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Remembering Congressman Charlie Wilson.

Rep. Charlie Wilson died this week at 76. Fresh Air remembers the brash Texas Democrat, who was best known for secretly arming the Afghan mujahedeen against Soviet troops in the 1980s. In 2003, both Wilson and George Crile, author of Charlie Wilson's War, spoke to Fresh Air about the covert operation.

20:53

Other segments from the episode on February 12, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 12, 2010: Obituary for Charlie Wilson; Interview with Carol Leifer; Review of Franco's albums "Francophonic: A Retrospective Vol. 1 1953-1980" and "Francophonic:…

Transcript

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Remembering Congressman Charlie Wilson

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for tvworthwatching.com,
sitting in for Terry Gross.

The war in the 1980s between the Afghan fighters known as the Mujahedeen and
the invading Soviet army transformed the world. The Afghans won with arms and
training supplied covertly by the CIA, and their victory contributed to the
fall of communism.

But the American backing of the Afghan jihad led to many unintended
consequences, which America continues to face today in Afghanistan, Pakistan
and Iraq.

Charlie Wilson, the colorful, persuasive and persistent Texas congressman who
was behind the billions of dollars funneled to the CIA to support the Afghan
rebels, died Wednesday after suffering a heart attack. He was 76 years old.

The story of American support of the Afghan rebels was told by journalist
George Crile in his 2003 book, "Charlie Wilson's War." In 2007, Hollywood made
a film of the same name. Today, we'll listen back to Terry's interviews with
the real Charlie Wilson and with author George Crile, who described our
country's support of the mujahedeen as the biggest and most successful CIA
covert campaign in history. George Crile died in 2006 at the age of 61, after
suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Charlie Wilson was an unlikely figure to back a so-called holy war. His
reputation in Congress was as a seemingly corrupt, alcoholic, scandal-prone
womanizer. Let's start with a scene from the movie version of "Charlie Wilson's
War." Tom Hanks plays the title role, and Philip Seymour Hoffman co-stars as
CIA operative Gust Avrakotos.

As we'll hear from George Crile, it was Avrakotos who got Wilson to focus on a
program of covert support for the Afghan rebels. In this scene, Wilson and
Avrakotos are having a drink in the congressman's office. The first person to
speak is Charlie Wilson.

(Soundbite of film, "Charlie Wilson's War")

Mr. TOM HANKS (Actor): (As Charlie Wilson) Do you drink?

Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (Actor): (As Gust Avrakotos) Oh, God yeah.

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) Well, should we try this scotch, or is going to release
sarin gas when I open it?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Avrakotos) I don't think so, but open it over there.

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) How did a guy like you get into the agency?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Avrakotos) What, you mean a street guy?

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) You ain't James Bond.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Avrakotos) You ain't Thomas Jefferson. So let's call it even.

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) It's a deal.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Avrakotos) Since there's no other reason I should be here,
let's assume because I'm very good at this.

BIANCULLI: A scene from "Charlie Wilson's War." Later in this half hour, we'll
hear Terry's interview with the real Charlie Wilson, but we'll start with
George Crile. Terry spoke with Crile in 2003, when his book on Charlie Wilson
was published.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Now, Charlie Wilson managed to get a lot of money from the CIA for arming the
Mujahedeen. It's - how did he, as a congressman, manage to make that connection
with the CIA?

Mr. GEORGE CRILE (Author, "Charlie Wilson's War"): With great difficulty. The
CIA, at all costs, wanted to avoid having anything to do with him. They felt
that he was a cocaine-sniffing, scandal-prone, skirt-chasing danger, you know,
probably the most notorious, wildest man of Congress at the time. And their
reaction when he came into their lives offering to increase their budget to
fight a secret war in Afghanistan was to look with absolute horror at such an
offer. They felt with friends like that we, you know, we need no enemies.

And what ensued was a knock-down, drag-out fight, but it was only possible
because of the curiosities of Congress and his position on the Appropriations
Committee.

GROSS: How important was he on the Appropriations Committee? And how did that
help him?

Mr. CRILE: What you have is with the Appropriations Committee, where the money
is actually spent, when you drop it down to the Defense Appropriations
Subcommittee, you will have 11 people in the House responsible ultimately for
deciding how much money the Pentagon gets, the NSA, the CIA, all the
intelligence agencies. And Charlie Wilson was one of those 11.

GROSS: Now, he finally had an ally in the CIA. Who was the ally?

Mr. CRILE: A most unexpected character named Gust Avrakotos. By the time that
Wilson met him, he was – he was both had a very distinguished history at the
CIA as a kind of - I call him the blue-collar James Bond - but also a person
who had alienated most everybody. And he was very, very distressed with what he
thought were the bureaucratic cowardice that had come over the CIA and the
domination of the agency by lawyers.

And what happened in this case is that Avrakotos, who had been making his way
in a very dramatic and bizarre fashion to a position in the Afghan task force,
had encountered Wilson's attempt to force the CIA into a larger war. And
without telling any of his superiors, he took off in a car, went down to
Congress and entered Wilson's office, completely unauthorized, and confronted
him, confronted him with the challenge that if you think you want to fight the
Russians and kill the Russians more than me, you're crazy. And he did it in
such a way that that made Charlie feel that maybe he might physically attack
him. He's a really tough customer.

And from that moment on, the two of them began to engage in a partnership and
what amounts to down-and-dirty plotting to figure out how with Avrakotos'
information of what things - how things happen in the CIA and what Wilson
should say using his power on the Appropriations Committee - how they could put
the CIA into a box where it had no choice but to accept stunning amounts of
money that they didn't want to spend. Terry, can I give you a context here?

GROSS: Sure.

Mr. CRILE: You know, if you think back to that time, when this story begins,
right after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas of 1979, just
about a month later the Afghans are a lost cause. And the terrible scenes that
were broadcast around the world of the Afghans beginning to flee their country
and the beginnings of what came to be called a genocidal war were very evident,
and there was nothing really that they could do to change the picture. They
just had World War I rifles and hunting rifles and this ferocious fighting
spirit and conviction.

But at that moment they had nothing really that could help them, other than, as
in a fairy tale, they needed a heroic figure to emerge out of somewhere and
magically come to their rescue, and there was such a person, curiously. But at
that moment he was stepping into a hot tub in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace in
the fantasy suite with two naked women with cocaine in their purses.

And it is so odd to think that this is the man, Charlie Wilson, Congressman
Charlie Wilson, who will get himself out of the hot tub and pull himself
together in about a year and a half after this, discover the Afghans, discover
this cause, and for a period of about five years he will emerge as the
centerpiece in the biggest and meanest and most successful CIA campaign in
history and will be responsible for giving and making possible a total victory
for the – for militant Islam in the greatest jihad of modern history.

GROSS: Was the CIA very interested in supporting the Afghans? I mean, you talk
in your book about how this was one war in which the real enemy, the way they
saw it, the real enemy, the Soviets, could actually be directly engaged. It
wasn't a war with Soviet proxies; it was a war with the Soviets themselves. Was
that very appealing to the CIA?

Mr. CRILE: Yes and no, but mainly no in that they didn't want to do it in the
way that Wilson and Avrakotos ultimately forced them to do it.

GROSS: Too risky?

Mr. CRILE: Yeah, much too risky. I mean, what had happened, by that year, or by
that time in the early 1980s, the CIA had more or less established a pattern of
conduct where they were engaged in endless war.

It was almost as if it was viewed as permanent campaigns on the fringes to
contain the Soviets. And the one thing they didn't want to do is to take on any
kind of provocative campaigns that could escalate into some unforeseen drama.

And in the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, they had no choice but to use
General Zia, the military dictator of Pakistan, presidency in Pakistan, as the
base of operations. And it was provocative because the United States for the
very first time was supporting anti-communist guerrillas who were moving to
kill Soviet soldiers.

And that had - curiously, it had never happened in the Cold War. It was the
very first time that the United States actually set out to kill our enemy, to
mount operations designed to kill Russians.

GROSS: Were there any concerns in Congress or in the CIA or in the Reagan
administration that the United States was going to be arming Islamic
fundamentalists with high-tech weapons, training these warriors how to use the
weapons, while knowing that a lot of the Islamic fundamentalists hated the
United States, they didn't just hate the Soviets?

Mr. CRILE: There was certainly a good deal of concern inside the CIA in the
early years, when Charlie Wilson was trying to force them to escalate this war.
And one of their perfectly understandable concerns was that. You know: What
happens afterward? What are the unintended consequences? Is it a good idea to
make this a huge war? Would it provoke a Pakistani – or an attack by the Red
Army, the Russians, on Pakistan? What consequences could that have? What are we
going to do with all these Muslim fundamentalists? How many - what kind of
weapons, what kind of training is appropriate to give to them?

And all of those questions were very real and part of the initial battle that
the CIA waged to try to prevent this massive escalation, but the truth is once
they got into it, once they lost the battle with Charlie Wilson and the secret
partner, Gust Avrakotos, helping him from within the CIA, once they lost it,
and the money started to flow in, and the war started to escalate, and the tide
started to turn, the CIA became absolutely giddy and thrilled at this battle
because it was the first time that they were actually setting out to kill the
enemy, to engage him in a winner-take-all battle.

And no one thought that this was possible to win, but they increasingly came to
think it would be. And then it happened, and for the longest time this was
viewed as the great triumph of the CIA in the last campaign of the Cold War.

GROSS: George Crile, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. CRILE: Thank you, Terry.

BIANCULLI: George Crile, author of the book "Charlie Wilson's War," speaking to
Terry Gross in 2003. Crile died three years later at age 61. Coming up, a
conversation with the real Charlie Wilson, who died Wednesday. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Charlie Wilson, the Texas congressman who helped
end the Cold War with his persistent efforts in the 1980s to aid the Afghan
rebels in their fight against the Soviets, died Wednesday of a heart attack. He
was 76 years old.

In the 2007 movie, "Charlie Wilson's War," Tom Hanks played the congressman.
Julia Roberts co-starred as a conservative, fiercely anti-communist Texas
socialite.

(Soundbite of film, "Charlie Wilson's War")

Ms. JULIA ROBERTS (Actor): (As Joanne Herring): So unless I'm wrong, and that
would be unusual for me, you sit at the intersection of the State Department,
the Pentagon and the CIA. You meet in a sound-proof room underneath the
Capitol, and you preside over a secret and unlimited budget for the three
agencies you would need to conduct a covert war. Isn't that right?

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) I also have seats at the Kennedy Center.

Ms. ROBERTS: (As Herring) Isn't that how you were able to double the CIA budget
for black approps in Afghanistan just by saying so?

Mr. HANDS: (As Wilson) Why are you only asking me questions you already know
the answers to?

Ms. ROBERTS: (As Herring) Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?

Mr. HANDS: (As Wilson) Well, it's tradition mostly.

BIANCULLI: In 2003, Terry Gross spoke with the real Charlie Wilson, who took on
the Afghan rebels' cause as his own and became one of the leading figures
behind their covert funding. She asked him why he felt so strongly about the
Afghan cause.

Representative CHARLIE WILSON (Democrat, Texas): I was outraged, of course,
Christmas of 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan for no reason
other than simple aggression. And I thought that, well, this will just be
another case of six weeks, and they'll pacify the country and kill all the
fighters. And it'll just be another satellite.

But after several months it began to dawn on me that the Afghans, without
weapons, were killing Russian officers in Kabul with knives and stones and
anything they could get their hands on.

And then it became clear to me, and I think this is the most important single
part of this war, it became clear to me that the Afghans had made a decision
themselves, without American or any Western participation, but they had made a
decision themselves to fight till the end if they had to fight with their bare
hands. And I just strongly felt that people that brave, that were that opposed
to being subdued by the evil empire, if you will, that we would be damned by
history if we let them fight with their hands. And so my interest was aroused
there.

And after another few months, I made a trip just to see for myself as much as I
could see along the border there. I had been friendly with Pakistan before
this. And when I visited the hospitals and saw the children with their feet and
hands blown off by the Soviet mines that had been disguised to look like toys
and that sort of thing, I just became radicalized.

GROSS: Now, at the time, you were living a lifestyle very different from the
Afghan mujahedeen. You were hanging out in casinos, hot tubs, relationships
with beauty-pageant queens. Is there an example you can think of, of the most
unusual coming together of cultures, your culture and their culture?

Rep. WILSON: Well, let's see, there certainly wasn't an example that had
anything to do with alcohol, because I didn't do that in front of them. I
suppose the fact that I was single at the time, and I'd been traveling to
exciting and exotic places - you like to have someone to share it with - and so
I suppose the fact that I wasn't married, and they saw me with different
Western girlfriends was a major shock to them, although they never, never gave
any evidence of it. They didn't lift an eyebrow.

GROSS: There's an expression called blowback to describe the unintended
consequences of a war. What surprised you most about the blowback after the
Afghan war with the Soviets?

Rep. WILSON: Well, of course, and I take my full share of the blame, but - and
at the time I didn't realize how serious it was, but the United States, once
the Communist government had fallen, once the Russians had left, we sort of
lost interest, the United States and other Western countries. And because of
that, we created a vacuum.

And Afghans in a vacuum tend to fight each other for power, and there were many
of them that had been radicalized on the Islamic side from their war with the
godless Soviets. So I was - it was largely our responsibility because we should
have stayed there and we should have insisted that they somehow work together.
We should have held out a lot of carrots and more or less forced them to work
together or at least not to go to war with one another. And I was surprised by
that.

The Taliban then, when they really came in and totally filled the vacuum, and
many people in Afghanistan supported the Taliban that did not adhere to their
religious beliefs or to their philosophy but simply because they saw them as
the first chance to have order in 15 or 18 years, to not have war, I was
stunned and totally surprised and felt very badly about it.

GROSS: What went through your mind on September 11th when you heard, you know,
when you found out that it was Islamic fundamentalists who were behind the
attacks?

Rep. WILSON: Well, I was very grievous and devastated, and somehow I knew that
- I felt very badly about that. I didn't feel conscience-stricken. I just felt
sad that – I felt sad that - of the cruelty of the attacks, and again, the
fanaticism of the attacks and the fact that they obviously were coming from
radical Islam people, who I still felt that we were in great debt to many of
for really driving the nail in the coffin of the evil empire. And then to see
them not on our side was a tough nut for me.

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

Rep. WILSON: You bet.

BIANCULLI: Charlie Wilson, speaking with Terry Gross in 2003. The former
Democratic congressman from Texas and the subject of the book and movie
versions of "Charlie Wilson's War" died Wednesday at age 76. I'm David
Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
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Comedian Carol Leifer Looks In The Mirror

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

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

Our next guest is comic, actress and writer Carol Leifer. She started working
the comedy clubs when Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were getting
started, and they became her friends. She later wrote for the NBC series
"Seinfeld" and she's also had her own TV comedy specials. Her memoir, called
"When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win" has just come out in
paperback.

Carol Leifer is 53 years old now. Her book is about a lot of the surprising
changes she made in her life as she got older, like after she turned 40, she
decided she wanted to have a lesbian fling. That first fling turned into a
committed relationship.

Leifer and her partner adopted a son a few years ago, another big surprise,
since until then, Leifer didn't think she wanted to have a child. Her memoir
also is about comedy and how her father helped inspire her to become a comic.

Terry spoke with Carol Leifer last year.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Carol Leifer, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Ms. CAROL LEIFER (Author, "When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win:
Reflections on Looking in the Mirror"): Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Your opening essay in the new book is about your father, who recently
died at the age of 86, and you write that he's the reason you wanted to be
funny, because he was funny. And in this piece, you tell one of the jokes that
he used to tell. It's a, quote, "dirty joke" that you didn't get when you were
a kid. It's such a great joke...

Ms. LEIFER: Yeah.

GROSS: ...so I have to start by asking you to tell it.

Ms. LEIFER: Okay, well, a guy goes to the movies with his pet chicken, and he
buys two tickets, and the person says who's going in with you? And he goes,
well, my pet chicken here. And the ticket person says hey, you can't bring an
animal in the movie theater.

So the guy goes around the corner. He stuffs the chicken down his pants, goes
into the movies. And the movie starts, but the chicken is starting to get a
little hot. So the guy unzips his fly to let the chicken stick his head out and
get a little air.

So a little bit of time has passed by, and a woman nudges her friend and says,
you know, this guy next to me just unzipped his pants. And the woman goes eh,
look. You know, you've seen one, you've seen them all. And the woman goes yeah,
I know, but this one's eating my popcorn.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I love that.

Ms. LEIFER: Yes, hilarity ensues. But I remember as a kid, you know, my father
telling this joke a lot and getting big laughs. And I was young enough that I
didn't really understand it, you know, because all I heard was a chicken and,
you know, a zipper, and it didn't really make sense.

I found out, you know, what the joke meant later, and that just might have been
the thing that pushed me into lesbianism, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Which we'll get to later.

Ms. LEIFER: Yeah, but I really - you know, my father was the king of the joke
tellers, and I was so impressed as a child watching him hold people in rapt
attention with these stories, and it had a big impact on me.

GROSS: So did he actually collect jokes?

Ms. LEIFER: He did. My father, he was the kind of guy that, you know, he's
always, throw out any subject, and I got a joke on it. And he really - one of
the high points of his life was - my mom is a Ph.D. in psychology, and she went
to one of her psychology conventions. And the scheduled entertainment for that
night had cancelled. And the psychologists, knowing that my father was a big
joke-teller, asked if he would mind stepping in and telling some jokes.

And as I hear it, you know, he was thrilled and delighted, and he, I think,
told about a half an hour or 45 minutes of jokes, and he killed, and it was
really a fantastic night for him.

GROSS: Now the essay that was the biggest surprise to me, in your book, is the
one in which you explain that although you'd been married, although you'd
always liked boys, you wanted to have a lesbian fling. And the woman you had
that fling with more than 12 years ago has become your partner. You've since
adopted a son. You have seven rescue dogs together.

So let's start at the beginning of the story.

Ms. LEIFER: Okay.

GROSS: Why, after what being sounds like an enthusiastic heterosexual, did you
decide that you wanted to try being with a woman?

Ms. LEIFER: I don't know what came over me, Terry. It just became this
obsession. I just remember I really wanted to have an affair with a woman. I
remember this movie "Bound" was out at the time.

GROSS: Oh, Gina Gershon, is that the...

Ms. LEIFER: Yes, but I remember there were these sex scenes in "Bound," and I
must have burned through the videotape, I just watched it so much. It just
became something I had to do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: And you know, little did I know that this woman that I would meet
at a charity event, at a Project Angel Food event, would, you know, be the
woman who I had this fling with who I didn't expect I fell madly in love with,
and here we are 12 years later.

GROSS: When you realized that you were actually serious about her and her about
you, and this was going to be a long-lasting relationship, did you have to,
like reorient parts of your identity because now you were in a lesbian
relationship - and a long-term one?

Ms. LEIFER: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You know, so it wasn't about like having your lesbian fling. It was the
real thing.

Ms. LEIFER: No. You know, it was difficult because I did approach this as oh,
you know, my fun, chic lesbian affair. This will be a great story, and I didn't
expect to be captivated and to find myself really so in love in such a
different way. And it was a difficult transition because, you know, it was like
this was supposed to be my fun fling. This was not supposed to be something to
redefine me.

It's a vast transformation. I mean, I have a joke about it in my book that, you
know, I went to gay bookstores for help, you know. Yes, excuse me; do you have
"What the (beep) Just Happened To Me"? Because it is that powerful of a
transformation in your life, and...

GROSS: So what does it say, do you think, that you changed? Do you think you
had, like, repressed feelings about girls when you were younger? Do you think
that you were heterosexual at one time, and that just changed? Do you think
that means you're bisexual or that there's this kind of like shifting scale of
sexuality, and your scale shifted? I mean, do you think of sexuality - the
nature of sexual orientation - differently than you did before?

Ms. LEIFER: I do. I do. I think that what I've learned from the experience is
that our sexuality is constantly evolving and can be a fluid thing.

GROSS: Or at least for some people it can. I mean, I think for some people it
probably can't be...

Ms. LEIFER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...on both ends.

Ms. LEIFER: Yes, but I do think that it really did hit me like a bolt of
lightning, and I'm not an unexamined person. I mean, I've been in therapy most
of my adult life, you know, but I'm not sure.

I mean, I do talk in the book about, you know, my first crush was on Davy Jones
of the Monkees, you know, and I had a lot of powerful feelings for boys, but I
remember as a kid being obsessed with - Herb Alpert had this album cover, and
it was a woman who was naked, who was covered with whipped cream, and I was
really fascinated with it.

And it's like I don't know. Was that some early indication of some attraction
to women? I'm not sure, you know.

GROSS: So how do you tell your parents when you're in your late 30s, you've
been married, that you're actually now a lesbian?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: Well, it was an interesting ride. You know, it had started a little
bit earlier because really, I think three weeks after I met Lori, I had a
breast cancer scare. And I went and had a mammogram. And it was the worst thing
that, you know, a woman expects when you go to have a mammogram, where you
know, usually you're kind of in and out. And it was one of these oh, stick
around, the doctor wants to take more films and then comes back again and take
more films. And you know, I basically left this radiologist's office that day
with - you know, I cornered him as I was leaving. I go, what do you think it
is? And he was like, I think it's 80-20, probably cancer. And I was like, what
are you basing that on? He was like, from 20 years of doing what I do.

And you know, I immediately called Lori. And we'd only been together for three
weeks, you know, even to the point where I wouldn't even have referred to her
as my girlfriend yet, but something in my adrenaline made me reach out to her.
And she was so rock solid to me in that moment, and I think about it a lot
because it had such an impact on me and our relationship.

It was like, you know, breathe and let's get through this, and don't worry
about it, and you know, I really had a day, 24 hours, where I thought I had
cancer. And she was amazing. I mean, she came over to my apartment and brought
a big basket of movies and thought we'd relax and hang out and kind of chill,
but I was like, I need to get drunk. I just want to get drunk. And, you know,
she took me to this great place that we like. She let me get drunk. She drove
me home. And it turned out, you know, the next day I spoke to the doctor, and
it was a fibroadenoma, which is a non-cancerous tumor.

But I had to go - I went back to New York to have this fibroadenoma out, and
Lori came with me. And we went and visited my parents on Long Island, just to
say hello before my procedure.

So, you know, I was not ready to come out to my parents yet. This is still very
new. So Lori came as my, quote, "friend." Anyway, we saw my parents, and I had
the procedure. About six months later, I called my folks up because I wanted to
come to New York and tell them about meeting Lori and being gay now. And you
know, to Jewish parents.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: I mean, I called, I said I want to come back to Long Island and
talk to you about something. You know, the first thing my mother said was like
you're not sick, are you? It's like no, I'm not sick. You promise you're not
sick? No, I'm not sick.

And I went back to talk to my parents about it. And I completely expected them
to be very emotional about it and basket cases, and kind of the flip thing
happened. I was the basket case. I was so emotional, and my parents were cool
as cucumbers about it.

And I was crying, actually, and you know, my father, you know, my dear, sweet
father, was like why are you crying? And I said, well, you know, I thought you
would be disappointed. And my father said, disappointed? I'll tell you when I
was disappointed, when you married that shaygetz, you know, which is Yiddish
for non-Jewish person.

So they were amazing about it, but what I think was also very revealing was
when I came home to come out to my parents, my mother did say to me, I knew. I
knew when Lori came with you to come back for that procedure for the
fibroadenoma that you were lovers. And she knew, she said, because we took a
walk around the neighborhood that day, and we walked ahead of my parents, and
my mother said I could tell the way you two were walking together that you were
a couple.

And I think that's so interesting. I mean look, she is also a shrink. She might
be a little more highly attuned to people and, you know, their behavior, but
it's just interesting what you think you can hide that you can't hide.

GROSS: So you must have been really grateful to your parents for getting it...

Ms. LEIFER: I was.

GROSS: ...and not for, you know, being upset or worrying, like, how are we
going to tell our friends, or you know, like don't bring her home.

Ms. LEIFER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, you know, I do think, though, that like the
power of Judaism, it's like, you know, the fact that my parents met Lori, liked
her, but you know, the fact that she was Jewish is like - you know, she
could've been a chimp, but it's like hey, she's Jewish.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: You know, it's like add a thousand points.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: They were just so thrilled and delighted, you know, the trade-off
of a guy who's not Jewish to a woman who's Jewish. They were like, you know,
hey, let's break out the Manischewitz, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Carol Leifer speaking Terry Gross in 2009. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2009 interview comedian and author Carol
Leifer. Her memoir, "When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win" has just
come out in paperback.

TERRY GROSS, host:

You never wanted to have children. And you had been married. I mean, you could
have had children then, but when you were 50, and your partner, Lori, was 43,
you both decided to adopt. What changed your mind about having children?

Ms. LEIFER: It's just still so interesting to me. I really, really thought not
only, you know, I couldn't have children at that point, but I'd just never
really wanted to have kids. And then it became more of a passion for Lori, and
we started to talk about it, and then it just became - it just suddenly became
something that we really wanted to do.

And I, you know, that's what I love about, you know, adoption. There's no age
limit to it, and so at 50 and 43, we adopted our son, Bruno, and it's really
been amazing. It's been something that I never would have expected to be as
great as it is, and what I love about it is that I think I'm so much of a
better mother now at 52 than, oh God, I would have been at 42 or 32.

GROSS: Why?

Ms. LEIFER: I just think it's - I just have a different pace to my life now
than I did then. It was much more go, go, you know, turning on all cylinders.
It's much easier for me to kick back now. And I think what really makes a great
parent, especially now that I am a parent, is the ability to kick back and be
with it and enjoy it because I think it's all - that's what a kid is all about.

And you know, what I think is so fascinating is all the platitudes that I'd
heard about kids somehow start becoming real, you know, of the - I'd always
heard you kind of re-experience the world through your child's eyes, and it
seemed kind of, you know, dumb and fake to me, and it really happens.

GROSS: Let's get back to telling jokes.

Ms. LEIFER: Okay.

GROSS: You - at the beginning of our interview, you were talking about your
father and how he was a great joke-teller and how you got started when you were
still in college, working as a comic. Do you now feel like there's a part of
you that's attached to an older period of showbiz, one that doesn't exist
anymore?

Ms. LEIFER: Hmm.

GROSS: I'm thinking for instance that I know in your collection of prized
possessions, you have some cue cards that - of patter between Milton Berle and
Bob Hope from...

Ms. LEIFER: Yes.

GROSS: ...a special that you worked on. You opened for Sinatra in Vegas. You
were on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. Now granted, this was late in
Sinatra's life, it was late in Carson's career, but still you were there for
that.

Ms. LEIFER: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, it's also one of the things I love about,
you know, where I'm at in my life and my career. You know, I've been doing what
I do for - it's going to be 32 years. I mean, it's just mindboggling to me, you
know, that I've been doing what I love for so long.

And the advantage of being, you know, having been around for so long is that I
have, you know, been with the greats like Sinatra and, you know, being on a Bob
Hope special with Milton Berle. And you know, I'm very happy that I'm a little
bit of a yenta that way, you know, waiting around after a special like that,
like would you mind very much if I took the cue cards?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: That kind of stuff and making sure that I got a picture with Carson
when I was on with him, because there is this bond that you have of this quirky
little skill you have that does make you part of this fraternity.

GROSS: One more thing. Growing up with a mother who was a psychologist, you
know, a lot of kids feel like their mothers are kind of omniscient and can read
their minds, and they can't get away with stuff. Did you feel that way about
your mother, especially since she was a psychologist?

Ms. LEIFER: Well, I used to do a line about my mom in my act, Terry, that she
was not crazy about, which was it's hard to picture my mom solving other
people's problems when she's the root of most of mine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: Yeah, she did not dig that joke, but you know, having a shrink for
a mom is just, it's different. It's weird. In certain ways, I think they forget
to take their shrink hat off and just put the mom hat on. I think that's kind
of always the challenge, you know, but I do, you know, remember another funny
story.

When I was learning to drive, I went driving with my mom, and I accidentally
hit this squirrel in the road. And my mother, to cheer me up, was like, you
know, don't worry. The squirrel clearly displayed suicidal tendencies anyway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: So don't bum out about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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

Ms. LEIFER: Oh, it was my pleasure.

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Carol Leifer, speaking with Terry Gross in 2009. Her new memoir "When You Lie
About Your Age, the Terrorists Win" has just come out in paperback. She'll be
one of the writers on this year's Academy Awards.

Coming up, music critic Milo Miles on African pop star Franco. This is FRESH
AIR.
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Franco: Africa's First Modern Pop Superstar

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The African guitarist, singer and bandleader known as Franco was that
continent's first modern international pop-music superstar. He sustained a busy
career from when he was 18 in 1956 until his death in 1989 at age 51. Yet he
remains little known in America — he never found a US record label to support
him and he did only two brief tours here in the mid-80s.

Music critic Milo Miles explains how two recent Franco collections - the best
ever made - finally could establish him in this country.

(Soundbite of music)

FRANCO (African guitarist, singer and bandleader): (Singing) (Foreign language
spoken)

MILO MILES: Now that Nigerian Afrobeat originator Fela Kuti has a hit Broadway
play devoted to him, it's safe to say he's finally edged into the pop culture
pantheon a dozen years after his death. It's an open question whether an even
bigger star in Africa, who's been dead even longer, the Congo's soukous master
Franco, will ever get the same acclaim. He deserves it, but he doesn't
translate as well, and not only because he never sang in English. Even so, two
recent collections, "Francophonic Volume 1 and Volume 2," make a powerful case
through music and performance alone that Franco was an irresistible force — the
sorcerer of the guitar, as he was called. When Franco started out in the '50s,
jazz was a generic term in the Congo for modern music and his band was called
OK Jazz. They could be wonderfully sweet even when loudly boasting, as in this
early hit that describes their effect on audiences. Translated, it says you
come in OK, you leave KO'd.

(Soundbite of music)

FRANCO: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

MILES: The early style of Franco and other groundbreaking bandleaders like
Grand Kalle was called Congolese rumba, but that term was about as exact as
jazz. The music mixed several Latin styles and several indigenous folk modes,
all the blends being very easy to dance to, though not as familiar to American
ears as, say, Fela's funk and soul influences. One of Franco's strengths was
that even after he became a wealthy star, he kept the sound of OK Jazz
stripped-down and propulsive — no string sections, no heavy electronics. During
the '70s and '80s, he downplayed the standard horn section and underscored the
interplay of three electric guitars in a jamming section called the sebene.
These hot-licks workouts became so popular the music was given a new name,
soukous, and Franco was without question the grandmaster.

(Soundbite of music)

MILES: With help from Ken Braun's liner notes, it's easy to make out Franco's
social role as a popular musician. Like the honky-tonk country performers and
the first electric blues players in America, Franco celebrated, exhorted and
comforted a vast audience that was moving from the traditions of rural life to
the harsh jumble of urban striving. The Congo and much of Africa was throwing
off colonialism and trying to get a grip on the modern marketplace at the same
time. How not to foolishly waste your cash was a regular Franco theme — but so
was how to spend it.

Here's the catchiest Volkswagen commercial you'll ever hear, "Azda."

(Soundbite of song, "Azda")

FRANCO: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

MILES: The "Francophonic" collections feature the most vibrant, full sound of
any Franco releases, particularly in the vintage sides. Volume 2 is a
recommended introduction. All of the "Francophonic" cuts present sweet
choruses, tart horn sections and the great sorcerer's guitar swirling through
everything, presenting Franco as he always wanted to be — larger than life,
stronger than death.

BIANCULLI: Milo Miles lives in Boston. He reviewed "Francophonic Volume 1 and
Volume 2."

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

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