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Reynolds Price: A Southern Writer, A Lyrical Gift.

Reynolds Price, the acclaimed writer known for his evocative novels and stories about rural North Carolina, died in Durham on Thursday. He was 77. Fresh Air remembers the writer with excerpts taken from several interviews he gave over the past 20 years.

29:29

Other segments from the episode on January 21, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 21, 2011: Obituary for Reynolds Price; Obituary for Wilfrid Sheed; Review of The Corin Tucker Band's album "1,000 Years"; Review of film "No strings attached."

Transcript

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Reynolds Price: A Southern Writer, A Lyrical Gift

(Soundbite of music)

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.

Reynolds Price, the acclaimed writer known for his evocative novels and stories
about rural North Carolina, died in Durham yesterday. He was 77.

The cause was complications from a heart attack. Price had been a paraplegic
for more than 30 years due to spinal cancer, but he continued to write novels,
essays, short stories, memoirs and translations from the Bible.

Price was recognized as a remarkable talent with the publication of his first
novel, “A Long and Happy Life,” in 1962. In his New York Times obituary,
novelist Allan Gurganus called Price the best young writer this country has
ever produced. He started out with a voice, a lyric gift and a sense of humor,
Gurganus says, and an insight about how people lived and what they'll do to get
along.

Except for his years as a Rhodes Scholar in England, Price spent his life in
North Carolina, teaching at Duke University, writing and inspiring a new
generation of Southern authors.

Terry spoke to Reynolds Price several times over the years. Today will listen
to portions of two of those conversations. They first spoke in 1989 when Price
had written, “Clear Pictures: First Loves First Guides,” a memoir of his early
life. In the introduction, he says, childhood memories opened up to him after
he underwent hypnosis for pain relief.

GROSS: You were getting flooded with memories.

Professor REYNOLDS PRICE (Author): Sort of parallel occurrence and a parallel
delight, was that as I worked more at home and away from the therapist, as far
as working with a cassette recording of his voice and then with my own
concentration, I just began to find that great rooms of memory were being
opened to me, great files were being rolled out of my unconscious. And I
actually began by getting back a lot of information about a boy’s summer camp
in the Smokey Mountains where I’d worked as a camp counselor when I was 20
years old; and in fact, sat down, fairly quickly, and wrote a novel based on
some of my experiences that summer, the summer of 1953.

It was only after I’d done that, that the number of family members and memories
of my own childhood that had begun also pouring in, really convinced me that
perhaps it was time to start writing down some of those memories. And as I
began writing them, not really planning to write a book, each memory that I got
seemed to bring forward even more memories. It was like sort of pulling on what
turned out to be a fairly endless string.

GROSS: Now friends had urged you, after your spinal cancer, to sit down and
write a memoir and you resisted that for a long time. Why?

Prof. PRICE: Well, I think the main reason was simply that I knew what they
were saying was you're dying, get it down in time. And since I was working very
hard on not dying, on not obeying my doctors and those people who obviously
felt that my time was extremely limited, I was concentrating very much on
myself and my adversary, which was spinal cancer. And I wasn't about to
cooperate to the extent of, sort of, making my last will and testament by
laying out the story of my life.

GROSS: So when you decided to write the memoir did you just not see it in those
terms?

Prof. PRICE: Well, I had long passed; I long outlived my prognosis and felt
very strong and very full of energy, as I still do. And so I felt it was safe,
then, to proceed since I didn't suspect that it was going to be my last act
above ground.

GROSS: Well, let's talk little bit about the experience of the living your
childhood. You make a very interesting observation, which is that even, you
know, a normal childhood is filled with all kinds of terrors. And you have a
paragraph about that, that I'd like for you to read.

Prof. PRICE: (Reading) None of the fears I met at 51, when my life was broken
like a stick across some broad but unseen knee, and the fractured pieces were
flung back into my numb hands to use as I could, no terror matched the
childhood threats I've described. My guess is, a great many people will grant
the same as the trials of age fly up in their road like actual demons whose
harmless shadows we met and partly tamed in Halloween games. Any soul that
endures a normal childhood, not to speak of the all but unthinkable innocents
who last through torture at the hands of adults or disease or God, is made of
strong stuff - a thing worth trusting thereafter in the dark.

GROSS: What were the worst terrors of your childhood when you looked back on
them?

Prof. PRICE: Well, I think the worst terror of my early childhood, say, from
age four and five on into perhaps eight or nine, was really the great fear that
my father, who had been an alcoholic, but was in recovery from the time I was
about three years old; my greatest fear was that he would return to drinking. I
had never seen him in any state of inebriation and have certainly never seen
him actually take a drink. But I learned accidentally, fairly early in my life,
that indeed he had very serious problems. And being the very watchful child I
was, and being the only child in the house until I was eight, I was pretty
concerned to be a kind of little temperance officer on the premises.

GROSS: How would you do that?

Prof. PRICE: Oh, monitoring, very carefully, what I saw when friends of my
parents came over and brought bottles; hanging out as long as they'd let me;
and then when time came to put little Reynolds to bed, feeling fairly miserable
that I could no longer be in there being quite certain that he wasn't drinking.
Little did I know that he was very strong in his resolve and that apparently he
felt no temptation to drink in the presence of these cheerful friends after
football games, but I didn't know that. Children know very little about the
possibility of change in human life. They assume that any condition is
permanent and cannot be altered, it seems to me, is one of the desperate things
about childhood.

GROSS: Yeah, you make that point in your memoir and I think it's a really
interesting one. You say that you even wished that one of your trustworthy
aunts would have tried to explain to you that time changes things and that you
are not stuck in this condition - whatever the condition is at the moment - for
the rest of your life.

But I have to say that that I think I had parents who tried to convince me of
that and it didn't work.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PRICE: I think you're right.

GROSS: I still feel stuck.

Prof. PRICE: I think I even say that perhaps it wouldn't have worked. But
children simply don't have the experience of time. They don't have any sense of
perspective, and understandably they feel absolutely trapped. What they are
feeling at this moment is presumably what they are going to be feeling for the
rest of their lives. I had enormously happy times in my childhood, and I
suppose on balance if I look back I would have to say that I had a serene and
lovely childhood. But that's not to cover the fact that there were very bad
moments, indeed, and all of them I've at least tried to be honest about it in
this memoir.

GROSS: Would you describe the vision that you had when you had your spinal
tumor, and this was a cancerous tumor that went a good deal down the length of
your spine, and...

Prof. PRICE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...you, why don't you describe what your medical condition was then and
what the vision was.

Prof. PRICE: Right. Well, in the summer of 1984, it was discovered - the very
large tumor had produced almost no symptoms and then suddenly it began
producing symptoms with great difficulty in walking and using my legs. And then
it was discovered that I had beginning my hairline in the back - and I have a
fairly normal man's here cut, so I don't have the locks of Sampson. But
beginning at the sort of more or less end of my hairline and down for about 11
inches inside my vertebrae, in the spinal cord itself, there was this very
malignant tumor which had been in there, no doubt, a great many years. In fact,
several of my doctors thought I had probably been born with it, that it was
probably congenital and that it just had developed very, very, very slowly.

At that point in American surgical history and amongst the neurosurgeons of
Duke Hospital, it was impossible to remove. They got at about 10 percent of it
and then had to surrender me to the tender mercies of radiation. I had five
weeks of radiation. I was warned that if I went with the maximum dosage of
radiation, which they hoped to give me, that I stood a very good chance of
losing the use of my legs. And sure enough, within three weeks after the end of
the radiation, I had become paraplegic and have remained so ever since.

However, a couple of days, I believe that's correct, certainly not a week but
20 days before the radiation was to begin, I was sitting up in bed waiting for
a friend to come from another bedroom in the house and get me up and help me
get dressed, and I just saw myself lying down by a very large lake, which I
realized was what in the New Testament is called the Sea of Galilee. And I
realized that I was dressed in sort of modern American men’s clothes and all
the men who were lying down around me were dressed in sort of Jesus suits.

And all of a sudden one of them got up and came toward me, and silently, sort
of, beckoned me to follow him into the water. And I did and we wound up in this
lake up to our waists. And in the way that one often can, in visions that I've
read about, I could see myself as though I was in a sort of mini helicopter
looming over the scene. And I could see my back and I could see the very bad
scar that was down my back and the sort of tattooed radiation lines that had
been drawn around that scar to guide the radiation when that was to begin. And
this man, whom I realized was Jesus, was just simply picking up handfuls of
water out of the lake and pouring them over that scar. And he said - the only
thing he said, initially, was - your sins are forgiven. And I thought well,
that's the last thing I want to hear right now. And I said am I also healed?
And as though I had extracted it from him, perhaps rather against his will, he
said: that too. And he turned and walked away and that was the end of the
vision.

GROSS: When the vision ended, did you test yourself to see am I healed?

Prof. PRICE: Well, clearly I was...

GROSS: And did you see that as something like lyrical and medical, or something
more metaphoric?

Prof. PRICE: I didn't know what I thought it meant and I didn't know how
seriously I could take it. And then, you know, the radiation began two or three
days later and rather quickly I began to lose the use of my legs. I was already
- my legs were in bad shape already after the surgery and I began, rapidly, to
lose the use of those legs. And while as a paraplegic in a matter of - within
three weeks after the end of the radiation. So why did I go through with the
radiation, if I believed that Jesus had healed me in some sense, with this
vision? I don't know. I had a fascinating letter from a woman in Mexico shortly
after I published the book about that moment, that included that moment. And
she said why did you go ahead with the radiation which may have left you
cripple when you had in fact already been healed? And the answer is I don't
know why I did. I did it because all my doctors were telling me to do it.

But meanwhile, at that time, one of my most respected physicians told my
brother that I probably had 18 months to live, at best. I wouldn't let them
give me a prognosis, because I knew if they said, you know, X number of weeks
or months or years, I'd probably, you know, outrace the prognosis just to prove
I could, and that was 22 years ago.

GROSS: So when you had this vision did you tell your doctors?

Prof. PRICE: No. I didn't tell my doctor. And I don't know whom I told first.
Interestingly, again, shortly after I published the book about those cancer
years and mentioned that vision, I got a wonderful letter from a very old
Jesuit in India. And he had read the book and he said that he said that trusted
that I knew I had had a great privilege. And he said you have seen our Lord.
And perhaps you would tell me, he said, how he looks. And I could only answer
in a way that might have sounded scoffing or comical. I said he look, father,
he looks just like his pictures.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PRICE: Because how would I have recognized him if he, you know, if he had
been seven feet tall and wearing a Harris Tweed jacket and corduroy trousers or
something? No, he looked; he looked like Jesus in Renaissance paintings of
Jesus. He was standing out there. He had no shirt on, nor did I. We were in
some sort of clothes that people would wear to wade out into a lake, and he was
sort of putting these handfuls of water down my spine.

GROSS: How do explain that you have this vision of being healed when you still
have like two more years of like really serious like pain and cancer crisis,
and a whole lifetime following that - a whole remaining lifetime of being
paraplegic.

Prof. PRICE: Yeah.

GROSS: I mean, that wouldn't fit the classic definition of being healed.

Prof. PRICE: It wouldn't. No. And I found out that if I were happened to be in
Lourdes, France that it would not be accepted as a miraculous healing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PRICE: You know, Flannery O'Connor went to Lourdes, which I've always
thought was very moving but she was not healed there. She died shortly after
going there, of lupus, though despite her extreme devout Catholicism. I don't
explain it. I just know that it happened and I know that, what is it, I think
there's an old hymn: God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.
That’s all I could say. And I don’t and I don’t go out on platforms presenting
myself as a visionary, though I have indeed mentioned it in two or three books.

GROSS: Do you think that life would be too unbearable without faith?

Prof. PRICE: You know, I never thought of that, because I never came really
close to losing it. I've realized that I was being almost tortured by what I
thought was God, if not tortured. But I just went on waiting. I mean I once,
when I was very, very in very bad shape with this cancer in the summer of ’84,
as paraplegia was really becoming inevitable for me, I remember lying in bed
one night and just saying, you know, to the dark, how much more of this is
there going to be? How much farther is this going to go? And I think if you'd
been there with your tape recorder you wouldn’t have heard it with your own
ears, you wouldn't have heard it. But I distinctly heard something that sounded
like someone else's voice - a man's voice - and it just said, more. And there
was more. And I still think that somebody sent that was probably a
communication of some sort. But that's it. I mean I'm not weird. I'm not
religiously weird. And I'm about the most un-missionary soul you could possibly
find, which is probably a contradiction of saying that I'm religious. But I
don't feel that I have any right whatever, to go out into the world and try to
change the morals and the ethics of anyone else, unless that person is trying
to hurt me.

GROSS: You write in your book, I am one of the least puritanical souls
presently alive on the planet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And now will ask you to tell me something that will prove that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PRICE: Ooh. I'm a great believer in joy. And joy, I take to have as its
absolute first condition, that it not seriously harm another living creature.

GROSS: And is that what makes you the least puritanical soul alive on the
planet?

Prof. PRICE: Well, yeah, don't we think of Puritans as having been sort of
joyless souls, wandering around Salem, Mass. or Plymouth, Mass. in their gray
suits with large Bibles in their hands? I also grew up in the South, which
despite the fact that it's so frequently thought of as the Bible Belt, has got
an awful lot of joy loose in it, loose and tied down in the South. And my
families, both my family, the Prices, my father's family and the Rodwells, my
mother's family, were much given to laughter and tale-telling and playing
lovely pranks on one another. So they were good to each other in generating fun
and joy around them and I think, yeah.

GROSS: When you lost the use of your legs about 20 years ago...

Prof. PRICE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...as a result of the spinal cancer and the procedures that you had to
kill the cancer...

Prof. PRICE: Right.

GROSS: ...did you have to find alternate ways of experiencing joy?

Prof. PRICE: I did. I'm going to say one thing and I'd like not to go beyond
that, which is one thing I had to give up immediately was my sexual life,
because paraplegia takes care of that rather rapidly. But, yeah, I had to
invent all sorts of other forms. I mean I had to figure out how to, you know,
move across a room. I had to learn how to work a wheelchair. I had to learn how
to, you know, get in and out of the bathroom, in and out of the shower - just
all those extremely practical things - and then up and down from there.

I've said in that book I wrote about my cancer, which is called “A Whole New
Life,” I said, you know, one of the most valuable things that someone could
have done for me, once I got past the initial shock of the surgery and the
radiation, would've been if someone whom I could have trust would've walked in
my room and simply said Reynolds Price is dead. Who do you propose to be
tomorrow? Because Reynolds Price was dead. The person I thought of as me in so
many ways, obviously huge parts of me survived, thank God. But I had to
reinvent I don't know what, more than 60 percent of the way Reynolds Price
lived and did things.

GROSS: Can I ask, what are some of the things that give you the most joy now?

Prof. PRICE: Being with people I love is primary. But that's hardly new to
Reynolds Price in any of his avatars. I don't think there is anything new. It's
all the old things, music, theater, being with friends, teaching. I mean
obviously, I wouldn't have taught for 48 years if I hadn't loved it. I could
certainly have, you know, made donuts if it had come to that. But loved ones,
friends and loved ones above all, and thank God I've got a good supply.

GROSS: Just one more thing. If I'm remembering correctly, in your book you said
that you think maybe you were selected, chosen - I'm forgetting the word that
you used - but kind of singled out for this affliction that you had.

Prof. PRICE: That may be the case. Because I've often asked myself if I could
now, knowing what I know about the last 22 years, if I could be presented with
this sort of magical retroactive pair of buttons which would say, bypass
paraplegia or continue with, I feel, most of the time, I'd press the continue
with button. Because as difficult as it's been and as painful as it's been,
it's been tremendously interesting. Maybe that means I'm the largest masochist
you'll ever talk to, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PRICE: ...but I think I'd press the continue with button.

DAVIES: Writer, Reynolds Price, speaking with Terry Gross in 2006. Price died
yesterday. He was 77.
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Remembering Wilfrid Sheed, A Master Of Wit

DAVE DAVIES, host:

In another loss to the literary world this week, writer and critic Wilfrid
Sheed died Wednesday in Massachusetts at the age of 80. Sheed's gentle wit
infused his novels, reviews, memoirs and nonfiction over a writing career that
spanned a half-a-century.

Sheed grew up around writers and intellectuals. He was born in London to
parents who'd founded the Catholic publishing house Sheed & Ward. The family
emigrated to the U.S., where Sheed was an enthusiastic athlete until he
contracted polio at age 14. He also struggled with alcoholism and drug
addiction.

Sheed's work ranged from essays and reviews in the New Yorker and other
publications, to novels and memoirs, to nonfiction, including a biography of
Claire Boothe Luce and his last book, "A History of American Popular Music,"
published in 2007. Terry spoke to Wilfred Sheed in 1988.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Now, you are both a novelist and critic. So you have lived and worked in two
different, often conflicting worlds. You write that as an author, receiving a
bad review is like being spit on by a complete stranger in Times Square. Has
that feeling ever held you back from writing a bad review?

Mr. WILFRID SHEED (Author): It finally held me back from writing any reviews at
all. I do very, very few these days, at least of living people, because, well,
just to be crass about it, I don't need any more enemies.

As a novelist, you really don't need any more than the course of life is going
to send you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHEED: But also, yes, on humane grounds, I think that you lose the killer
instinct as you go along. I think that criticism can be a blood sport, really
to be indulged by the young. As you get old, you imagine that perhaps the
person is ill, or, you know, you imagine all the situations that have happened
to yourself at one time or another, and you really can't go on giving it: You
know how much it hurts.

GROSS: You don't think that criticism plays a higher function than just panning
a new book or dishing the writer?

Mr. SHEED: Yes, I suppose when I talk about panning, and I really never did
enjoy it, people seem to assume that this is the part of the work that critics
really enjoy the most, and I suppose, you know, one can indulge oneself, and
there are probably more rich hostile words in the language than nice ones.

But I have really enjoyed writing favorable reviews, and actually, I think
criticism itself goes ways beyond praise and blame. Criticism, as opposed to
reviewing, is that you assume that the reader is familiar with the work of art
or will make himself so, and then you can talk.

This is the talk of people who have gone beyond the question of whether it's
good or bad and now just want to talk about the thing itself, and that kind of
criticism I would still like to do.

GROSS: Well, you were very athletic when you were growing up, and you didn't
much like books. That changed, I think, when you got polio when you were, I
believe 14 years old. Were you surprised when you were ill to find that you
actually enjoyed reading?

Mr. SHEED: No, I had done a little furtive reading before that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Furtive, huh?

Mr. SHEED: Yes. It was the difference between...

GROSS: You were hiding it from friends or parents?

Mr. SHEED: Oh, from friends. No, for parents I would strut it. But the sort of
friends I knew were not readers themselves, and they, if you can be macho at
the age of 10, that's what we were, by golly, and you weren't going to read
more than the other fellow, although, of course, there were certain approved
texts. Comic books were perfectly all right.

GROSS: Did polio have any lasting physical effects on you?

Mr. SHEED: Yes. I still have a limp, and I was a sort of borderline case. I was
still able to swing a gulf club, although not walk the length of a golf course,
things of that sort.

So I got a bit of everything. I had an absolutely wicked serve at pingpong and
just enough, once again, as Warm Springs had finessed the trauma of the thing
and being able to take part in things and finesse the rest. So I can't say that
at any stage that this was a terrible, shattering experience.

GROSS: You first came to America when you were nine. You returned to England to
go to prep school, then returned back to the United States. When did you stop
feeling like a foreigner in America?

Mr. SHEED: That took a long time. I suppose, actually, when I had children, and
my children weren't foreigners, then I knew that I couldn't very well be
myself.

Also, of course, people stopped noticing an English accent, and then it really
takes...

GROSS: Well, you don’t have a very strong one.

Mr. SHEED: Actually, I have a stronger one electronically than I have in real
life, I believe, because my son first heard me on radio when he was very small
and said: Well, you're English, which had never occurred to him before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: When you were young and had just come to America from England, was it
considered effete to have a British accent?

Mr. SHEED: With the guys I ran with, yes, it was definitely effete. These were
- tended to be Irish Catholics. And I've had to make my peace with them, and I
was not only stuck with a plummy Cockney accent but also a ridiculous first
name.

GROSS: Oh, Wilfrid. Did you try to shorten it to Fred or Willy?

Mr. SHEED: I managed to impose Bill on as many people as I could, but then my
parents would come around and say: Oh, Wilfrid, and then I'd be - I'd have to
start all over again.

GROSS: Did you try for a Brooklyn or a New York accent when you were young?

Mr. SHEED: Well, I wanted an American one. I thought - I, myself, thought
English sounded very silly. I know many people would go out of their way to
speak with an English accent. Well, I went out of my way not to. It was really
a safety device. It was a life-saving one as far as I was concerned.

GROSS: What about your writing? Do you think of your writing as having more of
an American or of an English accent?

Mr. SHEED: Well, I'd gone back to England and was out of sorts about the whole
thing, and then I read "The Thurber Carnival," and I thought: That's what I
want to write like. And so I would credit Thurber with making me want to write
American rather than English.

But then, naturally, the other stuff comes in the back door, and I will find
I'm using English locutions and an English vocabulary. But it's on an American
spine, or at least I trust so.

DAVIES: Writer Wilfrid Sheed, speaking with Terry Gross in 1988. Sheed died
Wednesday. He was 80.
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Corin Tucker: '1,000 Years' Of Emotional Longing

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Corin Tucker was one of the founding members of Sleater-Kinney, a 1990s trio
that spearheaded the riot-girl movement in American post-punk. In recent years,
Tucker has receded from the music business to focus on being a mom. But now
she's back with a new group, The Corin Tucker Band, and an album called "1,000
Years." Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CORIN TUCKER (Musician): (Singing) New moon peeking through, now the sky is
brand new. Feel it on my skin. Is it night or noon? It's been the blackest
night...

KEN TUCKER: Corin Tucker's strong, surging voice was one of the most
recognizable sounds of '90s rock. It cut through the careful clatter of
Sleater-Kinney as a combination yell, wail and curse. It was a voice that
served as its own manifesto, regardless of the lyrics she might be singing.

On "1,000 Years," and as leader of The Corin Tucker Band, her singing is
frequently more subdued and intimate.

(Soundbite of song, "Thrift Store Coats")

Ms. TUCKER: (Singing) It happened one lazy afternoon. The kids had -played
(unintelligible). Late made dinner and smashed up (unintelligible). Funds dried
up. My job cut loose. Beans are all we have for you. Plant a garden,
(unintelligible). We were spoiled our whole lives through. This is a task, see
it through, frozen hopes and thrift-store coats. They don't cost a thing if
you're broke. The plan we have is just a joke. We don't know a thing.

TUCKER: That's "Thrift Store Coats," describing a closed-in world with the
minimalist details of a Raymond Carver short story.

On "It's Always Summer," the weather reflects the narrator's mood, and
technology both helps and adds to the discomfort. She's feeling cold in every
sense, talking to a guy who's in a distant climate where it's always summer.
Meanwhile, she feels as though their conversations last 10 years long, and
she's always moving the thermostat up another few degrees, as if that might
also rekindle the heat in their relationship.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Always Summer")

Ms. TUCKER: (Singing) The hotel bar stays open long. The party noise is
audible. I'm on a phone call 10 years long. Is our connection breaking down?
It's always summer where you are. It's always something.

TUCKER: One of the most striking songs on "1,000 Years," the one that connects
to the themes Tucker used to wrestle with most often as part of Sleater-Kinney
is "Doubt."

It takes the form of a flying wedge of slashing rock, the guitars and drums
creating a headlong clamor that Tucker has to yell over. It wouldn't seem a
setting for intimacy, but it is.

Tucker is arguing with herself in public, seeming to refer to the relative
quietness of the rest of this album when she says she's trying to, quote,
"break up with the boogie, turning down the sound, trying to live without it."

Yet, she concedes, it's when she's lost in the chaos of rock music that she
loses her nagging doubts. This song, "Doubt," says that losing herself in music
is the deepest drug, the tallest joy, I forget myself for a while. "Doubt" is
both sad and exhilarating.

(Soundbite of song, "Doubt")

Ms. TUCKER: (Singing) (Unintelligible) walked down my street. I fell for him. I
fell complete. You know the familiar song called to me. There is no future that
could come from this. There is no living if you want to live. Try, try, try to
forget. (Unintelligible) forget myself for awhile.

TUCKER: "1,000 Years" is an album made by a woman who's put aside the excesses
of her youth and occasionally misses them. She may be content with the domestic
life she's created for herself, but I think it's significant that two songs,
"It's Always Summer" and another rocker called "Riley," make phone
conversations most prominent.

It's as though the songwriter is acknowledging that she's no longer living the
rock 'n' roll life, and one of her primary means of contact with her previous
life is conversations with people she used to hang out with, love or argue
with.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. TUCKER: (Singing) Heard the phone ringing, it's been a while since I heard
from you, since we hung out. Say hello, dear, how you been? (Unintelligible).

TUCKER: An air of heavy, often beautiful melancholy hangs over "1,000 Years."
The songs drop hints of poignant discontent: a line about the zombie wearing
Mommy's clothes here, a line about I'm just a shadow of what I used to be
there.

There are references to the tough economy and hitting rock bottom. Taken
together, however, the album is the opposite of a downer. Corin Tucker knows
how to transmute melancholy into energy, a stubborn belief that what can feel
like a trap can also turn into a map to freedom.

BIANCULLI: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"1,000 Years," the debut album by the Corin Tucker Band.
..COST:
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*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
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..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
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..NTWK:
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..SGMT:
'No Strings Attached': Corny, Contrived, Conservative

DAVE DAVIES, host:

In the hit film "Black Swan," Natalie Portman plays a virginal ballerina told
by her director to have sex to get in touch with her deeper, darker emotions.
In the new romantic comedy "No Strings Attached," Portman plays a medical
resident who wants the sex, here with actor Ashton Kutcher, but not the
emotions that come with it. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: I've heard the perpetrators of "No Strings Attached" pat
themselves on the back for making a comedy that's edgy, yet I've seen movies
from the early 1930s, before the restrictive codes, that had less old-fashioned
ideas about casual sex.

The gimmick here is that Natalie Portman's brainy medical resident Emma is,
quote, "allergic" to serious relationships and wants a special guy friend for
regular trysts: just the job, she thinks, for her old summer-camp acquaintance
Adam, a down-to-earth TV production assistant played by the tall and rangy
Ashton Kutcher. The scheme is hatched in her bedroom after a spontaneous and
highly satisfying quickie.

(Soundbite of film, "No Strings Attached")

Mr. ASHTON KUTCHER (Actor): (As Adam) You know, I don't want to freak you out,
but I'd love to hang out with you in the daytime sometime.

Ms. NATALIE PORTMAN (Actor): (As Emma) It's not really possible. I have no
time. I work 80 hours a week doing 36-hour shifts. What I need is someone who's
going to be in my bed in 2 a.m. who I don't have to lie to or eat breakfast
with.

Mr. KUTCHER: (As Adam) I hate breakfast.

Ms. PORTMAN: (As Emma) Do you want to do this?

Mr. KUTCHER: (As Adam) Do what?

Ms. PORTMAN: (As Emma) Use each other for sex at all hours of the day and
night, nothing else.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KUTCHER: (As Adam) Yeah, I could do that.

Ms. PORTMAN: (As Emma) Good.

EDELSTEIN: Adam says it would be fun, but it's instantly clear that he wants
flowers and romance and a relationship, which drives Emma crazy for the very
good reason that - well, actually, there is no logical reason, apart from the
script's high concept.

Adam is handsome, funny, kind, talented and even rich: His dad, played by Kevin
Kline, is a famous actor. When they meet five years before the main action, he
wears a backwards cap and talks like a stoner dude, but by the time he and Emma
get together, there's no indication they're intellectually mismatched.

Although the snappy script is by a woman, Elizabeth Meriwether, and has a
supposedly feminist veneer - it's the brusque female professional and the
clingy male bimbo - "No Strings Attached" never makes the case for Emma's point
of view. It's almost a feminist backlash movie.

And it didn't have to be. There are plenty of reasons for brilliant young
women, especially with the stress of a medical career, to approach time- and
emotion-consuming relationships warily. But Emma just seems psychologically
off.

Natalie Portman plays her high-strung and brittle, careering from chill
cerebral detachment to messy, babbling, emotional spew. Portman is okay, but
she never fills the character in. The why, why, why of Emma's peculiar allergy
goes unanswered, and so you never like her.

Portman gets no help from Ivan Reitman, the heavy-handed director. Reitman was
lucky enough in the '70s to fall in with a bunch of geniuses affiliated with
the National Lampoon, with whom he made "Meatballs" and "Ghostbusters."

Lately, he's paved the way for his son, Jason, who won a slew of Oscar
nominations for supposedly edgy comedies like "Juno" and "Up in the Air." "No
Strings Attached" is like the father trying to get in on the son's action,
which is what Adam's father actually does in the movie.

The elder Reitman, though, has none of his son's feel for the zeitgeist, and
the commercial scaffolding shows. There's the wisecracking gay guy, the
wisecracking black guy and the bubbly blond friend of the heroine played by
indie pin-up-girl Greta Gerwig, who, as Emma's roommate, has little to do
except smirk sympathetically.

The movie is so calculated I felt that if the camera pulled back a foot from
the bed while the actors pretended to make love, their agents would be standing
there glowing like proud parents.

We should be grateful there is sex, though, which is more than you can say for
something like the 2003 Hollywood romantic comedy "How to Lose A Guy in 10
Days," which was founded on the premise that even the most beautiful woman
could drive a man off by sleeping with him instantly and then getting clingy,
except the studio allegedly balked at the sex part for fear the audience would
think she's a slut, so the whole premise made no sense.

"No Strings Attached" is corny and contrived and conservative, in that in the
end it argues that the no-strings-attached plan can't work. But at least Emma
isn't a slut for wanting the same kind of pleasure that guys do. She's just
portrayed as kind of crazy.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
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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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