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'Times-Picayune' Editor Jim Amoss on Assessing Blame

Jim Amoss is editor of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. The newspaper's staff has been publishing online from Baton Rouge since evacuating its New Orleans offices last week. The paper has criticized the federal government's response to the hurricane and published an open letter to President Bush calling for the firing of all Federal Emergency Management Agency officials -- especially director Michael Brown.

21:05

Other segments from the episode on September 9, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 9, 2005: Interview with Jim Amoss; Interview with Delbert McClinton; Review of the new film "The exorcism of Emily Rose."

Transcript

DATE September 9, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Jim Amoss, The New Orleans Times-Picayune editor,
talks about dealing with operations after Hurricane Katrina and
about criticism of the federal government's response
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR.

I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, filling in for
Terry Gross.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has served the Crescent City since 1837,
counting among its writers William Faulkner and O. Henry. Over the past week
and a half, its staff has faced a challenge of historic proportions, trying to
cover the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina while many of its New
Orleans operations were, in effect, washed away. The paper abandoned its New
Orleans headquarters to rising floodwaters the day after the storm hit and has
worked from makeshift offices and bureaus in Baton Rouge and elsewhere. The
Times-Picayune made national news Sunday when it published an open letter to
President Bush condemning the federal response to the storm and calling for
the firing of its disaster relief officials. I spoke yesterday to
Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss about the strain of trying to bring readers
insight and information at a time of shared crisis.

Jim Amoss, welcome to FRESH AIR. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. JIM AMOSS (Editor, The Times-Picayune): Thank you.

DAVIES: Have you published a paper continuously since the storm hit?

Mr. AMOSS: We have published a paper online continuously, and we had an
interruption in our print publication that lasted three days, and then we
resumed publishing at a small-town newspaper in Houma, Louisiana, beginning
last Friday.

DAVIES: Now for your reporters and photographers and editors, they are facing
probably the biggest story most of them will ever see, the kind of thing that
requires enormous effort and overtime. But this is at a time when their homes
and families are facing enormous stress and peril. As a boss, how do you deal
with those pressures?

Mr. AMOSS: You know, it's--you express gratitude right and left whenever you
possibly can because it's just an enormous sacrifice, and it's an astounding
team spirit that's just manifested every day and without interruption, without
pause on weekends and in the face, as you say, of the knowledge that
everything--in some cases everything they have has been lost.

DAVIES: Have any of your folks had to say, `Look, I gotta have a few days. I
just got to get out of here'?

Mr. AMOSS: Usually the dynamic has been that we have had to force people to
take a day off, lest they become totally exhausted, and of their own volition,
most people just want to soldier on, and you can't allow that to happen if you
want to be responsible about it and want to have sane, healthy people.

DAVIES: Have you had a day off?

Mr. AMOSS: I don't know if I'd call it a day off. I--yesterday I trekked
into New Orleans and actually managed to get past all the soldiery surrounding
our city and visited our--some of our team of reporters and photographers were
there and then with my son, managed to ford the waters that surrounded our
house and to get into it and close it up because it had been looted; and then
got back here for a few meetings. So that was the only pause so far.

DAVIES: That's anything but a vacation.

Mr. AMOSS: Yeah.

DAVIES: Tell me what you found at your own house.

Mr. AMOSS: I found water, first of all. It was an obstacle course getting
there down what was once a beautiful boulevard in New Orleans, Esplanade
Avenue, and is now a Venice-like canal littered with power lines and oak tree
branches. And took a newspaper delivery truck that could get through two to
three feet of water, and I found my house is--this is the highest-lying
ground, other than the French Quarter, in all of New Orleans, and yet the
street was under at least two to three feet of water.

I'm very lucky. I mean, first of all, I'm very lucky in that all my family
members escaped safely, including my parents and my brothers, who are all New
Orleanians, and they all got out and are safe and sound. And secondly, I'm
blessed in that water did not actually enter my house. So to have had
somebody break in through a window and ransack the place and take a few silly
electronic items that can easily be replaced is, in the scheme of things, a
very minor event.

DAVIES: Tell me some of the conditions that your reporters and photographers
have faced in getting stories.

Mr. AMOSS: Well, the most arduous task has been reporting in New Orleans
itself because--especially in the initial days after the storm. When we
left--when we evacuated our building, we--as soon as we got onto dry land,
across the river from our plant, we realized that we had to--we couldn't just
trek on. We had to send a team back into the city to report, so that we would
have a presence there and at least a paper for the next day. And we got a
volunteer group of about nine people to do that, reporters and photographers
who established themselves in somebody's--in a columnist's house and
eventually got a generator and lived this hand-to-mouth existence while
reporting all along. So that has been the most difficult obstacle, to report
under those circumstances, to encounter criminals on the street who had free
rein and who threatened our people, to really have to defend ourselves even as
we were going about journalism.

DAVIES: What did you do to ensure the safety of your folks?

Mr. AMOSS: You know, there's not much you can do except rely on their good
judgment not to put themselves in terrible situations, and fortunately we had
people who were quite mature and didn't do stupid things. The most
adventurous thing that one of them did was--our sports editor, David Meeks,
who is a terrific journalist and a great leader, at one point decided he just
had to get back to his house, which was in the Lakeview part of town, and that
is an utterly inundated place where houses are up to their roofs in water.
And he swam into his house and rescued his dog from a room in the rear and put
himself in considerable danger in the process. But I guess that's an
understandable impulse.

DAVIES: He and the dog are now safe?

Mr. AMOSS: He and the dog are now safe.

DAVIES: What kind of encounters did your staff have with criminals?

Mr. AMOSS: You know, observing people breaking into cars, encountering
marauding gangs who asked for money and, you know, couldn't always be obliged.
And also, you know, it was--it's difficult in an atmosphere in which, in the
eyes of the National Guard and the soldiers and the New Orleans Police, for
that matter, everybody who's wandering the streets is a suspect unless they're
law enforcement. It's difficult under those circumstances to always instantly
establish that, `Hey, we're journalists. Leave us alone, please, and let us
go about our business.' So we're stopped and in some cases--in one case a gun
was held to a reporter's head. Another case some soldiers made someone walk
ahead with a gun pointed at his back. Those kinds of situations arose
frequently.

DAVIES: How do they get around? Bikes? Boats? SUVs?

Mr. AMOSS: All of the above. There are some parts of the city that are
obviously only accessible by boat. We have a kayak in the rear of the
newspaper delivery truck that we use to get around in some parts of the city.
Bicycles have come in very handy. Bicycles were the first--were our means of
discovering the breach in the levee on the very first day of the hurricane
and enabled us to put that story online. We had two reporters who ventured
into their neighborhood, again, this Lakeview neighborhood, discovered the
breach in the levee and the water gushing in and rode their bikes back to the
newspaper plant and got the story online Monday evening when Katrina's winds
were still blowing and while much of the national reporting was essentially
saying, `New Orleans had dodged a bullet again.' And in fact, the real
catastrophe was just beginning.

DAVIES: A newspaper is a business, and you were flooded out of your New
Orleans headquarters, and most of your subscribers, of course, have, I
suppose, disappeared for the moment. How do you reach your readers, your
advertisers? Can you make this a going concern?

Mr. AMOSS: Well, we're already making it a going concern, of course, not on
the scale of what it was 10 days ago, but it's--business is slowly returning.
We now are publishing a 16-page newspaper, because that's the capacity of this
press of the Houma Courier, which is allowing us to publish. And we're
already at capacity on ads. We're about 50 percent ads at this point. And
our readers are returning to their homes. Not in the city of New Orleans but
in the surrounding suburbs, there's a recovery that proceeding more speedily
than any of us could have dared to hope a week ago. So we're distributing
there. Readers are coming to our suburban bureau and clamoring for the paper.
And, of course, the online edition is a lifeline for this diaspora of New
Orleanians that are scattered around the South, and keeps--it keeps us in the
minds and hearts of our readers and hopefully they will be wanting us when
they return as a print edition.

DAVIES: Yeah. I imagine your Web site has gotten a lot of hits from folks
who want to clutch the city that they lost.

Mr. AMOSS: Our Web site is getting more than 30 million hits a day, yeah.

DAVIES: As we understand it, FEMA is instructing journalists not to
photograph bodies. I mean, you have a really talented photo staff at that
newspaper. How are you responding to that?

Mr. AMOSS: Our government is full of instructions about how journalists
should behave, and I think our job is to cover the news, and the deaths in the
city is part of the news.

DAVIES: You'll handle it with taste, of course, but you're going to shoot
what you need to shoot.

Mr. AMOSS: Exactly.

DAVIES: We're speaking with James Amoss. He is the editor of The New Orleans
Times-Picayune. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, my guest is James Amoss. He is the editor
of The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Your newspaper published an open letter to the president calling for a
housecleaning of FEMA and the firing of its director, Michael Brown. At what
point in this saga was it clear to you that the government--the federal
response here was absolutely inexcusable?

Mr. AMOSS: I would say it became clear about two days after the storm when
people were trapped in the Superdome with no way to get out, when people were
beginning to become dehydrated and in some cases die in the Convention Center
of New Orleans. As late as Tuesday, FEMA professed unawareness of these
things. We had a story in this morning's paper in which a FEMA official said
they only became aware on Tuesday afternoon that there might be a breach in
the levee that was sending water into the city. And in the editorial, we
mentioned that Mr. Brown professed at the end of the week that meals were
being fed at least once if not twice a day to people in the Convention Center.
We knew from our own reporting that to be utterly untrue. So all of that
spoke to us of a singular lack of awareness of the reality that was unfolding
in the greatest natural disaster to ever beset an American city. I think it's
not an exaggeration to describe it that way.

DAVIES: Three years ago, your own newspaper published a series which warned
of this very kind of catastrophe. I mean, given that the possibility of this
kind of disaster was known, how much responsibility do you place with state
and local officials for not being ready and not responding effectively?

Mr. AMOSS: Well, there was a certain degree of readiness and discussion on
everyone's part, and it would not be fair to say that the worst wasn't
anticipated, given the direction of the storm and given the strength of the
storm's winds. Nonetheless, our series, when it was published, did not
engender the sort of drastic action that might have mitigated this disaster.
And I guess that's partly because, you know, ordinary people--readers don't
want to hear that kind of bad news. You know, we described in detail what
would happen in this kind of a storm, how the water would top the levees or
break through the levees, how the city would be inundated and how all power
would fail and as a result, the pumps that normally empty the city of
rainwater would be idle and the city, which is bowl-shaped, would fill with
water, and it would remain there. Nobody wants to hear that. And I imagine
that most people consoled themselves with the notion that this was a
far-fetched scenario; it might happen in a hundred years, it might never
happen, but surely it wouldn't happen tomorrow or next week.

And it's kind of a drastic message that this requires a nimble bureaucracy,
and I've yet to encounter a nimble bureaucracy. And it's also not easily
translatable into political will and the sort of political effort that would
drum up sufficient funds to shore up the coastline, restore the wetlands, you
know, make the Barrier islands protective. All those things cost a ton of
money, and a newspaper series, however graphic, just wasn't sufficient to get
people's full attention.

DAVIES: When it was clear New Orleans was in for a terrible storm, Mayor Ray
Nagin did order a mandatory evacuation. Of course, there was no provision for
offering transportation to the city's poor.

Mr. AMOSS: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: Should that have happened, and should it have been the city's
responsibility?

Mr. AMOSS: Well, of course, it should have happened, and it would have been
great had it happened, but it flies in the face of reality. First of all, to
get the buses, you have to also commandeer drivers, and I would imagine that
many of these drivers are resourceful enough to have evacuated themselves. It
supposes that the kind of people who needed to be evacuated are really willing
to do so and abandon their town. These are people who are very poor and who
have probably never left New Orleans in many cases and for whom the idea of
walking away from their abode is just inconceivable. And finally, it is such
a--it is far from clear that the mayor had the legal authority to mandate that
there be an evacuation. That's a question that has not been settled. It
should have been settled a long time ago, but it has not. And so even though
it was a drastic step for him to have called for one, and he should have
called for one, it didn't have a lot of teeth in it as an order.

DAVIES: We spoke earlier about FEMA's inability to respond to the break in
the levees and to bring immediate aid to those in such distress in New
Orleans. Since the president has got more visibly involved, what do you think
of FEMA's response in more recent days?

Mr. AMOSS: I think if you go through New Orleans as I did yesterday, there's
much more visual evidence of an overall federal government response that's
quite substantial, and it's making a difference, albeit belatedly. And, you
know, in the long term, there's going to have to be more than just enforcing
the law and getting rid of the bandits. So I think, you know, the next year
will be the proving ground of whether the federal effort is really what the
president said he intended it to be.

DAVIES: There is, of course, a lot of public determination to rebuild. Are
there one or two particular issues you think everyone needs to bear in mind as
they plan reconstruction?

Mr. AMOSS: Well, I think, from a public policy point of view, that
rebuilding has to be accompanied by some major national effort that helps make
the coastline less vulnerable, and that will--only that will give people the
kind of confidence they need to return in large numbers. And I think on the
part of the people who do return, there has to be a degree of energy and
patience, because it's going to take awhile, and also a resignation to the
fact that much of the city--not much of the city--well, large parts of the
city simply will not be able to be renovated. You know, if you have a wooden
housing stock, as ours largely is, marinating in this toxic stew for weeks on
end, much of that can't be salvaged.

DAVIES: Hundreds of thousands of people from New Orleans and the surrounding
area have been evacuated and are in some place in Texas, like the Astrodome.
They're in Red Cross and Salvation Army and FEMA emergency facilities all over
the place. I'm wondering how your staff approaches that story. What are the
big issues and challenges you see in that side of this disaster?

Mr. AMOSS: Well, journalistically, one of the big challenges is just finding
these people because they're so dispersed across the nation really. And
it's--so it makes it really a story that's tailor-made for Web site and for
the Internet, and we've been tremendously lucky in getting lots of responses
from readers in far-flung places. We also have the advantage having our own
evacuees of our staff who in some cases went pretty far and are--were using
their remoteness to tap into the readers that they're finding in places like
Chicago and Houston, wherever else people may have gone.

DAVIES: You know, you're not just covering the difficulties and tragedies in
the city. You have a lively sports section. How are you keeping that going?

Mr. AMOSS: There are lots of sports stories to report now, and most of them
are quite newsy, having to do with the future of the teams and where games
will be played and whether there will be teams and, of course, in the case of
college sports, what's going to happen if there's--if, as seems the case,
there'll be at least a semester's interruption in the existence of schools.
So that's given us considerable fodder.

DAVIES: And people always need their sports, don't they?

Mr. AMOSS: People always need their sports.

DAVIES: Besides being the editor of this newspaper, which plays, of course,
an important civic role in a critical time, you are from New Orleans; your
family lives there. You've lost so much. You know, you and your family have
lost so much and your city has lost so much. Do you ever stop and reflect on
that, or do you need to set it aside to continue to do your job?

Mr. AMOSS: To be honest, I wake up at about 3 or 4 in the morning and I
think about it for several hours, unable to sleep, wondering what will become
of us all and whether we'll be able to--how we will be able to re-create what
we had. It's just a--New Orleans is such an extraordinary culture and it is
not--it's not transportable. It's really a unique way of life for the people
who live there, and that ultimate, I think, is why it will draw people back
irresistibly.

DAVIES: Well, I wish you the best of luck putting your newspaper and your
city back together. Thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. AMOSS: Thank you, Dave.

DAVIES: Jim Amoss is editor of The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

Coming up, making music despite personal demons and financial calamities. We
hear from Texas-born singer and songwriter Delbert McClinton. He has a new
CD. Also, David Edelstein reviews "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," based loosely
on the true story of a priest tried in the death of a young woman on whom he
performed an exorcism.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Delbert McClinton talks about his music
DAVE DAVIES, host:

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

Back in the mid-'50s, when he was still a teen-ager, Delbert McClinton began
performing in nightclubs and honky-tonks in Ft. Worth, Texas. This set him
off on what's now a five-decade career in music. It's been rocky. He's
recorded albums, only to watch record labels fold under him. He was nailed by
the IRS and battled drug and alcohol abuse. And he struggled to find a
national audience, in part because his music crosses lines and blends
influences. He can sound equally at home singing with a country fiddle, a
hard-driving blues guitar or the horns of a soul band. But he's earned the
respect of his fellow musicians and performs as many as 200 dates a year to a
loyal fan base. Here's his song, "One of the Fortunate Few," the opening cut
from his new CD, "Cost of Living."

(Soundbite of "One of the Fortunate Few")

Mr. DELBERT McCLINTON: (Singing) Well, for one thing there was a whole lot of
guys who'd have liked to been in my shoes. But the upkeep on a woman like
that will give an old poor boy the blues. Still, the pleasure was worth the
pain of everything she put me through. And I consider myself one of the
fortunate few. Yeah, and another thing: She wasn't just good looking. Her
imagination just wouldn't quit. She'd make you do things you never thought
about and things you wouldn't want to admit. There must be somebody else out
there that feels about her like I do, and I consider myself one of the
fortunate few. It felt so good to hurt so bad, the best and the worst that I
ever had. I know I bit off a little more than I could chew. Still, I
consider myself one of the fortunate few.

DAVIES: I spoke with Delbert McClinton earlier this summer. He'd recently
recorded two songs for "I Heard It On The X," an album by Los Super Seven.
The album was inspired by the eclectic music played by radio stations which
operated for decades on the Texas-Mexican border.

As a kid, did you listen to border radio?

Mr. McCLINTON: Oh, yeah. That was like--well, the mystique of it was added
a great deal to by the fact that the first time I found it was on a crystal
set.

DAVIES: Oh, boy.

Mr. McCLINTON: You know what a crystal set is.

DAVIES: Yeah. Well, I'm not sure all of our listeners do. You can buy them
with a kit and...

Mr. McCLINTON: Well, a crystal set is--yeah, it's a--you buy a kit at the
hobby shop, and it doesn't look anything at all like a radio. It's got this
thing a little smaller than a dime that you kind of peck around on with
another little piece, and it picks up different stations. And to me it was
God's own radio, you know. But that's the first time--I traded--I remember I
was so enamored with that crystal set--you know, they cost--I think they cost
about $3, but I traded a--I had an uncle who was in World War II, and when he
came back, he brought a whole bunch of stuff with him. And he--I had this
German dagger, Nazi dagger, that wouldn't--in the sheath, you know. And I
traded that to a guy for that crystal set. But I had to have it, you know.

DAVIES: Yeah.

Mr. McCLINTON: And that's where I first heard border radio. And then as I
got a little older, you know, and had a car, well, you could pick it up late
at night, and it came in (technical difficulties) stations I could get out of
Chicago or Memphis or Nashville, which were also really good stations. But
border radio was--you could buy autographed pictures of Jesus on there. You
know, I mean, they sold anything...

DAVIES: Guaranteed.

Mr. McCLINTON: ...and everything.

DAVIES: Wow.

Mr. McCLINTON: If you wanted to buy it, send me the money and we'll send it
to you.

DAVIES: You were born in Lubbock, Texas, moved to Ft. Worth at age 11, if
I've read this right...

Mr. McCLINTON: That's right, yeah.

DAVIES: ...and started playing and singing early on in life.

Mr. McCLINTON: Yeah.

DAVIES: What kind of music did you listen to as a kid, as a teen-ager?

Mr. McCLINTON: Well, of course in west Texas in the '40s, you heard a lot of
Bob Wills, a lot of Hank Williams and a lot of Lefty Frizzell and Nat King
Cole, Sarah Vaughan. And I had an aunt, my mother's youngest sister, who had
all these old--what they used to call race records, you know.

DAVIES: And you knew early on you had a gift for singing.

Mr. McCLINTON: Well, I don't know that I knew it. I knew that I couldn't
stop doing it, you know. I mean, I--that's, you know--and I don't think I
ever made a conscious decision to become a performer. I just always kind of
was, you know what I'm saying?

DAVIES: Right. You had an Uncle Earl in Sweetwater--Did I get that
right?--who used to...

Mr. McCLINTON: That's right.

DAVIES: ...used to...

Mr. McCLINTON: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...ask you to perform for the family?

Mr. McCLINTON: Well, he was--he drove a milk truck, and I went to--his oldest
son was my cousin and we were close, and I went to spend a couple of weeks
with him in Sweetwater, Texas. And Uncle Earl was just--had always been--he'd
drink and he'd get mean. He was mean when he drank and he always drank, you
know what I'm saying?

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. McCLINTON: But he heard me singing--oh, I forget what it was now. I've
lied so many times about the name of it. I think it was "Hey, Good Lookin',"
but I'm not sure.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. McCLINTON: Anyway, it was one of those old songs, either a Hank Williams
or Lefty Frizzell song, I believe, and he came running out into the back yard,
and he said, `Boy, do that again.' And so from then on he was a good guy
because he'd get me to sing down there in the mornings at the coffee shop,
where all the milkmen would gather before they'd start their routes, about
3:30, 4 in the morning. And he just--he thought it was--that's the first time
that I thought, `Well, hey, you know, I think I might be on to something.'

DAVIES: Wow.

Mr. McCLINTON: Because...

DAVIES: What a crowd to play to.

Mr. McCLINTON: Yeah, really.

DAVIES: So as a teen-ager, you actually started performing in clubs...

Mr. McCLINTON: Right.

DAVIES: ...in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Mr. McCLINTON: Right.

DAVIES: Had a band, the Straitjackets, right?

Mr. McCLINTON: Right.

DAVIES: And as I read it, you got hot and would play backup for some pretty
impressive musicians that would come moving through town. Tell us about some
of those.

Mr. McCLINTON: Well, you know--well, back in that time--this was late '50s,
early '60s, you know, everybody in the world wasn't in a band, so there
weren't that many bands around. And I think that during that time I was a
part of the best band around, and there weren't but about three or four in Ft.
Worth, you know, guys out trying to play something other than country music,
you know. But we got--in the early '60s we got the opportunity to back up a
lot of my heroes, you know, regularly--Big Joe Turner, Freddy King, Lightnin'
Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, T-Bone Walker. T-Bone Walker was
just the best.

DAVIES: So you sort of went to the Juilliard School of the blues there in Ft.
Worth, didn't you?

Mr. McCLINTON: I did. I think I got into the blues that early because Dallas
had a really good station called KNOK radio, and you could hear everything on
there that you couldn't hear anywhere else. So me and the guys that I was
working with--well, we were already into blues music anyway, and I guess it
was probably because of that radio station, but because of that and us
learning those songs, we would back all these guys up when they'd come to
town.

DAVIES: You played in some pretty tough places around Ft. Worth, I gather,
and a lot of the songs you've written over the years about honky-tonkin'...

Mr. McCLINTON: Right.

DAVIES: ...have some really evocative images of being hit with a Harley
chain...

Mr. McCLINTON: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...or cutting somebody with a bone-handled knife. Was this just
something you observed as a musician, or were you also a guy who mixed it up?
I mean, did you...

Mr. McCLINTON: Oh, no, no, no, no. I was never anybody that mixed it up, but
I knew them all. Playing in those places I played, you--they're not
necessarily the Spartans of the community, but they pride themselves--I
remember one guy told me, he said, `Yeah, I'm a thief,' he said, `and I'm a
damn good one.' And I remember thinking, `Jesus, man, where do you find
the--where do you find any glory in that?' you know. But he did.

DAVIES: Right. So you didn't get into...

Mr. McCLINTON: I...

DAVIES: ...scrapes, didn't get guns pointed at you.

Mr. McCLINTON: No, no, no. Good Lord, no. I--well, I got in--I've been on
the wrong side of a pistol a couple of times, but it was generally something
about a woman...

DAVIES: Oh.

Mr. McCLINTON: ...or a woman doing it, but that's a whole 'nother bag of
worms. But yeah, you know, I've seen people shot, cut up, beat up, and
it's--you know, it's nothing I want to witness anymore, but I did because I
was in the right place for that.

DAVIES: Do you think that informed the music that you wrote in some way?

Mr. McCLINTON: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, you know, that's where most of it
comes from. You know, I used to do a lot of--I used to have a lot of bad
habits and bad habits that would keep you up two, three days in a row
sometimes. And on the back side of those things, there's been an awful lot of
sad songs written. But, you know, it's not something that you want to make a
way of life, but it certainly was a lesson.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. McCLINTON: And so all of that stuff that I saw and participated in,
which was--I never did anything I can't live with, but it couldn't help but
influence. But, you know, I've always liked to look at that with a little bit
of hope in it, you know. Regardless of how bad the situation is--in the
writing of songs.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. McCLINTON: I always like to put, you know, `Yeah, well, but I'll make
it,' or `I'll get over that,' you know.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. McCLINTON: Because that's the only way out, man, you know?

DAVIES: Singer and songwriter Delbert McClinton. We'll hear more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: My guest is Texas-born singer-songwriter Delbert McClinton. His new
CD is "Cost of Living."

You--a lot of Americans who know your name probably aren't aware that you hit
the national playlist in 1962 when you played memorable harmonica for Bruce
Channel's hit, "Hey! Baby." Maybe we can listen to a little bit of this.

Mr. McCLINTON: Sure.

DAVIES: Let's hear it. This is Bruce Channel's hit, "Hey! Baby."

(Soundbite of "Hey! Baby")

Mr. BRUCE CHANNEL: (Singing) Hey, hey, baby, I want to know if you'll be my
girl. Hey, hey, baby, I want to know if you'll be my girl. When I saw you
walkin' down the street, I said that's the kind of gal I'd like to meet.
She's so pretty, Lord, she's fine. I'm going to make her mine, all mine.
Hey...

DAVIES: That was Bruce Channel's 1962 hit, "Hey! Baby," with my guest,
Delbert McClinton, playing harmonica.

You know, Delbert, at times it almost sounds like Bruce Channel is singing
backup vocal to your harmonica in this. It is such a memorable mouth harp
piece. Tell us about this, that recording.

Mr. McCLINTON: Well, there was a guy in Ft. Worth back in that time named
Major Bill Smith, and he kind of--he was--like I said, he had retired, and he
was a wholesale meat salesman at the time. And there was one place in Ft.
Worth to record, and it was in the basement of a radio station called Clifford
Hearing Sound Studio(ph). I'd hang out there every chance I got. And I can
remember--this is how Major Bill made music. We were sitting in there one
day, me and Bob, talking, and the Major swung the door--he was a real
red-faced guy. And he said, `Bob, put me down for 10:00 Saturday morning.'
And Bob says, `OK, Maj, who you bringing in?' He says, `I don't know. I'll
find somebody.' He had Bruce come in. It was the first night Bruce and I
met, and I got some guys together and we went in and recorded five songs.
"Hey! Baby" was one of them, and it became a worldwide classic rock 'n' roll
song.

DAVIES: The '80s were a rough stretch for you. You know, you're certainly
not the only entertainer to have fallen prey to the bottle or substance abuse
of one kind or another. But on the other hand, everybody's story is personal.

Mr. McCLINTON: Right.

DAVIES: Looking back on it, does any particular explanation come for you, you
getting into trouble with drugs?

Mr. McCLINTON: Well, once again, I was in the atmosphere part and, hell, I
thought everybody did it, you know, That was the atmosphere I was in and I
liked it. And it was a trap that I walked into just like so many other
people. But because of the music, I came upon in my life where I said, `If I
don't stop doing what I'm doing, I'm not going to get to make music.' And it
was a pretty hard lesson. I had a friend, who's dead now, he nodded out after
going to San Antone and picking up smack and was headed back to Ft. Worth and
nodded out and did a head-on with a semi. But he was the guy that started
bringing junk around. Of course, he didn't call it junk, he called
it--`Here, you want a little backup? If, you know, you back up that coke with
this, it'll mellow you out.' And I was one of the many guys around Ft. Worth
who started snorting junk. But I realized pretty quick that, you know,
anything that's that good is going to have a back side to it that's equally as
bad. And I started seeing that happen with some of my other friends. And so
I just completely stopped.

DAVIES: You develop a good friendship with the New York radio personality Don
Imus in this stretch, right?

Mr. McCLINTON: Right. Yeah.

DAVIES: Now was he a fellow partier or was he a guy who helped you find your
way out of it?

Mr. McCLINTON: Well, it was kind of unique the way Don and I met 'cause he
came out--once again, came out to a show at The Lone Star Cafe, which was a
famous place back in the '70s there in New York. I don't know if you're aware
of that or not. I can't imagine anybody who's not. But anyway, it was the
little piece of Texas in New York City. And my girlfriend at the time, who's
my wife now, Wendy, said, `Don Imus is here and wants to talk to you.' And I
said, `Well, who's Don Imus?' And she said, `Well, he's a disc jockey here in
town, you know, a radio talk guy.' And I remember around then, he and I both
got to talking about our bad habits and how we needed to stop doing it and
laugh at ourselves. And then the next time I'd come to town and he'd come out
and he'd say, `Well, how you doing?' And I say, `Well, I'm doing pretty good
in this area and that and that.' And I think we both got completely cleaned
up, except both of us are totally addicted to Nicorette gum. I gotta start
smoking to get off this gum.

DAVIES: You're still chewing Nicorette gum?

Mr. McCLINTON: Oh, yeah, yeah, just like him. Man, it's awful. It just goes
on all the time.

You mentioned Wendy Goldstein. You met her and she is now your wife.

Mr. McCLINTON: Yes.

DAVIES: What role did she play in getting your life together?

Mr. McCLINTON: Well, she's my hero. She saved me. She did it all. I met
her at the first "Saturday Night Live" we did. She's a producer for NBC News.
And we kind of had a thing going on there for several years, you know. And
finally, my second marriage went completely in the toilet because of me. And
at that point, she and I got together and eventually got married, and we've
got a 12-year-old daughter together. But she came along just as the IRS
informed me that this tax shelter that--the accountant that was managing what
little money I had in Austin got me in a tax shelter that got disallowed and
they said, `You owe us $280,000.' At this time, I was making $750 a night,
that included paying four guys, gasoline and hotel. So you can imagine how we
were living, four or five guys in a room, you know. You couldn't go to the
bathroom without walking across other roll-away beds. But it was a grand
time, man, you know. It was--sometimes the best times in your life I think
are when you're starving to death, you know.

DAVIES: Were you clean then?

Mr. McCLINTON: When--let me think. Well, that's...

DAVIES: That's when the IRS came after you.

Mr. McCLINTON: ...right after I started cleaning up. Wendy had come into my
life and she turned all that around. So, yeah, that's--I was clean at that
time. I'd been clean for about a year. And she just came in and turned it
all around and got the IRS off my back for the last 80,000. But before that,
the 200,000, I had to sell my house in Texas. I had to sell everything.
Nothing was in my name. But she's the smartest person I've ever met. And a
guy like me needs somebody like that.

DAVIES: Marrying a smart woman is one of the smartest things you can do.

Mr. McCLINTON: Absolutely. Well, not only just a smart woman, but I'm crazy
about her. She's my best friend, and she's my hero.

DAVIES: OK. Thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. McCLINTON: Thank you so much.

DAVIES: Singer/songwriter Delbert McClinton. His new CD is "Cost of Living."

Coming up, David Edelstein on the new film "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." This
is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New film "the Exorcism of Emily Rose"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

After "The Exorcist" became a blockbuster movie in the early '70s, there was
an explosion of films about demonic possession. Film critic David Edelstein
says most were just cheap shockers, but some have tried to explore timeless
questions of doubt vs. faith, like the new film "The Exorcism of Emily Rose."

DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:

It comes on like a run-of-the-mill horror picture, but "The Exorcism of Emily
Rose" is a blood-soaked martyr tale complete with stigmata. It's also a
not-so-veiled assault on science and secularism. The movie is loosely based
on a real tragedy, the early '70s death of a young German woman in the course
of an exorcism and the trial of the priest, who chose bedside prayer over
hospitalization. The setting is now rural farmhouse America. The pure and
sensitive Emily Rose, played by Jennifer Carpenter, left her home and loving
family for college, whereupon all hell broke loose. But that we see in
flashbacks.

The movie begins after Emily Rose has died with the arrest of the exorcist,
Father Moore, played by Tom Wilkinson. His high-priced defender is Erin
Bruner, played by Laura Linney, a careerist, agnostic and borderline
alcoholic. She's hired by the archdiocese to strike a deal with the
prosecution and make sure Moore's story isn't shared with a public that might
think he's a wacko. Although Americans believe in God by a whopping margin
and angels and demons by a sizable majority, the director and co-writer, Scott
Derrickson, depicts a country in which belief is in peril, under attack by
science and the law and pesky facts. A man of God hasn't a prayer.

Father Moore could plead guilty to criminal negligence and get off with six
months in prison, but he chooses to go to trial to, quote, "tell Emily's
story." He also warns Erin that this isn't your usual Perry Mason case.

(Soundbite of "The Exorcism of Emily Rose")

Mr. TOM WILKINSON: (As Father Moore) Before we get started, there's something
I have to tell you, something I should have said to you before I let you take
the case.

Ms. LAURA LINNEY: (As Erin Bruner) OK.

Mr. WILKINSON: (As Father Moore) There are forces surrounding this trial,
dark, powerful forces. Just be careful, Erin.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Erin Bruner) I see.

Mr. WILKINSON: (As Father Moore) Look, demons exist, whether you believe in
them or not, and your involvement in this trial might just open you up to
their attacks.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Erin Bruner) Look, Father, I appreciate your concern, but you
need to be worried about yourself. Ethan Thomas is using the medical aspects
of this case as ammunition, and I have to be prepared for his attacks. So
with what little time we have, I think we need to focus on your defense.

EDELSTEIN: Now here's something interesting. The studio, in the clips it
gave to radio and TV shows, removed a line from that scene before Wilkinson's
assertion that demons do exist. Linney's character says, `I'm an agnostic,
remember?' Could it be that agnosticism is such an outrageous declaration
these days that you can't even put it in a preview, even if the character
becomes a believer?

Derrickson claims in interviews that "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" gives `both
sides of the court case their due, the faithful and the skeptical.' If you
believe that, I have a grilled cheese sandwich with the image of the Virgin
Mary that you might want to buy. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that
as Derrickson presents it, Emily Rose and Erin are under siege by Satan. The
dialogue and exposition in this movie are so clunky they'd make George Lucas
yelp. And the acting is atrocious, apart from Jennifer Carpenter and Linney,
who delivers her lines with an intelligence that belies her acceptance of this
role.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose" does have scary passages with striking makeup and
effects, especially one in which the faces of passersby run like Edvard
Munchian screamers. But the movie aims higher than mere scares. Emily Rose
was put on a fictional, anti-convulsive drug called Gabirtril for epileptic
seizures, and an expert trial witness asserts that, `This is what made her
exorcism fail; that the sedating Gabirtril left her without resources.' The
movie's sign suggested that if you don't believe in God, you can't protect
your kids from aliens. Here, if you resort to medicine over prayer, you not
only can't protect your kids; you suppress the spiritual antibodies they need
to do battle with Satan. Derrickson seems to want to take us back four
centuries, before psychiatry and anti-psychotics, where mental illness,
especially in women, was interpreted as demonic possession.

One more thing. Erin's watch stops at 3 AM, which Father Moore says is the
devil's hour. I was born at 3 AM, so maybe the devil wants me to pan this
movie. There was a priest sitting next to me in the screening, and I had a
sudden urge to blaspheme. In my defense, it was because his cell phone was
going off. But, still, it might have been Satan on the line stirring those
demons inside me.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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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