DATE November 8, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Writer and producer Joss Whedon discusses his career
and his latest show, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross.
(Soundbite from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
Mr. ANTHONY STEWART HEAD: You really have no idea what's going on, do you?
You think it's coincidence your being here? That boy was just the beginning.
Ms. SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR (Buffy): Oh, why can't you people just leave me
Mr. HEAD: Because you are the slayer, and to each generation, a slayer is
born, one girl in all the world, a chosen one, one born with the strength and
Ms. GELLAR: With the strength and skills to hunt the vampires, to stop the
spread of their evil, blah, blah, blah. I've heard it, OK?
Mr. HEAD: I really don't understand this attitude. You've accepted your
duty. You've slain vampires before.
Ms. GELLAR: Yeah, and I both been there and done that, and I'm moving on.
BIANCULLI: That's Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head from the
very first episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," a TV series that aired for
five years on The WB, and is now in its second season on another broadcast
The show and the character were created by Joss Whedon, who's a very busy guy
right now. He's got "Buffy," its spinoff series, "Angel," still on The WB,
and a new sci-fi show called "Firefly," which is trying to build enough of an
audience to succeed Friday night on Fox. That's three shows on as many
networks. I spoke with Whedon back in 2000, when he only had two shows on the
air, but even then he was working long hours, and taking that work very
Viewers put off by the silly "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" title, or by monster
dramas in general, may still be unaware of what they're missing here.
"Buffy," for example, is full of metaphors about how loved ones can turn into
monsters, how high school and college life is a particular type of hell, and
how everyone, to some extent, is haunted by his or her own demons. Characters
grow, change and sometimes even die. When I talked to Whedon, I began by
asking him what he had in mind when he crafted "Buffy," his first crack at
creating a weekly TV series.
Mr. JOSS WHEDON (Creator, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"): The character of Buffy
has grown a lot. I had always imagined I would take her on a pretty long
journey. I didn't realize exactly how far we'd go. I didn't realize how far
the actress could go when we first started. I knew that I wanted somebody who
had to deal with the responsibility of this great weight, this burden of being
a slayer, and that that would help her to grow up as a person. But I didn't
know, you know, until I worked with Sarah for a while, you know, how far she
could take it, how deep she could go in terms of the grief she could
experience and the growth and the intelligence she would bring to it.
BIANCULLI: Did you know what you wanted to do in terms of this TV series,
having come from places like "Roseanne" and doing movies and stuff, what you
wanted out of a TV experience?
Mr. WHEDON: Well, what I wanted was to create a fantasy that was,
emotionally, completely realistic. That's what really interests me about
anything. I love genre, I love horror, I love, you know, action, I love
musicals, I love any kind of genre, and "Buffy" sort of embraces them all.
But, ultimately, the thing that interests me the most is people and what
they're going through. And that's why I loved "Roseanne." That's why I
wanted to work on it, because it was the only sitcom I felt was genuinely
funny and also very real and very kind of dark. And that's what I wanted to
bring to this.
BIANCULLI: There's one thing I'm really curious about in terms of your work,
and that's if you see it, what you're doing every week in "Buffy," as writing
different chapters of a novel. That by being in control--because you spend so
much time reflecting on past history of the characters and past things that
they've done, if you're careful about the sequence and if I'm correct in
presuming that you allow ramifications to spread on down the line with what
these characters do from week to week.
Mr. WHEDON: Well, I'm very, very much aware of it as being like a novel.
You know, the only equivalent to what you can do with a soap opera
(unintelligible) to me is, you know, what Dickens was doing, and he happens to
be my favorite novelist, the idea that you can get invested in a character for
so long and see it go through so many permutations. It's fascinating to me,
the shows that I've always loved the best, "Hill Street Blues," "Wiseguy,"
"Twin Peaks," have always been shows that did have accumulative knowledge.
One of the reasons why "The X-Files" started to leave me cold was that after
five years, I just started yelling at Scully, `You're an idiot. It's a
monster,' and I couldn't take it anymore. I need people to grow, I need them
to change, I need them to learn and explore, you know, and die and do all of
the things that people do in real life.
And so we're very, very strict about making sure that things track, that
they're presented in the right way. Because, ultimately--and this is one of
the things that I did find out after we had aired, the soap opera, the
characters, the interaction between them is really what people respond to more
than anything else. And although we came out of it as a sort of monster of
the week format, it was clear that the interaction was the thing that people
were latching onto. So we were happy to sort of go with that and really play
it up and really see where these characters were going to go. So now it is
very much a continuing show, and we're always aware of that.
BIANCULLI: Let me ask you about how you get in a position with The WB to turn
a movie that, at the time, was four or five years old, into a weekly series.
Mr. WHEDON: Well, Gail Berman went to work at Sandollar, who had the rights
to "Buffy" and very much wanted to turn it into a TV series. And when she
approached me and I thought about, you know, the idea of telling horror
stories about high school, since high school was pretty much one long horror
story in my life, I thought that's actually a series that actually makes sense
that's interesting to me. So we developed it and then The WB just--right
away, we pitched it to a couple of places--Fox turned us down. NBC, I don't
even know why they asked us to come in. And then The WB got it right away,
and my biggest fear was that they were going to say, `Make it stupid or make
it lighter. Make it fluffier. Take away the edge.' And, in fact, they very
much encouraged the dark side of it.
BIANCULLI: " Now is it unfair to ask someone who creates all of these
characters if there is one that you either relate to more or have more fun
writing when you drop into the various skins?
Mr. WHEDON: You know, I have fun writing all--I love to write all of them,
and part of that comes from the actors, because their voices are so unique
that the more I know them, the more--like I started to write Willow the way
Alyson spoke throughout the first season, because she has such a particular
cadence and she and Nicky are both so witty. It's--of the characters
that--you know, Spike is always going to be fun to write, because he's always
going to have the meanest opinion about anything, and therefore, you know,
he's always got a good attitude. He's never just going to be there and be
sincere and give exposition. He's always going to put a spin on something.
As far as who I relate to, Xander was obviously based on me, the sort of guy
that all the girls want to be best friends with in high school, and who's, you
know, kind of a loser, but is more or less articulate and someone you can
trust. That part wasn't like me, but the rest was. And I also sometimes
identify with Giles, particularly when I'm working and I just--I feel like I'm
supposed to be the grown-up in this insane group of children who are not
paying attention to me when we have this mission which, in my case, is to
create this show. But I also went to English boarding school, and so knew a
lot of Gilesy people, so he has a particular resonance for me.
BIANCULLI: When you build this show, even though it was set in high school,
when it came time for them to graduate, you allowed them to graduate and then
moved on to a different venue in terms of college. Number one, is that a
reaction against, you know, the AARP card-carrying members of "Beverly Hills
90210" and that sort of thing? And is it just the idea of the ongoing
Dickensian story that you want to tell?
Mr. WHEDON: Yeah. You know, I wanted to do the next thing, and sometimes I
thought, `Oh, I wish I could've kept them in high school a little bit longer,'
but it would have started to look silly. I did make one compromise. I had Oz
repeat a grade because I wanted him to be there for Willow, and he had
ostensively already graduated. So that was my one cheesy maneuver. But I
really felt like, yes, I wanted to keep him in high school, and that's
probably the way they feel. Yes, I'm worried that college is going to be, you
know, different and not as cool and we won't be as popular as a show, and
that's what they'd feel.
The important thing is always to match whatever your characters are going
through to whatever you're going through as a creator to what the audience is
going through. When people worried about, `How are you ever going to give
Buffy a boyfriend after Angel, how are they ever going to get over each
other?' Well, that's exactly what Buffy was worried about, that's exactly
what Angel was worried about. You know, it's taking the challenges, it's
taking the fears that you have and letting everybody go through them, because,
ultimately, everybody always does.
BIANCULLI: And then you also get the metaphors as well when she goes to
college and has a roommate from hell that pretty much is a roommate from hell.
Mr. WHEDON: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, there wasn't anybody I know who didn't
say, `Oh, yeah, that was me.' You know, everybody thought that was based on
BIANCULLI: Whenever a program is not set in regular, present-day, normal
stuff--I mean, everything from "Star Trek" to "Bonanza," those shows are able,
if they want to, to talk about certain issues at the time, or to get away with
some things that they can't otherwise. And I'm wondering if, well, the title
of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the idea of monsters, in some respects, may
make it a little harder for you to get respect from the Emmy community or
something else. Does it also make it easier for you to tell certain stories
or explore certain ideas?
Mr. WHEDON: Absolutely it makes it easier. You know, "Star Trek" dealt with
a lot of issues, you know, that other people weren't dealing with. As I said
before, "Buffy's" not really an issues show, it's more emotional. But it
allows us to get into some very hairy emotional places week to week in a way
that you just couldn't with a normal show. You'd think your characters were
schizophrenic. When you have the fantasy, you know, element of `Oh, here's my
evil twin,' you can really examine another side of a character and you can go
to a very dark place if you want to. You can kill people off, you can bring
them back, you can do all these things. You can put everybody through intense
emotional paces, and that emotional realism is the core to the show. It's the
only thing I'm really interested in. But when you have just a normal show,
you can't really take them to that many different places without it just
seeming very fake. It's like--you know, soap operas, it's like, `Who's going
to get kidnapped today?' You can only do that so many times. But when your
show is structured around a genre show--horror or fantasy or science
fiction--then you have, you know, great license.
What we don't have, which is what some science fiction shows have, is we can't
just do a thing because it seems cool. Everything that we pitch, everything
that we put out there, whether or not it works, is based on the idea of: The
audience has been through this. A normal girl goes through this. A normal
guy deals with this. You know, it's issues of sexuality, popularity, jobs.
Whatever it is, it's got to be based in realism. We can't just say, you know,
`The warship's come and, you know, they transmogrify, the--blah, blah, blah.'
We can't do that. We can go to some pretty strange places, but at the start,
we always have to be about, `How does the audience relate to having done this
That's why when we aired Innocence, when Buffy slept with Angel and his curse
went into effect and he became evil again, I went on the Internet and a girl
typed in, `This is unbelievable. This exact thing happened to me,' and that's
when I knew that we were doing the show right.
BIANCULLI: All right. Let's listen to a clip from Innocence. This is the
episode where Angel becomes evil.
(Soundbite from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
Mr. DAVID BOREANAZ (Angel): You've got a lot to learn about men, kiddo,
although I guess you proved that last night.
Ms. GELLAR: What are you saying?
Mr. BOREANAZ: Let's not make an issue out of it, OK? In fact, let's not talk
about it at all. It happened.
Ms. GELLAR: But I don't understand. Was it me? Was I not good?
Mr. BOREANAZ: Oh, you were great, really. I thought you were a pro.
Ms. GELLAR: How can you say this to me?
Mr. BOREANAZ: Lighten up. It was a good time, all right? It doesn't mean
like we have to make a big deal.
Ms. GELLAR: It is a big deal.
Mr. BOREANAZ: It's what? Bells ringing, fireworks, the Dulcid Choir or
pretty little birdies? Come on, Buffy. It's not like I've never been there
Ms. GELLAR: Don't touch me.
Mr. BOREANAZ: I should have known you wouldn't be able to handle it.
Ms. GELLAR: Angel! I love you.
Mr. BOREANAZ: Love you, too. I'll call you.
BIANCULLI: That's David Boreanaz and Sarah Michelle Gellar in a scene from
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer." My guest, Joss Whedon, will be back after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: My guest is Joss Whedon, the creator and co-executive producer of
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and co-creator and co-executive producer of
"Angel." Death is a subject Whedon tackles often, but one of the things he
does from time to time in "Buffy" and in "Angel" is to kill off very important
characters, like he recently did with Buffy's mom and Willow's girlfriend,
Tara. I asked him why he does that.
Mr. WHEDON: Well, I do it because I want to keep people afraid, I want to
keep people in suspense. I want people to understand that everything is not
perfectly safe. The problem with doing a horror show on television is that
you know your main characters are coming back week to week, and you don't
really care about, you know, somebody who just showed up for one episode. So,
you know, every now and then you have to make the statement, `No, nothing is
safe,' and that's a very effective way of doing that. If somebody objects, if
somebody says, `How could you kill that character? You have to bring that
character back. You have to bring that character back,' I know I've done the
right thing. If they go, `Oh, they're dead,' then I killed the wrong person
because nobody cares.
One of the things that people always shy away from is killing a sympathetic
character. When I worked on "Speed," there was a character who died, a lawyer
that Alan Ruck played, and I took out the lawyer--he was a bad man, he was
terrible, you know, he was causing trouble, and he ended up dying, and I
turned him into a likeable sort of a doofy tourist guy. And they were like,
`Well now we can't kill him.' And my opinion was, `Well, now you should
because now people will actually care when he dies.' But nobody wants to kill
a good guy. It makes them twitch, particularly on a series. And we were very
careful about it because if it's somebody we know we're going to want for
future episodes. But it does inflame emotions sometimes, but that is, in
fact, what I'm trying to do.
BIANCULLI: When you talk about the flexibility and the versatility, that's
also definitely true of the co-stars, and just about everybody who appears in
the show. And I'm wondering, you came to "Angel" as the spin-off and to David
Boreanaz's character. But you could have gone, it would seem, with a
half-dozen of them and spun off. How did you decide upon "Angel"?
Mr. WHEDON: Well, I have always been of the opinion that any one of these
guys could sustain their own show. I think they're that good, I think they're
that interesting and I think they're that pretty. But "Angel" became the
logical choice for a few reasons, and that was clear early on. One, he is,
like Buffy, bigger than life. You know, he for the first couple of seasons
anyway was the only superhero on the show in the sense that Buffy was. You
know, he had something more.
Now, you know, Oz became a werewolf, Willow became a witch, everybody sort of
had something to make them more than they'd been. But at the time, everyone
else was a normal mortal, whereas Angel was kind of a bigger-than-life
character. And if people responded to him like that, then he was going to
have a kind of heat that would certainly make the network interested in making
a show about him.
I also knew that the romance between Buffy and Angel could go so far before it
became incredibly tired. And we found interesting ways to shake that up,
obviously, the moment she slept with him he turned evil, which, you know, as I
was saying before, that episode, "Innocence," was a huge benchmark for the
show. But ultimately, you know, there were only so many variations we could
play. And so it made sense to give him his own.
BIANCULLI: When you talk about the resonance of characters and keeping the
history going, back in the episode of "Doppelganger," I guess, a couple of
seasons ago now, there was a reference made to Willow, Alyson Hannigan's
character, as at least in this other existence having a bisexual sexuality and
that supposedly, based on the doppelganger rules, that that might be mean
something on this real "Buffy" world, and I was wondering how the decision was
reached to go that way.
Mr. WHEDON: Well, the arc between Willow and Tara has kind of a long and
tortured history. We had thought about the idea of someone exploring their
sexuality, expanding it a little bit in college because that felt like one of
the things that might happen in college. Since we tend to work inside
metaphor for most of the show, you know, we talked about Willow and her, you
know, being a witch because it's a very strong female community, and it gives
her a very physical relationship with someone that isn't necessarily sexual at
And then when we decided to go that way, part of it was because Seth Green
wanted to step out and do movies, and we knew that he was going to be out of
the picture and, you know, we had to do something with Willow. And it seemed
like a good time for her to be exploring this. Then the question just became,
how much do we play in metaphor and how much do we play as, you know, her
actually expanding her sexuality? And you're walking a very fine line there.
BIANCULLI: Now when you do these major moves for your characters, the story
meetings that you have with the other writer/producers, how far ahead are you
working? What's your bible like or whatever it's called?
Mr. WHEDON: Generally speaking, I come into a season with the arc for the
season, the main villain, you know, the main sort of journeys for each of the
characters, where they're going to go, and some benchmarks, certain episodes,
`Somewhere around episode 10, this has to happen. Somewhere around episode
15, this has to happen.' We have to keep it flexible because you come up with
better ideas or an actor falls out or something happens. You know, the
process of creating TV is entirely fluid. You always have to be ready to be
thrown a curve. And in our case, every time we have, I think it's helped us
out a great deal. But at the same time, you must have a bigger plan, both
emotionally and structurally.
Because I make each show, each year on "Buffy" work has a separate arc. I did
that with the first season because I didn't know if we were ever going to air
again and I absolutely hate a show that ends in the middle before everything's
over. It drives me insane if the story isn't finished. So with "Prophecy
Girl," the last episode of the first season, I finished the story. And if we
had never aired another show, it would still have been a self-contained union
of 12 episodes that told a story. So that's how we designed every year.
BIANCULLI: Joss Whedon, recorded in 2000. He's the creator of "Buffy the
Vampire Slayer" and co-creator of "Angel." His new show is "Firefly."
A "Buffy" cast album of the musical episode "Once More With Feeling" has
recently been released, and the third season of "Buffy" will be out on DVD in
I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: Coming up, we hear from Daryl McDaniels of the rap group Run-DMC,
and film critic John Powers reviews "8 Mile," starring rapper Marshall
Mathers, aka Eminem.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Darryl McDaniels discusses being part of the pioneering
rap group Run-DMC
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross.
The surviving members of the pioneering rap group Run-DMC announced Wednesday
they had decided to disband. Their move came in reaction to the untimely
death last week of Jason Mizell, one of the group's founding members. He was
Run-DMC's deejay, known as Jam Master Jay, and he was shot and killed last
week in his Queens recording studio. Mizell was 37.
Run-DMC was the first rap group to have its videos played on MTV and the first
to make the cover of Rolling Stone. Mizell never appeared on FRESH AIR, but
the group's co-founder, Darryl McDaniels, spoke to Terry in 1997. She asked
him about the reaction of his parents when he dropped out of college to pursue
a music career.
Mr. DARRYL McDANIELS (Co-Founder, Run-DMC): They was mad. They was, like,
`Are you crazy? What are you doing?' And, you know, even when they got a
hint of me wanting to be a rapper as my career, as my job, you know, they was
telling me stuff, like, `It's ridiculous. You better stay in school' and
`We're not paying all this money for you to go to St. John's for nothing.'
And as a matter of fact, when I went to record our first single, I didn't tell
my parents because I knew they wouldn't have let me go. So they was outraged,
you know? It's...
TERRY GROSS, host:
How did they find out?
Mr. McDANIELS: Well, I had to come tell them where I was at for the last 15
hours, you know, 'cause I just left the house. It was a Sunday afternoon.
I left the house about 1:00 and I didn't come home in the morning till the
next morning, like, 5 AM in the morning.
GROSS: Did you play them the record? Did they like it?
Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah, I played them the record and they didn't really like it
till they heard it on the radio.
GROSS: Now was that `It's Like That"?
Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah, that was "It's Like That."
GROSS: Great. Let's hear it. This is Run-DMC's first recording.
(Soundbite of "It's Like That")
RUN-DMC: Money is the key to end all your woes, your ups, your downs, your
highs and your lows. Won't you tell me the last time that love bought your
clothes. It's like that and that's the way it is. Bill flies higher every
day. We receive much lower pay. Our ...(unintelligible) don't go out and
play. It's like that and that's the way it is. Hah!
GROSS: That's Run-DMC, their first recording, and my guest is Darryl
McDaniels, who's the DMC in Run-DMC.
Now when you started performing, it was the big gold chain era.
Mr. McDANIELS: Right. Actually we started that...
Mr. McDANIELS: ...'cause Russell...
GROSS: There's some great pictures of you with giant, big gold chains.
Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah. Well...
Mr. McDANIELS: ...like when we was singing, Russell was a big part of that.
Jay was always dressing like that. The way Run-DMC dressed, Jay always
dressed like that. So when Russell seen Jay, he said, `That's how you're
going to dress,' and that's when the gold chains came into play. Jay had a
gold chain before he even thought of being Run-DMC. Jay wore chains like that
when he was in high school.
GROSS: Now what did you think of those chains, I mean, especially looking
back from the '90s at the early '80s with the big gold chains?
Mr. McDANIELS: Whoa!
GROSS: They looked so dated.
Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah, right now it looks so funny. You know, I look at that
and I said, `I can't believe we dressed like that.' I mean, what's the
purpose of that? I mean, our parents didn't understand. What's the purpose
of having a chain that big? You know what I'm saying?
GROSS: I sure do.
Mr. McDANIELS: You know? And it's, like, `Why? Why?' You know, it looks so
funny now, but back then it was, like, so cool, you know?
GROSS: What do you think it did for your image back then?
Mr. McDANIELS: Well, it actually did show that we had money, you know? It
showed that we had the big gold chain and the fancy car and that we were truly
the superstars of the neighborhood...
Mr. McDANIELS: ...you know, 'cause if you got a big chain and the other guy
don't, you must be doing something. And, you know, it also brought a bad
image to us because people that didn't know Run-DMC before we had our album
cover out thought we was just drug dealers, because most of the drug dealers
was wearing chains like that and driving in big cars even before the rappers
made it big.
GROSS: So were the chains solid gold?
Mr. McDANIELS: Well, me and Run's was semisolid and Jay's was solid.
GROSS: You were teen-agers when you started performing. How did you handle
fame when it first hit you and you were still in your teens?
Mr. McDANIELS: Oh, man, fame hit us so quick. I mean, it's like now. We've
got this thing that we say that are certain periods in our career we can't
remember and we call it dazing. It was just like we was just like in a daze.
It was just like everything happened so quick, you know, the first record.
Then we did the first rap album to go gold 'cause nobody thought rap was going
to sell. Then right after that, we got the first video on MTV and that was,
like, really a precedent because the only black star they was actually playing
on MTV was Michael Jackson. Then we got on it. And then when "Rock Box,"
which was the video that got on MTV, went into heavy rotation, Russell and
everybody down at the record company and at Rush Management was all excited,
`You-all on MTV,' and me and Run and Jay was, like, `What is MTV? Why are you
guys so happy about this?'
And then the big tour, the Fresh Fests tour, and we was going around selling
out Madison Square Garden and all the big venues--it all happened so fast
that, you know, it's like--it smacked us upside the head. You know, the
money, the fame and fortune didn't go to our heads, but it smacked us upside
GROSS: What was it like to suddenly have a lot of money?
Mr. McDANIELS: Well, it was--man, you know, me and Run always say, you know,
when we was little, growing up and--you know, unless you was the star of the
basketball team, the high school basketball team or the CYO basketball team or
the neighborhood Hollis basketball team, none of the homeboys or the homegirls
would give you any attention. And me and Run always said, `All we want is one
pair of Adidas,' but our parents wouldn't buy us Adidas because they was $40.
It was, like, ridiculous to our parents, you know what I'm saying? They're
middle class; `What's the point of you--no, we're going to buy you these $25
shoes, $20 shoe--if we could get them for $15, you're wearing those and you're
going to be happy.' And then when we became Run-DMC, we could buy all the
Adidas we wanted, all the Adidas shoes we wanted. We could buy all the gold
chains that we wanted. We could go buy the Cadillac that we wanted. And it
was, like, just ridiculous. It was like God blessed us with everything that
we wanted when we was, you know, growing up in elementary school.
You know, you was at a point where you want to be like that guy who got every
color pair of Adidas and you want, you know, most--you know, you could tell a
lot of the kids that was going to my school, they had jobs, you know what I'm
saying? And, you know, we didn't have no jobs. The only job me and Run ever
had was pushing shopping carts for the supermarket, giving out circulars, and
that was, like, you know, twice a week. But most of our friends, they had
9-to-5s and they was out there and, you know, working and getting a lot of
money. So every month if something new came out, they could get it. So when
we got money, it became--we could get anything and everything that we--as a
matter of fact, we had stuff before it even came out because people started
giving us stuff.
GROSS: So you just started acquiring everything you could.
Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah, exact--everything that we ever wanted, we was able to
GROSS: Well, you know, you mentioned Adidas and, of course, you have a very
famous record called "My Adidas." Before we hear it, why don't you say a
little bit about coming up with this rap.
Mr. McDANIELS: Well, it's real funny. Actually, Run's brother Russell
Simmons came up with the idea. He, like, put it in the air. One day he said,
`Y'all need to make a record about your Adidas and how y'all come from
Hollis.' And then the next day, you know, me and Run, we had the pen and pad
out and we was writing this record, so we did the record even before we was
approached by Adidas to--you know, for the promotional deal and stuff like
that, for the endorsement. And the record came out, and then in 1986, you
know, we was really the biggest thing going on in music, and an Adidas
representative came to Madison Square Garden, and on that show, "Adidas" was
the first record that we did, and before we did it, we said, `Whoever got on
their Adidas, take one shoe off and hold it up,' and the whole Madison Square
Garden held up their Adidas, and when the Adidas representative seen this, he
was like, `Y'all guys got an endorsement. It's going to be big. You're going
to be the first non-athletic group to get a major endorsement with an athletic
company.' And that was, like, really cool.
But we made the record because we always just rapped about anything and
everything, and we just gave a tribute to our Adidas saying, `We'll wear these
sneakers for life. Whatever--we don't care about Nike, we don't care about
Bally, we don't care about nothing. Adidas is it forever.'
(Soundbite of "My Adidas")
RUN-DMC: (Rapping) My Adidas walk through concert doors and roam all over
coliseum floors. I stepped on stage at Live Aid, all the people gave an
applause that paid. And out of speakers I did speak. I wore my sneakers, but
I'm not a sneak. My Adidas cut the sand of the foreign lands. With mike in
hand I cold took command. My Adidas and me both asking P. We make a mean
team, my Adidas and me. We get around together, we rhyme forever and we won't
be mad when worn in bad weather. My Adidas. My Adidas. Yo, what's up? My
Standing on 2 Fifth Street, funky fresh and, yes, cold on my feet, with no
shoestring in them, I did not win them. I bought them off the Ave with the
tags still in them. I like to sport them. That's why I bought them. A
sucker tried to steal them, so I caught him and I thwart them. And I walk
down the street and bop to the beat with Lee on my legs and Adidas on my feet.
And now I'm just standing here, shooting the gift. Me and D and my Adidas
standing on 2 Fifth. My Adidas.
BIANCULLI: "My Adidas," by Run-DMC. We're listening to a 1997 interview with
co-founder Darryl McDaniels.
We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of "Walk This Way")
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Darryl McDaniels,
co-founder of the rap group Run-DMC. Earlier this week, the group decided to
disband following the death of one of its members, Jam Master Jay.
GROSS: Now how did it feel to see so many of your fans copying you? I mean,
on the one hand, it can make you feel really, you know, proud and big and
everything. On the other hand, it can really make you wonder about the
independent thinking of people.
Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah. Well, actually, you know, my partner Run, he was more
excited about that, like `Wow. They all--look, we're the big'--you know what
I'm saying? And, you know, from a record selling tip, you know, it signified
that, `Oh, wow. We're doing really great.'
Mr. McDANIELS: But then on another tip, you know, I was, like, kind of
bugged. I liked it when rap was more--everybody was more themselves, but we
all could relate to the music, you know what I'm saying? It surprised me and
it made me feel good when Martin Lawrence, who's a comedian, Chris Rock, who's
a comedian--you know, after two times that I met them, they came up to me and
said, `D, because of Run-DMC, I am what I am today.' So that's good because
they didn't want to be a rapper like DMC and dress like me, but we inspired
them to be what they wanted to be. They looked at us and said, `I can do what
I want to be.' And it really hit me when Boyz II Men at the Grammys--Boyz II
Men came up to me and said, `We're doing this because of y'all,' you know what
I'm saying? I'm like, `Wow,' you know. That's the type of effect I want to
have. I don't want everybody trying to be Run-DMC.
GROSS: Was there ever any pressure on you from producers or record companies
to harden your image, to make it more hard-core?
Mr. McDANIELS: No, but we felt pressure on ourselves. In 1990 we made an
album called "Back From Hell," and on this "Back From Hell" album--that was,
like, the first album we really used profanity and it was like the first album
we ever really came at everybody else in the industry. It was, you know, the
first album where we kind of degraded women. You know, we didn't really talk
bad like most records did, but we started talking--we started, you know,
straying that way and that was, like, one of our worst albums. So we learned
a big lesson from that. I mean, that album was, like, a flop for Run-DMC. It
only sold maybe 250,000 copies. That was the year everybody was saying
Run-DMC was over, you know what I'm saying? Because we strayed from what we
was really about. Even though we were still doing live shows, we made this
album which was trying to go with the flow of the times, when keeping it real
is being real to yourself and staying who you are.
GROSS: Now I know that you're Christian. Was there, like, a change in your
life where you were born again or kind of...
Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah.
Mr. McDANIELS: Right around that time. I mean, you know, the records weren't
selling, everybody was saying we was over. You know, Run was smoking a lot of
reefer, I was drinking a lot of beer, things wasn't well within the group.
You know, people was, like, saying, you know, `Run-DMC is over. You know,
their time is over.' And that was, like, really a down time and, you know,
with anybody, when it's time to--well, not time--when you are down and out or
on your deathbed, I don't care who you are, you're going to scream out to God,
you know, and he's going to answer and it's up for you to answer his calling.
And, you know, basically there was nowhere else we could turn but to God, you
know, `God, help us,' you know, and we was like, `You know, we're very
thankful for everything that happened,' and this and that and, `If only we
could, you know, just what--you know, get back to what we was all about,' but
we had to make that adjustment in our minds ourselves, you know what I'm
saying? But it was, like, really a down time. I mean, doing women--it was,
like, the worst time for Run-DMC of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. You know,
all that stuff that you think, `I'm not going to go that way. I'm not going
to let it happen to us,' and it was, like, really a bad time for us.
GROSS: And so when you were born again, how did that change your music and
Mr. McDANIELS: Well, you know, it cleaned up our lives. We stopped smoking
reefer, stopped drinking beer, stopped sleeping with, you know, every groupie
that you know and stop running around with the drug dealers and the wrong
crowd. And, you know, that's why we named the record "Down With the King,"
because we said, `Wow. We're the only rap group that's been here for'--you
know, at the time we was out for 10 years--`We're the only rap group that's
been together for 10 years. Everybody else in the business broke up,' and we
realized that we had a marriage here. I mean, it was like, `Yo, this is
really like a marriage because we're still here.' Even though our popularity
was down, people still gave us respect, so we was like, `All right. We're
going to dedicate one of these records on this album to God,' and that record
became the single and that single became the name of the album.
GROSS: "Down With the King."
Mr. McDANIELS: "Down With the King."
GROSS: Why don't we hear that?
Mr. McDANIELS: OK.
(Soundbite of "Down With the King")
RUN-DMC: I'm taking a tour, I'm wreckin' the land. I'll keep it hard-core
'cause it's dope, man. These are the roughest, toughest words I ever wrote
down, not mean for a hoe like a slow jam. Check it. Sucka emcees could never
swing with D because of all the things that I bring with me. Only G-O-D could
be a king to me, and if the G-O-D be in me, then a king I be. The microphone
is granted when it's handed to me. I was planted on this planet and I plan to
emcee. The emcee fiends only seem to agree that I rock all the world and the
society. I rages on the stages with a tune of verse. I get praises from
these pages to the universe. My voice is raw, my lyrics is raw, I keep it
hard core like you never saw. You want to be down with the king. You want to
be down with the king. You know you...
GROSS: The group has been together--well, you've been recording
Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah.
GROSS: And started performing even before that.
Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah.
GROSS: Extraordinarily long, I mean, for any group, but particularly, I
think, in the world of rap.
Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah. It's ridiculous.
GROSS: How do you think you managed to stay together that long?
Mr. McDANIELS: Wow, that's really a good question. The reason why we stayed
together that long, because we never let the fortune and fame take away from
the true art form of what rapping and emceeing means to us, meaning that if we
never made it as Run-DMC--and Run, when he was going to college, he was
studying mortuary science. I was studying business management, but then I
would have had to change because I wanted to go into architecture. And Jay
was studying business management.
So even if we had wife and kids, working 9-to-5s with families, on the
weekends, on the holidays, on days off, we're going to get together in the
park, at Jay's birthday party, at our sons' birthday party, and we're gonna
deejay and rap and scratch. So we never lost that desire of--we never let the
rap become a thing as `We gotta get money with this thing.' We always like
really doing it. We always like really doing a live show. And we always
like, you know, making fun lyrics or making lyrics that mean something. We
never let the fortune take away from the art form or the meaning of, you know,
the culture of hip-hop, what hip-hop really stands for.
GROSS: A lot of rap groups really brag about their neighborhood, and more
often bragging about how tough it is.
Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah.
GROSS: What was your neighborhood like, Hollis, Queens?
Mr. McDANIELS: Oh, Hollis, Queens, you know, it was a middle-class
hardworking neighborhood. It had a lot of educated people there, but you
also had, you know, violence and drugs and prostitution and murder and rape
and robbery right on the corner. You know, it's just good that we came from
good families who made sure we went to school, we didn't play hooky or run
with the wrong crowd. So you had good and bad going on at the same time,
which is true for every neighborhood, but some places have more poverty than
other places and people tend to let their surroundings suppress them. It was
like we always--regardless of what's going on, if we didn't have a dollar in
our pocket or if we did have the dollar in our pocket, we were still happy.
You know what I'm saying?
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Now did you ever feel like you had to cover up the fact that
your neighborhood was pretty middle-class and that your parents wouldn't let
you play hooky?
Mr. McDANIELS: No, there was no way we could hide it because that was
something the reporters made known to everybody, you know, because they
thought it was a big thing. All right, here you got this rap group making all
this money, running around talking about their cars and, you know, how good
they are and, you know, they're selling a lot of records. And you know, the
thing that rap was supposed to be only done by, you know, people from the
ghetto, you know what I'm saying? 'Cause, you know, Grandmaster Flash and
them, they came from the heart of the Bronx, and Afrika Bambaataa, they was
from Bronx and Manhattan; they was from the ghetto. You know what I'm saying?
Apartment buildings and broken glass everywhere. People use the subway.
We came from Hollis, Queens, where you got separate houses, grass back yards,
cookout, Catholic school and all this other stuff going on. But you know, we
wanted people to know--you know, my mother and father, Jay's mother and father
and Run's ma, hardworking educated people. But then you had the people that,
you know, lived in the middle of the block. You know, they had to rob and
steal for their next meal. But a lot of the press wanted to emphasize--I
guess they wanted to let the world know that these guys are frontin'. They
might look tough and they might talk tough on their record, but they're
middle-class, Catholic-school nice guys.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. We're out of
time; I wish we weren't, but we gotta go. So...
Mr. McDANIELS: Well, thanks for having me.
GROSS: Yeah, thanks a lot for talking with us. I really appreciate it.
Mr. McDANIELS: It was my pleasure.
BIANCULLI: Darryl McDaniels, co-founder of Run-DMC, recorded in 1997.
Earlier this week, the group decided to disband after the death of one of its
members, Jam Master Jay.
Coming up, a review of "8 Mile," the new film starring today's hottest rap
artist, Eminem. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Movie "8 Mile," starring Eminem
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Rapper Eminem stars in the new movie "8 Mile." His latest album, "The Eminem
Show," is the top-selling album this year. Eminem is the latest in a long
line of pop music stars who have appeared in movies, a list that stretches
from Eddie Cantor to Frank Sinatra, Elvis and The Beatles. Film critic John
Powers says "8 Mile" is much better than anyone expected.
JOHN POWERS reporting:
Eminem is American culture's most electrifying figure, a hip-hop provocateur
who's gained such mainstream acceptance that he recently stared out from the
cover of the ultra-square New York Times Magazine. Like Elvis, he's a
crossover white whiz in a black musical form. And when it first came out that
he was starring in a movie, I hoped Hollywood wouldn't tame his radical energy
as it had The King's. Eminem obviously worried about this, too. He's a
master at manipulating his persona, and he's tried to keep things real for his
audience, especially his white teen-age audience, which he famously calls Eric
and Erica. The result is "8 Mile," a compelling semi-autobiographical
creation myth that gives us Eminem as he'd like us to see him.
The movie is set in 1995 Detroit, a collapsing city whose 8 Mile Road marks
the borderline between the urban and the suburban, the black and the white.
Rabbit--that's Eminem--hopes to cross that line, and when we first meet him,
he's entered a face-to-face rap-off at a local club. He chokes, and the rest
of the movie is about getting him back to the club so he can win next week's
contest. He is, after all, Eminem.
Along the way, "8 Mile" shows us Rabbit's art being forged in the cauldron of
daily life. He works as a metalworker and lives in a trailer with his mother,
well-played by Kim Basinger, a dim, selfish woman who's sleeping with someone
he went to high school with. Along with his predominantly black homeboys,
Rabbit spends his nights driving around aimlessly, engaging in meaningless
fights and meeting his muse, an aspiring model played by the revved-up young
actress Brittany Murphy, who seems positively loony. Her eyes spin like the
cherries in a slot machine.
Here, Rabbit and his friend Future, played by Mekhi Phifer, improvise new
lyrics about Rabbit's life to the song "Sweet Home Alabama."
(Soundbite of "8 Mile")
EMINEM: (As Rabbit) Yo, I gotta save up some money and get the hell out of
here. It's ridiculous.
Mr. MEKHI PHIFER: (As Future) (Singing) Well, Jimmy moved in with his mother,
'cause he ain't got no place to go.
EMINEM: (As Rabbit) (Singing) And now I'm right back in the gutter, with a
garbage bag that's full of clothes.
Mr. PHIFER: (As Future) Bust it, bust it. (Singing) 'Cause you live at home
in a trailer. What the hell you gonna do? Yee-ha!
EMINEM: (As Rabbit) (Singing) 'Cause I live at home in a trailer. Mom, I'm
coming home to you. Whoo!
Mr. PHIFER: (As Future) Uh, break it down, uh.
POWERS: Ever since the rock era began, movies starring pop idols have tended
to be slack, lazy affairs designed to sell records or CDs. Not so "8 Mile,"
which is directed with great muscularity and verve by Curtis Hanson, best
known for "L.A. Confidential." Hanson has a feel for fading cities. His
last film, "Wonder Boys," vividly invoked the splendors of Pittsburgh, and
here his gritty handheld shooting style makes us feel the physical and
psychological truth of Detroit's decline.
Rabbit inhabits a landscape of trailers, gutted houses, liquor stores, cheap
nightclubs and once-glorious old buildings now encrusted with failure. The
only way out is through artistic self-creation. That's how Eminem did it, and
he plays Rabbit with a riveting intensity; no Madonna, he. His exuberant
music videos have already made it clear that Eminem's a flamboyantly
expressive performer. And here his eyes go from hooded to eerily wide, and
each pang of emotion flickers across his features. He's not an actor of great
range, and I don't exactly see him stealing roles from Tom Hanks. But as
you'd expect of a guy who's pushed rap to new levels of personal revelation,
he puts himself on the line. He transforms his anger and self-pity into
funny, scabrous, incandescent language that takes an African-American style
and gives it a distinctive spin.
In the process, "8 Mile" demonstrates that rap is as much about social class
as it is about race. Rabbit never pretends to be black or denies his own
background as so-called white trash. Indeed, that send-up of "Sweet Home
Alabama" demonstrates just how close this rapper is to a kind of a redneck
Southern rock. Rather, he takes his underclass roots--poverty, terrible
housing, the lack of a father--and uses them as his source of power and
I'd like to be able to tell you that this movie matches the playful
subversiveness of Eminem's videos, but today's studio films take far fewer
artistic chances than their mainstream music counterparts. Beneath its
streetwise surface, "8 Mile" lays on the old, earnest Hollywood hokum, giving
us an idealized Eminem, a somewhat unreal Slim Shady, who's devoted to his
little sister, defends the gay guy at work and wins all his fistfights unless
What saves this from becoming corny is the movie's keen sense of Rabbit's
essential solitude as an artist, even when surrounded by friends. "8 Mile"
doesn't end on a "Rocky"-esque note of triumph, but with the awareness that to
become fully himself, Rabbit must walk Detroit's mean streets alone, losing
himself, as his new hit song has it, in the music and the moment.
BIANCULLI: John Powers writes the On column for LA Weekly.
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
(Soundbite of music)
EMINEM: Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you
ever wanted, one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip? Yo.
(Rapping) His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There's vomit on
his sweater already, Mom's spaghetti. He's nervous, but on the surface he
looks calm and ready to drop bombs...
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