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Nils Lofgren, On the Side and Out in Front

Nils Lofgren, best known as guitarist with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, also played for Neil Young and Crazy Horse early in that band's career. He's also had a notable solo career — and he founded the mid-1970s band Grin. There are several reissues of Lofgren's work: Grin's 1+1 and All Out (now available on a double-album set), plus the solo discs Nils Lofgren and Back It Up.



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Other segments from the episode on December 28, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 28, 2007: Interview with Al Jean; Interview with Nancy Cartwright; Commentary on Nils Lofgren.


DATE December 28, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Al Jean, executive producer and writer from "The
Simpsons," on the new "Simpsons" movie

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of sitting in for
Terry Gross. "The Simpsons Movie," the big-screen adaptation of the
long-running animated TV series, has just been released on DVD. Al Jean has
worked on "The Simpsons" since it became a series in 1989. He's currently
head writer and an executive producer.

"The Simpsons" is the longest-running prime time animated series in TV
history, and most of the head writers from those various years reunited to
brainstorm for the film.

Terry spoke with Al Jean a few months ago, when "The Simpsons" film was
released. The story has a satirical environmental theme. Homer has adopted a
pet pig and has no idea what to do with the pig's droppings. So he fills a
silo with the stinky stuff, but then can't figure out what to do with the
silo. In a move he thinks is pretty clever, Homer dumps the silo in
Springfield's already-polluted lake, creating an environmental catastrophe.
When the townspeople find out, an angry mob gathers in front of the Simpsons'

(Soundbite of "The Simpsons Movie")

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of angry voices)

Ms. JULIE KAVNER: (As Marge Simpson) Homer. You have to go out there, face
that mob and apologize for what you did.

Mr. DAN CASTELLANETA: (As Homer Simpson) I would, but I'm afraid if I open
the door, they'll take all of you.

Mr. HANK AZARIA: (As Carl Carlson) No, we won't. We just want Homer.

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Homer Simpson) Well, maybe not you, but they'll kill

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Abraham Simpson) I'm part of the mob!

(End of soundbite)


Al Jean, welcome back to FRESH AIR. "The Simpsons" have been on the air
nearly 20 years, and the characters never age, which is OK because they're
animated. But I think some of them have really kind of changed and changed
with the times. Do you want to choose one or two characters and tell us how
you think they've changed?

Mr. AL JEAN: Well, there have been some changes that weren't intentional
just because, although the characters don't age, you know, we the writers
certainly have.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. JEAN: And at the beginning I think we identified more with the kids
because we almost were kids, and as we started to continue doing the show,
more plots would come up for Homer. And I think that's because, you know, we
were getting older and we related to him better. And honestly, as the years
go by, I'm starting to drift into Grandpa territory. So maybe that'll be the
next way we go.

GROSS: Now what--just go through the titles that you've had over the years on
"The Simpsons."

Mr. JEAN: Well, at the beginning I was called a consulting producer, and the
thing was, the people who were turning the shorts into half-hour episodes,
which was Jim Brooks, Matt Groening and Sam Simon, could afford two writers
two days a week. So my friends didn't want the job, but I basically said,
`I'll work cheap and I'll work hard.' And you know, seriously, I also felt--I
wasn't, you know, predicting this was going to be a show that would last, you
know, over 400 episodes and turn into a feature film, but I loved Matt's work
in "Life in Hell," and Sam and Jim, the work they had done on "Taxi," and Jim
on "Mary Tyler Moore," was the best work I thought had ever been done in
television. So I really was excited to take the job and I thought the show
was going to be good, if nothing else.

And when it became full time, I became the show runner in seasons three and
four, and after that worked on it part time while I pursued other projects,
which a lot of the writers did then. And at every point, I would always sit
there some time during the day and go, `I wish I was back at "The Simpsons."'
So I came back full time in season 10 and have been there full time ever since
and have run the show from season thirteen till now.

GROSS: What does it mean to be the show runner?

Mr. JEAN: Being the show runner basically means that whatever goes wrong is
my fault. I'm involved in all phases. I came up as a writer, so I write; I
supervise the writing. I work with the budgets. I direct the actors' audio.
I work with the animation directors. I go over the storyboards, edit the
audio, edit the picture. Work with the composer, Alf Clausen, work on the
special effects, the sound effects, the video effects that go into the show.
Basically I involve myself with every aspect of the show and have
responsibility for it.

GROSS: So what was the first "Simpsons" episode you worked on?

Mr. JEAN: The first "Simpsons" episode I worked on was the first episode
that aired, the half-hour Christmas special in 1989, and the episode was
basically written by Sam Simon, Matt Groening, Mike Reiss and myself. And
when I first saw it as a, you know, final cut, I was sitting there going,
`This is the best thing I've ever been involved with.' I wanted to spend the
rest of my career doing this, and little did I dream...

GROSS: What did you like so much about it?

Mr. JEAN: Well, what I liked was what I had always responded to in Jim
Brooks' shows, which was it was funny but there was a warmth to it, and at the
end of that episode--Homer didn't get a Christmas bonus, but he goes to the
dog track and loses all his money, but then gets a dog that the owner doesn't
want and brings the dog home, and the family's happy with him because he did.
And there was a warmth to that that was so wonderful and, you know, that we
have, you know, recaptured on the best moments of the series. I still get
choked up a little thinking about it.

GROSS: Do you remember the first joke that you contributed to "The Simpsons"?

Mr. JEAN: I don't remember the first. I know that the very first episode is
titled "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," and I pitched that. I remember
the first time I really made Jim Brooks laugh was in that episode. We were
talking about the name for the dog, and I had said, you know, it was Christmas
so because it should be a good omen and Homer would want to bet on him we
could say Santa's Little Helper. And then we were doing this thing where
Homer came home and Marge said, `What's the dog's name?' and I
pitched--because it had been a greyhound at a race track--that Homer goes,
`Number eight--I mean, Santa's Little Helper,' and he really laughed at that,
and I just was going, `Wow, I made Jim Brooks really laugh. That's exciting.'

GROSS: Were there any characters you created?

Mr. JEAN: Yes. Ralph Wiggum was one of the characters that we created. I
also was one of the people that created Phil Hartman's characters: Lionel
Hudson, Troy McClure, and Comic Book Guy. And much of the show was in the
shorts and, you know, was elaborated in the series. The first episode
featuring Lisa, "Moaning Lisa," was from an idea of Jim's, and Mike Reiss and
I wrote it, and when we did, we said, you know, `We've been on shows that were
a little sketchier like "Alf" or the first "Gary Shandling Show." We're going
to really go for emotion here,' and it was something that I was, you know, so
proud of when we did it, and I think it really helped make Lisa's character
what it became.

GROSS: You mentioned Troy McClure, one of the Phil Hartman characters. You
know, I'm so sorry that Phil Hartman passed away a few years ago...

Mr. JEAN: He was a wonderful, wonderful man. Terrific to work with.

GROSS: Yeah, you really lost a lot of characters and, I'm sure, a great
friend when he died. But, you know, getting back to Troy McClure, he was this
like really funny, vain character that seemed to be a combination of two
actors, you know, Troy McClure--I mean, Troy Donahue and Doug McClure...

Mr. JEAN: Troy Donahue and Doug McClure. Both of whom were angered by the

GROSS: Were they really? Yeah.

Mr. JEAN: Yeah.

GROSS: Would you describe how you came up with the character?

Mr. JEAN: Well, the name synthesis is a good example of how we come up with
things. We were working on a rewrite for a script in which Homer steals
cable, and we wanted to have this movie actor who comes out and, you know, he
introduces cheesy products, and he's a guy who's been in these terrible
movies. And, you know, we were saying, `Well, he should be a combination of
Troy Donahue and Doug McClure. We'll call him Troy McClure,' and often things
aren't, you know, more fleshed out than that.

I would read on "The Sopranos" that, you know, David Chase would know where he
wanted to go with everything at the beginning of the season and it would all
be mapped out and every, you know, thing would be delineated in fine detail.
Well, not us. I mean, I can give you another example, which is principal
Skinner--at one point George Meyer, one of the writers said, `Oh, you know, it
would be interesting if he was a Vietnam veteran,' and it was just a joke and
it went in the script and then it turned into something where it was a great
character trait and it gave him real poignancy and, you know, we rarely, you
know, plan things, but they grow organically like kudzu.

BIANCULLI: "Simpsons" writer and producer Al Jean speaking with Terry Gross
earlier this year.

(Soundbite of "The Simpsons")

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Mr. JEFF GOLDBLUM: (As Mac Parker) Troy, Mac Parker. Ever hear of "Planet
of the Apes"?

Mr. PHIL HARTMAN: (As Troy McClure) Uh, the movie or the planet?

Mr. GOLDBLUM: (As Mac Parker) The brand new, multimillion dollar musical,
and you are starring as the human.

Mr. HARTMAN: (As Troy McClure) It's the part I was born to play, baby!

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HARTMAN: (As Troy McClure, singing) I hate every ape I see
From chimpan-A to "chimpan-Z"
No, you'll never make a monkey out of me
Oh my God! I was wrong!
It was earth all along!
You finally made a monkey

Unidentified Backup Singers: (Singing) Yes, we finally made a monkey

Mr. HARTMAN and Backup Singers: (As Troy McClure, singing) Yes, you finally
made a monkey out of me!

(Speaking) I love you, Dr. Zaius!

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. HARTMAN: (As Troy McClure) Thank you.

BIANCULLI: That's Phil Hartman as Troy McClure, singing in the "Planet of the
Apes" musical from the TV series "The Simpsons." We'll be back with more of
Terry's conversation with Al Jean after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview from earlier this year with Al
Jean, a writer and producer of "The Simpsons Movie," which has just been
released on DVD.

GROSS: Krusty the Clown is this really like old-time Jewish vaudevillian type
of comic--clown, I mean. And Flanders is the fundamentalist Christian
next-door neighbor. Are there like Jewish writers and Christian writers and
Catholic writers and atheist writers on the show who, like, know their

Mr. JEAN: Primarily the staff, throughout the years, has been either writers
who are Jewish or Catholic. I'm a lapsed Catholic. And the thing that
happens is, if you're writing about your own ethnicity then you feel like you
can be funnier and you don't have to worry about political correctness. So,
for example, we did an episode a couple of years ago where we depicted
Catholic heaven, and it was, you know, a bunch of Irishmen fighting. I'm
Irish, so I didn't think that was offensive. I thought it would be really
great and, you know, it kills me every time I see it. And so, you know, I
think that's, you know, the way that these sort of things get into the show.

Flanders, I always say, is designed as someone who's too good to be true and,
you know, I actually believe a lot of people who are fundamentalist Christians
really like the character. And, you know, to me, Flanders is a much better
neighbor than Homer. If I had to pick one to live next to, it would be Ned.
So I find it's a portrait that's not sort of a cheap shot, but actually very
nuanced and respectful.

GROSS: He's a very, you know, considerate, loving father and a good neighbor.

Mr. JEAN: And terrific to Homer despite the things that Homer does to him.

GROSS: Uh-huh. But what are some of the other sides of him that you've done
over the years?

Mr. JEAN: Well, like anything, as we, you know, continue to try to think of
stories we get more nuanced, so we have done things lately--we have done
things more recently where we'll have Ned, you know, watch TV and monitor it
for vulgarisms; or, you know, we had him making a movie like Mel Gibson's
"Passion of the Christ," which was a Bible story, filming the Bible the way
it's really written, which is pretty violent, and then he got in trouble
because nobody wanted to see it. But we also, you know, make him somebody.
And he has a big part in the movie, where, you know, Bart looks at him and
goes, `He's a wonderful man, and everything that I don't see in my own father,
I see in him,' and that's a real conflict in the film.

GROSS: Well, he's also just so fastidious. There's a very funny moment in
the movie, he's putting the kids to bed, and I think he gives them a little

Mr. JEAN: That's my favorite scene in the film. That's my favorite scene in
the film.

GROSS: Then he has one of those like little minivacuum cleaners that he's
like vacuuming their bedclothes with...

Mr. JEAN: Yep.

GROSS: he puts them to bed.

Mr. JEAN: There's a line that he says towards the end of the film where one
of his kids goes, `I wish Homer was my father,' and I pitched that Ned says,
`And I wish you didn't have the devil's curly hair.' But he says it in such a
positive manner. And my wife, who has curly hair is like, `Now you've done

GROSS: You know, speaking of the Bible, there's a joke in the movie--I hope
you don't mind too much me giving this away--where, you know, the family's in
church, and I won't give away what's happening in church, but one of the
characters says basically, `What should we do?' and Homer has the Bible in his
hands and he says, `I don't know. There's no answers in this book.'

Mr. JEAN: He says, `This book doesn't have any answers,' and that was my

GROSS: That's your line?

Mr. JEAN: Yes. But what it is, just so people don't misconstrue it, it's
him trying to find a solution for Grandpa, who's having a vision and rolling
around on the floor, so the joke is that he's looking through the Bible like
an owner's manual, you know, so that he can find a button to push and that'll
take care of Grandpa. And, you know, obviously then there's the double
meaning that people look for answers to life's problems in the Bible. And it
gets a big laugh every time that we screen the film. And, to me, it's a
perfect example of, you know, the double meaning of, you know, things that we
do on "The Simpsons."

That scene, too, in the film that you're referring to is one at the beginning
of the film where what Jim Brooks wanted to do was he wanted to have a scene
that grabbed you and made you say, `This is where the plot of the movie
starts,' and it's what often happens on "The Simpsons," where the way the
scene is written, we actually conclude there is a very active God who's taking
a firm interest in the lives of Springfielders and trying to save them from a
terrible fate. And we actually, you know, show more activity, you know, by
God in human life and, you know, direct involvement in human affairs than, I
would say, any cartoon on network television.

GROSS: Let's talk process a little bit. Like, can you just like walk us
through the process of, say, a typical "Simpsons" show, or of the movie--I
assume the process was very similar. It probably starts in the writers' room,

Mr. JEAN: What happens is that a writer or a couple of writers will pitch an
idea for an episode and, as the show runner, I decide which ones we do and
don't do, and if it sounds like it's a good idea and I always think, you know,
`Would Jim Brooks like it?' Sometimes I consult with him directly or, you
know, if I think he'll like it, we just go ahead and do it. And that writer
will pitch, with the group of writers, for three days, just coming up with
jokes, a storyline. The writer goes off, does an outline. I'll read that and
give notes with a couple of other producers, tell the writer how to go off and
write the first draft of the script.

Then that draft is rewritten six, seven times before the cast gets to see it.
We really go over it line by line, story point by story point, joke by joke.
We read it with the cast for a group of us that work on the show, then you see
what gets laughs and what doesn't. You see if they're on board for the story.
And, you know, extreme cases, but not often, you'll go, `Oh, this thing
doesn't work or it's too off-character and we'll have to adjust the story,

Then we'll rewrite it after all that, record it on the following Monday. The
audiotape is sent to the animation studio where it's storyboarded, and the
storyboards are gone over by me and the writer and they go back and make
what's called an animatic, which is a rough black-and-white version with, you
know, some of the animation in, but not all of it. And that is screened for
us and we rewrite it again and record new audio. And then it's color
animated, and even after the color comes back, we still rewrite it.

A story I always tell is that in the early days of the show we wrote a joke
about the Soviet Union and, before the color came back, the Soviet Union broke
up and we had to change the joke. And you know, because cartoon lip movements
are, you know, pretty standard, you can really change what they say and, you
know, use the same animation. So the difference between that and the movie is
the movie was a four-year process, and the show, it's a one-year process.

GROSS: I have a Marge and Homer question for you. You know, Homer's really
dumb. I mean, he's...

Mr. JEAN: Is he?

GROSS: He's really difficult to put up with sometimes and, you know, Marge is
always, well, often so kind of like stable and able to, you know, have
everybody make up and be a family. No matter what Homer does, no matter how
stupid it is, at the end, he and Marge usually reconcile and the family's back
together again.

Mr. JEAN: Always reconcile.

GROSS: Always reconcile. Yeah. Do you ever--is there ever a part of you
that thinks, `Marge, leave him. He's really stupid.'

Mr. JEAN: Yes, and this sort of feeling that, you know, we explore a little
in depth in the film, what I think is, you know, one essential basis for the
success of "The Simpsons" is Homer never does anything consciously mean,
especially not to Marge. He's insensitive and he's made every mistake you can
make, but he loves her and he doesn't want to hurt her for anything. And then
on other hand, Marge thinks Homer's the handsomest man she ever met.

GROSS: And like as Homer says in the film, `You have to understand, I don't
think about anything.'

Mr. JEAN: Yeah. And then he goes, `I respect people who do.' But yeah,
that's a Jim Brooks line and it's really, really funny.

GROSS: So...

Mr. JEAN: Also a good philosophy that a lot of us, I think, obey.

GROSS: But there isn't a part of you that thinks, `Marge, leave him'?

Mr. JEAN: All then time. Yeah, I mean, you know, there definitely is, you
know, a recurring topic in the writers room, which is, what does she see in
him? And Julie Kavner's really funny because she goes, `Homer must be great
in bed,' and when Julie says this it's really funny to hear it coming out of
her voice.

GROSS: Can animated characters get away with certain things that actors can't
in a sitcom?

Mr. JEAN: Absolutely. One of the biggest we always talk about is Homer
strangles his son. I mean, he actually puts his hands around Bart's neck and
chokes him. And I think in real life Homer would go to jail, it would be
horrific. But in a cartoon, he does it and then, you know--I mean, Bart's
eyes bug out; I mean, it's really pretty scary when you look at it. But then
he just lets go and Bart's fine, it's a cartoon and everything's cool.

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

Mr. JEAN: It's been my pleasure.

BIANCULLI: Al Jean speaking to Terry Gross earlier this year. He's a writer
and producer of the new "Simpsons" movie, which is now out on DVD, and he's
worked on the TV show since it became a series. I'm David Bianculli, and this

To close this half of the show, here's a scene from the TV series in which
Homer is trying to save the local burlesque house from an angry mob.

(Soundbite of "The Simpsons")

(Soundbite of drilling, things falling)

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Homer Simpson) My friends, stop! Sure, we could tear
this house down.

(Soundbite of crowd yelling, glass breaking and other destruction)

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Homer Simpson) No! My friends, stop! Let me finish.
We could tear it down, but we'd be tearing down a part of ourselves.

(Singing) You could close down Moe's
Or the Kwik-E-Mart
And nobody would care
But the heart and soul
Of Springfield's in
Our Maisson Derriere

Unidentified Actress #1: (Singing) We're the sauce on your steak
We're the cheese in your cake
We put the spring in Springfield

Unidentified Actress #2: (Singing) We're the lace on the nightgown

Unidentified Actress #3: (Singing) The point after touchdown

Actresses: (Singing in unison) Yes, we put the spring in Springfield

Actress #1: (Singing) We're that little extra spice
That makes existence extra nice
A giddy little thrill at a reasonable price

Mr. HARRY SHEARER: (As Reverend Lovejoy, singing) Our only major
quarrel's with your total lack of morals

Actress #2: (Singing) Our skimpy costume's ain't so bad

Actresses: (Singing in unison) They seem to entertain your dad
The gin in your martini
The clams on your linguini
Yes, we keep the

(Sound effect of spring boinging)

Actresses: (Singing in unison) in Springfield

Mr. CASTALLANETA: (As Krusty the Clown, singing) We remember our first visit

(As Mayor Quimby, singing) The service was exquisite

Unidentified Actress #4: Why, Joseph, I had no idea

Mr. CASTALLANETA: (As Mayor Quimby) Come on, now, you were working here

Mr. CASTALLANETA and Mr. SHEARER: (As Grandpa and Jasper Beardly, singing)
Without it, we'd have had no fun
Since March of 1961

Ms. NANCY CARTWRIGHT: (As Bart Simpson, singing) To shut them down now would
be twisted

Unidentified Actors: (In unison, singing) We just heard this place existed

Actresses: (Singing in unison) We're the highlights in your hairdo

Mr. AZARIA (As Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, singing) The extra arms on Vishnu

Actresses: (Singing in unison) So don't take the...

(End of soundbite)

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

Interview: Nancy Cartwright talks about doing the voice of Bart
Simpson and other characters on "The Simpsons"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "The Simpsons")

Ms. PAMELA HAYDEN: (As Milhouse) Hey, Bart, look at this. My dad took me to
Circus of Values last night and said I could get anything I wanted.

Ms. NANCY CARTWRIGHT: (As Bart Simpson) Cool, an oversized novelty billiard

Ms. HAYDEN: (As Milhouse) Yeah, you shake it up and it tells the future.

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: (As Bart Simpson) Really?

Ms. HAYDEN: (As Milhouse) Uh-huh.

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: (As Bart Simpson) Will I pass my English test? "Outlook not
so good." Wow, it does work.

Ms. HAYDEN: (As Milhouse) Let me try. Will I get beat up today? "All signs
point to yes."

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: (As Nelson Muntz) That ball knows everything.

(Soundbite of Milhouse being punched)

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Two of the characters in that scene, Bart Simpson and Nelson
Muntz, were voiced by our next guest, Nancy Cartwright. She's done Bart's
voice since the start back when "The Simpsons" originated as a series of
roughly drawn shorts on "The Tracey Ullman Show." Cartwright has aged 20 years
in the interim, but Bart hasn't. He's still at the troublemaking age of 10.
In addition to Bart and Nelson, Cartwright also provides the voices of Ralph
Wiggum and Todd Flanders. She's done voices for other cartoons, too. And
she's a star of "The Simpsons Movie," which just came out on DVD.

Although she's the voice of Bart, she initially auditioned for the role of
Lisa. When Terry spoke with Nancy Cartwright earlier this year, she told
Terry how she approached that audition.

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Well, you know, typically when I've gone in--I've been in
the business since 1981, and I'll get a call for a part on a--at that time it
was just syndicated television, it was Saturday morning fare because there was
no prime time animation in the early '80s. And I would go in for the Saturday
morning, you know, "My Little Pony," "Glow Friends," "Snorks," "Pound
Puppies," "Richie Rich," that kind of stuff. And when I would audition I
would always tend to give three or four different takes on a character because
your idea of what a, you know, an eight-year-old pony sounds like may be
different than the guy sitting next to you. So it'd be smart to give options
and let them know I'm versatile, I can take direction, that kind of thing.

But with Bart, I don't know. It's like, Terry, I had this idea. I read the
script. I got the idea of who this boy was, saw the, you know, the monologue,
and just, boom, I just nailed it on one take, didn't give them anything else.
I gave him one shot, one take, one sound, one voice, and that was it, blah
blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah. And Matt, his eyebrows went up, his
tongue came out of his mouth, he's like, `Oh my God, that's him, that's Bart,
that's him. You got the part.' And I was given the part on the spot.


So is it--there's nothing conscious going on when you do the voice, it just
came to you?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Yeah, it just--no kidding, when I saw, when I saw the
picture--it really helps when you get the visual image of what the character
looks like--because sometimes you might have a character whose jaw is sticking
out a little bit more on the bottom than it is on the top and he's got this
sort of--there's a placement there so you know that his lower teeth would be
sticking out a little bit farther. So that would help in creating a
character. Or say you've got a seven-year-old kid who's got a split in his
two front teeth or he's missing one of his teeth at age seven. So he would be
talking sort of like this and you can put sort of a sound in there, sort of
like that little actress that played on "Mrs. Doubtfire." So I can steal
from, you know--Mara Wilson, I think was that little actress' name. I totally
ripped that off from her.

GROSS: What lines--what Bart lines do people quote at you most often when
they meet you?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Well, when people meet me, they'll mostly say, `do Bart.'
That's how they--`do Bart, do Bart.' `No way, man,' and everybody's happy.
But I'll tell you, it creates such a great effect, because they're blown away,
number one, that they heard it, number two, that I did it without them asking.
And I don't--number three, that it just shocked them that, I suppose, that I
did it at all.

GROSS: Well, why don't you describe who Nelson is and how you came up with
his voice?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Well, Nelson, he was a bad boy. And I had to read the
script because there's not much of a description in the script. It might say
`bad boy,' but it just--it didn't go into detail on it. So by reading the
script and, you know, putting that in context, I realized he was just this--he
was a thug. He was bigger, physically, than Bart. So he was also, I believe
Nelson Muntz is a little bit older, even though he's in the fourth grade.

But I just ended up coming up with the sound that--I think Nelson has sort of
evolved, and it came to the point where he eventually got a really, really
rough sound like that. And he's got a really, really hard R's. And I don't
know, that's how that sound came. And the laugh, the ha ha, I just say it for
you--henh, henh--that was written in the script, and it just said--I think it
actually just said `ha, ha.' And, I don't know, if somebody else would have
been cast as that, they would have come up with their own idea of what that
would sound like. But when I did that, it got an instant laugh. And so that
stuck. And because, I think, it got that laugh, the writers put a little
asterisk or a little star beside that. And they know that later on they can
do that again, and hopefully it'll continue to get a laugh. And it's through
trial and error and through experimenting, I don't think anybody said, 'Let's
create a signature laugh for Nelson Muntz.' You know what I mean?

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: It's just something that's sort of evolved.

And I find that fascinating, too, in looking at the development of "The
Simpsons," that a lot of choices that we had the opportunity to make, they
were just opportunities that we had. Nobody was going out there and saying,
`Wow, when I do this, this is going to become a catchphrase.' The next thing
you know this is `smell you later,' that people are going to be saying that,
you know.

GROSS: When you do that gruff like Nelson voice, does that hurt your vocal
chords at all?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Yeah. He's...

GROSS: Like is there a way of doing that without it hurting?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: You know, he truly is my--he's the most challenging in terms
of my vocal chords. But throughout the years and the 400-plus episodes that
we've done so far, Nelson has only really been a lead character or citizen in
a hand--you know, in just maybe couple of three. One of my favorite ones was
when he--it was that tribute when he came home and Marge really kind of took
him under his wing and he sang that song, it was a tribute to--it was like a
play on "Yentl." I don't know if I can do it. `Papa, can you hear me,'
singing to his father because his father like left to go get cigarettes or
milk or something at the Kwik-E-Mart. He never came--`Papa, is that you? Is
that you? Oh, papa.'

GROSS: That's so great. In the new "Simpsons" movie, as in the TV show,
there are times when Homer strangles Bart.

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Oh, sure.

GROSS: So can you talk about what goes on between you and Dan Castellaneta
when Homer's strangling Bart?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: You know, that's another great one. I remember the first
time that it was written in the script that that happened. And I was just
kidding, I said, `Dan, why don't you come over and help me out?' He did! He
came across this--you know, he was standing on the opposite side of me. He
walked all across the studio, stands behind me. He started choking me. I'm
going...(soundbite of choking). And it like created that, and man it was
imprinted forever, and that's what we duplicated from then on out.

GROSS: Am I right in saying, based on your description, that we're recording
like "The Simpsons Movie" or the TV show, that all the actors are in a room
together, gathered around one or two microphones. But you're doing it in real
time as a group.

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Yeah, that's absolutely correct.


Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Yeah, it's ideal. It's ideal that we're there so we can
kind of play off of each other.

GROSS: What's it like when you're doing both sides of the conversation? Say
like Bart's talking to Nelson.

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Yeah, that's fun. That's really, really fun. There was one
show, I think it was a take on the--I think it was called "Bart's
Commandments," or it was some Ten Commandments show. It was a play on--took
you back in time, and there was a scene where I was--it was Bart, Nelson,
Ralph and Kearney, I believe. And, oh my God. The scene was like three pages
long, and I was just talking to myself the entire time. And I remember doing
it at the table read. I was so nervous to do it in front of that, there's
like 100 people in the room. And I'm doing it, just praying that I wouldn't
get confused who I was. And I'd finished my run, and I mean I was sweating.
I was like really perspiring and I was out of breath. There's no time to even
breathe, practically. That is such a challenge.

But if it's just like one scene--there's one scene where Bart had a Mr.
Microphone and he was in the bottom of the well pretending like he was
somebody else. And Rod and Todd Flanders were next door and they were picking
him up on their radio. And Bart's like `Rod, Todd, this is God.' `What are
you doing on our radio?' `What do you mean, what am I doing on the radio? I
created the universe, stupid kid.' `What do you want from us?' `I want you to
go to the kitchen and bring forth all of the cookies from your kitchen.' 'But
those are our parents' cookies.' `What do you want, a happy God or a vengeful
God?' `Happy God. Happy God.' `Then bring forth the cookies.' `Yes, sir.'

It's a challenge, but it's fun.

BIANCULLI: Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, speaking to Terry
Gross earlier this year. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview from earlier this year with
Nancy Cartwright. On "The Simpsons," and in "The Simpsons Movie," now out on
DVD, she gives voice to the characters of Bart Simpson, Nelson Muntz and Todd

GROSS: Is there ever a time when you're given a script and you're thinking,
`I really need to see a visual to get what's going on here, to get what Bart
is actually experiencing?'

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Wow. That's another great question. No. Actually, no.
But I think partially is that after--especially after all these years--we can
totally visualize what's going on. But you've just got to do your homework.
You've just got to be prepared and know that if Bart is, you know, on a
skateboard or he's like riding his bicycle over a cliff and down a hill, that
there's going to be...(soundbite of grunting) know, and I just visualize
it, and like, `How many seconds of this do you want?' `Well, make it a little
bit longer. Do it again, but make it longer. And, Nancy, you know what?
This isn't a show about him riding, you know, his bicycle over a cliff. Just
cut it. You've got to cut it out. Give me just about a tenth of that.' `OK,
good, no problem.' Because I don't know about the length of time for the

GROSS: Now, your mentor was Daws Butler, who worked for Hanna-Barbera, doing
a lot of the great voices: Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw,
Elroy Jetson. How were you lucky enough to meet him?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Yeah. Oh my gosh, that's right. I was working at this
radio station and--long story short, I connected up with someone who gave me
her business card and she forwarded my letter onto somebody else who then
wrote me back and in a letter was his name and phone number. And I called him
up. And he had an answering machine. And this was like in '77. We didn't
have answering machines in Dayton, Ohio. But this was Hollywood, you know.
So I called him up and listened to his message. And it was a kind of uptight
kind of a butler guy, `Yes, hello, this is Percival Pickles, Mr. Butler's
butler. Leave your name and address and leave your message, and he'll get
back to you. Wait for the beep. Beep.' And I listened to that thing, and I'm
like, `Oh my God,' I said, `Hello, Mr. Butler, this is Nancy Cartwright of
Dayton, Ohio.' And I just did a little character in return and left my, you
know, left my address. And then I hung up the phone. I left my address. I
said `Just send me'--I said something like, `please send me some information
about your workshop, I'm interested in doing that, so pip, pip, cheerio,' and
I hung up the phone.

And I thought, `You know, that was stupid. Why didn't I just leave my phone
number?' So I called him back. And I'm telling you--something like that, I
think that impinges on somebody. He listened to my messages and, sure enough,
he called me back. And here we are talking on the phone and he's telling me a
little bit about his workshop, and he said, `I'll just you send me something.
Why don't I send you something. You take a look at it and see what you think,
maybe you could put it on tape and send me the tape of it.' And I'm thinking,
`Oh my God. You've got to be kidding me. Wow. OK, I'll do it. And thank
you. Thank you, Mr. Butler.' And hung up the phone.

And that started a long distance student/mentor relationship that continued
until I, like about a year or so later, I knew I had to get out of there. I
wanted to go be with him. So I...

GROSS: And did you do that?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Yeah. I transferred. I told my mom and dad I wanted to
move to California and you're going to go with me and, you know, I'll transfer
to UCLA. And I got accepted and got in their theater department. But I lived
for the Sundays that I caught the bus in Westwood, and I road the bus to
Beverly Hills, and hopped off and walked a couple of blocks to his house.
He'd converted his garage into a studio, and I'd go back there for a one-hour
lesson that lasted like the whole afternoon. He and his wife pretty much took
me under their wings and--I mean, this was like, this guy really, really cared
for me. It was pretty special relationship.

GROSS: What are some of the things that you learned by watching Daws Butler
work? I assume maybe like you went with him to Hanna-Barbera and watched him
record cartoons, or was he retired by then?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Let's see, when he took me to Hanna--no, he wasn't retired.
He was still doing--he was doing like "Popeye." I think he was Wimpy, the guy
that eats all the hamburgers.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: He was doing that. He was still doing Elroy. They were
still doing the "Jetsons," believe it or not. Here Daws was well into his 70s
and--well, for that matter, Mel Blanc, same thing. He was into his 70s. And
George O'Hanlon, who did the voice of George Jetson, he was in his 80s and
still doing it. This is what amazes me. OK. I'm about five Barts' worth.
I'm way, way younger than like being into my 70s. Looking at "The Simpsons,"
going, `Wow, is it possible that we could still be around for another 20
years?' But you know what? Dave Mirkin at 200 episodes, Dave Mirkin said at
one of the table reads, `Well, we're halfway there.' And it got a huge laugh,
and then look what it...

GROSS: You said earlier that, you know, that a lot of friends of yours who
have children or, you know, people you're just meeting have children will
introduce the kids to you and say, `This is Nancy Cartwright and she does the
voice of Bart.' And then they'll expect you to do the voice of Bart for the
kids. What about your own kids? I mean, they grew up while you were doing
"The Simpsons." Did they do like `Mommy, Mommy, do Bart for us'?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: As a parent you kind of wonder what kind of influence you
have on your kids in everything that you're doing, whether it's traveling, you
know, to different countries or whatever. But when my son Jack was two years
old they had come out with a Bart Simpson--it was a prototype to see if a
talking Bart doll would work. But the string on the thing was a little short
so it sort of sounded like Bart on helium because it would be like `don't have
a cow, man; don't have a cow, man.' But my son would pull the string and it
would say that, and he'd look at the string and then he'd look at me. He'd
pull it again, `don't have a cow man.' And he'd look at me, and he said to me,
`Mommy, I don't see you in there. I don't see you in there.' He's two years
old! I'm telling you, that is the concept.

Parents will come up to me, and, you know, I know that they really--they want
to hear me do the voice. But there's a three-year-old clutching onto Mama's
skirt and they're saying, `Could you do it for Sally?' And I'm thinking, I'll
just tell the parent I don't have anything vested in this for a three-year-old
kid that looks scared to death. If I was to lean down and say, `Hi, I'm Bart
Simpson, who the hell are you?' You think that kid is going to like it? The
kids look at me like I'm, you know, an alien, or, `ahh!' They get upset. So
I'll just say, `Look, I'll do it for you, but I'm not going to do it for your
child.' I just think that that's wrong. It's too big of a concept.

GROSS: Well, why do they get so upset?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Well, it's just--it's too big of a concept. They're looking
at this woman who--they might watch "The Simpsons," but a kid? I don't know,
man. I don't know, man. I don't know how old I was before I realized that
those sounds came from actors. It's a concept that's pretty, you know--I'd
say five and under--this is a gross generalization, there are exceptions to
the rule, no doubt about it, but generally speaking, I use some discretion on
who I just throw that voice to.

GROSS: Well, Nancy Cartwright, it's just been so much fun to talk with you.
Thank you so very much.

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: Yeah. You bet.

BIANCULLI: Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, speaking to Terry
Gross earlier this year. "The Simpsons Movie" is now out on DVD.

(Soundbite from "The Simpsons")

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: (As Nelson Muntz, singing) Papa, can you hear me?
Papa, can you see me?
Papa, can you find me in the night?
Papa, are you near me?
Papa, can you hear me?
Papa, can you help me not be frightened?

Looking at the...

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Coming up, music critic Milo Miles on some new CDs featuring old
music by veteran guitarist Nils Lofgren. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Review: Milo Miles looks at reissues of Nils Lofgren's early
solo albums and ones done with his band Grin

Sometimes familiar sidemen in star bands have fascinating buried histories.
For example, Barry Tashian, the guitarist for Emmylou Harris for many years,
once led the garage rockers The Remains, who opened for The Beatles.
Likewise, one long-term guitarist for Bruce Springsteen, Nils Lofgren, has a
lengthy and interesting history. Music critic Milo Miles explains how that
history has been revealed recently through reissues on CD.

(Soundbite of "Back It Up")

Mr. NILS LOFGREN: (Singing) Every day I get complaints from you
Starts me thinking maybe I'm your fool
Broken dreams all on the floor
You can't back it up anymore
'Cause I found out
Love just ain't enough
I need devotion to back it up

Unidentified Backup Singers: (Singing) Back it up, baby

Mr. LOFGREN: (Singing) I found out that love just ain't enough
I need devotion to back it up

Backup Singers: (Singing) Back it up, baby

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILO MILES: Even casual Bruce Springsteen fans know Nils Lofgren as the
long-time E Street Band guitarist, the one who can play while he does
backflips on a trampoline. More dedicated Neil Young followers will know
Lofgren as an early hired gun with the band Crazy Horse. And anyone who
zeroes in on Lofgren himself will know about his band Grin and his solo
career, which took off with high expectations in the mid-'70s and then

Even with all that recognition, it's been hard to fully appreciate Lofgren's
talent until now. All his finest LPs have finally been reissued, including
his masterpiece "Back It Up," which was never officially released. What's
nearly as sharp, however, is the import disc which combines the finest Grin
releases "1 + 1" and "All Out." You hear a lot of dubious claims about Lof's
should have been huge hits. Well, "White Lies" on "1 + 1" is the real deal.

(Soundbite of "White Lies")

Mr. LOFGREN: (Singing)
They'll see where but I fear I traveled here alone cause of you
Think I may be daydreaming, baby, but I know,
I know what I still don't mean to you

Unidentified Backup Singers: (Singing)
While I try

Mr. LOFGREN: (Singing)
No telling

Backup Singers: (Singing)
While I try

Mr. LOFGREN: (Singing)
Don't stop telling

Backup Singers: (Singing)
White lies

Mr. LOFGREN: (Singing)
You better talk it over

Backup Singers: (Singing)
White lies

Mr. LOFGREN: (Singing)
Everywhere I go on hearing

Backup Singers: (Singing)
White lies

Mr. LOFGREN: (Singing)
Telling everybody that....

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILES: You also hear dubious claims that a performer doesn't fit into
any category, but that's indeed true about Lofgren, both of the band and solo.
He's not power pop or glam or hard rock, but with the perspective of time,
Nils Lofgren sounds more and more like a rough equivalent of, well, Bruce
Springsteen. His ballads suggest beefy brill-building tunes in the early
'60s. His up-tempo numbers deliver British invasion to American ears,
polished garage rock. Lofgren himself noted that his ballads and rockers had
trouble flowing together track by track. I think the problem is his soft,
rather limited voice, which means the music has to really hush up for the slow
ones. This is not to suggest he doesn't provide lovely, evocative tunes, as
with the title track to "All Out."

(Soundbite of "All Out")

Mr. LOFGREN: (Singing) I'm sittin' in the street with a bottle
It's empty and my heart is, too
My candle of fears just melted to tears
At dawn I must light something new

Mr. LOFGREN and Backup Singers: (Singing)
All out, all out

Mr. LOFGREN: (Singing)
I guess now they'll nickname me Fool

Mr. LOFGREN and Backup Singers: (Singing)
All out, all out
My world is all out of you
My world is all out of you

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILES: Lofgren's 1975 solo debut, just called "Nils Lofgren," has also
been reissued, and it's a bright, tuneful affair with more offhand grace than
he would ever manage again. If it doesn't sound like a fresh breath of plain
rock 'n' roll sanity, as it did back then, there's still not a weak tune on
it. But the best place to hear it, and a choice selection of Grin numbers, is
on "Back It Up," recorded live in San Francisco's KSAN studio before a small
audience. It became a so-called authorized bootleg, released only to the
press and radio. A shame, because it's his most vibrant document. Nowadays
it may seem bizarre to feature a tune that begs Keith Richards not to break up
the Rolling Stones, but it's worth it because you can really hear how Lofgren
was affected by Jimi Hendrix.

(Soundbite of "Keith Don't Go (Ode to a Glimmer Twin)"

Mr. MILES: The highlight of "Back It Up" is Lofgren's cover of Carole King's
"Goin' Back," a deft number that celebrates the energy and clear ideals of
youth. Here, with a torrid keyboard accompaniment by his brother Tom and Al
Cooper, Lofgren at last mixes his sweet and romping sides, balances his
innocence and bravado. His early years didn't lead to the stardom he
deserved, but on these albums he proves them were the days.

BIANCULLI: Milo Miles lives in Boston. The "1 + 1" and "All Out" combination
CD appears on the British Acadia label. The "Nils Lofgren" and "Back It Up"
CD are on the Hip-O Select label.
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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