DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. At the age of 83, Loretta Lynn is still making vibrant music. The country music icon has just released “Full Circle,” her first album of new music in more than a decade. Earlier this year, she was the subject of a PBS “American Masters” tribute called “Still A Mountain Girl,” which is available online. Today on Fresh Air, we’ll listen back to a 2010 conversation between Loretta Lynn and Terry Gross. But first, our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the new Loretta Lynn album titled “Full Circle.”
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “IN THE PINES”)
LORETTA LYNN: (Singing) In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines and a shiver when cold winds blow. My love, my love, what have I done to make you treat me so?
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Loretta Lynn’s new album “Full Circle” mixes new, original material with Lynn’s interpretations of country-music classics such as the song that began this review, “In the Pines.” This album includes a re-recording of the first song she ever wrote, “Whispering Sea,” written when she was 25, and its lyric about a, quote, “old love affair that used to be,” has a timeless ring.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “WHISPERING SEA”)
LYNN: (Singing) I sat down by the sea and it whispered to me. It brought back an old love affair that used to be. It told me that had found someone new and left me to cry over you. Whispering sea rolling by, now don’t you listen to me cry. I cry as though my heart is broke in two. Oh, how I love him so. No one will ever know. No one but the drifting whispering sea.
TUCKER: She writes in her liner notes, I will always be a songwriter-singer, which inverts the usual phrase singer-songwriter to place the emphasis where Lynn wants it - on her work as an artist who crafts imagery and stories. There’s an elegiac quality to some of “Full Circle,” the sense that Lynn is acknowledging she is inevitably coming to the end of her career in a song such as “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” Yet any sorrow in that sentiment is prevented from descending into self-pity by her crisp, firm singing, a firmness she applies to even greater effect on another original song here, “Everybody Wants to Go To Heaven.”
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “EVERYBODY WANTS TO GO TO HEAVEN”)
LYNN: (Singing) Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Once upon a time, there lived a man and his name was Hezekiah. He walked with God both day and night, but he didn’t want to die. He cried oh Lord, please let me live. Death is close, I know. God smiled down on Hezekiah and gave him 15 years to go. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Lord, I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to die. I long for the day when I have new birth. Still, I love living here on Earth. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.
TUCKER: “Full Circle” is co-produced by John Carter Cash and her daughter Patsy Lynn Russell, and they surround Lynn with beautifully understated but precise arrangements, with mandolin, pedal steel guitar and upright bass prominent in the mix. This is less a throwback to an earlier era of country record-making than it is about creating an open atmosphere for Lynn’s vocals to fill.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “EVERYTHING IT TAKES”)
LYNN: (Singing) I love you more than she ever will. But the only way she can get a man is steal. I don’t know if I should tell you this or not. She’s got everything it takes to take everything you’ve got. And when she takes you…
TUCKER: To be sure, there’s been some deterioration in her voice in her eighth decade. But like any first-rate singer of popular music, she uses her weaknesses as strengths, letting you hear a vulnerability and informality that is somewhat new to her music. Listen to what she does with an atypically loose, almost jazzy version of “Band of Gold” - not the 1970 Freda Payne soul-music hit, but the 1955 pop ballad.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “BAND OF GOLD”)
LYNN: (Singing) I never wanted wealth untold. My life has one desire - a simple, little band of gold to prove that you are mine. Don’t want the world to have and hold. For fame is not my line. Just want a little band of gold to prove that you are mine. Some sail away…
TUCKER: It was recently reported that Lynn has been working steadily on her legacy. Since 2007, she’s been working with her daughter Patsy, John Carter Cash and songwriters such as Todd Snider on the recording of many songs she’s written in notebooks over the years. Loretta Lynn has apparently already recorded entire albums of songs, both her own and covers of everything from gospel to Christmas music. It’s all material she wants to record as a completion of her lifelong project of creating a vivid portrait of a coal miner’s daughter grown into one of the greatest performers country music has ever known.
BIANCULLI: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed the new Loretta Lynn album “Full Circle.”
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
Loretta Lynn landed her first top-10 hit on the country charts in 1962. Her 1970s song and record “Coal Miner’s Daughter” was made into a movie starring Sissy Spacek as Loretta. After she recorded that song, Loretta Lynn spent a decade making records with Conway Twitty, then resumed a long and popular solo career. Terry Gross interviewed Loretta Lynn on the occasion of a tribute album devoted to her in 2010. They started with Loretta Lynn’s first recording from 1960.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “I’M A HONKY TONK GIRL”)
LORETTA LYNN: (Singing) Ever since you left me I’ve done nothing but wrong. Many nights I’ve laid awake and cried. We once were happy, my heart was in a whirl. But now I’m a honky tonk girl. So turn that jukebox way up high and fill my glass up while I cry. I’ve lost everything in this world. And now I’m a honky tonk girl.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Loretta Lynn, what a great pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for coming.
LYNN: Thank you, Terry. It's really nice to be on your show.
GROSS: Now, the song we just heard, that's the first song you wrote. It was your first record, released in 1960.
GROSS: You say you wrote it in 20 minutes on a $17 guitar that your husband bought for you…
LYNN: That's true.
GROSS: …Because he thought you sang well. And you wrote a song because he told you to. Do you think you ever would have written or performed if your husband didn't say that's what you should do?
LYNN: No, I wouldn't have because I was too bashful. I wouldn't get out in front of people. I wouldn't - you know, I was really bashful, and I would've never sang in front of anybody.
GROSS: So when you wrote "Honky Tonk Girl" with absolutely no songwriting experience, how did you approach writing a song?
LYNN: You know, I just sat down with my guitar. It was outside. In fact, I was leaning up against the old toilet out there on the West Coast, in Washington state. And...
GROSS: Did you say the toilet?
LYNN: The old toilet, yeah.
LYNN: And I sat there and wrote "Honky Tonk Girl" and "Whispering Sea."
GROSS: So when you recorded your first single, "Honky Tonk Girl," you were 24. You'd already been married for 11 years because you got married when you were 13. And you already had four children. Do I have that right?
LYNN: I had four kids, uh-huh.
GROSS: And the twins came a little bit later.
LYNN: Yeah, the twins come later.
GROSS: What was your life like, as a wife and mother, before you started recording?
LYNN: It wasn't easy. Me and my husband both worked. I took care of the farmhouse. I cleaned and cooked for 36 ranch hands and...
LYNN: Yeah, before I started singing. And so singing was easy. I thought gee whiz, this was an easy job.
GROSS: Wait, so you cooked and cleaned for 36 ranch hands and had four children?
LYNN: Uh-huh, sure did. Paid the rent on the old house that we lived in, and that's what I did to make the rent, yeah.
LYNN: It wasn't easy, let me tell you. Life was hard (laughter).
GROSS: So when you made your first appearance on the Opry, which was the same year that you recorded "Honky Tonk Girl..."
GROSS: …You weren't used to performing on such a prestigious stage in front of…
LYNN: Oh, no.
GROSS: …An audience like that. Did you know how to perform onstage in a place like the Opry?
LYNN: Not really. I just got out there with my guitar, and I sang. I mean, I just did it just like I was doing it at home, you know? I never thought about it being the Grand Ole Opry because if I had, I wouldn't have been able to have done it. You just pretty well got to figure, well, you know, this is something I could do every day.
GROSS: It's so much like what you do every day.
GROSS: So the next song we're going to hear is a song that you first recorded in 1966, "Don't Come Home A-Drinking (With Lovin' On Your Mind)." And this is a great song. But first, I want to hear the story of how you wrote it. You'd already had about six years of songwriting experience behind you. You probably were no longer leaning against the toilet when you wrote this.
LYNN: I was probably - Doo had fixed me a little writing room at this time, out in Goodliesfield(ph).
GROSS: Doo is your husband - was your late husband, yes.
LYNN: Doo was my husband, yes. And he's the only one I've ever had. And so he fixed me this little writing room. And I'd go out there, and I'd write. And this was one of the songs that I wrote was "Don't Come Home A'Drinking (With Lovin' On Your Mind)."
GROSS: And at this point, did you feel like, I know how to write a song?
LYNN: Oh, yeah. When I wrote "Don't Come Home A-Drinking," I knew I could write because I'd had quite a few on the charts by that time.
GROSS: Now, you've said that your husband is in every song that you've written, in a large way or in a small way.
LYNN: Still is. I mean, if I write a song, he's in there somewhere.
GROSS: Were you thinking of him when you wrote this song?
LYNN: Oh, yeah.
GROSS: Would he come home after drinking like that?
LYNN: Why, sure. If a man drinks, he's going to come home drinking. He liked to drink.
GROSS: Was this song intended to send him a message at all?
LYNN: Not really. I probably told him many times. I didn't have to sing about it.
GROSS: (Laughter) OK, well, let's hear the song.
LYNN: All right.
GROSS: This is "Don't Come Home A-Drinking," recorded in 1966 by Loretta Lynn, and it was a number one country music chart hit.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T COME HOME A-DRINKING - WITH LOVING ON YOUR MIND")
LYNN: (Singing) Well, you thought I'd be waiting up when you came home last night. You'd been out with all the boys, and you ended up half-tied. But liquor and love, they just don't mix. Leave the bottle or me behind, and don't come home a-drinking with loving on your mind.
No, don't come home a-drinking with loving on your mind. Just stay out there on the town and see what you can find 'cause if you want that kind of love, well you don't need none of mine. So don't come home a-drinking with loving on your mind.
BIANCULLI: Loretta Lynn, recorded in 1966. After a quick break, we’ll continue with Terry’s interview with Loretta Lynn from 2010. This FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to our interview with Loretta Lynn. Her new album is called full circle. Terry Gross spoke with Loretta Lynn in 2010, after a tribute album of her songs was released.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Well, I want to play another song.
GROSS: And this is a song that’s covered on the new tribute album. But we’ll hear your version. And this is "After the Fire Has Gone." And it's one of the hit duets that you recorded with Conway Twitty. So this song is attributed to L.E. White, a songwriter I'm not familiar with.
LYNN: Yeah. L.E. White wrote this song. It was one of Conway's writers.
GROSS: Oh, I see.
GROSS: And so they brought the song to you.
GROSS: How did you start recording with Conway Twitty? These duets are so good.
LYNN: Me and Conway went overseas. There was a whole crew of people went overseas to, you know, perform. And me and Conway started singing in the dressing rooms. So we thought, well, when we get home, we'll sing to Owen Bradley and see what he thinks. So we went home...
GROSS: Owen Bradley was your producer.
LYNN: Our producer, yeah.
GROSS: And obviously, he liked it.
LYNN: He loved it. He says, ya'll get in the studio and let's record, so that's what we did.
GROSS: Some of the songs are like, oh, we're so attracted to each other but it's wrong so we really shouldn't, and then...
LYNN: Yeah (laughter).
GROSS: And this one is "After the Fire Has Gone."
LYNN: "After the Fire Has Gone."
GROSS: So this was recorded in 1970. It went to number one on the country charts. And...
LYNN: Yeah, everybody thought me and Conway had a thing going, you know?
GROSS: Oh, oh, but you didn't?
LYNN: Because of the songs we recorded. But me and Conway were friends. We wasn't lovers.
GROSS: Right. So on the tribute album, on the Loretta Lynn tribute album "Coal Miner's Daughter," this duet is covered by Steve Earle and Allison Moorer - who are, in fact, married. But we're going hear your version with Conway Twitty. So here it is.
GROSS: This is Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFTER THE FIRE HAS GONE")
LORETTA LYNN AND CONWAY TWITTY: (Singing) Love is where you find it.
LYNN: (Singing) When you find no love at home.
LORETTA LYNN AND CONWAY TWITTY: (Singing) And there's nothing cold as ashes after the fire is gone.
CONWAY TWITTY: (Singing) The bottle is almost empty, the clock just now struck 10. Darling, I had to call you to our favorite place again.
LYNN: (Singing) We know it's wrong for us to meet but the fire's gone out at home.
LORETTA LYNN AND CONWAY TWITTY: (Singing) And there's nothing cold as ashes after the fire is gone. Love is where you find it...
LYNN: (Singing) ...When you find no love at home.
LORETTA LYNN AND CONWAY TWITTY: (Singing) And there's nothing cold as ashes after the fire is gone.
GROSS: That's Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, recorded in 1970, a song that went to number one on the country charts. And that song is covered by Steve Earle and Allison Moorer on the new Loretta Lynn tribute CD, "Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute To Loretta Lynn."
Now, there's one kind of song you've written that I haven't asked you about, and that is the I-am-so-angry-you’d-better-be-careful-'cause-if-you-take-my-man-I-will-actually-hit-you kind of song (laughter).
LYNN: Is that "Fist City"?
GROSS: I'm thinking of "Fist City," yeah.
GROSS: And it's not exactly a sisterhood-is-powerful kind of song. The lyric is - if you don't want to go to Fist City, you'd better detour around my town...
GROSS: ...Or else I'll grab you by the hair of your head and lift you off the ground (laughter).
GROSS: So tell me about writing a lyric like this where, I mean, it's, like, real physical anger.
LYNN: Well, there was an ol' gal that tried to take Doolittle away from me and...
GROSS: There was somebody who tried that?
LYNN: Yeah, there was somebody and - but she didn't make it.
GROSS: Did you threaten her?
LYNN: Yes, I did.
LYNN: With more than a song.
GROSS: And not in rhyme.
LYNN: That's right. It didn't rhyme at all.
GROSS: What did you tell her?
LYNN: I just told her back off. She's playing with the wrong Bill.
GROSS: You know, what's amazing to me, like, why would somebody think that they could compete with you? And also, maybe I'm speaking out of turn here, but like, why would your husband...
LYNN: Well, that's how - women take your husband away from you all the time, so they all think that, you know?
GROSS: Yeah, right.
LYNN: Are you married?
LYNN: Oh, Lord...
LYNN: He'll kill us. He'll kill us.
LYNN: Don't let him hear this.
GROSS: We're OK.
GROSS: So was it right after this incident that you sat down and wrote the song?
LYNN: You know, I don't know exactly when I wrote the song, but I'm pretty sure that I had some things in mind when I wrote it. I won't talk about it.
GROSS: That's fine. But do you think she knew that it was about her?
LYNN: I just imagine.
GROSS: You imagine that she did?
LYNN: I imagine she did.
LYNN: I probably told her.
GROSS: Oh, nice (laughter).
BIANCULLI: Loretta Lynn, speaking to Terry Gross in 2010. Her new album is called “Full Circle.” We’ll hear more of their interview after a break, and we’ll also hear Questlove talking about his father, soul a doo-wop singer Lee Andrews, who died this week. And David Edelstein will review the new movie “Krisha.” I’m David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FIST CITY”)
LYNN: (Singing) Oh, you’ve been making your brag around town that you’ve been loving my man. But the man I love, when he picks up trash, he puts it in a garbage can. That’s what you look like to me, and what I see’s a pity. You better close your face and stay out of my way if you don’t want to go to fist city.
If you don’t want to go to fist city, you better detour around my town ‘cause I’ll grab you by the hair of the head, and I’ll lift you off the ground. I’m not saying my baby’s a saint ‘cause he ain’t and that he won’t cat around with a kitty. I’m here to tell you gal lay off my man if you don’t want to go to fist city. Come on and tell what you told my friends if you think you’re brave enough. And I’ll show you what a real woman is since you think you’re hot stuff.
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. Let’s get back to Terry’s interview with Loretta Lynn. She’s just released her first new studio album in a decade. It’s called “Full Circle.” Terry interviewed her in 2010, when a tribute of her songs came out.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Now, when you started performing, Patsy Cline was your mentor until she died.
LYNN: But, you know, she hadn't been in the business that long when I’d come to Nashville. She'd only been singing two or three years. And yeah...
GROSS: So she must have really related to what you were going through.
LYNN: Oh, yeah. We talked a lot (laughter).
GROSS: What were some of the things that she taught you, that really helped you a lot - things relating to, you know, from clothing to performing style to dealing with the music industry - yeah, go ahead.
LYNN: Well, she kind of helped me - you know, with the style and everything that I was - you know, I was in blue jeans and a T-shirt, or blue jeans and just a Western shirt. And she taught me a lot - how to dress and...
GROSS: What did she tell you about how to dress?
LYNN: Well, she told me to get out of the jeans, you know? Of course, I would wear them until we'd get to the radio station, and then I'd get in the backseat and put on my dress. And I'd take the dress off and go back into my jeans and wait until the next radio station.
LYNN: And then I'd go back into my dress again.
GROSS: And did she give you any advice about performing?
LYNN: Not really. I think she wanted me to learn that on my own, and I think it's best for every artist to learn on their own what they're going to do on stage and how they act. And I don't think anybody else can teach you that.
GROSS: I want to play another song that you wrote, and this was a song that was, actually pretty controversial at the time it came out. And it's called "Rated X."
GROSS: And I'm going to let you describe what the song's about.
LYNN: Well, it's about a woman that's been married and divorced, and I'll just let you listen to it.
GROSS: OK, and what I want to do, I want to go to the tribute CD. The White Stripes have a really good reworked - like, reinterpreted version of this.
GROSS: And I know you've worked with Jack White before. He produced a terrific album…
LYNN: Oh, yeah.
GROSS: …Of yours in 2004, called "Van Lear Rose."
GROSS: So do you want to say anything about the White Stripes' version of your song?
LYNN: Well, I think whatever Jack does is good. I mean, you can't - I mean, he's good. You have to love him. So this is good.
GROSS: OK, so this is the song Loretta Lynn wrote. She recorded it in 1971. It's called "Rated X," and here's the White Stripes from the Loretta Lynn tribute album "Coal Miner's Daughter."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RATED X")
THE WHITE STRIPES: (Singing) Well, if you've been a married woman, and things didn't seem to work out, divorce is the key to being loose and free, but you're going to be talked about.
Everybody knows that you've loved once. They think you'll love again. You can't have a male friend when you're a has-been of a woman you're rated X. And if you're rated X, you're some kind of goal that even men turned civil try to make. But I think it's wrong to judge every picture if a cheap camera makes a mistake. So if your best friend's husband says to you that you've started looking good, you should've known he would, and he would if he could. And he will if you're rated X. Well…
GROSS: That's the White Stripes from the new Loretta Lynn tribute album, "Coal Miner's Daughter," and also Loretta Lynn's famous memoir, "Coal Miner's Daughter," has been published in a new edition. Now, we were talking before about writing from a woman's point of view, which "Rated X" most certainly is - you know, about what it's like to be a divorced woman, when men think that you're available and try to take advantage of you and you have a reputation. So why was the song controversial?
LYNN: I think it was because, you know, you've been a married woman. I think when you write about it, they take it to heart, too, you know? They - people do. So I think that was it. It just starts out, if you've been a married woman, things didn't seem to work out, divorce is the key to being loose and free. So you're going to be talked about. So that's exactly how it is, you know?
GROSS: When you called it "Rated X" - I mean, do you think some people thought, oh, this is going to be a very provocative, sexy song…
LYNN: Oh, yeah, no - a lot of…
GROSS: …Because it's called "Rated X"?
LYNN: Yeah, a lot of the disc jockeys, you know, banned it before they even listened to it. And, you know, after it got way up in the charts and they all flipped the record, started listening to it and playing it - but, you know, another old dirty record from Loretta Lynn.
GROSS: Now, something that was even more controversial than "Rated X" was your song "The Pill," which is about...
LYNN: That's right. The pill was on the way and, you know, we have a lot of them that says it like it is. So that's really, I guess we're not to talk about the way it is.
GROSS: This has some lyrics that I think, you know, really were controversial in some country music circles at the time. And the lyrics include - this old maternity dress I've got is going in the garbage, and you've set this chicken your last time because now I've got the pill. I'm tearing down this brooder house 'cause now I've got the pill.
GROSS: So the song sounds autobiographical in some ways. I'm not saying that you are necessarily angry in the way that the character in the song is angry, but you had six children.
LYNN: I had six kids. I lost three.
GROSS: You lost three?
LYNN: I lost three.
GROSS: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize that.
LYNN: I was about five and six - well, it wasn't - you know, I lost them before they were born.
GROSS: Oh, so you had six and lost three others? Wow.
GROSS: That's a lot of pregnancies.
GROSS: Right, OK, stating the obvious. Did you share the song's anger?
LYNN: Well, I sure didn't like it when I got pregnant a few times. You know, it's hard for a woman to have so many kids. And, well, at the time, I guess I had four. And then I got pregnant and had - you know, with the twins. But yeah, I was a little angry.
GROSS: Let's hear it, and this was released in 1975…
LYNN: All right.
GROSS: …Recorded in 1972. This is Loretta Lynn, "The Pill."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PILL")
LYNN: (Singing) You wined me and dined me when I was your girl, promised if I'd be your wife, you'd show me the world. But all I've seen of this old world is a bed and a doctor bill. I'm tearin' down your brooder house 'cause now I've got the pill.
All these years I've stayed at home while you had all your fun, and every year that's gone by another baby's come. There's going to be some changes made right here on nursery hill. You've set this chicken your last time 'cause now I've got the pill.
This old maternity dress I've got is going in the garbage. The clothes I'm wearin' from now on won't take up so much yardage. Miniskirts, hot pants and a few little fancy frills - yeah, I'm making up for all those years since I've got the pill.
GROSS: (Singing) That's Loretta Lynn, recorded in 1972. It was released in '75. The song is called "The Pill." Now, you've said that you never even used the pill as birth control (laughter).
LYNN: Well, if I'd had it, I'd have used it.
GROSS: I see.
LYNN: At the time that - yeah.
LYNN: Yeah because, even - back when I was having all the kids, we didn't have birth control pills. Or if they did, I didn't know anything about them.
GROSS: Well, it’s how you write that there's a lot you didn't know about, that - you were 13 when you got married in 1947, and you say you didn't...
LYNN: I didn't know anything about sex either, did I?
GROSS: No, you say you didn't know anything about sex…
GROSS: …Or even pregnancy. You say when you got pregnant, you didn't even know the word. Is that right?
LYNN: Well, I don't know. I guess we just called it having a baby. We didn't call it pregnant. Back in Butcher Holler, there was a lot of things we didn't know - a lot of things they still don't know back there.
GROSS: When I think of you getting married at 13, it just seems so young.
LYNN: Well, it is. It is way too young, you know?
GROSS: What made you think that you were ready?
LYNN: Don't ask me. I was 13.
GROSS: So when you got married, about a year afterwards, you moved to the state of Washington.
LYNN: Washington state.
GROSS: Far away. Did you feel lost for a while when you moved away…
LYNN: Oh, yeah.
GROSS: …From your family and everything you knew?
LYNN: Yeah, daddy said - he told me he wouldn't take you away where I couldn't see you. And here I was, 3,000 miles away two months after he married me.
GROSS: Wow, I was thinking what it must have been like for you to be, you know, so far away from home at the age of like 13, 14, 15 having…
GROSS: …Children already. You probably had no idea you were ever going to become famous.
LYNN: No, never. And I still don't. I'm not famous (laughter). I'm just me.
GROSS: Well, Loretta Lynn, it's really been great to talk with you. Thank you so very much.
LYNN: It's been nice to talk to you, honey.
BIANCULLI: Loretta Lynn, speaking with Terry Gross in 2010.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Lee Andrews, the lead singer of the Philadelphia doo-wop group Lee Andrews and the Hearts, died Wednesday at age 79. Here he is on the 1950s hit “Teardrops.”
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “TEARDROPS”)
LEE ANDREWS AND THE HEARTS: (Singing) I sit in my room looking out at the rain. My tears are like crystals. They cover my window pane. I’m thinking of our lost romance and how we should have been. Oh, if we only could start over again. I know you’d never…
BIANCULLI: Lee Andrews’ son Questlove, who has achieved fame with his own music group The Roots, hosted a tender appreciation on Instagram after Andrews’ death. “I love you,” he wrote to his father, who took him on tour when he was a young boy, “for every backstage experience, for every drum lesson, for giving me your tireless work ethic,” unquote. In 2013, when Terry >>GROSS interviewed Questlove for FRESH AIR, the subject turned to his father, Lee Andrews. And Questlove was just as grateful then.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Your father is Lee Andrews of Lee Andrews & The Hearts that had several hits in the 1950s, including "Teardrops," "Long, Lonely Nights," "Try the Impossible." It was a vocal harmony group.
AHMIR THOMPSON: Yeah, doo-wop.
GROSS: Doo-wop. And did you grow up with the idea that performance was just, like, a natural part of life?
THOMPSON: Yeah, I kind of - my parents kind of tricked me into thinking - well no, I tricked myself into thinking that this was just a normal, everyday existence. My father had his first wave of notoriety in the late '50s, and then it cooled down a bit in the '60s. He retired, opened up a boutique store with my mother.
And then when the baby boom nostalgia kicked in, in the '70s, with doo-wop music and, you know, the onslaught of "Grease" and "American Graffiti" and "Laverne & Shirley" and that type of stuff, my father was first in line to sort of cash in on it to do these sort of like Dick Clark extravaganzas at Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden.
And so I grew up, at the age of two, backstage, watching, you know, Harvey and The Moonglows and Frankie Lymon's Teenagers and Reparata and the Delrons and Johnny Maestro & the Brooklyn Bridge, all these oldies acts. Like, I grew up thinking that was contemporary music, even to the point where in music class in the first grade, when we had to bring in our favorite single - we'd bring in 45 records to play - you know, all the other kids were bringing in contemporary stuff.
They were bringing in like "Shadow Dancing" by Andy Gibb and, you know, "Macho Man" by The Village People. And I was bringing in like "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, thinking that this was new music.
THOMPSON: And my teacher's like no, this was popular when I was 14. And I didn't get that. But yeah, that was probably the best education I ever had because my father literally groomed me for show business. Like, at first, he taught me how to read a Rand McNally map so I could navigate - I was a human GPS by the age of 6.
THOMPSON: By 7, I graduated to wardrobe. So he taught me how to steam, how to iron, how to clean suede and leather, how to shine shoes, all those things. So I knew how to do wardrobe by 7. By 9, he taught me how to do - cut light gels. And so I became - I ran the light system. So yeah, I was a 10-year-old kid in these nightclubs getting ladders, setting up lights, setting up spotlights, doing their show.
Like, I was their light director. And then one day when the drummer - he wasn't sick. He got in an accident, and his arm was sprained, and the drummer couldn't play. And with the casualness of me today, my dad just said, you know the show, just go play it. And I was 12 years old, and that venue was Radio City Music Hall.
Ironically, right across the street from 30 Rock, where I work today, so, like, my very first drumming gig was at Radio City Music Hall at the age of 12.
GROSS: So your father's from the doo-wop era, and you started performing on your own in the hip-hop era. So would you compare his performance ethic and yours and what he thought was good showmanship and what you did and do?
THOMPSON: I based a lot of the pacing of our shows on my father's roadmap because there was a point where - like during the first initial wave of the nostalgia - you know, we only had 20 minutes. Like, there's, like 10 acts on the bill. So by the time the late '70s to early '80s arrived, I'll say that the initial doo-wop nostalgia sort of cooled down, and people were making way for, like, the British invasion nostalgia.
My father wisely kind of got off that platform and went to another platform that no one was on, which was the nightclub circuit. And, you know, we'd do the Atlantic City, the Poconos, the Catskills, Vegas, like, places where there would be casinos and the need for this type of entertainment.
So he would pace - I mean, some of these shows would require five shows to be performed and each show different. It wasn't until later that I found out that he could have just did the same, you know, 45-minute set each time out, and it wouldn't have made a difference. It was probably, like, a new audience. But I don't know, in his head, like if one person decided to stay for all five shows, then he was going to make it worth their while.
And so he knew how to perfectly pace it. He knew which cover songs to cover that were universal. He knew how to utilize my mother, who, I guess you could say was like the June Carter to his Johnny Cash. My mother - gorgeous, beautiful and had an awesome comic timing, since she knew - like, she did audience participation well. Like, she's really the star of the show.
And so seeing this stuff, you know, I just applied it to pacing The Roots' shows, which I felt gave us kind of a leg up more than just, you know, the average throw your hands in the air and wave them like just don't care banter of hip-hop back when I first started.
BIANCULLI: Questlove, speaking to Terry Gross in 2013. They were discussing his father, doo-wop singer Lee Andrews, who died Wednesday at age 79.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The micro-budget indie drama "Krisha" won the narrative feature jury and audience award at the 2015 South by Southwest film festival and has already brought considerable attention to its first-time filmmaker, Houston-born writer-director Trey Edward Shults. He used members of his own family, among them his aunt, Krisha Fairchild, who plays the film's protagonist. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: Let me first tell you about a remarkable extended shot in Trey Edward Shult's debut "Krisha." It's a showstopper of bad vibes, a psycho symphony that bumps the film out of kitchen sink realism, even though it's set in a kitchen and near a sink.
Krisha's the name of the title character, played by a former and now back with a vengeance actress named Krisha Fairchild, who happens to be the director's aunt. The character is a bedraggled woman in her 60s who arrives for Thanksgiving at her sister's spacious home.
She's eager to prove to all the relatives she's hurt or abandoned that she's different now, clean, sober, responsible. She's eager to take her place in the family again - too eager maybe. She's asked to make the turkey herself for more than 20 people, and it's a monster.
As she stands in the open kitchen arranging her utensils, conversing with her sister and niece, the sound of that conversation is overwhelmed by the surrounding noise of chairs and a door and people cheering a football game. What a score by Brian McOmber. Here, those bubble noises sound like percolations from an old Maxwell House coffee commercial while the discordant plinks unnerve you.
(SOUNDBITE OF "KRISHA" FILM)
EDELSTEIN: And Krisha seems to move at a slower speed than the others. You watch her nod and try to find her center, but you know her center cannot hold. The character's inner chaos is projected onto the external world, a defining quality of expressionism.
Shults is not yet 30 and this is his first feature, but he has a gift, perhaps even a genius, for translating thought and emotion into camera moves and composition. Even this home for Thanksgiving psychodrama, a genre all to itself, feels like something you've never seen before. Most of the actors are non-actors, members of Shults' family, including his mother, a psychologist in real life, and they're amazingly vivid. And Shults himself plays a young family member who's particularly traumatized for reasons that will later be clear.
In interviews, he's said his aunt's real life is not the basis for her character. But he must have discerned in her something of the movie's Krisha - restlessness perhaps, a resistance to settling down. With her shapeless clothing and unruly long gray hair, she's an earth mother who's lost all connection to the earth.
She finds a moment of peace as she smokes a cigarette in the backyard amid her sister's many dogs. But beside her is her dryly cruel brother-in-law Doyle, played by superb actor named Bill Wise, who gazes on her with quiet contempt, the contempt of a wealthy man who's held it together for a sister-in-law who's never fought successfully against her own unruly impulses.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KRISHA")
BILL WISE: (As Doyle) What have you been doing?
KRISHA FAIRCHILD: (As Krisha) I have been living a life in which I have tried to become a better human being. And that's as much as I'm interested in saying to you about it.
WISE: (As Doyle) This is a place of healing, right here, right here it is, Krisha. This is it. You can say anything anytime anywhere. You let me know. When it's all said and done, I'm married to your [expletive] sister in there and I'm family.
FAIRCHILD: (As Krisha) Thank you. And I appreciate the offer and as soon as I have anything really incredibly revealing that I want to say, I will definitely come right to you and say it, dude.
WISE: (As Doyle) Well, I'll tell you what, you can write it down and I'll read it later
FAIRCHILD: (As Krisha) OK.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)
WISE: (As Doyle) Shut up.
FAIRCHILD: (As Krisha) Very subtle.
WISE: (As Doyle) Not bad.
EDELSTEIN: Some critics have compared "Krisha" to the excruciatingly intimate, semi-improvised films of John Cassavetes, and there's some truth there. But you also see the influence of the dreamy Terrence Malick on whose films Shults has worked. Really, though, there's nothing like "Krisha."
One scene even features a person with real dementia, Shults' grandmother, Billie Fairchild, who plays the character Krisha's mother and was apparently aware she was acting in a film. It never feels like exploitation. In one scene, she gazes on her daughters and quietly alludes to her difficulties with her own mother, and you have a sudden glimpse of an endless line of parents who either weren't there enough or there too much.
What's to come is predictably disaster, but Shults doesn't shoot the hellish meltdown like someone controlling the action, only observing it - helplessly. He has mercy for Krisha, even as she's screwing up her own and others' lives. The movie marks the arrival of a truly adventurous, humanist filmmaker.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
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