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Novelist Scott Spencer

Spencer's newest book is A Ship Made of Paper, and it has received critical acclaim. Our book critic, Maureen Corrigan, describes Spencer as a brilliant storyteller. Spencer is the author of seven previous novels, including Endless Love which sold over 2 million copies. He's also written for Rolling Stone, The New York Times and The New Yorker.


Other segments from the episode on June 20, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 20, 2003: Interview with Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood; Review of DVD re-releases of Bing Crosby films; Interview with Scott Spencer; Review of the film …


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

Interview: Fountains of Wayne co-founders Adam Schlesinger and
Chris Collingwood discuss their music

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

Our guests Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger are the co-founders of the
New Jersey rock band Fountains of Wayne. In a review of their new album,
"Welcome Interstate Managers," Tom Kielty of The Boston Globe called the band
one of rock's most literate acts. Let's a hear a song from the new album.
This is "Hackensack."

(Soundbite of music)

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) I used to know you when we were young. You
were in all my dreams. We sat together in period 1, Fridays at 8:15. Now I
see your face in the strangest places, movies and magazines. I saw you
talking to Christopher Walken on my TV screen. But I will wait for you as
long as I need to. And if you ever get back to Hackensack, I'll be here for

BOGAEV: Adam Schlesinger received an Academy Award nomination for writing the
title song for Tom Hanks' movie, "That Thing You Do!" Terry spoke to
Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood in 1999 after the release of their second
album, "Utopia Parkway." They talked about the roots of Fountains of Wayne.

Mr. ADAM SCHLESINGER (Co-founder, Fountains of Wayne): We played in a series
of bands together before we even started Fountains of Wayne. I mean, we've
been playing together in one form or another since we were 18. And the stuff
that we did originally was more kind of--I don't know how to describe it--I
mean, less rock and more pop maybe, you know. And I think that's where this
record has gone. So in a weird way, it feels like kind of back to our roots.
I mean, when we made our first album, we went into a studio with a Marshall
amplifier and just made a lot of noise, and we had never really recorded
anything like that before. And so to us, you know, it was like this big rock
extravaganza, and--although it probably doesn't sound like that to your
average teen-ager; it probably sounds like a wimpy pop band. But on this
record, we wanted to have, you know, different kinds of textures on the
record, some subtler stuff, some slightly more introspective stuff mixed in
with the kind of jokey fun loud stuff.


Well, don't sell that album short. I really like it, and...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Oh, I don't mean it that way. I mean, you know, the first
album, it was written in about a week. It was recorded in about another week,
and it was just this kind of...

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: ...blast of energy, and...

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: ...I think it's great, and I think, you know, it's the
perfect way to approach a first record: Just have a good time and, you know,
create this kind of blueprint for yourself, but we wanted to try to expand on
that a little bit, and not just do the same thing again.

GROSS: When your first record came out, rock critic Robert Christgau said
that he thinks you sing the kind of words every shy guy who didn't get the
girl thinks of. And I think a good illustration of that point is the song,
"Leave The Biker," which is a really catchy, catchy song. Why don't we play
that. This is...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: All right.

GROSS: ..."Leave The Biker" from the first Fountains of Wayne CD.

(Soundbite of music)

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) Seems the further from town I go, the more I
hate this place. He's got leather and big tattoos, scars all over his face.
And I wonder if he ever has cried, 'cause he couldn't get a date for the prom.
He's got his arm around every man's dream, and crumbs in his beard from the
seafood special. Oh, can't you see my world is falling apart. Baby, please,
leave the biker. Leave the biker. Break his heart. Baby, please, leave the
biker. Leave the biker. Break his heart. Now his friend leans over and
says, `Looks like we got us a fag.' I wonder if that guy's read one word that
wasn't in a porno mag. And I wonder if he ever has cried, 'cause his kitten
got run over and died. He's got his arm around every man's dream, crumbs in
his beard from the seafood special. Oh, can't you see my world is falling
apart. Baby, please, leave the biker. Leave the biker. Break his heart.
Baby, please, leave the biker. Leave the biker. Break his heart.

GROSS: That's from the first Fountains of Wayne CD. You think Robert
Christgau is onto something? Do you think of yourselves as former shy guys
who didn't get the girl?

Mr. CHRIS COLLINGWOOD (Co-founder, Fountains of Wayne): I think there's a lot
made out of that actually, and it's funny, because...

GROSS: Too much, you mean?

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Well, I think that if people are really eager to call
you geek rock or whatever, it sort of lumps you into this convenient category
which ignores the subtler aspects of some of the songwriting, which...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Not that that's the most subtle song that we've ever

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Right, right. And, you know, I mean, to some degree, it
might have been a mistake to put that song on the record, because I'd hate to
sort of go down in history as this joke songwriter and...

GROSS: Oh, but it's catchy. I think it's a good song.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: No, it is. And I mean, I think the thing is that, you
know, obviously, that song's supposed to be fun, and a lot of them are. But
at the same time, you know, people, especially in America, I think, more so
even than in Europe, assume that any voice that you have in a song is you
confessing, you know, your inner thoughts. And the idea of writing from,
like, the perspective of a character or something is a little bit confusing
to people. So a lot of times, there's songs written that are not literally
supposed to be us speaking our minds, and that sometimes gets missed.

GROSS: Well, there's nice lines in the song, like the line about the guy
having crumbs in his beard from the seafood special.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: I think the main thing with that whole sort of geeky
sort of tag or whatever is that neither of us would be comfortable writing a
song that had a really kind of macho aggressive pose to it. It definitely
does come more naturally to us to write from, like, a weaker perspective, and
maybe just because it makes the song more sympathetic or something.

GROSS: Uh-huh. Well, there's that line, `I wonder if he's ever cried,
because he couldn't get a date for the prom.' Then there's a prom song on your
new CD also that, I think, is kind of mocking that stereotyped emotion you're
supposed to have on the prom, like, this is the crowning moment of my life,
and after this, I'm going to, like, have a receding hairline and, you know...


GROSS: ...just work all the time, and life will be over. It's like the
oldest cliche in the book about how you're supposed to feel on prom night.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Yeah. I actually went to two high school proms. I went to
my own, and then I went to the prom at the high school where my girlfriend at
the time went out on Long Island. And they were both pretty much identical,
these kind of suburban proms. And even though I was only, whatever, 17 at the
time, I was already too cynical to enjoy it, so I kind of ruined it for both
is us. And she never really forgave me, you know. I think that was the
beginning of the end of our relationship.

GROSS: Did you play a lot of proms?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: No, but we actually wanted to do that now, talking
about, you know, how to get some proms on our tour schedule for this year.

GROSS: You're kidding, right?



Mr. SCHLESINGER: ...I'm not kidding.

GROSS: Why would you want to do that?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Because we're a really good cover band, although we
don't like to admit it, but we always end up laying a lot of covers, and, you
know, I think it would be fun.

GROSS: What do you cover?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Anything people yell...

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Everything.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: ...out. We played a show in Seattle--or Portland,
Oregon, I think it was actually--on our last tour where we ended up doing one
Billy Joel song for every one of our songs, so by the end of the night, I
think we had done, you know, 10 or 12 Billy Joel songs, none of which we had
ever played before, but...

GROSS: You know...

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Actually the funny thing about that is, like, I found
that online about six months later it had become this sort of legendary thing,
like, in some news group that was, like...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: They had the set list.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: ...this huge big discu...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: `Then they did "Just a Fantasy." And then they did,'
you know, `"Allentown." It was great.'

GROSS: How did you first meet? You've been playing together a long time.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Yeah, we met in college. We were both, I think, about
19 at the time. And we've sort of been playing steadily in bands ever since
then. We had about 10 different bands throughout since about 1987...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: '6 or '7, yeah.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: the present, most of which were incredibly
terrible, and they all had really horrible names, and we actually...

GROSS: Such as? Such as?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: We used to change our name, you know, once a week or

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Because of people who saw us once, like, if we
advertised with the same name, they'd never come back. We were called Wooly


Mr. COLLINGWOOD: That was about Three People Who When Standing Side by Side
Have A Wingspan Of Over Twelve Feet.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Are You My Mother?

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Are You My Mother?

GROSS: Why did you call the band that?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: That's a children's book actually.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: We had Green Light, Go. That's another children's book.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: The silly thing is that Fountains of Wayne was just one of
these, you know, in the pile of names that we would just kind of rotate. And
that ended up being the one that we got stuck with, but I kind of prefer Are
You My Mother? actually. Maybe we should switch it.

GROSS: Well, how did you come up with Fountains of Wayne, and why is that the
name that stuck?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Fountains of Wayne is a store in the town called Wayne,
New Jersey, which is near where I grew up. And I think it was something that
my mother actually suggested at some point. I mean, she works in Clifton.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: That was about 10 years ago.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Yeah, while we were probably...

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: While we were tossing around all these bad band names.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: And she was always full of, you know, really horrible
ideas for, you know, things we should to do help the band out. So she would
suggest these terrible names, and we'd say, `Oh, God, that's a horrible band
name.' And she would also say things like, `You know, why don't you guys
play shows where you have two pianos on stage, and you can both play piano,
and that'll be your gimmick?' And I'd just say, `You know, I really don't
have time to explain why that's a bad idea right now, but at some point, I

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: My family was always saying, `You know, why don't you
go on that David Letterman show. That seems to do those bands a lot of good.'

GROSS: Was she...

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: OK, I'll just call him up.

GROSS: ...offering to get you on? Yeah.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: No, she just, you know, that was her idea for promotion.

GROSS: I want to play another recording from your first CD, and this is
called, "She's Got a Problem." I think this is also a really good song.
Would you say anything about writing it? Which of you wrote this one?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: I wrote it, although Chris had the title. And I kind of
took the title and wrote a song around it. I mean, one thing that we did
early on a lot was to just sit down and kind of throw out possible song
titles, and then it was almost a game to see, you know, who could turn it
into an actual song. So...

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Yeah, we actually sat in a bar and wrote them on bar
napkins. I don't know if you still have those, but there's...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Yeah, I have a napkin with like...

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: ...these soggy napkins...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Yeah, with like 50 possible titles, and most of the songs
on our first album are on there somewhere. And then there's a bunch of really
bad ones that we couldn't even bring ourselves to write. So yeah, I mean,
"She's Got a Problem," funnily enough, was a song that I had sort of been
working on a little bit. And when Chris suggested that title, I kind of
grafted onto this idea that had, you know, rolling around.

(Soundbite of music)

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) I know a girl who should never be alone. Yeah,
I know a girl who should never be alone. She's a danger to herself, and I'm
worried about her health. She's got a problem, and she's going to do
something dumb. I know a girl who you've got to keep an eye on. I know a
girl who you've got to keep an eye on.

BOGAEV: That's "She's Got a Problem" from Fountains of Wayne's first album.
We're listening to Terry's 1999 interview with the band's co-founders, Chris
Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Let's get back to Terry's 1999 interview with Adam Schlesinger and
Chris Collingwood, the founders of the band Fountains of Wayne. After their
first album, they expanded the band to include drummer Brian Young of The
Posies and guitar player Jody Porter.

GROSS: When you wanted to expand the band, did you find the people you wanted
to play with in an organic way or did you actually hold auditions and so on?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: We actually tried to hold auditions, didn't we?

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Oh, my God, it's the most ludicrous thing you've ever seen.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: You know, we put an ad in The Village Voice or something
and, you know, I think we met every horrible musician in the New York area. I
can't even begin to tell you how funny those auditions are.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: I think there are people who just make a career out of
going to rock auditions and you can probably tell. Like, the guys who showed
up, you know, it's their fifth one that day, can understand why things aren't
going right for them.

GROSS: Did you tell them what you wanted to hear or did they just come up
with, like, an audition piece and perform it for you?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Most of the time, they had a copy of a demo or something.
And I mean, we're kind of, like, `Learn this song and just, you know, wing it
or whatever.' So they'd show up and plug in, and they'd leave and we'd laugh
and the next guy would come in. Yeah, I mean, as it turned out, you know,
that proved futile really quickly and so Jody, the guitar player, was someone
that I knew because he was the leader of our band for a long time called the
Bell Tower and I had actually played bass for his band briefly, and then Brian
we actually met through a friend of ours who knew Brian from his work with The
Posies. And we had never met him, but he just came dow--we actually
auditioned him in Los Angeles, but the audition was just really kind of a
free-for-all getting together...

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: We're all playing Blue Oyster Cult songs.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Yeah. And Steve Miller covers and things. I mean, you
know, we kind of knew instantly that he was the right guy and it's just
whether he wanted to do it or not. We just had a good time playing.

GROSS: You...

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Brian's kind of the rock star in the group actually. Like
everywhere we go in Europe everybody's, like--they know The Posies really
well. So it gives people a better chance...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: He's the touring veteran.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: He was kind of showing us the ropes as we went. Some
people who don't even know that it's Brian in the band will show up and
recognize his drum kit...


Mr. SCHLESINGER: ...and they say, you know, `Did you guys buy The Posies drum
kit?' We're, like, `No.'

GROSS: So what's the best advice he gave you on weathering a tour?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Well, you know, his whole philosophy is whenever you start
complaining too much, you've just got to remember that it beats flipping eggs.
That's his expression. You know, you can be sitting in some, you know, train
station in Germany for eight hours. And he can say, `Well, it beats flipping

GROSS: That's probably not bad advice.


Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Sometimes it doesn't beat flipping eggs.

GROSS: That's right.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: That's the only thing he forgot.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Actually, flipping eggs might be kind of fun right about

GROSS: Adam, I have a question for you. You wrote that song "That Thing You
Do!" for the Tom Hanks movie...


GROSS: ...and I thought that was a surprisingly good movie that had a really
kind of knowing and loving sense of '60s pop. Well, how did you come to write
the song? Was there, like, a national audition being held for the song or...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Not really. I mean, it was just somebody in the music
business that I work with, the music publishing company heard about the movie
and said that, you know, they were looking for a song that kind of sounded
like this era and asked me if I wanted to take a stab at it. So I did a demo
recording of it with two friends, and we just sent it in. And, you know, we
did it really quickly 'cause we just kind of assumed it was such a long shot,
it wasn't worth spending that much time on, but, you know, they actually
listened to it and they actually liked it, so it was a lucky break.

GROSS: Yeah, and the movie is about a band that's a one-hit wonder, and the
only hit that they have is this song "That Thing You Do!" and it's a really
catchy record. What did you think about when you wrote this song, knowing
that it needed to be a period song?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Well, the obvious reference for the time period they were
talking about was The Beatles, but they actually, as part of the instructions
for it, had said, `You know, we'd rather have it sound like an American band
that's, you know, kind of a cheap imitation of The Beatles,' you know, 'cause
there were a lot of bands sprouting up then.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: The Knickerbockers.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Yeah, that kind of stuff, you know, trying to capitalize on
what The Beatles had done. So that's what I was going for.

GROSS: OK. Well, this is your song, "That Thing You Do!"

(Soundbite of music)

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) You doing that thing you do, breaking my heart
into a million pieces like you always do. And you don't need to be cruel.
You never even knew about the heartache I've been going through. Well, I try
and try to forget you, girl, but it's just so hard to do every time you do
that thing you do.

GROSS: Your knowledge of rock and pop goes back a long way, and I'm
wondering: Do you remember the first records you each bought?

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: I think the first full-length LP I was ever allowed to buy
was "Bat Out Of Hell" by Meat Loaf. My parents obviously had all those
Beatles records sitting around and stuff, but I remember I think I was in
sixth grade when "Bat Out Of Hell" came out. It was that record and...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: You were, like, `Whoa!'

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Yeah. And that really cool motorcycle on the cover was
just so excellent.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: The first record I ever bought was this exercise record that
they made us buy in first grade. It was called "Chicken Fat" and...

GROSS: Oh, God, we had to listen to that, too.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Do you know that record?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: It was, like, pushups every morning...

GROSS: Ten times.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: ...not just now and then 10 times.

GROSS: One, two. Oh, no.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: And then they'd make you exercise to it and then they'd
also make you buy it. It was, like...

GROSS: Oh, give that chicken right back. Give that chicken fight back to the
chicken and don't be chicken again.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: I can't believe--you're the only person I've ever mentioned
this to that knows what the hell I'm talking about.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: I want to know what kind of fascist elementary schools you
two went to, "Chicken Fight."

GROSS: No, "Chicken Fat."

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: "Chicken Fat."

Mr. SCHLESINGER: "Chicken Fat."

GROSS: Oh, it was this really funny...

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Kill all the weak students. The strong students will

GROSS: It was this military-style workout record, yeah.


Mr. COLLINGWOOD: It's just horrible.

GROSS: So you really liked it? This is an influence on your music?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: I never said I liked it.

GROSS: Tell me again why you brought it up?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: You asked us the first record we ever bought...

GROSS: Oh. And they made you buy it.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Oh, yeah...

GROSS: They made you buy it.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: was forced purchase.

GROSS: That's right.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: I should suggest to our record company that strategy of
forcing first-graders to buy our album, 'cause there's a lot of first-graders
out there, you know, and they've all got lunch money.

GROSS: That's a good idea.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: We could just go rob them instead of making them buy the

Mr. SCHLESINGER: Yeah. Why bring this whole record thing into it.

BOGAEV: Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, co-founders of the band
Fountain of Wayne. They spoke with Terry in 1999. They have a new album,
"Welcome Interstate Managers." I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.
Let's hear "Stacy's Mom."

(Soundbite of music)

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) Stacy's mom has got it going on. Stacy's mom
has got it going on. Stacy's mom has got it going on. Stacy's mom has got it
going on. Stacy, can I come over after school? After school. We can hang
around by the pool. Hang around the pool. Did your mom get back from her
business trip? Business trip. Is she there or is she trying to give me the
slip? Give me the slip. You know I'm not the little boy that I used to be.
I'm all grown up now, baby, can't you see? Stacy's mom has got it going on.
She's all I want and I've waited for so long. Stacy, can you see what your
mom's done for me. I know it might be wrong, but I'm in love with Stacy's
mom. Stacy's mom has got it going on. Stacy's mom has got it going on.


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

Review: New series of DVDs that are re-releases of movies
starring Bing Crosby

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

Not every movie musical has great musical numbers, but some great numbers come
from mediocre movies. That's what classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz
discovered when he watched a series of new DVDs starring Bing Crosby.


Some pretty obscure movie musicals have just come out on DVD, a series of Bing
Crosby films that I was afraid would never appear. DVD is the perfect format
for them because you can skip over the corny plots and go directly to the
musical numbers, several of which are among the best that Hollywood ever
produced. Take, for example, the two Irving Berlin musicals Crosby made with
Fred Astaire, "Holiday Inn" and "Blue Skies." In both films, these beloved
stars are romantic rivals. The films emphasize some of their least attractive
qualities: self-importance and jealousy. They insult and one-up each other.
In their duets, each one tries to prove he's better than the other, or that
singing is better than dancing, or vice versa. But in their solos, they're at
their very best.

In "Holiday Inn," Crosby sings his biggest hit, "White Christmas." And in
"Blue Skies," Astaire dances his most iconic solo, "Puttin' on the Ritz,"
complete with top hat, tails, spats and a cane, which he taps as if he had an
extra leg. Astaire was always a kind of magician. In "Puttin' on the Ritz,"
he uses his cane as a magic wand. Is he casting a spell? He drops it on the
floor, steps on it, in rhythm, of course, to assert his power over it. Then
it leaps back up into his hand. He pushes open a curtain hiding two mirrors,
then pushes open the mirrors into wonderland, a stage where nine miniature
cane-tapping Astaires, thanks to trick photography, are also in his power, as
are we all.

(Soundbite of "Puttin' on the Ritz")

Mr. FRED ASTAIRE: (Singing) Have you seen the well-to-do up and down Park
Avenue, on that famous thoroughfare with their noses in the air? High hats
and arrow collars, white spats and lots of dollars, spending every dime for a
wonderful time. Now if you're blue and you don't know where to go to, why
don't you go where fashion sits, puttin' on the ritz.

SCHWARTZ: "Blue Skies" is on a double-feature DVD with another Crosby
vehicle, "Birth of the Blues," a low-budget, black-and-white movie
Hollywoodizing the origins of Dixieland jazz. Crosby's co-star is Broadway's
legendary Mary Martin, who made only a few movies between her 1938 Broadway
debut singing "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" and her starring role a decade later
in "South Pacific," singing "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair."

Hollywood couldn't quite figure out what to do with her fragile beauty and
offbeat charm. "Birth of the Blues" has one of her best movie moments, a duet
with Crosby in "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie," Harry Von Tilzer's hit song
from 1905. Martin starts by singing it sweet and square. Crosby gently
nudges her elbow to knock her off the beat. He's teaching her syncopation,
and, boy, does she get it.

(Soundbite of "Birth of the Blues")

Mr. BING CROSBY and Ms. MARY MARTIN: (Singing) Wait till the sun shines,
Nellie, when the clouds go drifting by. We will be so happy, Nellie.

Ms. MARTIN: (Singing) Don't let me hear you sighing.

Mr. CROSBY: (Singing) Can't stand to see you crying.

Mr. CROSBY and Ms. MARTIN: (Singing) Down lover's lane we'll wander,
sweetheart, you and I.

Ms. MARTIN: (Singing) If you will wait...

Mr. CROSBY: (Singing) Wait at the garden gate.

Ms. MARTIN: (Singing) ...till the sun shines...

Mr. CROSBY: (Singing) Now, honey, don't be late.

Ms. MARTIN: (Singing) ...Nellie, by...

Mr. CROSBY: (Singing) In the sweet...

Ms. MARTIN and Mr. CROSBY: (Singing in unison) and by.

(Soundbite of whistling)

SCHWARTZ: A special treat in "Birth of the Blues" are rare appearances by the
great jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden, and Ruby Elzy, who created the role of
Serena in "Porgy and Bess." Here she sings a heartbreaking version of "St.
Louis Blues."

(Soundbite of "St. Louis Blues")

Ms. RUBY ELZY: (Singing) Oh, that St. Louis woman, with her diamond rings,
she pulls my man around by her apron strings. And if it wasn't...

SCHWARTZ: One of the series of these new Crosby DVDs has two Technicolor
musicals, the goofy "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and a very
peculiar film, "The Emperor Waltz," the only musical ever directed by Billy
Wilder, if you don't count "Some Like It Hot" as a full-fledged musical. It's
a manufactured Viennese operetta putting new words to music by Johann Strauss
and Richard Heuberger. Crosby plays a traveling salesman who's pushing a new
invention, the phonograph. He could have used a good singing or dancing
partner, but he got Joan Fontaine, as a haughty countess who succumbs to his
American brashness. But an earlier Crosby film, "Rhythm on the Range," is the
source of my favorite cowboy song, Johnny Mercer's brilliant parody, "I'm An
Old Cowhand."

(Soundbite of "I'm An Old Cowhand")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) I spend all my time at the hotel bar with a
planter's punch and the big cigar 'cause my old ranch horse is a movie star.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Yippie yi yo ki yay. Oh, yippie yi yo ki yay,
She's an old cow gal that's a regular pal.

Ms. MARTHA RAYE: (Singing) They don't call me Emma, they just call me Al.
Where's the gosh darn horse? Ain't around no way. We don't say `Howdy,' we
just say, `Hey.' We don't answer, we all just neigh. Yippie yi yo ki yay.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Yippie yi yo ki yay.

SCHWARTZ: "Rhythm on the Range" also marked the movie debut of Martha Raye.
She sings several verses of "I'm An Old Cowhand" as well as the song that
became her signature, the raucously swinging "Mr. Paganini." The rest of the
movie is pretty silly, so I've become very good at using the DVD chapter
index. It's easier than programming a VCR, and it's definitely a skill worth

BOGAEV: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music critic for the Boston Phoenix.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) and if you care for him
you'll simply have to (scats)...

(Soundbite of voice and instrumental banter)

BOGAEV: Coming up, novelist Scott Spencer. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Interview: Scott Spencer discusses his book "A Ship Made of

Scott Spencer is the author of the new novel "A Ship Made of Paper." The
story is about two couples, one white, one African-American. The white
couple, Daniel and Kate, pride themselves on their moderation in everything,
until Daniel falls in love with Iris, an African-American woman who is married
and has a child. "A Ship Made of Paper" and Spencer's earlier novel "Endless
Love" are both stories about obsession. This is how our book critic Maureen
Corrigan describes Spencer's work: `Though the love stories Spencer writes
about are typically out of control, his writing never is. He's such a precise
and lyrical writer that feelings experienced, but possibly never expressed in
language before, materialized in his words.'

Terry spoke with Scott Spencer this spring.

(Soundbite of interview)


Your new novel, "A Ship Made of Paper," and you're earlier novel, "Endless
Love," are about a certain type of love, a certain type of obsessive love,
where you're not only in love with someone, but your whole life kind of falls
into the background as you pursue this passion. And in both novels, the
character pursuing this passion kind of falls off the edge and things around
him just get inadvertently destroyed. What is your interest in that type of
obsessive love?

Mr. SCOTT SPENCER (Author): Well, you know, "Endless Love" has been a
blessing for me. I mean, it supported me as a writer for many years and
supported my family for many years. And I sort of kept away from that subject
for a long time because, you know, I don't want to become, like, the Barry
White or the Johnny Mathis of literature. But the fact is I do really enjoy
writing about these things, these things that can be loosely categorized under
the heading of `love.'

But you know, what some readers may choose to overlook, however, is that my
view of this romantic and sexual impulse in my characters is always
ambivalent. Like the hero of "Endless Love," one reader pointed out to me,
and I think quite correctly, is a stalker. And the protagonist in "Waking the
Dead" only really loves his lover after she's disappeared, when she's
literally been exploded. And Daniel Emerson in "A Ship Made of Paper"--part
of his love for Iris Davenport is sort of shot through with a kind of
annihilating naivete. And, you know, even though he's willing to do anything
in the world to be with her--he's willing to do damage to others; he's also, I
think to his credit, willing to have damage done to him. So I become curious,
you know, `What is it? Is love an ennobling emotion, or is it somehow like a
debasing emotion?' And I come up with the answer that it's both.

But it's also something else. It's that something that animates us. It
lights the fuse that leads right to our explosive core. And I think I wanted
to write about this now because I have, like, the good fortune to have love
come back into my life at the unseemly age of 50-something. You know, I began
writing this novel when I began living with this writer named Joanne
Beard(ph), the essayist Joanne Beard, you know, who's not very much like the
woman in this novel; she's white, she's from Illinois and she's not like Iris
at all. But falling in love with Joanne and living with her gave me the
energy to throw myself into a story of heedless passion. And I figured, `Hey,
why not?'

GROSS: One of the things I love about your writing is your kind of ease with
analogies. They just are always so good and often so funny. And even when
the sentiment that somebody's expressing isn't really funny at all, suddenly
this, like, funny image will set in. After this long list of things that have
gone wrong in Daniel's life, when he--and then he concludes by saying that
he's actually never been happier--he has this description of erotic love which
I'd like you to read.

Mr. SPENCER: (Reading) `Much of this happiness is purely physical. It is an
animal joy; a stunning, erotic completeness such as he has never experienced.
Daniel had always secretly believed that people who went on about their sexual
happiness were exaggerating. They were like those restaurant reviewers who
compare a bowl of soup to a glimpse of heaven. They were sexual gourmets.
They were like those wine critics who justify their expense account
indulgences with words that not only elevated their simple human pleasures
into some bold adventure of the senses, but also claimed to be extracting
arcane nuances of pleasures that only they could discern.'

GROSS: And Daniel realizes he has now become one of those people.

Mr. SPENCER: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: But I thought that analogy to, like, a certain type of food writer and
wine critic was perfect and also helped me crystallize what I don't like about
a certain type of food writing and wine criticism. And these analogies seem
to just come to you. I bet you don't really struggle over them.

Mr. SPENCER: That's not the hard part of writing for me. That's not the hard

GROSS: The hard part is what?

Mr. SPENCER: The hard part is getting people in and out of rooms, just making
the story move in an interesting way and the psychology of the characters.

GROSS: A couple of your novels have been made into screenplays, and you've
written some screenplays yourself. Was there ever any thought in the back of
your mind as you were writing "A Ship Made of Paper" of `Maybe one day this
will be a movie'?

Mr. SPENCER: Well, this book took me well over four years to write, so I
don't think there's any thought that didn't go through my mind...

GROSS: You had plenty of time.

Mr. SPENCER: ...including that maybe I would be canonized for it, or have to
maybe go back to college, maybe perhaps go to law school or something. So I
can't say that it never occurred to me, but it doesn't seem like a good thing
to think when you're working on a book. It doesn't seem like a lucky thing to
think. It doesn't seem like it would be good for the book. And I certainly
didn't dwell on it.

GROSS: When it takes you four years to write a novel, how do you stop from
losing confidence during those four years? It's such a long time. I mean,
for me, I do a show every day. One show isn't very good; there's another one
tomorrow. It's kind of like starting with a clean slate every day. The
thought of a four-year-long project in which there's nothing that's complete
until the end of that process, I would find that terrifying.

Mr. SPENCER: Well, I do find it pretty terrifying. And in the course of
writing this particular book, I lost confidence in it quite a number of times.
And yet I have the, you know, fortune of living with another writer who's
really encouraging. And I don't know what I do to allow myself to keep going
on. You know, sometimes I'll show pages to friends and they say, `Oh, that's
very nice,' and that gives me enough, and sometimes it's just a memory that
this is what it's like when you're lost in the wilderness of a book and you
just keep taking one little step after another and sooner or later you come
out. And it's also--you know, it doesn't always work out.

GROSS: Right. When you were a kid, did you write poems or stories?

Mr. SPENCER: Yeah, I did. I did. I wrote my first novel when I was nine
years old.

GROSS: What was it about?

Mr. SPENCER: It was about a horse. It was about a horse who was forced into
service in the German army, the Nazi--in the North African desert, and escaped
from the Nazis and was rescued by an American film crew that was making one of
those Foreign Legion movies starring Buster Crabbe. And the horse galloped
onto the set and they adopted it.

GROSS: That's really funny. You certainly weren't following the old adage,
`Write what you know.'

Mr. SPENCER: No. No, that's what I knew. That's what I was allowed to talk
about, anyhow.

GROSS: Well, why do you think you wrote it? Is that what you thought novels
should be about?

Mr. SPENCER: Well, I suppose it reminded me a little bit of what I had read
or what I wanted to read, and it seemed incredibly exciting to me.

GROSS: It's funny how far you've come from that since, you know, most of your
fiction is so much about internal matters, you know, like adventures of the
heart, not of, like, a horse who's inscripted into the Germany army or

Mr. SPENCER: Yes. But if I do write that book, would you have me back on?

GROSS: Oh, I'll have you read the whole thing out loud.

Mr. SPENCER: All right. This is the shot in the arm that I needed.

GROSS: Oh, yeah. After the fourth draft you can come on.

Mr. SPENCER: Well, I think as a kid--and maybe this is a gender thing--I had
no idea what my internal life was like. And as far as I'm concerned, I had

GROSS: Huh. You weren't falling in love or locking yourself up in the room
and thinking things you didn't want to share with other people and...

Mr. SPENCER: Falling in love, but not doing an awful lot of thinking.


Mr. SPENCER: Not doing an awful lot of thinking.

GROSS: That's odd, because your characters have pretty thorough internal
lives. I mean--and especially the ones that are first-person narrators; they
have to.

Mr. SPENCER: Yeah. Well, that came much later for me.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SPENCER: That came--it was--unless I've just forgotten it all, but I
can't think of a thought that I had until I was 12 years old.

GROSS: What changed when you were 12?

Mr. SPENCER: I don't know. I guess, you know, you go through physical
changes. You start--I don't know what changed when I was 12. I think...

GROSS: Puberty made you introspective?

Mr. SPENCER: Yeah. I think I just--puberty put me in contact with a better
class of girl or something. I think I'm one of those men who was really
introduced to himself by girls...

GROSS: In what way?

Mr. SPENCER: ...that my drive toward them finally led me back to myself
because that's what they were interested in.

GROSS: You mean that they were interested in people as opposed to adventure

Mr. SPENCER: They were interested in people as opposed to adventure, exactly.
And they were also interested in relating...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. SPENCER: ...on a more intimate and psychological way. And as far as I'm
concerned, `Yeah. Sure. You want to do that? I can do that.'

BOGAEV: Scott Spencer's latest novel is "A Ship Made of Paper."

Coming up, "The Hulk." This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Review: Movie "The Hulk"

Art-house filmmaker Ang Lee directs the big-budget adaptation of the Marvel
comic book "The Incredible Hulk." The movie features newcomer Eric Bana, with
Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte and a computer-generated monster whose face was
modeled on Ang Lee's. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.


"Hulk" must be seen to be disbelieved. This $150 million Marvel Comics
adaptation is not Ang Lee's big sell-out; it's actually a serious--make that a
deadly serious--Frankenstein movie about an even more modern Prometheus and
his genetically enhanced son. It has jacked-up comic book visuals, a strange
claymation-like creature at the center and a tone that's like a gloomy rewrite
of Aeschylus, the sins of the father visited upon the unwitting son. In
places, it's hypnotically bad, but it is hypnotic.

In the script by John Turman, Michael France and Lee's longtime collaborator
James Schamus, the scientist Bruce Banner isn't just pelted by gamma rays so
that he turns into the Hulk when he gets angry. Those rays now interract with
his already mutant DNA, which was passed down by a mad-scientist dad who
experimented on himself when those churlish Army officers wouldn't let him use
human subjects. Bruce's egghead ex-girlfriend Betty, played by Jennifer
Connelly, explains that his anger triggers his new nanomeds and that it's all
connected to repressed memories that have something vaguely to do with his
dad, his dead mom and a butcher knife. Very mysterious. She points out that
physical trauma can heal, but emotions go on and on.

But Eric Bana's Bruce is locked in in a puny kind of way. He's a little
peevish, and he looks like Griffin Dunne crossed with Bill Murray. When he
describes his Hulk experience to Betty as both horrifying and liberating, he
doesn't seem especially horrified or liberated, just out of breath.

(Soundbite of "Hulk")

(Soundbite of heavy breathing)

Ms. JENNIFER CONNELLY ("Betty"): Oh, God. It must be the nanomeds; it must
be the gamma exposure, but we've never seen any effect like this before.

Mr. ERIC BANA ("Bruce Banner"): No. Deeper. The gamma just unleashed what
was already there.

Ms. CONNELLY: Unleashed what?

Mr. BANA: Me. It.

(Soundbite of heavy breathing)


EDELSTEIN: Lee overcompensates for the central vacuum by giving the movie a
speed freak's syntax that shows the influence of the TV series "24," which can
make you sick with suspense. But in "Hulk," it's just a lot of fancy-pants
split screens and boxes within boxes and punchy zoombacks from things like
frogs' eyes. When Bruce starts to change into the Hulk, you get montages of
reptiles and jellyfish and H-bombs going off. And then you get--well, before
the movie was even screened, I heard the computer-generated Hulk described as
Shrek on steroids. And I wish I could add to that--all he needs is a donkey

The decision to make the "Hulk" entirely computer generated has its pluses and
minuses. He no longer looks like an over-caffeinated seasick body builder.
He's now the size of King Kong, which means more rock em', sock 'em spectacle,
but less honest-to-goodness fighting. And that's too bad, because the best
thing about Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," was the way that Lee
managed to infuse his action sequences with a kind of psychosexual fury so
that the battles seemed like volcanic punch lines to matters that couldn't be
settled over cups of tea. Here, when the Hulk starts flinging around tanks
and punching out helicopters, the movie resembles a lot of anonymous Japanese
giant monster pictures from the '60s, especially the one that in the US was
called "Frankenstein Conquers the World" which featured a boy getting zapped
by radiation and turning into a long-haired green giant.

The "Hulk" has some cool powers, though. He's massive, but he bounces around
like Tigger in "Winnie the Pooh." He goes boing, boing, boing across the
California desert. Actually, he doesn't boing, he kabooms. Every time he
lands, you think the plaster's going to rain down from the ceiling. The
Hulk's broad face was modeled on Ang Lee himself, and he and Connelly's Betty
are supposed to have this "King Kong," "Beauty and the Beast" sort of bond.
There's a great visual moment when she sees him for the first time, blending
in with the green tendrils outside her cabin in a redwood forest. It's too
bad she has to say, `Bruce?' and bring down the house. It's not the first
thing that would pop out of most people's mouths when they saw a 30-foot

Betty's dad, played by Sam Elliott, is a general who wants to finish off the
Hulk, but he's not an evil man, especially next to Josh Lucas as a scientist
for the Atheon Corporation--he'd like to patent the Hulk and create a sort of
uber-soldier--and especially not next to the movie's other dad, played by a
twitchy and bedraggled Nick Nolte, who looks the way he did in that famous DUI
mug shot. In the climax, he rails at his shackled son against a deep black
backdrop. We could be in San Francisco's Magic Theatre with Sam Shepard
standing in the wings. Unlike your average comic-book blockbuster, "Hulk"
isn't a bad cartoon, it's a bad Greek tragedy and, hence, deserves our
admiration along with our mirth.

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

(Soundbite of music)


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