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Writer Daniel Drennan on Why Only New York Feels Like Home

New York writer Daniel Drennan has written a new collection of essays about life in Manhattan. His book "The New York Diaries: Too True Tales of Urban Tramau" is published by Ballantine Books.


Other segments from the episode on December 8, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 8, 1998: Interview with Al Kooper; Interview with Daniel Drennan.


Date: DECEMBER 08, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 120801np.217
Head: Al Kooper
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

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

My guest, Al Kooper, has revised and expanded his memoir "Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards," and it's filled with interesting behind the scene stories about pop and rock from the '50s to the '90s.

Kooper played in the Blues Project, then founded Blood Sweat & Tears, and wrote most of their early songs. He played on Dylan's albums "Blonde on Blonde," and "Highway 61 Revisited," and played the famous organ line on Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone."

He's also played on recordings by the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and George Harrison; and produced records by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Nils Lofgren, and Rick Nelson. He's now teaching at the Berklee School of Music.

He started his career when he was still a teenager; at the age of 14 he became the guitar player in the Royal Teens after they had their hit "Short Shorts," and through his new connections he started writing songs for pop performers working out of one of the New York buildings on Broadway that headquartered many of the pop writers of the '50s and early '60s.

Al Kooper told me how he started getting his songs placed at such a young age.

AL KOOPER, MUSICIAN, ORGANIST: Well, I met a couple of publishers that were really interested in having as much material to peddle as they could, and they signed me at an early age. I had to actually have my parents' signature in order to be with them.

And these were the sort of people that were in 1650 Broadway; the people that were, you know, anxious to gather up as much as possible and then, sort of, you know, use a talent colander to find if there was anything good in all these people that they signed.

GROSS: Your big pop success as a songwriter was "This Diamond Ring" which was recorded by Gary Lewis and the Playboy's, Gary being Jerry Lewis' son. And you say in your memoir that you wrote that song with an R&B group like the Drifters in mind. So, how did it end up being performed by Gary Lewis instead of the Drifters?

KOOPER: Boy, it beats the hell out of me. I was amazed -- my publisher at the time, Aaron Schroeder (ph) saw me in the hallway and he said, "well, we got a record on that Drifters song you wrote." I said, "oh, the Drifters cut it?" He said, "no, no, no. Snuff Garrett (ph) cut it."

Snuff Garrett was a West Coast producer known for producing Bobby Vee and people like that. And I said, "since when did Snuff Garrett start cutting R&B records?" He said, "well, he's not." I said, "oh, dear." He said, "well, I have the record, do you want to come upstairs and hear it?" I said, "well, just out of curiosity I'd like the hear what Snuff Garrett did with `This Diamond Ring.'"

And so I went upstairs and he played the record, and I was just heartsick. I thought it was terrible. I admonished him after he played the record and said, "don't even waste my time playing me things like this again." That's the worst thing I ever heard.

GROSS: Of course it became a huge hit.

KOOPER: Yeah, two months later it was number one in the country. And I said, "hey, I wrote that song."

GROSS: What do you think about the arrangement now?

KOOPER: Oh, I still hate it. I still think it's an insipid, horrible record; and, as a matter of fact, I went, in later years, and at much expense to my credibility, recorded the song on one of my solo albums to show people where it came from, and what it was like because I actually think it's a good song. I just couldn't stand the Gary Lewis interpretation.

GROSS: OK, we're going to hear both of those versions back to back. We're going to hear the Gary Lewis version, and then the version that you cut with the arrangement that you originally had in mind -- the version you cut in the 1970s. So here we go.

KOOPER: It's even funnier if you play it the other way around. If you play mine first and then play Gary Lewis' which is, you know, the way I saw it; its even funnier that way.

GROSS: I'm willing to give that a shot. Is our engineer ready to do that? Our engineer is ready to do that. Let's go, this is Al Kooper followed by Gary Lewis' version of Al Kooper's song "This Diamond Ring."


Who wants to buy
This diamond ring
She took it off her finger now
It don't mean a thing no

This diamond ring don't shine for me anymore
This diamond ring don't mean what it did before
So if you've got somebody who's love is true
Why don't you let it shine for you now


Who wants to buy
This diamond ring
She took it off her finger now
It doesn't mean a thing

This diamond ring doesn't shine for me anymore
This diamond ring doesn't mean what it did before
So if you've got someone who's love is true
Let it shine for you

GROSS: OK, Al Kooper, guess what? I like the Gary Lewis version. I'm not saying that I don't like yours, but I like the Gary Lewis version. I think it's a fun pop hit.

KOOPER: Well, so did many millions of people.

GROSS: Is the interview over now?


KOOPER: It's a sad thing.

GROSS: No, but, it's pop. I mean, it's, you know, got a...

KOOPER: It's happy. You can do the Mouse to it.


GROSS: You don't like that kettle drum or whatever it is on there?

KOOPER: Timpani. No, no, it's great in certain things. It was great in the "1812 Overture."

GROSS: So, what did the Gary Lewis version do for your career? Did it help it a lot?

KOOPER: Yeah, it helped it tremendously as a songwriter. Right after that we had another -- a top 20 record by Gene Pitney called "I Must Be Seeing Things."

GROSS: Do you want to sing a few bars of that to refresh our memory?

KOOPER: Well, I'll recite the opening lyrics. I used to write the music, and I wrote with two other guys and they wrote the words; as I was sort of lyrically deficient at the time -- actually, lyrically challenged at the time.

This one, typical of its time, said: "isn't that my girl? And is that my best friend? Aren't they walking much too close together? And it don't look like they're talking about the weather."

And then it goes: "hey, I must be seeing things, this can't be." Like that -- that was typical of those songs we wrote at that time.

GROSS: During this period you had a lot of musical identities; you were trying to do demos for people, you were writing songs, you would occasionally perform with Paul Simon -- the still unknown Paul Simon -- you occasionally played at a folk club, you played in rock and roll bands. Which version of you did you want to win out?

KOOPER: I didn't care, I just wanted to, you know, succeed in the music business; that was my goal. I didn't know where and when it was going to happen, and I figured that if you were every place at every time that you would have more of a chance.

I had a way of thinking, as I look back at it, that at that time I was 90 percent ambition and 10 percent talent, and now, as I sit here it's completely reversed. Now, I know all this stuff, but I can't be bothered to leave the house.

GROSS: Why not?

KOOPER: I just can't be bothered, I have no ambition anymore.

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is Al Kooper, and he has a new expanded version of his memoir called "Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards."

Well, in the 1960s you met Bob Dylan through Dylan's record producer at the time, Tom Wilson. And this was in what year, about?

KOOPER: 1965.

GROSS: Sixty-five. And Tom Wilson had just cut Dylan's first electric single "Subterranean Home Sick Blues," and he invited you to watch Dylan at a session, and you were determined, you say, to do more than watch; you wanted to actually play on it.

The session turned out to be the session for "Highway 61 Revisited" in which "Like a Rolling Stone" was recorded, and you played Hammond B3 on "Like a Rolling Stone." How did you get to play on it?

KOOPER: Well, I was just determined to play. I was a guitar player at the time, and I stayed up all night practicing -- and actually had an inflated opinion of ability as a guitar player.

When I got to the session -- and at the time I was playing the guitar on records as a session musician, so the other musicians that were there early when I got there did not think it was unusual for me to be there with my guitar because I played sessions with them and they knew that I did session work.

And I set up my stuff, and I sat down, and I waited. Dylan came in with a guitar player who was roughly my age, and he sat down and started warming up, and I realized I was in way over my head. He was the best guitar player I had ever heard in my life -- just warming up -- just the things he was playing were way beyond my grasp as a player.

And I said to myself, I've got to get out of here before I really embarrass myself. So, when there was a moment, I took my guitar and put it in the case, and put it against the wall and I went in the control room were I belonged and watched the session.

Tom Wilson came in, and he hadn't seen me sitting out there with the guitar so that was very good. And then during the session they had someone playing the organ and they moved him over to piano, actually -- his name was Paul Griffin -- he was a studio keyboard player.

And I walked over to Tom Wilson, and I said, "hey, why don't you let me play organ on this, I got a great part for this?" And he went, "oh, man, you're not an organ player your a guitar player. You don't play the organ." And I said, "oh, yeah, I got a great part for this, Tom."

And just at that point they called him for a phone call, and I thought to myself, well, he didn't say no. He just said I wasn't an organ player. And so I went out and sat down at the organ and, as a matter of fact, if Paul Griffin hadn't have left the organ switched on that would've been the end of my career because it's very complicated to turn on a Hammond B3 organ -- it takes about three separate moves; and you have to know what you're doing.

And I didn't, but it was on already so I was saved. And then Tom Wilson came back out, and he said, "OK, this is take six." And then he saw me and he said, "hey, what are you doing out there?" And I just started laughing. And he was a gentleman, and he just said, "OK, OK, let's go, we're rolling this is take seven."

I guess he thought, you know, if I wanted to do this so bad he would stand behind it because he was my friend.

GROSS: When you had told Tom Wilson that you had a part worked out in your head, did you really?

KOOPER: No, of course not. Ninety percent ambition.


GROSS: OK, so then what happened? They start performing the song?

KOOPER: Well, they were rehearsing for a second, and I kind of got the thing. And the speaker to the organ was very far from where I was sitting at the organ, and it was covered by baffling so that it wouldn't leak into other microphones that were on in the studio.

And so, I couldn't actually hear what I was playing, and if I put the headphones on, I could kind of hear a little bit of it, but there were other things that were much louder like the guitar. And I didn't have any music to read, I had to do it by ear which I was used to doing because of playing on sessions as a guitar player.

And I just kind of muddled my way through it, and it was the only complete take of the day. So, they went into play it back and listen to it, and during the playback Dylan went over to Tom Wilson and said, "hey, turn the organ up." And he said, "oh, man, that guy's not an organ player." And he says, "I don't care, turn the organ up." And that's how I became an organ player.

GROSS: Let's hear "Like a Rolling Stone" with my guest Al Kooper featured on organ.


Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime
Didn't you

People call say beware doll
You're bound to fall
You thought they were all
Kidding you

You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hanging out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud

By having to be scrounging
Your next meal
How does it feel
How does it feel

To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone

GROSS: That's my guest, Al Kooper, featured on organ. Al Kooper, are you surprised at the impact that organ line had on pop music?

KOOPER: Well, I mean, it was ironically hilarious because here's a guy who didn't really know what he was doing playing hunt and peck organ, and like a whole style of organ playing came out of that. It founded like a whole style of organ playing which, as we sit here, was really based on ignorance.

But that's what so great about rock -- that's what makes rock and roll so great, is something like that could happen.

GROSS: My guest is musician, producer, and songwriter Al Kooper. He's just expanded his memoir. We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us; musician, songwriter, and singer Al Kooper is my guest. And he has a new expanded version of his memoir "Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards."

In your memoir you write that you used to take records that were people -- like bands copying what they heard on Dylan records and play them for Dylan, and that would be really amusing.

So, I brought in one for you to hear, I don't know if you know this one or not, but this is one that I think is really so inspired by "Like a Rolling Stone," and has -- I don't know -- an organ -- a kind of cheesy organ or electric piano, I'm not sure which it is, that seems to be inspired by your part. So, let me play it for you and see what you think.


Some words are best not spoken
Some things are best not said
But since this is your public execution
I think I'm going to go right on ahead

Mailman brought you a letter babe
Where you told me how you feel
And about the things he said he told you
And how it is I'm such a heel

I could never be honest
But to you I've always lied
There's some it takes some other
(Unintelligible) pony ride

You at least might have asked me
If the scene was really what it seemed
But like a Queen ruled by a jester
Your conclusion was esteemed

You said I disappointed you were
By all the things I've done

GROSS: OK, that was a song...

KOOPER: Don't tell me what it was because I'm going to tell you what was.

GROSS: Oh, good. OK. Go ahead.

KOOPER: That was Mouse and the Traps with "A Public Execution."

GROSS: Correct, and it's one of the records on that great anthology, "Nuggets." A little "Wooly Bully" action in there too, I think.

KOOPER: Well, yeah. It is, by the way, a very cheesy organ -- probably a Farfisa. Yeah, that was one of the records that we laughed at back then.

GROSS: So, you played that for Dylan when it came out?

KOOPER: Well, we both used to listen to them. It wasn't -- you know, I'd go to the record store and then we'd go back to his house and we'd put all these records on and just sit there and laugh.

GROSS: Now, this -- the record that you first made with Dylan got you started in a longer relationship with him, you know, playing with him. And you played with him at the Newport Festival, his first electric concert, and it's a concert that's famous because Dylan got booed.

And in your memoir you kind of have a different interpretation of why he was getting booed. The standard interpretation is because he had electric instruments, the audience was really angry and thought that he had sold out, etc., and they were booing him. What's your explanation?

KOOPER: Well, many people came to that festival which was a three-day festival like Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to see Dylan because he was like the King of folk music at the time. And he was the headliner at the festival and was playing the final set on Sunday night.

And so, primarily a college age crowd came, and they sat through many musics over the three-day period under the umbrella folk music; and I'm sure that they didn't care for -- most people played 45 minutes to an hour sets, and then we came out and we played for 15 minutes -- three electric songs.

And I think that the people were horrified and incensed that we only played for 15 minutes.

GROSS: Weren't they booing during the performance too, though?



KOOPER: You find me some aural record of that, and I'll be very surprised. There was an undercurrent of the festival directors that were very upset with Dylan playing electric. That is a fact, and that is true. But that really had no way of making itself known to the audience that was attending the thing other than through the press.

Later on, after the festival was over which is how that myth came to be promulgated -- after the festival that's what the press wrote about, because they were privy to the fact that Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax were very upset with the electrification that Dylan was doing.

And, in fact, there were other acts that played electric at that festival that nobody got bent out of shape about; like the Chambers Brothers and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and they didn't get booed because they played electric.

GROSS: Al Kooper, he's expanded his rock and roll memoir "Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards." He'll be back in the second half of the show.

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


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

Back with Al Kooper, who has just updated his memoir about his 40 years in rock and roll. We'll pick things up with the Blues Project, the band he joined in the mid-'60s. Their recording, "No Time Like the Right Time" is featured on the new, expanded "Nuggets" anthology.


Better make the moment
Needs a happy hour
And in just that moment
Change the rain cloud into flowers

And I can see that you're afraid
You think it's some kind of mistake that you made
Well let me set your heart at ease
Cause I'm down on my bended knee

No time like the right time
Baby the right time is now

GROSS: Tom Wilson, the producer who produced Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," later asked you to play in a band called the Blues Project. You say that there was a lot of tension in the band between, you know, you, who really wanted the band to head in more of a rock and direction, and Danny Kalb who wanted to head in more of a blues direction.

KOOPER: That's true. That was one of the balances in the band was that sort of -- there was a very delicate balance in the band that kept it alive, and if it was ever upset in anyway shape or form it could easily topple.

And in later years, when we would do reunions and play -- get back together again -- we had to still maintain that balance, otherwise the band wouldn't work. And it was a weird thing.

GROSS: From the Blues Project, you moved on to cofounding Blood Sweat & Tears. What's the sound you wanted from that band?

KOOPER: Well, I had written a group of songs that, to me, sounded like they would sound best with horns in them. And I brought that idea to the Blues Project, and they said that they didn't want to add horns. So, basically, I left the band and went to put together a band that would have horns and that I could perform the songs with.

GROSS: Why did you want the horns so much?

KOOPER: The songs just kind of dictated that they have horns in them. I don't know what it was, it was, you know, sort of magic in a way.

GROSS: Is there a song you want to play that captures the way you wanted to use horns?

KOOPER: Let me think.

GROSS: "Without Her," maybe?

KOOPER: Oh, no. That was an adjunct -- that didn't best describe the band. I would say, probably, "I Can't Quit Her," or "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know." Either one of those.


KOOPER: Or "My Days Are Numbered."

GROSS: Why don't we hear "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know," and we'll hear -- we'll start this a little deep into it where the horns start to become prominent. This is Blood Sweat & Tears, my guest is Al Kooper.


When I wasn't making too much money
You know where my paycheck went
You know I brought it home
To pay the rent

And I never spent one red cent
It's not in the way for a man to
Carry on
You think your (unintelligible)

I love you baby
More than you'll ever know
More than you'll ever know
I'm not trying to be

Any kind of man
I'm trying to be so funny
You can act like you understand
I know what I kind be girl

Part of you that no one else can see
To push out of here to hear you say
It's all right yeah
Flesh and blood

I can be everything that you demand
I could be president of General Motors baby
Or just a tiny little grain of sand
Is that anyway for a man

To carry on
You think you want a little love while I'm gone
I love you baby
I love you baby

I love you more than you'll ever know

GROSS: Al Kooper, had you worked with horns like this before?

KOOPER: Just in -- there was a period in my life where I wrote ghost arrangements, and I wrote for horns in that situation. But I had not really been in a band with a horn section, no. I had admired Maynard Ferguson's jazz group which had a large horn section, and that was sort of my model for Blood Sweat & Tears.

GROSS: I think Blood Sweat & Tears was pretty influential in inspiring other bands to bring horns in, and to kind of incorporate something of a jazz sound.

KOOPER: Yeah. I think it was probably Chicago and BS & T that were equa influential. They were both germinating at the same time, its just that the Blood Sweat & Tears record came out first, but Chicago was also working in the same time period that we were.

GROSS: My guest is Al Kooper. We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Al Kooper, he's revised and expanded his memoir. Kooper founded Blood Sweat & Tears and wrote most of their early songs.

Now, after a while David Clayton-Thomas was brought into replace you as the lead singer. What's the story behind that?

KOOPER: If I tell you, there will be seven other people that will tell you seven different stories of what happened, so I just have to say that -- because I found in my life that that's what happens.

Steve Katz would tell you a completely different story than this, and Bobby Colomby would tell you a completely different story than Steve Katz and myself; and we were all there at the same time.

GROSS: What's your story?

KOOPER: My story is that, unlike the Blues Project where we did everything together -- I mean, if we weren't playing, or on the road and we were back home in Greenwich Village where we lived; we would go to the movies together, we would go out to eat together, we even had one rock group therapy session together in a bid to save the band.

And, so, when Blood Sweat & Tears was formed I decided that really hadn't work very well in the Blues Project, to spend so much time with everybody, and I did the opposite of that.

And I was just getting married at the time, and so I would go to rehearsals and concerts and play with the band, and then I would go home and spend the time with my wife.

But, what happened was the other people were all hanging out together like bands do, and there was a faction that was conspiring against me in my direction that the band would go in; and, in fact, me singing lead and stuff like that. And it finally came to a head, and I was sort of forced into leaving the band, and I did.

And they auditioned several people, as a matter of fact, Laura Nyro was, you know, a possibility of being the lead singer with the band; and a blind blues singer named Bobby Doyle, they also were considering. But, David Clayton-Thomas got the job, he was an R&B singer from Canada.

And he replaced me as the singer, and the trombone player, when I was in the band, Dick Halligan replaced me as the organ player which is pretty funny.

GROSS: Well, I guess this is my opportunity to confess that I'm not a big fan of David Clayton-Thomas, so I was wondering what your reaction was to his singing?

KOOPER: Well, I thought that he was -- he had a great instrument. He had a really good voice, but I didn't believe a word he sang. I mean, just to my taste, I didn't think he was a bad singer at all; in fact, he was a much better singer than I was, there was no doubt about that.

But like I said, I had that credibility problem with -- I mean, I don't consider myself a great singer, but I do believe everything that I sing. I wouldn't saying anything I didn't believe. That's why, you know, I try to write my own material because then I'm really expressing the true way that I think.

Although I find other people songs that I can sing and feel, you know, that I can represent what they're saying. I just didn't believe David Clayton-Thomas, but they certainly -- again, same thing as "This Diamond Ring," you know, what do I know?

They became huge. They had a number one record and had Grammys, and...

GROSS: Exactly. And I can't help but wonder how you felt after leaving the band, to have -- to watch the band become this huge success?

KOOPER: Well, to tell you the truth, most of that album -- the second album -- were songs that I had picked for the band, and done the arrangements for. And so, I felt a part of it -- I sort of felt vindicated. I said, yeah, this idea that I had and people seem to actually like it, and it's taken a funny turn here because I'm not in it.

And then I thought, well, this is great I don't have to go all over the world and play in all these places and everything, and I still get the same satisfaction knowing that this idea that I had worked which is sort of the way that I thought back then. And that was great except that I never got any financial enumeration for it.

GROSS: Right. I want to jump ahead to the present. You said that you now think of yourself as 90 percent talent and 10 percent ambition which is the opposite of what you were when you're starting out. What are the projects that you are involved with now or have been involved with lately that have given you the greatest pleasure?

KOOPER: Well, the greatest pleasure in my life is I teach now at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and I moved there, in fact, specifically to do that. And teaching my classes is sort of the high point of my life right now, something I really enjoy doing.

GROSS: What do you like about teaching?

KOOPER: I feel I'm giving something back, and I'm dealing with a roomful of people who really don't know the things that I'm teaching them and that they will benefit, I think, tremendously by having that knowledge in their arsenal when they go out into the world.

GROSS: They probably, also, don't know your records, at least not at first.

KOOPER: No, no. They have no idea who I am.

GROSS: So, how does that make you feel?

KOOPER: Good. Good. I mean, I wouldn't expect that they would. I mean, their parents certainly know who I am, but there's no way they would know who I am because they're like 17 to 21 years old. And so, you know, I know that going in.

GROSS: And what have you been doing musically, are you still writing songs?

KOOPER: I'm still writing songs, I have a studio in my house and I write the song and then I go down to the basement and record it. And then it gets released in my living room, and that's about it.

GROSS: That's not the surest way to climb the charts.

KOOPER: Well, you know, I'm a legend in my own home and a rumor in my own house.

GROSS: Are you anxious to record or have other people record the new songs that you're writing?

KOOPER: Oh, sure. Everyone's always anxious to do that, but the problem is that in the music business you get a certain window of opportunity, and when that window closes, if you don't respect that, then you could, you know, hang yourself, jump out a window, take an overdose of pills.

It's very frustrating because here you think, this is going to last your whole life, and you really have to, you know, take stock of the situation and be prepared for that eventuality when that window shuts because it always shuts when you don't want it to shut, and it always slams on your fingers.

And it's a difficult time, but I always knew that it was coming, and I kind of, like, waited for it -- like stepped outside myself and said, is this it? Is this it, yet? Could this be it?

And so, I was always ready for that, and in fact, I just put like a storage pile of things that I wanted to do after that so that I wouldn't find myself, you know, hanging myself or jumping out a window or anything.

GROSS: Teaching was one of those things?

KOOPER: Yeah. Yeah. And I would like to also have a disc jockey show and play old rhythm and blues records, and sort of educate people the way I do in school. And write books -- like now I have, you know, my book is out now and I'm excited about that, and probably would want to, you know, do more stuff like that.

I write a column for a magazine every month and I really enjoy that. And, you know, it's a chance to do all these things I didn't have time to do before because I was so caught up in the music business.

GROSS: You know, you write in your book that aging in the pop business is always held against you; that, you know, if you're older you're seen as not being cutting edge anymore, and, you know, therefore washed up.

KOOPER: Yeah, I think that's a pretty accurate portrayal of the music business. Except, maybe, you know, in the blues area where...

GROSS: Right.

KOOPER: Where they respect seniority.

GROSS: That's true. That is really true, yeah. It's true in some rock and roll too, like, you know, the Rolling Stones can get as old as whatever.

KOOPER: Oh yeah, no, there are exceptions to the rule and there are people that are really fortunate enough to keep going, but there are many that don't. And the other thing is that, you know, take a person like Bob Dylan or Sly and the Family Stone, these are people that made incredible music, and yet the society is geared up and insists that they must continue doing that for the rest of their lives or they're horrible people or they're washed up, they're through.

But, I mean, if you look at the body of work that Sly and the Family Stone left us, it doesn't matter if he writes another song again. He changed music forever, and was an incredibly strong influence on the way music is being played today in the R&B field.

Everyone owes a debt to him, and yet, you know, people go, ah, he's through, he's a drug casualty. He is none of those things. He is a strong influence on the history of music.

GROSS: A very good point. Al Kooper, I really appreciate your talking with us, and I want to thank you very much.

KOOPER: It was my pleasure.

GROSS: Al Kooper, his memoir is called "Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards."

This is FRESH AIR.

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


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Al Kooper
High: Musician Al Kooper helped popularize the Hammond B3 organ as part of rock music, performing on recordings by Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, and The Who. He was a member of the legendary Blues Project, and later founded the group Blood Sweat & Tears. Now he teaches at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and writes a monthly column for "EQ" magazine. His autobiography, "Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Survivor" which was first published in 1977, has just been updated and reissued.
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Al Kooper

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 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: Al Kooper

Date: DECEMBER 11, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 120802NP.217
Head: Daniel Drennan
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: New Jersey isn't very far from New York City, but it can be a vast difference in terms of lifestyle. It was for Daniel Drennan, who grew up in what he describes as a Levitt created exerbia; a decidedly middle class, pre-fab insta-town in the middle of New Jersey.

After college and three years a study in France, he moved to New York where the art, theater, concerts, and eccentrics were. His new, humorous book is called "New York Diaries: Too True Tales of Urban Trauma."

Drennan has contributed to the public radio program, "This American Life," and has a following for his satirical Beverly Hills 90210 Web site. Here's a reading from his "New York Diaries."

DANIEL DRENNAN, AUTHOR, "THE NEW YORK DIARIES: TOO TRUE TALES OF URBAN TRAUMA": "I was doing my freelance work, eyes behavingly glued to my computer screen, and I hear this loud booming noise like bombs falling. And despite my promise to myself and to the boyfriend that I will not waste my time getting upset at events happening outside my window, and outside my control.

The temptation proves to great, and I pull back the curtain and notice that a resident in the halfway house/SRO across the street is lobbing things out of his window. Bookshelves, a bike, cast iron skillets; huge objects that I can't imagine fitting through his window in the first place are now tumbling down eleventh-plague style onto the cars and stoop below.

Unlike everyone who appears in those live the death television shows that appallingly recreate emergency experiences; starring the self same people who already suffered through them once, and who now relive for television the onetime they called 911 in their lives.

I somehow managed to call 911 at least once every other month, and also unlike those scary television shows featuring concerned, caring, heroic 911 telephone operators, I always manage to get New York 911 operators who could not possibly more blase, asking, `where's the emergency?'

As I give the coordinates of the crime scene, and then `what's the emergency?' implying that it better be a good one.

`Yeah there's this guy, like, throwing things out his window' I say, trying to portray the seriousness of what is going on with my voice but failing miserably.

The operator pauses and then replies, as if disappointed or rolling her eyes even, `that's the emergency?' As if I am wasting her time.

`No, like, really big stuff is coming out of his window. Chairs and bikes and iron skillets, and bookcases are coming out of his window.' I say, leaning on my window ledge and not getting a thing done as I proudly observe the closed down street scene of my own creation for the next three hours."

GROSS: So, the police finally came?

DRENNAN: Yes, they did. They ran into a block party of sorts.

GROSS: Describe the scene that happened after they did come.

DRENNAN: It was -- the street was closed down, and of course the minute you close down a New York City Street the street fills up with people, and the police are there to keep it closed and keep people away. But there was a bit of damage done by things falling outside of this guy's window.

GROSS: Now, is this what you imagined or what you hoped for when you moved to Manhattan from New Jersey?

DRENNAN: I think I have an idea of what New York had to offer; I grew up listening to stories of my father who was born and raised in Manhattan, and so I kind of grew up with this notion of New York City of being this place were anything could and sometimes does happen.

Which left me, when this kind of thing did happen, not surprised but kind of taken aback at the same time.

GROSS: What were some of the differences between New York and suburban New Jersey when you were growing up?

DRENNAN: Well, growing up, my friends and I would always look at New York as being this place were you could go and be yourself, dress like you want; all of our notions of art and theater, and thrift store shopping, and all of those kind of things were all in New York City to my father's great chagrin, I think.

He took the family out to New Jersey for our own well being, perhaps, and we ended up -- my friends and I wanted to head right back into the city for fun and all that stuff.

GROSS: So, you could dress like you wanted in New York, and what was that? What would you wear when you would go to the city?

DRENNAN: Oh, all of those phases that you go through as a teenager, including: dyed hair, pierced ears -- what else? The black clothes, the skinny ties, all of those things during the '70s and '80s that defined a certain sense of rebellion, as much as you could rebel in a suburban environment.

GROSS: And now that you actually live in New York do you look down on the teenagers who come through the bridges and tunnels in their defiant clothing?

DRENNAN: Not really, although I have to say it does give me pause, at times, to see the kids dressed up as punks and all of that which I remember having gone through 20-some years ago. It seems like an endless cycle of rebellion that we never seem to get past.

GROSS: You know, you write in your book, "The New York Diaries," that you are so at home in New York because you have so many neurosis -- it's the only place on earth where you feel you actually fit in.

You have a very funny description of when you took your dog to the vet, and the vet basically said -- what did the vet tell you?

DRENNAN: The vet -- my dog had been sick for awhile, not being able to eat, and walking around with his -- sitting with his back arched up in the air. And the vet's question to me, instead of diagnosing the dog, was whether I was under a lot of stress or not.

And I didn't quite know how to respond to her because I didn't know where she was going with the question, but she cleared it up for me when she told me that she thought my dog was picking up on my stress, and was manifesting an ulcer or pre-ulcerous condition which we had to treat with Tagamet and other anti-acids, and things of that nature.

Which, to me, I felt like well, you know, maybe we should just give the pills directly to me and, you know, solve the problem at the source instead of the symptoms at the dog level. But I was quite taken aback by that.

GROSS: Do you ever ask yourself if the rats, and the mice, and the roaches, and the crack dealers, and the muggers are worth it -- living in New York?

DRENNAN: I ask myself that all the time, and I've often left the city in hopes of finding something, in my mind, that would be better. For awhile I thought I was going to end up in San Francisco working, and I can remember going out there and thinking, this is it.

This is where I'm going to be, and sending postcards to everyone telling them to just send my stuff over because I'd found where I wanted to stay, but something always calls me back and brings me back to the city.

It's, perhaps, a sense of just being able to be yourself and not having to worry about that, and the facades that we often put up to hide our true selves seemed to be, for better and worse, missing in New York City.

GROSS: On the other hand, it's the place were people cover up who they are with fashion, and attitude, and all of that. I mean, and people wear more body armor in New York than probably any place else in the world. Character armor is what I mean, character armor.


GROSS: But you need the body armor too. So, what brought you back from San Francisco?

DRENNAN: I think the sheer niceness of people in San Francisco put me off on some level, and I don't mean that in a bad way. It was more -- I love the honesty of New Yorkers and there's something refreshing about people who will tell you their opinion whether you ask for it or not, I think.

GROSS: Daniel Drennan is the author of "New York Diaries."

I'm Terry Gross.

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


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Daniel Drennan
High: New York writer Daniel Drennan has written a new collection of essays about life in Manhattan. His book is called, "The New York Diaries: Too True Tales of Urban Trauma."
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Cities; Daniel Drennan

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 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: Daniel Drennan
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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