DATE August 13, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Olivia Judson discusses the evolutionary biology of sex
BARBARA BOGEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogev, in for Terry Gross.
Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. But very few of us know
exactly how they do it, and that's where my guest, Olivia Judson, enters the
picture. She's a biologist and journalist, who specializes in the
evolutionary biology of sex. Her articles have appeared in Science, Nature,
The Economist and other publications. Judson says that we don't know the most
basic things about this most basic of functions. Think about it, humans would
say sex is copulation, but frogs and most fish would say it's the squirting of
eggs and sperm during spawning. Then again, scorpions and salamanders might
tell you that sex is packets of sperm deposited on the ground for the female
to sit on so they'll explode in her reproductive tract.
To address the varied and colorful conflicts that arise in the process of
reproduction, Olivia Judson has invented a helpful persona in her new guide
book to the evolutionary biology of sex, "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All
Ms. OLIVIA JUDSON (Author, "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation"):
(Reading) `"Dear Dr. Tatiana, I'm a queen bee and I'm worried. All my lovers
leave their genitals inside me and then drop dead. Is this normal? Perplexed
in Cloverhill." For your lovers, this is the way the world ends, with a bang,
not a whimper. When a male honey bee reaches his climax, he explodes, his
genitals ripped from his body with a loud snap. I can see why you find it
unnerving. Why does it happen? Alas, your majesty, your lovers explode on
purpose. By leaving their genitals inside you, they block you up. In doing
so, each male hopes you will not be able to mate with another. In other
words, his mutilated member is intended as the honey bee version of a chastity
BOGEV: Olivia Judson, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Ms. JUDSON: Thank you.
BOGEV: The queen bee's question really plunges one into the battle between
the sexes right at the beginning of the book. Well, it's really a battle on
Ms. JUDSON: Yes.
BOGEV: ...every man and woman for himself and herself. Do you see this in
the likely evolutionary scenario of the honey bee?
Ms. JUDSON: I do. I think that the honey bee is a very good example of the
sorts of conflicts that arise. The problem is that if a female benefits from
mating with more than one male, and in most species we now know, although this
is a recent finding--in most species it seems clear that females do benefit a
great deal from mating with more than one male. This is a real problem for
each of her lovers, because from her point of view, she benefits--she has more
and healthier offspring. From his point of view, it's a catastrophe, because
her mating with other males means that fewer of her offspring will be his.
And in the case of the honey bee it's particularly dramatic because each male
has, in the first place, a very small chance of mating at all. The fate of
most male honey bees is to die virgins. And so those that do have, in fact,
nothing to lose by exploding. And the advantage of exploding is that by
leaving his member behind, he may be able to prevent the female from mating
again. But it's a problem for other males, because, obviously, they would
like to mate as well, and so you would expect to see that the queen does not
want to be prevented from mating again, and that other males do not want to be
prevented from mating with her. And so sure enough, the queen is able to
clean herself up, if she is inclined to, and the males also have now evolved a
structure on the tips of the phallus, which allows them to remove the detritus
from a previous lover.
BOGEV: Like a scoop?
Ms. JUDSON: Yeah, kind of. It's very common. A lot of males have this
BOGEV: This gets us into promiscuity among males and females in the animal
world. And the cliche of human sexuality is that men are promiscuous and
women are chaste. How does that play itself out in other species?
Ms. JUDSON: I think that's complete nonsense. It used to be thought that
that was generally true throughout the animal kingdom; that males were
philanderers and females were very virtuous and would resist mating and, you
know, after they'd mated once, particularly in species that store sperm, they
would have enough sperm for their whole lives and that would be bad--they
would not be interested in sex anymore. But females are, in general, however,
much, much more promiscuous than they need to be if fertilizing their eggs
were the only aim. And that discovery was not made until the 1980s, and then
it wasn't even realized.
So it was realized in the 1980s that females were more promiscuous than people
thought. And then it was realized that, in fact, promiscuous females benefit
from promiscuity and benefit from their behavior. In other words, promiscuous
females tend to have more and healthier offspring in pretty much every species
that I could find data for.
BOGEV: And what's the correlation there? Why would that be so?
Ms. JUDSON: Well, there's a large industry now. In the last even three or
four years, this has been something that scientists have started looking at
because it's been impossible to avoid anymore; this horrible truth that
females gain from promiscuity. And I think that there are a number of
possible reasons. There is no single explanation, but there are all sorts of
possible reasons varying from the idea that females are trying to get higher
quality mates, that they meet one guy and they have sex with him just to make
sure their eggs are fertilized, and then they meet a better guy, so they have
sex with him, too. That's one idea.
Another idea is that having sex with different males allows them to have more
help. There are some very obvious cases where this is true. In the
Bronze-Winged Jecana, which is a water bird that lives in India, the females
run a harem where each female will try to have several males to herself, and
the males do all of the work of sitting on eggs and feeding the chicks and
building the nests, and the female just sort of, you know, has a grand old
BOGEV: In other species, do females only mate with males bearing gifts, like
the proverbial box of chocolates?
Ms. JUDSON: It's very common. It's not always necessary, but it's very
common, particularly in insects. And it can be extraordinarily expensive for
the male to produce gifts. Males, in most species, obviously, can't just go
down the street and buy whatever they think is appropriate. They have evolved
to produce gifts of various sorts.
For example, they may hunt and bring the female something that they've caught
to show that they're good at hunting, or just, you know, to please her. They
may secrete something to give her. For example, in many butterflies the male
will secrete a large gift. And these can be very expensive. In the
green-veined butterfly, it's 15 percent of his body weight, and basically a
male can only do this once. Each subsequent gift will be smaller. And
females prefer males with large gifts, so in this species virgins have an
BOGEV: Now sperm are a whole story unto themselves in the animal kingdom.
What are some interesting examples of incongruous sperm sizes, shapes and
Ms. JUDSON: Well, these are--again, the question that is best understood is
what drives sperm number? For example, the Splendid Fairy-wren is a small
bird about the size of a human fist, lives in Australia, has a sperm count of
about eight billion per ejaculate. That's a lot more than any human by at
least a factor of 10. And why? Well, it turns out that sperm counts are
pretty directly related to female promiscuity, at least in species that
In species that don't copulate, species like sponges that just put their sperm
and eggs into the ocean, then the sperm numbers and egg numbers are much more
similar. But in species where there's copulation, sperm numbers tend to be
quite high, particularly if the female is promiscuous, and sure enough, in the
Splendid Fairy-wren the female is promiscuous. Pretty much each female has a
husband and a lover--at least one lover--and will be copulating with both, and
the sperm counts seems to have escalated accordingly, as each male tries to
make sure that it's his sperm that are being used.
BOGEV: I'm thinking that one of the great dangers, and what you probably have
been warned against your whole career as a scientist of natural history, is
anthropomorphizing. What danger lurks there for us in this conversation?
Ms. JUDSON: Well, anthropomorphism is something that I was warned against
when I was an undergraduate studying animal behavior, when I was a graduate
student studying animal behavior. And it's something that is often--not
always--frowned upon by academics, at least when discussing biology with the
general public. In fact, between themselves, academics anthropomorphize all
For example, when a pair of birds has been living together and nesting
together for a couple of years and then they split up it's called divorce.
When an insect attempts to force another insect to have sex with him, it's
called rape. But this is not considered to be appropriate for discussion with
the general public. I actually think that this view is completely wrong. I
think that Darwin, for example, in one of his lesser known but rather radical
books, "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals," he
anthrophomorphizes to a great extent and argues that animals, just like
humans, have emotions. And I think that's correct.
My former PhD supervisor, Bill Hamilton, who was one of the greatest
evolutionary biologists of the 20 century--unfortunately, now dead--he also
anthropomorphized, and in my opinion that led him to some of his greatest
insights. I think that the danger with anthropomorphism is in thinking that
it's a description when, in fact, it's a metaphor. And as a metaphor, it's a
very powerful one, I think.
I think that it helps the imagination if you think, `Well, if I were three
inches tall and was trying to attract a female and, you know, I've got to
avoid being eaten by the frog sitting behind me,' and all of that, I think it
really helps to make the problems that animals face much more vivid, and,
therefore, helps you to solve and understand animal behavior better. But the
danger is in thinking that there's necessarily conscious thought when you're
describing, for example, a praying mantis biting off the head of her lover.
BOGEV: My guest is evolutionary biologist and journalist Olivia Judson. Her
science writing has appeared in The Economist, Nature, Science and other
publications. Her new book is a guide to the evolutionary biology of sex.
It's called "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation."
We're going to take a break now, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
BOGEV: If you're just joining us, my guest is Olivia Judson. She's an
evolutionary biologist and science writer. Her articles have appeared in such
magazines as The Economist, Science and Nature. She has a new book about the
evolutionary biology of sex written in the persona of a sex advice columnist.
It's called "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation."
One of my favorite letters is from an iguana in your book. And it goes like
this, `Dear Dr. Tatiana, I'm a marine iguana, and I'm appalled by the
behavior of young iguanas today. I keep encountering groups of youths
masturbating at me. It's revolting. I'm sure they didn't dare act this way
in Darwin's time. How can I make them stop? Disgusted in the Galapagos.'
Now I suppose masturbating serves some purpose, at least as far as iguanas go.
What would that be?
Ms. JUDSON: Well, the iguana story is very curious. It turns out that these
marine iguanas, which live in the Galapagos, have a problem. Young males have
a problem, which is that females prefer--well, females, whether they prefer to
mate with big males or not, usually do mate with big males, because the big
males are able to push the little males off. And so you don't have much time,
if you're a young male iguana, and it turns out that a little bit of
masturbation to get yourself ready for sex decreases the length of time you
need to complete copulation before, so this prevents, or reduces the chance
that you will be interrupted. As far as I know, no other species masturbates
in order to reduce the chance of being interrupted.
BOGEV: Now I'm sure you know the old joke `You know what big feet mean? Big
boots.' So what's the correlation in general between the dimensions of males
and the dimensions of their private parts in creation?
Ms. JUDSON: Well, in general it's rather disappointing. In many species,
males come in a couple of different shapes, a couple of different body shapes,
and these shapes are very distinct and discreet, so it's not as if you have a
continuum the way you do in humans from quite small, stocky guys to really big
guys or tall, thin guys or whatever. In humans there's no clear grouping of
males. But in many species that's not the case, and males will be one shape
or another. And the thing that I love about this is that when you see a male
of a particular shape, you know a lot about how he's going to behave.
So, for example, in dung beetles, you have males of two shapes in the species
that I'm thinking about. You have big males, who are very helpful to their
partner; they help the female to collect dung and to provision the nest. And
they're also very--if you were to describe them as a human might, you would
say that they're being possessive because they don't like to leave the female
by herself for very long and they're very anxious if she is left alone. They
come rushing back to the nest and so on.
And then you have small males who attempt to copulate with other men's girls.
And the small males will sneak into the nest when the big male's not looking.
They will sometimes even dig their way into the nest from another side,
erupting through the wall. And, unfortunately, the big males have much
smaller parts than the smaller males do. And it turns out that the reason for
this is that the big males are attempting to reduce the chance of another male
mating by hanging around and being possessive, whereas the smaller males,
because they're almost always mating with a female that has a partner already,
they will always be mating with a female who has received sperm, and so they
produce relatively more sperm in order to try to bias the sperm competition in
their favor. And so in many, many species, small males have larger bits.
BOGEV: Now one theme of your book is the collision of the sexes, which being
so intense in so many species, sometimes generates horrific outcomes, such as
rape and cannibalism. And I do like how your first chapter in this category
starts, `Rule number one, never get eaten during foreplay.' What evolutionary
purpose does the violence in sex then among many species serve?
Ms. JUDSON: Well, cannibalism is a particularly curious example. Everybody
knows that the praying mantis has a tendency to munch on her lover, but what
everybody doesn't know is that quite often this happens even before he's had a
chance to mate. From his point of view, this is a fiasco. Obviously, if he's
dead, he cannot pass on any genes. And it's not just the praying mantis who
is guilty of this. Cannibalism of this kind has been reported in spiders,
more than 80 species. It's also been reported particularly graphically in
some predacious midges, where the female plunges her proboscis into the male's
head and her spittle turns his innards to soup. So from the male's point of
view, being cannibalized is incredibly bad news, particularly if it happens
before sex. If it happens during sex, he may still have a chance; he may be
able to fertilize some eggs. And if it happens after sex, it may also not be
too bad. It depends on his particular situation.
For example, the Australian red-back spider is the only known species where
the male actually would like to be cannibalized, and he jumps into the
female's jaws and attempts to persuade her to eat him. All the while she is
eating, he is copulating, because in spiders the male's genitalia are modified
mouth parts, and so she munches on his belly and he reaches under and fits his
mouth parts into the appropriate places on her belly. But this is very
unusual. And it turns out that the reason that he doesn't mind being
cannibalized--in fact, invites it--is that males who are being eaten are
allowed to copulate for longer, and, therefore, they fertilize a high
proportion of eggs. Males who are rejected will be rejected very quickly,
and, therefore, will not actually be able to fertilize many eggs at all. But
for most males, they do not wish to be eaten because being eaten, first of
all, precludes reproducing with a given female, and it also, obviously,
precludes reproducing again.
But from the female's point of view, it may not necessarily be that bad. At
first glance, it appears that for a female to eat a male before sex is
idiotic, but, in fact, if a female is likely to meet many males during the
course of her life, as indeed in many spiders she will do, then it doesn't
matter if she eats most of them. As long as she doesn't remain a virgin,
she's OK. And so sometimes it's not going to be too bad, and it may even
occasionally be to her advantage.
BOGEV: Olivia Judson's new book about the evolutionary biology of sex is "Dr.
Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation." We'll continue our conversation in the
second half of the show.
I'm Barbara Bogev, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man: It is nature, that's all, simply telling us to fall in
love. Oh, yes. And that's why birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas
do it. Let's do it. Mama, let's fall in love. Ba-ba-da-day-do-dos.
Mosquitoes, heaven forbid, do it. So does every katydid do it. Oh, let's do
it. Mama, let's fall in love. The most refined ladybug do it when a
gentleman calls. Moth in your rugs do it ...(unintelligible) what's the use
of balls? Hmm. Locus in the trees do it. Why even the bees do it. Even
overeducated fleas do it. Ah, let's do it. Let's fall in love.
BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Let's get back to our interview with Olivia Judson. Judson is a biologist and
science journalist. Her articles have appeared in The Economist, Nature,
Science and other publications. Her new book is a guide to the evolutionary
biology of sex, called "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation." In it,
Judson writes in the persona of a sex advice columnist, counseling creatures
of all kinds on the strange and often violent encounters they have in the
process of reproducing.
Another common violent occurrence among many species is gang rape and murder,
mostly by battering. Is it unintentional? And how do things get out of hand
in the animal world?
Ms. JUDSON: Well, there are some very, very unpleasant things that go on.
For example, the Hawaiian monk seal, which is one of the most endangered seal
species in the world, is--the main culprit in killing Hawaiian monk seals is
other Hawaiian monk seals, and this occurs when males batter females to death,
all trying to climb on her together, and it does seem to be an unfortunate
byproduct of males wanting to mate with females. It's particularly likely to
occur in species where many males are ready to mate and they're all gathered
in a particular place at the same time, and females arrive one at a time.
That's when things are most likely to go wrong. And it seems to be a
byproduct of the fact that no male gains by not trying to mate with the female
as long as he doesn't get injured himself.
Obviously, from the female's point of view, again, this is a disaster. In my
view, if this is a common occurrence, it quickly puts selection pressure on
the female so that she will learn to avoid dangerous situations, for example.
But it certainly is pretty bad out there sometimes.
BOGAEV: Well, in the situations in which females don't readily submit, why
don't they submit if it's to their advantage? They're more likely to survive
and also to reproduce.
Ms. JUDSON: Well, it's a bit of a mystery. In many species, females are
raped--there's no other word for it. Why they do not give in and just lie
back and think of England is probably because it's worse to lie back and think
of England than it is to fight off, fight back. And one reason that this
might be the case is if having no choice of mates is detrimental. And
certainly in fruit flies, for example, females that are allowed to choose
their mate do better than females that are assigned one. And so I would guess
that usually females have evolved to resist because resisting is better than
BOGAEV: Now here's a provocative quote from your book. "True monogamy is one
of the most deviant behaviors in biology." So how rare is rare?
Ms. JUDSON: It's seems to be pretty rare. I combed the literature for
examples--proven examples of monogamy, and they are very, very scarce. And I
think that the reason is that it's rarely in anybody's advantage to be
monogamous, if you are discussing monogamy truly in terms of how many
offspring you'll produce, which is how success is measured in evolutionary
terms. Monogamy is rarely advantageous for either sex, and so the conditions
under which it evolves are peculiar and unusual.
BOGAEV: There are some species, though, that do mate for life. You cite
Ms. JUDSON: The black vulture is one of my favorite examples. The black
vulture, as far as we know at the moment, it does appear to be monogamous.
They have an interesting social system. They nest in pairs and on
territories, quite large territories, but it's not simply a lack of
opportunity thing, because black vultures are dependent on carcasses and many
vultures will convene at a single carcass, and so there are certainly
opportunities for meeting other vultures and having a bit on the side. But it
turns out that the black vulture's, well, prudish. They don't like to see
sexual behavior in public. And if an inexperienced black vulture attempts to
seduce somebody in public, everybody will attack him or her, and so this
appears to reinforce the tendency for monogamous behavior.
But there are also other species that seem to be monogamous. My guess is that
many species of shrimp may turn out to be monogamous. There are certainly
quite a few that live in stable pairs, but shrimp are less studied than birds,
and so we don't know nearly so much about them.
BOGAEV: Can we talk about homosexuality, then? If a majority of species do
break down to male and female, what does evolutionary biology--how does it
inform us on the question of human sexuality and homosexuality among our
Ms. JUDSON: Well, it's often said, particularly among social conservatives,
for example, that homosexuality is unnatural, that it occurs only in humans
and it is some weird, deviant behavior. There are two things that I'd like to
say about that. The first is that whether it's natural or not is irrelevant
because I could find examples of all sorts of behavior that people would find
abhorrent--for example, incest is very common in many organisms, but humans
believe that close brother-sister incest is a bad idea. So whether it is
natural or not is irrelevant. However, it turns out that, in fact, homosexual
behavior is very common in the animal world; much more common than people have
thought, and the range is extraordinary.
The reason that many people assume that homosexuality cannot be something that
occurs in nature is because homosexuals, particularly in the West now,
homosexuals cannot have children, and, therefore, any genes for homosexuality
should disappear very quickly. Well, in other organisms, we know almost
nothing about the extent to which homosexual behavior is exclusive. Certainly
many individuals engage in bisexual behavior, but I would--for the sake of
argument you can say, `Well, if the behavior is exclusive so homosexuals never
reproduce and it is fairly common so you can't just dismiss it as a fluke,
then is there any way that the genes could be maintained in the population?'
And I think that there are ways that they can be maintained. For example, if
a gene that leads to homosexuality in one sex leads to very great reproductive
success in the other, then you would expect to see a certain proportion of
individuals who are homosexual throughout their lives.
BOGAEV: Well, one of the standard arguments against human homosexuality, at
least a biological one, runs that if it doesn't lead to reproduction, how can
it be a genetic trait? But in this case it leads to reproduction of others...
Ms. JUDSON: That's right.
BOGAEV: ...so you're lending a helping hand.
Ms. JUDSON: Not necessarily lending a helping hand. It may be that the gene
itself is just very beneficial when it is manifested in one sex. It's
certainly true that genes are expressed differently in the different sexes
very often. And in that case, you might expect to see that there are some
genes that produce homosexuality in one sex, but produce some very beneficial
trait in the other, a trait that leads to much greater reproductive success,
either very great fecundity or very good looks or--I mean, this is
speculation. We don't know for sure, but that would be one mechanism by which
genes for exclusive homosexuality could be maintained.
BOGAEV: Well, I have to say a lot of the information in the book makes human
sex quite pallid in comparison. Did you come away with your own conclusions
about deviancy or any species you particularly envy?
Ms. JUDSON: Well, it certainly broadened my horizons. I think that I would
like to be reincarnated as a number of species. I think, for example, it
would be fascinating to be a dolphin, for all sorts of reasons but
particularly because they seem to have such amazing sex drive. I think that
would be fascinating. But I think that in general--I mean, human sex may be
dull, and in many respects it is, but basically I'm pretty glad to be human.
BOGAEV: Olivia Judson, I want to thank you very much for talking with me
Ms. JUDSON: Thank you very much.
BOGAEV: Olivia Judson's new book is "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All
Coming up, pirates as we never saw them in Hollywood movies. This is FRESH
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Barry Clifford talks about the golden age of piracy in
the Atlantic and Caribbean
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
On January 2nd, 1678, a fleet of French ships sank in the Caribbean Sea, 100
miles off the coast of Venezuela. Twelve hundred sailors died, among them,
many pirates who were hired by the French to rout the Dutch out of the West
Indies. This colossal shipwreck decimated the French navy and also brought
together among the survivors a small number of fierce and ambitious pirate
captains whose joint exploits brought on the golden age of piracy on the high
seas. The story of the sunken armada is the subject of undersea explorer and
treasure hunter Barry Clifford's new book, "The Lost Fleet." Clifford is
known for his 1984 discovery of the first authenticated pirate shipwreck, the
Whydah, a former slave galley commandeered by the pirate captain Black Sam
Bellamy, which sank off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717. I asked Barry Clifford
to tell me about one of the pirate leaders who survived the French naval
catastrophe, Laurence de Graff(ph).
Mr. BARRY CLIFFORD (Author, "The Lost Fleet"): De Graff is perhaps the most
interesting of all the pirates to me, because he started out in Holland as a
slave, was sent to the Canary Island, and from there he was put on a Spanish
galleon and sent to the Caribbean to look for pirates, and he escaped. And
from that moment on, he hated the Spanish and wreaked havoc on any Spanish
vessel that he could capture, and he became the most successful pirate of all.
What's most fascinating about him, and this is what interested me with the
Whydah project as well, is that de Graff was a former slave. And his history
seemed to have been swept under the carpet by historians that--in fact, he was
described as six foot tall, blond-haired and blue-eyed when he was of African
origin. And he was elected by a predominantly white crew as captain of a
ship. The last thing that 17th- and 18th-century historians would want would
to have a slave rebellion--to be writing about men like Laurence de Graff
because, indeed, as what happened in Haiti, a slave rebellion could be
BOGAEV: The way you describe him, he didn't sound like the typical Hollywood
pirate. He sounded like a real man of honor.
Mr. CLIFFORD: He was a man of honor. And in fact, he, in many instances,
emancipated slaves from slave towns, and after capturing ships, he gave
captains leave to go ashore and treated his men quite well. And that's why he
was elected, because he was the man to get the group through the day, whereas
the Admiral de Strey(ph) was appointed to his position as admiral, and that's
why I think he was despised by his men, because he was a terrible seaman and
ended up destroying the whole French fleet. He had no right being the admiral
of the fleet whatsoever. That was just the way, in French society at that
time, that you could be appointed admiral of a fleet, whereas if you were a
pirate and you earned the rank of captain, you were elected.
BOGAEV: How were the pirates organized on the ship? They elected their
captains. Did they also vote on what city they were going to sack next or
what ship they were going to attack?
Mr. CLIFFORD: Everything was voted on. And when four or five pirate
captains got together, it was the essence of democracy, because they had to
agree before they took a step forward, so these must have been fascinating
meetings--people like Thomas Payne, Captain Kidd, de Grimond and de Graff,
trying to decide on what town to sack next and what to do with the prisoners
and if to release slaves and if to sell slaves. And I suppose this is--the
essence of that period was that once these men infiltrated back into colonial
America, and the stories of their success--you know, what effect did that have
on colonial America?
BOGAEV: Did pirates battle it out with men-of-war ships on the high seas,
like we see in movies?
Mr. CLIFFORD: No, indeed, they did, and in many cases, I think that they
were avoided--that the pirates were a formidable group, you know. They were
obviously fighting for their freedom, whereas, you know, a sailor on a Spanish
merchant ship or on a Spanish man-of-war, they didn't quite have the same
thing to fight for. So all of the records indicate that indeed, all the way
back to the Elizabethan pirates, that they were, you know, an extremely
formidable force and what kept them from really dominating the entire region
was that, you know, they were free spirits. You know, the different captains
had different ideas. They went their separate ways. But on the times that
they were able to come together, in raids on places like Campeche and Caracas
and Maracaibo, they were devastatingly effective.
BOGAEV: I thought they got most of their treasure by sacking cities--by
getting off the ship and invading cities on the coast.
Mr. CLIFFORD: Well, you know, in the early 17th century, indeed the cities
were their main targets--places--as I said, Maracaibo and Veracruz were easy
places for them to study and attack, whereas the Spanish treasure fleets, you
know, were very careful about when they would leave and how they would leave,
and they would obviously have great armadas with them. It wasn't as easy for
them, at this period in time, to attack ships and it was much easier to attack
a city. And in many instances, we see where very few pirates--for instance,
on the attack of Caracas, there were 47 pirates attacked a garrison of over
2,000 Spanish, and the Spanish ended up running, so when a group of...
BOGAEV: How did they do that? They just looked so scary with the eye-patch
and the cutlasses? I mean, what was their magic weapon?
Mr. CLIFFORD: I think they were scary. I think they were really scary. I
think there was real reason to be afraid of these men. And you know, these
were the same people who went into the Canadian wilderness. They were
frontiersmen who learned to shoot very accurately. And you know, the last
thing that they wanted was to end up in a Spanish jail or in a Spanish galley,
like Laurence de Graff did, so--and I think that, you know, it was an outlaw
subculture, there's no question about that, but these men were free, and I
think once they found that, that they fought very hard to preserve that
When, for example, the ship that I located on Cape Cod, the Whydah, that was a
Royal African slave ship. That company was licensed to buy and sell people.
A third of the crew of the Whydah, you know, after they captured the Whydah,
were former slaves. And so looking back in history, one has to take a close
look at the human element here. You know, you're a slave, you escape, where
can you go? There was only one place, and that was piracy. And indeed, from
our studies what we believe is that a third of the participants in this
period--again, known as the golden age of piracy--were men of African origin,
BOGAEV: I thought it was interesting in your book that you write that they
didn't--there are really not many instances in which pirates made people walk
the plank, but there is evidence of one instance, and these pirates did it
because they read about it in a book.
Mr. CLIFFORD: That's correct, but there's very little evidence. I mean,
there were a few homicidal maniacs that seemed to have, you know, given
pirates like Laurence de Graff a bad name, but in most instances when a pirate
ship approached another vessel, the merchant vessel didn't want to put up a
fight, because they were afraid what would happen after that; you know, that
they may end up walking the plank. But when a pirate ship did capture a
merchant ship, they gave the merchantmen a chance to join the pirates, and
many of them did.
BOGAEV: I read in your book that many of the coins that you find have a
strike down the middle, as if they were going to be divided in half. What's
that all about?
Mr. CLIFFORD: Well, what they would do on the coins that we found from the
Whydah--and actually, an elderly woman showed me these coins before I had
found it several years ago. Her grandfather had claimed to have found them on
the beach, but each of the gold coins had a slice in the middle of them. And
later, when I found the pirate ship Whydah, we found several gold coins with
that same slice. And what we think they were doing was testing the gold to
see if it was counterfeit. But indeed with a big gold bar, they would break
it into equal pieces. And everyone shared equally in the pirate community,
except for the captain, who was voted to get two shares, and perhaps the chief
gunner, who would get a share and a half. But that was all decided by vote.
Everyone else shared equally. And once a certain amount of treasure was
accumulated, the pirates could break up and go their separate ways. But you
couldn't leave the pirate band until that amount had been accumulated or until
it was voted on that you could leave.
BOGAEV: Barry Clifford, it was a real pleasure talking with you today. Thank
Mr. CLIFFORD: Thank you very much.
BOGAEV: Barry Clifford's new book is "The Lost Fleet."
Coming up, a review of a new CD featuring saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. This
is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Reissue of "Jumpin' at the Apollo," featuring Illinois
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
In 1942, bandleader Lionel Hampton recorded an up-tempo number called "Flying
Home," featuring 21-year-old Illinois Jacquet. His extroverted tenor
saxophone solo on that record made his name in jazz. Jacquet brought the same
style to the first jazz at the philharmonic concert in 1934, setting the tone
for that long series' rabble-rousing saxophone style. Around then, he also
began recording as a leader. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new
collection of blues and ballads Jacquet waxed between 1945 and '47.
(Soundbite of "Memories of You")
KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:
"Memories of You," 1945, as played by Illinois Jacquet (pronounced Cha-ket) or
Jacquet (pronounced Jacket) or Jacquet (Ja-kay), if you like. He's pronounced
it all three ways, so take your pick. Jacquet could always play breathy,
melodious tenor like that. But his bread-and-butter was excitable blues in
the vein of "Flying Home." There are lots of those on "Jumpin' at Apollo,"
one of Delmark's many good reissues of jazz and blues recorded for Harlem's
Apollo label in the 1940s. Jacquet's disc features three hopping medium-sized
bands. In two of them, the bottom end is beefed up by baritone saxophone, as
if his own barking tenor wasn't enough.
Jacquet had the confidence to surround himself with other competitive horn
players, like trumpeter Joe Newman and the great Leon Parker on baritone.
Here's "South Street Special" from 1947.
(Soundbite of "South Street Special")
WHITEHEAD: You can really hear rock 'n' roll coming in that beat. Illinois
Jacquet had spent some of the war in Los Angeles, where musicians were making
a transition from swing to rhythm and blues, getting bands half as big to riff
twice as hard. Jacquet's frantic solo style inspired dozens of saxophonists,
whose high energy was part of the big bang that shot rock 'n' roll out of R&B.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: Illinois Jacquet was wise enough to stay ahead of his imitators.
He kept upping the ante until that old "Flying Home" solo sounded tame. After
leaving Lionel Hampton, he joined the extroverted singer Cab Calloway. His
shouts and dramatic high notes echo in Jacquet's increasingly wild falsetto
register. Here he is on "Jacquet Mood," 1945, with a young Charles Mingus on
bass. Check out the weird hook-up between bass drum and wa-wa brass in the
background, like machinery in a wartime factory, another sound of LA in the
(Soundbite of "Jacquet Mood")
WHITEHEAD: Jacquet's influence spread far and wide. Twenty years later, his
shrieks and honks were basic vocabulary for free jazz saxophonists like Albert
Ayler, as well as R&B stars like Junior Walker and King Curtis. That one
musician could feed so many styles--swing, blues, R&B, rock 'n' roll,
avant-garde--that's pretty amazing. That he came roaring back with a big band
in the 1980s and '90s, still playing tenor in a style out of the saxophone's
golden age, that wasn't just icing on the cake, that was a whole other layer.
That cake will have 80 candles on it come his birthday in October, by the way.
He's done a good job so far. Mr. Jacquet (pronounced Cha-ket), Jacquet
(pronounced Jacket), Jacquet (Ja-kay), thank you all, sir.
BOGAEV: Kevin Whitehead writes for the Chicago Reader and the Chicago
Sun-Times. He reviewed "Jumpin' at the Apollo," featuring saxophonist
Illinois Jacquet on the Delmark label.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
(Soundbite of music)
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