DATE May 17, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Nick Hornby discusses his novel "About a Boy"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.
The new film "About a Boy" is based on Nick Hornby's novel about a callow
bachelor as he drifts into middle age. Hornby is great at writing about men
who avoid mature relationships by immersing themselves in pop culture. His
novel "High Fidelity" featured a guy in his 30s who runs a used record store
and judges everyone according to their taste in music.
"About a Boy" focuses on Will, played by Hugh Grant, who lives off the
royalties of his late father's novelty Christmas hit and spends his time
listening to records and watching TV. He figures a good way to pick up women
would be to pose as a single father, so he goes to a meeting for a support
group called SPAT, Single Parents Alone Together.
(Soundbite of "About a Boy")
Mr. HUGH GRANT: (As Will) Oh, me. Yes. Well, I have a two-year-old, Ned.
He's got blue eyes and sort of sandy-colored hair, and he's about 2'3". And
his mom left.
Unidentified Actress #1: Really?
Mr. GRANT: (As Will) Yeah. Yeah. I mean, obviously it was very big shock
because we were so happy. Sandra's neurology practice was just up and
running, and then one day her bags were packed and my best friend was waiting
outside in his Ferrari. Yeah. You know, the Modena, the one with the
supercharged engine where you can actually see the engine through the back
Unidentified Actress #2: You got dumped then.
Mr. GRANT: (As Will) Yeah. Yeah.
BOGAEV: Through the support group, Will ends up bonding with a 12-year-old
misfit named Marcus.
Terry spoke with Nick Hornby in 1988, after the publication of "About a Boy."
They began with a reading in which Will considers his experiences with his
current single-parent girlfriend Angie, who has two children.
Mr. NICK HORNBY (Author, "About a Boy"): (Reading) `They went to McDonald's.
They went to the science museum and natural history museum. They went on boat
down the river. On the very few occasions when he'd thought about the
possibility of children, always when he was drunk, always in the first throes
of a new relationship, he had convinced himself that fatherhood would be a
sort of sentimental photo opportunity. And fatherhood Angie style was exactly
like that. He could walk hand-in-hand with a beautiful woman, children
gamboling happily in front of him, and everyone could see him doing it. And
when he'd done it for an afternoon he could go home again if he wanted to.
And then there was the sex. Sex with a single mother, Will decided after his
first bout with Angie, beat the sort of sex he was used to hands down. If you
picked the right woman, someone who'd been messed around and eventually
abandoned by the father of her children and who hadn't met anyone since
because the kids stopped you going out--and anyway, a lot of men didn't like
kids that didn't belong to them, and they didn't like the kind of mess that
frequently coiled around these kids like a whirlwind--if you picked one of
these, then she loved you for it. All of a sudden you became better-looking,
a better lover, a better person.
`As far as he could see it was an entirely happy arrangement. All those so-so
couplings going on out in the world of the childless singles to whom a night
in a foreign bed was just sex, they didn't know what they were missing. Sure
there were right-on people, men and women, who would be repelled and appalled
by his logic, but that was fine by him. It reduced the competition.'
TERRY GROSS, host:
That's Nick Hornby reading from his new novel "About a Boy."
The other advantage your main character finds in dating single mothers is that
the single mothers are often not yet ready to be in a long-term relationship,
so they break up apologetically with him, which means he gets to have great
sex without commitment, and that's delightful for him.
Mr. HORNBY: That's his logic, yeah.
GROSS: I think a lot of single mothers assume that men find them difficult
because of the child. How did you come to see the other side of that?
Mr. HORNBY: Well, I know a fair few people who had gone out with almost a
string of single mothers, and I think that for some of them, it was kind of a
rehearsal for what they wanted to do later on, but not something they were
ready to do properly yet. And so these people kind of met their needs. I
mean, that sounds cynical, but I don't think they were intending it to be
cynical at the time. But I think it does have an appeal for men.
GROSS: Your main character, Will, is actually very afraid of the idea of
being a real father. He thinks that children really mess up people's lives
and mess up people's marriages, and they're sloppy and messy and
time-consuming. Did you go through a period yourself, watching your friends
who were married and who were having children and who had less time for movies
and books and soccer matches, the things that you're really obsessed with?
Mr. HORNBY: Well, I think that everyone who knows anyone with a child or has
children themselves goes through this.
GROSS: Did it make you think, `Well, I'm not going to fall into that trap and
have children myself'?
Mr. HORNBY: No. Well, no. I mean, I have a child and it was a conscious
decision to have a child, so clearly, it didn't affect me all the way. But I
think if you ask any parent, they have a fantasy that they want time and
space. And, of course, they wouldn't be without their children, but time and
space is really a big deal.
GROSS: The main character in your book ends up meeting a 12-year-old who's
the son of the friend of the woman he's dating, and a lot of the book is about
their relationship. And, you know, the teen-ager's mother is a vegetarian who
won't let him eat at McDonald's or wear Adidas sneakers or listen to the
current rock hits. She likes to sing old Joni Mitchell songs. And that's
where your main character comes in. He's a pop culture maven, and he can tell
the kid about Kurt Cobain and buy him stylish sneakers. Do you think that
parents often make a mistake when they try to regulate their kids' pop culture
Mr. HORNBY: Yeah. I think this is a very difficult line to draw. When I was
growing up as a kid in England, I was voracious in my consumption in pop
culture, but that still actually left me quite a lot of free time, because
TV--we had some Saturday morning TV when I was kind of older, and there was an
hour of children's television in between 5 and 6 every evening, but that was
it. There was no daytime stuff. And we had one pop channel on the radio, so
I could consume all I like, and as I say, it didn't take up too much of my
time. But I think now, parents are faced with a different set of problems.
GROSS: The main character in your book wants to be basically a pop culture
mentor to the 12-year-old who enters his life, and I think that that's a
fantasy that a lot of adults have, a lot of adults who are really deep into
music and movies and television, that--well, maybe it's hard for them to
relate to teen-agers but they can relate to teen-agers on the basis of, you
know, movies and books and television shows and all of that. Was that a
fantasy of yours that, you know, you would have this kind of natural
connection to teen-agers, no matter how alienated the teen-agers were?
Mr. HORNBY: I taught for a while, and part of the reason I wanted to teach
was because I thought, you know, I could connect with kids because I knew who
the Sex Pistols were and who played for Manchester United. But you kind
of get disabused of that very quickly, I think, because any cool kid really
doesn't want to know what an old guy, especially an old guy who's a teacher,
has to say about anything at all. Marcus in the book, he knows nothing, and
because he knows nothing he's struggling at school. So Will can fulfill a
need in him.
GROSS: But you found it hard to fulfill that need as a teacher?
Mr. HORNBY: Well...
GROSS: Or the kids didn't have that need, I guess? I mean...
Mr. HORNBY: Yeah, exactly, I mean. I think that when...
GROSS: They already knew stuff.
Mr. HORNBY: Yeah. When one has the fantasy that you're talking about, I
think it's quite right, adults do have that fantasy. And you have the fantasy
you're going to be sitting down with the coolest kid in the class and talking
about, you know, R.E.M. or Nirvana. And they really don't want to hear from
you, those kids.
GROSS: I'll tell you what I think the fantasy really is, too, that a lot of
people in their 30s, 40s and maybe early 50s have. I think it's this: That
when they were teen-agers, they were much hipper than their parents were, but
now that they're adults, they're a lot hipper than their kids are. Don't you
Mr. HORNBY: I think that's absolutely right, yes.
GROSS: How old were your students when you taught?
Mr. HORNBY: I taught 11- to 16-year-olds.
GROSS: And you were teaching them English?
Mr. HORNBY: Yeah.
GROSS: And what did you feel you could best relate to them about?
Mr. HORNBY: Actually, soccer was OK because there isn't a kind of hip thing
or an unhip thing, there's just kind of knowledge, really, and you can just
talk to kids about sports as equals, whereas I think with pop music there's
always a lot of jousting going on; and if you're older than--you know,
obviously, a teacher, you're older than your kids. And I think you always
want to say to them, `Yeah, well, they're good, but, you know, have you
listened to The Velvet Underground' because that's where they're getting their
stuff from, and that's where the kids, you know, start to roll their eyeballs
and walk away from you.
GROSS: One of the things I found very amusing in your novel is when the adult
character, Will, decides, you know, he'll spend a day with the 12-year-old and
try to keep him entertained, but he can't think of a--what should I do with
him? What's going to keep him amused? The kid wants to go to Planet
Hollywood, which is about the last place that Will, the main character, wants
to go to. And that really made me think about how difficult it is, I think,
when there are children in your life who want to go to all these kind of big
pop culture extravaganza type things that you might really hate, that you
might think are just like the tackiest, most kind of false and corporate
things out there. But what can you do? I mean, the kid wants to go. What
are you gonna do?
Mr. HORNBY: I mean, a lot of that is about belonging to mainstream, and
Marcus is desperate to belong to the mainstream, you know? He's desperate to
be able to go to school and say that he went to Planet Hollywood because he
doesn't have very many ways in which he can relate to his classmates. And I
think, again, when you're hip, as Will thinks he is, the last thing you want
to do is belong to the mainstream. You want to take people away from the
mainstream, tell them a place that maybe they don't know about. And, of
course, that's precisely not the point for Marcus. He has to go somewhere
where he does know about.
BOGAEV: Nick Hornby's novel, "About a Boy," has been adapted into a film. It
We'll hear more after the break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Back now to Terry's interview with Nick Hornby. The new film, "About
a Boy," is based on his 1998 novel.
GROSS: There's a lot of depression in your new book. The mother of the
teen-age boy is suicidal depressive. Kurt Cobain kills himself during the
course of the book. There's a teen-ager who's, you know, a depressive. Were
you thinking about how frightening it must be for young people when there are
people who are chronically depressed in their life and how difficult it must
be to understand and to cope with?
Mr. HORNBY: Yeah. And I'd had bouts of depression myself in my, like, 20s.
And I kind of--it is something that interests me, I think, depression. I
think probably all three of my books have dealt with depression in some way or
another. I think Rob in "High Fidelity" is kind of gloomy, if not depressed,
and I wanted to take that a step further. But one of the things that I do in
spare time is I'm a patron of a children's charity called YoungMinds, which is
actually supposed to deal with kids who have mental health problems. I mean,
not handicaps, but mental health problems. And there's no other charity like
it in the UK, and that is something that I think is incredibly important that
we tend to underestimate, kids' depression.
GROSS: Do you think you had depression as a kid?
Mr. HORNBY: Yeah, I think probably I did, actually, for a couple of years in
my early teens. Maybe I was just having teen-age blues, but I think for all
of us it's very hard to separate one from the other.
GROSS: How did it manifest itself?
Mr. HORNBY: Just gloominess, really; that desire to be on my own for chunks
of the day to read and listen to music with headphones on. I mean, you know,
anyone who's got a teen-age kid, I think, recognizes these symptoms. Whether
one would classify it as depression or not, I'm not sure. It felt like it at
GROSS: Do you think that depression kind of helps feed your record and movie
and television and book habits? You know, your obsessions with immersing
yourself in that part of life?
Mr. HORNBY: Yeah, I think that's right. I think that, you know, I've always
had a theory that obsessives do have some sense of depression and that
obsession is a form of oblivion, in a way; that, you know, if you can train
yourself to spend three or four hours in a second-hand record shop flicking
through album sleeves, that you don't have to think about anything else. So I
think that there's got to be something of that in there. But I think that
depression definitely fueled my writing, and I think that one of the things
that strikes a chord with people is that a lot of them are gloomy.
GROSS: A lot of the characters are gloomy?
Mr. HORNBY: No, a lot of the readers are gloomy and they kind of recognize
that. I mean, a lot of it is a comedy borne of glumness.
GROSS: Nick Hornby is my guest, and his new novel which we're talking about
is called "About a Boy."
I read in a review of one of your books that your son is autistic, and I was
thinking, you know, after reading this book about an adult who first relates
to a teen-ager, you know, who first has a teen-ager come into your life, how
totally unprepared you must have been to have a child who is autistic and who
is going to be, you know, very different from whatever expectations you had
when you decided you were going to become a father.
Mr. HORNBY: Yeah. I think especially if you make your living out of words
the kind of basic expectation you have as a parent is that whatever else
you're going to be able to talk to your kid. My kid doesn't talk, so that was
a huge readjustment to have to learn about.
GROSS: You probably also had all these fantasies about being this kind of pop
culture mentor to your child. You're teaching him about your favorite books
and records and movies, etc.
Mr. HORNBY: Yeah. I mean, you can kind of do that, and my son really likes
music and he watches a lot of videos, although he watches the same four videos
over and over again. But that's not such a big deal, really. I'm sure that
he will respond to music in some form or another. I think that you just have
to be inventive in the ways that you relate.
GROSS: How much time--I know you're also separated. How much time can you
spend with your son now?
Mr. HORNBY: Well, I see him every day. I live and work around the corner,
so I give him his bath every day, and I give him lunch a couple of times a
week when he's not at school. So I spend weekends with him. So it's really
not very much less than it ever was.
GROSS: I'm wondering how--it's hard to answer questions like this without,
you know, being false, I think, but how do you think you've been changed by
having a son who is autistic and being exposed to a completely different way
of relating to the world?
Mr. HORNBY: That is a very hard question to answer. I think that it's made
me tougher in some ways. I think when I first started writing and the writing
really took off quite quickly in England with my first book, and I think it's
quite easy to get overwhelmed in those circumstances that you end up doing
what people want you to do and it's hard to say no to things. But the moment
that Danny was diagnosed, it became much easier, in a way, to keep time for
yourself and to almost hide behind him to a certain extent. You can afford to
be much tougher with people as a result of something like that.
GROSS: What do you mean, to be tougher with people?
Mr. HORNBY: I don't really--it's very easy for me now to tell people to
shove off if they kind of get in my face or wanting to take up time, because
the time is for Danny; and also, money is for Danny as well. So it kind of
makes me feel better about earning. You know, I've earned quite well over the
last few years, and that makes you feel kind of weird, I think, at first
because you think what's all this for? But now I know what it's all for.
GROSS: Right. My guest is Nick Hornby, and he's the author of a new novel,
"About a Boy."
Your current novel "About a Boy" is going to be adapted into a movie, I think,
by Robert De Niro's production company. And your previous novel "High
Fidelity" is being made into a movie. And I think your first book, "Fever
Pitch," about soccer, was already made into a movie that didn't make it
into the States. Have you had any input into the screenplays for any of those
Mr. HORNBY: I wrote the screenplay for "Fever Pitch." So that I had sort of
very close involvement with, and I was really working with friends on the
project, and that was a great experience. But the other two I just sold on
and I haven't had any involvement in them so far. I'm actually going to meet
the guy who's adapting "About a Boy" tomorrow. So, you know, I'll be talking
to him about it then. But it's his business now.
GROSS: How do you feel about that, about handing over control of your
characters to someone else?
Mr. HORNBY: I feel absolutely fine about it. "High Fidelity" and "About a
Boy" were conceived as books, and I'm happy with the books and that was kind
of the end of the process for me. And if people want to take it on and try
and do something else with it, I think that they're perfectly at liberty to do
so. And I think, you know, it's a straightforward transaction with writing
that if you want to sell your film rights, then do so, but don't whine about
what happens afterwards.
GROSS: The title of your new book, "About a Boy" is named after a record. Do
you want to talk a little bit about the record you named it after and why?
Mr. HORNBY: Well, yes. It's quite complicated. It turns out it's named
after several records. I thought of the title after the Nirvana song, "About
a Girl." And the book is set at the end of '93, beginning of '94, and Kurt
Cobain's death does feature in it, so it seemed entirely appropriate. And the
boy, as in "About a Boy," I think it could refer to either Marcus or Will.
But then I remembered, actually, I had completely forgotten that Patti Smith
wrote a song called "About a Boy" about Kurt Cobain. So I guess I must have
pinched her title rather than the Nirvana title.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. HORNBY: I really enjoyed it. Thank you.
BOGAEV: Nick Hornby talking with Terry Gross in 1998. His novel "About a
Boy" has been made into a film. It opens today. Hornby's most recent book,
"How To Be Good," is just out in paperback.
I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Cassandra Wilson's album "Belly of the Sun"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Before Cassandra Wilson moved to New York in the 1980s and became one of the
acclaimed jazz singers of our time, she was a guitar-strumming
singer/songwriter back in Jackson, Mississippi. For her new album "Belly of
the Sun," Wilson returned to her home state to soak up some down the Delta
atmosphere and record with a few local musicians. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead
says it's a homecoming in more than one way.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. CASSANDRA WILSON: (Singing) When it's darkness on the Delta that's the
time my heart is light. When it's darkness on the Delta, let me linger in the
shelter of the night. Feels...
KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:
Cassandra Wilson and pianist Boogaloo Ames, with a Mildred Bailey number from
the 1930s. It's the only piano-dominated track on an album thick with
guitars. Wilson recorded most of it in an old train station and boxcar in
Mississippi blues country, a good gimmick if nothing else. Like the
well-hyped debut by fellow Blue Note artist Norah Jones, who sounds like a
sleep-deprived Bonnie Raitt, Wilson's "Belly of the Sun" targets pop buyers
more than hard-line jazz fans. Critic Martin Johnson has made the good point
that Jones' twangy CD reaches out to roots music fans whipped up by the movie
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Some of Wilson's album is cut from the same
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. WILSON: (Singing) You've gotta move. You've gotta move. You've gotta
move, child, you've gotta move. And when the law gets ready, you gotta move.
And when the law...
WHITEHEAD: Besides the old bluesy numbers, Wilson's album has a few of her
own songs, one a winner called "Drunk as Cooter Brown." She also covers tunes
by The Band, Bob Dylan and Glen Campbell, the pop music of the '60s and '70s,
when Wilson was learning guitar and started singing in coffee houses. With
her dusky, contralto voice, she's the most sultry sounding of the modern jazz
singers who ooze their way around a tune, like Diana Krall. But sometimes
Wilson overindulges that side. she sings the weight with a lot less urgency
than The Band's Levon Helm. When Glen Campbell sang Jim Webb's "Wichita
Lineman," he had to reach for the climactic high notes. The soaring melody
gave you an idea of how world looks from the top of a utility pole. Wilson
sings it lower in her range so she doesn't have to reach. But staying closer
to the ground, she misses the view from up there.
(Soundbite of "Wichita Lineman")
Ms. WILSON: (Singing) I hear him singing through the wires. I can hear him
through the wire. But my Wichita lineman is still on the line.
WHITEHEAD: On a typical jazz vocal record, a bossa nova might be a mellow
interlude, but Cassandra Wilson gets so laid back, a Brazilian number makes
her snap to. This is Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March."
(Soundbite of "Waters of March")
Ms. WILSON: (Singing) A spear, a spike, a point, a nail, a drip, a drop, the
end of the tale, a truckload of bricks in the soft morning light, the sound of
a gun in the dead of the night, a mile, a must, a thrust, a bump, it's a girl,
it's a rhyme, it's a cold, it's the mumps. The plan of the house, the body in
bed and the car that got stuck, it's the mud, it's the mud, a float, a drift,
a flight, a wing, a hawk, a quail, the promise of spring and the riverbank
talks of the waters of March, the end of the string, the joy in your heart,
it's the joy in your heart. A snake, a stick...
WHITEHEAD: That's goose-bump good. The wordy lyric gives her no time to
slack off. "Belly of the Sun" reminds me of classic albums Van Morrison made
when Wilson was a teen, like "Astral Weeks" or "Moondance." Morrison also
wrote guitar-based songs with jazzy overtones and liked to stretch a few
syllables putting one over.
In record stores, you'd find Van Morrison under pop, not jazz; lucky for him,
as pop sells way better. If it seems odd that Cassandra Wilson's or Norah
Jones' CD is on Blue Note, the jazz division of mega-mega Capitol Records, you
can take it as a sign that the idea of listening to a jazz singer appeals to
record buyers' sense of sophistication, even if they don't really like
straight-up jazz records. A singer friend of mine also suggests that typing
this music as jazz saves it from the odious tag of adult contemporary music.
Who wants to be seen buying that?
(Soundbite of "Drunk as Cooter Brown")
Ms. WILSON: (Singing) He was drunk as Cooter Brown. Words fell from his
tongue with a slurring, silver sound. He come a-swingin' from the other side
of town. He was drunk as Cooter Brown, and his coat hung 'round his
BOGAEV: Kevin Whitehead writes for the Chicago Reader and the Chicago
Sun-Times. He reviewed "Belly of the Sun," the new CD by Cassandra Wilson.
Coming up, climbing Everest. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Jamling Tenzing Norgay talks about his famous father
and about his own Everest experience
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
My guest Jamling Tenzing Norgay literally followed in his father's footsteps,
which wouldn't be all that remarkable except that these particular footsteps
led all the way to the top of Mt. Everest. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and
Sherpa Tenzing Norgay made the first grueling journey to the summit of the
mountain. In preparation for the 50th anniversary of the ascent, Hillary's
son Peter and Norgay's son Jamling Tenzing Norgay are now on the mountain
filming the National Geographic special "Sons of Everest(ph)." Norgay's own
son Tashi just reached the summit yesterday on a separate expedition. Jamling
Tenzing Norgay summited in 1996. In his memoir, "Touching My Father's Soul,"
he writes of the spiritual significance climbing the world's highest mountain
holds for him and once held for his father.
Mr. JAMLING TENZING NORGAY (Author, "Touching My Father's Soul"): You know,
there's something about it that called him to the mountain all the time, and
ever since he was a small boy, he had dreams of climbing this mountain and,
you know, he was always attracted to it. And in the lectures that I followed
with him and I heard from him, he talked a lot about the experience of
climbing, but when I personally sat down to talk to him, he would not talk to
me too much about the climbing techniques, but more about what the mountain
was, what the mountain meant to him, and those were in all the religious
sense, because, you know, Mt. Everest should be called Chomolungma. And the
deity that resides on Everest, Amyolungsoma(ph), you know, she's the deity
that my father worshiped, and he always, you know, told me, you know, that,
you know, you should always respect the mountains, because they are abode of
the snows where the gods live. And he, I think, had a different view, you
know, just like I do. I learned from him and from other Sherpas about viewing
mountains differently than just another rock.
BOGAEV: Now your father was celebrated around the world after he made it to
the summit with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. He was awarded the George Medal
from the queen of England. You were born 13 years later. How did your
father's fame affect your family life? How did you feel it as a kid?
Mr. NORGAY: Life for us was normal while we went to school in Darjeeling,
because my father lived there; you know, he was just a normal person there.
Being his son, you know, being the son of a famous father--he was away a lot.
We were in boarding school, you know. For 12 years, we were in boarding
school. He traveled a lot.
BOGAEV: This is you, you and your brothers?
Mr. NORGAY: Yes. Yes, me and my two brothers, Norvu(ph) and Damay(ph), and
my sister, Dikin(ph), all of us were in boarding school, so, you know, I
personally didn't have much time to spend with him and, you know, to be with
BOGAEV: So you missed him, as a kid?
Mr. NORGAY: Yes. I think I missed him as a kid and as a young adult, and
just when I was in my teens is when I came to the US to go to school, and then
he passed away before--you know, it was too late to learn anything. And I
think my whole motivation to pursue climbing this mountain was to try to
learn, you know, what I had missed while my father was alive.
BOGAEV: At the time that you were invited to be part of the IMAX filming
expedition, what was your climbing experience? What mountains had you
Mr. NORGAY: I was in the US for almost nine or 10 years, and before that I
had done some climbing in the Sikkim Himalayas, and these are all small
mountains. We call them, you know, trekking peaks, and they can range up to
21,000 to 22,000 feet, from 18,000. And in '92, I did a small expedition, a
solo expedition to do some five summits in Sikkim. And as far as high
altitude, you know, I had not been up above 21,500 or so, and this was my
first high altitude--you know, big mountain.
BOGAEV: Were you afraid that maybe you didn't have the strength or the skill
to make it to the top, given that all the other members of the expedition had
significant experience in high altitudes?
Mr. NORGAY: No. You know, this is something that I felt ever since I was a
boy that I was going to climb Mt. Everest, sooner or later, and I was
confident even when I was at the age of 18, when I asked my father I wanted to
climb this mountain, I was very confident of, you know, getting to the top,
and not because of my strength, but I had faith in myself and in the mountain,
that, you know, I was going to climb this mountain one day. And as far as
being fit for this mountain, you know, I was a Sherpa, you know, by ethnic
group. You know, being a Sherpa and being the son of Tenzing Norgay also I
think gave me a boost that, you know, I have it in my blood to climb this
mountain and to do what my father had done before.
BOGAEV: Do you mean that literally, physiologically?
Mr. NORGAY: Yes. I think we--the Sherpas are believed, you know, to have,
you know, bigger lungs and, you know, we adapt to higher altitudes a lot
faster and, you know, easily than any other humans on the planet here.
BOGAEV: You were offered the position of climbing leader on the expedition.
What were you responsible for?
Mr. NORGAY: Well, my responsibilities--you know, climbing Everest in '96 and
when my father climbed Everest in 1953 were--we had very--it was very similar,
you know, in regard to my father and my role. And my role was to help, you
know, get all the loads up to the higher camps, make sure that all the camps
are well-stocked and the campsites are put up, the fixed ropes are up. You
know, I organize groups of Sherpas who would fix the ropes on the mountain
BOGAEV: These are the ropes that the climbers follow...
Mr. NORGAY: Use, yes.
BOGAEV: ...and use...
Mr. NORGAY: Yes, yes.
BOGAEV: ...and attach their gear to. Mm-hmm.
Mr. NORGAY: Their carabiners. Yes, yes. And I was more of a liaison between
the Sherpas and the members, because, you know, I could speak English and I
can speak Nepali and Sherpa, because sometimes you can get into some
misunderstanding between the members and the Sherpas.
BOGAEV: Now the first really dangerous part of the climb is called the Khumbu
Mr. NORGAY: Yes.
BOGAEV: What makes it so dangerous? And you point out that it's particularly
dangerous for Sherpas carrying loads.
Mr. NORGAY: Yes, yes. Now the Khumbu ice fall is a very--it's almost like a
large river of ice boulders moving, you know, a couple feet a day. And you
never know when these boulders are going to collapse or--it's sort of a
labyrinth, you know. It's ice blocks, and you don't know when one of the
crevasses are going to open or close or, you know, you might be on a ladder
crossing one of the crevasses and all of a sudden if it closes or opens, then
you're in trouble. Or, you know, a boulder falls on you. And it's very
unpredictable in this area, especially in the later part of the day, because
if the sun comes out, you know, ice melts and it gets warmer and there's more
And Sherpas are more--you know, they risk their lives a lot more than anyone
else because they ferry loads up to the high camps, you know, a lot more. I
mean, in one climb or, you know, one climb on Everest, I think on average a
Sherpa goes through the ice fall maybe about 18, 20 times, maybe more, and
whereas a Westerner would probably go up the ice fall maybe, like, four times
or five times at the most. And so that way, you know, the Sherpas, they risk
their lives, you know, a lot more.
BOGAEV: How many times did you pass through it on the 1996 expedition?
Mr. NORGAY: I went through the ice fall maybe about nine or 10 times. And I
did not go through it as much as, you know, the other Sherpas did. And I went
through it with the team members because we were doing the film. We were
filming and, you know, I had to be with them all the time. And it is not
something that I look forward to going through, because every time--you know,
the ice fall would change. If we went through it, you know, today and three
days later, when we go through it again, you know, it'll look a little
different. And so--you know, the ladder's been removed.
And we had a team of Sherpas that maintained the ice fall for two months.
Their sole job was to go up and down the ice fall every morning--there, it was
like 3, 4 in the morning--then go out to make sure that the route was still
safe. If it wasn't, their job was to fix the ice fall and then come back.
BOGAEV: While your team was waiting to summit, at the same time a sudden
storm came up and endangered the lives of another expedition. Eight climbers
lost their lives in that storm.
Mr. NORGAY: Yes.
BOGAEV: The story's told in Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air" and a number
of other books about the trip. At what point did you know that the climbers
making the ascent on May 10th, 1996, were in trouble?
Mr. NORGAY: You know, I think we sensed trouble that afternoon, when we were
looking through the telescope, you know, up on the ridge between the Hillary
Step and the south summit, you could see climbers that were still up there at
about 3:00. You know, they were going for the summit. And immediately David
looked at me--you know, David Breashears and Robert Schauer and Ed
Viestur--you know, we looked at each other and said--you know, the
communication between our eyes was like, `There is going to be trouble.'
Because it was very late, you know, to be up that high on the mountain at that
BOGAEV: Where were you on the mountain?
Mr. NORGAY: We were lower down in Camp II, which is at about 21,000 feet,
21,500 feet. And we can see straight up, you know, on Mt. Everest. And we
noticed that, you know, when people were still climbing at that time, we
wondered what was going on. And we even sort of partly felt that there might
be trouble even the day before, when we saw all these 30-some-odd people going
up towards the last camp, and there were quite a few of them that were
inexperienced and they were very slow.
BOGAEV: I think a lot of people thought in the wake of this that too many
inexperienced climbers can pay a high price and attempt a summit and, in the
process, endanger the lives of guides and also of Sherpas.
Mr. NORGAY: Others, yes, yes.
BOGAEV: What's your perspective on that?
Mr. NORGAY: I feel that if a person wants to endanger their lives, you know,
that is not right. I mean, at least if you want to climb Everest, you should
come there with some experience or have climbed some other mountains. The
commercial teams should screen the climbers before taking them on, you know, a
big mountain and a dangerous mountain like Mt. Everest.
BOGAEV: I think your father attempted Everest seven times. Is it
Mr. NORGAY: Yes.
BOGAEV: ...you wanted to do again?
Mr. NORGAY: Now my father tried, you know, six times and then on the seventh
attempt he finally made it because this is something he wanted to do all his
life. And after the seventh time, when he finally made it, he did not
have--you know, he did not even attempt to climb Everest. And I was very
lucky to have made it on my first attempt, and I don't have any plans to go
back again because, you know, I have completed my goal. You know, I have
fulfilled my dream of following my father's footsteps and being there with
him, and I don't see any reason to go back again because it's done and, you
know, I'm happy with what I have and, you know, what I've learned from, you
know, this mountain.
BOGAEV: Jamling Tenzing Norgay, I want to thank you very much for talking
with me today.
Mr. NORGAY: Well, thank you very much, Barbara.
BOGAEV: Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who accompanied
Sir Edmund Hillary to the top of Mt. Everest. He's currently on the mountain
filming the National Geographic special "Sons of Everest."
Coming up, May sweeps. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Commentary: Television's May ratings sweeps and advice on how to
watch the best parts of simultaneously airing specials on Sunday
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
In television, the May ratings sweeps, the competitive period in which
networks try to attract as many viewers as possible to set advertising rates
for the fall, are just about over. According to our TV critic, David
Bianculli, so is his patience.
This Sunday in prime time, the networks are aiming their biggest guns at one
another in what amounts to a high-stakes game of chicken. CBS is showing its
two-hour finale of "Survivor" which, up until now, always has aired on
Thursdays, and following that with a live "Survivor" reunion special hosted by
Rosie O'Donnell. ABC has a two-hour finale of "The Practice," with Bobby
preparing to defend his own wife, Lindsay, on murder charges. Fox has the
very last episode of "The X-Files" with the return of David Duchovny. It
promises to answer some, though probably not all of the questions that are out
And finally, NBC has "The Cosby Show: A Look Back," the zillionth reunion
special this month, but not the last. Still to come before the sweeps are
over next week, "20 Years of Must See TV," a self-congratulatory NBC special
on Monday, and an ABC special called "That's Incredible: The Reunion." I
know I've complained about this before, but what I find incredible is that
"That's Incredible!," a terrible TV series from the '80s, is having a reunion.
What I also find incredible is that TV can go weeks and even months with
reruns and boring programming, then generate a lot of strong stuff and throw
it all on at the same time on the same night. Sunday presents an especially
tough choice. But in this case, because of the different natures of the
shows, there's a relatively easy way out. Except for "The Practice," which
you can skip now and catch this summer in reruns, watch them all, just not at
the same time.
"The X-Files," even for those fans who gave up on the show years ago, should
be considered home base. That's the show to watch the most, and especially as
it ends in the last few minutes of Sunday's prime time. You want to watch
"Survivor" just before the final hour of prime time begins to see who won and
earlier during any commercial break in "The X-Files" to catch the progress as
the other finalists are eliminated. As for the Cosby reunion, the part not to
miss there is at the very start, when the star takes the stage and does a
short but sweet stand-up act about his very successful TV series.
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. BILL COSBY (Actor): I guess if someone asked what was it about, what is
it about, how did it about, it was because I was confused. When I became a
parent, I had certain thoughts, and things didn't go according to the
thoughts. You would think that a person, having been a child, would
understand how to raise, but it really doesn't work that way. When we put
together a family, the husband, the wife, they start out their lives to become
these great people, and they become great people, and then they ruin it,
decide to have--and then you've got to go through things. You gotta go
through teaching thi--you would think that a young person that you're feeding,
clothing, taking--saving the life of, would believe you every once in a while
when you gave them some information. `Not so,' said the brown turtle.
BIANCULLI: The rest of "The Cosby Show" you can sample, if you follow this,
when nothing's happening on "Survivor" during "The X-Files" commercials.
But is this what it's come to, that we have to watch TV like we're air traffic
controllers, keeping our eyes on lots of different things at the same time?
This condition, though, is purely temporary. And that's what annoys me most
of all. You've seen the ads on TV this month: `Only two more episodes of
this.' `Only one more episode of that.' `Don't miss this because it's the
last show.' `Say goodbye to that.' What the networks really are doing is
hanging out a giant `closed for the summer' sign. After next week, there will
be no more new "West Wing" episodes for four months, no new episodes of "24"
for at least that long and maybe closer to six, and so on.
Instead, the networks already are looking ahead to the fall, and this week,
they just finished unveiling their new schedules and tastes of their new shows
to advertisers. Well, I was there, and based on most of what I saw in New
York this week, it's not gonna be worth the wait. The networks spend all of
May encouraging us to leave for the summer, then most of September trying to
lure us back. It's a stupid way to do business.
Then again, when it takes millions of dollars and dozens of executives to come
up with remakes of "Family Affair" and "The Twilight Zone," maybe it's just a
BOGAEV: David Bianculli is TV critic for The New York Daily News.
BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
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.