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Reexamining the Chair.

Galen Cranz is a Professor of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. She's the author of the new book, "The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design" (W.W. Norton)




Related Topic

Other segments from the episode on February 9, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 9, 1999: Interview with Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew; Interview with Galen Cranz; Commentary on the Soft Boys.


Date: FEBRUARY 09, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 020901np.217
Head: Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

During the Cold War tens of thousands of American men travelled underwater in cramped submarines on spy missions off the coast of the Soviet Union. The submarines were hidden deep in the ocean and their missions were kept under wraps through top secret classification.

The subs most important weapons included cameras, advanced sonar and complicated eavesdropping equipment. The story of Cold War submarine espionage is told in the new bestseller, "Blind Man's Bluff." My guests are the authors: journalists Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew.

Drew is special projects editor at "The New York Times." Sontag has worked at "The Times" and written for the National Law Journal.

I asked them if the American public was told anything about these Cold War submarines.

CHRISTOPHER DREW, AUTHOR, "BLIND MAN'S BLUFF: THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUBMARINE ESPIONAGE": No, the public was really told nothing. Before we started working on the book we kind of figured what I think most people do, that we had missile submarines that were hiding in the ocean with ballistic missiles ready to fire if a war broke out.

And we had other kinds of submarines -- attack submarines -- that, as far as anybody knew, were just sort of out in the Atlantic practicing for a replay of World War II. I don't think most people had any idea that submarines had become one of the most important spy vehicles of the Cold War.

SHERRY SONTAG, AUTHOR, "BLIND MAN'S BLUFF: THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUBMARINE ESPIONAGE": Even more astounding is that not only did the general public know, but these men went out and they didn't tell their families, their wives, their kids, their best friends. Sometimes the folks who were "spooks" -- the spies on board -- did not tell anybody else on board what they were doing.

So this information was very close -- tightly -- held. In fact, it was so tightly held it was given classifications higher than top secret.

GROSS: Some of the subs had self-destruct mechanisms so that if they were captured the captain could blow up the American submarine and the secrets that the American sub carried would never be revealed to the Soviets. Why was that considered necessary, and did any captain actually resort to blowing up their sub and their men?

DREW: It never quite got that far, but one of the most chilling things in a lot of the interviews we did, in talking to the men who served on the four special submarines over the years that did the cable tapping; was to hear them describe practicing self-destruct drills on their way over to the Soviet waters.

They would actually go right into a Soviet sea, comparable to a Soviet sub coming into the Chesapeake Bay, and let out divers. And these divers would actually leave the submarine, tap up -- hook up this huge tap pod with recorders to these undersea communications cables, and they'd be working about three or four hundred feet deep.

And Soviet ships in one location -- Soviet ships were constantly passing overhead, it was such a dangerous area to be in. And these men were taking all this risk -- really putting their lives on the line -- but this one of the most productive kinds of intelligence operations we ran during the whole Cold War.

GROSS: What were the results of being able to tap this cable? What did Americans learn about the Soviets?

DREW: Well, what we really learned -- it was really an inside look at the Soviet's game plan for what they were going to do with their navy and their missile subs in a time of war. If you can imagine that this was a form of communications for the Soviets that they felt was impenetrable, I mean, if you bounce communications off a satellite somebody can intercept them on the way back down.

These words that were flowing through these undersea cables were often not encrypted at all, or only lightly encrypted. Because the Soviets just never dreamed we'd be able to sneak into their sea and snatch these communications.

And so they sent their most sensitive messages -- where their nuclear missile subs were going to hide in a time of war. What kind of condition they were in. Where they would go on patrols. Just everything you'd really want to know if your main aim was to try to counter their missile subs.

GROSS: How did the Soviets find out that we were tapping their underwater cable?

DREW: A spy named Ronald Pelton (ph) who worked for our National Security Agency tipped them off in 1980 to the first location where we were doing it. Pelton was a guy who had gotten in financial trouble, filed bankruptcy, ended up selling this secret for $35,000. This was one of the most sensitive and important things we did in intelligence in the whole Cold War.

What was fascinating is that even though some people within our intelligence agencies were warning -- I mean, we didn't know exactly why -- how the Soviets had found the cable at first. It took about five years before we caught up with Pelton.

And even though it was still a mystery, we kept sending some of these submarines to these other locations on the other side of the world -- up in the Barents Sea up over Europe to tap cables there because this was so productive that nobody wanted to stop doing it even though we realized there was -- could be a big risk that there could be a spy.

GROSS: Were any of the American subs that were tapping Soviet communications discovered by the Soviets?

SONTAG: They were detected on occasion, but not really. It's like the Soviets heard something, and what the USS Parchee (ph) -- another submarine that was nearby -- was sent as a decoy made a lot of noise and just lured the Soviets away. So they were detected but not captured, and nobody understood what they were there for and what they were doing.

DREW: We tell the story in the book of a very dramatic moment in 1986 when President Reagan was meeting Gorbachev in Reykjavik at the summit there, and that was one summit that came up very quickly. And the USS Parchee, one of these best of the cable tapping submarines, was out on its way to a cable tapping site near Murmansk, the huge Soviet port up around the Arctic Circle. And she was actually stopped by radio message and told not to go into Soviet waters while Reagan was in Iceland.

The last thing we wanted to do was take a chance of her getting caught and something messing up that summit meeting. And the minute Reagan's plane -- the wheels were up on his plane to leave Iceland -- the order went to Parchee to go in. And that was one case after she had done her work and she was starting to leave that people on board describe this "ping" off the side of the submarine.

And some Soviet ship had found her there. And this was one case where another decoy submarine rushed in and created a lot of noise and the Soviets chased her and the Parchee got away.

GROSS: What do you think might have happened if one of the communications espionage submarines were actually captured by the Soviets? Do you think like a war would have broken out after that?

SONTAG: You know, the men were told that they would never be captured. That's what the self-destruct charges were all about. And we used to wonder as we were writing whether or not this could have started World War III. This could have derailed detente. It could have done a lot of things.

But the bottom line is it never did. And it's very strange because there was a collision between two of our subs -- (unintelligible) and a Soviet sub -- where each side left thinking that they had sunk the other. Ultimately, the Soviets realized the U.S. sub was still up. But we never did realize that the Soviet sub was up.

And that didn't start a war even though the collision was terrible and people almost died. And it seemed that because so much of this was so hidden and that there was an incident, it was easy to keep a secret and it wasn't something that was made public. That both sides held back in ways that they didn't always another arenas in the spy program. So it's -- I think in the end we came to the conclusion that it would have been highly unlikely that war would have broken out over this.

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guests are the two authors of a new book called "Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage." My guests are journalists and Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew. We'll talk more after we take a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guests are journalists Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, authors of the new book "Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage." And it's about submarine espionage during the Cold War.

You know, you have these instances of American subs chasing, tracking Soviet subs that had nuclear missiles on them. I'm wondering if there were ever any near collisions of subs that had nuclear missiles on them or ever any near catastrophes with nuclear missiles that you found out about in the research for your book.

DREW: Well, Terry, there were a couple of things that happened. In the days when the Soviets were first sending their missile subs to sea in the 1960s, and it became a big priority to trail them and see where they were going so that we could take them out if a war happened. One of the first missions like that was a huge success.

One of our submarines followed a Soviet missile sub for 47 days all through the Atlantic and learned exactly where it was going to hide and taped it's sounds by hanging very close to it.

I mean, if you can picture two cars going down the Interstate one right behind the other for a long time, and you're in the rear car and you can't see the other guy in front of you, you're just listening to these sonar sounds to try to interpret how he's moving -- and really that's sort of where the name "Blind Man's Bluff" comes from, for the book.

It was highly dangerous. So the first time it was done in a big way it was a huge success. So every other sub captain who came out there wanted to do the same thing and get a medal from the president which that first boat had gotten. And what do you know, the very next year there's three collisions between American and Soviet subs.

And over the years there were 12 to 15 collisions. And it would happen in just that way -- they would be very close to each other. They would be trying to learn everything they could about each other. One would turn one way, somebody would miss interpret it as they were listening on the sonar headset or watching on a computer screen that gave a sense of what the sounds were indicating.

And now when you go back and talk to both sides, because we had a researcher in Russia do a lot of course, whose fault a given collision was -- depends on which side you're asking. But it was that kind of blind world, and it was very dangerous. And there were a lot of times were these subs just smashed right into each other.

GROSS: Were there ever any lost nuclear weapons in the sea?

DREW: Most of the submarines that had collisions were carrying some type of nuclear weapons, either nuclear missiles or nuclear tipped torpedoes. The one case where one of the Soviet missile subs sank in the late 1960s -- a Gulf submarine that had three ballistic missiles that had been targeted against United States -- was one of the big episodes of this whole submarine battle.

Because we were able to detect where the submarine was lost, and it was very clear that the Soviets had no idea where they had lost their submarine. And this gave rise to one of the biggest missions of the whole Cold War, the effort to raise this Soviet sub. Because we wanted to try to recover these missiles and some of the encoded transmitters for communications.

And one of the fascinating things that we have in the book is that the Soviet sub was located by one of our special projects submarines, The Halibut, and it dangled cameras 20,000 feet deep in the Pacific Ocean. Basically just dangled them on elevator cable with laser lights and took 22,000 photographs of this sunken submarine on the bottom of the ocean.

A few of the photographs had also had pictures of the skeleton of one of the Soviet sailors lying on the sea bed nearby. And it was just his -- it's his stark white bones, still wearing his foul weather jacket and his boots. And these pictures were shown to President Nixon.

And that's what gave rise to an effort that has been reported in the past, where the CIA enlisted Howard Hughes, the eccentric billionaire, as a cover story to build a huge ship that was going to try to recover this Soviet submarine.

SONTAG: It was also a very famous failure because the Navy, all along, wanted to just recover maybe the code books, maybe a missile warhead by sending down a small submersible. The CIA, in a massive move of one upmanship, made this effort to build this enormous crane laden ship called the (unintelligible) Explorer -- reached down and grabbed the entire sub. And of course, it fell apart en route. And everything that the Navy thought would be of value was lost.

GROSS: Now the men who worked on these submarines were sworn to secrecy. This was top secret stuff. How did you get them to talk with you -- because they're still sworn to secrecy. There's no statute of limitations that has expired on that.

DREW: No. Actually, as they would go out on these missions -- each time they'd go out they would have to sign security oaths that basically -- where they promised not to talk for 25, 30 years about anything they had done. And it was very hard going for us.

We started in the early 1990s and the Cold War was still very fresh. And it was hard to get people to talk. We traveled all over the country. We interviewed hundreds of people. A lot of people wouldn't talk. Sometimes the naval investigative service, when they heard we were in an area talking to people, would call people particularly ones who had been on these cable tapping boats and tell them not to talk. Remind them of their oath.

But over time, not only the men on the boats, but also lots of high-level intelligence officials and White House officials from different time frames just came to feel that it's about time the public knew what went on. It's about time that some of these men got credit for the risks they took.

And it's really -- even they recognize that in the middle of a crisis situation, a period like the Cold War where there's a huge foe and things need to be secret, that there comes a time like now when you've got to be able to pull up and the public's got to be able to evaluate what went on.

Because we know another secretive period is going to come later. And so there were enough people at high-level as well as low who came to feel that we were able to dig out the story.

GROSS: Our submarine program was a very expensive program and the people who worked on those subs were very brave. Was it a very productive program? Did we get a lot out of it finally?

DREW: We went into this book -- into the research on it -- feeling very skeptical about that question. We were concerned -- I mean, so little had come out and we'd heard about some of these collisions and these subs hanging off the Soviet coast. And we went in really thinking we were going to find a bunch of stories about a bunch of cowboys just playing games and acting like fighter jocks and having a good time.

In the end we were persuaded -- I mean, you can never really know because we don't have access to all the information that was gathered. But in the end after meeting so many of these men, and when you stop and realize that once the Soviets did have submarines that were hiding in the ocean with missiles on them and pointed at New York, Washington and all our other cities, we had to have some means of tracking them -- some means of learning what they could do and where they were going.

And this was really the only way to do it. And so in that sense we came to feel that, in the end, it was a worthwhile program.

SONTAG: We also came to feel that they did a really good job.

GROSS: Now that the Cold War is over, what is our submarine fleet being used for?

DREW: Well, we're still using the submarines for general surveillance, just like we did during the Cold War. It's just that the setting has changed. We'll occasionally still send submarines off of Russia to keep an eye on what the remaining submarines that they have are doing. Which these days is mostly just sitting in port or sitting close to home.

But you'll mainly find submarines now every time there's a crisis in Iraq or some Middle Eastern hot spot, submarines are there off the coast gathering intelligence. Usually being kind of a scouting party before the aircraft carriers and the other ships and planes go in.

GROSS: Do the Russians still have a lot of submarines?

DREW: They still have a lot of them. Although they don't have the money to operate them. One of the cruel ironies for the Soviets was that they finally, in the late '80s, were learning how to make good quiet submarines that rivaled ours in quality. But that's about when they ran out of money. And so they only made a few that were pretty good.

Basically, the bigger threat right now from Russia is not what Russia does with its own subs, but Russia has been selling a lot of high quality sophisticated diesel submarines, that are very quiet in their operation, to countries like Iran and China. And that's a more potent threat in certain ways right now. It's not that there's that many of them. It's not that the Iranians particularly are known for their seamanship.

But for instance, the Iranian admirals have said, we can take three of these Russian diesel submarines and we could use them to block the Strait of Hormuz and block the West oil supply if we really get provoked. And in truth, they could probably do a decent job of that for some period of time before we would be able to get in and take them out.

So there's not the grand, you know, huge navies facing off the way there was in the Cold War anymore. The foes out there now are fairly rag tag, but in limited areas like that there could be a threat from other submarines.

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

DREW: Well, thank you.

SONTAG: Thank you.

GROSS: Christopher Drew and Sherry Sontag are the authors of the bestseller, "Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew
High: Journalists Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew. They are the authors of the new book, "Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage." The two spent six years researching secret submarine missions like how the Navy sent submarines wired with self-destruct charges into Soviet waters to tap crucial underwater telephone cables. Sontag covered government and international affairs for the National Law Journal and has worked at "The New York Times." Drew is a special projects editor at "The New York Times."
Spec: Arms Control; Defense; War; Weapons; World Affairs; Ships; Military; Nuclear Weapons; Sherry Sontag; Christopher Drew

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew

Date: FEBRUARY 09, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 020902NP.217
Head: Galen Cranz
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

It's nice to take a load off those aching feet and sit down, but sitting may just give you an aching back. Lots of chairs aren't well designed and they force us to sit in slumping postures that will eventually get us in trouble.

My guest Galen Cranz is the author of the new book "The Chair." She's a professor at the University of California at Berkeley specializing in the sociology of architecture. She's also a long time student of the Alexander technique, a system of posture and movement that is often part of the course of study for actors and musicians.

I asked Cranz why she wanted to examine chairs.

GALEN CRANZ, PROFESSOR OF ARCHITECTURE, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELEY; AUTHOR, "THE CHAIR: RETHINKING CULTURE, BODY, AND DESIGN": Well, there's a personal component to this, and that is that I actually have my own serious back problems. And that's what brought me to the Alexander technique in the first place.

And then I began to feel that I wanted to train to become a teacher, but that was a huge commitment of time. And so then I got pragmatic and I was trying to think of a topic where the body and the environment come together. And I could think there's -- of tools, clothes and then furniture. But furniture is clearly more architectural.

And then the chair is the quintessential piece of furniture. It's anthropomorphic. It's got arms and a back and a seat and legs. And moreover, every architect of the 20th century, or almost every architect, has tried his or her hand at designing one.

So it was a topic that I knew would be a good bridge between the world of environmental design and body consciousness.

GROSS: Now you point out in your book that we may think, we may feel that a chair is very comfortable even though it's actually hurting us.

CRANZ: That's right.

GROSS: I think I learned that one the hard way. I guess one example would be that overstuffed easy chair.

CRANZ: Right.

GROSS: What's -- it always seemed so appealing. What is basically not very good about one of those big overstuffed easy chairs?

CRANZ: Well, the problem with the easy chair is that your flesh takes on a load-bearing function for which it's not designed. Weight should be transferred down through the bones. When you compress flesh and give it this inappropriate weight-bearing function you compress all the small capillaries, and that means that you're not taking nutrients to the cells and you're not getting waste matter away from the cells appropriately.

And so you get tired in the long run. It's fatiguing to have toxins build up in the flesh. That's why airplanes are tiring, that's one of the many reasons they are tiring, and the soft chairs, in the end, become very fatiguing. And so I end up promoting a much firmer, flatter kind of surface.

And incidentally, going back to a much older definition of comfort, instead of ease I like to hearken back to the original Latin meaning of the term which was "to strengthen." As to strengthen someone in time of distress.

GROSS: Now before we talk more about chairs, I'd like you to talk about why you think sitting isn't really all that great in the first place.

CRANZ: Well, there are particular things about sitting that are problematic, and then there is the general idea of holding any position for any length of time. Any position held for a length of time is difficult, because as a species I don't think we're designed for stasis.

We have ball and socket joints. We don't have any flat places where we line up and can just quit working except when we're lying down of course. So chair sitting has become problematic because we sit so long in chairs in our lives, and we have so many chairs to choose from: from cars to dining tables to work to entertainment and so forth and so on.

But in particular then, this posture -- the classical right angle seated posture is problematic, because when the legs are at a 90 degree relation to the spine the muscles behind the thighs that wrap around and tuck into the pelvis at the back pull the pelvis backwards. And that flattens the lumbar curve.

And when you flatten that curve you've distorted the elongated "S" shape of the spine which makes it easy for us to sit upright. Like if you imagine a "C" and you put weight on...

GROSS: ...a letter "C."

CRANZ: Yeah, the letter "C."

GROSS: Mmm-hmm.

CRANZ: And you put weight on that, it collapses pretty easily. But if you imagine an "S," the letter "S," and put a weight on top of that it's harder to collapse. So we need that the elongated "S," and the chair flattens and takes away that lower curve. So that's its major detriment, but there are a whole lot of other problems that are associated with chair sitting.

GROSS: Just so we can call envision this, when you're talking about the "S" shape of the spine where is the top of the "S," where is the bottom of the "S?"

CRANZ: Well, the neck would be the very top of the "S." And then you'd come down through the middle of the back and there's a curve, and then there's an inner curve coming forward at the small of the back. And then the sacrum and the tail bone come back again so there is this double -- set of double curves in the spine.

GROSS: And you lose that when you just slump over in a chair.

CRANZ: That's right. And chairs pretty much encourage you to slump. And then, see, the ergonomics people come in and say, OK, we don't want them to do that so we'll force their lower -- their lumbar curve -- we'll force their lower back forward by having lumbar support. And that's their the big claim to fame.

But the fact of the matter is that the stress is still there, muscularly, pulling the lower back back and flattening that curve. So it's much more efficient to simply drop the knees substantially lower than the hip sockets, and then the work of sitting upright is distributed more evenly in the front and back of the spine and the top and bottom of the spine.

And the lumbar curve is retained naturally, and that's -- I call that the perch position. Halfway between sitting in standing.

GROSS: Now, the lumbar curve is that curve right above your behind.

CRANZ: Right. The place where it dips in. You want that.

GROSS: Where do you think the back support on the back of a chair should be?

CRANZ: Well, here's where I'm kind of radical. I think we don't really need back support. If we sit high enough, well more than 18 inches, so that our -- with our feet still flat on the ground, and what that does is it gives you this -- puts the thighs at an oblique relationship to the spine instead of 90 degrees.

And when you've got that, which I call a perch, you actually want to sit higher than the standard 18 inches. But the virtue of that is then your lumbar -- your pelvis is appropriately rolled forward. The lumbar curve is preserved and you don't need back support because it's easy to sit upright.

And the fact is that when we do forward oriented tasks like writing and typing and keyboarding and reading and eating; we don't lean back and we shouldn't lean back. So the chair back is actually this great myth that's been created, but if we just would go to a perch position we don't even need chair backs except for real lounges. And that's another story.

GROSS: How often do you sit in a perch position?

CRANZ: Almost all the time. I eat exclusively in that position. And for years, I didn't know why, in my kitchen island I wanted to take all my meals there. And I never wanted to sit at the dining room table. And finally, when I sorted out all this physiology I realized why I had so -- I had felt so much more comfortable at my island. So I sit -- I perch all the time.

GROSS: Now a lot of ergonomic chairs have arm rests on them. I have a very ambivalent relationship with arm rests. I like to lean on them, but I realize when I'm leaning on them I'm usually like tilting off to one side and putting much more stress on one side of the body than the other. And certainly not sitting up straight. So what is your impression of arm rests?

CRANZ: Well, I understand for people who do a lot of data inputting, where their arms are held in the same position all the time, that they can be useful. But my earliest readings about arm rest research said that really they only transfer about four percent of the weight down to the ground.

And so they are not really all that useful. I've also heard them defended on the grounds that they are useful for weaker or older people to haul themselves up or push themselves up. But personally I'd rather people invest in learning how to strengthen their torsos and their bodies rather than relying so exclusively on the chair.

Because the more we use these supports, whether it's the chair back or the arm rest, the weaker we get and then the more we need the support. And that makes us -- the more we use the support, the weaker our musculature becomes. And so it's a vicious cycle, and I'd like to stop it and encourage people to view sitting as a more -- somewhat more athletic or certainly a more conscious activity.

GROSS: My guest is Galen Cranz, author of the new book "The Chair." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Galen Cranz, author of "The Chair."

A few years ago those kneeling chairs seemed to be very popular. And these were chairs -- why don't you describe them?

CRANZ: Well, the kneeling chair was invented about 30 years ago by some Norwegians who wanted to take advantage of this -- the new physiological research demonstrated that it's much less stressful to the back to stand or sit in this perch position -- the 135 degree relationship between the thigh and the spine.

So they said, OK, how can we take advantage of this? We'll design this -- we'll have this forward slope on the seat that rotates the pelvis forward and creates this beneficial relationship. But -- and this chair has been called the most radical chair of the 20th century, with good reason, because it doesn't even have a chair back. But it's still called a chair.

But here's the conservative part. They recognize what you pointed out, that if you're going to perch you're going to have to change the height of everything. And so they wanted to figure out how to lower height of the seated person so that you can still use the standard tables and desks.

And so they bent the leg in order to lower the body in space and have you rest on your knee. And the problem with that though is that a lot of people experience difficulties with pressure on the knee, and the feet are not flat on the floor any longer, so you lose the proprioceptive feedback from the soles of the feet.

So I think that they're interesting. They were a move in the right direction. Unfortunately in this country, the Taiwanese knock-offs that were very very cheap used a flat runner instead of a rounded runner on the bottom, so they become very static. You don't get movement and rocking in the pelvis that you do in the original Norwegian ones.

But the Norwegian one's cost 250 or 240, and the knock-offs were 40 bucks. So the knock-offs really knocked the good Norwegian ones out of our market entirely. So we really don't have very much experience with the good ones.

GROSS: Since chairs usually come one size fits all and many of us don't fit that size, what are some of the things that we can carry around with us so that we can quickly customize whatever chair we land in?

CRANZ: Well, sometimes carrying a book around is useful because you can put it in the seat to raise yourself up so that you can get to a perch position if you want, or you can use the same book on the floor as a foot stool if you're trying to sit in the right angle way.

I carry around a backboard that my Alexander teacher designed, and I use that on airplanes especially to take the swale out of those seats. I use them in railroads and also I take them to movie theaters to take the excess swale out of those seats.

So you can buy a backboard and carry it around with you, but so far I haven't found a really neat one that folds in half and it becomes as small as a book. So sometimes I think a book is handier.

GROSS: Mmm-hmm.

CRANZ: Wrapped, often, in a towel or something. A paperback book has got about the right softness for me usually.

GROSS: Now if you're sitting in a perch position, which means you are sitting higher up than your average chair would place you, how have you raised things on your desk? Did you have a different desk built or have you just raised things up?

CRANZ: I just raised everything up. The secret of my success is that I take that perch position and rotate it horizontally, and guess what that looks like? A lounge chair. And I actually do all my computing from a lounge chair.

GROSS: Lying on your back?

CRANZ: Semi-supine. A lounge chair -- if you take that perch position and rotate it horizontally, you see your head is still up and your knees are up. Can you imagine that without the benefit of graphics?

GROSS: Yeah.

CRANZ: If you just -- if you take your hands and make kind of a perch look and then rotate in space, you get a lounge chair. It's just a kind of neat coincidence that this open thigh to spine relationship in zero gravity -- in outer space, the NASA people call this position the "neutral body posture" because that's what happens when there's no stress on your body at all. That's the shape it goes into.

And interestingly enough, in the martial arts that's called the "horse." because it gives you stability and ability to move in any direction. And in the Alexander technique it's called the "position of mechanical advantage."

Well, you take that position on the vertical and then rotate it to the horizontal and boom, it's a lounge chair with that same open relationship between the thigh and the spine.

So why not work in that position? So I do with my computer on a monitor so that it swings around in front of me to the right eye level.

GROSS: Now you teach, so your students are expected to sit there during your lectures, which are how long?

CRANZ: They vary from an hour -- you know, the 50 minute hour to an hour and a half.

GROSS: That's a long time to sit.

CRANZ: It is.

GROSS: So do you give your students breaks to get up and move?

CRANZ: Yes, and I give them permission to lie on the floor too. And that caused some controversy in my department, because I teach in a large auditorium for my large lecture class, anyway. And the seats are movable and so I proposed to my students after I give them the introductory lecture on chairs, that they can have the option of sitting on the floor if they stack up some of the chairs and get them out of the way, and they can be on the carpet.

And they like that. And some of them choose that option. But the professors who come in afterwards get upset because they don't want their students sitting on the floor because they think that's a sign of disrespect or not paying attention.

GROSS: You said you give your permission to students to lie down.

CRANZ: Yeah.


CRANZ: Well, if they want to lie down to watch slides or if they want to lie down to listen that's fine with me. They can take notes -- they can sit up and take notes. They can lie down when there's nothing to take notes on. I mean, they should have the choice as to how they use their bodies to learn.

We now know, in fact, that learning in the brain -- learning is very closely aligned with movement. So we actually need -- see, the unspoken curriculum of grade school -- the first thing you learn when you go to kindergarten is how to sit still in a chair.

And I think we need to rethink education so that we figure out how to teach subject matter in relation to movement. We actually need to rethink our whole curriculum and the way we teach. And so I'm trying to practice that in my own university.

GROSS: I would like you to choose the chair in the public part of your life that is the bane of your existence.

CRANZ: Oh, probably those plastic molded chairs.

GROSS: Those fiberglass ones?


GROSS: From the '50s and '60s?

CRANZ: Yes. I think those from the other -- probably the worst. Because they assume only one kind of body. And if you have any deviation from that little pear shape that they've melded in there -- molded in there, you're miserable. And they don't give -- they don't give you planes on which to open your rib cage against or, you see, flat surfaces are actually better for you than the so-called organic curvy ones.

Because the flat surface gives your rib cage something to open out against or your pelvic wings -- your sit bones actually want to open out against a firm surface so that your pelvis, your hips -- those wings, those bones at the side -- so that they open and the whole pelvic basin becomes larger.

You want to become larger internally because you want more room for your organs. We in the West don't think much about organ health. The Chinese -- in Chinese medical theory organ health is actually primary. And it is important that we don't sit in a collapsed bag and compress our organs.

And that's one of the other bad things about chairs is that when we do collapse and lean back and slump and so forth we're not doing the lungs, the heart, the stomach, the guts, and all those other organs any favor. We're constricting their circulation.

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

CRANZ: Thank you. My pleasure.

GROSS: Galen Cranz is the author of "The Chair." She's a Professor of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Galen Cranz
High: Galen Cranz is a Professor of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. She's the author of the new book, "The Chair: Rethinking Culture Body and Design."
Spec: Lifestyle; Culture; Education; Galen Cranz

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Galen Cranz

Date: FEBRUARY 09, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 020903NP.217
Head: Ed Ward
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Jonathan Demme's new film, "Storefront Hitchcock," is a documentary of a show by Robyn Hitchcock, one of the more eccentric British songwriters. Our rock historian Ed Ward is going to take us back to the '70s and the short wonderful career of an early Hitchcock band called The Soft Boys.


Feel like asking a tree for an autograph
And I feel like making love to a photograph
Photographs don't smell
Give it to the soft boys

Soft boys
Well I told you babe

ED WARD, ROCK HISTORIAN: There are some bands which exist out of the time in which they're active. The Velvet Underground is a famous example. And no doubt there are one or two at the moment.

The Soft Boys certainly filled the bill during their five years of existence. Robyn Hitchcock had been writing songs since childhood, and from what we know about his parents, it could be said that a kind of British eccentricity not only ran, but galloped in his family.

But he grew up in Cambridge, which is tolerant of such things, and began performing in folk clubs which led to his hooking up with some other players who were known as Dennis and The Experts.

It was 1977, the beginning of punk's do it yourself ethos, and the band recorded an EP called "Give it to the Soft Boys" after one of the songs. To say the least, it really stood out.


Hear my brain a coming
Down your Sunday track
Ever since I went away
I been wishing I was black

Oh yeah
Wish I was black

WARD: It's very unlikely they heard Television, which is what the beginning of "Hear My Brain" sounds like. But it's a fair bet they knew Johnny Cash. And with this, The Experts became The Soft Boys. Since this was a time when anybody could do anything the band was quickly snapped up by Radar Records, which also had Elvis Costello, and released a single called "I Want to Be An Angle Poised Lamp" which, predictably, sank without a trace in 1978.

Radar then canceled a proposed album which they had already started recording. That was OK with the band, they didn't think they were ready. What changed them was the addition of guitarist Kimberly Rue (ph) from an unsuccessful Cambridge band called The Waves.

With the release in late 1978 of an album called "A Can of Bees" on their own label, it was obvious something was happening.


(Lyrics unintelligible)

WARD: Heaven knows with songs like "Leppo and the Jews" (ph) were about, but the band had a sound and, weird as it was it was, it was a pop sound.


Well you were the one
That made me feel so natural
Right between your lips
Just like a piece of toast

Though you treated me
As more than just an animal
Because you knew that I could
Always be your toast

Have a heart
Have a heart
Have a heart Betty

WARD: "Have a Heart Betty I'm Not Fireproof" was a breakthrough. Hitchcock's insane lyrics were wed to amazing pop hooks. And, insane though they might be, they were also evocative.


Just walking down the street
Me I'm just invisible
And what she wants
It makes no difference to me

People asking me
To turn them into
That's what my fate would be

But I'm insanely jealous of you
Yeah I'm insanely jealous of you
Night is black and thick
I wander past your window

And I catch a cigarette
Comes on pretty quick
I'm feeling like a crocodile

In search of a mirage
Across the undulating sand
But I'm insanely jealous
Of the people that you know

And I'm insanely jealous
Of the places that you go
And I'm insanely jealous of you
Yeah I'm insanely jealous of you

WARD: But by the time they released their masterpiece, the album "Underwater Moonlight" in 1980, nobody in Britain was paying attention. Fifty percent of their record sales were in America where bands like R.E.M. heard a kindred spirit.


I want to destroy you
I want to destroy you
I want to destroy you
I want to destroy you

I feel it coming on again

WARD: Despite a small but loyal audience in London, and with no way to capitalize on their American success since no U.S. label had picked them up, the band fell apart. Or rather Kimberly Rue left to revive The Waves. Who, as Katrina and the Waves, had some international pop hits in mid-decade.

Hitchcock dubbed the remaining aggregation The Egyptians, and continues to record to this day. Still, there are some of us who feel that the real magic was with The Soft Boys, and too late, we missed them.

GROSS: Ed Ward currently lives in Berlin.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Ed Ward
High: Rock historian Ed Ward tell us about the great lost British band the Soft Boys.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Music Industry; Robyn Hitchcock; The Soft Boys; Ed Ward

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Ed Ward
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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