DATE September 9, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Patsy Rodenburg discusses being a voice and acting
coach, and how she teaches actors to perform Shakespearean roles
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Radio has taught me that you can learn a lot about a person by listening to
his or her voice--the amount of tension in the voice, the range of notes that
are sounded when the person speaks and the rhythms of their speech. Many
actors, as well as other people who use their voices professionally, from
teachers to politicians, have studied with my guest Patsy Rodenburg to learn
how to free the voice and use it in the most expressive way.
Rodenburg is one of the world's leading voice and acting coaches. She's the
director of Voice at London's National Theater and the Guildhall School of
Music & Drama. Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Ian McKellen, Ralph Fiennes and
Ian Holm are some of the actors who have studied with Rodenburg. Her new
book, "Speaking Shakespeare," offers her advice to actors preparing to perform
Shakespeare roles. She says Shakespeare requires a speaking style that's
different from contemporary speech. I asked her to describe some of the
Ms. PATSY RODENBURG (Author, "Speaking Shakespeare"): Well, I suppose in the
big picture, I don't think there is a difference if we are heightened. What I
mean by that is that if we have tremendous need to speak, we are no longer
casual. Our speech habits today tend to revolve around what I would call the
cool, the lack of care about what you're saying. I would suggest that what
Shakespeare captures in his work is the moments in our life when we have to be
very formal. Now the word `formal' might scare people, but what I mean by
that is caring enough to speak clearly.
GROSS: Yeah. You point out a lot of our communication is often indirect or
casual or stumbling. You say we rely on glibness or cynicism, a lot of irony.
Is that different than what you're going to find in most Shakespeare?
Ms. RODENBURG: Well, I think he plays with those ideas, but when the
temperature changes, when things become extremely important, then you have to
move up a few notches and you have to choose your language very carefully and
you have to speak carefully. Now just give--let's have an example. I mean, I
was amazed like the whole world was on September the 11th, but one of the
things that I thought was fascinating, which is what Shakespeare would pursue,
is that everybody interviewed that day spoke clearly. It was too important
not to witness the truth, and that's all he's asking from us. Yes, he's going
to structure, he's going to use language that is very passionate and very
concrete. But the first stage that a young actor has to grasp if they do
Shakespeare is there is nothing casual or--back to the word--`careless.'
Another example is that I think you wouldn't mumble in front of a tyrant. I
mean, if "King Lear" is on stage and you're in that world, you have to speak
very clearly. So I'm not--I think he required different speaking, but I think
it's something that we can all do.
GROSS: You say that in preparation for Shakespeare, you encourage your
students to own what they think and say. How do you encourage them to do
Ms. RODENBURG: Well, I do a series of exercises that not only opens us their
voice to prove to them that they've all got fantastic voices that can actually
cope with the athletic demands of a heightened classical text, but that they
all do have passion. Maybe it is not fashionable for them to debate, but, in
fact, they want to debate. And so I will give them exercises to explore how
they use language when they're distressed, and often it will be very similar
to the language that Shakespeare uses, the physical nature of language.
If you speak something in Shakespeare--I'm just thinking of Leontes at the
moment when he discovers that he believes his wife is unfaithful to him, he
starts to use very physically sensual and yet dirty language. `And many a man
there is even at this present now will I speak, this holds his wife by the arm
but little thinks she's been sluiced in his absence and his pond fished by his
next neighbor, by Sir Smile, his neighbor.' You know, all that--those S's are
sloshing around and it produces something that is very disgusting in the
mouth, exactly what Leontes is going through, which is the disgusting notion
that his wife is sleeping with his best friend.
So I would encourage students to think very accurately about the moments in
their life when they've lost something. And great plays, great comedies and
tragedies, in a sense, are about loss. I'm just thinking of a student at the
moment, an American student actually, that I had in London, and there's a
moment when Hamlet, in his first soliloquy--of course, Hamlet knows his mother
is sleeping with his uncle, but he mentions that he notices her shoes. She's
wearing the same shoes at the wedding that she wore at the funeral. And it's
that detail that will suddenly engage a young person in understanding that
Shakespeare is not difficult if you realize he's exploring the samenesses of
humanity through very structured language and very concrete terms.
And this particular student was very distressed because he suddenly realized
that the great pain of his life, up to that moment--he had just broken up with
his girlfriend, and he didn't realize the pain until he saw her in the street
with her new boyfriend and the new boyfriend was wearing a jumper that he had
given to her. So suddenly, the detail of shoes in "Hamlet" suddenly spoke to
him. So I would encourage not only a physical use of the body and language
and the voice, but also the imagination to take them higher.
GROSS: For an actor playing a leading part in a Shakespearean play, there's
likely to be a soliloquy that they'll have to do. And soliloquies are not
only heightened speech, but they're long speech. It's a lot to say.
Ms. RODENBURG: It's a lot to say.
GROSS: Can you tell us the kind of advice you give an actor who's setting out
to learn a Shakespearean soliloquy on how to comprehend what's being said and,
thereby, breaking it up into speech, figuring out where to breathe, what to
say within each breath?
Ms. RODENBURG: Well, before they did a soliloquy, they would have to work
out, as I said, their voice and their body, because so many people have lost
the full extension of their voice. And as I said earlier, Shakespeare is
athletic. So at the point when they're free enough in themselves so that they
can enter the speech. So the first thing I'll do is that.
And then I'll talk in terms that it's not a difficult thing to understand a
Shakespeare speech if you realize that it goes in stages. It's one step
at--I'll tell you what it's like. It's like--Do you know those wonderful
Russian dolls that you open? All you have to worry about is `To be or not to
be.' That's all you have to worry about before you get to the next thing
which is, `That is the question.'
GROSS: So just do it one phrase at a time.
Ms. RODENBURG: So stage by stage by stage...
GROSS: Stay in the moment. Uh-huh.
Ms. RODENBURG: ...and it's not difficult then. I'll tell you what I--I often
watch "Judge Judy." You're going to laugh at me because...
GROSS: OK, I will.
Ms. RODENBURG: ...I love Judge Judy on one level because what she's trying to
make the people in her court do is think classically, think in Shakespearean
terms. That's all it is. She's asking them to say, `Start at the beginning.
No, no, no, no. Go back to the beginning. No, I've heard that bit. Move on.
Move on.' So speech in Shakespeare constantly moves on. You say something
and then you move on to the next thing, and you develop an argument until you
can conclude. So that's all she's asking.
And, in fact, that's the skill that made us the species that runs the planet,
runs the planet, rules the planet. The moment that human beings went `What
if?' which is the Shakespearean thing of, `This leading to this. And maybe if
I think of that, I can move to that.' It's not difficult. It's what we all
yearn to do and it's what we have to do to make sense of the world that we
So with a soliloquy, it's somebody trying to probe and penetrate a very
difficult problem. It could be a comedy problem, but the actor is still
worried, you know, `How happy some or other some can be.' This is Helena in
the "Dream." All she's saying to the audience is, `It's not why are some
people happier than I am,' and then she goes to explore that. So it's not
a--Shakespeare's not difficult if you just know the rules, look and actually
work very clearly and concretely on the language and the forms of the
language, the structures, you know...
GROSS: Well, would you like to choose one of those soliloquies and just break
it down a little bit for us?
Ms. RODENBURG: Well, let's look at the first soliloquy of "Hamlet"...
Ms. RODENBURG: ...which a lot of people are very scared of. And he starts
by saying, `Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt,' and that's the
first line. All you have to worry about is that somebody is saying, `I want
my flesh to melt,' and he wants it to thaw and resolve itself into a dew. And
that's the end of the first thought. And he might finish there, but he
doesn't finish there. He goes on. The next stage--`All that the everlasting
had not fixed his cannon against self-slaughter.' `Maybe I could commit
suicide, but I can't.'
And then it explodes with passion when he says, `Oh, God, God! How weary
stale flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world.' So he
then does what we all know happens when we get very depressed, nothing
interests him anymore. And then he again explodes in pain, `Fie upon't, foh!
It is an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature
possess it merely.' So the picture he's seeing of the world at this stage is
that it's just a wasteland that he doesn't want to occupy anymore, that it
should come to this.
And so he's starting to move towards a terrible revelation. He moves towards
this terrible revelation at the end, which is this wonderful way that he uses
language, Shakespeare, `Almost wicked speed to post with such dexterity to
incestuous sheets.' And suddenly, that's hard to say. So one of the great
messages I'm going to say again and again to young actors is that if it's
difficult to say, it's because it's difficult to think, feel or imagine. And
here, he has to actually, in his imagination, go into the bedroom with his
mother and his uncle and there are those awful sheets.
And at the end of that soliloquy, all he has to say is, `It is not nor it
cannot come to good but break my heart for I must hold my tongue,' and that
could be the end of the play because he's actually faced this betrayal. He
says his heart is going to break and he can't speak. And at that moment,
Horatio comes in and then talks about the ghost.
GROSS: My guess is Patsy Rodenburg, author of the new book "Speaking
Shakespeare." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is acting and voice coach Patsy Rodenburg. She's director of
Voice at London's National Theater. Her new book is called "Speaking
The structure of a lot of Shakespeare's writing is iambic pentameter. I want
you to first describe what iambic pentameter is, and then talk about how you
recommend to actors that they approach this form.
Ms. RODENBURG: It's a terrifying phrase, isn't it? Iambic pentameter. All
it means is there are 10 syllables in a line, and the regular iambic is
`ba-boom,' which is the heartbeat. Now what I keep on trying to suggest to
people is that Shakespeare's not that difficult if you just look and see
what's there. Now the heartbeat happens to be the first rhythm that we hear,
and it's the last. It is the most potent rhythm in the human being. And he
writes not an academic form. He writes a human form. And so you've got five
major beats in a line. Now `When I do count the clock that tells the time,'
that is a perfect iambic pentameter, and it's just telling about the clock
GROSS: It's a `ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom.'
Ms. RODENBURG: `Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom.' `When I do count the
clock that tells the time,' and it's perfect. But there are very few perfect
lines in Shakespeare because what he realizes is that, as life moves us around
passionately, our heartbeat changes. So you have to understand--what I say to
young actors all the time is, `I don't care if anybody ever breaks a rule.
What I find disturbing is when they're breaking rules without realizing the
rule is there. And on top of that, you are missing the most amazing acting
note that, you know, somebody's heart is breaking.'
GROSS: Can you maybe find a couple of lines from Shakespeare in which one is
in perfect iambic pentameter, but there's an irregularity in the second line,
and talk about the difference in the reading that you give to each?
Ms. RODENBURG: Well, Orsino in "Twelfth Night" opens the play, `If music be
the food of love, play on.' That is pretty regular. `If music be the food of
love, play on. Give me excess of it, that surfeiting'--and suddenly around
`surfeiting'--this is the second line--`Give me excess of it, that
surfeiting'--`surfeiting' somehow breaks. Think about it like a wave in the
sea. Suddenly, you're on a wave that's breaking. So `If music be the food of
love, play on. Give me excess of it, that surfeiting,' and suddenly you can
feel--actually, if you give Shakespeare to a child and you ask them to hum
it--it might sound ridiculous. I'll do it for you. (Hums) They'll
immediately feel the disturbance on the word `surfeiting.' It's like
skipping, and suddenly it's broken. And that again is where the word and the
form meet and signal something to you.
I think in many ways the early plays are harder to speak because he doesn't
break as many rules. But a very late play, which is "Winter's Tale"--I just
talked about it earlier, about Leontes--it's chaos. There's hardly a regular
verse line in the whole play because it's a play about jealousy and sexual
jealousy and the torment. So suddenly we have, `Inch-thick, knee-deep, o'er
head and ears a fork'd one.' `Inch-thick, knee-deep, o'er head and ears a
fork'd one.' It's all over the place. You're, like, in this very rough sea.
`Go, play, boy, play. Thy mother plays and I play, too, but so disgrace the
part whose issue will hiss me to the grave.' And suddenly, it's all over the
place. And that's what he's doing. He's giving you a rhythm that we all
understand--we all understand the heartbeat--and then he breaks it. If you
trust that, you will be held by a great writer as opposed to drown. If you
don't trust them, you will not drown.
GROSS: Now what suggestions do you have to actors who are so kind of caught
in their contemporary and personal style of speaking that they can't get out
of that enough to get into the Shakespeare style of speaking?
Ms. RODENBURG: Well, I...
GROSS: How do you transcend your--I mean, I guess this is an impossible
question to answer.
Ms. RODENBURG: Well, I'll have a go. I'll have a go at answering it, because
it's about--what's great about Shakespeare, why I want to do Shakespeare, is
that he's full of humanity and compassion. And my goodness, we need
Shakespeare at this particular moment of time because he moves towards our
full experience. So an actor that doesn't want to shift a habit is not
wanting to move towards the experience of another human being. For instance,
if you want to speak casually and you're in a great scene when people are
talking about incredible events, then you haven't got the imagination to
realize that you wouldn't dare do that in those circumstances.
You know, I was working--I've been lucky enough to teach Shakespeare all over
the world. You know, in Soweto, when I did "Titus Andronicus" with actors
there, they had absolute understanding of the violence in that play because
most of them had been through, in apartheid, that violence. So, in fact, to
speak it was a witnessing of that violence. So, in fact, those actors had no
problem in speaking Shakespeare because they had understood something about
the human condition.
When I was working with Bosnian actors, I had actually a young English actor
with me working with these actors, and she was mumbling. And one of them
turned to her and said, `My dear, if the television camera visits you and you
have one moment to say, "They shot my son under that tree, and my brother was
shot under that one," you don't mumble,' you know. And those are the issues
that we're talking about in Shakespeare. You know, you would not mumble, I
would hazard a guess, in front of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein because he
would look at you and probably shoot you. It's about not only craft, but
about imagination, about the cost of life.
GROSS: Patsy Rodenburg, thank you so much.
Ms. RODENBURG: Thank you.
GROSS: Patsy Rodenburg is director of voice at London's National Theater.
Her new book is called "Speaking Shakespeare."
Those of us who are fans of the voice of the late singer Susannah McCorkle no
longer have new sessions of hers to look forward to, but a new CD features
demo recordings she made before she ever recorded professionally. These demos
were made in the hopes of convincing a record company to record her. The CD
is called "The Beginning 1975," Susannah McCorkle with pianist Keith Ingham.
Here's a song from it, "Says My Heart."
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of "Says My Heart"; music)
Ms. SUSANNAH McCORKLE: (Singing) `Fall in love, fall in love,' says my heart.
`Take a chance on romance,' says my heart. But each time that I'm almost in
his arms, that old schoolteacher brain of mine keeps ringing in false alarms.
So my head rules instead, and I'm wise to the scheme of that gleam in his
eyes. So I kiss and run, but the moment we're apart, `Oh, you fool, that was
love,' says my heart.
(Soundbite of piano instrumental)
Ms. McCORKLE: (Singing) So my head rules instead, and I'm wise to the scheme
of that gleam in his eyes. So I kiss and run, but the moment we're apart,
`Oh, you fool, that was love,' says my heart.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, we talk with New York City police Detective Dave
Fitzpatrick. Last September 11th, he flew over Manhattan, documenting the
devastation below. His photos are collected in the new book "Above Hallowed
Ground." And linguist Geoff Nunberg considers how September 11th changed our
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Former New York Detective David Fitzpatrick discusses
aerial photos he took of the September 11th attacks and how he
has used photography as a surveillance tool
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
As the World Trade Center burned and fell on September 11th, my guest, New
York Police Detective David Fitzpatrick, flew above ground zero in a police
helicopter, taking pictures. His photos, and those of other members of the
New York City Police Department, are collected in the new book "Above Hallowed
Ground." Fitzpatrick retired from the NYPD a couple of weeks ago after 21
years on the force. He had been a member of the technological assistance
response unit, and worked on many hostage crises. He often took pictures on
the job. I asked him about his mission in the helicopter on September 11th.
Mr. DAVID FITZPATRICK (Former Detective, New York Police Department): I just
went up to document it. I have my cameras with me all the time. Again, my
units are tech units, so we have all kinds of equipment, but I do a lot of
photography, so I keep it in my car like a doctor's bag. So I went straight
to--so my purpose was to document it. I wasn't really told to do that, but I
just know that from years past, I've documented things. So I wanted to go up
and take a look and document it. And plus, the pilots may have had their
reasons to go up by checking out the skies, make sure nobody else was around,
clearing out the personal traffic.
GROSS: Now you got to the World Trade Center just after the second tower has
hit. What were you expecting might happen next?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: I never dreamed they would come down; I don't think anybody
did. It looked bad, of course, and I knew it was terrible. I could see
people on the ground trying to evacuate the area, and I could see what looked
like people going into the building; just a lot of activity on the ground.
But I had no idea, at that moment--I got there just before they came down, so
I really had no idea. When they came down, it was off guard. I never knew
either one of them was going to come down when they did.
GROSS: When the towers collapsed, could you see that they were collapsing or
did you just see smoke and not know what was happening?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Oh, no, I could see them collapsing. They were coming down
like stations, almost like floors coming on top of one another, just coming
GROSS: What else could you see from your view?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Well, when they first came down, you could just see all the
rubble and how the vastness of the smoke just enveloped a whole area and just
crept along like lava. It just kept going up towards the ocean, towards the
roadways. I could see people fleeing on the ground. And, you know, they came
down almost kind of slow in a way. They didn't come down fast. It seems like
they came down slow.
GROSS: Was it frightening to be in the sky not knowing if there were any
other attacks that were going to happen?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: No. No, I was not nervous at all. I was aware that that
was a possibility. I did feel that `There is another target.' I thought
maybe the Statue of Liberty would be hit, and I thought the Empire State
Building would be hit, the United Nations. I think we were all on guard. We
didn't talk much in the helicopter. We were just too engrossed in what we
were doing. But I did feel that it was, I guess almost imminent, that things
would happen by other aircraft.
GROSS: Can you choose one or two of the photos that you took from the
helicopter on September 11th that mean the most to you now?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Yes. Well, one of the pictures of the rubble--I don't know
if you need a page number or whatever, but I had so many companions, so many
partners in the police department that were on the ground and had experienced,
you know, within an inch of their lives of the building coming down, how they
described to me the smoke and they couldn't see. They thought it was
Armageddon. They thought they were all doing to die. When they saw my
pictures of how much smoke engulfed the area, they felt that now they could
show, `See, this is where I was. I was under that.' And I got a lot of
feedback from that from people. So that's important to me, that it enabled a
little closure for people to show what the area was like not from inside the
rubble, but from outside the cocoon, you know, and so that was one photograph
that means something to me.
The other photograph that means a lot to me is the rescue of Sergeant
McLaughlin(ph) because we had just experienced the most devastating thing in
history, and certainly to everyone who is alive at the scene, in all our lives
this represented the most horrific thing that could have happened. But here
we have a possibility of somebody being alive--there is somebody alive 30 feet
under the rubble who was found and just spent 22 hours under the rubble. And
if felt good to be a part of that because it was a great ordeal trying to get
him out over the vastness of the rubble. And it felt good because not only
did I document it, but afterward I brought photographs to his house and I met
his family, and for the first time he saw what he experienced from a point
that he never--he never saw it. He was on a gurney when they took him out, so
he never experienced visually seeing it until he saw my photographs. So that
was pretty memorable for myself.
It felt rewarding that--and also everybody there, it was a little bit of
positiveness because we got somebody out alive.
GROSS: In that series of photos, there is a picture you took of a doctor
standing by with an amputation kit...
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Yes.
GROSS: ...in case the sergeant's legs needed to be amputated in order to get
him out of the rubble. That wasn't necessary, was it?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: No, but they thought that was--because he as pinned so
tightly under the ground, they had thought that when they removed him he would
start bleeding, that they would have to amputate, but it turns out they didn't
GROSS: What kind of shape is he in now?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: He walks on two walkers, two canes. It's mostly his feet
now, but it's been almost a year now and he still has to walk with the two arm
walkers to try to get by. But he doesn't give up, he keeps plugging away, and
he's going great. Now he's got a wife and kids. It's pretty nice to feel
that he made it out. And when he was under the ground, his perception was
that the buildings never even came down. He thought--his perception
was--funny how everybody has different perceptions. He was in the level
below. Most of the guys with him were killed, him and another guy survived,
and they thought it was a car bomb that went off above them. You know, they
thought it was a car bomb, so when the building came down from their level,
they didn't see the buildings. They were in the level below. When the
building came down, they ran for cover. And again, their perception was it
was a car bomb. Him and the other officer were trapped, and the third officer
was uninjured, the rest of the officers were killed. And so the officer who
was uninjured started to remove the rubble from one of the officers. And when
the second building came down, which their perception was it was another car
bomb on the floor above, it killed that officer who was uninjured, had killed
him, and now just the two remaining officers are left.
And in the course of the night the heat was so intense that all the cops who
were killed in the level below, their ammunition started to go off. So here
are the two officers, a sergeant and his partner, they felt that, `We're never
getting out of here. Not only is it car bombs, but there's a firefight going
on upstairs.' They interpreted it as being a terrorist attack on the level
above, because they could hear the shots going off, not knowing it was their
dead comrades who had just been killed.
So it was quite an ordeal thinking that they were going to be the next
victims, or just what had happened. And it wasn't until he was removed--and
that's another thing, he told me by looking at my pictures, when they removed
him, he couldn't figure out why it was taking so long to get to the street,
because he didn't know the buildings were down. They had to carry him over
the wreckage of the buildings for several hundred yards to get him out. But
he couldn't figure out why it was that way, because he didn't know they were
down, you know, so it was interesting, his side of the story, based on my
photographs, you know, so that was pretty good.
GROSS: My guest is Detective David Fitzpatrick. His photos of September 11th
taken from a police helicopter are included in the new book "Above Hallowed
Ground." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Detective David Fitzpatrick. On September 11th, he flew
over ground zero in a police helicopter taking pictures. His aerial photos,
and those taken by other members of the NYPD, are collected in the new book
"Above Hallowed Ground."
Did you lose a lot of friends in the force on the 11th?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Several, yes. A couple guys. I didn't know most of them.
Some of the emergency services guys I've worked with, I knew their faces. One
fella used to be in my unit and he had transferred out, and he was killed, so,
you know, there was enough of them that, you know, even a fireman or two--in
my town, Rockville Centre, 40 people had perished from my town, so, you know,
all in all, it's--my wife's also a detective, and she worked at the morgue the
whole time, so between the two of us we knew, you know, quite a few.
GROSS: What was she doing at the morgue?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: She categorized the body parts. She assisted the ME. But
she used to be a medical photographer before she came into the police
department, so since she had experience with the medical field, she
volunteered to go. Because all the cops in the whole city were basically on
12-hour shifts, or plus, you know, maybe 18, so--because everybody would take
a stint down at the morgue, but she volunteered to stay there since she had
experience at it and could handle it, basically. So, you know, she did that
for quite a while, with me being at ground zero every day, you know. That
sort of really affected everybody. My wife--again, being a cop, I have a
10-year-old son who bounced around from neighbor's house to relative's house
for weeks after that. So just it tied into how everybody was affected, not
just us, but all the families.
GROSS: How did you divide your allegiance between job and family during that
time? The work that you and your wife were doing were really important to the
police force and to the nation. At the same time, you know, you don't want to
leave your son to others at a time when he was probably feeling really
emotionally vulnerable and very scared.
Mr. FITZPATRICK: He was scared. He thought I was killed. When he got off
the school bus, he told my wife, who was home still, he told my wife--he got
off the bus and said, `Dad's dead,' you know, kind of thing. And my wife had
to assure him that--she didn't know at that point. But he stood tall, as I
think all kids did. You know, there's a lot of heroes in all this. It's not
just the firemen and the cops and, of course, the victims, but it's my
10-year-old son with other 10-year-old kids who made their parents feel secure
enough not to worry, and my son fell in with that, that he knew he had--even
at his age--he was nine at the time--he knew he had a job to do, and he made
us comfortable knowing we had to do what we had to do.
GROSS: You've been taking photographs most of your life.
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Yeah.
GROSS: When you were in the helicopter on September 11th, were you thinking at
all about how to frame the shots, or were you just like working on instinct?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Well, it was instinct, but I'm always conscious of framing
my shots--you know, know when to go vertical, trying to keep the horizon
straight. That's just built in, that I always check myself. Even though it's
done second nature, I try to make my own mental checklist to frame it right,
because otherwise you'll miss, you know, a portion of what you had to get.
GROSS: How many rolls of film did you go through on the 11th?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Oh, boy, quite a few. I brought about 60 with me, 60 or 70
rolls with me. I always try to keep my camera bag ready, so I shot--I don't
count. I just shoot, so I had quite a few with me. I don't really know how
many I took, but I took a lot.
GROSS: Right. You've taken a lot of pictures for the New York police. You
were on the hostage negotiation team for a long time.
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Yes.
GROSS: How did you use your photographs for hostage negotiations?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Well, it's a team effort. It's not just a camera. It's
just not the negotiator. Each piece is used. I would say many of the jobs,
many, and we have quite a few over the years, that the camera enables them to
know the precise moment to enter the apartment, break the door in and get the
guy. It's based on visually seeing where he is that aids many of those times,
so proportionately it's quite a high number that the camera does help.
GROSS: How have you used your camera for surveillance?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Well, we do a lot of surveillances. You know, we'll have to
go to various locations to do surveillance, either through vans or stakeout
areas or from windows or roofs, you know, all different areas I've done
GROSS: And where do you--what are some of the clever places you've hidden
yourself to take pictures so that you won't be seen by anybody else as you're
Mr. FITZPATRICK: I've been in boxes on the street, you know, though hallway
windows that you put up a construction site; through various things I can't
even tell you that we'd use to hide ourselves. You know, I've done, you know,
all aspects of hiding over the last 18 years to get it, but that's what you
have to do.
GROSS: Have you had to learn how to be really quiet and breathe really
quietly when you're hiding?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Yes. Oh, yeah. Absolutely. And have everything ready so
if you need something, you don't have to fumble looking for it. If you're
inside a van, you have to make sure the van don't move if somebody's leaning
against the van, you know, while you're inside. So it's a lot of things like
that you have to learn to do.
GROSS: What are some of the technical developments that have happened while
you've worked for the police that have enabled you to expand what you can do
in documenting and collecting visual evidence?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Well, it's not always with a 35mm camera. We use--actually
the medical industry has helped quite a bit, because if somebody holds
somebody hostage, let's say, inside a building; say a guy robs a store and he
runs and flees into a building, you know, we never try to let the perpetrator
know he has somebody hostage--that's a word we'll never use--but we have to
try to assess where he is in the apartment and if he, in fact--because a lot
of times he'll be trapped in there, and when we try to get him out, he'll say,
you know, `Well, I'm going to kill two people. I have a gun. You know, if
you come with me, they're going to die,' kind of thing, so we try to visually
and audiowise see what he does. So we'll have fiber optics to try to maybe
drill holes in the wall or lower a camera down to see inside, because it's
important for us to know if he's in the kitchen boiling something on the
stove, if he's hiding in the basement, if he does have two people. And maybe
he has four people; maybe he has nobody in there. So we try to determine all
that with the cameras, and the medical industry has helped quite a bit with
their fiber optics, so we were able to get some of those.
And a lot of this stuff's made in-house. The police department's loaded with
guys who are supertalented. They really are. They take the job to heart.
They use their own money many times to come up with an idea and actually
devise little things, you know, to help us so you can lower a camera in and
it'll be so small that you can't see it from his point of view. So yeah, it
has a lot of advances.
GROSS: Now you mentioned you have to know if the hostage taker is boiling
something on the stove. Why did you use that image?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Well, because that kind of thing is something we'll--you
know, it's like a checklist of things we always have to watch, because the
stove is an area--the kitchen is an area where there's knives, there's all
kinds of instruments in there. If he was unarmed when he fled, he could now
be armed if he's in the kitchen.
GROSS: Armed even with boiling water?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Boiling water, sure. A pot of some hot substance. You
know, anything like that could be a danger for the entry guys who eventually
go in, or for the victims themselves, so you want to try to know that so we
can give the heads-up to the guys, if and when they come into the apartment,
just what they have to, you know, maybe watch for. And maybe we want to know
if the victims are in the bedroom and now the perpetrator is in the kitchen,
you know, or he's in the other bedroom. Maybe it's at that point that we'll
want to know when to go in on him. So that's why it's very important that we
use those cameras to see that.
GROSS: Is there a time when your photos or your images really saved the day?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Well, yeah, every time a cop's happy, that saves the day for
me. When he walks away and he sees--like I said, that he sees something, that
saves the day. But, yes, I photograph many people who are wanted for
homicide, so that they would use the photographs and, from a photo array,
identify the person. So, yeah, that in a way saves the day, sure.
GROSS: Your September 11th photos and photos of ground zero are collected in
the book "Above Hallowed Ground." What else have you done with your photos?
You've said that you've given the photos to survivors and their families, to
police officers. Are any of these photos hanging around your house? Are
these images that you want to wake up to and see through the day?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: I've never not looked at them. September 11th has never
left my day. Since September 11th, it's not a day goes by that I'm not
involved with it at some point. So I have none hanging in my house, no.
Someday maybe, but to me it's still doing the work to have the work seen by
people, so, no, I don't have any hanging anywhere. I guess maybe I'm not up
to that point yet, because it's still all fresh to me. I'm still working on
stuff. You know, it's a whole year later and it's as fresh to me as the day
it happened, because there's not a day that goes by that I don't look at the
images each and every day, for one reason or another. So I have none hanging
in my home at all.
GROSS: Are you doing anything special on September 11th?
Mr. FITZPATRICK: You know, it's funny you say that. I've thought a lot about
that. I just don't know yet. To me I'm almost seeing that as the day I can
finally take a break from it. You know, that's how I kind of see that day. I
don't know how I feel. Even thinking about it now, I just feel like it's the
day I'll make a decision on which way I'm going to go about it.
GROSS: A private day or a day to participate in more public commemorations.
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Yeah, I don't know if I'll do things public. I feel I have
to talk to myself that day, on September 11th, at least in the morning maybe,
you know. Then maybe the rest of the day will go straight, but right now I
feel I have to--that's like my guide post. That's the end of the line for me,
maybe. You know, I know I have a commitment to myself, and really to the
world, to look at the pictures, and I feel September 11th is that day that
that's been achieved, I guess. So I'll see how I feel that day.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. FITZPATRICK: Well, thank you.
GROSS: David Fitzpatrick's aerial photos of ground zero taken September 11th,
along with the aerial photos of other members of the NYPD, are collected in the
new book "Above Hallowed Ground." Fitzpatrick retired from the force last
Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg has been listening to Americans struggling
to find the words to describe September 11th. This is FRESH AIR.
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Commentary: Revival of the correct usage of the word `enormity'
since the September 11th attacks
TERRY GROSS, host:
As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, a lot of people have been looking to
see how the attack has affected the language. But according to our linguist
Geoff Nunberg, they've been looking in the wrong places.
Over the last few weeks, there's been a spate of articles on the effects that
the 9/11 attacks have had on the language. I can see where that would seem an
obvious subject. If 9/11 meant that everything was different, then you'd
figure we'd be talking differently, too. As a writer in The New York Times
put it, `The words of 9/11 remain chiseled into the language.' But the
language isn't really like the Vietnam Memorial. It doesn't permanently
record every momentous public event in stone. There are a lot of words that
have been more prominent since the attacks, some old and some recycled--ground
zero, weaponize, sleeper cell, evildoer, homeland security.
But apart from 9/11 itself, these are mostly news crawl words that aren't
likely to take up permanent residence in our everyday speech. I hear a lot of
people using jihad these days, but then a decade or so ago I was hearing
everybody using that mother of all battles formula.
The fact is that world events only have a big effect on the language when they
transform the daily lives of millions of Americans, the way World War II did.
That war made dozens of contributions to our ordinary vocabulary, from
beachhead, blockbuster and bloodbath, to firepower, flak and foxhole. And
even the comparatively limited conflict in Vietnam popularized items like
hawks and doves, grunt and boat people, not to mention memorable euphemisms
like friendly fire and collateral damage.
But I wouldn't look for similar effects from 9/11, or at least not unless we
find ourselves in a long and messy ground war in Iraq. The attacks and their
aftermath are still weighing on our minds, but people's daily preoccupations
have returned to pretty much what they were before. In fact, one post-9/11
phrase that's already disappeared is `that's so September 10th.' Or as the ad
for Southwest Airlines says, `Business travel is back.'
And yet the attacks have left some traces in the way we talk, if you look for
them in the right places. On a hunch, I went to check how the newspapers were
using that problematic word `enormity' in the months immediately following the
attacks. I say problematic because this is one of those words that the usage
mavens are always getting shirty about. The traditional rule says that you're
only supposed to use enormity to refer to things that are monstrously evil or
horrible, like Jeffrey Dahmer's crimes, not just for things of great size,
like a 747 or Bill Gates' fortune.
Now in the great debates over usage, I tend to side with the non-combatants.
But I confess that it still bothers me to hear enormity used as a synonym for
huge. For a long time, I used to do an inward double take when I saw someone
referring to the enormity of Joe Dimaggio's impact on the game of baseball. I
mean, that's something I wouldn't even say about George Steinbrenner. But at
a certain point it struck me that all those double takes were probably giving
me a stiff neck. Back in 2000, I looked at a hundred citations for enormity
from a database of major newspapers, and found that only about a third of them
actually used to word to refer to horrible or monstrous things. When the tide
is going that much against you on a question of usage, it's usually a good
idea to abandon ship. Even William Safire has thrown in the towel on
But it turns out that the old sense of enormity made a big comeback in the
three months after 9/11. The word was five times as frequent as it was in the
previous three months, and writers were using it correctly 80 percent of the
time, particularly when they were talking about the attacks. That makes sense
to me. In the weeks right after the attacks, people were groping for words to
do justice to their anger and shock. A lot of politicians and journalists
were using language that suggested an almost Victorian sense of indignation:
despicable, dastardly, nefarious. But it turned out that the word that
conveyed the exact mix of outrage and wickedness and horror was sitting right
at hand all along, even if people had half forgotten that it was there. It
was like suddenly needing a pie plate you hadn't seen in years, then
remembering you'd been using it under a potted plant.
And the revival of enormity hasn't shown any signs of fading since them. When
I looked at press stories from this summer, writers were still using the word
correctly about two-thirds of the time, even in connection with things that
have nothing to do with 9/11, like the AIDS crisis in Africa, or the wave of
child kidnappings. For a moment, at least, the attacks seemed to have
reawakened people's sense of what enormity really means, or I should probably
say what enormity really is. My first instinct would be to say that this
won't last. Sooner or later, enormity will go back to being a word that
people use mostly to describe things like baseball stadiums. But then I'll
recall how an attack on the US more than 60 years ago breathed new life into
another moribund word, infamy. Maybe we should measure the effects of an
event not by the new words it introduces, but by the old ones it reminds us to
use more carefully.
GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is currently a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center.
He's the author of the book "The Way We Talk Now."
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. Today is the 75th birthday of drummer Elvin Jones.
We'll close with his 1964 recording with John Coltrane of "Love Supreme."
(Soundbite of "Love Supreme")
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