DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, professor of television studies at Rowan University, sitting in for Terry Gross. Today, singer Tom Jones. The Welsh singer started his career with a bang in 1965 with the hits "It's Not Unusual" and "What's New Pussycat?" He quickly became a pop star and a sex symbol. The hits kept coming through the early '70s, including "Thunderball," "Green Green Grass Of Home," "Delilah" and "She's A Lady." Now, at the age of 80, he has a new album, titled "Surrounded By Time." It entered the official U.K. albums chart in the No. 1 spot. It's Tom Jones' 41st studio album. Here's a track from it, "Pop Star."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POP STAR")
TOM JONES: (Singing) Yes, I'm going to be a pop star. Yes, I'm going to be a pop star now. Yes, I'm going to be a pop star. Oh, Mama, Mama, see me. Mama, Mama, see me. I'm a pop star.
BIANCULLI: Tom Jones has collaborated with many artists over his long career. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was knighted by the Queen. He's been a coach on the British version of "The Voice." And when Terry talked with him in 2003, Tom Jones had just released his album "Reloaded" in the U.S., which featured him in collaboration with Van Morrison and The Cardigans.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS: One of the things you're famous for now is your sexy image, right? That's one of the things you became famous for when you became a star. But I think when you started performing music, it was mostly in pubs to audiences of men.
JONES: Well, both. It was - I sang in pubs, which was mixed, you know? But then sometimes on a Saturday night in a working men's club, you would have - some of these clubs were men-only. When I started, I wasn't really aware of the the sexual part of it except for the songs themselves, you know? But I was up there singing.
And then, you know, when I sang to mixed audiences and I started singing in the YMCA to younger people, you know, the - because of the nature of the songs that I was singing, the sex part, you know, came along with it exactly the same as - not exactly the same but the same kind of thing that Elvis Presley did. You know, he was singing certain kinds of songs, and he was moving along with the songs. Before that, you know, when people moved, maybe the songs weren't the same, you know? It was because of the rock and roll music that sort of generated that sex appeal, I think.
GROSS: So what were you singing in the pubs on Saturday nights just to working men?
JONES: Well, you know, in Wales, they like big voices. So I would be singing ballads - you know, Frankie Laine, you know, type songs and - you know, like that and then some - you know, some Welsh songs as well. There were some songs in ways that - you know, the Welsh songs that I would sing. But I was always, you know, more influenced by American music. So it would be pop songs of the day.
JONES: You know? You know?
GROSS: Let's jump ahead a little bit to when you got your first record contract and you started recording. Let's talk about your first hit, "It's Not Unusual." And this kind of really sets the style for you - like, you know, lots of brass, a big arrangement. And this is the era when we're talking about The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. This is 1965. In America, it was, like, the height of the British invasion. You know, Herman's Hermits, The Rolling Stones, Petula Clark, The Beatles are all on the hits along with Motown. And you're coming along and doing this, like, really kind of brassy - it's not a guitar band. It's not a band of songwriters. Did you feel like you were going to be, like, sticking out like a sore thumb in a way doing something really different?
JONES: No. What was happening was when my - the guy that was recording me, Peter Sullivan - when he saw me in a club in Wales, he was looking for more rock material because I was singing - you know, the band that I had then were three guitars and drums - you know, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar and drums. So I was singing more rock tunes, '50s rock tunes - you know, Jerry Lee Lewis things and Little Richard and Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and all that kind of - Elvis Presley, of course. So that's the kind of stuff that I was doing.
Later, I was doing demonstration records for other singers because my manager was also a songwriter. So I would be doing demos for this music publishing company. And one day I did this song called "It's Not Unusual," which my manager wrote for a girl called Sandy Shore, who was having hits in England at the time. So when I heard it played back, I said, Gordon, you know, this - Gordon Mills, the man's name was. I said, this is - you know, this sounds like a hit to me. He said, yeah, but it's not rock enough for you. You know, it's not - it's a pop song. It's a mild song.
So Peter Sullivan, my recording manager, said, look. If you're going to do this song, we've got to beef it up. We have to make it hotter than the song really calls for, you know, because it was more like a sort of a Brasil '66 type tune. So Peter said, what about brass? What if we put some brass in it? We need to beef it up because you're singing it - you know, you're singing it aggressively. We need the arrangement to complement that. So then Les Reed, who did the arrangement and co-wrote the song, put the brass on it. And that's - you know, the brass just played along to the Baiao beat that the bass drum was doing. So it made it more of an aggressive record because of my style of singing.
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear it? This is Tom Jones' first big hit, "It's Not Unusual."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S NOT UNUSUAL")
JONES: (Singing) It's not unusual to be loved by anyone. It's not unusual to have fun with anyone. But when I see you hanging about with anyone, it's not unusual to see me cry. I want to die. It's not unusual to go out at any time. But when I see you out and about, it's such a crime. If you should ever want to be loved by anyone, it's not unusual. It happens every day, no matter what you say. You'll find it happens all the time. Love will never do what you want it to. Why can't this crazy love be mine?
GROSS: OK, so that was your first big hit. And how did you go about creating the image to go along with that? When did the bump-and-grind pelvis stuff start coming in?
JONES: Well, that was - you know, that was always there because of singing rock tunes in the '50s in clubs and pubs and, you know, dance halls. That just came along with it. You know, I was moving because I just felt like it. It wasn't a plan, you know? I didn't plan it. I was just - and I love to dance. You know, I used to go to dance halls, and I thought, if I could do this on stage - you know, it makes you more relaxed anyway because if you grab the microphone with both hands, you know, like a lot of kids do when they first start singing, you're nervous when you're up there. So if you can loosen up, it makes it a lot easier. So that movement came because I wanted to feel more relaxed, more natural on stage. So that's how that all came around.
GROSS: Did you ask yourself at the time, like, in the mid-'60s, how you thought your kind of sex appeal compared to, say, Mick Jagger's or Paul McCartney's or John Lennon's? - you know, because you were recording at the same time. I think your audiences were a little different.
JONES: No, the audiences weren't that different. It was just - I was appealing to a wider range of people. You know, like, in Wales, for instance, on a Friday night, I would sing in a YMCA, you know, to young teenagers, you know, very young teenagers. And then on a Saturday night, I would be singing in a working man's club to adults. As - when the Rolling Stones first hit, I was singing in a club in London, and they played that same club. Well, normally I would be singing to people in their 20s and sometimes in their 30s, you know? But when the Stones played there, a lot of these kids came in - you know, very young teenagers.
So it's just that I played to a wider variety of people than maybe the Stones or The Beatles. And, you know, the movements - I mean, Mick Jagger was moving because he saw Black people move in the states. And he was trying to do something similar, you know? And when he did it, it came out the way, you know, that he moves. And when I did it, it came out the way that I move. It's just a different take on what we were looking at and what we were listening to.
GROSS: One of the things that apparently always happens at your concerts is that there are some women who throw their panties at you, throw them onto the stage. Do you remember the very first time that happened?
JONES: Yeah. It was in the Copacabana in New York in 1968. It was a supper club. And the singer is on the same - the stage - the band is on the stage. But the singer is on the dance floor, which is at - and all these tables - you know, tables and chairs all around you with the people. And I was perspiring a lot, so these ladies were handing me table napkins. And then this one woman stood up and took her underwear off and, you know, handed them to me. And it was written up in the newspaper the following day. And that's what started it. And that was in '68, and I went to Vegas the same year. And then the room keys, you know, started because people that are in Vegas are staying in the hotels. And they have, you know, room keys in their handbags or their purses.
So, you know, it was - the stage would be showered with underwear and room keys. So that went on for quite a while. But, you know, when it first started, it was very sexy because I don't think any woman had ever thrown underwear at a singer before. I don't think it ever happened before that or, for that matter, throwing a room key up there, you know? So it was very sexy at the time. But then it - you know, it became a bit of a joke because people would bring underwear, you know, in handbags and just throw them up there because they thought it was the thing to do. So it backfired on me a bit.
GROSS: So when you started to think, like, it was backfiring, what did you - did you do anything to try to stop it?
JONES: Well, I didn't. At the beginning, you know, I would pick them up and play around with them, you know, because you learn that whatever happens on stage, you try to turn it to your advantage and not get thrown by it. So, you know, you'd work with it. You know, and - but after a while, because it became - you know, it was happening so much, I decided not to do it. If they threw them at me, then just let them fall...
JONES: ...Where they will, you know? So that's what's happened now.
BIANCULLI: Tom Jones speaking with Terry Gross in 2003. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTY SPRINGFIELD'S "THE LOOK OF LOVE")
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2003 interview with singer Tom Jones. He's now 80 years old and has a new album of material.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
GROSS: I want to play another record, and this is "Delilah." And this is another one of your really, like, big productions - you know, like, big arrangement behind you. And you were, like - you're so passionate in this that you have to murder the woman (laughter), you know?
JONES: It was a song that was written by Les Reed, who co-wrote "It's Not Unusual." And, you know, he wrote the song and played it to me. And I said, yes, it sounds great. You know, it sounds - but it really is. It's a passionate song because, you know, the man, as you say, actually kills the woman because she was unfaithful to him.
GROSS: Let's hear the song. This is another one of Tom Jones' hits from the '60s, "Delilah."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DELILAH")
JONES: (Singing) I saw the light on the night that I passed by her window. I saw the flickering shadows of love on her blind. She was my woman. As she deceived me, I watched and went out of my mind. My, my, my Delilah, why, why, why, Delilah? I could see that girl was no good for me. But I was lost like a slave that no man could free.
GROSS: Is there a part of you during a concert that ever feels or ever felt, OK, enough with the panties and all that stuff; let's just, like, sit still and listen to my voice, listen to me sing?
JONES: Well, not so much sit still. But the trouble is with - you know, with the panty throwing, especially if you're doing a ballad, if you're trying to create a moment, you know, in a song, you don't want distractions then, you know? And panty-throwing is very distracting...
GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah, right.
JONES: ...You know, especially if you're doing a ballad, you know? It's not too bad with uptempo stuff, you know, but it takes away from the music. That's the problem with it - you see? - because most of the people that are in the audience - I would say 90% - are there to enjoy the music, you know, and to enjoy what I'm doing on stage. Then you have a handful of people that want to try and be part of the show.
JONES: And that's when the underwear-throwing starts.
GROSS: What was it like for you when this whole, like, sex image started happening? It strikes me as the kind of thing - you're in big trouble if you take it too seriously.
JONES: Well, even singing as a teenager, you know, when I sang in school, it would get a reaction. You know, that was my ace in the hole...
JONES: ...As far as the girls were concerned, you know? I mean - so I knew that, you know, the girls liked what I was doing. So it was there from an early age. But it just - you know, when you get your first hit record, of course, then there's a big explosion, you know? All of a sudden, you're on television, and people recognize you in the street. And, you know, then it's much more - much intense - much more intensified because of the exposure that you're getting.
GROSS: So what are the dangers of taking it too seriously?
JONES: Well (laughter), I think you'd burn yourself out, you know, if you tried to live up to your reputation, you know? You couldn't do it, you know? I don't think so anyway, unless you were a Superman.
JONES: But you have to understand why, you know? I mean, I know - or I think I do, anyway - that, first of all, you know, it's my voice because I was selling - you know, "It's Not Unusual" started to sell worldwide before people saw me perform it live. So it must have been the sound that I was making to begin with, and then the visual part of it came later. But you have to realize why. You know, it's like an actor, you know, in a movie. It's the same thing. It's exposure. You know, you have a lot of exposure, and people see you, and you have an effect on them. And you have to understand that and - you know, and get it and try to put it in the right perspective.
GROSS: OK, time for another song. Now, this is another one of your big hits, "What's New Pussycat?" And the really funny thing about this song - it's your big novelty hit, but it's written by the brilliant and very sophisticated songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
GROSS: So this was a theme for a movie of the same name. How did you get to sing the title song?
JONES: Well, Burt Bacharach wanted - which he told me, you know, when I met him - he wanted a big voice to sing the song because it was for a Woody Allen film. And it was a crazy movie, and it's a crazy song, really. So he said, I need a big, solid voice to make this legitimate. You know, it needs to be done with conviction and not - you know, don't sing it, like, lightheartedly. He said, if you do that, it won't work. You've got to really, you know, dig into it and make a serious job of it.
So that's why he asked me to do it - because he'd heard "It's Not Unusual," you know, and liked that. And the flipside of "It's Not Unusual" was a Burt Bacharach song called "To Wait For Love," you know, which was a ballad. So I don't know whether he - you know, he heard "It's Not Unusual" because he heard the song on the flipside or not. But he liked the sound of my voice, and he thought I would be - you know, I would be right for "What's New Pussycat?" And...
GROSS: How did you like the song?
JONES: Well, when he first played it to me, I didn't like it because I couldn't quite - because it's a very unusual tune, you see? It's - so he played it on piano, and he sang it to me when he was writing the music for the movie. He was doing it in London. And I couldn't understand it at first. It was alien to me to the stuff that I'd been listening to. So - and I told him so, you know? I said, I can't make head or tail of this bloody thing. So he said, well, look; I'll make a demo of it. So the following day, he went into the studio, and he made a demonstration record, just him and the piano, you know, doing it. And he said, live with it, and listen to it, and then hopefully, you know, it'll hit you. And it did.
GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is Tom Jones' "What's New Pussycat?"
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?")
JONES: (Singing) What's new, pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa, oh. What's new, pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa, oh. Pussycat, pussycat, I've got flowers and lots of hours to spend with you. So go and powder your cute little pussycat nose. Pussycat, pussycat, I love you. Yes, I do. You and your pussycat nose. What's new, pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa, oh. What's new, pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa, oh. Pussycat, pussycat, you're so thrilling, and I'm so willing to care for you. So go and make up your big little pussycat eyes. Pussycat, pussycat, I love you. Yes, I do - you and your pussycat eyes. What's new, pussycat?
BIANCULLI: We'll hear more of Terry's 2003 interview with Tom Jones after a break. Also, we listen back to our interview with Jacques d'Amboise, who was one of the most distinguished male stars at the New York City Ballet. He died last week at age 86. And Justin Chang reviews the new psychological thriller "The Woman In The Window." I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. Let's get back to Terry's 2003 interview with singer Tom Jones. He became a pop star and sex symbol in the 1960s with songs like "It's Not Unusual," "Delilah" and "What's New Pussycat?" He has a new album of material titled "Surrounded By Time." Terry asked him about another one of his hits.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
GROSS: Now I want to get to one of my personal favorites, which is the theme from the James Bond movie, "Thunderball." (Laughter) No, I love all those Bond themes. And this one is so - oh, it's so - what's the word I'm looking for?
GROSS: Very, very dramatic.
GROSS: And it's very insinuating. God knows what it's actually about. I don't know if anybody's ever made - been able to make out (laughter) details of the lyric.
JONES: No. Well, Don Black wrote the lyric, you know? And I think he - I don't think he ever explained it, you know, what it was. It was just - you know, the words came into his head. And he wrote them down. And that's the way it came out.
GROSS: I almost laugh when I hear this record because, you know, there's a lot of big arrangements on your records. But in this one, I mean, the brass is really shrieking in the background. And there's all these, like, themes from the movie coming up. In - you know, in the arrangement behind you. And I was thinking, if all this was happening in real time, it would be hard to sing. I mean, it would be - it's, like, overpowering arrangement. You'd probably have to, like, stop and laugh almost.
JONES: Well, it's John Barry. You know, John Barry did - he wrote...
GROSS: The great John Barry. Yeah.
JONES: Yeah. Of course. He wrote the melody. And, of course, he did the arrangements. So I knew what to expect because of the Bond songs that had been done...
GROSS: Like "Goldfinger."
JONES: Exactly. "Goldfinger" was the same kind of song. And Shirley Bassey did that. And it was a male version of "Goldfinger," really, that I - when I did "Thunderball," you know, because Shirley Bassey is Welsh. And she has this big, powerful voice. And I think they wanted, you know, a male version of that, you know, for "Thunderball." So I was prepared for it. I knew what the arrangement was going to be. And I just had to rip into it.
GROSS: When I interviewed John Barry and we talked about "Thunderball," he said that, initially, they wanted the song to be "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." But the distributor of the movie thought, no. It has to be the title theme. The title has to be in the song. The song has to be called "Thunderball." So then the lyricist had to come up with, like, a lyric with "Thunderball" in it. And they all - (laughter) the songwriters seemed to not really know exactly what the song was about. But then they had to convince you to do the song. Well, I guess you were willing to do it.
GROSS: They asked you to do the song. And Barry said that you said, what's the song about? And he said, I don't know. Just go in the studio and sing your heart out like Shirley Bassey did.
GROSS: Is that your memory, too?
JONES: Yes. And he said, and at the end, there's a high note. And the arrangement goes on for quite a while. So he said, try and hold the note as long as possible. So I did. And I closed my eyes. And I held the note for so long, when I opened my eyes, the room was spinning...
JONES: ...You know? It was - (laughter) but I did it, you know, because it's - you know, that's the way it is. But you're right, you know? He said just - you know, don't read into the lyric. Don't try and figure out what it is. Just - you know, just learn it and sing it. And so I said, fine.
GROSS: Well, good job. (Laughter) Let's hear "Thunderball."
GROSS: This is Tom Jones.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THUNDERBALL")
JONES: (Singing) His days of asking are all gone. His fight goes on and on, and on. But he thinks that the fight is worth it all, so he strikes like thunderball.
GROSS: That's Tom Jones singing "Thunderball," one of his hits. You, as we've discussed, have this very swarthy image. When you were young, you were in bed for a year. You had tuberculosis. How did a year of...
JONES: Well, it was two years.
GROSS: Two years? How did two years of being sick - and you can tell me how old you were because I'm not sure.
JONES: Yeah, 12.
GROSS: Right. OK.
JONES: I was 12 to 14.
GROSS: Oh, just as your voice is changing, too, huh?
JONES: Well, yeah, going through puberty, too. I mean, that was...
GROSS: Boy, that's a lot to go through at one time...
GROSS: ...Particularly for a singer.
JONES: To be locked up, you know, and at that age is - (laughter) you know, seeing the girls playing in the street and not being able to go out is - not only the girls, I mean, all my friends. But, you know, that's when you start to notice girls, really...
JONES: ...Is at that time. So it was a very frustrating time for me.
GROSS: Well, how'd it affect your life to be sick for a couple of years, years that are turning points in every child's life?
JONES: Well, another thing was they told me that I shouldn't sing, you know, because I couldn't - I shouldn't do anything that - I couldn't put any effort into anything, you know? I couldn't do anything physical nor physical activity. So I turned to, then, drawing. You know, I used to sketch a lot and paint a lot when I was a kid. So that's what - I put my talent, you know, into that. I had to do something to express myself. So I did a lot of sketches. But that was the terrible thing was not being able to sing. But it was one - it did teach me a lesson, though, you see? Something good came out of it, and it's not to take - to not to take life for granted because, you know, when you can play in the streets or you can play in the hills, you know, in Wales, most kids just take that for granted.
But when you - when it's taken away from you and you're bedridden for two years, it's - I thought to myself then, when I get out of bed, once I can play again, you know, with the kids and I can go wherever I want to go, I'll never complain about anything else as long as I live. And that's - you know, that's kept me - I remember that. I remember being bedridden. And so that helped. It helped in a certain - and another thing, it stopped me going into the coal mines, because in Wales at that time, you see, a lot of people were going into - my father was a coal miner. And maybe I would have become a coal miner. But because I had tuberculosis, you know, on the lung, the doctor said, you know, you cannot work in a coal mine. So that was a blessing in disguise as well.
GROSS: Did you see singing as an alternative to the mine world yourself?
JONES: Well, no. Singing to me was a very natural thing to do. I wasn't thinking that it would sort of get me out of Wales or anything. I loved living in Wales. But it was a thing that I - singing was a thing that I loved to do. And I did think to myself when I was a child, you know, I thought, if I could do this as a profession, this would be fantastic. You know, this is what I want to do, not to do - you know, have to do a job of work that you don't like, you know, in order to make money, which most people have to do, in order to survive. You know, I thought, if I could do this - you know, I have a gift here. And if I can - if I could do it as a profession, then that would be - you know, that would be it for me. And thank God it turned out that way.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
JONES: That's OK. My pleasure.
BIANCULLI: Tom Jones recorded in 2003. His new album, "Surrounded By Time," entered the U.K. pop charts at No. 1. Coming up, we remember dancer Jacques d'Amboise, who began dancing with the New York City Ballet at the age of 15 at the invitation of George Balanchine. And Justin Chang reviews the new film starring Amy Adams, "The Woman In The Window." This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DANILO PEREZ AND CLAUS OGERMAN'S "ACROSS THE CRYSTAL SEA")
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Jacques d'Amboise, a longtime principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, died last week at age 86. A legendarily talented and committed performer, teacher and choreographer, d'Amboise joined the New York City Ballet at age 15, invited personally by its co-founder, George Balanchine. In collaboration with that renowned choreographer, d'Amboise created leading roles in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Jewels," "Stars And Stripes" and many other ballet classics. In 1976, while still a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, d'Amboise founded the National Dance Institute, which teaches dance to children from New York City Public Schools. A 1984 documentary about him called "He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin'" won an Academy Award. He spoke to Terry Gross in 1989. She asked him about teaching children at the National Dance Institute.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS: You audition the children to see if they can be in your classes. How do you audition kids who don't have any formal dance training yet?
JACQUES D'AMBOISE: Not who's the best, who tries the hardest. For one hour, you're giving steps to children. And they don't know their right from their left. And you're demanding excellence. And you're demanding silence and no chewing gum and no bad manners and no fighting and no foul language. And stand straight. And lift your head up. And put your right foot front. And do it on the music, and now twice as fast and so on. And you can see the lurkers over in the back and the side that kind of - hands in their pocket. And they're kind of giggling and laughing. Get rid of them right away. Tell them that they're not ready yet, next year, when they're ready - so it's those that try.
GROSS: What kind of line do you like to walk between fun and discipline? And I'm sure you want, you know, your students to be as disciplined as possible and to dance as well as possible. On the other hand, I don't know how much pressure you want to put on them, you know, so that they worry about not living up to expectations.
D'AMBOISE: There is a thing called precision. There's a thing called editing. Being precise and knowing how to edit - and that's the secret of being creative. So I'll start by saying to a class of - an auditorium full of children, I'll say, I want the first three rows to stand up and quietly go to the stage. Spread out on the stage. Stand everywhere. Fill every inch of space, the smallest people in the front, the tallest in the back. Now, here it is. I tell them they have 10 seconds, exactly 10 seconds to do this, to fill those 10 seconds. Three rows of children, 30 children, get up and run yelling and screaming to the stage and end up all in lines in the back, right? And they all get there within three or four seconds.
Then I said, No. 1, I asked you to do it quietly. No. 2, you're supposed to fill every inch of the space. And the stage is 40-by-40. So you have to be all over it. Stack it, the shorter people front. And I said 10 seconds. You were there in three. You must take 10, not nine, not eight, 10. And now go back and do it again. And if I have to call you a third time, I won't teach this class. Now, the second time, they get it. It's absolutely quiet. They get to their place. And they take all 10 seconds. They get there early. They'll walk in little circles until the 10 seconds are up. The countdown's over, they freeze. They get it. And then I say, you just learned what dance is about. It controls time. And it control space. You control time. And you control space with your body, you. And that's the first thing to dance. You just began to dance.
GROSS: Let's talk about how you started dancing. How did you start to dance?
D'AMBOISE: Well, my mother was determined that her children not be bums in the street in trouble. So when my sister went to a ballet class, I was dragged along, made to sit and watch. Madame Seda up 181st and St. Nicholas. And this is 1942. And I try to disrupt the class and make noise, little sounds, little squeaks and play with the rosin. And Madame said I was very smart. She just watched. And then, at the end of class, there's these leaps, jumps that you do consecutively called changement - or changes. And she said, you, with all your energy and fiddling, can you do this? Can you jump as high as the girls? Get up and try this.
So I'd get up and do the jumps. And I loved doing the jumps. Everybody applauded me. And I'd leap and leap and leap. So she says, every day, if you sit there quietly, I'll let you do the jumps. So I'd sit there waiting for the jumps. Then she said, but you make noise when you land. So you have to take the beginning of class where you practice the plies or the - where you begin to get the strength and learn how to come out of the air and land. So I'd do - the beginning of class, I'd run and sit, waiting for the end. Then she said, you look sloppy in the air. You've got to learn how to hold your body and your arms, point your feet. You've got to take the middle of the climb. By then I was ready, right? So she did exactly - she'd challenge you, test you, set up the environment of excellence and congratulated you when you succeeded and made it harder. She had - see - she did everything right.
GROSS: You've run into a lot of your boy students who are a little uncomfortable about being possibly associated with ballet. What about you when you were young? Did your friends give you a hard time about it? Were you embarrassed about it yourself?
D'AMBOISE: No, not one little bit because you see - I would absolutely be down there dancing and seeing great dancers. And I'd come back around the block, and they'd all be waiting. Where you been? We hear you went to a dancing class.
And I said, yes. And it's great. There's this man with all these muscles. And he leaps in the air. And he doesn't make noise. And he does all these turns, Eglevsky - Andre Eglevsky. And he does these double tours. And he does like this.
And on the street corner in front of Dave's Candy Shop (ph) on 163rd and St. Nicholas, I started dancing and getting all my gang to try and do double tours, and they - no problem. And then when I got in New York City Ballet, I was 15. They'd sneak down to City Center - 25 gang members. And I'd go out, and I'd open the fire escape. And they'd come up at half hour. And I'd let them in the balcony, see?
And so I'd come on in the Court of Ballet of Symphony in C. There was eight boys and men in the Court of Ballet and one teenager, me. And all up from the balcony, whistles and screams every time I'd come on stage. And (laughter), you know, they'd all know that my gang was out front, you know?
GROSS: Was there a moment for you when you knew, this is it - I am now going to retire from performing?
GROSS: What was that moment?
D'AMBOISE: First, injuries and - serious injuries and in the hospital and a doctor saying, that's it - you're not going to dance again. But Balanchine was saying, no, you have to come back. I need you. You have to come back. So I went back and danced. And sure enough, a year later, I had another operation.
Well, then I said, wait a minute. Balanchine's so extraordinary. And he's fading. And I'm fading. I'm just going to stay and dance as long as I can with him. And meanwhile, I'll start National Dance Institute. So I began to dance and - but roles started, you know, out of 60 ballets, I'd do 50 because the minute I do something badly or didn't like it, I'd drop it. Until finally, in '84 - '83, '84, 19 - it just was no good.
I had two ballets left that I felt I could dance. And I didn't like it anymore. And the effort of getting on stage was too painful, you know? I thought, I don't belong here anymore. So I quit. And I don't even remember who that person was that used to dance. When I look at old films or see people do my roles, I can hardly remember. Who is that person that used to dance?
GROSS: Why not? Why is it so hard to remember?
D'AMBOISE: It's like somebody else. I've become somebody else. It's not - my body can't move that way anymore. I don't even feel like I was a dancer like that. It's somebody else. I look at it and say, it's another person, see?
GROSS: Well, when you do look at somebody dancing one of the ballets that you did, what emotional response do you have? Is it, oh, that's nice, someone carrying it on? Or is it envy that they can still dance, and you can't?
D'AMBOISE: No. I don't like anybody (laughter) doing my roles. No. What happens is I...
D'AMBOISE: ...Look at them dancing. And unless they do something special for it that excites me and thrills me, I don't like ballet. I know it so well. I know everything about it. There are a few dancers, male dancers that I still love to see. But they'd better be good. Otherwise, they're - I've seen the best. I don't want to see anything second rate.
GROSS: Well, Jacques d'Amboise, I want to thank you very much for talking with us about dance.
D'AMBOISE: Terry, a pleasure.
BIANCULLI: Jacques d'Amboise speaking to Terry Gross in 1989. He died May 2 at the age of 86. Coming up, Justin Chang reviews the new film "The Woman In The Window," starring Amy Adams. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MIKE FAHIE JAZZ ORCHESTRA'S "SYMPHONY NO. 6, II. ALLEGRO CON GRAZIA")
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The psychological thriller "The Woman In The Window," starring Amy Adams, was supposed to be released last year but was held back due to the pandemic. It's based on the best-selling novel by Dan Mallory, writing under the pseudonym A.J. Finn, which stirred controversy in the literary world when it was published in 2018. Our film critic Justin Chang has this review.
JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: After being delayed for a year, "The Woman In The Window" arrives on Netflix this week, bearing more than the usual baggage for a new release. Two years ago, Dan Mallory, the author of the novel on which it's based, was accused of fabricating details about his life and career. Around the same time, people noted plot similarities between his book and Sarah A. Denzil's 2016 crime novel, "Saving April." I couldn't help but think about these controversies as I watched "The Woman In The Window," which features a most untrustworthy protagonist and pays extended homage to other crime novels and movies. The most obvious influence is "Rear Window."
Only this time, instead of Jimmy Stewart laid up with a broken leg, we're following a child psychologist, Dr. Anna Fox, who has severe agoraphobia and hasn't left her New York brownstone in months. Anna is played by Amy Adams, who, not for the first time, is very good in a movie that doesn't prove entirely worthy of her. To say that it falls short of "Rear Window" would, of course, be unfair since that's true of most suspense films, even some great ones. But "The Woman In The Window" is ultimately too mechanical in its Hitchcockian metaflourishes (ph) to feel like much more than a genre exercise. Still, it holds your attention on its own derivative terms. Speaking as someone who loves vintage crime films, I'm sympathetic to any movie that geeks out over them, too. The housebound Anna spends a lot of her time watching these older movies, from Hitchcock classics like "Spellbound" to timeless whodunnits like "Laura" and the Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall mystery, "Dark Passage." It's fun to watch snippets of them along with her and to mentally prepare for the plot turns they may be foreshadowing.
Pretty soon, Anna is addicted to a real-life thriller that appears to be playing out in the house across the street where a family of three, the Russells, have just moved in. One night, Anna gets a visit from 15-year-old Ethan Russell, a sensitive kid who gives off slightly awkward Norman Bates vibes. Later that week, the boy's mother, played by Julianne Moore, stops by. She's an odd but sympathetic figure, somehow both chatty and cagey. And she makes some insinuating remarks about how controlling Ethan's father is. He's played by Gary Oldman. And when he, too, arrives on Anna's doorstep some time later, apparently looking for his wife, Anna lies and tells him she hasn't had any visitors. A few nights later, Anna looks out her window into the Russells' home and sees Ethan's mom being attacked by an unseen assailant. After trying in vain to take a photo, Anna calls the police. Later, two detectives come to her home, along with Mr. Russell.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW")
GARY OLDMAN: (As Alistair Russell) Hi.
AMY ADAMS: (As Anna Fox) What is this?
JEANINE SERRALIES: (As Detective Norelli) Ma'am, you all right?
ADAMS: (As Anna Fox) Why is he here?
BRIAN TYREE HENRY: (As Detective Little) Mr. Russell believes that you made a mistake.
OLDMAN: (As Alistair Russell) You have never met my wife.
ADAMS: (As Anna Fox) She helped me one night. We spent the evening together.
OLDMAN: (As Alistair Russell) No, no, no, I don't think so.
ADAMS: (As Anna Fox) In fact, he came here looking for her.
OLDMAN: (As Alistair Russell) I was looking for my son, not my wife. And you told me no one had been here.
ADAMS: (As Anna Fox) I lied. We played Gin.
OLDMAN: (As Alistair Russell) Why would you lie about that?
SERRALIES: (As Detective Norelli) Why would you lie about that?
ADAMS: (As Anna Fox) I was afraid that you would punish her.
OLDMAN: (As Alistair Russell) For playing Gin?
HENRY: (As Detective Little) It doesn't matter. The point is, Dr. Fox, is that nothing's happened.
ADAMS: (As Anna Fox) No, no. I know what I saw.
HENRY: (As Detective Little) Nothing's happened to anyone.
ADAMS: (As Anna Fox) No. I was zoomed in with the camera.
SERRALIES: (As Detective Norelli) Did you take a picture?
ADAMS: (As Anna Fox) No, I did not take a picture.
OLDMAN: (As Alistair Russell) She's just admitted she's spying on our house.
HENRY: (As Detective Little) Mr. Russell, please just...
SERRALIES: (As Detective Norelli) Why didn't you take a picture?
HENRY: (As Detective Little) The important thing is, is that everybody's OK, yeah?
CHANG: As everyone begins to doubt Anna's side of the story, so do we. Even from the beginning, it's clear that she's withholding some key details about her life. We hear her talking on the phone with her husband and their young daughter, from whom she's separated for unexplained reasons. Anna drinks a lot, which is a bad idea since she's on a lot of medication. She's a classic, unreliable narrator, a popular trope that has surfaced in similar recent thrillers like "Gone Girl" and "The Girl On The Train." It's a shame that the woman in the window isn't better than it is, given the talent involved. The script was written by the playwright Tracy Letts, who has a sly cameo as Anna's therapist. And it was directed by the English filmmaker Joe Wright, who demonstrated real flair in his adaptations of "Pride & Prejudice," "Atonement" and "Anna Karenina," stylizing them in ways that felt fresh and daringly cinematic.
Wright tries to do the same thing here. He throws a lot of frenzied technique at the screen, including rapid-fire edits, giant eyeball close-ups and a Danny Elfman score that might be channeling the different voices inside Anna's head. He shoots the house interiors from wide angles that suggest this isn't just a home but a stage where Anna performs the theater of her life. But none of it really works. The movie cuts from one jolt to the next so quickly that no suspense or dread is able to build. And for all the attempts to convey some sense of Anna's agitated state, we never really feel like we're inside her head.
That's no knock on Amy Adams, who tries to underplay the intensity and find her character's complexity. She plays up Anna's moments of lucidity and her natural empathy for others as she begins digging around in the Russells' past and also her own. As the walls close in and the story wraps up with a series of fairly predictable twists, you can't help rooting for Anna and hoping perhaps that the next crime thriller she watches might be better than this one.
BIANCULLI: Justin Chang is the film critic for the LA Times. He reviewed the new thriller, "The Woman In The Window," now streaming on Netflix. On Monday's show, failure and dysfunction at the U.S. Secret Service. Journalist Carol Leonnig talks about understaffing, faulty equipment, low morale and critical breakdowns at the agency. When a man with a knife jumped the White House fence in 2014, he wasn't stopped until he reached the stairs to the president's living quarters. Leonnig's book is called "Zero Fail." I hope you can join us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MATT WILSON'S "JOIE DE VIVRE")
BIANCULLI: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support by Joyce Lieberman, Julian Herzfeld and Al Banks. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
(SOUNDBITE OF MATT WILSON'S "JOIE DE VIVRE")
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