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In 'Public Places,' Lives of Quiet Desperation

David Edelstein reviews Alain Resnais's film "Coeurs" or "Private Fears in Public Places."



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Other segments from the episode on April 27, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 27, 2007: Interview with Paul Motian; Interview with Neil Simon; Review of the film "Coeurs."


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

Interview: Drummer Paul Motian talks about how he started playing
drums, musicians and his new CD "Garden of Eden"

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

Our guest is the drummer Paul Motian. "History has shaken him out as one of
the greatest drummers in all of jazz, a select group that would include, say
Max Roach and Roy Haynes," wrote Ben Ratliff in The New York Times. Will
Friedwald wrote in the New York Sun, quote, "Mr. Motian made history at the
Vanguard in 1961 as the drummer with the Bill Evans Trio, whose live album at
that already legendary Seventh Avenue basement defined a dynasty of piano
players. Mr. Motian then helped two other outstanding pianists, Paul Bley
and Keith Jarrett, put their trios on the map. Lots of drummers are about
power and energy. Mr. Motian is about supporting a soloist," unquote.

Terry spoke with Paul Motian last year. Let's start with a track from the
Paul Motian Band's latest recording "Time and Time Again," with guitarist Bill
Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano. This is the Thelonious Monk composition
"Light Blue."

(Soundbite of "Light Blue")


How important are drum solos to you?

Mr. MOTIAN: Not very important.

GROSS: Why not? Because they're so often for the drummer like, that's the
showpiece, and that's where they get to really like...

Mr. MOTIAN: I'm not a showpiece drummer. I'm not a drum--I'm not--I don't
know. I listened to an interview recently with Kenny Clark, and he said the
same thing that I feel. He wasn't into solos that much either. And I'm not
either. I just--I feel like I just--I'm an accompanist. It's my sort of
thing to make the other people sound good, as good as they can be. And I feel
like I should accompany them, and I should accompany the sound that I'm
hearing and make it the best that I can--that I can do.

GROSS: Do you feel that you've sat through a lot of boring drum solos over
the years?

Mr. MOTIAN: No. But, I mean, there were drummers that played great drum
solos. Chick Webb, for instance, great drum solos. Buddy Rich played great
drum solos. So did Gene Krupa. So did Shelly Manne. A lot of drummers
played them, but I--I just don't--I don't know. I'm just not into it.

GROSS: Well, I want to play another track. This is "Evidence"...

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...which is a Thelonious Monk composition.

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah.

GROSS: And before we hear it, I want to say you played with Monk very briefly
early in your career.

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah, I did. And also that track that you're going to play is
going to be a drum solo, which I just said I don't like to do.

GROSS: Right. Well...

Mr. MOTIAN: But that's fine. That's great.

GROSS: ...this is the exception that proves the rule, isn't it?

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah. OK. Yeah, I did play with Monk a little bit. I was

GROSS: So what, if anything, do you feel like you learned from playing with

Mr. MOTIAN: I learned how to listen. Because when I played with him I
really wasn't that familiar with the music--with his music. It was back in
the--one--the first time was in the mid-'50s, and the reason I got to play
with him was because I went to hear him play. It was in a club in The Village
here in New York. And the drummer was supposed to be Arthur Taylor. And he
wasn't there, he didn't show up, and the promoter of the concert was a man
named Bob Reisner, who had seen me around town playing drums. He said, `Paul,
Arthur Taylor didn't show up, man. If you want to go home and get your drums
you can play with Monk.' So I ran home, got my drums, came back and played
with Monk that night. And Thelonious paid me $10. I was thrilled to death.
But I didn't know the music that well, so I just, you know, gritted my teeth
and did the best I could.

The next time I played with him was in 1960 in Boston; I played for a week.
But I really didn't know that music. So you say what did I learn? I learned
how to really listen and try to do my best to keep the time, to not get lost,
to do the best that I could and to really listen to the music and try to learn
from it.

GROSS: Did he give you any advice?


GROSS: No suggestions of what he wanted from you?

Mr. MOTIAN: No. He didn't say much. One time I did say--we came off the
stage after one of the songs, and one of the sets. I said to Thelonious, I
said, `Gee, you know. I'm sorry. I think maybe I might have--I might have
rushed the tempo on one of those tunes.' He said to me, `If I hit you upside
your head, you won't rush.' So I paid attention to that. I was very careful
after that.


Mr. MOTIAN: No, he didn't say much.

GROSS: Well, this--this is...

Mr. MOTIAN: But one time he did get up and dance when we were playing, so I
thought that I did OK.

GROSS: Did he dance like an--like a--spinning around?

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah. Yeah, you know, like how you've--I'm sure you have seen
him do that...

GROSS: And...

Mr. MOTIAN: ...most people have seen him do it.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. MOTIAN: So that meant--to me that meant that the music was happening, he
was enjoying it, and I was doing OK. That made me feel good.

GROSS: OK. Well, this is the Monk composition "Evidence" on Paul Motian's
CD, which is called "Garden of Eden."

(Soundbite from "Evidence")

GROSS: That's drummer Paul Motian from his CD "Garden of Eden," and that was
Thelonious Monk's composition "Evidence."

Let me ask you about your formative years. When you were young--I guess this
is maybe when you were in your teens...

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...that you studied with Bill Gladstone, who was the Radio City Music
Hall percussionist.

Mr. MOTIAN: Bill, right. Yeah. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: How old were you? Teens?

Mr. MOTIAN: No, it was later.

GROSS: Twenties?

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah. Early 20s.

GROSS: So--what--I read that he was famous, but what was he famous for? What
was his thing?

Mr. MOTIAN: He had a system of playing where he used his fingers almost more
or as much as he used his arms and his wrists and his hands. He could do
amazing things. Just hardly--I mean, if you watched him play, you'd think
that he was hardly moving. He's just playing with his fingers. I mean,
controlling the drumsticks with his fingers and playing incredible stuff, like
really strong, powerful strokes. I mean, he was something else. He had that
system, he had developed it. I mean, it was pretty hard for others to adapt
to that system. Shelly Manne studied with him, too. He was sort of--I think
he kind of copped that style somehow, but it was hard. I mean, the principle
was like, if you're bouncing a ball, the closer you get to the floor with the
ball, the less you're moving your hand. And that was the principle of his
thing, with just using his fingers.

GROSS: So did you learn how to do that?

Mr. MOTIAN: I tried. But I never could do it as well as he.

GROSS: Now, did he play it like a showbiz type of drumming?

Mr. MOTIAN: Sure. I mean, he was the drummer at the Radio City Music Hall
for, I don't know, lots of years, maybe 10, 15, 20 years or so.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MOTIAN: And I heard that people used to go just to watch him, he was so

BIANCULLI: Paul Motian, speaking with Terry Gross last year.

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2006 interview with jazz drummer Paul

GROSS: Pretty early in your career, you played with the pianist Bill Evans, I

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And you played with him in various groups and various settings. How
did you first meet him?

Mr. MOTIAN: I met Bill--I guess it was pretty soon after I got out of the
service, the military service. He was in the Army around the same time that I
was in the Navy, and I guess it was around mid-'50s, and I used to go to the
Union Hall here in New York looking for a gig. Looking for just, you know, to
hear what's going on, if there were any gigs around, any jobs, and looking for
work. And I overheard someone say that clarinet player Jerry Wald was having
auditions and he was putting a band together to take on tour. So I found out
where it was, and I went to the audition, and there was Bill Evans, who also
went to the audition. And I heard him play and I really liked what I was
hearing. And I got to audition, Bill got to audition, and we both got the
gig, and that's how I met him. That was the first time I met him. We got the
gig, and we went on tour with Jerry Wald. We played around New England. We
played at an Army base in Puerto Rico. I can't remember how long that tour
was. It probably wasn't too long. But that's how I met Bill. That's when I
met Bill first.

GROSS: So after meeting Evans at an audition and playing with him in various
settings, you and Evans and the late--now late bass player, Scott LaFaro, had
a trio that became quite famous and quite important. It was a band that was
like very kind of quiet and subtle and famous for having three musicians play
as equals, for having a lot of interplay between them that wasn't just a
pianist with two accompanists.

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Was that something that you actually talked about? Did you talk about
having that approach, of having a trio of equals?

Mr. MOTIAN: No, I didn't...

GROSS: That's how it was seen.

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah. No. It's true. I mean, that's what happened. I mean,
we didn't talk about it, but that's what the result was, of us playing like
that. And nobody played like that before. I think we were probably the
first, or one of the first groups to do something like that. Before that, it
was always like, you know, the pianist with bass and drum accompaniment. And
that just happened that way. I think it was because of the three of us. The
three individual players who played the way that we played, and when we
played, that was the result. That's what happened. We didn't talk about it
that much. We really didn't.

GROSS: Because the band was quiet and subtle and played a lot of ballads, did
it limit what you could play as the drummer?

Mr. MOTIAN: I never thought of it as a quiet setting. I mean, maybe that's
the way people conceive it now who listen to it but--we used to play--yeah...

GROSS: Well, there are so many ballads like on the Vanguard sessions. There
are so...

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...many ballads on it that, you know.

Mr. MOTIAN: That's true. That's true. Someone told me recently that a
record company--I don't know what record company by now--but that all that
stuff from the Vanguard was released in a boxed set...

GROSS: Exactly.

Mr. MOTIAN: ...exactly the way we played it with all the outtakes, and
there's even one take where we stop playing and you hear people talking and
all that. I wonder what's on that. I've never heard it.

GROSS: Well, I have it right in front of me.

Mr. MOTIAN: Oh. So--I mean, are there all ballads in that? Or mostly
ballads and slow things?

GROSS: Well, it's a mix of things, but there's a lot of ballads on it: "My
Man's Gone Now."


GROSS: "Detour Ahead."


"My Foolish Heart"...

Mr. MOTIAN: All right. OK.

GROSS: ..."Some Other Time."


GROSS: So, yeah, so on a lighter note, to that boxed set that was recently
reissued of the...

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...Village Vanguard recordings from 1961 with you, Bill Evans and
Scott LaFaro, the producer of the session, Orrin Keepnews, writes the liner

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and he describes Bill Evans as having had low self-esteem. Did you
think of him that way? And he seems to think it affected his approach to
recording and his discomfort in actually like arranging a recording date. And
Keepnews says one of the reasons he wants to record live--one of the reasons
why Keepnews wanted to record "Live at the Vanguard" is that, you know, Evans
seemed uncomfortable about recording, and this would be a way of just kind of
getting it done without scheduling a separate recording date. And of making
him comfortable.

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. That's kind of true, because--well, first of
all, Bill was really particular about any recording. If the result wasn't top
notch, if the result wasn't really great and satisfying for him, he wouldn't
want to put it out. He wouldn't want to release it. I'm sure that he would
be against a lot of this stuff that's being released now--second takes,
outtakes and all that stuff. And he did sometimes think of himself as not
really playing great.

I remember one time we were playing at the Vanguard, and we were playing
something, and it was really good, and it was moving along, and it was great.
And all of a sudden, it seemed like it took a nose dive, like he just didn't
feel like playing any more or something. And after the set, I asked him,
`What happened?' I said, `Man, what--man, how come that happened during that
tune? Like it just kind of stopped. You didn't stop playing but it seemed
like you weren't into it anymore.' He said, `Oh, I heard some people laughing
at the bar,' and he said, `I thought they were laughing at me.'


Mr. MOTIAN: And another time, he said to me, `Gee, I don't know if what I'm
doing is real,' he says. `Sometimes I think I'm a phony.' So he did say
things like that, which would make you think that he had low self-esteem.
But, you know, that was really early on, and I don't know what--I didn't play
with him after like the mid-'60s. I don't know what he was like after that.

GROSS: At least during part of the time that you played with him, Evans was
addicted to heroin. Did that complicate your personal and musical

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah. I quit.

GROSS: Because of that?

Mr. MOTIAN: I quit playing with him. I couldn't stand seeing him destroying
himself and the music. It wasn't like that in the beginning.

GROSS: So you saw him change?

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah. And I quit. I left him in California. I'd kill anybody
that would do that to me.

GROSS: That would do what to you?

Mr. MOTIAN: Leave me in the middle of a tour. Just quit and go home.
That's what I did.

GROSS: Was there something that was the last straw?

Mr. MOTIAN: The music was going downhill. I was--you were saying before
about soft and all of that. I mean, the music was getting like that. I was
playing with brushes, and it just seemed like I couldn't play soft enough. It
felt like I was playing on a pillow or something. The music was just--I mean,
it just wasn't happening for me, man. I said, `Bill, man, it's not happening.
I have to go home. I can't do this anymore.'

GROSS: And did he....

Mr. MOTIAN: He begged me to stay, you know. Because I mean, he had a tour
to do. And I think he went to Europe for the first time after that. And I
just, I left. I mean, I paid my own way. I went home.

GROSS: Let me play something that you recorded with Evans and Scott LaFaro.

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: This is from those Village Vanguard sessions, from the recent boxed
set that was released.

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And I thought we'd hear "My Foolish Heart."

Mr. MOTIAN: Take one, I hope.

GROSS: This is the take that was released.


GROSS: Do you want to say anything about this before we hear it?

Mr. MOTIAN: No. Go ahead and play it.

GROSS: OK. Here it is.

(Soundbite of "My Foolish Heart")

GROSS: "My Foolish Heart," recorded at the Village Vanguard in 1961. Bill
Evans at the piano; Scott LaFaro, bass; and my guest Paul Motian on drums.
Shortly after this recording, Scott LaFaro died in a car accident. He skidded
into a tree and apparently died instantly. Was this the first time you lost a
musician friend so suddenly?

Mr. MOTIAN: No. I remember when Clifford Brown and Richie Powell were
killed in a car crash earlier than that. That was in the mid-'50s sometime.
And that was sort of the first time that--well, I wasn't close to those guys,
but that--but I knew them and I heard them play live, and that really--that
really--that was the first time that I sort of lost any musical friends.

GROSS: What impact did it have on you to lose these people? And to see them,
like die in a car--and let's face it, musicians are on the road all the time.

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah, no, it was just a--it was a shock. I don't know about
impact, it was a shock.

BIANCULLI: Paul Motian, speaking to Terry Gross in 2006. We'll hear more of
their conversation in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and
this is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli. Let's get back to our
conversation with drummer Paul Motian. He leads the Paul Motian Band, as well
as a trio that features saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell.
Their latest CD is called "Time and Time Again." Motian was the drummer in the
Bill Evans Trio from 1959 to 1964. When we left off, Terry Gross and Paul
Motian were talking about the now-historic Evans recordings at the Village
Vanguard with Motian and bass player Scott LaFaro. LaFaro died in a car
accident a couple of weeks after those recordings were made.

Mr. MOTIAN: You know, you talk about the Village Vanguard recordings with
Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro a lot. I prefer--everyone says that's great, and
those are great. But the first record that Bill and I did with Scott was
something called "Jazz Portraits." I really like that. I think I prefer that
to the Vanguard record. And that was a studio recording. It wasn't a live

GROSS: What's your favorite track from it?

Mr. MOTIAN: I like "Witchcraft." I also like "Come Rain Or Come Shine." And
I guess one of the reasons why I really like it, and I thought it was really
well done was because we just finished playing for--I think it was for two
weeks--at a club called The Showplace in Greenwich Village. And we did that,
and we did that recording right after that. So we had been playing together
for quite a while, and then we went into the studio to do that recording.
"Autumn Leaves" is on there. That's a great record.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear a track from that record?

Mr. MOTIAN: Sure.

GROSS: OK. So this is Bill Evans at the piano; Scott LaFaro, bass; and my
guest Paul Motian on drums.

(Soundbite of "Witchcraft")

GROSS: When you played with Evans and when he was addicted to heroin, I could
just see how you would be--and anyone close to him--would be in a really
awkward spot. I mean, there were probably times when he was really strung out
and thought that he couldn't play without getting a fix. And so that puts you
in the position, are you going to help him get it? Are you going to give him
money he might need? Or help drive him to his connection or whatever? And if
you do--the word "enabler" didn't exist then, but I'm sure the idea did. I
mean, it just strikes me you must be in a really awkward spot of either
watching him being unable to play or helping him do something that you knew
was bad for him so that he could play.

Mr. MOTIAN: No. I never did that. I never thought about helping him get
high. Never. But there were...

GROSS: You mean that would have been out of the question?

Mr. MOTIAN: I was never--well, first of all, I was never asked. And if I
was, I probably would say, `No.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MOTIAN: `Go...(censored by network)...yourself.' But there was one time
when we were playing in Washington, DC, and the bass player at the time was
Jimmy Garrison, and we were supposed to play for two weeks, and I think we
ended up playing only one night or only two nights. And one night in
particular, we were on the stage, and Jimmy and I were waiting for Bill to
start playing. And Bill was just sitting at the piano, he wasn't playing.
All of sudden, he stood up, and he went to the--walking to the front of the
stage to the microphone. The place was packed. It was full of people. And
Bill said--made an announcement to the people, he said, `You know, I don't
feel like playing right now.' He says, `Can you understand that?' And they all
applauded. And they were all for it. And we walked off the stage, and I
believe the reason for that was that Bill didn't have the drugs he wanted to

And at the end--and then Jimmy and I said, `Well, what's happening, man?
What's going on?' And he said, `Well,' he said, `I want to go back to New
York.' We said, `Well, man, we're supposed to play here for two weeks.' And
Bill said, `I don't care. I just want to go back to New York.' And finally
we--after talking to him about it and arguing back and forth, we finally got
him to stay and to finish the week. So we finished the one week, and then we
quit and went back to New York. But that was one instance where he didn't
feel like playing because of that, because of not having drugs. But I would
never have thought about, `Well, I'm going to go get him some drugs so he will
play.' No way I'm going to do that. That's his life and he can do what he
wants with it.

GROSS: You know, you said that the audience applauded when he said he didn't
feel like playing.

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah, they did.

GROSS: Do you think that the audience saw it as a sign that he needed a fix
but rather as a sign of his like authenticity? That he played so much from
the heart that...

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: ...if he wasn't feeling that impulse, and it just wasn't going to like
measure up to his standard and so he wouldn't going to play at all.

Mr. MOTIAN: Well, I think it was more like that than about his habit...


Mr. MOTIAN: ...I don't think they knew about his habit or that they thought
about that at all.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. You know, we were talking about the recording that
you made with Evans and LaFaro at the Village Vanguard, and shortly after you
made that recording Scott LaFaro died in a car accident.

Mr. MOTIAN: You know, do you want to hear about a dream I had after that?

GROSS: After Scott LaFaro was killed?

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Sure.

Mr. MOTIAN: I was asleep, and it was the middle of the night, and the phone
rings, and it's Bill Evans on the phone, and he says to me, `Scott was just
killed in a car crash.' And I said, `Oh, OK,' and I hung up and went back to
bed. And then when I woke up in the morning, I thought I'd dreamed--I said,
`Gee, I think Bill called me last night.' So I called Bill again to see if it
was true and everything, and it was.

But that night I had a dream about Scott. And in the dream, we were in a room
somewhere, and Scott is calling to me and he said, `Hey, Paul, come over here.
I want to show you something. Look out the window here.' And it was amazing
about his voice. He had a really distinctive voice, and it was so clear, and
I was so sure it was him. And he wanted to show me something, and I walked
over to the window, and that was the end of the dream. But I had that dream
that same night. It's pretty amazing.

GROSS: So when Evans first called you, you just went right back to sleep?

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah. I thought I was--I don't know what I thought. I didn't
think it was real. I thought it was a dream or something. I just hung up and
went back to sleep.

GROSS: Later on, you started playing with the pianist Keith Jarrett...

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and you played with him for nearly 10 years?

Mr. MOTIAN: I think so, yeah.

GROSS: And...

Mr. MOTIAN: I met Keith, gee, it must have been--I think it was in the late
'60s and stayed with him until around 1976.

GROSS: Now, you ended up buying his piano, and then you started taking piano
and composition lessons.

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm. True. How do you find out all this stuff?

GROSS: Oh, just reading up on you.

Mr. MOTIAN: That's amazing. Wow! Yeah. OK. Go ahead.

GROSS: So, this was, I guess, in the early '70s. What made you want to head
in this direction of like learning piano and composition?

Mr. MOTIAN: Well, ECM offered me a record date. And so I thought that I
should write some music and learn how to compose and to write music and put a
band together and do all those things. And I wanted to study the piano so I
could be familiar with the piano, so it would help me with composition.
That's what happened.

GROSS: Did it help you conceptualize music, once you learned more about the

Mr. MOTIAN: Sure.

GROSS: Which is such a great visual--of all the instruments, it's like the
clearest visual representation of melody and harmony.

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So, was that helpful for you in thinking about writing?

Mr. MOTIAN: Sure. Yeah. I love the piano. I think it's my favorite
instrument. And I don't--I don't consider myself a pianist, I'm not really
good at it. But by taking the lessons and learning a little bit, it really
helped me.

GROSS: As you look back on your career to date...


GROSS: there any particular moment that you're particularly proud of?

Mr. MOTIAN: Well, I'm proud of a lot of the music I made with Bill Evans and
also, music with Keith Jarrett. There were some great moments there. And I'm
proud of the fact that I'm able to still be around and be able to write music
and get better at what I'm doing. And I feel like I'm still learning.
Sometimes I feel like I'm still learning. I mean, I learn stuff--one day I
was playing with some French musicians in Paris and we were playing a ballad,
and I started to think about what I was doing. And I realized that I was
playing three different tempos on the drums against another tempo that was
totally different that the other musicians were playing. And when I realized
I was doing that and I tried to figure it out and as soon as I thought about
it, it started to fall apart. So I stopped thinking about it and continued
on, and that was amazing.

GROSS: Is that the way you have to work? To like not think too hard about

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah. I think so.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. MOTIAN: Yeah, it just--I mean, at this point, I have been playing so
long at this I feel like I can just let it happen and do whatever I want, and
everything'll turn out OK.

GROSS: Well, one more thing. You live in an apartment in Manhattan.

Mr. MOTIAN: Mm-hmm. Right.

GROSS: So how have you managed living in a Manhattan apartment all these
years? How have you managed to practice drum?

Mr. MOTIAN: Oh. You know, I don't practice drums in there so much now, but
I used to have rehearsals up there with Keith Jarrett. We used to rehearse
there, and when I was first putting bands together, I rehearsed there, and I
played. And one time after playing--I was playing and practicing, I got in
the elevator, and there was this huge woman on the elevator, she must have
been about 7' tall and weighed about 300 pounds. She looked at me, she said,
`Is that you playing them drums?' And I said, `Oh, man, she's going to beat me
up.' And I said, `Yeah, I'm sorry, you know.' She says, `Oh, well, keep it up.
I like it. I like it.' So that's how that went.

GROSS: And so...

Mr. MOTIAN: I never had any complaints about playing drums in there.

GROSS: Well, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. MOTIAN: OK. You're welcome.

BIANCULLI: Paul Motian speaking to Terry Gross in 2006. His latest recording
with the Paul Motian Band is called "Time and Time Again."

Coming up, playwright Neil Simon. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Interview: Neil Simon on "The Odd Couple"
(Soundbite of theme music from "The Odd Couple")


There are two reasons our next visit is with playwright Neil Simon. One is
that the TV series based on his hit Broadway comedy "The Odd Couple" was
released this week on DVD. The 1970 series starring Jack Klugman and Tony
Randall as unlikely roommates has been one of the most requested series not
yet on DVD, so this should make a lot of people happy. And the other reason,
by coincidence, is that today happened to be Jack Klugman's 85th birthday.

Neil Simon starting writing comedy for television in the 1950s on the classic
"Your Show of Shows" with his brother Danny, who died in 2005. Neil shifted
to writing Broadway plays and became a one-man comedy hit machine. Terry
interviewed Neil Simon in 1996. Before we hear their conversation, here's a
scene from the very first TV episode of "The Odd Couple."

(Soundbite of "The Odd Couple")

Mr. JACK LEMMON: (As Felix Unger) Look at your room, Oscar. Where'd you get
all the laundry to do? Everything you own's on the floor.

Mr. JACK KLUGMAN: (As Oscar) These are my summer clothes.

Mr. KLUGMAN: (As Oscar) Sit down, Felix.

Mr. LEMMON: (As Felix Unger) Where?

Mr. KLUGMAN: (As Oscar) Under there somewhere's a chair. Feel around.

Mr. LEMMON: (As Felix Unger) I'll stand. Would you do me a favor?

Mr. KLUGMAN: (As Oscar) What?

Mr. LEMMON: (As Felix Unger) For my birthday, let me clean up in here.

Mr. KLUGMAN: (As Oscar) No!

Mr. LEMMON: (As Felix Unger) At least let me empty this great big ashtray.

Mr. KLUGMAN: (As Oscar) That's my jewelry box! I like my room the way it

Mr. LEMMON: (As Felix Unger) In my room you can eat off the floor.

Mr. KLUGMAN: (As Oscar) You can eat off the floor in my room. Here, look,
there's some crackers over there and eggs, there's half a tuna fish sandwich.

Mr. LEMMON: (As Felix Unger) Why don't you eat it?

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Let me ask you about creating two of your most famous characters,
Felix and Oscar, "The Odd Couple."

Mr. SIMON: Mm. Yes.

GROSS: How did you come up with those characters?

Mr. SIMON: Well, I just watched it in real life. It was my brother, Danny,
and a friend of his named Roy Gerber, both of whom moved in together in the
same apartment because they recently were divorced and they wanted to cut down
on their expenses so they could help pay their alimony. And in their social
life, rather than going out on a double date somewhere and spending a lot of
money on the dinner, my brother Danny decided to cook, and Roy was kind of
a--you know, things came and go very easily for him, so he would just say to
the girls, `Come up for dinner. Come, you know, 6:30, 7, 7:30, whenever
you're ready.' Well, to Danny that was anathema. I mean, he was--he cooked
the pot roast that night, he wanted them there at 7:30. And it was hilarious
to me. And I said, `Danny, this is a great movie, a great play, something.
You must write it,' because Danny was a writer, too.

But he never wrote by himself, and he started to write the play, but he took
three months or so to write 10 pages and finally called me, and he said, `I
can't do it.' He says, `I'm not a writer, and I'm certainly not a playwright.'
He is a writer, of course, but he was not a playwright, and he didn't know how
to construct it. And he said, `You take the play and you do it.' And so I
made a financial arrangement with him because it was his basic--it wasn't his
idea to do it as a play, but it was his life, so I was taking a part of it.

When I wrote the play, in the beginning, I thought I was writing a very dark
comedy. I didn't think it was going to be as funny as it was dark because
here was a man who has broken up with his wife that he loved dearly, and he
had to leave his two children at home, and he was almost suicidal; whereas Roy
was another kind of character who was--I mean the character that Roy was based
on, the Oscar character, was a man who couldn't really keep his life going
together, didn't know how to take care of his children's goldfish when they
left. And so I thought I was writing, as I said, this grim comedy until I
gave it to Bob Fosse, a good friend of mine who lived in the same building, to
read, and he says, `This is the funniest play I've ever read.' And I said,
`You don't find it dark?' And he said, `No, not at all.' So the author is not
always sure about what impression he's going to leave when he writes this

GROSS: Now, how'd you feel about "The Odd Couple" when it became a TV series,
where instead of like a constructed play every week, there was another little
adventure or mishap...

Mr. SIMON: Well...

GROSS: write around?

Mr. SIMON: I have to preface that by telling you the story, which you may
have read in the book, that I had a business agent who thought he was doing me
a favor by getting a deal made with Paramount Pictures, whereby they would buy
this little company from me for $125,000, which seemed like an enormous amount
of money, in which they got all of the TV and television rights to "The Odd
Couple." So I never saw a penny of any of "The Odd Couple" television series,
so I could not watch that. I didn't watch that for two years because when I
saw that it was a hit, I saw that's my money going down their drain.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. SIMON: And so I looked at that as a very bad experience, and it was hard
for me to watch the show, until I finally did see it about two years after it
was running, and I saw how good it was. It was really good. It didn't do me
any good, but it was OK for them.

GROSS: Oh, boy, what heartburn it must cause to feel that you almost don't
want to see the success of your own work because you're not getting anything
out of it.

Mr. SIMON: I know. It was hard, but maybe just pushed me on to do other
things. And I said, `I've got to get on with this. I'm not going to sit and
just gripe about it for the rest of my life.' And I just went on to write
other plays.

GROSS: Early on in your career, your brother Danny was your writing partner.

Mr. SIMON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: He's--what?--about eight years older than you?

Mr. SIMON: Eight and a half years older, yes.

GROSS: Yeah. And you write in your book that he was somewhere between your
brother and your father. He was your mentor as well as your brother...

Mr. SIMON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And your father, actually, was in and out of the family. He left the
family and came back, I think, about eight times.

Mr. SIMON: Exactly, yes.

GROSS: Was it strange to have him coming and going like that, not knowing
exactly what his relationship to you was?

Mr. SIMON: It was awful because I felt my life was sort of on a yo-yo, to
give my kind of example. When he was gone, it was the most awful time, and I
thought he was never coming back. And I'm sure a lot of my personality has
been formed by that relationship, and it makes me somewhat insecure at times,
and it's why I think I fell back on writing, possibly, as a way of being able
to support and survive for myself.

GROSS: I imagine your mother, when your father was gone, ended up very busy
with earning money to take care...

Mr. SIMON: Well...

GROSS: ...of the family.

Mr. SIMON: Yes. She was uneducated.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SIMON: She did not have a job, and she would do whatever she could to
provide for us. She borrowed from her family. But what she eventually did,
which was the hardest thing for us, was when she took in two men to live in
our house, two boarders, who took her bedroom, and she slept on the sofa in
the living room. My brother and I had our own bedroom. And they were
butchers, and they paid us mostly in meat, in lamb chops and...


Mr. SIMON: And it was no fun sitting at the room, in the kitchen, eating
with them.

GROSS: Why not?

Mr. SIMON: They were like strangers. They didn't talk to us. They were
mostly foreigners and--I don't mean mostly foreign--they were foreign and
spoke some English. But it was difficult, and it was not my father, and I
felt I was living in not my house, but their house.

GROSS: You know, the stereotype of the Jewish mother of your mother's

Mr. SIMON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...was of the overly possessive, overly neurotic Jewish mother, right?
I imagine your mother was much too busy...

Mr. SIMON: She was, yes.

GROSS: fit that stereotype at all.

Mr. SIMON: No, I don't think she did fit that stereotype. She was very
different. She was very loving and very encouraging, in terms of my brother
and I doing the writing. My brother--foolishly, I think--would read the
monologues that we would write at first to my mother, and she would just laugh
all the way through. And my brother said, `Do you understand what they mean?'
And she said, `No, I don't.' He said, `Well, why are you laughing?' She says,
`Well, it pleases me to please you.' I mean, it was such a wonderful thing for
her to do. It didn't encourage us as writers, but it encouraged us that we
had a terrific mother.

BIANCULLI: Neil Simon, speaking with Terry Gross in 1996. The first season
of his TV series "The Odd Couple" has just been released on DVD.

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new film from French film director
Alain Resnais. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Review: David Edelstein of New York Magazine on French film
Private Fears in Public Places"

The 84-year-old French film maker Alain Resnais is best known for his many
nonlinear art films, such as "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" and "Last Year at
Marienbad." Twenty years ago he began adapting plays. His latest film,
"Private Fears in Public Places," is based on a play by the British writer
Alan Ayckbourn. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.


Before I tell you about Alain Resnais' newest masterpiece, I want to say a
word about formalism and what is sometimes called--slanderously--"style over
substance." In great cinema, there's no divide. The way the camera moves
through space, how characters are framed in relation to one another and the
world, the palette, the rhythms of the editing, they're not extrinsic to a
movie's meaning. In "Private Fears in Public Places," known in France as
"Coeurs" or "Hearts," they are the meaning. Resnais' film is a veritable
essay in space and color. More important, it's a film in which those elements
mirror the psychological space, the emotional color of a bunch of deeply
screwed-up people.

This isn't the elliptical Resnais of his seminal fractured memory
films--"Hiroshima, Mon Amour" and "Last Year at Marienbad." "Private Fears in
Public Places" isn't difficult. It's fluid, teasing, light on its feet. It's
positively yummy. It's transcendentally yummy. It's based on a play by Alan
Ayckbourn, an Englishman who knows his way around farce but has lately edged
into more grown-up forms of sex comedy--or in this case, sex comedy without
actual sex.

Resnais has moved the story to Paris, where it unfolds against a gentle
snowstorm. He uses a curtain of falling snow to break up every scene. This
is a movie with many curtains. Resnais frames his characters through doorways
and windows and cubicles and anything that makes physical the forces that keep
people separate. Yet the film is never claustrophobic. The cameras drift,
creates layers of space, each character in his or her own little universe.

As the title suggests, the main characters could hardly be more walled off.
The movie opens with Laura Morante as a woman searching for an apartment to
move into with her fiance, played by Lambert Wilson. But the one she's shown
by Realtor Andre Dussollier she finds clumsily subdivided. The camera gazes
down on the maze of little rooms from overhead, a perfect visual correlative
for the movie to come. The interiors are all creamy pastels. The critic
Armand White describes them in pastry terms--as glaceed--but the extreme
stylization has the effect of bringing the characters closer to us since, even
at their most foolish, they're on the same color spectrum. The narrative
baton is passed from lonely soul to lonely soul. The fiance Lambert Wilson
fastens himself to a barstool in a candy-colored basement hotel bar, anything
to keep from facing the woman he's supposed to marry.

Back in the Realtor's office, the older man gazes longingly at his radiantly
tousled assistant, played by Sabine Azema, who gives him inspirational
videotapes. They show her devout religious side, but when the pious
programming runs out, there's a blizzard of video snow, and then a hot
babe--maybe her--doing a striptease. While the Realtor stares at this
homemade porn loop, his lonely hearts sister, Isabelle Carre, ends up on a
blind date at that bar with Wilson. And on and on the carousel goes. There
are many crisscrosses in "Private Fears in Public Places," laborious to
describe but marvelously easy to watch.

The 84-year-old director has stripped the movie down to pure elegance. It's
not reductionist. It's about human beings trying to reach out from their own
private spaces and for two sublime hours, it's all we need of the world. I
urge you to see it on a big screen, but if it doesn't show up at your local
art house, you have another option. Its distributor, the Independent Film
Channel, is offering the film as a pay per view on many cable systems. I
believe in seeing movies at theaters, but in a pinch "Private Fears in Public
Places" maybe consumed, without fear, in private.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.


BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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