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Musician and Inventor Les Paul

He turned 90 years old on June 8, and he is still performing and recording. He's collaborated with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Sting — among others — on a new album to be released later this summer.


Other segments from the episode on June 10, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 10, 2005: Interview with Dave Chappelle; Review of the series "Entourage;" Interview with Les Paul; Review of Hayao Miyazaki's film "Howl's moving castle."


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

Interview: Comedian Dave Chappelle talks about his family
background, his upbringing, how he got into comedy, and his
Comedy Central series, "Chappelle's Show"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Dave Chappelle is one of the highest paid and most popular comics on TV right
now, except he isn't on TV right now. The third season of his Comedy Central
series, called "Chappelle's Show," was scheduled to start last month, but
Chappelle pulled a vanishing act, retreating to South Africa and forcing the
network to substitute other programming. There were rumors of drug abuse,
mental instability, even a conversion to Islam. But Chappelle denied all of
that in Time magazine and resurfaced last week at two comedy clubs in Los
Angeles, dropping in unannounced to perform for delighted crowds. Chappelle
says he was thrown by his sudden fame and unhappy with the direction his show
was taking in its third season, so he pulled the plug.

Neither he nor Comedy Central has announced when "Chappelle's Show" will resume,
but DVD sales of its first two seasons attest to his amazing popularity and
success. The first season of "Chappelle's Show" has sold almost three million
copies, making it the biggest-selling TV series on DVD ever released. It also
means more people bought the show than watched it on Comedy Central, which is
just plain astounding. The second season DVD of "Chappelle's Show" has sold
half of that already, and it was released only two weeks ago.

Terry spoke with Dave Chappelle last year during the second season of his


You said of one episode of your show that after someone complained to you that
your show was offensive to black people--and that person, by the way, was
white--you came up with this idea for a game show called "I Know Black

(Soundbite of "Chappelle's Show")

Audience: I--know--black people!

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. DAVE CHAPPELLE (Comedian; Host, "Chappelle's Show"): Welcome to the show
"I Know Black People." We take contestants who claim to know black people and
put their knowledge of African-American culture to the test. The contestant
who answers the most questions, of course, wins our grand prize. Let's bring
them out one at a time now.

Our first contestant is a professor of African-American studies and history at
Fordham University, the New York City police officer who's a writer for such
black television shows as "The Chris Rock Show" and "Chappelle's Show." OK, our
next contestant works in a Korean grocery store, who's a DJ and claims to have
many black friends.

How can black people rise up and overcome?

Unidentified Woman #1: How can they rise up and overcome? Well, can they

(Soundbite of bell)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: That is correct.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Unidentified Man #1: Reparations.

(Soundbite of bell)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: That is acceptable.

Unidentified Man #2: This is a rap lyric?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: No, this is--I'm sorry.

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, this a question.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: This is an actual question.

Unidentified Man #2: All right. That's a--there's a complex answer there.

(Soundbite of bell)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: That is correct!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #3: Staying alive.

(Soundbite of bell)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: That is correct.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: That is correct.

Unidentified Man #4: Well, stop cutting each other's throat.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: That also is correct.

How can black people rise up and overcome?

Unidentified Woman #2: Get out and vote?

(Soundbite of buzzer and audience laughter)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: That is incorrect, I'm afraid.

Unidentified Woman #2: Oh, my goodness.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: That's wrong.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Well, folks, our...

GROSS: Dave Chappelle, that's such a funny idea for a show. Can you talk a
little bit about what happened in the writing of this sketch, like what it was
like to put this sketch together?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Originally, we were going to write the material. We were
going to write it like an actual sketch. And when we sat down and started to
write it, it was one of these things--it was like, `This would be better if we
got actual people and just quizzed them.' And we just came up with questions.
We just had them put this thing together...

GROSS: So you actually got real people? You got like a white cop...

Mr. CHAPPELLE: All those people were real. We had 'em get use a police
officer, get us a Korean grocer, get us a black dude. Yeah, everybody--it was
completely authentic. And then all the hosting elements were just like--it
was fun--those were, like, off-the-cuff, you know? But the answers were
incredible, man, the things that these people were saying.

One of the things, they're going to see me, so they kind of go for being
funny, but all of them were really nervous and they were all kind of afraid
that I was making fun of them. And then once we got to shooting, I think
everyone just kind of un--kind of relaxed and kind of unwound and--I don't
know. That's one of my favorite sketches we've done.

GROSS: Now you grew up in different neighborhoods because--I guess this was
because of your parents' divorce. If I understand correctly, you grew up in
Silver Springs, Maryland; Yellow Springs, Ohio--because your father was
teaching at Antioch College, which is located there; and Washington, DC. So
you went to schools in these different places, too?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah. The elementary school was Silver Springs, middle
school in Ohio--with a high school in Washington.

GROSS: Were you almost part of like different cultures in those different
places? Were there different ways of, like, dressing and different music that
your friends listened to depending on which place it was, whether it was the
suburbs or the city or Ohio or Washington?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: I think elementary school was more integrated because, you
know, people were younger. They mixed freely. The black kids, white
kids--everybody was--you know, there was no real racial hang-ups in elementary
school. And people weren't really clothes-conscious because we were young.
And then by the time I got to middle school in Ohio, that's when you start
seeing alligators on people's sweaters, and people start getting into, like,
status symbols and stuff. And that was the first time where I really started
thinking, `Hey, man, I'm poor.' And, like, `We don't have any money, do we?'
And then when I got to high school, then I started getting into clothes.

Then I go to high school and, you know, I was gone during middle school.
Crack came out while I was gone. So I saw like the before-and-after picture.
I had to piece the crack epidemic together. Like, I remember my first day of
high school and they were like, `All right, look. If you have a pager on in
school then there's immediate grounds for suspension, because we all know what
that means.' I was in the back like, `I don't know what that means.' And
then, of course, I figured out that--and then I was also trying to figure out
how everyone had all these like gold and expensive stuff, and then I was like,
`Oh, OK, everybody's selling drugs.' I knew so many people in the beginning,
like my first year of high school, that were selling drugs, I can't even
imagine how many people were using them. You know, the crack epidemic was
crazy, man, and I think a lot of the stuff that I did in my act just coming
from Ohio and from--and then going straight back to DC during the crack
epidemic. I think that all of the inequities were just underlined.

GROSS: So how did you change as you changed environments?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: It's funny, man. When I was in Ohio, it was the first, like,
real confident period of my life--like I started gaining confidence, because
for these kids I was this outsider and I had to make friends. And that was
when I got like this huge reputation. Everyone was like, `This guy's really
funny.' I remember in middle school everyone was just like, `This guy Dave is
so hilarious.' Then when I got to high school and the crack epidemic was out,
you know, what it took to be popular during that I just wasn't willing to

GROSS: Which was what?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: know. Sell drugs!

GROSS: Right.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: If you didn't have money, you couldn't get the girl you
wanted, you know--it was a crack epidemic. Selling drugs was like a
legitimate job in the high school I was going to. And all around DC was like
girls like drug dealers--because they had money. I wasn't willing to be that.
But it was kind of like that context kind of isolated me initially, and then
when I started doing stand-up it was like I thrived all over again.

GROSS: So when you started doing stand-up and you were still in...

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Fourteen.

GROSS: ...high school--14, OK--in Washington, what was--what were the jokes
about? What was the humor about?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Man, the first act--Jesse Jackson was running for president
so I used to do jokes about that.

GROSS: Like what?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: I used to talk about stuff I saw on TV like "Alf" and--but
they all had race in them in one way or another. Obviously, Jesse Jackson
jokes are going to have some racial in them. "Alf," my whole thing was like
an alien comes three billion miles from space and gets a home with a white
family. There was the paradox in that joke--which all sounds corny now, but,
remember, I was 14 so it was like, `Wow,' you know. What else was I talking
about? All kinds of stuff. Like in the very beginning I didn't know that
comedians had material--like I thought they just went up there and would just
talk spontaneously, so I used to do the same thing--which is probably better
that I started that way because that in and of itself was a skill that a
lot--you know, that a lot of comedians are afraid to abandon their act. Once
they get their--once they get a good amount of time they just want to sick to

GROSS: So who were your audiences then?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: All right. In those days in Washington, what--again,
remember, this is a majority black city--there was no black comedy clubs. And
I remember club owners saying things like, `We only put one--we'll never put
more than one black person on a show because it offends the audience.' I've
heard all these things.


Mr. CHAPPELLE: In Washington, DC!

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: You know, it was pretty exclusive. There was one point where
they actually had a rule that there--`No more cursing on our stage!' It was
like--this was in '88. And one of the comics who was black--this was pretty
funny--he was like--he's like, `Look man,' he said, `I curse.' He said,
`Black people use profanity because we live a profane lifestyle.' And then he
says something at I can't say on the radio. But he's basically like, `If you
see a roach crawling up the wall, you're not going to be like, "Oh, gee, look
at the roach." It's going to be, "Look at this mother(censored) roach."' You
know, you're just going to--you're just going to go for it. I know you're
going to cut that out, but it was really funny, though. But just the
fact--thinking back on it, the fact that there was all these limitations and
all these weird issues that these club owners had in one way maybe prepared me
for television.

BIANCULLI: Dave Chappelle, speaking to Terry Gross in 2004. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2004 interview with comic Dave
Chappelle, whose second season of "Chappelle's Show" has just been released on

GROSS: Now you're really funny at doing white people. And I think like when
you're white you don't think of there being like a white accent. Do you know
what I mean?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah. Absolutely.

GROSS: But when I hear you do it, I realize, OK--there's definitely like a
white accent. So what do you do when you do white?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: I take the rhythm out of my voice. I try to keep it monotone
and even. But, again, all right. See I do these things, but I'm not
really--it's almost like, you know--sometimes I'll watch old movies and how
they portray black people, you know, with like Stefan Fetches(ph) and all
these things. I remember watching them, and something in the movie made me
laugh. And they were like, `Why are you laughing at that?' And it's not that
I'm laughing at black people as much as I'm laughing at the way black people
were perceived, like this is what they actually thought about black people,
which just seems ridiculous to me?

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: So I think, you know, when I do that I think--again, it's not
malicious, and it's not necessarily what I think of white people, it's just a
funny caricature of what, you know, what the world looks like through my eyes.

GROSS: Is there a particular person you conjure up when you do a white man?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Not a particular--it's a composite. It's a composite

GROSS: Of who?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: It's funny, man. All right. You know, when I was growing up
in DC, in particular, there was a--now this isn't true for me personally, but
there was a lot of black people that I know who really had never had any
personal experience with white people, which is weird to think about in this
day and time. But DC's a predominantly black city and because of the economic
situation or whatever, they just didn't have any contact with white people
outside of being authority figures--officer, your honor--you know, as a
teacher or a principal, but always some kind of authority figure. You know,
their experience with--across the color line normally happened via television
or something when you're dealing with an authority figure, so. I, on the
other hand--you know, my parents were split up, my mom was living in DC, my
dad was living in Ohio, I traveled to both places--so I was in the nation's
capital on one end; I was in the heartland of America on another. So
culturally I kind of absorbed a lot.

GROSS: I want to ask you another question about having grown up in three
different places: suburban Maryland, suburban Ohio and Washington, DC.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Rural Ohio.

GROSS: Rural Ohio?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Suburban Maryland, rural Ohio and Washington.

GROSS: OK, so that exposes you to different people, different cultures,
different geographic landscapes, different ways of living. And I'm wondering
if that helped give you the ability to kind of stand back and look at people
and see what was kind of funny and ridiculous and absurd about all of us. Do
you know what I mean? Because I feel like you have that gift of...

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah, absolutely.

GROSS: ...just like looking back and--standing outside and looking at
everyone and seeing some pretty funny things about us all.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah, because most of the people that I stereotype I know the
people that the stereotypes are based on, like personally I've met people like
that. You know, I mean, I can remember friends of mine growing up--like we
used to all play football after school, and it'd be like if four was black,
two of us was Vietnamese, there was a Jewish guy from the Deep South. It was
like--it was such a--it was an eclectic group, you know, but we all got along.
We all, you know, we're friends.

In the household I grew up in, my parents were somewhat--I don't know how to
explain it, but over our mantle place there was pictures of Malcolm X, you
know. We--I listened to Dick Gregory records growing up. I listened to
The Last Poets. I mean, you know, there were books all over the house and
always reading stuff. So like, you know, like people like Frederick Douglass,
I--you know, these guys' pictures were on my walls when I was growing up.

GROSS: You described your family growing up as the broke Huxtables.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah. We were like broke Huxtables.

GROSS: Your mother was, or is, a Unitarian minister?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: She was. Yeah, yeah. She was--I believe she was the first
black woman ordained in the Unitarian Church.

GROSS: And your father was a music professor?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah. My father...

GROSS: What kind of music?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Boy, he's singing--he used to sing opera and stuff.

GROSS: So your family was really very educated and probably instilled those
values in you. Was there pressure on you to do well in school, and what you
really wanted was to be a comic?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: I mean, first of all, I was a horrible student. My
parents--you know, my dad was very philosophical about these kind of things.
As a matter of fact, when I--I'm the first person in my family not to go to
college like since slavery. And my grandmother, my mother's mother, didn't
like that at all. She at first--like, because, I mean, I was 17. I'm like,
`I'm not going to college. I'm going to move to New York and try to make it
in stand-up.' And she kind of flipped out. She was like, `It was--it's a
dream of mine.' This was a heavy guilt trip. She'd go, `It's a dream of mine
that--to see all of my grandbabies graduating from college before I die.' So
I was like, `Why you got to bring that up, Nanna?! That's a lot of pressure.'
But then I--my dad's whole take on it was, `Unless you want to do something
that requires you go to college, then college could very well be a waste of
your time.' Like that.

GROSS: And he was a college professor, so coming from him that must have
really registered on you.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah. He was an educator; he was an educated man. And I
think my parents ultimately wanted me to be happy. You know, I mean, my
argument was, you know, `Dad, if you're making a teacher's salary that's--if I
can make a teacher's salary doing stand-up, to me I'd rather do that than
teach.' It's like--and he understood where I was coming from. I'm like, you
know, it's like I didn't necessarily have to be rich and famous. Obviously, I
wanted to, but that wasn't necessarily my aim. I just really, really,
really--to this day I really like doing stand-up.

GROSS: Since you stared when you were so young, your mother had to--did she
have to or she just wanted to come to the clubs with you? Was that required
as like an official chaperone because you were underage?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Originally, she had to. Once everyone started knowing me,
this was kind of like our routine. We'd meet down at the club. I'd be coming
from school; she'd be coming from work. It was cool, man. It was like a good
way to spend time together. And then at a certain age--like maybe a year into
it--you know, she'd get tired at night; we're both burning the candle at both
ends, but I'd always want to go, so she'd just let me go. And, you know, not
until I'm am adult, then she tells me how scary that was for her, you know.

GROSS: In what way?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: I mean, she'd tell stories like she'd hear gunshots in the
middle of the night. You know, she wan--`Oh, my God, is my baby all right?'
I mean, remember, this is DC during the crack epidemic. But I guess in her
mind it was like, `Of all of the bad things that my child could be doing, he
just wants to tell jokes at these clubs.' And it was a controlled environment
for me. It's not like the bartender's going to give me drinks. I'm 14.
It's--you know, everyone kind of looked out for me. It wasn't like--I mean, I
saw stuff going on, but not really. It was more of a--it was really
goal-oriented time I was spending there.

GROSS: Well, Dave Chappelle, thank you so much for talking with us. I really
appreciate it.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: All right. No problem. It was good to meet you.

BIANCULLI: Dave Chappelle, speaking to Terry Gross in 2004. Here's another
clip from the just-released second season DVD of "Chappelle's Show."

I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Chappelle's Show")

Mr. CHAPPELLE: (As announcer) Good evening, and welcome to the first and
maybe only racial draft here in New York City.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Folks, this is for all the marbles. What happens here will
state the racial standing of these Americans once and for all.

Unidentified Man #1: (As Rob) That's right. And the crowd is here to support
their races.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Billy) Well, Rob, some of the biggest names in
sports and in entertainment are on the line tonight, and I'm excited to see
who's going to be drafted by which race. Seated behind me on the stage there
is the various representatives, and, believe it or not, the blacks have
actually won the first pick.

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, my.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Wow, that's the first lottery a black person's won in a long
time, Billy.

Unidentified Man #2: Yes, and they'll probably still complain.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Man, (censored) you.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Well, the black representative is heading to the microphone
now. Why don't we take a listen?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: (As black delegate) We at the black delegation...

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: (As black delegate) ...choose Tiger Woods.

Crowd of People: Whoo! Whoo!

Unidentified Man #4: Yeah! Yeah!

Unidentified Man #1: A most surprising draft, guys--the richest and most
dominant athlete in the world. His father, black; his mother, Thai.

Unidentified Man #2 Well, that doesn't matter anymore because now he is now
officially black.

Unidentified Man #1: Dave, the Asians have got to be upset.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: There's no question about that, Robert. You got to think
about it. He's been discriminated against in his time, he's had death
threats, and he dates a white woman.

Unidentified Man #2: Oh.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Sounds like a black guy to me.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Tiger's taking his ...(unintelligible) down.

(As Tiger Woods) Wow.

(As announcer) And if you ask me...

(As Tiger Woods) Wow.

(As announcer) ...he's looking blacker already.

(As Tiger Woods) I'd like to say--tremendous opportunity for me--finally be
part of a race, have a home. Been so confused to find ...(unintelligible) in
so many things. So long, fried rice. Hello, fried chicken! I love you, Dad!


(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Bye-bye, blues.

BIANCULLI: Coming up, you're nobody in show business until you're surrounded
by nobodies. Critic at large John Powers looks at celebrities and their
entourages. Also, we'll celebrate the 90th birthday of guitar legend Les
Paul, and film critic David Edelstein looks at "Howl's Moving Castle."

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) ...blues. Don't sigh, don't cry, bye-bye,
blues. Oh, bye-bye, blues. Bye-bye, blues. Oh, bye-bye, blues. Bye-bye,

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

Review: HBO series "Entourage"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

The HBO series "Entourage" began its second season last Sunday. The show
revolves around a young, up-and-coming Hollywood star and his three parasitic
buddies. The first season is out now on DVD. Critic at large John Powers saw
the premiere and has these thoughts.

JOHN POWERS reporting:

The other day, I was waiting in a long line at the post office. And it
occurred to me that it would sure be nice if somebody else was doing it for
me. In fact, wouldn't it be great if I had people to do all the unpleasant
stuff that wastes so much of my life. Maybe you've had this thought, too,
from time to time.

I remembered when I watched last Sunday's season premiere of "Entourage," the
HBO comedy about a handsome young movie star, Vince, who lives with and
supports three buddies. There's yammering Turtle, the heavy lifter, who
drives them around LA and makes sure they have New York pizzas and cable.
There's brainy Eric, the manager, who spends his life saying things to people
that the conflict-averse Vince doesn't want to say. And then there's Johnny,
Vince's less successful brother. Kevin Dillon's great in this role, by the
way. His insecurity about his acting career and his dependence on his
brother's stardom lets Vince feel good about himself.

"Entourage" has been hailed for capturing the subculture of Hollywood
hangers-on, but I'm especially fascinated by Vince. He never has to wait at
the post office, which leaves him free to be boyish, spontaneous and affably
above it all. His friends serve as a kind of protective, free-floating
ectoplasm, the filter between him and the outside world. When Vincent's agent
Ari, played by Jeremy Piven, gets mad at Vince, he delivers his ultimatum to

(Soundbite of "Entourage")

Mr. JEREMY PIVEN: (As Ari) I don't want this to get to a place where you
start blaming me for everything. You guys don't listen to me. Listen to
this. You tell your boy to do "Aquaman," or you tell him to find other

POWERS: Faced with this threat, Eric must choose whether to pass it on, and,
if so, how to do it. After all, it's in Eric's interest--in the whole
entourage's interest--to keep their meal ticket happy, but also successful.

Although breezy and glib, "Entourage" is also quite timely in its evocation of
an increasingly common feature of modern America--the way the rich, famous and
powerful are buffered from the demands and frictions of everyday life. The
problem, of course, is that such a cocoon too often filters out reality
itself. Lately, the media's been buzzing about whether Tom Cruise has damaged
his career by seeming to go, well, slightly bonkers. Not only has begun
spouting Scientological beliefs--even slamming Brooke Shields, the poor dear,
for taking an anti-depressant--there was that recent appearance on "Oprah"
when he genuflected, jumped on the sofa and declaimed his love for the actress
Katie Holmes. While such behavior's undeniably weird, what's even weirder is
that Cruise may not have even known it's weird. He reportedly doesn't read
newspapers or use the computer, but gets his information from his entourage,
which carefully monitors what he hears. No doubt, they're the ones who urged
him to do that self-mocking sofa jump on Leno the other night, a piece of
calculated damage control.

Now a movie star's antics are small potatoes. But the entourage situation
becomes trickier when you reach political leaders. This is most flagrantly
obvious in the case of dictators like Saddam Hussein. If a member of his
claque said something Saddam didn't want to hear--you know, like the nuclear
program wasn't going as well as planned--the guy was likely to wind up dead.
The same is true, although less ruthlessly, in American politics. I was
recently reading about the inner circle of Senator Hillary Clinton and learned
that only one member, Maggie Williams, dared give the former first lady
advice. Or take President Bush. After his first debate with John Kerry, in
which he made faces and seemed unexpectedly snappish, even conservative
commentators speculated that this was partly because he'd spent too much time
talking exclusively to underlings who want to please him. He simply wasn't
used to being in a room with somebody who would criticize his policies or
claim he was flat-out wrong.

Like the rest of us, the powerful need to hear the bad news--unless, of
course, they've been indicted. Take the case of Kenneth Lay, the former
chairman and CEO of Enron, who insists that he's not responsible for his
company's malfeasances; he was simply enjoying the good life and leaving the
messy side of things to his retinue. He himself was completely out of the
loop. I don't know whether or not a jury will believe that, but I do know
this: A CEO whose defense is essentially that he's out of touch with the
world around him needs to spend much less time in Learjets with yes men and
more time waiting at the post office. Why, heck, I'd even be willing to let
him stand in line for me.

BIANCULLI: John Powers is film critic for Vogue.

Coming up, guitarist Les Paul. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Interview: Les Paul discusses his life as a guitarist and inventor

This is FRESH AIR.

Yesterday, guitarist and inventor Les Paul celebrated his 90th birthday.

Mr. LES PAUL (Guitarist and Inventor): Hi. Hello, folks. Let's see, I've
got my guitar. I've got my wife, Mary.

Ms. MARY FORD (Singer): Hi.

Mr. PAUL: And I got a room just loaded with electronics. We've got some
inventions here that make one voice sound like many voices and one guitar like
many guitars. And by means of these 606s and plugging them into this
amplifier, why, we manage to...

Ms. FORD: Let me tell them, Les. You're a genius.

Mr. PAUL: Oh, don't embarrass me.

Ms. FORD: Oh, yes, you are. Anyone who can take one guitar...

Mr. PAUL: No.

Ms. FORD: ...and make it sound like six is a genius.

Mr. PAUL: No, you're just saying that 'cause I'm your husband. That isn't

Ms. FORD: No, no, no. No one else can even play like you, much less make it
sound like six people.

Mr. PAUL: No, I like to play the guitar, but more than that I like to get on
the floor with a screwdriver and a lot of these gadgets and just tinker,
that's all.

Ms. FORD: But you're a genius.

Mr. PAUL: No, no, I'm just a big tinker.

Ms. FORD: OK, so you're just a big tinker.

Mr. PAUL: Oh, I should have taken my screwdriver and left while I was ahead.
How did I get swindled into this?

Ms. FORD: Well, why don't you grab a guitar and show the people what you can

Mr. PAUL: All right, I got a lot of ideas. Here we go.

(Soundbite of guitar)

Mr. PAUL: Now that's one guitar. Now if you want two I just throw a switch.

(Soundbite of switch; guitars)

Ms. FORD: How about three?

Mr. PAUL: Easy.

(Soundbite of switch; guitars)

Mr. PAUL: Now if you want four, switch.

(Soundbite of switch; guitars)

Ms. FORD: How about five?

Mr. PAUL: It's a cinch.

(Soundbite of switch; guitars)

Mr. PAUL: Now if you want six, here's a half a dozen--an easy one.

(Soundbite of switch; guitars)

BIANCULLI: Les Paul has spent his life playing guitar, inventing guitars to
play and inventing devices to record himself on. And at 90 years old, he
hasn't quit his night job. He still performs weekly at the Iridium Jazz Club
in New York, and has several projects and other performances in the works.

Les Paul has been called `the Thomas Edison of music.' For starters, he
invented the solid body electric guitar, overdubbing, reverb and
multitracking, inventions that helped make rock 'n' roll and modern recording
possible. But Paul himself has stuck to jazz and more middle-of-the-road pop.
In the 1950s, he had several hits with his wife Mary Ford, such as "How High
the Moon," "Via Con Dios" and "Bye Bye Blues," all of which are included on a
collection of classic Capitol masters which has just been reissued.

Terry Gross spoke with Les Paul in 1992, when he was 76 years old. They
started with his 1948 recording of "Lover," recorded in his garage, which he
said was the first recording to combine all his inventions and recording
techniques into one bag of tricks.

(Soundbite of 1992 interview)

(Soundbite of "Lover")


So on "Lover," the high, fast trebly sounds that we hear--that's a sped-up

Mr. PAUL: Mm-hmm, along with the normal guitar. The whole idea there is to
be able to get octaves and to go an octave below and an octave above and to do
all the harmony parts and everything, you know. And that was not the very
first record I ever made that way, but, like I say, it was the first--that was
the first one to come out. And that came out about a week after I had an
automobile accident where for two years I was to be in the hospital, just in a
basket. Everything I had was broken and I was in bad shape for about two
years, so I had a lot of time to think. And I unfortunately didn't have that
many records in the can, so to speak. What I had are records that were
completely done except for the last part, which was the melody. And the
reason I left that melody off is I figured that every week that went by I got
better, and if I got better, why, I had newer ideas, and so I'd leave that
last part off. And after the automobile accident, why, I had to do the next
recordings in a cast, a body cast. And that's how I made the parts for the
next four or five records.

GROSS: Now let me get to one of the hits that you had. Let's talk about "How
High the Moon," which you recorded with Mary Ford, one of your big hits.

Mr. PAUL: Thank you.

GROSS: Let's hear some of it.

(Soundbite of "How High the Moon")

Ms. FORD: (Singing) Somewhere there's music made for tunes. Where there's
heaven how high the moon. There is no moon above and love is far away, too,
till it comes true that you love me, 'cause I love you. Somewhere there's
music, how near, how far, somewhere there's heaven; it's where you are. The
darkest night that shine of view would come to me soon until you will still my
heart. How high the moon.

GROSS: How would you record Mary's voice to get that echo?

Mr. PAUL: Well, that was something that I spent two years trying to find
out--find--I didn't want reverb like an empty room. I didn't like Carnegie
Hall. I didn't want that sound. I said to my friend, very dear friend--he
and his girlfriend--Mary was my girlfriend--and myself and a fellow named
Wally Jones--we were all sitting in a little tavern at Santa Monica and
Western out in Hollywood, and Lloyd was arm wrestling with me, and we had a
pitcher of beer and some popcorn and we were watching the fights on Friday
night. And he pulled my arm down real easy and he says, `Les, you're not
concentrating. You're usually pretty rough to bring that arm down on.' And I
said, `Well, I'm thinking of that echo.' And I said, `I haven't figured that
delay out yet. I haven't figured it out.' And he says, `Well, you're still
worried about that thing?' And I says, `Yeah, I need it. I need it and I
don't know how to get it.' And he says, `Well, explain it to me again.'

And so this night, Lloyd--I explained it to Lloyd again and I says, `Picture
that you're on the Alps and I say, "Hello, hello, hello, hello."' And I said,
`I want it to repeat. And I want it to repeat, and I want the delay and the
decay to--I want to be able to vary it.' And lo and behold, he says to me,
`You mean like putting the playback head behind the record head?' Oh, boy, I
threw $10 down on the table and I said to Wally, `Pay the bill and bring the
girls,' you know? And we left here with a $10 bill and the girls, and the
beer and the popcorn and the TV were gone. And by the time they got home, you
could hear all over the neighborhood, `Hello, hello, hello, hello,' you know?
And we'd found the del--tay--the echo, the disc delay.

GROSS: You know what I want to know? Why did you want to have echo...

Mr. PAUL: Oh...

GROSS: ...on her voice?

Mr. PAUL: ...that's interesting because the--I felt as though the--when you
play the note dry, just dead, it just drops like a rock and it ends right
there. And a lot of times you'd like to have that note hang on after you've
left it and go to the next note. And it's very similar to ambience in a room,
the sound of a room where it's enhanced by bare walls.

If I happened to be talking to you and I happened to be in a very empty room,
you could recognize that riding in your car or listening at home. You'd say,
`Well, I can tell that these people are talking in a very empty room.' Or you
can say, `They're talking in a phone booth. It's so small,' or, `It's a very
large hall.' So you have command over what you wish to do. And in this case,
I didn't want that note to say, `Hey!' and just go on like Carnegie Hall. I
want it to go, `Hey, hey!'

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. PAUL: See? And now if you want, you put a little tail on there and you
go, `Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey,' you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAUL: And, you know, it gives you such command of so many things, toys to
work with. Today I call them toys because the kids--they have all these
little boxes that you can go in and buy in the store. When I was a kid and I
visualized this thing, the reason I had to invent it is because you couldn't
buy it in a store. So if I wanted it, I had to make one.

GROSS: Les Paul is joining us from one of the studios in his home.

I understand that you have arthritis of the fingers. How do you play?

Mr. PAUL: Well, after my heart surgery in 1980, they just said, `Well, you're
going to have to do something else because you can't play. Your hands are
gone.' And I only had a couple of fingers on each hand then. Now I have no
fingers in the right hand that move. They're fixed, and so there is no
movement except at the knuckles. And in the left hand, I only have two
fingers, really one and a half because the first finger is half frozen and
painful. What do I do? I just have figured out that if I could do whatever I
did then, I just figure out how to do that with two fingers. And so what I
have done is, I says, `Well, what I used to do with two hands and all my
fingers, I'm sure it can be done.' And lo and behold, it can be.

GROSS: So you've really taken the same approach to your body as you've taken
to designing instruments and engineering equipment.

Mr. PAUL: Oh, you're great. You're great. Terry, you're great. The key to
that is that the same will, the same power, that you have to destroy yourself
you can use to make yourself well. If you have arthritis, you just have to
have a iron jaw and you got to go in there and not use any cop-out that,
`Well, I can't play anymore because of the arthritis'; you just say, `There's
a way.' And I think that determination, I think that--and, of course, you
have to have a lot of luck and you have to have the right genes and all that
jazz to go with it. But I think the bottom line is that if you want to hard
enough, you can do it.

GROSS: You know, if I didn't know that you were telling me the truth, I would
think that you were really crazy and exaggerated a lot.

Mr. PAUL: No, no.

GROSS: You're done so many remarkable things in one life.

Mr. PAUL: Yeah. Yeah, that I have. I wonder why that is. I woke up today
thinking about it because in an interview, they asked me what I wanted on my
tombstone. I thought about it a minute, and I said, `I guess I'd put on there
"Why me?"'

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Do you feel like you were chosen?

Mr. PAUL: I don't know. I just say, you know, I just happened to be around
at that time. And there wasn't an electric guitar, so I built one; and there
wasn't echo, so I made one; there wasn't a multitrack machine, so I built one.
It goes all the way back to--Terry, if I can really take you way back--it's
the first time that my mother, in her home, had a radio Victrola, OK? That's
the gramophone, that's the phonograph, OK? And a player piano. And I'm
sitting there with all these things. And I looked at it, and I says, you
know, there's something interesting here. This piano, I can punch a hole in
it wherever I wish, and that note'll come out. And I can slow it down and
speed up, and it doesn't change pitch, OK? It just gets slower or faster. If
I put my hand on a phonograph record, and I slow it down, the pitch changes.
Why? And that's the key to the whole thing, that curiosity that you just ask
that question, `Why?' and you got your life cut out for you.

GROSS: Well, Les Paul, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. PAUL: Oh, it's my pleasure.

BIANCULLI: Les Paul speaking with Terry Gross in 1992. Les Paul turned 90
years old this week. To mark the occasion, a collection of his Capitol
recordings has just been reissued. Also on Les Paul's still busy calendar,
Monday night performances at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York, a June 19th
spotlight artist performance at the JVC Jazz Festival, and the recording of a
new collaborative CD teaming Les Paul with Eric Clapton, Sting, Jeff Beck,
Joss Stone, Richie Sambora and Peter Frampton.

(Soundbite of "How High the Moon")

Ms. FORD: (Singing) Somewhere there's music, a favorite tune. Somewhere
there's dance, how high the moon. A darkest night would shine if you would
come to me soon. Until you will, I'll still my heart. How high the moon.

BIANCULLI: Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new animated film "Howl's
Moving Castle." This is FRESH AIR.

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

Review: Hayao Miyazaki's new animated film "Howl's Moving Castle"

The Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki has a new film called "Howl's Moving
Castle." He's best known to American audiences for his award-winning film
"Spirited Away." Film critic David Edelstein has a review.


Is Hayao Miyazaki the greatest animator in the world? Other animators bow
down before his drafting board. And in Japan, his movies outgross "Star
Wars." Films like "Kiki's Delivery Service," "My Neighbor Totoro," "Princess
Mononoke" and the Academy Award-winning "Spirited Away" are transporting, as
well as profoundly strange. They feature creatures both ordinary and bizarre.
They're full of flabbergasting flying machines that carry their industrious
young heroines into another realm, and they're set in a nature that's not just
alive but infused with spirits.

Miyazaki's latest film "Howl's Moving Castle" is based on a novel by England's
prolific fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones. But the director has made the
story his own. The movie is a difficult work, a tough sell, beginning like a
fairy tale and evolving into a bleak anti-war movie with demons both internal
and external. It's as if Miyazaki has wedded his enchanting coming-of-age
parable "Spirited Away" to his ferocious allegory of the end of nature,
"Princess Mononoke."

The heroine is the timid and shy Sofi. She lives in a newly industrialized
English town, where enemy warplanes buzz overhead and demons roam the
countryside. Sofi makes hats and fears she'll grow old behind her sewing
machine. Even when she has a fantastical encounter with a dashing young man
in which he whisks her through the air to escape some slithering shadow blobs
in straw hats, she can't bring herself to get her hopes up. Then an immensely
fat woman with chins under chins enters her shop. You'll recognize the fat
woman's voice as Lauren Bacall's, while Sofi is the delightful Emily Mortimer.

(Soundbite of "Howl's Moving Castle"; door opening; music)

Ms. EMILY MORTIMER: (As Sofi) I'm sorry, but the shop's closed now, ma'am.

Ms. LAUREN BACALL: (As Witch of the Waste) What a tacky shop. I've never
seen such tacky little hats. Yet you're by far the tackiest thing here.

Ms. MORTIMER: (As Sofi) The door's over here, ma'am.

Ms. BACALL: (As Witch of the Waste) Standing up to the Witch of the Waste.
That's plucky.

(Soundbite of music; whimpering)

Ms. BACALL: (As Witch of the Waste) My regards to Howl. (Chuckles)

EDELSTEIN: The witch has cast a spell turning Sofi into the withered crone
she feared she'd become. So she trudges into the wild and hitches a ride with
Howl's Moving Castle. It's an amazing ramshackle vision, huge, with taloned
feet, chimneys belching smoke, ladders and propellers and fins and portholes
like eyes. It's studded all over with little houses. It's not alive, but
it's infused with life by a fire demon called Calcifer. He's cursed to remain
in a fireplace in the parlor of the dreamboat wizard Howl, who turns out to be
the young man Sofi met in town. Of course, Howl doesn't recognize the
90-year-old woman, whose curse won't allow her to say who she really is. She
goes to work as his housekeeper, or rather, moving castle keeper.

Miyazaki's villains are often enemies of nature. And the focus of "Howl's
Moving Castle" shifts from Sofi's curse to the war that's raging with
sharklike planes raining bombs on the countryside. The drama is in whether
Howl, who behaves like a moody rock star, can pull himself together and use
his magic to end the war. It turns out that his feelings have been muddled by
a curse of his own. Everyone in this picture has a curse.

The ins and outs of war are hard to follow. And it's tough to keep track of
Howl's mood swings, which make parts of him deliquesce into green goo. But
there's no mistaking the emotion that powers Miyazaki's imagery. As the once
fearful Sofi finds the courage to draw Howl out of his despair, her features
transform, now young, now old, now something tremulously in between.

The English soundtrack is surprisingly soulful. It features Christian Bale as
Howl, Jean Simmons as old Sofi, and the delicious Blythe Danner as the king's
head sorceress. The one mistake is making Calcifer Billy Crystal. He tries
to suppress his Borscht Belt inflections, but he's just too familiar for a
tale this wondrously weird.

Miyazaki's movies have a different tempo than the American animated features
with vocals by the likes of Crystal and other jabbering showbiz personalities.
Even with all the hairpin reversals, they're steady and contemplative. For
all their outlandishness, they make us feel as if we're seeing deeper into
reality. Miyazaki wants us to think, `I dream, therefore I am.'

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for Slate.


BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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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