Skip to main content

What We Do When We 'Curl Up'

Linguist Geoff Nunberg talks about the phrase "curling up with a good book," and what it says about the way we read.

06:17

Contributor

Related Topics

Other segments from the episode on December 8, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 8, 2004: Interview with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick; Review of Bob Dylan's "Chronicles: Volume One;" Interview with Steven Van Zandt; Commentary on language.

Transcript

DATE December 8, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick talks about the Catholic
Church and politics
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Voters and politicians have been wrestling with the question of how their
faith should affect their public decisions. This is the question that
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been examining as the head of the Task Force
on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians. In its interim report to the
Conference of Bishops in Denver last June, the task force looked at the issue
of whether politicians who support legal abortion should receive Communion.

McCarrick has been the Archbishop of Washington, DC, since January of 2002.
Seven weeks after he was installed, he was elevated to the College of
Cardinals by the pope. I asked Cardinal McCarrick to explain where the church
now stands on the issue of pro-choice Catholic politicians and Communion.

Cardinal THEODORE McCARRICK: Well, I think the decision that was made in
Denver was a very prudent one. I think we said that a bishop in his own
diocese, aware of the situation in his own diocese and aware of the pastoral
needs in his own diocese, could make that decision as he determined it was the
best to do. I think it was important that the bishops themselves said that it
was not the basic teaching of the church that a man would have to be denied
Communion at the altar rail, nor was it the decision of the church that a
bishop who decided to do that for pastoral reasons would not be in keeping
with church policy. In other words, you could decide in a diocese that if
Communion should be denied, you could decide in your own diocese that
Communion should not be denied.

GROSS: So how is it working out? Are many bishops refusing to give Communion
to politicians who have supported the right to abortion?

Cardinal McCARRICK: Terry, I think not. I think the vast majority of the
bishops decided that a confrontation at the altar rail was not what they felt
was necessary in their own diocese, and the Holy See indicated in a letter to
me that this position was very much in harmony with church teaching, not to
say that another position would not be, but basically the Holy See made it
clear that a bishop was not obliged to deny Communion.

It also made it clear--to expand just a little on your question--it also made
it clear that a person who voted for a politician in office who was not in
communion with the teaching of the church would not, by that very fact, be
denied Communion, unless the person did it precisely because the person was
against--was, say, anti-life or against something that was very much a
teaching of the church. In other words, so often, as men and women look at
who they're going to vote for, if a person would decide to vote for a
candidate who was anti-life, who was pro-abortion, but do it for other
reasons, for other grave reasons such as the stand on poverty, on war, on
something like that, that person would not--should not be refused Communion.
The--Cardinal Ratzinger made that very clear in a letter to me.

GROSS: Do the bishops think that if somebody votes for a political candidate
who supports abortion, or if a political candidate, him or herself supports
abortion, that they should simply not ask for Communion, that they should
simply not approach for Communion?

Cardinal McCARRICK: I think I'd have to divide your question. I think in the
second case, I think the church would say that someone who votes for someone
who supports abortion, not because that person supports abortion, but for
other reasons...

GROSS: Right.

Cardinal McCARRICK: ...that that person should be denied Communion because of
that. However, the question about someone, a politician who himself or
herself supports abortion, that person I think we would say they probably
should not approach the Communion rail because they are really not in
communion with the teaching of the church.

GROSS: Let me ask you--I know the pope has expressed his opposition to the
war in Iraq and many Americans believe that this is a war that should not have
begun in the first place.

Cardinal McCARRICK: Exactly.

GROSS: So when deciding, for instance, in the past presidential election who
to vote for, I mean, what's the priority? Is it a war that the pope opposes,
or is it abortion? Because, you know, one candidate favored the war and
initiated the war--that would be President Bush--but he's anti-abortion. But
the other candidate, who thinks that this war was a mistake, also supports a
woman's right to have an abortion. So, you know, how do you weigh war vs.
abortion?

Cardinal McCARRICK: Well, this is precisely the reason that we say that for a
person to be denied Communion, a voter to be denied Communion, they would have
to be voting for the pro-abortion position, pro-abortion legislator, precisely
because that was his stand. If they were voting for that person because of
other grave reasons, such as perhaps the possibility because they were opposed
to that person because of his or her view on war, then that could be
presumably considered a grave reason, and in Cardinal Ratzinger's words, that
that person should not be denied Communion.

GROSS: Why are abortion and euthanasia considered the most important moral
issues by the church as opposed to, say, you know, war or capital punishment,
which also involve life and death?

Cardinal McCARRICK: Of course, there's no question about that. However, you
know, I think it's really very simple. All those other human rights, the
human right to dignity, the human right to health, the human right to live in
peace, all those other human rights, depend on the right to be alive. And if
you're not alive, then those other rights really become, in a certain sense,
secondary, not that they're not important, but that it's only those people who
are alive who can exercise those human rights. And if you are saying that you
don't have a right to live, then of course you're not only attacking the right
to live but you're attacking all those other rights because the person who is
not living has no access to those rights of life, liberty, the pursuit of
happiness.

GROSS: Regarding a politician who supports a woman's option to have an
abortion, whether they should get Communion or not, you have said, `We should
have no confrontation at the altar. I'm not going to have a fight with
someone holding the sacred body and blood in my hand.' You've also said, `The
battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable should be
fought not at the Communion rail, but in the public square.' So how have you
handled this question about, you know, offering Communion to politicians who
have...

Cardinal McCARRICK: Right. Right.

GROSS: ...supported abortion, yeah.

Cardinal McCARRICK: Well, basically, in my own pastoral practice, and here in
the Archdiocese of Washington, we do it in three ways. First of all, we want
to teach very clearly about what we believe is the evil of abortion. We want
to teach very clearly about what we believe is the right to life, or the right
to human life. And then we also want to teach very clearly about the
necessity of fighting for the dignity of the human person. That's the other
thing that the Holy Father has spoken of so very often and so very
beautifully. So that because of the complex nature of all this, in this
archdiocese we have not denied Communion to anybody.

There's another difficulty there in the Archdiocese of Washington, as probably
in every diocese in the country. Many times the holy Communion is being
administered by lay people, and it's certainly unfair to say to an
extraordinary minister of Communion, `You have to make a judgment on who to
give Communion to or not,' so that not only would I believe that it is not the
right thing to do, I believe that it would almost be impossible to enforce
such a practice.

GROSS: Let me quote something else you said. You said--this was last
June--you said, "We are deeply disturbed and offended by politicians who claim
to be Catholic who vote in contradiction to Catholic teaching, fundamentally,
on the defense of unborn life, but also on other threats to human life and
dignity. When Catholics deny fundamental moral principles which come from
natural law itself, or insist their faith has no role in their public choices,
we as bishops are challenged to find more effective ways to make sure that
their choices in public life should reflect the deepest moral convictions."
What do you mean by more effective ways?

Cardinal McCARRICK: Well, I think we, first of all, always have to be open to
dialogue, and I think that has been something that maybe many of us, myself
included, have not been that good at. It seems to me that we have to be the
clear teachers. We have to be the ones who are always willing to dialogue and
who are always willing to express what we believe. Sometimes we take for
granted that people in politics understand all these things, and we could very
easily be wrong in many cases, so that our first obligation as bishops is to
be the teachers of our people, and to be willing to go back time and time and
time again to make sure that in dialogue, people know where we stand and why
we stand for what we stand for. And I think that is--maybe that is part of
our fault, that we have not taught as consistently, as clearly and as
constantly as we should.

GROSS: My guest is Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. He heads the Task Force on
Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, DC,
and head of the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians.

Religion and moral values played such a large part in the presidential
election and in other elections as well last month. I'm wondering if--where
do you think the line is between church and state, and if you feel that line
has been shifting at all?

Cardinal McCARRICK: Well, I'm smiling about that because very often we have
been saying in the past that the line had shifted against religion, and I
think now maybe we're bringing it back into a balance where it should be.
I've often felt that our Constitution has maybe been interpreted in ways that
the Founding Fathers did not intend. To the best of my knowledge, they were
opposing any establishment of religion, of any particular--or of religion in
general. They were not saying that you could not use religious institutions
to help your people, to serve your people. And I'm afraid that what has
happened in our country, unfortunately, is that we have almost established
non-religion as the religion of our country. We've almost established
secularism, a denial of religious values, so that any time anybody would come
with a religious value, we would say, `Oh, that's unconstitutional.' Well, I
don't find that anywhere in the Constitution, and therefore, I think it is
good that now we are bringing back into balance the teaching of the
Constitution and the mind of our Founding Fathers.

GROSS: You know the expression, `the religious right.' Do you think that the
Catholic Church is part of what is called the religious right?

Cardinal McCARRICK: Well, I think the Catholic Church has been very blessed
in having representatives of the religious right, the religious left, and the
religious center, and I think that to try to characterize our church as on one
side or the other, is probably not accurate. I was a sociologist years ago,
at least I was supposed to be, and I learned that there are so many different
opinions. The Romans had a great expression--`As many people, as many
opinions'--so that everybody has their own outlook. And their outlook
changes, depending on issues, sometimes, and depending on personalities. So I
don't see the Catholic Church being part of the religious right or part of the
religious left. I think I try to be part of the religious center, so that I
can touch both ends and the middle as well.

GROSS: I know that some critics of the church's point of view think that by
making abortion the number-one issue that the church is almost saying, `Well,
support Republicans.' That's what some critics of the church's point of view
say. And now I'll quote Andrew Sullivan. He said in a column that "This is
the religious right's dream, to destroy the Catholic base of the Democratic
Party, create a hard-right rump of true believers and integrate the latter in
the GOP. But it shouldn't be the church's mission to foster this scheme."
What's your reaction to that?

Cardinal McCARRICK: Well, I think it should never be the church's mission to
establish a political position on anything. I think it should be the church's
mission to get the people to know what we teach and to get the people to make
their own judgments on how that teaching should be placed into reality in our
society. It seems to me that for the Catholic Church to be marginalized on
any side is not reality and is not going to happen, because I think that our
people are wise enough and thoughtful enough and faithful enough to look at
all the things that different political parties espouse and to make their
judgments on what might be the closest to where they feel the church and our
nation should move.

GROSS: Do you feel that this is hurting--that the church's stand and the
debate that it had about whether politicians who support a woman's option to
have an abortion should get Communion--do you feel that this whole debate has
actually served to hurt Catholic politicians because there's always been a
fear that some Americans had that the Catholic politicians would be, quote,
"Getting their marching orders from the pope," that they'd be taking direction
from the church? You know, John F. Kennedy had to work hard to fight that
stereotype when he was elected.

Cardinal McCARRICK: Well, I certainly remember Kennedy's talk in Houston
where he acknowledged his political independence. But it seems to me that if
this were true, that the Catholic Church was being so marginalized on one
party or another, it would be a shame. But I'm not sure that's true. Even
the statistics that we have now seem to indicate that there's a large
percentage of Catholic votes on both party's side, and that that sort of
changes from time to time. However, it is certainly true that we begin with
the question of life, and because as I said before, and I think
it's--unfortunately, if some political situation is true, but it is absolutely
true that you can't have any other rights unless you're alive, and so that
right has to be primordial. It has to be the essential stand that we have to
take.

GROSS: The Catholic Church also doesn't believe in divorce or in birth
control. Is there a reason to expect that at some point, the church might
exert more pressure on Catholic politicians to oppose divorce, or to oppose
birth control?

Cardinal McCARRICK: Well, I think you have to make different judgments on
different issues. With regard to divorce, well, we certainly appreciate that
divorce has become a major concern in our society, a concern I say because it
has affected the stability of married life in our country, as it has in so
much part of the world. Now I don't think any of us are going to take on that
question, except that we are going to say, as we do, that marriage is between
one man and one woman and it is a sacrament and it is something which is
essential to the life of our society. We believe that society and
civilization, at least as we know it here in this country, is based on
marriage, on family, and therefore anything that is going to be an attack on
marriage and family is going to make it difficult for people to find
happiness.

GROSS: Does that include...

Cardinal McCARRICK: I think we s...

GROSS: Does that include birth control?

Cardinal McCARRICK: Well, I think I would say it does. My position is this.
You know, when the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, wrote his encyclical letter
Humanae Vitae, which said that contraception was a great danger in our society
and certainly against the teaching of the Catholic Church, a lot of people
said, `Oh, you're crazy. Contraception is going to cut down on problems in
families. Contraception is going to cut down on the difficulties that face
men and women.' Well, I think, unfortunately, the opposite has been true.
Contraception has opened the door to using sex as a--simply for pleasure and
without the real need to make sure that that sexual life is included in the
way we live, and with the understanding that there are responsibilities, that
like everything else in life, sexual activity has to fall within the realm of
responsibility.

GROSS: Cardinal, I know our time is up and that you need to leave, but just
one very quick question. Do you think that the sex abuse scandals have, in
the eyes of Catholics, compromised the church's ability to take a moral stand
on birth control or on sex?

Cardinal McCARRICK: I think certainly the great difficulty, this great
sorrow, this very sad chapter in the history of the church in the United
States that is represented by this scandal, the sexual abuse of minors,
wherein the church certainly suffered and wherein, I must say, I believe that
there is probably no other institution in our country that has worked so
diligently and with so much pain to make sure that this will never happen
again, as the Catholic Church has, because I think we have achieved--I'm not
happy about it because it means we had to achieve it, but I am happy about it
to the extent that we have achieved it, that children are now as safe as they
can possibly be in the Catholic Church.

Now having said that, I think that, sure, during this very difficult period,
the church has suffered and the bishops have suffered incredibility. I would
hope that now, that we've been able to get this, please God, under control, as
I truly believe we have, I think that hopefully, that credibility will be
restored.

GROSS: Well, Cardinal, I know you need to leave for another appointment, so
let me wish you a very early merry Christmas.

Cardinal McCARRICK: And I wish you the same, Terry. Thank you for letting me
have a chance to talk to you and to those who listen.

GROSS: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is the Archbishop of Washington, DC, and
head of the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians.

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

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, some cool Christmas songs from Little Steven, Steven Van
Zandt of Bruce Springsteen's band and "The Sopranos." He's the music director
of the new film "Christmas with the Kranks." Also rock historian Ed Ward on
Bob Dylan's new book and linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the expression
`curling up with a good book.'

(Soundbite of music)

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

Review: Bob Dylan's "Chronicles: Volume One"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of guitar music)

Mr. BOB DYLAN (Recording Artist): (Singing) I'm out here a thousand miles
from my home, walking a road other men have gone down. I'm seeing a world of
people and things, hear paupers and peasants and princes and kings.

GROSS: That's Bob Dylan recorded in 1961 from his first album for Columbia
Records. "Chronicles: Volume One," the first of Dylan's projected
three-volume autobiography, has just been published. Our rock historian, Ed
Ward, says that unlike many other rock memoirs, this is not a sex and drug
confessional, and Ed liked it a lot.

ED WARD reporting:

Once upon a time before the rock press existed, back when record companies
didn't really understand how to market things, Bob Dylan's career began. All
my friends had the same experience. You'd be walking past the record store
and there would be a new Bob Dylan album. You'd go buy it and take it home
and play it, and you'd call your friends to tell them it existed. `Hey, did
you hear this new Bob Dylan album?' And the response was always, `How is it?'
The inevitable answer would be, `I'm not sure yet.' That was because you'd be
overwhelmed by the sounds and images, and it took a while to sort them out.

Well, there's a new Bob Dylan album, and it's a book. It's called
"Chronicles: Volume One," the first, apparently, of three. Reading it, I had
that old feeling again. I was impatient to finish it because I wanted to read
it again. But meanwhile, I sure was having a good time. And just like those
old world-rearranging albums, it's filled with unexpected twists, fascinating
characters and as sort of a bass line, great American folk music.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that it's not exactly linear. It
starts and ends with Dylan in the office of Lou Levy, head of Leeds Music, the
publisher he's been referred to by John Hammond, who just signed him to
Columbia Records. Lou is munching on a cigar and signing the 19-year-old kid
to a contract. In the last pages, the now-21-year-old kid has gone to Levy's
office with $1,000 in his pocket to buy that contract out. Things have
changed.

In the nearly 300 pages in between, we're taken on a strange ride. The first
section rambles around the folk scene in New York as Dylan found it when he
arrived, with characters like Richie Havens, Tiny Tim and Fred Neil, and
especially the man he idolized and sort of feared, Dave Van Ronk, the Umunault
Greise(ph) of the Village folk singers. He needed to be won over if Dylan was
to have a career, and he eventually was.

The next section is longer and shows Dylan settling into life in New York in
the apartment of Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel, two larger-than-life characters
he's been introduced to by a folk singer named Paul Clayton. The apartment is
as much a character as its occupants. It seems to have a library where the
knowledge-hungry young Dylan can find everything and more, and he describes
discovering Thucydides, Milton, Robert Graves, Balzac, books of poetry and art
books. Having gotten a steady gig at the Gaslight, home base of the folk
scene, he's also discovering the Village, its movies houses and cafes and
parties, in which he meets a variety of people from all walks of life.
Dylan's writing makes the excitement palpable, and the last sentences are
right on the money: `The future was nothing to worry about. It was awfully
close.'

Next, it's 10 years later, and he's been asked by the poet Archibald MacLeish
to write some songs for a play MacLeish had written called "Scratch." Dylan's
pretty much had it with success in the counterculture and is much more
interested in being a father and keeping away from fans who sound like an army
of zombie vampires. The MacLeish project falls through, but Dylan salvages
the songs he'd started writing for an album called "New Morning."

And suddenly it's 16 years later and the book's longest section, which goes on
and on, about an incomprehensible system he learned from the guitarist Lonnie
Johnson that he says revolutionized his performances and the making of the
album "Oh Mercy." I found this part the hardest to read because this album
went right past me.

Finally, it's 1961 again, and we're treated to some detailed reminiscences of
Dylan's childhood, his breaking into the folk scene in Minneapolis, his
discovery of Woody Guthrie, the songwriter who changed his life, and his
spongelike absorption of influences from his fellow folkies' record
collections, all leading inevitably to New York and Lou Levy's office. But
just summarizing the contents is a bit like saying, `Oh, there's a song about
working on Maggie's farm and one about the gates of Eden and one to Mr.
Tambourine Man.' On the other hand, the book is hard to quote briefly
because, like those classic songs, the prose works by adding details, both
personal ones and details of the cultural milieu Dylan effected and was
affected by. His personal likes, Dave Guard of The Kingston Trio, Frank
Sinatra Jr. and Johnny Rivers, can really catch you by surprise, as can his
frankly admitting to being afraid of Joan Baez after hearing her first record.

His candor, too, about being both aware of how little he knew about things and
how little he cared about some aspects of his career is refreshing. He comes
off as a very humble person, albeit one with a great deal of determination.
If you're a Bob Dylan fan or if you have any interest in the part he's played
in American society, you're just going to have to read this. There's a
surprise on every page and two more volumes to come. If they're this good,
they'll be worth the wait.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. He reviewed "Chronicles: Volume One," the
first of a projected three-volume Bob Dylan autobiography.

Coming up, Steven Van Zandt, of Bruce Springsteen's band and "The Sopranos,"
plays some cool Christmas records. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Interview: Steven Van Zandt talks about the "Christmas with the
Kranks" soundtrack that he produced
TERRY GROSS, host:

It's a challenge to come up with great Christmas records that you're not
already tired of, but it was a perfect job for Steven Van Zandt. He's best
known as a member of Bruce Springsteen's band and for his role in "The
Sopranos" as Silvio Dante. He also programs a couple of channels on SIRIUS
Satellite Radio. He's a champion of garage bands and that's what he plays on
SIRIUS and on his syndicated radio program. Van Zandt was the music
supervisor for the new film "Christmas with the Kranks" and spent months
looking for great Christmas records for the soundtrack.

(Soundbite of song)

THE BUDDIES: (Singing) Joy to the world, the lord is come. Let earth...

Backup Singers: Let earth...

THE BUDDIES: ...receive...

Backup Singers: ...receive...

THE BUDDIES: ...her king. Let every heart prepare him room. And heaven,
nature sing. And heaven, nature sing. And heaven, heaven, nature sing.

GROSS: That's "Joy to the World," The Buddies, from the soundtrack of
"Christmas with the Kranks," which was produced by my guest, Steven Van Zandt.

Welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. STEVEN VAN ZANDT (Actor, Music Producer): It's very good to be here.

GROSS: This is a really fun track. It kind of the answer the question, what
if the early Beatles recorded "Joy to the World." Tell us about the record
and the band and why you decided to use them on the soundtrack.

Mr. VAN ZANDT: You know, I stumble across these crazy things when I do my
annual Christmas show on my syndicated program, "Little Steven's Underground
Garage." I go through just hundreds of these crazy things, and they're a
mysterious group of people, actually, The Buddies. They go by several names,
and I guess, you know, quite a few different types of--well, different
individuals come and go. And I just love the fact that, you know, that they
were doing The Beatles' version of these Christmas songs. And they supposedly
have a double album I'm still searching for, but they're out there, you know.

GROSS: So the soundtrack has now joined the ranks of Christmas pop albums.
And, you know, Christmas pop is a genre unto itself. When you were a kid
growing up, what were the Christmas songs that you loved to hear around
Christmas season and the songs that you really hated?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: You know, it was funny because when I was a teen-ager, I guess
the "Phil Spector Christmas Album," which is really the turning point as far
as traditional sort of pop standard-style Christmas songs. I don't know. I
guess he did it around, I'm thinking, '63-ish or so. That came at a time when
the mainstream was about to become rock 'n' roll. But you didn't really hear
it on the radio until much later, I don't think, certainly no earlier than the
'70s and maybe as late as the '80s before it became the staple of Christmas
music, you know. Growing up, you know, I wasn't a big fan of Nat King Cole
or, you know, those standards, you know. I was a rock 'n' roll kid, and
that's all I was interested in.

GROSS: Let's play another Christmas song that you've included for the
soundtrack of "Christmas with the Kranks," and this is a Ramones song called
"Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)." Tell us something about
this record and how you first heard it.

Mr. VAN ZANDT: The Ramones are sort of the house band of the "Underground
Garage." I mean, we--one of the reasons why I actually created this new
format...

GROSS: Your garage band show.

Mr. VAN ZANDT: One of the reasons was to get The Ramones back on the radio,
because they were not on the radio. They're just not part of classic rock
somehow. I don't know why, but they never have been sort of accepted as part
of the, you know, classic rock canon, so to speak. And I essentially ended up
basing my entire format around them, using them as the sort of crossroads
between the past and the future. And so it was really cool to get that song
into the film.

GROSS: What do you like about this film?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Oh, it's just great. You know, I mean, it's just one of those
things. It's fun, you know. It's got a lot of energy that, you know, sort of
I always find inspiring from The Ramones, but at the same time, you have a
little bit of that--there's a trace of sentimentality that, you know, you
associate with the Christmas season, as well. So it's kind of a bit of
everything.

GROSS: OK. So this is The Ramones "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight
Tonight)."

(Soundbite of music)

THE RAMONES: (Singing) Merry Christmas. I don't want to fight tonight with
you. Merry Christmas. I don't want to fight tonight. Merry Christmas. I
don't want to fight tonight. Merry Christmas. I don't want to fight tonight
with you. Where is Santa, and his sleigh? Tell me why is it always this way?
Where is Rudolph? Where is Blitzen, baby? Merry Christmas. Merry, merry,
merry Christmas. All the children are tucked in their beds, sugarplum fairies
dancing in their heads. Snowball fighting, it's so exciting, baby. I love
you and you love me, and that's the way it's got to be. I knew it from the
start. 'Cause Christmas ain't the time for breakin' each other's hearts.

Where is Santa and his sleigh? Tell me why is it always this way? Where is
Rudolph? Where is Blitzen, baby? Merry Christmas. Merry, merry, merry
Christmas. All the children are tucked in their beds, sugarplum fairies
dancing in their heads. Snowball fighting, so exciting, baby. Yeah, yeah,
yeah, I love you and you love me, and that's the way it's got to be. I knew
it from the start. 'Cause Christmas ain't the time for breakin' each other's
hearts. Merry Christmas. I don't want to fight tonight, with--Merry
Christmas. I don't want to fight tonight with--Merry Christmas. I don't want
to fight tonight with you.

GROSS: That's The Ramones, a track from the "Christmas with the Kranks"
soundtrack, and my guest, Steven Van Zandt, was the music supervisor for the
film and chose these recordings and a lot more. They were narrowed down to
these recordings. So what did you used to do on Christmas with your family
when you were a boy?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: The whole family would gather Christmas Eve, and growing up,
you know, we had a real Italian-American extended family, so it was a big
deal. And the Catholic tradition, and I think it was at that time, 13 kinds
of fish. I think it's been reduced to seven through the years. I don't know
how that happened. But I remember it being 13 kinds of fish, I think,
representing Jesus and the Disciples, I think, so there's a certain tradition
there, and I remember very distinctly the big eels swimming around in the big
sink at my grandfather and grandmother's house. I never was a big fish eater,
I think, ever since. But, you know, all the kids were there, you know, the
whole family was there, and in those days, I mean, everybody, you know, all
the sons and daughters and grandchildren would all gather in one place, you
know. It was quite nice.

GROSS: Steven Van Zandt, now that you're here, I have to ask you a question
about "The Sopranos" in which you play Silvio Dante, one of the men affiliated
with Tony. There's one of the great scenes from this past season of episodes
featured you and Drea de Matteo, who plays Adriana. And, you know, Adriana
has been informing to the FBI about her lover Christopher and everybody else
in Tony's organization. And when Christopher finds out about this, I think he
calls Tony Soprano. And then later in the episode, you are in a car with
Adriana. She thinks that Christopher has tried to kill himself and that
you're taking her to the hospital to visit him, but you're really assigned to
knock her off. And it's really an incredible scene. She and you are--the
intensity in that. Would you describe what happens in that scene?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: You know, I think the way it was edited actually, you don't
know what happens, and the audience is kept in suspense, which I thought was a
wonderful way of doing this thing. As far as I'm concerned, I mean, it was
the most difficult thing I probably will ever do. And if I continue acting
and if I do a dozen movies or whatever, I mean, I don't think I'll do anything
more difficult than that.

GROSS: What was so difficult about it?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Well, a number of things. First of all, we're very close on
the show, everybody, and so the first obvious thing is, well, this person is
no longer going to be on the show, which is very depressing. And then, you
know, being violent with a girl, you have to find a part of yourself that's
extremely ugly, and you have to stay there for that day in that sort of ugly
place. And then actually just putting your hands on a girl, it's just a
certain horrible feeling of just, you know, being a bully, or, you know, just
overwhelming somebody physically is just utterly repulsive to me. You know, I
just despise bullies and have fought against them my whole life.

GROSS: Well, before our time runs out, I do want to play one more song from
the "Christmas with the Kranks" soundtrack.

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Oh, there's so many good ones. There's so many good ones.

GROSS: Yeah, well, I was thinking we could play the Raveonettes song, "The
Christmas Song." Tell us something about the band and why you chose to use
this song.

Mr. VAN ZANDT: The Raveonettes are one of the--I think it's 96 new bands or
so we've played over the last three years that we have more or less discovered
and support and pretty much are the only people playing in the country,
because there's no format anymore for rock 'n' roll. And the Raveonettes are
just one of the band's internationally that fit in. They're from Denmark.
Sune and Sharin are two people that then add, you know, members of the band
when they tour. But they're just, you know, a terrific, terrific new band out
of Denmark and one of the bands I play regularly and came up with a great
Christmas song which I discovered. I think this may be the first time it's
actually available, on this particular soundtrack album, so it's good to get
it out.

(Soundbite of music)

RAVEONETTES: (Singing) All the lights are coming on now. How I wish that it
would snow now. I don't feel like going home now. I wish that I could stay.
All the trees are on display now, and it's cold now. I don't feel like going
home now. I wish that I could stay. I wish that I could walk, I wish that I
could walk you home. All the lights are coming on now.

GROSS: That's music from the soundtrack "Christmas with the Kranks." Steven
Van Zandt was the music supervisor for the film and is the executive producer
of the soundtrack CD.

Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg on the expression `curling up with a good
book.' This is FRESH AIR.

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

Commentary: What the expression `curling up with a good book'
says about the way we read
TERRY GROSS, host:

According to a recent report from the National Endowment for the Humanities,
there's been a dramatic decrease over the last 20 years in the number of
Americans who read fiction. That set our linguist Geoff Nunberg to thinking
about the phrase, `I'd rather curl up with a good book,' and what it says
about the way we read.

GEOFF NUNBERG:

Over the summer, the National Endowment for the Arts released a study called
Reading at Risk. The study was based on a census survey done in 2002, and it
showed that only 47 percent of American adults had read a novel, poem or short
story in the previous year, 10 percent fewer than in 1982. Among 18- to
24-year-olds, the drop was even more dramatic, from 60 percent to 42 percent
over a single generation.

The study evoked the usual cultural hand-wringing. A lot of people blame the
electronic media, though actually the report showed that there wasn't much of
a correlation between novel-reading and time spent surfing the Web or watching
TV. Other critics fulminated about an abbreviated national attention span or
decried the influence of left-wing academics who have disparaged the great
works of Western literature. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Andrew Solomon
wrote that `without books, we cannot succeed in our current struggle against
absolutism and terrorism.' And the NEA's chairman, Dana Gioia, said that the
decline of fiction-reading cuts people off from the collective wisdom of the
past and threatens our economic productivity, our democratic discourse and our
national character.

But let's get real here. The people who've been lost to novel-reading aren't
the devotees of Dostoevsky or Faulkner. They're the people who used to read a
couple of romances or thrillers a year and have now switched to reading
political screeds or magazines or have simply decided to spend more time at
the gym. If that puts anything at risk, it isn't the monuments of Western
literature. It's only the leisure activity that we describe as curling up
with a good book.

As it happens, that phrase is more recent than you might suspect, at least as
applied to grown-ups. When the Victorians talked about somebody curled up
with a book, it could only be a child nestled in an oversized chair rapt in a
copy of "Little Women" or "Treasure Island." Curling up with a book wasn't
something that grown men like Herman Melville or Henry James would have
admitted to. In fact, it's hard to imagine any writer curling up with a book
before Marcel Proust. And it wasn't until the 1920s that adults started using
the phrase to describe their own reading.

True, the new usage may have had something to do with changes in domestic
furniture. Victorian seating wasn't very conducive for large persons to curl
up in. And it's no accident that the first recorded occurrence of somebody
talking about curling up with a good book appeared about the same time that
Edward Knaubush and Edwin Shoemaker built the prototype of the first La-Z-Boy
chair in Monroe, Michigan. But the phrase really implied a new picture of the
virtues and pleasures of compulsive reading. For the first time, grown-ups
were permitted to read the way children did, curled into a fetal position and
oblivious to the world around them.

The word sleuth Barry Popik recently sent me a 1923 advertisement for Borzoi
Books that said: The man who has not learned to curl up on a sofa of an
evening occasionally and lose himself in a rattling good story is missing one
of the supreme satisfactions of living. Since then, `I'd rather curl up with
a good book' has become a declaration that suggests social self-sufficiency
and a lively imagination, one of the boxes that people always tick off on the
personal information forms of singles Web sites.

Of course, most of us don't do our novel-reading in the setting that `curled
up with a good book' brings to mind: a sofa, a crackling fire, a rainy night.
We're more likely to be folded up in the back of an airplane or strung up from
a bus strap or lathered up and squinting through the sunblock in our eyes.
But those can count as curling up with a book, too, as long as it's a book of
the right sort. It can be Jane Austen or Sue Grafton, Virginia Woolf or Nero
Wolfe. What matters is only that it be one of those rattling good stories.
We may take pleasure or instruction from reading de Tocqueville, "The South
Beach Diet," or "The 9/11 Report," but we wouldn't talk about curling up with
them.

But if that sort of promiscuous, compulsive novel-reading is on the decline,
why should anybody miss it? It's hard to deny that as leisure activities go,
it's self-absorbed, escapist and regressive in a particularly futile way. As
Graham Greene once noted, `nothing we read in later life can touch us the way
books do in our first 14 years.' Yet people persist in believing that losing
yourself in a novel confers some special favor that doesn't come from watching
a movie or playing a video game, even if the one is as lurid and trashy as the
other.

Elizabeth Bowen once said that in her youth, the world was divided into the
readers of storybooks and the outdoor children. `Outdoor children,' she said,
`were incomprehensible to me when I was their age, and I still find them dull.
I do not and cannot find out what makes them do what they do or why they like
what they like.' That's still how novel-readers tend to think about people
who prefer to use their time for other things. The non-readers may be no less
intelligent or sensitive or well-informed than the readers are, and when the
last novel-reader has gone to the great armchair in the sky, the republic will
still be in safe hands. But it's hard for the readers to contemplate the
prospect of a growing unread America without dismay. Who will they have to
talk to?

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a Stanford linguist and the author of "Going Nuclear:
Language, Politics and Culture in Confrontational Times."

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with a 1974 recording by John Lennon.
He was assassinated 20 years ago today.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOHN LENNON: (Singing) Whatever gets you through the night, 'salright,
'salright. It's your money or your life 'salright, 'salright. Don't need a
sword. Oh, no. Oh, no. Whatever gets you through your life 'salright,
'salright. Do it wrong or do it right.

(Announcements)

Announcer: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

22:30

From 'Designing Women' To 'Hacks', Jean Smart's Career Is Still Going Strong

Smart is nominated for Emmy Awards for her performances Hacks, about a veteran comic working with a Gen-Z comedy writer, and the crime drama Mare Of Easttown. Originally broadcast May 2021.

52:30

'Storm Lake' Documentary Depicts The Triumph And Struggle Of A Local Newspaper

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Art Cullen discusses the battle to keep print news alive in small-town America. Cullen runs Iowa's Storm Lake Times, along with his brother, the paper's publisher.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue