying to cover it up, but this is the way he interpreted it.

He understood the dangers of a coverup. He understood it very, very much because he understood that it involved an obstruction of justice which was a criminal matter.

GROSS: Nixon had been engaged in discussing break-ins of a couple of other places -- the Brookings Institution, the Washington, DC-based think tank, and the National Archives.

What were the proposals there? What did Nixon, or in the case of the Archives, Ehrlichman, hope to get?

KUTLER: Mm-hmm. Well, they were looking for secrets of past mis-deeds of other administrations. But you know, there are moments in these tapes, like talking about the break-in of the Brookings; or talking about the break-in of the National Archives; talking about wanting everybody in a certain institution fired within 24 hours -- this is the president venting his anger and his frustration. He says "I want this done, I want this done now" -- and of course, nobody did anything.

There was no break-in at the Brookings. There was no break-in at the National Archives. I -- I think that some of the newspaper stories that occurred shortly after the release of these tapes, they made a great deal out of those things. They did them without any understanding of context -- that this was just the president letting off steam. It's what went through his mind. There is no evidence that he ever acted on it; no evidence that any of his people followed up on this.

And I just take it at face value as the venting of a little anger and a little steam.

GROSS: Now how do you interpret this: Nixon said, after the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, he said: "we're up against an enemy, a conspiracy..."

KUTLER: Right.

GROSS: "... they're using any means; we're going to use any means."

KUTLER: Right. Well, now there I take him very seriously. Nixon has always believed he was the victim of plots, of conspiracies, particularly when it came to the media; the establishment, they didn't like him, he believed. The fact is, throughout his presidency, throughout his career, he made great use of the media. In 1972, most of the media favored his reelection.

But you know, this is -- this is Nixon in what I always call his "Uriah Heep" mode -- feeling put upon. But he would, indeed, tell his aides "I don't want you to talk to the New York Times anymore; the Washington Post" -- and indeed, there would be some momentary expression of anger. As to the last part of that quotation "we're going to do something about them," it's not clear that he ever did anything. And indeed, he continued to court those newspapers by all means.

GROSS: What about Henry Kissinger? How does he come out looking in the tapes? I mean, Nixon...

KUTLER: Well...

GROSS: ... Nixon thinks Kissinger is leaking to the press at some point.

KUTLER: Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, you see -- you see this...

GROSS: So they have a quarrel between them about that. But what was Kissinger in on and what did he actively participate in?

KUTLER: Yeah -- well, you know, there is an obvious tension between these two men. Nixon is very unhappy, you know, when Kissinger gets a Nobel Prize. Why not me? After all, didn't Kissinger take his orders from Nixon? He would resent it if Kissinger became Man of the Year on Time magazine cover.

There was a rivalry there. Well, throughout these tapes, there is reference to Kissinger asking for wiretaps of his key National Security Council aides to find out who's leaking to the media. And Kissinger is up to his ears in that, and Nixon keeps reminding him of it.

There are conversations, though, that in the eyes of many people today don't serve Kissinger very well. He appears to be the ultimate toady, buttering up the president. There is a conversation on the night of April 30th, after Nixon has fired Haldeman and Ehrlichman, his key aides.

And Kissinger has his conversation with him, and reminds him -- tells Nixon again how great he is and that Watergate doesn't mean anything. History's going to remember Nixon as the great man of peace and so forth.

Yet in his own memoirs of the same time, his diary, which appears in his memoirs, Kissinger says for the night of April 30th that he knew that Nixon was dead in the water at that point; that the administration was paralyzed and probably on the way out.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Stanley Kutler, and he sued the National Archives for the release of the Nixon tapes, and those tapes have since been released. Stanley Kutler has edited them for his new book Abuse of Power.

I think one of the really interesting revelations from these tapes is how the Nixon White House tried to use government agencies for the Nixon White House's own -- you know, personal gain; wanted to use the CIA to thwart the FBI investigation of the Watergate break-in.

KUTLER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: But Nixon hated the CIA because...

KUTLER: Right.

GROSS: ... the CIA gave a briefing to Kennedy on Cuba during the 1960 presidential campaign.

KUTLER: Right.

GROSS: Nixon wanted the IRS to go after journalist Daniel Schorr and Mary McGrory, but he wanted retribution against the IRS for going after his buddy Billy Graham.

KUTLER: And John Wayne.

GROSS: So it's just -- yeah, it's just really interesting to read about how he was trying to manipulate these government agencies for his own gain.

KUTLER: Well, he's -- he's says very clearly, or you hear this very clearly, he's a man of passions; of pique; of anger; of hurt. He nurses grievances constantly. You know, his old speechwriter and aide, the columnist William Safire in the book that he wrote during the -- after the -- during the time, that's called "Before the Fall" -- he talked about Nixon and some of his advisers like Colson and Haldeman, sitting around rubbing scabs, rubbing swords -- sores. It's like they would like to fester -- they had these festering conversations.

And they'd say "get this guy, get that guy" and so forth. The tapes are filled with those sort of things. And as I say, it's a reflection of the man's anger and his pique and his anxieties.

GROSS: It's interesting to read some of Nixon's anti-Semitic language in his tirades. He says to Haldeman: "Bob, please get me the names of the Jews -- you know, the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats. Could we please investigate some of the -- expletives."

Then he criticized a reporter and FBI executive saying: "they're both Jews, and that has nothing to do with it, but it at least gives you a feeling of the possible motivation deep down of the liberal leftists."

KUTLER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Did you find those kind of anti-Semitic language recurring a lot in Nixon's talk?

KUTLER: Well, it recurs a good deal throughout these tapes. There's a tie -- the people who leak in government are Jews; McGovern has a big Jewish contributors. Well, you know, Nixon did, too. He kind of ignores that.

Now, you know, on this subject, his defenders and his associates, some of whom are Jewish -- by the way, you know, one should point out that he did have an ample representation of Jews in the government -- Henry Kissinger, Leonard Garment, White House aide and so forth. They're -- want to point out that -- they'd like to point out that Nixon's anti-Semitism never became "operational."

Well, I never know quite exactly what to make of that. What do they mean? That Nixon never ordered a Holocaust? He never ordered the elimination of people? The fact is that he used this language.

It's used to express his anger, his frustration, his envy. It's not very becoming, and you know I don't see why it's difficult for people to admit that. It simply is not very becoming. It's very unpleasant and it recurs a great deal. There's not an isolated episode of it.

GROSS: The last tape that Nixon made in the White House -- the last tape that you've transcribed for your...

KUTLER: Well, I think it's the last tape that he made in the White House; the last recording we have. It's on July 12th, the day that Butterfield revealed the existence of the tapes.

GROSS: His final words -- Nixon's final words in a conversation with Kissinger are: "keep fighting."

KUTLER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What's the context of that conversation and the significance of Nixon's words?

KUTLER: Well, it's a conversation which said -- he and Kissinger often engaged in these kind of mutual support conversations, of each trying to buck up the spirits of the other. And the word -- I find, I find that conversation fascinating, because the word "fight" runs through his memoirs like a red thread -- battle, conflict. He was a combative man. He saw life as a constant struggle and a constant battle and a constant fight.

And I was struck by the fact that these are almost his last words in this last recorded conversation: "keep fighting." The fact is that the man, when you think about it, from May '73 on, Nixon realizes the consequences for him; that if any of this coverup is ever revealed -- uncovered -- that he is in serious trouble. He will probably have to resign.

Yet he fights -- he fights desperately. On the night of April 30th, when he fires Haldeman and Ehrlichman, there are all these very depressed, distraught conversations he has. Yet you look at the conversations of May 1st, if you listen to them, and listening to them is very much different than the spoken word, often. He's very -- full of fight; full of energy. He's determined to fight on.

And the fact is that he kept fighting from the time this taping system closed down in July of '73, almost until the day he resigned and finally then he realized how hopeless it was. But the conversation between Kissinger and Nixon is really a kind of mutual support one.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Stanley Kutler, and he's the editor of the newly-released Nixon tapes and he's edited those tapes for the new book Abuse of Power, and he actually sued for the release of those tapes.

GROSS: Let's take a short break and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

If you're just joining us, my guest is Stanley Kutler, and he sued the National Archives for the release of the Nixon tapes. He's since gotten their release. He's edited them and those edited transcripts appear in his new book Abuse of Power.

It's interesting, you know, when -- Johnson recorded a lot of his conversations. Of course, those Johnson tapes have been released and edited for a new book as well.

And as that book and your book makes clear, one of the first things Nixon did when he got into the White House was disassemble the LBJ recording system. But then, shortly thereafter, he created -- Nixon created a new recording system that was slightly different than the Johnson system. What insights do you have about why Nixon disassembled the recording system and then set it up again?

KUTLER: Well, I -- we have no certain knowledge as to why he did. By the way, a two-year period of time elapsed before he and Haldeman instituted the new system. I just don't know why he did it. I -- sometimes I'm -- I like to suggest that he dismantled it because Johnson assembled it and he was determined to do things quite differently than Johnson.

Why does he reassemble it, though? Why does he institute it? And I think that the answer lies in his sense of history and in his desire to preserve his version of his history of his administration.

And you know, in his memoirs, he tells us why he didn't want to burn the tapes, to destroy the tapes. And I see no reason -- why not -- why we shouldn't take him at face value. He says he didn't want to destroy those tapes because he wanted to have his version of history to use against others who would try to insist on theirs.

It was a kind of "I got you" mentality, but why he ever dismantled Johnson's system is not clear.

GROSS: Nixon's recording system was a little bit different than LBJ's.

KUTLER: Right.

GROSS: LBJ's was button-activated. He had to press a button and start recording. Nixon's system was voice-activated, so as soon as he started talking, the system started recording.

KUTLER: Right.

GROSS: Do you think that everybody in his office was aware that their conversation with Nixon were being recorded?

KUTLER: Well, Haldeman knew 'cause Haldeman helped install the system. People such as Kissinger -- Ehrlichman did not know at first. I think over time, they sensed this. There are times when -- for example, I think there's some -- there's some strong evidence that Ehrlichman knew, before he acknowledged knowing, that the taping system existed.

But with others who came in -- they did not know. I think Haig knew from the outset. But these are, indeed, as you said, voice-activated. And I think at times, it's very clear to me, that there are some contrived conversations, particularly between Nixon and Haldeman, where they're talking for the record. "Oh, I didn't know this." "I don't know that."

They're talking about deep black holes -- you know, which is a kind of -- it turns out to be a code for "the plumbers." But you know, sometimes you have a tape recorder going and you -- sometimes you then become oblivious to it, too. And you just talk.

GROSS: You spent, I believe, about five years suing the National Archives with the group Public Citizen, for the release...

KUTLER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ... of the Nixon tapes. Why did this become such, I would imagine, an obsessive mission for you?

KUTLER: Oh, no, no, no, no. I don't think it was. It was a question -- well, first of all, in 1987, the National Archives had finished processing the tapes and said that they were prepared to release them, and nothing happened. And I inquired and they said: "well, we're reviewing them again."

When I say that they had prepared them for release, that means that they had vetted everything for national security, for personal matters, family matters and so forth. Well, I soon found out that Nixon was pressing them to have a complete re-review of the whole thing, which would probably mean another 10 years.

Well finally after numerous requests in 1992, after five years, we filed suit. We filed suit against the National Archives and Richard Nixon joined the suit as intervenor. And the archives at first denied the existence of any more abuse of power or Watergate tapes.

Ultimately, I was able to prove that there was substantially more tapes, by simply going through Haldeman and Ehrlichman's notes and noting all the conversations that they were having with the president about Watergate.

And I estimated there was anywhere between 100 and 300 more hours of tapes. Finally, the Archives agreed that there were 201 more hours. And -- but Nixon continued to fight and I have no doubt that if Richard Nixon were alive today, we would not have these tapes, because he simply was determined that they would not see the light of day in his lifetime.

When he died is when we had the settlement.

GROSS: While Nixon was in the process of resurrecting his career and his image as the great international statesman...

KUTLER: That's right. That's right.

GROSS: ... if these tapes were released in his lifetime, how would you guess they would have affected his image reversal?

KUTLER: Well, it would have just brought back into sharp focus, and for generations of people who had no knowledge of Watergate or who had not lived through it, it would have just revived all the images of the president doing wrong again. And he just did not want to face this in his lifetime.

He had worked for 20 years in what I call his "campaign for history" -- what Daniel Schorr has called his "campaign to be elder statesman" -- and he had carefully nurtured this new image and he did not want to see it dissipated.

GROSS: Now, were the Nixon tapes released to you? Do you have a special responsibility...

KUTLER: No.

GROSS: ... for those tapes?

KUTLER: No. No, no, no, no, no, no. No, no -- when I won the suit, I have no special access. I suppose I was allowed to cross the threshold before everybody else. No, the day I went in to hear them was the day you or anyone else could go in and hear them.

No, people misunderstand this, that when you get access to government documents like under Freedom of Information, that you have some sort of privileged status. No, anybody else can come in with you that day.

GROSS: Stanley Kutler edited the new book Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes. We'll talk more on the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with more of our interview with historian Stanley Kutler, who has transcribed and edited over 200 hours of recently-released Nixon White House tapes detailing Nixon's abuse of power in the White House.

Kutler's new book is called Abuse of Power.

Nixon tried to prevent the tapes from being released, but the National Archives was forced to release them after a lawsuit filed by Kutler and the group Public Citizen.

Tell me what it was like the first time you actually sat down after this lawsuit and actually listened to one of these withheld tapes.

KUTLER: Well, it's different. It is. I mean, you know, you're hearing the president in a moment where he may be aware of the taping system; may not be aware of it. And you begin to realize that you're hearing an extraordinary amount of candor, personal input into affairs and the conduct of the presidency, that we just have never had before.

I mean, these taped conversations, whether -- even those that are somewhat contrived or that they're -- the president pushes a button. I mean, This is a whole new world for historians in terms of -- or a new insight into the presidency. There is nothing like them.

GROSS: Listening to these tapes, you actually got to hear the tone of voice that Nixon and the other involved parties used when speaking. I'm wondering if you think you got any new insights by actually hearing these conversations?

KUTLER: Yeah, well I -- I got not so much new insights, but a kind of new perspective on the man. I mean, you hear him in all of his modes at this time. He's distraught. He's emotional. He's depressed. He's anxious. He's exhilarated. He's determined. He's manipulative. You see him in a dominant mode. You see him at times or you hear him at times -- he's very passive.

Whatever, whichever of these things, or all of the above -- he -- the man provides the whole gamut of human emotions. And that's interesting to hear the tone of his voice. You know -- you get a much better sense, clearly, of when he's being sarcastic, for example, than if you're just looking at the cold written word.

If you listen to his conversations of the night of April 30 when he fires Haldeman and Ehrlichman -- reading them at first, I thought: "wow, this man is really exhilarated. He's -- the adrenalin is flowing after he's appeared on television" and so forth. Oh no, you listen to it, you hear how distraught he was; how emotional he was; how depressed he sounded. He's speaking very slowly, emphasizing almost every word. He is slurring his words at times.

GROSS: And what is he saying there?

KUTLER: Well, he's says to Haldeman things like, "I love you -- I love you like a brother." Well, this is very uncharacteristic of Richard Nixon. I mean, we don't think of -- at least we don't think of Richard Nixon in those terms. He's not a man who expressed it -- expressed the love or his feelings for people so openly.

It was quite an interesting moment to read those, but then it was more interesting to hear those things. It just -- it just, I think, enhanced my own personal perspective on the man.

GROSS: It seems to me, and I don't know if you'll agree with me or not, that there's this just really a deep interest now in Nixon and Kennedy and Johnson. There's books coming out about all those presidents; obviously a lot of interest now in President Clinton's personal and public life.

And I'm wondering if you think we're going through a period where presidents are almost being treated like celebrities -- in the public eye. I don't mean in terms of...

KUTLER: Well, they are. I mean, but that's nothing new. The -- these tapes of all three of these men constantly raise the question of the relationship of the public to the private life. Certainly, there has -- there's a leak -- a link in this in terms of the way a president is and behaves privately will in large measure determine the nature of public controversies before him.

How much we should make of that? It's a little difficult to say. I don't know. I think you more or less have to take the evidence as it comes along, and here we have Nixon talking very candidly about affairs and I think that we have to take those things at face value.

GROSS: I'm wondering how President Clinton's campaign finance problems compare with what you've just gone through with the Nixon tapes.

KUTLER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: After examining Nixon, does -- how does -- how do the questions about Clinton's campaign finances look?

KUTLER: Well, the -- you know, I find it disturbing with the process of what I call the trivialization of Watergate. You know, reporters seem to have fallen in love with the suffix "gate" to describe any kind of potential scandal -- "debategate," "Koreagate" and so forth. All that only serves to trivialize Watergate, which I regard as a major, major problem and event in 20th century -- in American history, if you will.

There was a good deal of talk in the media some months ago or weeks ago, when these White House videos were released, of these people who came to coffees or teas or lunches at the White House in exchange for providing money, and immediately there were comparisons drawn between these White House videotapes and the Nixon Watergate tapes.

Well, if we can invoke Mark Twain here, it's like the difference between lightning and lightning bugs. Those tapes -- those White House videotapes -- what do they show us? They show us people at a party. I mean, they're not there secretively. These are contributors. What else is new? That people contribute money for access all the time.

On its face, that showed nothing illegal. There's no conversation there saying: "now, let's use the CIA to thwart the FBI investigation." How can anyone make any -- draw any comparison between the two events?

GROSS: Stanley Kutler, thank you very much for talking with us.

KUTLER: OK. Thank you.

GROSS: Historian Stanley Kutler edited the new book Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes.

Coming up, a preview of our concert with pianist Jessica Williams.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Stanley Kutler
High: Historian Stanley Kutler. He's just edited a collection of "The New Nixon Tapes." The book is titled "Abuse of Power." Kutler sued the National Archives and the Nixon Estate for the release of 3,000 hours of tapes in 1996, 200 hours of which are now available. In them, Kutler documents much evidence made possible by Nixon's voice-activated tape recording system. Kutler is also the author of "The Wars of Watergate," and historical adviser for the television documentary, "Watergate."
Spec: Media; History; Tapes; Nixon; Scandals; Watergate; Television; Tapes; Books; Authors; Abuse of Power
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 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: Abuse of Power
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 19, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111902NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Jessica Williams Preview
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: On Monday, we recorded a concert and interview with pianist and composer Jessica Williams, whose CDs we often play on FRESH AIR.

She's just begun a tour, and tonight she'll perform at Mirkin (ph) Concert Hall in Manhattan. We're very excited about our concert with Jessica Williams, which we'll broadcast next Wednesday.

In the meantime, we're going to give you a preview.

You do amazing things with jazz standards, with familiar tunes that you kind of take apart and put back together again.

I'm going to ask you to play a standard for us and to do what you do with it. Would you play the Gershwin song "Nice Work If You Can Get It"?

JESSICA WILLIAMS, JAZZ PIANIST: Yeah. I'll give it a try.

SOUNDBITE PIANIST JESSICA WILLIAMS PERFORMING "NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT" COMPOSED BY GEORGE GERSHWIN)

GROSS: Oh, that's great. Jessica Williams at the piano. Oh, I love that.

You had a great stride thing going -- going -- you use a kind of stride left handle in your...

WILLIAMS: Yeah, it's an entirely different world for me. Stride piano is something that I sometimes -- sometimes I can really get it going and I can go really fast with it. Other times, I feel the time a little differently. I think it's just about how I'm feeling at the moment.

GROSS: For listeners who aren't familiar with the expression "stride" piano, would you just tell them what it ...

WILLIAMS: "Stride" would be the root in the bass or the fifth or...

SOUNDBITE OF PIANO BASS NOTE

... a bass note and a chord...

SOUNDBITE OF PIANO CHORD

... and...

SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION OF "STRIDE" PIANO

Like that. So if you were to play "Cheek to Cheek" as a stride piece, it would be...

SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ PIANIST JESSICA WILLIAMS PERFORMING "CHEEK TO CHEEK" IN STRIDE PIANO STYLE

And I -- and then I could approach the tune from, say, another angle, which would be more, shall we say, streamlined or modern, which would be...

SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ PIANIST JESSICA WILLIAMS PERFORMING "CHEEK TO CHEEK" IN MODERN STYLE

OK.

GROSS: That's great.

WILLIAMS: Or we could always do it as a ballad, you know. There's so many ways to play tunes, and the really great tunes you can do almost anything to. You know, you can play them fast, slow, run them up the flagpole. It's -- lots of different things you can do with a tune, a good tune.

GROSS: In your listening, did you go back as early as James P. Johnson who was, you know, one of the fathers of stride piano, and started recording in the '20s.

WILLIAMS: I kind of did everything backwards. I started with the music, listen -- by the time I was 16 years old, listening to Coltrain, Miles, even Eric Dalphey (ph). I was introduced to free music.

Then I turned around and went backwards, and got into the history of the music. But it wasn't until I think probably the last five or six years that I actually even had heard Albert Amonds (ph) or James P. Johnson or Fats Waller. I mean, really heard them; really listened to them -- to the point where they became a part of me. And Earl Garner just changed my life. I mean...

GROSS: What about his playing changed you?

WILLIAMS: Well, first it was these records with tunes that last two or three minutes, and they're just little gems of pure joy and optimism. He had such a quirky sense of humor. Where Thelonious had kind of a -- one kind of humor that was kind of an inside humor, Earl Garner was just flat-out goofy sometimes. It's so much fun to listen to his music.

And I think a lot of people are aware that he would play four beats to a measure in the left hand, very similar to what Freddie Green (ph) was doing on the guitar in the Count Basie Orchestra. So, you would get a feeling like, let's see, "I wish I Knew."

SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ PIANIST JESSICA PIANIST PLAYING "I WISH I KNEW" IN THE STYLE OF EARL GARNER

So, and it's a -- and it's funny because that approach even works on very slow tempos. He would play "Body and Soul."

SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ PIANIST PLAYING "BODY AND SOUL" IN THE STYLE OF EARL GARNER

You know, you get that real slow -- oh, so groovy, you know.

LAUGHTER

And even without a rhythm section, it really, really swung.

GROSS: Well, that's just a preview of our concert with pianist Jessica Williams. You can hear the whole concert a week from today on FRESH AIR.

Tonight, Jessica Williams performs in Manhattan at Mirkin Concert Hall.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Jessica Williams
High: Preview of jazz pianist Jessica Williams -- her interview and concert will air next week.
Spec: Music Industry; Piano; Jessica Williams; Jazz; History
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 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: Jessica Williams Preview
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 19, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111903NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Matters of Choice
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Our book critic Maureen Corrigan has read a new novel that she recommends. It's by Jeanette Haien.

Haien was a slow starter as a novelist. She published her first novel, "The All of It" late into her middle age. Now 10 years later, she's finished her second novel, "Matters of Chance."

Maureen says Haien had better pick up the pace because she doesn't want to wait another decade for Haien's next novel.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: It's the atmosphere of Jeanette Haien's marvelous new novel Matters of Chance that will stay with me long after the details about the plot have been forgotten.

Melancholy, restrained, and elegant -- the world Haien fully realizes in this novel is one in which characters chart their behavior using such outmoded moral compasses as honor and discretion. Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennett would be at home in this world; so would Miss Manners and Mrs. Miniver.

But let me quickly add that Haien is no sentimentalist. In fact, her view of life is closer to that of Kafka's than Barbara Cartland's. Haien's characters cling to rules of etiquette as drowning people cling to driftwood. In an irrational cosmos governed by whimsy and accident, their proper behavior gives them some dim illusion of control.

Haien's main character is a man named Morgan Shirtliffe (ph), who's born around 1910 to an affluent Ohio family. Through the eyes of a God-like narrator who's a decent, if somewhat distant fellow, we follow Morgan through boarding school, Harvard Law School, and into marriage with Maude Lee (ph), a well-bred young woman he met at a skating party.

For three years, their happiness knows no bounds, until -- and here's the first blow by a capricious universe -- they discover they can't have children. Enter Zenobia Slye (ph), the mysterious head of a local adoption agency who has the demeanor and apparent powers of one of the three pagan Sisters of Fate.

Miss Slye places twin infant girls with Morgan and Maude, and they bring the twins home on the same day that Hitler invades Paris. Our narrator dryly comments that: "by the day France accepted Germany's terms of surrender, Morgan had become an expert at the task of diapering."

Up to this point, Matters of Chance has been an exquisitely written novel, largely concerned with the interior life. Now, it acquires another dimension, fitfully transforming into a suspenseful war story with an ever-widening circle of characters.

Morgan becomes a lieutenant in the Navy and serves on Liberty ships, conveying cargo to Africa, the Middle East, and Australia. Because of the war, which airlifted so many people out of their routine lives, he and the properly aloof Zenobia Slye begin a correspondence which eventually ripens into a distinctly eccentric friendships -- one of the few between a man and a woman I've ever come across in literature.

At the end of three years, Morgan returns to Maude and reacquaints himself with his small daughters. Life is prosperous and busy and joyous. Then, the capricious universe makes its presence felt again.

One of Haien's greatest gifts as a writer is her power to capture moments of heightened consciousness and sear them into a reader's imagination so that you share the headiness of life, momentarily stayed before it distorts into memory.

For instance, early in their marriage, Morgan and Maude drive to a New Year's Eve party, snow blankets the windshield of their car and she's a bright vision in a new red dress. Another moment: when Morgan returns home after the war, he spontaneously performs a hand-stand in the living room for his daughters -- little strangers -- in order to impress on them their father's goofy good will.

But before that enchanting reunion, Morgan survives torpedoing by enemy submarines. Here's how Haien describes the terrifying moment when Morgan and his fellow sailors, floating in life boats, witness the sinking of their ship:

"The ship plunged, and with an unimaginable speed vanished from their sight, taking with her the strange poetry of their instantly-remembered lives aboard her, and leaving them in the night's darkness on a sea thick with oil and the floating wreckage of their lost world."

Like Melville, who described a similar horror in "Moby Dick," Haien emphasizes throughout Matters of Chance that without warning, any of us could be cast adrift, just as Ishmael was -- an orphan of the universe, enveloped by the blackness of darkness.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed Matters of Chance by Jeanette Haien.

Coming up, we remember songwriter Saul Chaplin (ph).

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "Matters of Choice" the new novel by Jeannette Haien.
Spec: Books; Authors; Jeannette Haien
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 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: Matters of Choice
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 18, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111804NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Remembering
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Songwriter Saul Chaplin (ph), who also worked in Hollywood as a producer, musical director and vocal arranger, died Saturday at the age of 85. His most famous songs, "Until The Real Thing Comes Along," "Please Be Kind," and "Rhythm Is Our Business," were written in the '30s with lyricist Sammy Cahn (ph). Chaplin and Cahn also wrote the English lyric to "Bei Mir Bis Du Schon" (ph).

We're going to remember Chaplin by listening back to an excerpt of Sammy Cahn's 1972 appearance at the Lyrics and Lyricists Series at New York's 92nd Street Y. He talked about his collaboration with Saul Chaplin when they were both just getting started.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SAMMY CAHN, LYRICIST AND SONGWRITING PARTNER OF SAUL CHAPLIN: Mr. Saul Caplan (ph) and I started to write 10 or 15 songs a day. We started to write special material. We wrote for comedians, for Catskill mountaineers, for strippers, for stake swallowers, for...

LAUGHTER

... you name it, we wrote for them. Mr. Lou Levy (ph) was acting as sort of agent in this time. And one day, Mr. Levy came to me and said: "Mr. Luntzford (ph) needs a number for his band at the Apollo. So -- excuse me...

VOICE OF PIANIST: Key of F.

PIANO MUSIC PLAYS

CAHN SINGING: Rhythm is our business
Rhythm is what we sell
Rhythm is our business
Business sure is well

If you like rhythm on your radio
Just write in and let us know
Rhythm is our business
Rhythm is what we sell

APPLAUSE

Mr. Luntzford recorded this song on the Decca label, and we were called by Mr. Joy (ph) of the Santley-Joy (ph) Company and he published that song. And when I saw the first copies of a collaborative effort between Mr. Caplan and myself, I kept looking at the words "Cahn and Caplan."

I turned to Caplan and I said: "you're going to have change your name." He said: "why?" I said: "because Cahn and Caplan is a dress firm."

LAUGHTER

And I convinced him to change his name to Saul Chaplin. And as Cahn and Chaplin, we started to write songs for the Vitaphone Short Subjects. I'm often asked: which comes first, the words or the music? I will tell you swiftly: the phone call.

LAUGHTER

And one day, one day in our office at the Vitaphone Studios, the phone rang and there was a Mr. Roy Mack (ph) to say: would we write a love song for one of these shorts? So -- and this is indicative of the way Saul and I used to write. I ran in and said: "hey, you like this for an idea? Listen:

PIANO MUSIC PLAYS

CAHN SINGING: This is my first affair
So please be kind

CAHN: And he'd say: "no, no, no. What you want to do is:

CAHN SINGING: This is my first affair
So please be kind
Handle my heart with care
Oh, please be kind

This is all so grand
My dreams are on parade
If you'll just understand
They'll never, never fade

And we had a song for this short subject, and it went on to gain some attention:

CAHN SINGING: Tell me your love's sincere
Oh, please be kind
Tell me I needn't fear
Oh, please be kind

'Cause if you leave me, dear I know
My heart will lose its mind
If you love me
Please be kind

APPLAUSE

GROSS: Lyricist Sammy Cahn talking about songwriter Saul Chaplin. Chaplin died Saturday at the age of 85.

Sammy Cahn's 1972 appearance at the Lyrics and Lyricists Series at New York's 92nd Street Y has been released on CD on DRG Records.

We'll close with Bei Mir Bis Du Schon. Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin wrote the English lyric to that song.

I'm Terry Gross.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "BEI MIR BIS DU SCHON" WITH LYRICS BY SAMMY CAHN AND SAUL CHAPLIN)

SINGER: Of all the boys I've know, and I've known some
Until I first met you I was lonesome
And when you came in sight, dear, my heart grew light
And this old world seemed new to me

You're really swell, I have to admit
You deserve expressions that really fit you
And so I've wracked my brain
Hoping to explain
All the things that you do to me

Bei mir bis du schon
Please let me explain
Bei mir bis du schon
Means you're grand

Bei mir bis du schon
Again, I'll explain
It means you're the fairest in the land

I could say "bella belle"
I even said "wunderbar"
Each language only helps me
Tell you how grand you are

I've tried to explain
Bei mir bis du schon
So kiss me, and say you understand

Bei mir bis du schon
You've heard it all before
But let me try to explain

Bei mir bis du schon
Means that you're grand

Bei mir bis du schon
It's such an old refrain
And yet I should explain
It means I am begging for your hand

I could say bella belle
I even said wunderbar
Each language only helps me tell you
How grand you are

Dee-dee
Dee-dee-dee-dee
Dee-dee-dee-dee

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Remembering the death of a musical figure who passed on.
Spec: Music Industry; History; Deaths
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 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: Remembering
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