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Paranormal Activity,' A Cinema-Verite Frightfest

Shot on a $15,000 budget, director Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity is a bare-bones thriller about things that go bump in the night.

04:18

Other segments from the episode on October 9, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 9, 2009: Interview with Charles Strouse; Review of Dan Chaon's new novel "Await your reply;" Interview with Lester Bowie; Review of the film "Paranormal activity."

Transcript

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Charles Strouse's Big Scores, From 'Annie' To 'Birdie'

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli of TVworthwatching.com, sitting in for
Terry Gross.

After being dormant for decades, the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” suddenly is
current again. Its film version figured prominently in a recent episode of the
period TV series “Mad Men,” and the stage musical itself, with music by Charles
Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams, is being revived on Broadway for the first
time since its 1960 premiere. It’s a show about an Elvis-type singer who stages
a publicity stunt to meet a member of a local fan club. From the original
Broadway cast, here are Dick Gautier as pop star Conrad Birdie and Susan Watson
as his lucky fan, singing “A Lot of Livin’ To Do.”

(Soundbite of musical, “Bye Bye Birdie”)

(Soundbite of song, “A Lot of Livin’ To Do”)

Mr. DICK GAUTIER (Actor): (As Conrad Birdie) (Singing) There are chicks just
ripe for some kissing, and I mean to kiss me a few. Man, those chicks don’t
know what they’re missing. I got a lot of livin’ to do. Sizzlin’ steaks, all
reading for tasting, and there’s Cadillacs all shiny and new. Gotta move ‘cuz
time is a-wasting. There’s such a lot of livin’ to do.

Ms. SUSAN WATSON (Actor): (As Kim MacAfee) (Singing) There are men of 19 or 20
who are suave and reckless and true, older men who give a girl plenty. I’ve got
a lot of livin’ to do.

Mr. GAUTIER: (As Conrad) (Singing) There’s music to play, places to go, people
to see, everything for you and me. Crazy clothes and motorboat races…

Ms. WATSON: (As Kim) (Singing) (Unintelligible).

Unidentified Group #1: (As characters) (Singing) Broadway lights and wide-open
spaces. There’s such a lot of living to do.

BIANCULLI: “A Lot of Livin’ To Do,” one of the songs in “Bye Bye Birdie.” The
Roundabout Theatre production revival, starring John Stamos and Bill Irwin,
opens next week on Broadway. To note the occasion, we’re revisiting Terry’s
1994 interview with Charles Strouse, who wrote the music for “Birdie,” and for
the musicals “Applause,” “Golden Boy” and the mega-hit “Annie.”

They started by talking about Broadway’s original “Bye Bye Birdie,” which
starred Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera and Paul Lynde and featured such songs as
“Kids,” “Put on a Happy Face” and “Honestly Sincere.”

TERRY GROSS, host:

I have to tell you, I was listening to the album again last night, and I hadn’t
heard the score in a long time, and I was just shocked to realize that I
remembered words to songs when I’d completely forgotten the song existed, like
“Normal American Boy.” I mean, I hadn’t thought about that song in years, and I
realized God, I know all the words to this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And I bet so many people have that reaction when they hear songs from
“Bye Bye Birdie.”

Mr. CHARLES STROUSE (Composer): Yes. Fortunately, they do. It’s a very-much-
performed show. At the time Lee Adams and Mike Stewart and I wrote it, we wrote
it because it was offered us, you might say. We would have written, I guess,
almost any show that was offered us. It actually wasn’t even in that shape. It
was just to be a show about teenagers, but had we realized that it would have
that kind of commercial clout, that is that high schools and camps and prisons,
I don’t know - everybody does it. It’s incredible, and it keeps picking up in
performances. I think we would have say, oh, let’s do that show. But at the
time, it was just, it was actually even a little strange. It was a bit of an
embarrassment, in a funny way, to me and to Mike because – well, to me
particularly because I had been in serious music all my life.

I had studied classical music. I was embarking on a serious music career and
that this would be the first opportunity that I’d have for a major public
hearing and then that we had this silly name, “Bye Bye Birdie,” it was not the
show that I wanted to write, which taught me something about myself, which is I
don’t know where the hell I am half the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Let me ask you about writing “The Telephone Hour” from “Bye Bye Birdie,”
and this is a series of phone conversations that the teenagers are having with
each other, and it’s not a straightforward song. I mean, you’re basically
setting a series of conversations to music with little interruptions and phones
ringing. So what were some of your considerations when you were writing the
music for that?

Mr. STROUSE: Well, you know, before I just answer that, I have four kids, and
it’s come back to haunt me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STROUSE: Because I have four telephone lines, and it’s still every second,
everybody’s on the phone.

Anyway, beside the point. My considerations were first of all that it was rock,
and of its sort, it is rock music though such an innocent sort that, you know,
I don’t like to listen to it and say I’m Mick Jagger or anybody like that, but
it was rock. And I paid attention very strongly to the guitar chords, you know,
that all guitarists play on it. You know, a lot of rock music, in those days
particularly, was very – I don’t want to say simple because that wouldn’t –
that would be a little bit derogatory, but there were certain patterns. It
became patterned, in a way, and I did model it on that. But then I used a lot
of – I used a lot of changes of time and a lot of interjections, which is into
the exact rock beat. But I kept the beat going very much, and then I used just,
you know, Lee and I sat and kind of carved it out together, high and, you know,
the things - did they really get pinned?

GROSS: Well, here’s “The Telephone Hour” from “Bye Bye Birdie,” music by my
guest, Charles Strouse.

(Soundbite of musical, “Bye Bye Birdie”)

(Soundbite of song, “The Telephone Hour”)

Unidentified Group #2: (As characters) Hi Marcy. Hi Alice. What’s the story,
morning glory? What’s the word, hummingbird? Have you heard about Hugo and Kim?
Did they really get pinned? Did she kiss him and cry? Did he pin the pin on, or
was he too shy? Well, I heard they got pinned, yeah, yeah, I supposed that they
would, oh, oh. Now they’re living at last, goin’ steady for good.

Unidentified Man #1: (As Harvey Johnson) Oh, Mr. Henkel, this is Harvey
Johnson, can I speak to Penelope Ann? Penelope? About the prom Saturday…

Unidentified Group #2: Goin’ steady, you know it, goin’ steady, it’s crazy man,
you know.

Unidentified Woman #1: It won’t last. Not at all. He’s too thin. She’s too
tall.

Unidentified Man #1: (As Harvey Johnson) Hello, Mrs. Miller, this is Harvey
Johnson. Can I speak to Deborah Sue?

Unidentified Group #3: Hiya Hugo, hiya stupid. What’d you want to go get pinned
for?

BIANCULLI: “The Telephone Hour,” from the original cast recording of “Bye Bye
Birdie.” The cable series “Mad Men” built a plot line around “Bye Bye Birdie”
earlier this season when some of the copywriters for the advertising agency
were eager to copy a scene from the film version to help sell a new diet cola
called Patio. The idea was to hire someone to sing directly to the camera, all
bubbly and full of sex appeal, as Ann-Margaret had done playing a teenaged fan
in the film version. But one member of the team, Peggy, played by Elisabeth
Moss, doesn’t like the idea as much as the men in the room.

(Soundbite of television program, “Mad Men”)

(Soundbite of song, “Bye Bye Birdie”)

Ms. ANN-MARGARET (Actor): (Singing) Bye-bye, Birdie, I’m gonna miss you so.
Bye-bye, Birdie. Why’d you have to go? I’ll miss the way you smile. It’s always
just for me, and each and every night, I’ll write you faithfully. Bye-bye
Birdie, it’s awful hard to bear. Bye-bye, Birdie. Yes, I’ll always care. Yes,
I’ll always care. Yes, I’ll always care.

Mr. RICH SOMMER (Actor): (As Harry Crane) Oh, is there more? I love her.

Mr. BRYAN BATT (Actor): (As Sal Romano) I saw Susan Watson do it on Broadway,
and she was great, but she didn’t have that.

Mr. AARON STATON (Actor): (As Ken Cosgrove) Well, it’s not going to be her, but
they want that scene, frame for frame, as they say.

Ms. ELISABETH MOSS (Actor): (As Peggy) So something about how desperate she is
for a Pepsi?

Mr. STATON (Actor): (As Ken) It’s for Pepsi, but it’s not for Pepsi. It’s
called Patio, and it’s a dieter’s kind of Pepsi to help women reduce. It’s
Pepsi’s Diet-Rite Cola, and there’s claims that their lawyers went over
calories, et cetera. If we do it right, we land Patio, and if we land Patio,
I’ll be at lunch with Pepsi.

Mr. BATT (Actor): (As Sal) I think Pete Campbell just broke a sweat.

Mr. SOMMER (Actor): (As Harry) I’m coming to casting.

Ms. MOSS: (As Peggy) We’re going right to casting?

Mr. SOMMER: (As Harry) You don’t have to if you don’t want to.

Ms. MOSS: (As Peggy) I understand why you like this, but it’s not for you. I’m
the one who’d be buying Patio.

Mr. SOMMER: (As Harry) You’re not fat anymore.

Ms. MOSS: (As Peggy) Thank you. Let’s assume we can’t talk them out of the
name, and let’s assume we can get a girl who can match Ann-Margaret’s ability
to be 25 and act 14.

Mr. BATT: (As Sal) Is that what she’s doing?

Ms. MOSS: (As Peggy) Is it just a knock-off? Are we allowed to make fun of it,
at least?

Mr. STATON: (As Ken) She’s fun and sexy. Don’t be a prude.

Ms. MOSS: (As Peggy) Would you say that to me?

Mr. STATON: (As Ken) It’s sexy, and it’s what they want.

Ms. MOSS: (As Peggy) Clients don’t always know what’s best.

Mr. STATON: (As Ken) When we land them, you can start talking to them that way.

BIANCULLI: A scene from the AMC series “Mad Men,” discussing a scene in the
movie version of “Bye Bye Birdie.” We’ll hear more of Terry’s interview with
Charles Strouse, who wrote the music for “Bye Bye Birdie,” after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let’s get back to Terry’s 1994 interview with Charles Strouse,
composer of the music for “Bye Bye Birdie.” A Broadway revival of the musical
opens next week.

GROSS: You studied with Nadia Boulanger. Did she give you any advice about pop
music versus classical music?

Mr. STROUSE: Well, oddly enough, she did. She – this woman was the great
musician of our generation in many ways, and her greatness was that she was a
master analyst, not only of music but a psychoanalyst in her own way. And she
used to hear the music of her students, and she was able to – she was able to
isolate it. She was able to shine a spotlight on what was you and what was
watered-down Stravinsky. And I remember when I worked with her, she asked to
hear everything I’d written. And I played her my sonata and my concerto and,
you know, various - art songs and all that, and she said well, what else, what
else, what else? And I said, well that’s it. She said well, no, no what about,
you know, your student pieces, and I played her some of them, and then anything
else? And I said well, there was – my parents, who were never into serious
music at all, though they were very proud of me, I used to come home from
college and play them all these pieces that sounded like watered-down Bartok
really, but they were very serious kind of things. I was really, you know, into
it, and I could see they were proud of me, but they didn’t really…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Respond?

Mr. STROUSE: Yeah, not really. I mean, I think so. I mean, my mother was just
always so nervous for me, but I remember writing a piece that I considered my
party piece that I could play that they could show off to my aunt. I had an
aunt, Stella, who – she was hard of hearing to begin with, but it was – she was
over at the house a lot. And I wrote this piece, and it was really, you know, I
look back at it today - kind of saucy or something. It was very light-hearted,
and they loved it. Everybody liked it. So it became my piece, and I played that
for her, which I very rarely – I didn’t do that for anybody except, you know, a
couple of relatives, and she said ah, and she saie, well, what else? And I said
well, I really – well, I said well, when my brother – he had been in the Navy,
and when he came home from his first tour of duty or his boot camp, whatever, I
had written…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STROUSE: I laugh because it was a funny moment in my life. I said I wrote
this little song for him called “Welcome Home Able-bodied Seaman Strouse,” and
she said, may I hear that? Oh, I said I couldn’t. No, she said, please.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STROUSE: And so there this venerable woman, I played this silly song. She
said, I see. She said, anything else? And I said, well, I said, I…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STROUSE: This makes me laugh. I said, I used to go out with a girl. I
really liked her. Her name was Janet, and we lived on the Upper West Side of
New York, and I wrote this song, but it was a joke called “Moon Over 83rd
Street.” She said play this for me.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. STROUSE: Here I am in Paris, you know, with an intimate of Stravinsky’s and
every American composer that you could think of having studied with this great
woman. So I played “Moon Over 83rd Street,” and she said ah, good. Now we go
back to this, whatever. So we went back to – the towards the end of my thing,
she said to me something that nobody had ever said to me. She said you have a
great talent for light music.

GROSS: May I make a request?

Mr. STROUSE: Sure.

GROSS: Could you sing one of the songs that you played for her?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STROUSE: Wait a second. Welcome home able-bodied seaman (unintelligible).
No, I can’t sing that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STROUSE: Moon over – Oh, Moon - this is the funniest interview I’ve ever
done.

Mr. STROUSE: (Singing) Moon over 83rd Street with Schrafts right below. Moon
over 83rd Street, my heart’s all aglow. You, Janet, in the lamplight, I hear
something called (unintelligible) – I’m yours body and soul.

Mr. STROUSE: I think that was the last one. It was meant partly as a jest. I
mean, you know, well, that was it. There’s a first performance for you.

GROSS: So it helped you find out that that’s what you should be doing is
writing pop tunes.

Mr. STROUSE: Well, that was her genius. That’s why I can laugh at it. I can
also laugh at it because I’ve had, you know, some successful shows, but her
genius was really taking a young kid like me – I was quite young when I was
there. I was around 18 or so. And I know from my own experience with my own
children what it is to be searching for an identity, and she in her soft,
brilliant way was able to contribute to my identifying who I was.

GROSS: I want to close with the story behind one of your most famous songs, and
this is the song from “Annie,” “Tomorrow.” Did you have to write in a range
that you were confident a kid could sing?

Mr. STROUSE: Well, that’s really an interesting question because yes and no.
The yes is a part of my musical background. I know what kids’ range is and
sopranos and tenors are. The no part is that I wanted to squeeze a little bit
more out of them because I’d, you know, the emotional part of the music is when
kids sing high, they scream.

You know, I did it in “Bye Bye Birdie,” and in “Bye Bye Birdie,” they sang
notes in “The Telephone Hour” that they didn’t think they could sing. And
actually, I had learned a lot of that. I used to work for Frank Loesser.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. STROUSE: I was his assistant for two years, and I remember when Frank was
testing people for range, he would often have them sing…

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: From “Bushel and a Peck.”

Mr. STROUSE: From “Bushel and a Peck,” and because it was – he would put it in
a key with the pianist that it would be out of their range. They had to go…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. STROUSE: But because they were making fun, they could or could not hit it.
Had you said sing that note legitimately in a song like, I don’t know, “If I
Loved You” or something, they would’ve said they can’t reach it, but when they
were playing these characters, they could. So I devised – it’s not my own
invention, or maybe it is, I don’t know – these kids would come in, and I would
just have them sing “Happy Birthday.” And once they passed the other thing, I
would have a sing a song that they didn’t have to worry about anything, and…

Mr. STROUSE: (Singing) Happy birthday.

Mr. STROUSE: See, and very often, they found that they could reach notes which,
on their resumes, they couldn’t reach at all, and that was the sound I wanted.
So I did write for that, and particularly in a song like “Hard Knock Life” and
in “Tomorrow,” the song “Tomorrow.” And what happened was that at the very
beginning, during our auditions, nobody could sing these songs. Today, every
girl in the world sings them.

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STROUSE: Which it’s a wonderful, actually, a tribute to the psychology and
any popularity the songs have.

GROSS: Well, let me say it’s been a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you very
much for joining us.

Mr. STROUSE: Oh, thank you, Terry. For me, it’s great.

BIANCULLI: Charles Strouse, speaking to Terry Gross in 1994. The first-ever
Broadway revival of “Bye Bye Birdie” opens next week. Here’s Charles Strouse
himself, recorded at the Smithsonian in 1978, performing and telling a story
about one of the famous songs from “Bye Bye Birdie.” I’m David Bianculli, and
this is FRESH AIR.

Mr. STROUSE: I just wanted to do a couple of songs that might show you some of
the things that happened, which were a result of the staging or the underlying
dramatics - the performers, the costumes - they all had an effect on these
songs.

First there was a song that was in “Bye Bye Birdie.” It involved what we
thought was a terribly clever idea. We had Dick Van Dyke, and there was a
moment in the play in which he was very depressed and had to set up a
television show, “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and he was working with the lighting
man, who was throwing different-color spots on him, and he would be in and out
of them, dancing, singing in and out of these spots. He would also be able to
express what was inside him and be able to dance, and it was a number right up
Gower Champion’s alley, who was the director.

We couldn’t miss with this number. A big hit, right? No, wrong. It was a real
flop, and we couldn’t understand it. For some reason, it didn’t work. We
thought there was nothing else to do but throw out the song, which is Lee’s and
my habit. We’re very impatient with a song not working. But it was Marge
Champion, Gower’s then-wife, who had what I thought was the corniest idea in
the world: Put it in a spot in the first act, where he sang the song to two
little girls who were very depressed at seeing their hero, Conrad Birdie,
leaving for the Army.

But we tried it, and magically, it worked right away, and you could tell. This
was a spot where the audience wanted to see Dick Van Dyke dance. They wanted to
see this happen with two little, funny, wonderful-looking girls who were
depressed. And the number went on to become one of the great successes in the
show. Anyway, here was the number.

(Soundbite of song, “Put on a Happy Face”)

Mr. STROUSE: (Singing) Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face.
Brush off the clouds and cheer up, put on a happy face. Take off that gloomy
mask of tragedy, it’s not your style. You look so good that you’ll be glad you
decided to smile. Pick out a pleasant outlook, stick out that noble chin…
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A Smart, Twisting Novel Of Identity And Confusion

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

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

Dan Chaon's novel "Among the Missing," was a finalist for the National Book
Award. Book critic Maureen Corrigan can't decide whether his latest novel,
"Await Your Reply," should be given an award or a lie detector test.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: Dan Chaon's latest novel, "Await Your Reply," came out at the
end of August — traditionally a stagnant period in the publishing calendar and
so a logical time to feature this work of literary fiction by a writer who has
his devoted followers, but by no means is a best-selling big name. But, sales
considerations aside, autumn, with its mists and early night falls, would've
been a more seasonally appropriate choice for this elegantly chilly novel about
identity theft and existential confusion.

Chaon's emotionally austere, architectural plot demands that readers keep their
wits about them. And, just to make sure his readers are alert, eyes front from
the get-go, Chaon opens his novel on the scene of a teenaged boy named Ryan
struggling to maintain consciousness in a car being driven by his panicked
father. On the seat in between them is a Styrofoam ice cooler that contains
Ryan's severed hand. It's a scene straight out of a Halloween movie, but the
story behind it is even more mundanely disturbing.

Ryan's tale is one of three intertwined narratives that compose "Await Your
Reply." All of them are bleak, and weird, and slyly compelling. Ryan, we learn,
has been drawn into a career of credit card fraud by his father — a biological
father he's only recently discovered after learning that he was adopted at
birth.

The second, and to my mind, most intriguing story — focuses on another lost
teenager, a girl named Lucy who's just graduated from high school and has left
her Ohio town in the middle of the night with her former history teacher; a
charismatic guy named George Orson. They hole up for weeks at a long-shuttered
motel complex in Nebraska, that George claims was owned by his family. Think:
the landscape of "Psycho," because that's what Chaon invites us readers to
think.

Chaon also winks, throughout this heavily allusive novel, to the work of other
cultured creepmeisters like Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe
and H.P. Lovecraft. In the third tale of this unholy trinity, a man named Miles
has been searching for a decade for his twin brother, Hayden, who suffers
perhaps, from schizophrenia. Miles believes he's finally closing in on his
demonic double at an abandoned scientific research station in the Arctic.

Throughout the novel, Chaon keeps transporting us to fantastic landscapes like
that one. Some are all too real — like Las Vegas; others could be. Near that
deserted motel where Lucy and George are hiding, for instance, is a sprawling,
dried-up reservoir which was originally created by flooding a town — Nebraska's
own version of Atlantis. It seems that neither places, nor stories, nor human
identities are stable in this spinning nebula of a novel.

As you might expect with a writer who toys so obsessively with the idea of the
self as free-floating, rather than fixed, old-fashioned character development
is not a major concern here. Indeed, in the course of "Await Your Reply," a
reader learns the hard way not to get attached to any of these characters,
since, to varying degrees, they show themselves to be not quite who we - or
sometimes they - first think they are.

Intelligence is the draw here, demonstrated by the seemingly infinite number of
rifts the novel can generate on the theme of multiple identities. In a
reflective and unintentionally funny moment, Jay, Ryan's credit-card-thief dad,
explains to him the more philosophical attractions of stealing other people's
identities. I can't understand how people can settle for having just one life,
Jay says. I remember we were in English class and we were talking about that
poem by — that one guy, David Frost: two roads diverged in a yellow wood. You
know this poem, right? I loved that poem. But I remember thinking to myself:
Why? How come you can't travel both roads? That seemed really unfair to me.

Chaon cements his smarts in the novel's final pages with an ending that clicks
shut like a coffin lid. You won't be saddened by that ending, but unless you're
made of tougher stuff than I am, you will be startled.

BIANCULLI: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Await Your Reply" by Dan Chaon.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BOB SMITH (Actor): (as Buffalo Bob) Hey Kids, what time is it?

PEANUT GALLERY: It's Howdy Doody time.

(Soundbite of the Howdy Doody Show" theme song)

BIANCULLI: That was the late jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie.

Coming up, an interview with Bowie from our archives.

This is FRESH AIR.
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Remembering Jazz Trumpeter Lester Bowie

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Tonight in San Francisco, musicians and jazz fans will gather for a concert
paying tribute to jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie. Next month will mark the 10th
anniversary of his death. His musical legacy will be saluted tonight by such
performers as James Carter and members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, which
was co-founded by Bowie more than 40 years ago.

Lester Bowie was both a great jazz scholar and a great showman. He was
enthusiastic about all kinds of music, from avant-garde jazz to R&B and doo-
wop, and he recorded playful, wonderful versions of everything from the "Howdy
Doody Show" theme song to "The Great Pretender."

Terry Gross spoke to Lester Bowie in 1989.

(Soundbite of song, "The Great Pretender")

TERRY GROSS, host:

When did you start playing rhythm and blues standards with the band?

Mr. LESTER BOWIE (Musician): Well, when I first started playing professionally,
at age 15, I played with a group called the Continentals that was backing up a
lot of doo-wop groups during that time; this is 1954 to '59. And one of the
first songs that I learned was "The Great Pretender," so assuming that jazz
always expounded on contemporary music, I was always confused as to why jazz
guys never really picked up on what was happening for the doo-wop guys in the
50s. So to pick up that slack and to fill that space, I decided to do it
myself.

GROSS: Did you ever turn your back on those songs yourself because they weren't
jazz and you were a jazz musician?

Mr. BOWIE: No. I've always been a professional musician first. I always tell
any student that I have, if you want to be a jazz musician, you first have to
learn how to feed yourself with your instrument. After that, you can
specialize. And another thing, we in jazz aren't supposed to be so closed-
minded as to turn our backs on any kind of music.

GROSS: Did playing with people like Solomon Burke and Jackie Wilson, Rufus
Thomas, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle give you a sense of the theater of music?

Mr. BOWIE: Oh yes. Definitely. Definitely. And then it taught me a lot about
staging and just how music moves and how it affects people.

GROSS: Did you do steps and wear jackets, and did you have synchronized horn
movements?

Mr. BOWIE: I did the steps, we wore the jackets, but I didn’t like the fast
moves. You know, one time I auditioned for James Brown; actually, I auditioned
three times. I never got the gig, but I was always glad I didn’t because I
didn’t want to flip my trumpet around like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOWIE: I was scared. That's the only trumpet I had.

GROSS: Well you mentioned James Brown; you do "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" on
your new record. Tell me why you chose that one?

Mr. BOWIE: James Brown has been one of the influential people in music for the
last - since I was in high school, since 1955. And this is just part of our
homage and our respect for his music and what it's done for jazz and what it's
done for rhythm and blues, what it's done for the rap music of today. He's
truly the Godfather of Soul.

(Soundbite of "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag")

GROSS: Let me ask you about your playing. You tend to play in the cracks
between notes a lot. And you do these flub notes that are perfectly controlled.
You know exactly, or you seem to know exactly, how you’re going to miss a note.
And I was wondering how you develop that kind of technique?

Mr. BOWIE: Well, I used to tell people, I built a whole career off making
mistakes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOWIE: What I do is, if I make a mistake I just learn how to do it on
purpose, so then I've got the note that I should've hit and I got the notes
that I didn’t hit, but I know how to make both of them on purpose.

GROSS: Well, do you think of yourself as having a lot of technique as a player?

Mr. BOWIE: Well, I probably got the most advanced technique in brass, as far as
the newer elements that I use. I don’t have the best, by any means, as far as
the standard trumpet classical technique, but who cares?

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Did you ever care?

Mr. BOWIE: No. Afraid not.

At the time - my father was a classical musician - trained as a classical
musician in the 30s. And when he came up there was no hope of a black man ever
getting any - being with a symphony orchestra in the States, so I didn’t even
consider that. It was never part of my - never part of it.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BOWIE: Plus, the music kind of bored me a little bit too.

GROSS: We were talking before about the theatricality of music and the matching
jackets that you'd have to wear when you were playing with rhythm and blues
bands and doo-wop groups. You wear a lab coat when you perform with Brass
Fantasy. How did you start using that as your stage uniform?

Mr. BOWIE: Well, I started using a lot of - I've used a lot of different ones.
I've been a priest. I've been a hard hat. But the white jacket kind of stands
for research and I've been a researcher and I consider the stage as my
laboratory.

GROSS: You always look to me like the mad scientist...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...when your wear it, you know - that you’re cooking something up in
your laboratory.

Mr. BOWIE: Yeah, Jack Sheldon once told me that I was like a psychiatrist gone
berserk or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Let me change the subject to the Art Ensemble of Chicago. What part of
your playing and your personality does that group bring out?

Mr. BOWIE: Well, the Art Ensemble is the artistic, the research, the
multiethnic influential heavy. I believe this is the most difficult that I play
is with the Art Ensemble. I can play things with the Art Ensemble that
everyone else would know what to do, but just hold their eyes opened wide. So
it’s the most advanced musically of all the groups.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Did you think of yourself as being an avant-garde player when you helped
form the group in 1965?

Mr. BOWIE: No, we didn’t – we never considered ourselves avant-garde. I mean,
people considered us avant-garde. We’ve been trying to live that down now for
the last 25 years. So it’s – because avant-garde has sort of a negative
connotation. When people think of avant-garde, it means something that they’re
going to have difficulty understanding, something that’s going to be maybe
chaotic, you know. Avant-garde doesn’t really mean that. It means just
something that’s a little bit ahead of its time. It doesn’t necessarily mean
it’s atonal or it’s a bunch of confusing sounds that may be difficult to
decipher. So it’s kind of hard to live that down and we – that label was kind
of stuck on us.

GROSS: Well, the Art Ensemble is really a group that not only plays, you know,
challenging music but they, you know, it’s a group that really knows how to
have fun and that is also like Brass Fantasy, into theatricality. Most of the
members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago wear face paint for performances. I
believe you usually don’t.

Mr. BOWIE: I sweat too much. I’d have paint all in my mouth. It would all down
in my horn, up in my nose…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOWIE: So I don’t use it.

GROSS: Was there ever any pressure on you to do it so that you’d fit in with
everybody else?

Mr. BOWIE: No, there’s no pressure to fit in because if you fit in with the Art
Ensemble, you fit out…

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOWIE: …because it’s about being individual. It’s about expressing yourself
any way you want to. The whole idea of the paint is the tradition of the mask.
In order to prepare yourself to play music, you try to put yourself on another
level. You want to become out of yourself, become the music itself, you know.
And to do this it requires changing something. I don’t want to look the same
way I look walking down the street as I do when I walk on the stage. Because on
the stage is when I’m presenting my craft and when I really have to concentrate
and get into what I’m doing, and the change of costumes, the paint, all of this
helps.

GROSS: How did you join the Art Ensemble, or I should say, how did you co-found
it?

Mr. BOWIE: Well, what happened is I moved to Chicago. I was married at that
time to Fontella Bass and she got a hit called “Rescue Me,” and we moved to
Chicago. And after playing in the studios and doing the jingles for about a
year, I heard about Richard Abrams’ experimental band and I went in and sat in
with the experimental band, and the next day I was the member of the AACM, and
Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman and I were all rehearsing together.

GROSS: It must have seemed like a big leap at the time for you musically.

Mr. BOWIE: No, not actually. You have to understand - you don’t go from bag to
bag in this music. You don’t say, well, I’m jazz, I’m R&B. I have always wanted
to be a jazz musician. I have never wanted to be anything other than a jazz
musician, but I also knew that I may have had to be a country and western
musician to survive until I could play jazz for a living. So it all works
together, one helps the other. I mean, my R&B experience helps me right now. My
jazz experience helps me when I go to India or to Africa to play, you know? If
you can play Bebop, you can play just about anything, you know, all the
patterns of just about any music in the world. So I can use my Bebop experience
to help me play Chinese music. I can use the Chinese experience to help me
further enhance or play something new on something else. So it all works
together. You don’t try to be just, you know, it’s not just like one at a time.
I’m R&B for a couple of years and I’m into jazz, it’s – it all kind of fuses
together.

GROSS: I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. BOWIE: You’re welcome.

BIANCULLI: Jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie, speaking to Terry Gross in 1989. Next
month marks the 10th anniversary of his death at the age of 58. A tribute
concert takes place tonight in San Francisco at the Herbst Theatre.
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'Paranormal Activity,' A Cinema-Verite Frightfest

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Oren Peli’s horror film, “Paranormal Activity,” cost $15,000 to make and
features unknown actors. After festival screenings, it was picked up by
Paramount Pictures for national distribution. The studio mounted a campaign to
build word of mouth with midnight shows across the country. Those were sold
out. Now it’s expanding to many cities and you can see it anytime.

Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: As “The Blair Witch Project” proved, nothing is scarier than
nothing. Forget monsters, vampires. Think of darkness and the crack of a twig
nearby. You freeze. You wait. It’s the waiting that makes “Paranormal Activity”
nearly unbearable, even if like me you love to be scared. When something
onscreen actually happens, it’s like any another dumb horror picture. It’s very
conventional in the light of day. But of course we’re not seeing things by the
light of day.

As in “Blair Witch,” the perspective is radically limited. There’s no
omniscient point-of-view. We watch everything through the video camera of
Micah, a day trader played by Micah Sloat. He comes home to his suburban San
Diego house with his new toy after his live-in girlfriend Katie, played by
Katie Featherston, reports noises in the night, an alien presence.

(Soundbite of movie, “Paranormal Activity”)

Mr. MICAH SLOAT (Actor): (As Micah) Hi-def camera on. My girlfriend Katie, she
thinks there’s something in the house, I don’t know.

Ms. KATIE FEATHERSTON (Actor): (As Katie) You believe me, right?

Mr. SLOAT: (As Micah) I think we’re going to have a very interesting time
capturing whether a paranormal phenomenon is occurring or it is not occurring.

EDELSTEIN: Here’s the scariest part - director Oren Peli’s genius gimmick:
Micah sets up the camera to record when they sleep. The view is of their bed
and the door and the dark hall leading to the stairway. The image is pale,
greenish and white. There’s a timer on the screen. You see 1:32 a.m. and 40
seconds, 41, 42, 43, and then there’s a low rumble. On some nights there might
be a faint sound of walking or running. Often Katie and Micah don’t wake up,
although they watch the footage the next day on a computer.

But sometimes there’s a thud or a crash. And Micah grabs the camera and walks
into the hall, a little orb of light illuminating a corner, a railing, or
pointing down the stairs into the darkness. A psychic played by Mark Fredrichs
specializes in ghosts, which he says are ex-humans, whereas this is likely a
demon, non-human, evil. He gives them the phone number of a demonologist. Katie
wants to call but Micah doesn’t. He’s a macho man. He yells things into the
darkness like, Is that all you got? After a while, the audience decides he’s a
moron.

We think, call the demonologist, Katie, please. “Paranormal Activity” is
weakest when it’s most explicit, which increasingly it is. Even a recognizable
shadow or a door swinging shut or bed covers rising up dilute the dread. This
is not a great ghost story on the order of “The Innocents” or the original “The
Haunting.” It’s not even as irrationally terrifying as “The Blair Witch
Project.” But Peli is very shrewd in how he uses the microscopic budget and
single setting to make us feel trapped and to exploit our anticipation. Every
time he cut to another night and the timer appeared, I said out loud, oh God,
here we go, as well as words I can't say on the radio. Lights click on and off.
Katie gets out of bed and stands, just stands by the side of the bed as the
timer runs in fast motion to show she hasn’t budged for an hour. Is she awake?
Is something holding her? Throughout this movie, something sure as hell is
holding us.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. You can
download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org.
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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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