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Singer-songwriter and Guitarist Richard Thompson.

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson. He first became known for his work with "Fairport Convention." He's since gone solo and is known for his dark songs which blend elements of British folk ballads and the blues. He's released a number of solo albums, "Mirror Blue," and "Rumor and Sign". Rykodisc also compiled a retrospective of his work "Watching the Dark: The History of Richard Thompson," . Thompson's newest solo CD is "Mock Tudor" (Capitol)




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Other segments from the episode on August 17, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 17, 1999: Interview with Richard Thompson; Interview with Richard Davenport-Hines; Commentary on the longevity of new vocabulary.


Date: AUGUST 17, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081701np.217
Head: "Mock Tudor": An Interview with Richard Thompson
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

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

TERRY GROSS, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with FRESH AIR.

On today's FRESH AIR, singer, songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson tells us about his new CD "Mock Tudor," a collection of songs inspired by his childhood.

Also, blackened fingernails, dark lipstick, vampire-white skin -- it's a look that's part of a larger "goth" sensibility. What's the attraction of goth? We'll talk with Richard Davenport-Hines, author of the new book "Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin."

And linguist Geoff Nunberg reflects on the rapid rate at which new words are entering the lexicon and wonders about their staying power.

That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.

First the news.


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

Richard Thompson has a new CD, so we invited him to talk with us about it. Thompson is a great songwriter, singer and guitarist who has a devoted following. He first became known in the late '60s as the lead guitarist for the British band Fairport Convention, which was among the first groups to perform rock songs with a melodic or lyrical connection to traditional folk ballads from the British Isles.

Thompson left the band in 1971. In many of his own songs he's continued to combine a rock and folk sensibility, but almost always with a dark, dramatic edge. His new CD is called "Mock Tudor." Some of these new songs have an autobiographical connection alluding to the neighborhoods he grew up in and the people he knew. This song is called "Hard on Me."


RICHARD THOMPSON (singing): Hard on me, hard on me, why do you (INAUDIBLE) Hard on, hard on me (INAUDIBLE) rich (ph), I stuck (ph) my (INAUDIBLE), I shake my catch (ph), I swim with emptiness. Hard on me, hard on me...


GROSS: Richard Thompson, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

THOMPSON: Thank you very much, indeed.

GROSS: The new CD is divided into, like, three chapters. And the first chapter is called "Metroland" (ph). What's the meaning of that?

THOMPSON: Metroland was this kind of dream suburb that was created in London between the wars, between 1919, 1939. And it was a sort of idealized sort of country-style living, which turned out to just be another suburb, really. It also followed the growth of one of the London tube lines, which was called the Metro line -- the Metropolitan line, I should say. So it became known as Metroland. It was a kind of an advertising slogan. And I grew up kind of in Metroland, so I have a love-hate relationship with the place.

GROSS: What relationship does the song we just heard, "Hard on Me," have to Metroland?

THOMPSON: Well, I think of it as a song about my family, particularly about my father and -- you know, and growing up in the suburbs and feeling very kind of put upon and isolated and -- I suppose I felt a lack of freedom and a lack of culture, you know.

GROSS: He was a cop when you were growing up, and...


THOMPSON: He was a cop, yeah.

GROSS: Right. And I read in a biography of you that one of the neighborhoods you lived in was a neighborhood that was basically built for the families of policemen. Was this that neighborhood?

THOMPSON: Let me think. At one time it was, yes. I mean, imagine that. You know, you're surrounded -- all your neighbors are policemen. All the kids, of course, were total rebels. All of them.

GROSS: Including you?

THOMPSON: Yeah, afraid so.

GROSS: So what was it like to grow up in a neighborhood where nearly everyone -- everyone had a father who was a cop?

THOMPSON: Very strange, peculiar. You know, and it's tough for police, and it's tough for police families. It's hard for the police to make friends outside of the police force, so they actually do tend to stick together, and they spend their off-duty hours with other police, or criminal!


They also fraternize with the criminal classes. It's very strange.

As -- you know, when I was a bit older, I'd go into a pub with my father, you know, and he'd say, "Oh, there's old Charlie. I'm just going to go and talk to him for a minute," and he'd be chatting to some guy, having a drink with him. And then he'd come back, however, and say, "Oh, that was," you know, "Charlie Higgenbotham." You know, "I put him away for seven years for safe-cracking," you know? But they were just, you know, great friends. It was very strange.

GROSS: So is this CD an occasion for you to write songs about your past -- you know, to, like, look back on your past and translate some of that into music?

THOMPSON: I suppose it's turned out that way. I think what I was trying to do was to write songs that still had a kind of a contemporary resonance for me. And all the songs really still -- you know, I still meet the same kind of people. I still find myself in the same kinds of situations. But it's easier for me to decode it if I set the scene in the past.

GROSS: The second chapter on your CD is called "Heroes in the Suburbs." What's that chapter heading about?


THOMPSON: I suppose it's -- it's an ironical title. I had this sort of fantasy in my mind of Greek gods enacting their triumphs in the suburbs of North London. But the title is very ironical in terms of the songs represented.

GROSS: Let me play one of the songs from that chapter. This is "Crawl Back Under My Stone." Would you say something about the song before we hear it?

THOMPSON: The British class system, I suppose, is at the bottom of the song. It's -- it's still -- it's still there. It's been slowly eroded over the last sort of 20-30 years, but being, you know, from the very middle of the middle class, I always felt, you know, the social stigmas of Britain. You know, you're always made to feel the social stigmas. And it's a song about finding oneself in those circumstances.

GROSS: So this is Richard Thompson, from his new CD, "Mock Tudor," and the song is called "Crawl Back Under My Stone."


THOMPSON (singing): This time you had me. You really did it this time. You did. Did you count your fingers after shaking my hand? God forbid! Riff-raff crawling from the sloanes (ph) right there in front of all your chums. That's where, by the pricking of my thumbs, I make your day melt away. I'll crawl back under my stone. I'll crawl back under my stone. I'll crawl back under my stone. You won't have to stand next to me. You won't have to introduce me. You won't have to think about, talk about, care about me. I'll crawl back. I've got a nerve just showing my face, don't you think? Scruffy little likes (ph) ought to know their place, don't you think? Oh, boy! Sorry to intrude! Damn shame. Plenty bloody rude! I should be (INAUDIBLE) my tail between my knees. I'll crawl back under my stone. I'll crawl back under my stone. I'll crawl back under my stone. You won't have to stand next to me. You won't have to introduce me. You won't have to think about, talk about, care about me. I'll crawl back. I want to be middle class (INAUDIBLE) middle class. I just don't want to be, I just don't want to be free (ph).


GROSS: It's music from Richard Thompson's new CD, "Mock Tudor."

Now, the character in the song that we just heard wants to be middle class. You described yourself from the middle of the middle class. So is this -- is this a persona song for you?


THOMPSON: Well, I think it's kind of me, really. It's a very, very slight touch of persona. It's really me. It's really me.

GROSS: So what were the social stigmas you feel like you came of age with, that made you want to crawl back under your stone?

THOMPSON: Yeah. If you haven't grown up with class, I don't know how you describe it. I think in America, class is just wealth, that that's all there is. You know, you can be anybody. That's the great thing about America. You know, you can be, you know, the poorest person, but you have the potential to be the president or the potential to be extremely wealthy. You know, Americans tend to applaud the gaining of wealth, whereas in Europe, if you haven't got old money, you know, you're considered an outsider forever. You know, if you suddenly win the lottery or something, you know, you're still in your class. You're still, you know, lower middle class, you know, upper middle class, you know, lower lower class. You never escape that.

GROSS: Now, does celebrity bypass class? Like, if you're a celebrity, do you just become member of the celebrity class? Like, when you became...

THOMPSON: Well, I think so, yeah. That's one of the most mobile positions to be socially in Britain, and I think that happened in the '60s, when you had people like, you know, Mick Jagger and David Bailey (ph), you know, and the Beatles, you know, would suddenly go and have tea with, you know, the marquis of whatever, you know. They were sort of, you know, a bit of a curiosity, and not totally accepted, but they could certainly rub shoulders.

GROSS: My guest is Richard Thompson. He has a new CD called "Mock Tudor." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is guitarist, songwriter and singer Richard Thompson.

Well, I want to go back to your new CD, which is called "Mock Tudor," and go to what is the third chapter on the new CD, which is called "Street Cries and Stage Whispers." And the song I want to play is called "That's All, Amen, Close the Door." Would you say something about the song?

THOMPSON: I think the song is really about Sandy Denny (ph), who's a wonderful singer that I worked with in Fairport Convention, and then I played in Sandy's band for about a year after that. And she's a truly great singer, very underappreciated, great singer, great writer, you know, and sorely missed, and -- and I get upset when people try to kind of -- to dig her up in the wrong way, if you know what I mean -- Nick Drake (ph), who's another artist who died young -- and that -- you know, that there's a real cult for. But I think the kind of cult that grows up around Sandy is -- you know it kind of upsets me in ways that I can't always describe, so I have to write a song about it.

GROSS: Well, we'll listen to the song. This is from Richard Thompson's new CD, "Mock Tudor." The song is called "That's All, Amen, Close the Door."


THOMPSON (singing): That's all. That's all there was. Say amen, close the door. She gave us much that she had to give. Please don't ask for more. Please don't ask for more. That's all. The curtain's down. The lights are up. Go home. Did I care? Was I in love? In love enough to know, in love enough to know (INAUDIBLE) lion that roared (ph) (INAUDIBLE) There's no call (ph) to hold the past, too rich to drink (ph), too rich to last. That's all. Well, you wish, but don't wish for me because if a wish could cheat (INAUDIBLE) Just believe and leave it be. There's beauty in (INAUDIBLE) There's beauty in what's (INAUDIBLE) That's all.


GROSS: That's Richard Thompson, from his new CD, "Mock Tudor."

That's a really great song, and I -- you know, in addition to really loving the lyrics, I really like the harmonies and the chords on that.

THOMPSON: Oh, thank you.

GROSS: Not that you're the typical rock performer, but a lot of rock performers really just know a handful of chords, and I think your kind of chordal and harmonic knowledge is just really deep.

THOMPSON: Oh, gosh! Well, keep saying these...

GROSS: Yeah, right!

THOMPSON: ... these wonderful words!

GROSS: Yeah, I'll go on. I'm wondering how you learned that? It's knowledge that's maybe more typical of jazz musicians?

THOMPSON: Well, you know, I'm a -- you know, I'm a pop musician, or I'm a folk musician. But you know, I've always listened to other kinds of music. And I can't play a jazz set to save my life, and I can't play classical music, but you know, the little bits of harmony I think you can just tuck onto the edges of popular music.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned that the song we just heard was about Sandy Denny and your reaction to the cult that formed around her after her death. I'm wondering what impact her death had on you? Was this, like, the first time someone you were really close with who was, like, you know, someone you were close with and also a fellow performer and someone of your own age?

THOMPSON: Yeah, I think as a fellow performer, it was -- I think it hit everyone around Sandy very hard. But I think there was also -- there was a kind of a sense of inevitability about it. You know, Sandy was a hard-living person, and I think, you know, if you took a kind of objective look at her life, it did seemed stacked up against her somehow, and she didn't seem to be able to deal with it. So it was -- it was a shock, and it was sudden, but there was a sense of "Well" -- that this was going to happen.

GROSS: How did she die?

THOMPSON: She -- she had a head injury. She fell down the stairs, and then they weren't sure if that was the prime reason that she was -- she was comatose or if she just reopened another injury from a previous fall, you know, because I think she'd -- she'd had a couple of falls before that.

GROSS: Well, what would you say is, like, the music at the very foundation of who you are, the music that you first heard that first imprinted itself on you, whether you liked it or not?

THOMPSON: Well, I think the stuff that really does me, you know, that really gets the deepest is -- you know, is Scottish music. And I don't know how early I heard that, but probably, you know, since I was, you know, zero. So there's that. There's also, you know, something like, you know, Louis Armstrong's Hot Five (ph), which my father had, you know, on -- on 78s was a, you know, very early musical experience that -- that I still love. I mean, I still think that, you know, Louis Armstrong's the most important musician of the century. And I suppose, you know, something like Jerry Lee Lewis, you know, as well, you know, just the -- you know, the energy and the rebellion in that music that just -- just -- just did me, you know? So I think the music I try to play now is somewhere, you know, between, you know, Scottish traditional and Louis Armstrong and Jerry Lee Lewis.


GROSS: That's not bad!

THOMPSON: Some strange -- some strange amalgam of -- of that kind of thing, you know.

GROSS: I want to close with another song from your new CD, "Mock Tudor." And this is a song that's really pretty funny. It's called "Hope You Like the New Me." And it's a song about somebody who's -- who's borrowed, or shall we say, stolen a lot of characteristics of another person. And the song really leads one to wonder what's the difference between being inspired by and influenced by someone and just, like, stealing from them, when that other person is a performer? And you've probably been on both sides of this, right, of -- of...

THOMPSON: Well, particularly...

GROSS: ... of borrowing from and being borrowed from?

THOMPSON: Particularly on one side.


THOMPSON: I'm not sure I've stolen too much. I might have borrowed from dead people, but that's -- that's acceptable. If you've been in the music business, you know, any length of time, then you've probably been stolen from.

GROSS: What kind of things do you think were stolen from you?

THOMPSON: Money and music.

GROSS: What kind of music, I guess? What -- are you thinking of a sound or...

THOMPSON: Oh, I suppose you could say that, as well. Yeah, you know, sounds. Sounds, tunes, lyrics, everything. Yeah, everything.

GROSS: To the point where you ever sued or...

THOMPSON: Stuff (INAUDIBLE) I don't think so. I don't think so. And sometimes, you know, it's not worth it, so you don't go all the way. You don't take the legal steps because it's more expensive than recovering whatever it was. But the music business is just full of that, you know.

GROSS: Now, it's interesting to me that -- that you feel like people have stolen stuff from you, and yet you wrote the song in the persona of the person who has stolen from somebody else, and you wrote it in a very funny way, as opposed to an angry way.

THOMPSON: Yeah, well, I'm -- you know, I'm not particularly angry about it, and I'm not unique in that. A lot of musicians have had stuff, you know, lifted, sometimes very blatantly and very expensively. And it's -- you know, it's just a -- it's a type of person that I was more interested in than the actual stealing. You know, it's a kind of person that I met, you know, at the beginning of -- of my time in the music business. And they're still there now. I still meet them. And I was just -- you know, I was just interested in -- in getting inside the framework of that kind of person.

GROSS: Why don't we hear the final song on your CD, and it's called "Hope You Like the New Me."

Richard Thompson, it's a great record, and a pleasure to have you back on FRESH AIR.

THOMPSON: Thank you very much, Terry.

GROSS: Richard Thompson's new CD is called "Mock Tudor."

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


THOMPSON (singing): I stole your style. Hope you don't mind. I must try to be all I can be. It suits me more than it's ever suited you. Hope you like the new me. And I stole you life (ph), so bright and breezy. It stops parties (ph) in mid-air. It makes me feel more devil-may-care. Hope you like the new me. Hope you like the new me. (INAUDIBLE) to lean on.



Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Richard Thompson
High: Singer/songwriter, guitarist Richard Thompson first became known for his work with "Fairport Convention," but he's since gone solo and is known for his dark songs which blend elements of British folk ballads and the blues. Thompson's newest solo CD is "Mock Tudor." He discusses his career in music.
Spec: Music Industry; Richard Thompson; "Mock Tudor"

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

Date: AUGUST 17, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081702NP.217
Head: The Gothic Sensibility
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

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

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


BELA LUGOSI, ACTOR: I am Dracula. I bid you welcome.


LUGOSI: Listen to them -- children of the night. What music they make!


GROSS: The vampire, the eroticism of repulsion he evokes as he rises from his grave. This is part of the Gothic sensibility, a sensibility that is very attractive to many young people. It's expressed in the music they listen to, the books they read, and the way they look -- black clothing, black fingernail polish, nearly black lipstick, very pale skin.

My guest, Richard Davenport-Hines, has written a new book on the history of Gothic art, architecture, literature, and movies. It's called "Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil, and Ruin."

Let's start with what the word "Gothic" means.

RICHARD DAVENPORT-HINES, "GOTHIC: FOUR HUNDRED YEARS OF EXCESS, HORROR, EVIL AND RUIN": Originally, the word "Gothic" was used to indicate the style of architecture used in Europe in the Middle Ages to build churches and cathedrals, which has to do with spires soaring high into the sky to reach God, and this is about spiritual elevation.

But the type of Gothic imagination as I've been interested in is the opposite of that, and is art and pictures and books and later cinema trying to look at the darker side of human nature rather than the higher side of Christianity.

GROSS: What is the look today that goes with Goth?

DAVENPORT-HINES: Well, in Europe, in the States, and Australia, the look today is definitely one that's emphasizing black for the clothes, and cosmetic experiments that make you look spectral, that make you look vampiric or ghostly. And the whole attempt is to look, in a playful way, sinister.

I don't think it's intended to look positively threatening, but it is intended to be slightly a camp joke about it, playing with ideas of evil.

GROSS: You know, some people say that the Goth style really appeals to people who aren't conventionally attractive, and in part because it's a way of being very defiant about mainstream values of conventional beauty, and it's a way of really expressing yourself without having to have, you know, the perfect nose or the perfect hairdo or whatever.

DAVENPORT-HINES: Yes, I'm not sure that I'd go along with that very far, partly because I think the next tension, the next great move in Gothic self-expression is going to be more -- is going to be related to cosmetic surgery, and people actually changing the shape of their bodies more dramatically.

I couldn't dress up as a Goth because I'm too stout, and I'd just look silly. And I'm not -- I think you have to be thin and slightly wasted, slightly emaciated, as if you have been drained by a vampire, to look really good in the Gothic clothes.

GROSS: Now, you point out in your book that Goth has always had the versatility to provide the imagery to express the anxieties of the age, no matter what that age is. What anxieties do you think Goth is expressing now?

DAVENPORT-HINES: Oh, I think the Goth at the moment seems to me fighting the Disneyfication of the United States and of the European world, and the sense that family life can be a secure and containing experience, and the sort of publicity that was associated with Hillary Clinton's book about -- which I think was called...

GROSS: "It Takes a Village."

DAVENPORT-HINES: Exactly so. I would have thought that was absolutely the antithesis of what Goths were about.

GROSS: Is it not about community values or family values?

DAVENPORT-HINES: It's to believe -- it's to say that community values are a fairly shallow, controlled system, and an attempt in particular to tell people that life can be made safe, that life can be made secure, that boundaries and frontiers can be put on one's domestic existence that will last.

And Goths, and the whole Gothic message for 300 years is that life is always perilous and dangerous, that one's circumstances are always insecure, and that you're likely to get walloped by a personal disaster or an emotional misfortune when you least expect it from the direction that you never imagined it was coming from.

GROSS: What's the Goth scene like in London? And I'm wondering what you think about when you pass, say, a group of teenagers who are all dressed in black with makeup to look -- to make them look more pale, and they're obviously, like, really deep into Goth.

DAVENPORT-HINES: There's not a great deal of that visible just at the moment in London, except among people who go over and over again to see "The Rocky Horror Show." That's not, I think, tremendously active at the moment in London. Clearly it's very different than in the United States.

GROSS: I wonder why you think that is, why it's still so popular in the United States but not in England.

DAVENPORT-HINES: I think it's because the cult of family life and the absolute veneration of family life is so much stronger in the United States, desperately unconvincing to many people who are living within families at the time, and that one of the ways that one can signal one's dissent from saying that being in a family is generally a really good experience or a really emotionally enriching experience, or something that makes one feel politically a lot safer, is by dressing up as a Goth.

I think -- we're a much less hierarchical and authoritarian society in that way in England, and in -- probably in most of Western Europe, so there isn't at the moment anything to fight against in that way.

GROSS: I think there's a lot of fears in the United States about Goth culture now. It's seen as antisocial and possibly dangerous and violent. For example, the shooters at the high school in Littleton were seen by some as being connected to Goth culture. There are some schools that have been trying to ban Goth clothing.

I'm wondering if, from your perspective, you see, you know, the Goth sensibility as being potentially dangerous or leading to violence.

DAVENPORT-HINES: No, the opposite, substantially. All of the Goths I know are rather gentle and frequently rather sensitive and reflective people, and not -- and specifically not aggressive. And in the sense their dressing up is an attempt to distance themselves from the rather more aggressive and competitive models of behavior that you get from corporate society.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Richard Davenport-Hines. He's the author of the new book "Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil, and Ruin."

Where does the word "Gothic" come from?

DAVENPORT-HINES: Well, it was essentially coined in England in the 1730s by noblemen who were building new types of landscape gardening for their country estates. And they had got very excited by Italian pictures painted in the previous century by a very fashionable painter called Salvatore Rosa (ph), who specialized in really spooky landscapes with dead, withered trees and... with broken limbs and men who'd hanged themselves from these trees, stuff like that.

And the English aristocracy, including King George II, started planting their gardens with dead trees, amongst other things, just to create the spooky effect, and to make their gardens look like pictures. And that's really, in European terms, when the word "Gothic" started in the 1730s.

GROSS: I'd like you to choose a really influential Goth image from painting or illustration, one of the earlier images that kind of reverberated it over decades or centuries.

DAVENPORT-HINES: Well, the Neapolitan painter Salvatore Rosa, who lived in the middle of the 17th century, painted one huge canvas called "Witchcraft," very long and dramatic piece with about seven or eight different forms of sorcery or cruelty or torture or macabre dressing-up going on in them, in isolated pockets. And none of the people in the picture seem aware of the existence of the other people next to them. They're not looking at each other. They're all absorbed in their own little private brand of evil or manipulation.

And it -- both the background and the details of the picture gave a huge amount to the way Gothic stories developed.

GROSS: Now, a lot of the clothing that's associated with Goth now has not only a kind of vampiric look about it but also an S&M look about it. And I'm wondering where you see sadomasochistic sexuality as fitting in historically to the Goth sensibility.

DAVENPORT-HINES: Well, I think they have existed in parallel all the time. I mean, sadomasochism as a concept and as a practice is recognized at exactly the same time in the 18th century that Gothic novels take off. And Gothic novels become popular precisely because of the way they explore power relationships between people. And in Gothic novels of that period, very frequently you have a dominating figure who appears to be in control of the situation.

And in fact, the people who are obliged to submit to him sexually and economically in these novels, by their act of submission, if they submit completely enough, without qualification, actually come into the stronger power relationship. That's the common plot of many of the novels by Horace Walpole or Mrs. Ratcliffe (ph) from the 1780s and 1790s. And it's an idea that, in a much more confused and overheated way, that the Marquis de Sade explores too.

There are lots of other novelists I could mention, "Monk" -- Matthew Lewis (ph), who wrote "The Monk" in the 1970s as a reaction to the French Revolution, very much explores that sort of inversion of power relationships.

GROSS: So domination and submission are kind of constant themes in Goth literature?

DAVENPORT-HINES: Well, always, yes, and they're -- whether there's which -- very frequently in the earlier period, it was rather like your haze code. It was really not culturally acceptable for the villain to get away with being a villain without retribution coming at the end of the novel. So that in a sense there was a moral censorship of the endings of these stories.

But, yes, that was very much the preoccupation in the 18th century.

GROSS: My guest is Richard Davenport-Hines, author of the new book "Gothic." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Richard Davenport-Hines, author of "Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil, and Ruin."

Vampire stories, particularly the Dracula story, are a real kind of cornerstone of the Goth sensibility. When did Goth and vampires start getting connected?

DAVENPORT-HINES: That's a question that's very difficult to answer. I -- in a way, the answer is, only with Hollywood in the 1930s, though there you have early vampire stories, one written by Lord Byron, and later, of course, Bram Stoker's "Count Dracula" and other very good ones in the 19th century.

It's only when Hollywood discovers that there's money to be made out of horror and reasonably inexpensive films make a lot of money if they have Frankenstein or Dracula in them. And that's the way Gothic enters the cultural mainstream. I mean, that's the really important contribution of Gothic in the 20th century, is through these films that were made by people like James Wale (ph).

GROSS: You describe James Wale as Hollywood's earliest and greatest Gothic film director. His most famous film is "Frankenstein." Where do you see "Frankenstein" as fitting in?

DAVENPORT-HINES: Well, it is still visually tremendously exciting, but the -- what -- the way it fits in, it's the beginning of everything, because Gothic novels had always been tremendously self-referential and elusive between them, and they picked up the same ideas and repeated them, sometimes quite teasingly, sometimes quite mockingly, but they repeated them.

And that's exactly what James Wales' "Frankenstein" film, and then "Bride of Frankenstein" film, both do. They set up all the visual images which the Gothic filmmakers ever since have had to go back to, play around with, allude to, move on from, and end up with all over again.

It's the moment when Gothic self-reference and film self-reference come together as immensely influential in 20th century popular culture.

GROSS: Patrick McGrath (ph) is one of the most successful writers now of -- what's -- what he describes as new Gothic fiction. And I'm wondering how you think this new Gothic fiction that's being published today compares in sensibility and subject matter to earlier Gothic fiction.

DAVENPORT-HINES: In many respects, it has -- it is superior, tragically superior, because the superiority comes from the fact that we're living in a world since Auschwitz and Buchenwald and so forth, and the concentration camp horrors of the 1940s and 19 -- in Russia in the 1950s.

The Gothic imagination's low point has certainly be -- was certainly in the period immediately after the Second World War, when you simply couldn't write seriously or playfully in the Gothic way about large-scale cruelty and horror. And that's the real difference between the old Gothic and the new.

And McGrath is a -- in his books, recognizes that good and evil are really serious issues not to be treated irresponsibly. Some of the Gothic writers who were writing, in my opinion, who were writing in the 1920s and the early 20th century, and certainly in this country, were rather emotionally shallow, slightly erotically perverted upper-class English bachelors, sort of rather what we would call in England, anyway, dirty old men.

And their idea of evil was actually boring and shallow, and became rather disgusting after the concentration camp experience. That's the difference I'd really emphasize.

GROSS: What's your personal interest in Gothic art and the Gothic sensibility?

DAVENPORT-HINES: Well, I'm tremendously un-Gothic in my own personal living arrangements. I like my life to be serene and understated. So I was very interested in people who were the opposite. Goths are histrionic extremists. They behave quintessentially like the senior management of an opera house. And I'm hugely not like that. But I did -- and I'd -- I wanted to know a bit more about what it was like being like that.

GROSS: I wonder if there were any novels or films or paintings, illustrations, that reached you in your formative years that you've come to think of as being a part of this Goth sensibility.

DAVENPORT-HINES: I think that there are so many different forms of the Goth sensibility which can hit one, so it was I have had (INAUDIBLE) image, I found the idea of dank and decayed, ruined gardens with broken temples and dead trees and so forth, which are very expressing of ideas about harassment transience of human power, and I think that that's a -- I think that's something I responded to very immediately.

And also the idea that towns (ph) really aren't in control of their autocracies, which is something Abraham Lincoln, I think, realized. W.H. Auden said that Lincoln was a genius because he realized that he really wasn't in control of most of the actions that resulted from his decisions, that having taken a decision, you then have to rely on other people to implement them, and your subordinates are frequently very unsatisfactory or treacherous or inept.

And that's -- that, as I've said, is one of the great messages about -- of the Gothic imagination, that powerful men actually are absolute victims of the situation that they fight to put themselves in. And I found that very -- I found that recurrently a very satisfying fourth (ph).

GROSS: I think in pop culture now, one of the main vehicles for the Goth sensibility is music, and that, you know, there have been some bands that really just kind of specialized in that.

Why don't we end with some music? How about the Bauhaus recording, "Bela Lugosi's Dead"? You want to say something about this?

DAVENPORT-HINES: Only that I like it very much, and that although I much prefer talking on radio to appearing on television, this is sort of occasion when I'm sorry you can't show a video of the -- of Bauhaus really highly decorated in their -- both in their costumes and in their cosmetics singing this, because they were visually very emphatic and made the most tremendous impact as they sang it. And it is a tremendous set of lyrics in terms of their elusiveness and their historical grounding and what being a Goth has always been about.

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

DAVENPORT-HINES: No, thank you.

GROSS: My guest has been Richard Davenport-Hines. His new book is called "Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil, and Ruin."

And here's Bauhaus.


GROSS: Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg on new words that are entering the language.

This is FRESH AIR.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Richard Davenport-Hines
High: Richard Davenport-Hines, author of "Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin," discusses the history and evolution of the Gothic sensibility.
Spec: "Gothic: Four Hundred Years Of Excess, Horror, Evil And Ruin"; Richard Davenport-Hines; Lifestyles

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

Date: AUGUST 17, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081703NP.217
Head: Expanding the Lexicon
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

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

GROSS: Dictionary makers have always faced a problem when it comes to deciding which new words to include. Now that dictionaries are moving online, we might think they'll have room to list all the words in a language without making distinctions.

Will this mean it won't matter any more which words are in the dictionary? Our linguist, Geoff Nunberg, has these thoughts.


NUNBERG: There was a story in "The New York Times" recently about a man in Kansas City who has invented a prosthetic testicle for neutered dogs. He claims to have sold more than 25,000 of the devices worldwide under the name of Neuticles. You can be sure that every dictionary publisher clipped the story for their New Words file, the file they pull out when it comes time to do a new edition and they have to decide which new items to include.

Those decisions used to be easier than they are now. Thanks to the media, the stream of new words is a lot thicker than it used to be, and they can catch on a lot more rapidly. It used to be that lexicographers wouldn't include any new words that hadn't established themselves in the language for 10 years or so before the dictionary appeared.

But if you tried to stick to that 10-year criterion in a dictionary published in 1999, you'd wind up leaving out a lot of words that have clearly become part of the language, words like "home page," "gen X," "Ebonics," "downsizing," or "hedge fund."

And of course, the dictionary makers want to get words like these in there so their publicists can make a big deal of them by way of trying to show how up-to-date the new book is.

The trouble is that it isn't easy to know which of the new words are going to have legs. Words may move into the language more quickly now, but we also have a lot more of these lexical supernovas, words that flash brightly for a season or so and then vanish into the darkness.

How long is "frapuccino" going to be with us, or "going postal"? Or take "yada yada." You think anybody's going to be saying that 10 years from now? Probably not. TV words rarely persist after the show goes into reruns. Just try to remember the last time you heard anybody saying "You bet your bippy," or "Yaba daba doo."

Still, vogue words like these sometimes have surprising staying power. It's interesting that "gen X" is still in circulation, particularly when "30-something" has vanished, although maybe that just proves the point about the short life of words from TV shows.

Of course, the fact that a word is passe doesn't necessarily mean that a dictionary shouldn't list it. You might want to include terms like "Gulf War syndrome" or "soccer mom," for example, if only because they're likely to have a certain historical interest for readers 10 years from now.

But there are limits to this principle. How many decades are we going to have to be keeping track of "death metal (ph)" or "kettle chip"? Then again, maybe the whole exercise has an anachronistic cast to it.

Somebody once described the dictionary as "the book written by books." And certainly it's hard to think of any genre that's more soundly anchored in print culture. That's ostensibly the reason why dictionary makers have to make these choices, the limits of space of a print book and the fact that it's going to be sitting on your shelf in a fixed form for the next 10 or 20 years.

But dictionaries aren't necessarily printed books any more. And once they move online, there seems to be less reason to limit their coverage. Some people have begun to think in terms of an online dictionary that will try to list every word that's used in English, every slang term, every scientific and technical term, every chemical compound and species name, every regionalism from every part of the English-speaking world, every acronym and bit of business jargon, every new music style, every new coffee flavor.

You wouldn't even need human lexicographers to gather it all, you just send out crawlers to scoop up new words as they appear, then slap a definition on them and dump them all into a file on the Web.

It would be a bloated thing by print standards, but then size is no impediment on the Web. The fact is that you could store the text of every English-language dictionary ever written in about the same space that you'd need to store a couple of Marx Brothers movies.

There's no question that a dictionary like this would have its uses. I'd like my spell-checker to be able to consult it so that it didn't beep whenever I put down a word like "browser" or "Dancercise."

On the other hand, there's something to be said for exercising a little discretion. Since the 18th century, people have looked to the dictionary to authorize words -- not to say that they're correct, exactly, but at least that they're accepted elements of the common language. That's actually the main reason why dictionaries list common words like "the" and "but" and "have."

It's true that nobody ever has to look these words up, but once they're in there, we can claim that the dictionary is a comprehensive record of the language, so that the omissions have a certain significance. Not being in the dictionary ought to count for something. And when the next edition of your favorite dictionary appears, you want to be able to thump it down on the table and say, "`Neuticles' not there."

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University and the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

FRESH AIR's interviews and reviews are produced by Amy Sallett (ph), Phyllis Meyers (ph), Naomi Person (ph), and Monique Nazareth, with Alan Tu, Anne-Marie Boldonado (ph), and Kathy Wolfe (ph). Our engineer is Bob Purdick (ph).

I'm Terry Gross.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Phadelphia, PA
Guest: Geoff Nunberg
High: Linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the staying power of new words that enter the lexicon.
Spec: Publishing Industry; Technology; Lifestyles

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