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Movie Review: 'The Magdalene Sisters'

Film critic David Edelstein reviews The Magdalene Sisters by Scottish writer/director Peter Mullan. It's based on Ireland's actual Magdalene Asylums where Catholic girls accused of "moral crimes" (anything from getting pregnant, to being too attractive, to accusing a man of rape) were sent to work in laundries to atone for their sins. These virtual prisons finally closed their doors in 1996.


Other segments from the episode on August 1, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 1, 2003: Interview with Peter Guralnick; Interview with Carl Perkins; Interview with Johnny Cash; Review of the film "The Magdalene Sisters."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Peter Guralnick discusses how Elvis got his start at
Sun Records with Sam Phillips

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

On today's archive edition, we remember record producer Sam Phillips, who died
Wednesday of respiratory failure at the age of 80. The founder of Sun
Studios, he helped launch the careers of such musicians as Johnny Cash, Carl
Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich and, of course, Elvis
Presley. A little later, we'll hear from Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins about
what it was like to work with Phillips.

But first, rock historian Peter Guralnick. His two-part biography, "Last
Train to Memphis," is widely considered to be the definitive history of Elvis,
from his early years to superstardom. When Terry spoke with Peter Guralnick
in 1994, they started with a story of Elvis' first recording. At the age of
18, he went to the fledgling Sun Studio in Memphis to take advantage of their
service that lets you make your own record for 3.98 plus tax.

(Soundbite of Elvis' first recording of "My Happiness")

Mr. ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) Evening shadows make me blue when each weary
day was through. How I long to be with you, my happiness. Every day I
reminisce, dreaming of your tender kiss, always thinking how I miss my
happiness. For many years it seems I've gone by since we shared our dreams,
but I'll hold you again. There'll be no blue memories then.


Elvis recorded this hoping that it would give him an in at Sun Records. He
wanted this to be his audition. So what did Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun
Records, have to say when he heard what Elvis had done?

Mr. PETER GURALNICK (Author): Pretty much nothing, not at that time. I
mean, I think on Elvis' part it was an unrealistic hope. And what he got out
of it ultimately was he got a two-sided acetate. He's--the other side was
"That's When My Heartaches Begin." And he went home with it, and he played it
himself. His parents played it. I'm sure everyone marveled at it. He played
it for friends and he stored it away eventually.

What this probably led to was a revamping of his thinking. And all through
the fall of '53, he continued, at least as Marion Keisker remembers it, who,
Marion Keisker, was Sam Phillips' assistant, the office manager, at Sun
Records. And Marion recalls him coming in over the fall. And Sam also has
memories of Elvis over the succeeding months. He came back in again in
January of '54, made another acetate, and again, nothing happened. And it
wasn't until the spring of '54, I think until May of '54, that he finally got
a call from Sam Phillips.

And this came about as a result of both Marion Keisker and Sam Phillips noting
about Elvis that he was a good ballad singer and that maybe someday--and I'm
sure this was also promoted by Elvis' return visits to the studio just to
check in, see what was going on--but each of them had noted that Elvis was a
good ballad singer, and eventually he got a ballad called "Without You," which
he had picked up at the Tennessee State Prison over in Nashville. He didn't
have a singer for it, and he called Elvis back in.

GROSS: And so Elvis comes in because Phillips thinks that he has the right
voice to record this ballad, and then Phillips doesn't like the way Elvis
sings it.

Mr. GURALNICK: That's right. And again, the interesting thing in terms of
this whole issue of cultural theft is that the ballad that he recorded does
not resemble in the least anything to do with black music, the
African-American tradition. It may very well be a black singer who is singing
it, but it could as easily be Dennis Day is The Ink Spots.

And Elvis' attempts at it haven't been preserved, at least not as far as
anyone knows. But it was obvious that they didn't get anywhere with this
ballad. Sam evidently asked Elvis to try other songs. Elvis probably threw
in every song he knew, which were mostly--but what he sang for Sam that day
was almost entirely ballads. It would be song by Dean Martin, songs by Bill
Eckstine, songs by The Ink Spots, but nothing, again, nothing whatsoever
resembling rock 'n' roll.

GROSS: So...

Mr. GURALNICK: And I think at the end of the day there was a feeling of
great frustration on Elvis' part; I mean, just terrible disappointment. And
on Sam's part, there remained the kernel of the idea that this kid is
different. `He has a different sound. There may be something. What is
there? You know, there's something there that can be gotten.' And out of
that, eventually Sam put him together with Scotty Moore and Bill Black and
said, `Why don't you guys try something with him and see what happens?'

GROSS: Scotty Moore, the guitarist, and Bill Black, the bass player.

Mr. GURALNICK: That's right. Yeah.

GROSS: So the three of them come back into the studio, and instead of doing
more ballads, they end up putting out a single that on one side has "Blue Moon
of Kentucky," which was a Bill Monroe tune, something out of bluegrass and on
the other side had "That's All Right," kind of a rhythm and blues thing by
Arthur Crudup. How did they end up with that selection considering Elvis had
been pegged as a ballad singer?

Mr. GURALNICK: I think nobody was more surprised than Sam Phillips, Scotty
Moore or Bill Black. I mean, they came to this out of sheer desperation, I
think, on Elvis' part. Elvis met Scotty. He went over to Scotty Moore's
house on a Sunday, Sunday, July Fourth, as far as I can determine. On Monday
night, they went into the studio. They really just ran through a bunch of
songs. They ran through the same kinds of songs that Elvis had done for Sam
Phillips in the studio previously. On Monday night, they want into the studio
and you can hear some of the early attempts, like "Harbor Lights" or "I Love
You Because," which were just pure ballads. Eventually, they were brought out
years later by RCA.

But it was evident by everyone's account that the session was completely
falling apart. They were no more on the verge of success than Elvis had been
in his initial tryout, and they took a break. And I think it was just in a
moment of sheer desperation that Elvis--everybody's drinking Cokes, and all of
a sudden, Elvis just starts flailing away on the guitar and singing "That's
All Right (Mama)." When Elvis started playing "That's All Right," Scotty and
Bill fell in and started playing along. And I'm sure it was very ragged, but
Sam Phillips opened up the control room door and he said, `What are you guys
doing?' And they said, `I don't know.' And Sam said, `Well, whatever it is,
let's back up and do it again.'

GROSS: Well, let's hear Elvis doing "That's All Right."

(Soundbite of "That's All Right")

Mr. PRESLEY: (Singing) Well, that's all right, Mama. That's all right for
you. That's all right, Mama, just anyway you do. Now that's all right.
That's all right. That's all right now, Mama, anyway you do.

Well, Mama, she done told me, Papa done told me too, `Son, that gal you
fooling with, she ain't nothing for you.' That's all right. That's all
right. That's all right now, Mama, anyway you do.

GROSS: I guess you really have to give Sam Phillips credit for hearing what
it was that made Elvis Elvis and not trying to fashion him into, you know,
somebody else's mold.

Mr. GURALNICK: I think you have to give Sam Phillips enormous credit, not
only for hearing, which is unique enough in itself, but for waiting and not
imposing himself...

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. GURALNICK: ...on Elvis or on Elvis' style. This is really at least a
two-tiered story and probably more, because I think that Scotty and Bill had a
great deal to contribute as well, but the thing is that Elvis was a person of
such broad musical intelligence. He was someone of so many different musical
interests. Marion Keisker described how, on the first acetate, he went
through 12 different styles in the course of one song, and I think you can
hear him straining on some of the ballads that came out from those Sun years
for--you just hear all these different voices and all these different gropings
in a sense towards his own style. But with "That's All Right" and "Blue Moon
of Kentucky" and then rolling on from there, you can hear someone discovering
his own voice instantly. It's almost as if it came to him instantly, and it
was his voice, it was not the voice that Sam Phillips--there was no imposition
in it, it was not Sam Phillips saying, `Hey, you should record a blues,' but
it was Sam Phillips waiting until that moment happened and then saying,
`That's it.'

GROSS: In your book, you really treat Sam Phillips with enormous respect.

Mr. GURALNICK: Yeah. I think it's one of those remarkable accidents of
history that a person of such unique talent as Elvis should be thrown in with
a person of such equally unique gifts as Sam Phillips. I mean, you have,
really, the meeting of--in Sam Phillips, you have someone who's as close to a
genius as anyone I've ever met, and you have a person of just unswerving
vision and dedication to the music.

BOGAEV: Peter Guralnick from a 1994 interview with Terry Gross. His two-part
biography of Elvis is called "Last Train to Memphis."

Coming up, singer, guitarist and songwriter Carl Perkins. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Interview: Carl Perkins discusses working with Sam Phillips at Sun

Carl Perkins was one of the many artists whose career Sam Phillips helped
launch. He recorded at Sun Records in Memphis during the label's heyday, when
its roster included Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Perkins'
singing, guitar playing and songwriting brought together country and rock 'n'
roll. He's best known for writing the song "Blue Suede Shoes." He also wrote
"Honey Don't," which was recorded by The Beatles. More recently his songs
were recorded by Dolly Parton, The Judds and George Strait. Carl Perkins died
in 1998. When Terry spoke with him in 1996, they talked about his first
encounter with Sam Phillips.


There's a great story about how you ended up going to Memphis to record at the
Sun Studios. Your wife heard Elvis Presley on the radio...

Mr. CARL PERKINS (Musician): Yeah.

GROSS: ...singing "Blue Moon of Kentucky"...

Mr. PERKINS: Right.

GROSS: ...and she called you and she said, `Look, there's someone on the
radio who sounds like you,' because you and Elvis were both putting together
country music, rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll.

Mr. PERKINS: That's right.

GROSS: And when you heard that, you went right to Memphis to the Sun Studios
to see if Sam Phillips would record you, too.

Mr. PERKINS: You're right about that.

GROSS: So was he willing to give you a shot right away? Did you have to work
hard to convince him?

Mr. PERKINS: If I hadn't have felt that was my only opportunity, I wouldn't
even have turned around. I would have put it in reverse and backed back to
Jackson, because he wasn't there when I walked in. My brothers were sitting
out in the car and I went in the front office there, and a lady by the name of
Marion Keislur, who was Sam Phillips' secretary, who was really the lady who
found Elvis Presley--she told Sam about this good-looking boy and how unique
he sang. He came in to make a record for his mama and he paid $3 for it. It
was called Memphis Recording Service then. But I walked in and I guess she
could by looking at me that I was a hungry guitar picker, and she said, `If
you come to audition, you're out of luck because we got this boy Elvis and
he's more than we can handle. So Mr. Phillips is not listening to anybody.'
I said, `Well, I appreciate it. Is it all right if we sit out front for a
while till he gets here?'

And just a few seconds after--or a few minutes, really, after that, he pulled
in and he got a little close to my old Plymouth, 'cause I was in his parking
place, right in the front door. And he whipped in there in that two-tone '54
Cadillac Coupe DeVille. I never will forget it. It was dark blue and light
blue, and he got out, he had on a dark-blue pair of pleated pants with a
light-blue coat. I said, `Wow! That's either Elvis Presley or the cat that
owns this place.' And I beat him to the front door. I had my foot in the
door. I said, `Mr. Phillips, I'm Carl Perkins. That's my brothers sitting
there in the car,' and I was talking 90 miles an hour. `We come down, we want
to make a record for you.' He said, `I'm just too busy, man. I just--and
I'--he told me after that, he said, `Carl, I don't know why I listened to you.
I had no intentions. I was wrapped up with what I was going to do to get
records pressed of this boy Elvis. But you looked like your world would have
ended.' And I said, `Mr. Phillips, it might have,' 'cause I was just aching
to get in that studio. I just felt--you know, with encouragement from my
wife, I thought, `I can't let Val down. I gotta get in there,' and we did.

GROSS: So Sam Phillips gave you a shot. What did he do? Ask you to play a
lot of your songs?

Mr. PERKINS: He asked me--my brother Jay had a couple of songs that he'd
written. So Jay started doing one that he'd written and he stopped him after
about one verse. He said, `No, got anything else?' He did another one. He
got about that far and he stopped him again. Jay liked a country singer by
the name of Ernest Tubb and had developed a style like him 'cause he loved him
so much, and he sounded a little bit like him. And I never will forget, Mr.
Phillips said, `Boy, there's already a Ernest Tubb. You need to forget about
him. Your song's pretty good, but I can't use you guys.' You know, I didn't
realize or we didn't know the microphone was still on, and he was back in the
control room. I said, `Boys, don't put them'--they started to put their
instruments, you know, back in the cases, and I said, `Don't put them up. I'm
going to do him one of mine.' I said, `Please don't. We can't leave here.'

But he was hearing this, and he heard a convicted little skinny-armed boy by
the name of Carl Perkins that--when I got the shot--he walked back through
there, I said, `Mr. Phillips, will you listen to one of my songs?' He said,
`Yeah, take off.' So he stood there. Well, I got real nervous, 'cause after
I got past the first verse, he hadn't stopped me, and I thought, `Oh, Lord,
he's going to listen to the whole song.' And I got to jumping around, and the
first thing he said to me after I did that, he said, `That's a cute song and I
like it.' He said, `Can you sing standing still?' He said, `You're going to
have to, because if you ever make a record, you're going to have to stand
still.' I said, `Yes, sir, I can do whatever you tell me to.' And he said,
`Well, I like that song. Go home and write you another one in that vein and
we'll talk about putting a record out.'

So on the way back to Jackson in a '40 model Plymouth, I must have written 10
or 15 songs on the dashboard, and I called him back in a couple of weeks and I
had a thing he liked. It was a country song called "Turn Around." So the
first one I ever did for him was a song I wrote when I was 14 years old called
"Movie Magg" and "Turn Around" was on the other side, and that was my first

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear "Turn Around," your first recording. And this
is different from what we've heard. This is more of a country ballad than an
up-tempo rockabilly song.

Mr. PERKINS: Yeah. Now the song on the other side was a rockabilly country
thing called "Movie Magg," but he liked--I'll tell you what, he told me, he
said, `This boy Elvis is doing--I know where your heart is. But he's got that
ball and going with it, and I can't have two of you cats sounding a lot alike
and singing this up-tempo'--we called it feel-good music. There was no word,
no name for it at that point. Some of the hillbillies in Nashville--I think
rockabilly sprang out of there. They said, you know, `Them boys in Memphis
are rocking our music,' so it got called rockabilly, and it kind of stuck
there. But he didn't feel that he had room for Elvis and I doing the same
kind of music. So he told me, he said, `I'm going to put out this song "Turn
Around,"' and then he put out another record called "Let the Jukebox Keep on
Playing." On the back side of that one was a rockabilly song called "Gone,
Gone, Gone." And then he sold Elvis to RCA Victor and he said, `Now you can
rock,' and so that's when I came up with "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Honey Don't."

GROSS: Oh, that's interesting. Well, why don't we hear the country ballad
that you wrote, "Turn Around."

Mr. PERKINS: All right. Good. OK.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PERKINS: (Singing) When you're all alone and blue and the world looks
down on you, turn around, I'll be following you. When you feel that love is
gone and you realize you're wrong, turn around, I'll be following you. Turn
around, I'll be waiting behind you with a love that's real and never, ever
dies. If you feel your love will last and you'd like to live your past, turn
around, I'll be following you.

BOGAEV: Terry Gross spoke with Carl Perkins in 1996. We'll hear more of
their conversation in the second half of our show as we continue our
remembrance of Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records.

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PERKINS: (Singing) Well, how come you say you will when you won't? You
tell me you do, baby, when you don't. Let me know, honey, how you feel. Tell
the truth now, is love real? Oh, uh-uh. Oh, honey, don't. Well, honey,
don't. Honey, don't. No, honey, don't. Hey, honey, don't. Say you will
when you won't. Uh-uh, honey, don't. Well, I love you, baby and you ought to
know, I like the way that you wear your clothes. Everything about you is so
doggone sweet. And you got that sand all over your feet. So uh-uh, hey,
honey, don't. Honey, don't. Well, honey, don't. Uh-uh, honey, don't.
Honey, don't say you will when...


(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) Hey, get a rhythm. When you get the blues, come
on, get a rhythm.

BOGAEV: Coming up, Johnny Cash auditions at Sun Studios, and Carl Perkins'
version of "Blue Suede Shoes" and the story behind it. We continue our
tribute to Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records. Also, David Edelstein
reviews the new film "The Magdalene Sisters."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) ...never could slow down, but he's got the dirtiest job
in town. Bending low at the people's feet on a windy corner of a dirty
street. Well, I ask him, will he shine my shoes, how'd he keep from getting
the blues. He grinned as he raised his little head. He popped his shoe-shine
rag and then he said, `Get rhythm.' When you get the blues, come on, get
rhythm. When you get the blues, a jumpy rhythm makes you feel so fine. It'll
shake all your trouble from your worried mind. Get rhythm when you get the
blues. Get rhythm. When you get the blues, come on, get rhythm. When you
get the blues, get a rock 'n' roll feeling in your bones. Put taps on your
toes and get going. Get rhythm.

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

Interview: Carl Perkins discusses the hit song "Blue Suede Shoes"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

On today's show, we're remembering Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Studios,
who died Wednesday at the age of 80. Let's return to Terry's 1996 interview
with Carl Perkins, one of the musicians who started his recording career at
Sun. Perkins is best known as the writer of the song "Blue Suede Shoes." His
1956 recording of the song was a pop, rhythm and blues and country hit. Then
Elvis had a huge hit with the song. Here's Perkins' version.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CARL PERKINS: (Singing) Well, it's one for the money, two for the show,
three to get ready, now go, cat, go. But don't you step on my blue suede
shoes. You can do anything, but lay off of my blue suede shoes. Well, you
can knock me down, step in my face, slander my name all over the place and do
anything that you want to do, but uh-uh, honey, lay off of my shoes and don't
you step on my blue suedes shoes. You can do anything, but lay off of my blue
suede shoes.


Carl Perkins, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. PERKINS: Thank you, Terry. It's a pleasure to be here.

GROSS: I'd love to hear the story of how you wrote "Blue Suede Shoes."

Mr. PERKINS: Well, I'd love to share it with you. It was October the 21st,
1955. I was playing what we called back in those days a honky-tonk. They
call them clubs now, but it was a honky-tonk where people get together and
scream and holler and dance and have a good time. And I had not owned a pair
of blue suede shoes at this point. I'd seen a few of them around my hometown
in Jackson, Tennessee. But at the end of a song, this couple had been
dancing, a very attractive young lady and a cat that had on a pair of blue
suedes. And at the end of the song, he said, `Uh-uh, don't step on my
suedes.' And it bothered me, you know? Not having owned a pair, I didn't
realize that, you know, if you step on them, you kind of--you've got to brush
them off a little bit. It discolors the toe of them.

But the thing that bothered me was he thought that much of a pair of stupid
shoes to actually hurt her feelings. So I went home that night, and I could
not go to sleep. I mean, I just kept seeing her face and she said, `Oh, I'm
sorry,' and she really was. And I laid there, and I thought of the old
nursery rhyme, `One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and
four to go.' I got up, went down the concrete steps. I was living in a
government project house. And I got my guitar down and I said, `Well, it's
one for the money, dun, dun, two for the show,' and I never will forget I
couldn't find any paper to write on. Because we had two small children, my
wife, Valda, who, thank God, is still with me after 44 years--all of our folks
lived close by. So I guess we had no need to have, you know, writing paper.
So I took three Irish potatoes out of a brown paper sack.

GROSS: Oh, no.

Mr. PERKINS: I did, and bless her heart, she saved that sack. The original
words to "Blue Suede Shoes" is hanging in my den in Jackson, Tennessee.

And I never will forget, I called Sam Phillips at Sun Studios down here in
Memphis, who had a boy by the name of Elvis who had a couple of records
already out at that time. And I said, `Mr. Phillips, I wrote me a good song
last night.' He said, `What is it?' I said, `I guess we'll call it maybe
"Blue Suede Shoes."' And he said, `Is it anything like "Oh dem Golden
Slippers"?' I said, `No, man, this is about a cat that don't want nobody
stepping on'--he said, `It sounds interesting.'

GROSS: Now as you pointed out, the nursery rhyme is, `Three to get ready and
four to go'...

Mr. PERKINS: And four to go.

GROSS: how did it...

Mr. PERKINS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...become, `Go, cat, go'?

Mr. PERKINS: Well, the original line there that I came up with, I said,
`Three to get ready. Now go, man, go.' I wrote the song, `Go, man, go.' And
the first attempt I made at recording it, I said, `Go, man,' and then I got
excited because I could tell through the glass control window that Mr.
Phillips was liking this song. And I got excited and forgot the word `man.'
On my original record, there is a slight pause. I said, `Three to get ready.
Now go, cat, go but don't you'--the word `cat' flew in there instead of `man,'
and after I got through with it, he said, `That's it.' I said, `Mr. Phillips,
I made a terrible mistake. I called that man a cat.' He said, `I heard you,
and he's going to stay a cat.'

GROSS: Now this was the first rock 'n' roll record to top the pop charts,
rhythm and blues charts and country charts at the same time.

Mr. PERKINS: Yeah, it was.

GROSS: And a lot of people made their own recordings of "Blue Suede Shoes,"
Lawrence Welk, among them...

Mr. PERKINS: Yeah, he sure did. Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys.
There was every kind of version. And, you know, to this day, Terry, this song
still gets put on albums all around the world. It's amazing. You ought to
hear it in the Japanese language. It's...

GROSS: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Mr. PERKINS: Yeah.

GROSS: Now, of course, Elvis Presley, did a version...

Mr. PERKINS: Oh, bless his heart.

GROSS: ...of your song.

Mr. PERKINS: Yeah.

GROSS: How did he end up doing it?

Mr. PERKINS: Well, I'm glad you asked me that because I'd like for as many
people as possible to know this about this wonderful boy. I knew Elvis in
1954 when I first came to Sun Records. I worked the schoolhouses. We were
booked by the same disc jockey here in Memphis, a fellow by the name of Bob
Neal. We played at high school auditoriums together. I thought I recognized
a supertalent. This boy was one of the nicest fellows I'd ever been around
off the stage, and when he hit the stage, he was just completely generated,
high powered, hip shaking. He couldn't help that.

You can go back and find where a lot of people copied Elvis, but you can't
find who Elvis copied. Elvis was an original. And, you know, this guy was
absolutely great, and I'm leading up to answer your question. When my record
came out January the 2nd, 1956, of "Blue Suede Shoes," RCA Victor contacted
Elvis. They had bought him from Sun Records at that point, and they said,
`Elvis, there's a hit song out there. We want you to get in the studio and
record it.' He said, `There's a lot of hits out there. What are you talking
about?' And Steve Sholes allegedly was a man who recorded Elvis back in the
early part of his career at Victor--said, `The song's "Blue Suede Shoes"' He
said, `Yes, sir, you're right. I think it's a hit song myself, but that's my
friend, Carl Perkins, and that's a Sun Record.'

And he didn't want to do that song at the time they wanted him to, which was
in January of 1956. He waited until April of that year, letting my record do
what it was going to, and then he recorded it. And that was the kind of guy
he was, you know? He could have jumped on it first and nobody would have ever
known Carl Perkins existed, but because of the nature of this fine individual,
human being named Elvis, he wanted me to have success with it, and he thought
I would have if he stayed off of it; and that's what he did.

GROSS: What do you think of his version?

Mr. PERKINS: I loved it. You know, I fell into the trap--Elvis did it faster
than I did, and I love--in the music industry, we call it the groove. The
beat that he put to it was up-tempoed from mine quite a bit, and I loved his
so much till I drifted into doing it like he did, you know, faster. And I met
The Beatles in 1964 in England, and we was at a party, and they wanted me to
do, you know, "Blue Suede Shoes," and I did. And Harrison said, `Why don't
you do it like you did it?' I said, `Well, I think I am.' He said, `No,
you're not.'

My record was, `Well, it's one for the money, dun, dun, dun'--a definite two
stops; you know, and Elvis was, `Well, it's one for the money, dun, two for
the show, dun.' It was a one lick. And Harrison was really disturbed with
that. He said, `Man, you do it different than anybody ever did, and now
you're doing it like everybody else.' But I really liked Elvis' record of it.
I still to this day do, and I catch myself unconsciously speeding it up to the
very groove he had it.

BOGAEV: Terry Gross spoke with Carl Perkins in 1996. We'll hear more of
their conversation.

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

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

Interview: Music legend Johnny Cash discusses his music career

As the founder of Sun Studios, Sam Phillips was the first to record such
artists as Elvis, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin' Wolfe, Ike Turner and
Johnny Cash. Cash is the only musician on this list who is a member of both
the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His
biggest hits include "I Walk The Line," "Jackson," "Ring Of Fire," "Ballad of
Ira Hayes" and "Folsom Prison Blues." Cash's wife, June Carter Cash, was a
hugely influential musician in her own right who helped introduce vocals into
country music. She recently passed away. Terry spoke with Johnny Cash in
1997, soon after he announced that he has a disorder similar to Parkinson's
disease. She asked him about the early days of his long career in music.


When you got to Memphis, Elvis Presley had already recorded "That's All
Right." Sam Phillips had produced him for his label Sun Records. You called
Sam Phillips and asked for an audition. Did it take a lot of nerve to make
that phone call?

Mr. JOHNNY CASH: No, it just took the right time. I was fully confident that
I was going to see Sam Phillips and to record for him, but when I called him,
I thought, `I'm going to get on Sun Records.' So I called him, and he turned
me down flat. Then two weeks later, I called him, turned down again. He told
me over the phone that he couldn't sell gospel music 'cause it was independent
and not a lot of money, you know. So I didn't press that issue, but one day,
I just decided that I'm ready to go. So I went down with my guitar and sat on
the front steps of his recording studio and met him when he came in. And I
said, `I'm John Cash. I'm the one who's been calling, and if you'd listen to
me, I believe you'll be glad you did.' And he said, `Come on in.' That was a
good lesson for me, you know, to believe in myself.

GROSS: What was the audition like?

Mr. CASH: It was about three hours of singing with just my guitar, songs, a
lot of them like the songs that are in my first "American Recordings" album.

GROSS: So what did Phillips actually respond to most of the songs that you
played him?

Mr. CASH: He responded most to a song of my called "Hey, Porter," which was
on the first record, but he asked me to go write a love song or maybe a bitter
weeper. So I wrote a song called "Cry! Cry! Cry!"--went back in and
recorded that for the other side of the record.

GROSS: Now you say in your book you had to do 35 takes of "Cry! Cry! Cry!"
Why did it take so many takes?

Mr. CASH: It was too simple. We were trying to make something complicated
out of it, and it was the simplest song in the world ever written. And
invariably, that some time during a take, the guitar player would mess up or
the bass player or I would mess up and we'd have to do it over. That's not
unusual, though, to do a song 35 times.

GROSS: Were you nervous because it was your first recording?

Mr. CASH: No, not at all. I had confidence that I was going to do it. I'd
been singing in Germany. In the Air Force, I'd been singing with my little
group called The Landsberg Barbarians, and we played in honky-tonks and
guesthouses and wherever we could, you know, when we weren't working.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear "Cry! Cry! Cry!" which was on the first
single that Sun Records released by you.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Everybody knows where you go when the sun goes down. I
think you only live to see the lights of town. I wasted my time when I would
try, try, try 'cause when the lights have lost their glow, you'll cry, cry,
cry. Soon your sugar daddies will all be gone. You'll wake up some cold day
and find you're alone. You'll call for me, but I'm going to tell you, `Bye,
bye, bye.' When I turn around and walk away, you'll cry, cry, cry. You're
going to cry, cry, cry and you'll cry alone. When everyone's forgotten and
you're left on your own, you're going to cry, cry, cry.

GROSS: So this record was the beginning of your recording career. What was
it like when you started to go on tour, you know, after coming from the cotton
fields. It's true, I mean, you'd been in the Army and you'd been abroad, you
know, with the Army, but what was it like for you in the early days of getting
recognized, you know, traveling around the country?

Mr. CASH: Well, when I started playing concerts, I went out from Memphis to
Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, played the little towns there, but I would
go out myself in my car and set up the show or get the show booked in those
theaters. And then long about three months later, Elvis Presley asked me to
sing with him at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis, and I sang "Cry! Cry!
Cry!" and "Hey, Porter." And from that time on, I was on my way, and I knew
it, I felt it and I loved it.

So Elvis asked me to go on tour with him. And I did. I worked with Elvis
four or five tours in the next year or so. And I was always intrigued by his
charisma. Just--you can't be in the building with Elvis without looking at
him, you know? And he inspired me so with his fire and energy that I guess
that inspiration from him really helped me to go.

GROSS: It's funny, I think of your charisma and his charisma as being very
different forms of charisma because, I mean, he would move around so much on
stage, and I think of your charisma as being a very kind of still, stoic kind
of charisma.

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm. Well, I'm an old man to him. I'm four years older than he
was. So I was 23 when I started recording, and Elvis was 19. And I was
married; he wasn't. So we didn't have a lot in common from a family life, but
we liked each other and appreciated each other. So he asked me to tour with

GROSS: Did you want that kind of adulation that he was getting from girls who
would come see him?

Mr. CASH: I don't remember if I wanted it, but I loved it. Yeah, I did, but
I only got it to a very small degree compared to Elvis.

GROSS: Right. What were the temptations like for a young married man like
yourself on the road, you know, slowly becoming a star?

Mr. CASH: Fame was pretty hard to handle, actually. The country boy in me
tried to break loose and take me back to the country, but the music was
stronger. The urge to go out and do the gift was a lot stronger. And the
temptations were women, girls, which I loved, and then amphetamines, not very
much later running all night, you know, in our cars on tour, and the doctors
got these nice pills that give us energy and keep us awake. So I started
taking those, and I liked them so much I got addicted to them.

And then I started taking downers or sleeping pills to come down and rest
after two or three days. So it became a cycle. I was taking the pills for a
while and then the pills started taking me.

GROSS: I want to play what I think was your first big hit "I Walk The Line."

Mr. CASH: That was my third record.

GROSS: And you wrote this song. Tell me the story of how you wrote it and
what you were thinking about at the time.

Mr. CASH: In the Air Force, I had an old Wilcox K recorder(ph) and used to
hear guitar runs on that recorder going dun, dun, dun, dun, like the chords on
"I Walk The Line." And I always wanted to write a love song using that theme,
you know, that tune. And so I started to write the song, and I was in
Gladewater, Texas, one night with Carl Perkins, and I said, `I've got a good
idea for a song.' And I sang him the first verse that I'd written, and I
said, `It's called "Because You're Mine."' And he said, `"I Walk The Line" is
a better title.' And so I changed it to "I Walk The Line."'

GROSS: Now were you thinking of your own life when you wrote this?

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm. It was kind of a prodding to myself to `play it straight,

GROSS: And I think I read that this was supposed to be a ballad. I mean, it
was supposed to be slow when you first wrote it.

Mr. CASH: That's the way I sang it, yeah, at first. But Sam wanted it up,
you know, up-tempo, and I put paper in the strings of my guitar to get the
`oon, chi-chi, oon, chi-chi, oon, chi-chi, oon' sound with a bass and a lead
guitar. There it was. Bare and stark that song was when it was released.
And I heard it on the radio, and I really didn't like it. And I called Sam
Phillips and asked him please not send out anymore records of that song.


Mr. CASH: But he laughed at me. I just didn't like the way it sounded to me.
I didn't know I sounded it that way, and I didn't like it. I don't know. But
he said, `Let's give it a chance,' and it was just a few days until--that's
all it took to take off.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my
eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends out for the tie that binds.
Because you're mine, I walk the line. I find it very, very easy to be true.
I find myself alone when each day is through. Yes, I'll admit that I'm a fool
for you. Because you're mine, I walk the line.

BOGAEV: Johnny Cash spoke with Terry in 1997.

Coming up, a review of the new film "The Magdalene Sisters." This is FRESH

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

Review: Peter Mullan's "The Magdalene Sisters"

Peter Mullan was best known as an actor for his acclaimed work in films like
"My Name is Joe" and "Trainspotting" until he wrote and directed his second
feature film, "The Magdalene Sisters," which won the coveted Golden Lion at
the Venice Film Festival and was simultaneously denounced by the Vatican.
Film critic David Edelstein has a review.


A few years ago, the great Scottish actor Peter Mullan watched a documentary
on Britain's Channel 4 called "Sex In A Cold Climate," and it made him angry.
It made him really angry. You can feel his righteous fury in every frame of
the fictional film he wrote and directed on the same subject, "The Magdalene

The movie is a masterpiece. It's also, frankly, a holy hell. You'll feel
you're being punished for a crime you didn't commit, which puts you in the
same frame of mine as the title characters. The setting is the Irish Republic
in 1964, home to a flourishing business known as either the Magdalene
Laundries or the Magdalene Asylums, named, of course, for the repentant New
Testament prostitute.

The laundries in Mary's name would make anyone repent. The tens of thousands
of girls who worked 364 days a year received no wages, could never leave the
grounds and were subject to beatings, tauntings and sexual humiliations at the
hands of nuns. No one spoke out because these were, quote, "bad girls."
They'd had children out of wedlock, they'd been promiscuous, or in some cases,
they were simply too pretty to be allowed to roam free, boys, you see, being
so easily tempted.

Mullan has you by the throat from the opening scene in which he introduces the
first of his three female protagonists. It's a family wedding party with
drinking and wailing and fierce tribal drumming. And Margaret, played by
Anne-Marie Duff, makes the mistake of following a male cousin upstairs. Then
she makes the mistake of getting raped. Then she makes the mistake of sobbing
about it aloud. When it's over, the boy rapist is left alone and Margaret is
carted away. The second girl, Bernadette, played by Nora-Jane Noone, is an
orphan who flashes one or two saucy looks at the boys who eyeball her from a
walkway overlooking the orphanage playground, and that's all she does to earn
her exile. The third girl, Rose, played by Dorothy Duffy, gives birth to a
child she wants to keep. She weeps for her father just to look at the baby
boy and see how beautiful he is.

The first night at the asylum as she moans from the pain of her swollen
breasts, she's warned, `The nuns go crazy if they see you leaking.' Here's
the second girl, Bernadette, as she proclaims her innocence to Sister Bridget,
played by the magnificent Geraldine McEwan, shortly before getting whipped
across the backs of her thighs.

(Soundbite from "The Magdalene Sisters")

Ms. GERALDINE McEWAN: (As Sister Bridget) I understand that you two have been

Ms. DOROTHY DUFFY: (As Rose) I just asked if I could see you, Sister.

Ms. McEWAN: (As Sister Bridget) You didn't ask anything, girl; you demanded.
Now who in God's name gave you the right to make demands?

Ms. DUFFY: (As Rose) I just want to know why I'm here, Sister. I've not
committed any crime. I've never been with any lads ever; that's God's honest

Ms. McEWAN: (As Sister Bridget) But you'd like to, wouldn't you?

Ms. DUFFY: (As Rose) I'm a good girl, Sister.

Ms. McEWAN: (As Sister Bridget) No, you're arrogant in every manner and
stupid and that'd be why the boys liked you, so much low intelligence makes it
easier for them to get their fingers inside you. All men are sinners and,
therefore, all men are open to temptation. In any God-fearing country if you
want to save men from themselves, you'll remove that temptation. Do you
understand me, girl?

Ms. DUFFY: (As Rose) I understand you, Sister.

EDELSTEIN: That voice of McEwan's, why is it the stuff of nightmares? I
think it's the combination of that grandmotherly melodiousness and those
stabbing insinuations. Sister Bridget is a radiantly certain sadist. Her
cruelty is like a higher calling. All kinds of tortures can be rationalized
in the name of laundering away these wicked girls' sins.

This is a horror movie, a grueling one, but it isn't just a melodrama of
wrongly imprisoned waifs and demonic nuns. The real horror is the way these
girls are worked from within. Watch how Bernadette steals a cherished St.
Christopher's medal from a simpleton called Crispina and refuses to give it
back even as Crispina turns sick and attempts to hang herself. Bernadette
hates the girl for being so emotionally open, so weak. She punishes Crispina
before the nuns can.

The Catholic Church has denounced "The Magdalene Sisters," but this isn't an
anti-Catholic movie, per se. The target is any society that tries to manage
unmanageable sexual impulses by punishing the people who elicit them.

BOGAEV: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.

(Soundbite from music)

Unidentified Singer: Blue moon, you saw me standing alone without a dream in
my heart, without a love of my own. Blue moon...


BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

(Soundbite from music)

Unidentified Singer: Oooh. Oooh. Without a love of my own. Blue moon...
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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