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Tribute to Mahlathini.

World music critic Milo Miles offers a tribute to South African singer "Mahlathini". He died last week at the age of 61. Simon Nkabinde Mahlathini (nicknamed "the Lion of Soweto") was best known for his lead vocals for the group Mahlathini and the Mhaotella Queens after emerging on the international stage with the 1985 sampler The Indestructible Beat of Soweto.


Other segments from the episode on August 6, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 6, 1999: Interview with Emily Cola; Commentary on the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000; Interview with Peter M. Leschak; Commentary on Simon Nkabinde…


Date: AUGUST 07, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 080701np.217
Head: Interview with Author Emily Colas
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

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

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, this is FRESH AIR.

I'm Marty Moss-Coane, filling in for Terry Gross. On Today's FRESH AIR, the life of an obsessive-compulsive. We meet writer Emily Colas. She was consumed by irrational worries and obsessions, fears that her food was poisoned or that she was being invaded by germs. Colas's memoir, "Just Checking," is now out in paperback.

Then, battling the big ones. When the mountain is on fire, the call goes out for people like Peter Leschak. He's written about his experiences as a firefighter battling big forest fires in his book, "Hellroaring." World music critic Milo Miles remembers the South African singer Mahlathini. He died last month. And TV critic David Bianculli looks back and 10 years of "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Its final episode airs this weekend.

That's all coming up on today's FRESH AIR.

First the news.


MOSS-COANE: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane, in for Terry Gross.

Emily Colas lived in a dangerous world. She believed that if she ate out at a restaurant, she would be poisoned. She checked her children's clothes for bloodstains every day and frantically inspected packaged foods for evidence of tears and tampering.

Emily Colas had obsessive-compulsive disorder, a condition marked by repetitive, irrational thoughts and behaviors that took over her life. And though her mind terrorized her and drove her into tedious rituals, Colas's frank new memoir is actually quite funny. She wrote "Just Checking" after going into therapy and going on Prozac, which has enabled her to get her fears and compulsions under control. The book is now out in paperback.

Emily Colas is a single mother of two living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She told me that many of her fears were about germs, food and cleanliness.


EMILY COLAS, AUTHOR, "JUST CHECKING": Yeah, it was really about -- I mean, finally, about catching a disease. And so it was a matter of worrying that there was blood somewhere or that a person might have a cut. If somebody walked by me on the street and then I happened to notice that they were, like, wiping their nose, then I'd think that they clearly had a bloody nose, and so my husband and I would be chasing them, chasing them down the street to chat, to make sure that, you know, that wasn't the case.

So it became, you know, just any sorts of way that I can imagine a disease getting into my life. So whether it was some spot on the ground that I assumed was blood or a hypodermic needle on a chair that I might sit on or something like that.

MOSS-COANE: And the fear was that what was sitting there was going to get you.

COLAS: Exactly.

MOSS-COANE: When you get sick, or perhaps even when you were in the throes of all this and you got sick, did you have some dramatic explanations about what was wrong with you? Did you think you were going to die if you had a common cold, for instance?

COLAS: Yeah. I mean, it's -- it was less about dying. I mean, that would have been a relief!


COLAS: It's that sort of process of dying that, you know, you have a cough, and it's clearly TB or, you know, things like that. And I think what you're then able to do is, like, look at all the literature on TB. I mean, I became an expert at all sorts of diseases, and so you think about the incubation period or where you could have come in contact with it or what the symptoms are and, you know, how you'd know if you had this particular disease. And so I'd spend my time thinking about stuff like that.

MOSS-COANE: You write about your parents, and you talk about your father as a kind of control person. That seemed to be important to him, yes?

COLAS: Yeah, probably, I think. Or what -- which part are you referring to in the -- I mean, he had his breakfast thing, where he'd -- you know, everything was sort of ordered.

MOSS-COANE: He had the same breakfast...

COLAS: Every day.

MOSS-COANE: ... every morning.

COLAS: And eat it the same way every day. And I would just sort of be transfixed watching him eating his breakfast. But yeah, I mean, I think everything had a routine and an order and a structure.

MOSS-COANE: You also describe being put to bed by your mother, who would stand at the doorway and flick the light switch several times. Describe that scene for us.

COLAS: She would -- she didn't actually explain it to me until, like, five or six years ago, what she was actually doing. But she would put me to bed, and she'd go to turn the light off, and she would just be sitting there, flicking the switch, just for -- for a very long time. And I just thought she didn't think it was off, but in fact, she had to flick it in multiples of four until -- she described it as "until it felt right." So she would just be sitting there flicking it over and over again.

MOSS-COANE: I want to have you read a section from the book. And this is a kind of a ritual that you developed to help you to go to sleep, but it began with a fear, and it's called "Counting sheep."

COLAS: "Do you ever feel like your tongue is too big for your mouth? I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep when I started to think my tongue didn't quite fit anymore. Once I started focusing on this, it was all I could think about. I imagined my tongue was expanding in its already close quarters. My body started to tingle. I had trouble breathing, and I began to wonder if a swollen tongue would obstruct breathing through my nose, as well.

"I tried to distract myself by thinking about small things while taking deep breaths. I toyed with the idea of calling my doctor, but felt that familiar pang of embarrassment. What would I say? Since it was so late and his office was closed, I'd have to call his service, give my name, and when the operator asked me what's wrong, say, `I think my tongue is swelling.' She might just laugh and hang up the phone, or maybe this really happens and she'd send an ambulance over immediately. I wasn't thrilled with either option.

"After a few hours of going over my choices, I came to the realization that if my tongue was indeed growing, it was a pretty slow process, and I fell asleep."

MOSS-COANE: And that's Emily Colas reading from her book called "Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive."

When you have a thought like that -- and I think many people get irrational thoughts. Most people can -- most people can dismiss them and just say, "Oh, that's -- that's crazy." You didn't have a voice in your head that could dismiss that and say, "Of course my tongue isn't swelling."

COLAS: That -- well, I think that's exactly it, I mean, and that's what I hope, you know, appeals to people. It's that it's a worry, just like anybody has a worry, and somehow you or someone else is able to just make it go away. And I can't. I can't do that. And in addition to not being able to do that, I just, you know, get the sort of worries or thoughts just get weirder and weirder, so -- -you know, all of a sudden imagining ground-up hypodermic needles in your food. But there's a really normal process from, you know, the start of the worry to that point.

MOSS-COANE: Were you constantly talking to yourself, talking yourself into this stuff, out of this stuff?

COLAS: Constantly. Constantly. It's sort of all you do. You have these two voices -- well, you probably really have more than two voices, but these two were the sort of irrational, you know, going over the worry and thinking about it and spinning on it. And for me, it was sort of thinking of ways in which it probably was safe and that I didn't need to worry. And then there's that sort of rational voice saying, "This is insane. Stop thinking about this. You're a nut. Just let it go," so that the two of them are sort of constantly fighting. And I -- I think, you know, it's one the most frustrating parts of this is that you just want to be utterly and totally insane so that you don't know you're spending so much time being a nut. But you know, the two of them just sort of fight with each other, in a way.

MOSS-COANE: In fact, you call it "insanity lite," that it's not full-blown psychosis or something like that because there still is this little rational self left.

COLAS: Right. I mean, I talk about at some point in the book fearing that my food is poisoned, and somebody at one of the readings once said to me, "Well, that sounds like paranoid schizophrenic." So I mean, I think some of the parts of the book, you read it, and you think, "Yeah, that's fawn (ph) insanity." But I think for the most part, it's, you know -- sometimes people say, "Well, it's just neurotic." It's almost like neurotic times a thousand. And it doesn't feel like you can say, "Yeah, this is fawn insanity." So it's sort of the worst of all the worlds.


COLAS: You know, you're constantly consumed by this, and you don't even get to be called crazy. It just seems unfair.

MOSS-COANE: Well, did it seem like it would be easier to be called crazy, then you wouldn't have to at least fight with yourself about this stuff?

COLAS: Right. Totally. Yeah. There's something -- I don't know, something comforting about the fact that someone says you're -- you know, "You're a nut job," and that's it. But this one, it was sort of, like, "I know. I know what I'm doing is nutty," so...

MOSS-COANE: Well, you have a funny scene. It's also a very poignant scene, when you're first dating your husband, and he invites you over to dinner, to make a lovely meal for you. And you're sitting there while he's preparing the meal, and you're thinking what? You're thinking he's trying to lace your food with poison.

COLAS: Yeah. That one -- can I give the pre-story to that, as well?

MOSS-COANE: Yes. Please.

COLAS: Because it's not -- there was -- I was at a party, and this boy was just sitting at a table, and he was eating the sugar cubes off -- out of the bowl that's sitting on the table. And the hostess said to him, "Oh, my God! Don't eat that! It's where we put our acid!" And this guy gets this horrified look on his face because by that point, he's had, like, 10 hits of acid. And she starts joking and laughing.

And so -- so all of a sudden, this -- you know, I -- I'm, like, witness to this, and I think, "OK. Yeah. So that could happen." You know, "There's food. Nobody's watching it. No one's," you know, "tending to it, and it could totally be laced." So then I started to think that, you know, I couldn't necessarily trust what was going to be in my food. So then I personally stopped going to restaurants and all of that, and eat pre-packaged food.

But I couldn't say this to this guy on the second date! So he said, "I want to make you dinner," and I thought, "OK. Fine." And so I was afraid that perhaps he was going to poison my food, and so there became this whole sort of fear about whether or not he did that. He brought the food out, and then he sort of disappeared for a minute, and I thought, "Maybe I should just switch the plates."

And then I, you know, sort of went through the whole -- you know, if I switched the plates and it was laced, then he'd die, and then the police would come and question me, and I'd get in trouble for having, you know, poisoned him, and I didn't even do it.i And then, you know, if -- like -- so anyway -- so eventually, he came back, and I didn't switch the plates because I thought it was really important to start the relationship on the right foot and trust him, and so I did. And you know, I sort of waited around after I ate for the drugs to take effect, and when they didn't...

MOSS-COANE: You were OK.

COLAS: ... I thought, "This guy's a keeper."

MOSS-COANE: Your life is exhausting.

COLAS: I know!

MOSS-COANE: (INAUDIBLE) about it. I mean, here you are, having this very innocent, innocuous meal with this guy who eventually does marry you, and you've got this whole paranoid fantasy going on.

COLAS: Yeah, but I mean, I -- it's funny because as you were saying that, I'm thinking also it's probably tiring for people on the second date to try and, you know, sort of meet a guy and talk about their lives and all of that. So instead of dealing with that sort of intimacy, I sort of spun off on the worries. So in a way, it was -- it's probably as tiring as a second date, but that was probably too daunting for me, so it was easier to just, you know, spin on something I was comfortable with, which is, you know, poison and things like that.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I'll tell you what. We're going to take a short break, and then we'll talk some more.

And our guest today is Emily Colas, and we're talking about her memoir. It's called "Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive."

I'm Marty Moss-Coane, and this is FRESH AIR.




MOSS-COANE: My guest is Emily Colas, and we're talking about her book, called "Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive."

What I find interesting is that even though you had all these fears, you got pregnant. You got pregnant twice. And I think for many expectant mothers, and fathers, too, there are a lot of hopes and expectations, but there are a lot of natural fears associated with pregnancy. But you did it anyway.

COLAS: Well, I think -- I mean, it's like said before. I think there is that sense of not being certain what to do with myself or what to do with my mind or how to spend all this sort of energy. And there were all these attempts to solve it, and I think the desire to get married and to have children was, you know, the attempt to -- to have a purpose or a role. So that it's not that I thought, "OK, I'm so worried, and if I get pregnant, the hormones will surge and I'll be worried about the fetus and there'll just be out of control." It was more, like, "This will distract me," so...

MOSS-COANE: And to do something, quote, unquote, "normal," get married and have children -- that's what...

COLAS: Right.

MOSS-COANE: ... regular people do.

COLAS: Yeah. Then I'm a mother, and I'm normal, and I'll be paying so much attention to being a wife and mother that I won't have time to do these silly worrying things anymore. But I was wrong!

MOSS-COANE: Well, to the point where, when your first baby was born, you became convinced it wasn't yours.

COLAS: Well, yeah. I mean, she came out -- she's so darling! We came home, and she was so quiet, and she slept all the time, and she was just sweet, and she never cried. And I thought, "There's no way this can be my kid. My kid's going to be, like, a moody, whiny, complaining bitch." So I -- you know, I thought, "Well," you know, "maybe it's not mine." And then it occurred to me that when you -- when you're leaving the hospital, you're supposed to match up your wristband with the baby's ankle band, and check that the numbers are the same and sign something. And I just had a baby, so I was tired, and I was out of it, and I assumed that my husband, since he was the official checker anyway...


COLAS: ... was doing this. But it turns out he wasn't. And so then I -- you know, I had my wristband, or hers. I can't remember whose I had, but I only had one, so I started checking photos from the hospital to see if any of them were visible, and then thought about blood tests and DNA tests and all of that because there was no sort of way to determine whether or not she was truly mine.

MOSS-COANE: So what finally convinced you?


COLAS: She's listening, right? I'm still not sure. Well, I mean, aside from the fact that she looked a lot like us...


COLAS: ... there were things like I got teeth at 6 months. I had, like, eight teeth at 6 months, and that's unusual, and she had that, as well. And I would go to the doctor, and I'd say, "We look alike, don't we?" and he'd say "Yes." And we were both -- we sort of grew at the same rate.

So I mean, it was those kinds of things that, you know, aside from -- you know, and the fact that she looks exactly like me made me sort of get comfortable with it. But I mean, it's, like, I think I knew she was mine. I mean, there were other things that happened. Like, she was a forceps baby, so she had these little marks under her eyes, and she had lots of hair. So it was clear. You know, we recognized her. She wasn't, like, you know, some generic baby.

So I think it was -- you know, I knew that she was really mine. And because I somewhere fundamentally knew that, it allowed me to sort of go wild with the other stuff. And then I guess when I got tired of that worry, I moved on.

MOSS-COANE: Is that what happens, too, with some worries, that you just exhaust yourself on them, or they're not as interesting or as provocative as they once were?

COLAS: Oh, yeah. I think absolutely. You know, how many -- well, with the baby not being your own, there are lots of different ways in which you can sort of explore that. And then you go through them all, and you think, "OK. Now I'm bored," and you think of something new that you can -- you can go off on. So yeah, I think that's exactly what happens.

MOSS-COANE: What got you to the point, then, of thinking "This is ridiculous. I can't go on with my life like this"?

COLAS: Oh, yeah. The "This is ridiculous" happened long before the "I can't go on with my life." But you know, at that point, after I'd had my second kid, and my husband and I both thought that -- you know, because I had the two in a row, I thought -- "Well, once this isn't," you know, "the case anymore, and I'm not responsible for this fetus, then I'll get better." And he thought that, as well. And I didn't. And so I started to sort of lie to him about it, so I would still be worried, but wouldn't share the stuff with him anymore.

And there came this point where we were watching television, and I sort of absent-mindedly went to turn the volume up. And when I looked at the screen, I noticed that someone on TV had been in a fight and was spitting blood into the snow. And I became convinced that I had contracted a disease from...


COLAS: ... this encounter, and so much so that I couldn't keep it to myself, and I told him about it. And he was -- at first he, like, sort of went back into that role of, you know, sort of placating me with, you know, "That was taped months ago, and any diseases in that blood would be dead, and there was a screen in front of" -- you know.

And he's sort of going on, and then all of a sudden, he's, like, "Whoa. Wait a minute. This is just way too nuts." And at that point, he -- you know, he said, "We need to do something about this." And in part, I think, there was that going on, and then ultimately, he -- we separated. He just couldn't take it anymore, and he left.

And those sort of two things combined sent me into this really horrible depression because I couldn't function without him, and I -- it got to the point where I thought, you know, "You're just out of your mind. This is ridiculous, and your life looks this way that you just didn't imagine it was going to look." And that kind of finally gave me the courage to try the medicine that I was so afraid to take.

MOSS-COANE: Yeah, and you talk about taking that first pill. First of all, what kind of medicine did they prescribe for you?

COLAS: For me it was Prozac.

MOSS-COANE: And you were afraid to take it.

COLAS: Right, because at the time -- I mean, maybe it was leading up to this, as well, but at the time, there were stories in the news about people who had taken Prozac and gone on these, like, shooting sprees. And they would say, "Well, it was the Prozac." And I just thought, "Great. I'll be, like, a crazy, medicated killer, and that's going to, like, suck more than just being crazy." So I was afraid to take it. I mean, there were other side effects, too. They -- you know, you could have convulsions or things like that, and I just thought it was -- it was too daunting. And then it got to the point where I thought, "I don't care."

MOSS-COANE: Right. Right.

COLAS: And so I took it.

MOSS-COANE: And how did it work on you? I mean, this stuff takes a little time to work into your system.

COLAS: Right. It took -- yeah, I think it probably took about four to six weeks before it -- before it did what it needed to do. But what it did in the meantime was made me very tired and kind of numbed my brain, which was perfect. I mean, I slept all the time, and I just -- I was -- I was, like, dopey, in a way, and it was nice. It sort of quieted my mind in a way that I -- you know, I was really happy to have it do. And then over time, I realized that the worries were kind of -- they were still there, just, like, you know, anybody would have a worry, but they weren't gripping. And I would try and run with them, and I couldn't, so...

MOSS-COANE: Was there relief in that? But at the same time, you were so used to building your life around all these worries and fears.

COLAS: Well, yeah, that was sort of the strange part of it. It's, like, it's so nice to have that miserable part gone, but there was also a fun part of it, as well. I mean, it gave me a lot of stories to tell, and it filled up my brain in a way that I really enjoyed. I mean, I had these really intricate, complicated disease transition models in my head, and all of a sudden, they became sort of useless. And so it was, like, a lot of brain space and not -- and I wasn't certain what to do with it, so -- yeah, it was bittersweet.

MOSS-COANE: Well, did life seem kind of dull, now that you weren't worried about people putting hypodermic needles in your meals?

COLAS: That's right! "Where are they?" Yeah, it was -- it was absolutely -- it was totally dull. I mean, I would still think about it. I'd think, "OK, this is boring. I need to spice up this meal by thinking of some sort of toxin in it." And it just wouldn't click, and I couldn't. And so I thought, "Well, what am I going to do with myself?" And so at that point, because I had gone on medication, my husband came back, and so we were sort of trying to work on the relationship, and I was trying to figure out what to do with myself and what kind of job I was going to get, and it was all horribly boring and tiresome.

MOSS-COANE: And not -- and not kind of what your life used to be in the past.

COLAS: Right. Exactly. And I was sort of, like, not sure what to do with myself.

MOSS-COANE: Now, how about today? Are you still taking medication?

COLAS: I'm not. I stopped a few months ago.

MOSS-COANE: Was that scary, to go off?

COLAS: Well, I was -- I was always sort of a self-medicator. You know, when I would get worse, I would take more, and when I was feeling better, I would take less. And there were times when I did actually stop, and the worries came back...


COLAS: ... really quickly. And this time, I went off, and they didn't. So I sort of knew what to -- I knew that I -- if I stopped, they might come back, and I was sort of, you know, trying to keep it in check, as it were. And so far, it's been OK, but you know, I keep that bottle...

MOSS-COANE: Right. So you...

COLAS: ... in my medicine chest, just in case.

MOSS-COANE: So you monitor your thoughts, kind of, like, "How am I doing today?" and...

COLAS: Yeah.

MOSS-COANE: Is there someone you can check it out with, just to make sure you're not losing it?

COLAS: Someone like...

MOSS-COANE: I don't know, a friend?

COLAS: Like a professional -- a friend? Yeah, well, that's the sort of tricky thing because that's what, you know, the role I had put my husband in, and that wasn't particularly useful because there was that sense of wanting to be kind of loving and supportive without being enabling. And so it, you know -- I try, though not particularly successfully, to keep my friends out of it. But yeah, I guess I sort of do that, and I -- I mean, to this day, the thoughts come into my head. They're just not gripping, so I -- you know, if something starts to grip me, then I think, "OK, can I stop this, or," you know, "is it happening again?"

MOSS-COANE: Well, I want to thank you very much, Emily Colas, for joining us today on FRESH AIR.

COLAS: Thank you.


MOSS-COANE: Emily Colas's memoir, "Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive," is now out in paperback.

I'm Marty Moss-Coane, and this is FRESH AIR.


Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane
Guest: Emily Colas
High: EMILY COLAS' memoir, "Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive." has just been published in paperback by Washington Square Press. In it, she writes about her many worries and fears about germs, and food poisoning, and her compulsion to trace the design of a star in her head, while having conversations with people. COLAS eventually was treated for the disorder. This originally aired 8/4/98
Spec: Media; Health and Medicine; Books

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: Interview with Author Emily Colas
Date: AUGUST 07, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 080702NP.217
Head: Mystery Science Theater 3000
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30


I'm Marty Moss-Coane, in for Terry Gross.


MOSS-COANE: "Mystery Science Theater 3000," the cult TV show on which very bad movies are hosted and ridiculed by a very funny human and his robot pals, presents its final episode this weekend on the Sci-Fi Channel. That ends a run of more than 10 years on several networks.

TV critic David Bianculli provides a very fond farewell.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC, "THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": "Mystery Science Theater 3000" began in 1989 as a local production on a UHF station in Minneapolis. Given its humble beginnings, the chances of the show ever getting out of the state of Minnesota were one in a million.

The idea of it catching on and lasting for more than a decade on a total of three cable networks -- The Comedy Channel, Comedy Central, and Sci-Fi Channel -- was even more of a long shot. But "MST3K," as the show helpfully abbreviates itself, managed to turn vocal ridicule into a venerable TV tradition.

Creator Joel Hodgson (ph) was the show's first star. When he left, head writer Mike Nelson took over. Both of them played characters who were trapped inside a space satellite, joking around with robots -- actually the show's other witty cast members working as puppeteers -- while being forced to watch tacky old movies.

To keep their sanity and to keep us viewers entertained, they heckled the films nonstop.

If you still haven't discovered "MST3K," this isn't really the time to start. Sunday's episode, built around the Austin Powers-ish 1967 turkey called "Danger Diabolique," is a farewell episode from start to finish. And unlike many farewell episodes these days, it actually provides some sense of closure.

The program begins when Mike and his robot pals -- Crow, Tom Servo, and Gypsy -- are accidentally sent in a trajectory towards earth. It soon becomes clear that the captive crew aboard the Satellite of Love will either burn up in a return trajectory or make it back to Mike's home planet. To pass the time and cheer up his frightened robot companions, Mike composes and sings a song to mark the occasion.


MIKE NELSON, ACTOR (singing): I know it's hard to leave this little satellite of ours. We've had some fine adventures, we've danced among the stars.

ACTOR: We did?

NELSON (singing): And though we're far-out space nuts no matter where I roam, there's just no other planet like the planet I call home.

ACTOR: Wisconsin?


(singing): To earth, the very birthplace of my birth. The thought of earth fills me with mirth.

ACTOR (singing): Hey, maybe we'll be calling (ph) earth.

NELSON (singing): That is a possibility. See the blossoms on an apple tree...

ACTOR (singing): (INAUDIBLE) the barefoot boys (INAUDIBLE)...

ACTOR (singing): And slice your heel upon a broken bottle of Lipton Iced Tea.

NELSON: Come on, clam it, shorty, you're not helping.

(singing): The earth's a big and scary place with wars and crime and death.

ACTOR: It is?

NELSON (singing): They listen to Sean Mullins (ph) and Alanis Morrisette.

ACTOR: Oh, no!

NELSON (singing): This satellite has been my home, I've never known another. Where will I live? What will I do? And can I keep my mother?

ACTOR: Absolutely.


(singing): OK...


BIANCULLI: All this silly nonsense may be an acquired taste, but I acquired it many, many years ago, and I'm sorry to see the show go.

Like "The Simpsons," which began at about the same time, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" has managed to stay fresh and funny for an amazingly long stretch of TV time. Its fans, who are called Mysties, have every reason to expect a clever farewell, and Nelson and company provide one.

I won't spoil it, except to say that it goes full circle and manages to include a reference to "The Crawling Eye," the first movie shown when "MST3K" went national.

Meanwhile, the jokes made at the expense of "Diabolique" are just as sharp and laugh-out-loud funny as ever.

I'm going to miss "Mystery Science Theater 3000." In fact, just thinking of it leaving TV after this Sunday makes me all Mysty-eyed.

MOSS-COANE: David Bianculli is TV critic for "The New York Daily News."


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

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane
Guest: David Bianculli
High: TV critic DAVID BIANCULLI comments on the demise of Mystery Science Theater 3000. After ten years of ribbing, roasting and skewering the worst ilms ever, MST3K shown on The Sci-Fi Channel presents its final episode this weekend.
Spec: Entertainment; Radio and Television; Movie Industry

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: Mystery Science Theater 3000
Date: AUGUST 07, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 080703NP.217
Head: Interview with freelance firefighter Peter M. Leschak
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:36

MARTY MOSS-COANE, GUEST HOST: The hot, dry weather across much of the nation this summer has increased the risk for big forest fires. Careless campers, arsonists, and lightning strikes can turn a small blaze into a raging inferno, which can destroy anything and anyone in its path.

Currently, crews are fighting wildfires in northern Nevada and some other Western states.

My guest, Peter Leschak, is a freelance firefighter who works as part of a team of foot soldiers, performing a kind of hand-to-hand combat with wilderness blazes. When he's not fighting fires, he's writing at his home in Minnesota.

He's got a new book of poetry, "Rogues and Toads." I spoke with Peter Leschak a few years ago when his memoir, "Hellroaring: The Life and Times of a Fire Bum," was first published. He wrote that what attracted him to fighting fires was both madness and fellowship. I asked him to describe the madness.

PETER LESCHAK, FIREFIGHTER/WRITER: Well, I guess there's an anecdote that might clarify that. Back in 1989, for instance, I received a phone call in the middle of the night as, you know, you're rarely ever dispatched at a reasonable hour. And the dispatcher, here in Duluth, actually, asked me if I was willing to go to a forest fire in California, and I said, "Absolutely."

And I showed up at the airport at the appointed hour, and we -- the plane took off, and we landed in Boise, Idaho. And, of course, everything had been changed in midflight.

And the beauty of it is, you never know what to expect. It is a -- it can be a totally chaotic environment. And, of course, uncertainty is the spice of life. It's the only thing that makes life interesting, actually.

And so there's always that suspense. What's going to happen next? You wake up in Minnesota, you go to sleep in Wyoming.

MOSS-COANE: I would think, though, that there's nothing ambiguous about fighting a forest fire.

LESCHAK: Actually there is, quite often, an ambiguity there. You know, on the face of it, you know, I guess we've been told by Smoky Bear and, you know, you name it, the culture in general, that fire is an evil thing and that when you are combating fire, you are fighting this evil entity, which isn't the case at all.

For instance, there is always a measure of -- well, not always, but quite often -- a measure of doubt. Should this fire be put out or not? In the wildland environment, for instance Yellowstone in '88, as anybody who was around will recall, was this huge media event, and, of course, the tenor of the coverage was, you know, We're losing our national treasure, and it became a huge political football.

And there were 10,000 of us firefighters there for about two months. And frankly, if there had only been 5,000, the outcome would not have been different at all. And in retrospect, the fires, more often than not, were a -- had a positive impact on Yellowstone.

A lot of the ecosystems around this nation, most of the forest ecosystems, are fire-dependent.

MOSS-COANE: Well, explain to us the kind of equipment you need, you take in to fighting a big fire. I mean, for us city dwellers, we're used to the fire truck pulling up, attaching to the local fire hydrant, and spraying it with water.

When you're out in the middle of the wilderness, what do you take with you?

LESCHAK: Well, you know, there are a lot of variables there. It depends on where the fire is. A big part of wildland fire, unlike municipal firefighting, is that we use aviation resources quite a bit. You see a lot of helicopters, you see a lot of air tankers. Those are the huge twin-engine or four-engine aircraft that dump retardant on the fire.

And one of the things that continues to amaze me after all these years is the huge logistical problems that you run into. You know, as I mentioned, we had 10,000 firefighters at Yellowstone, and keeping those people fed and equipped can be just a monumental task.

And it depends on what branch you're in. If you are doing helitech (ph), that is, working with helicopters, or if you are with an engine crew using fire engines that would be fairly familiar to city dwellers, or whether you're on a hand crew, which I do quite often, it's a 20-person crew, and you go into the fire, hike in or flown in via helicopter with hand tools, shovels, an axe-like tool called a Pulaski (ph), and basically dig.

You dig fire line or you grub out burning stumps. Perhaps there's a water source, and you haul in hose and you fight it with nozzles. A huge tool of firefighting is ignition devices. You know, you fight fire with fire, the old -- you know, the old proverb. And you can do that by dropping fire, literally napalm, out of the sky, or you can do it with hand-held tools called fusees (ph) or drip torches. And, of course, chain saws are a huge item on fires.

But on a hand crew, you spend a lot of time hiking. In fact, I've often looked at some of these Western fire details. It's sort of a paid camping trip to keep the morale up.

MOSS-COANE: Is there a kind of hierarchy in the firefighters who put out wilderness fires?

LESCHAK: There is a hierarchy in the Forest Service. I suppose at the pinnacle of that hierarchy are the smoke jumpers. Those are the people who parachute into wildfires, generally small wildfires. You know, there's only about 400 of those people in the entire country.

Next comes what they call the hot shot crews. And they became a little more well known as a result of the Storm King Mountain fire in Colorado, because there was a hot shot crew that was involved with that fire. And these are 20-person crews who, at least theoretically, are -- have more experience and are at a higher level of training.

Then you have helitech crews. These are firefighters assigned to helicopters who are delivered to the fire via helicopter and support the helicopters.

And then you have what are called type two crews. These are hand crews, 20-person crews, who are at a lower level of experience and training.

So there is a pretty definite hierarchy there.

MOSS-COANE: And the hand crew, these are the people who hike up the mountain, and...

LESCHAK: These are the people you see on -- you know, you see in the news reports who are basically almost always digging. They -- it's very -- you know, I'm -- when you really get down to the nitty gritty, it's sometimes very unglamorous work. And sometimes, you know, you get -- really get excited to get the fire dispatch, and you get all your gear together, and 24 hours later, you're somewhere you've never been before digging fire line and wondering why you were so excited.

MOSS-COANE: Well, explain to us what it's like to approach a big fire in a forest. I mean, let's imagine you're hiking up a mountain, and you're approaching this fire. What do you smell? What do you see? What do you hear?

LESCHAK: Well, if I'm going to be really true to my profession, what I smell is money. We are very -- you know, when you -- when you're totally dependent on the weather and when you're dependent on what is -- amounts to seasonal work, you know, you find it difficult to be upset at the notion of a fire. And, you know, sometimes we feel ourselves somewhat out of synch with the general public, because they're being told this horrible, horrible event is going down, and all we see is a paycheck, some adventure, and some travel.

MOSS-COANE: And you make pretty good money, do you not?

LESCHAK: Oh, not at all. In fact, I'm sure most middle-class Americans would be appalled. For instance, when I go out on a hand crew, my basic wage is around $8 an hour with no overtime and no hazard pay. And the only thing that makes it even remotely worthwhile financially is the fact that you get -- you know, you rack up perhaps 300 hours in three weeks.

And the pay is low partially out of tradition, because back in -- during the Depression days, there was a phenomenon called job hunting. And, of course, times were tough, and people realized that if they went out into the woods and started a fire, that the Forest Service or the BLM or whoever would be looking to pick up some firefighters. That's what they used to do in the old days. They would basically empty the saloons or the highways or whatever and send people out into the woods to fight fire.

And so a ready source of income was to go light one up and get on the payroll. As a result of that, a lot of agencies deliberately kept firefighter wages low, and they got into the habit of bringing crews from as far away as they could to discourage the local people from lighting up the woods.

And so that tradition has sort of carried over.

MOSS-COANE: Well, let me ask you, because I set my kitchen on fire about five years ago, and pretty much burned it up. And once I got everybody out of the house, I ran back into the house to make sure I'd gotten all the animals out. And I went into my kitchen, which is just the average-sized kitchen, and the cabinets were all on fire. I mean, the whole thing was on fire.

It was so loud. And I'm trying to imagine what the sound of a huge forest fire must be like.

LESCHAK: Well, last summer I was in Washington on a hand crew. It was the Taji (ph) fire, which was one of the biggest ones last year, I think. It finally made it to about 127,000 acres. And the conditions were so extremely dry, and the fire behavior was so outrageous that, you know, we were being literally pushed all around by that fire.

And at one point, we were on a 'dozer line, a line that had been gouged out by a bulldozer. And we were basically improving that line. And we were unaware that there was some fire building below. And the classic description of it, as it builds and it races up the mountainside, is of a jet aircraft. You know, there was no mistaking that sound, and it really is quite a horrible sound when you understand what's coming up the hill at you.

And it can be incredibly loud.

MOSS-COANE: Are you afraid when you're fighting a big fire? Are you conscious of being afraid?

LESCHAK: Sometimes. You know, most of the time, the -- I think the fear comes beforehand. You know, as I sit around in the wintertime thinking about the things that have been or the things that could have been, I think you get a lot more nervous then. When you are in -- directly involved, and if you are at a certain level of training and experience, you're usually just too busy to be directly, you know, concerned with the notion of fear most of the time.

And, you know, obviously sometimes panic can be a part of it. But most of the time you're just too busy. And then afterwards, you know, you kind of sit down and you think about what might have been, and then perhaps you start to get a little shaky.

MOSS-COANE: My guest is Peter Leschak, and he's a traveling freelance firefighter. And he's written a book about fighting fires in the American West. It's called "Hellroaring: The Life and Times of a Fire Bum."

Are fires predictable in any way? And I'm thinking about the difference even between a fire started by lightning and a fire started by humans who were irresponsible with a campfire. Does it make any difference how a fire was started in its effect on how it burns?

LESCHAK: No, the determining factor is -- well, there are so many variables. And, of course, weather would probably be the chief one. I mean, what's the humidity? How dry is it? You know, how windy is it? What are the slopes? You know, and one reason that there are so many huge fires in the West is because of the component of slope. And slope is basically artificial wind. And so fires move very quickly and furiously, you know, up slope.

It depends on where it was started. For instance, if it's -- if it was started near homes, the response is going to be a lot more aggressive, perhaps, than if it's just out in the middle of nowhere. But, you know, a fire ignited by any means is basically the same -- I mean, unless someone was to use some sort of incendiary means and spread a lot of fire along a wide front.

Here in the East, and to a certain extent in the West, you get a lot of railroad starts, where a long train with perhaps what they call hot brakes is throwing off sparks, and you can have a train set afire, you know, continuous fire for miles. And then, of course, you're into a very serious situation very quickly.

MOSS-COANE: Is there a most-dangerous aspect of a fire? I feel almost silly asking this question. But I'm thinking about smoke, I'm thinking about the actual fire itself, I'm thinking about falling trees, I'm thinking about trees that even explode from the heat. Is there something that a firefighter has to be most vigilant about?

LESCHAK: Well, you mentioned one of them that we worry a lot about, and that is falling trees, or, as they're known in the trade, snags. And a snag is any dead standing tree. And, of course, if a particularly hot fire rips through some forest, it's going to leave a lot of snags behind.

And I remember one night at Yellowstone, we were supposed to go into a stretch of burned-out forest there and do some mop-up, that is, you know, clean up the remnants of the heat. And it was windy that night, and we could literally hear the trees falling almost constantly. And so we just didn't even dare go in there.

The particularly wicked things about snags -- about a snag is that it can fall almost, you know, soundlessly. It can just pull out of the ground. The roots are burned off, the soil has perhaps been disturbed. And it can just tip over without a sound. And there's not much you can do about that. I mean, if it sort of has your name on it, you know, you're all done.

And I know a lot more firefighters who have been seriously injured or hurt by snags than, say, have been burned to death. And if you look at the statistics, the casualty and fatality statistics, another big killer is vehicle accidents and aircraft accidents. And relatively few firefighters are actually killed by the fire.

MOSS-COANE: Do you have any permanent scars, aches and pains, based on fighting fires?

LESCHAK: Well, on a structure fire a few years ago, I tore the cartilage in my knee. And, of course, they -- that was a surgical operation. And most of my injuries are from other things that are simply aggravated by fire. Since I am now going to be 44 in a real hurry, I can't fake it any more.

And so, you know, unlike the 22-year-olds and the 24-year-olds, I -- you know, I have to work out constantly, and I do it year-round. In the winter, for instance, I try to put 500 miles on my cross-country skis. I continually do stretching exercises and strength-building exercises. You know, the best strategy is always to prevent it.

MOSS-COANE: Have you ever gone back to visit a site that burned just to see what it looked like? You mentioned Yellowstone earlier.

LESCHAK: Oh, yes. In fact, one consequence of fire here in northern Minnesota, if it's in the right ground, is that sooner or later, it may create a wonderful blueberry patch. And when I go looking for blueberries in the summer, if I happen to be around, that's something I really like to gather, I go back to the old fire sites. And that's where I might find the blueberries.

And one thing that has really impressed me when I go back to places where I have fought a fire is the rejuvenating power of fire. I mean, that's why it is such a huge part of the ecosystem. Fires are natural fertilizers of the forest, and forests as we know them, you know, could not exist without fire.

And, you know, we have really upset that balance, because we have come in with, you know, huge logging operations and all sorts of other forest management practices. But probably the original forest manager in most cases was fire.

And for instance, in northern Minnesota, we have the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It's a 1.2 million-acre wilderness area. And I've done some research on that. And before the white settlement, that whole area burned over on the average of every 120 years, except for the wettest bogs.

Since white settlement, we have upped that to every 2,000 years. And so for -- in one way or another, we have had a huge impact on that, or will have a huge impact on that ecosystem by keeping fire out of it. And I'm not sure that anyone knows how that's going to turn out.

MOSS-COANE: Peter Leschak is a wilderness firefighter. His memoir is "Hellroaring: The Life and Times of a Fire Bum."

Coming up, a tribute to South African pop singer Mahlathini.

This is FRESH AIR.


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

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane
Guest: Peter M. Leschak
High: PETER M. LESCHAK battles forest fires in the Midwest and the West... He's not a smoke jumper he says, he's a grunt hiking to remote locations, putting out fires sometimes on his hands and knees-spark by spark. His newest book is "Rogues and Toads" which is a collection of his poetry from North Star Press. He has written about his experiences fighting fires in numerous books including "Hellroaring. He lives in Sidelake, Minnesota. This originally aired 3/9/95
Spec: Environment; Art; books

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: Interview with freelance firefighter Peter M. Leschak
Date: AUGUST 07, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 080704NP.217
Head: Tribute to Mahlathini
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: The South Africa pop singer Mahlathini led the Zulu music group Mahlathini and the Mhaotella Queens from 1964 to 1997. He died on July 29 at the age of 62. Music critic Milo Miles had this tribute.




MILO MILES, MUSIC EDITOR, ROCK.COM: Simon Nkabinde was known as Mahlathini, the Lion of Soweto, because his huge bass vocals sounded primordial, straight from the earth.

He was unusual for a pop singer in Africa, where many cultures feature male voices that are light and high, sometimes amazingly so. Mahlathini's tone became so low and resonant when he was a young teen that he was thought to be possessed by a supernatural spirit.

Fortunately for his career, South Africa had a rich tradition of harmony singing derived in part from Christian choirs.

Mahlathini started out performing at weddings, but in the middle 1960s he was caught up in the formation of the music known as Mbakanga (ph). This is an urban dance sound with many sources, performed by electric bands, the South African equivalent of rock and soul.

Mahlathini became a star when he joined forces with a group of women singers called the Mhaotella Queens. There were other bass men, known as groaners, but Mahlathini was more than a tonal contrast. He danced, high kicked, and roared behind the swirling, chirping Queens. In his leopardskin vest and white fur leggings, he became a pop vision of an African chief.

Mbakanga went out of fashion in the '70s, but rebounded with Paul Simon's "Graceland" and the anthology called "The Indestructible Beat of Soweto."

By the late 1980s, Mahlathini, the Mhaotella Queens, and their backup band, led by saxophonist Wes Dekossi (ph), had never sounded stronger. The group's last couple albums are a bit forgettable, but their best work is historic.

Mahlathini belonged in the company of larger-than-life he-man singers like Big Joe Turner, Muddy Waters, Holland Wolfe (ph), Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding. This is not just because they shared potent voices and gruff phrasing, but because the confidence and pride in their singing defied racism and second-class citizenship.

Mahlathini fought the white oppressors in South Africa just by praising himself. When he sang, apartheid vanished.

MOSS-COANE: Milo Miles is music editor for

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced by Phyllis Meyers (ph), Amy Sallett (ph), Naomi Person (ph), Monique Nazareth (ph), and Kathy Wolfe (ph), with Anne-Marie Baldonado (ph). Bob Purdick (ph) is our engineer. Alan Tu (ph) directed the show.

For Terry Gross, I'm Marty Moss-Coane.



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

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane
Guest: Milo Miles
High: World music critic MILO MILES offers a tribute to South African singer "Mahlathini". He died last week at the age of 61. Simon Nkabinde Mahlathini (nicknamed "the Lion of Soweto") was best known for his lead vocals for the group Mahlathini and the Mhaotella Queens after emerging on the international stage with the 1985 sampler The Indestructible Beat of Soweto.
Spec: Music Industry; Entertainment; Art

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: Tribute to Mahlathini
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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