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Writer Wendy Swallow

Shes a former staff writer for the Washington Post. Shes written a new memoir about divorce, Breaking Apart: Dreaming of Divorce (Hyperion). She writes about the slow unraveling of her 12 year marriage, and the impact on herself, her husband, and their two sons. She writes, "There are those who believe it is simple selfishness that leads people to divorce. For those of us who have lived it, its hard to see why anyone would rip out their veins for some immature or narcissistic desire to get what they want."


Other segments from the episode on April 17, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 17, 2001: Interview with Wendy Swallow;Review of the television show "The weakest link;" Obituary for Joey Ramone.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Wendy Swallow discusses her divorce and her new memoir,
"Breaking Apart"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, sitting in for Terry Gross.

A few years ago, Wendy Swallow was a staff writer for The Washington Post when
she decided to make her own life the subject of her journalism. The result is
her new memoir "Breaking Apart," about her divorce and the difficulties she
and her ex faced in their attempt to share custody of their two young sons.
Swallow and her ex-husband have been separated for almost nine years. They
were married for 12. When she left her home and went about putting her new
life today, Wendy Swallow found that much of the conventional wisdom she had
heard about divorce just wasn't true. She wrote an article about it for the
Washingtonian Magazine. An editor read the article and encouraged her to
explore it further for a book. Terry spoke with Wendy Swallow recently.
Let's begin with a reading from "Breaking Apart."

Ms. WENDY SWALLOW (Author, "Breaking Apart"): `There are many simple ways to
explain why my marriage didn't work, and over the years, I've probably used
all of them. I was too young and he was too old. He was intense and
spontaneous where I was calm and controlled. His family life was so badly
managed he left home at 16. I came from a family whose wisdom and love
extended their influence over me well into my 30s. He was private and
solitary; I wanted a life dense with family and friends.

He was brilliant; I was not. He was depressed; I was not. He had fought for
all the advantages in his life; I had not. I was lucky; he was not. When we
met, he was 34, a brooding bearded intellectual who had just returned from
living and teaching in Europe for four years. I was 24, just two years out of
college and still trying to figure out who and what I was going to be. Ron
seemed infinitely worldly and interesting, the angry young man who was angry
for all the right reasons. I was just his type: young, pliable, happy,
stable--the perfect young protege, the attractive student at his knee.

We quickly discovered that we shared many interests--literature, politics,
drama and music--and a foundation of common values. To the outside world, we
seemed to fit together like hand and glove, and we did fit together. But over
the years, I found that some of that fit came from long simmering conflicts
inside us, rather than healthy needs.'


And that's Wendy Swallow reading from her new memoir about divorce, "Breaking

You had been thinking about divorce for years before you decided to actually
ask for one. Was there a last straw or a moment that made you say decisively,
`I'm going through with it'?

Ms. SWALLOW: There were several stages. I mean, I had gone to my ex-husband
earlier, about a year and a half before we actually split up, and said, `You
know, I really think that this is not working at all, and I need to get out.'
Or at that point, I think I said, `Let's get some counseling,' and he was put
off by the idea of counseling. I think he felt that it was a path to
splitting up. I mean, I've discovered many men believe this that--I mean, not
all of them, but I've heard this from other men that they were are at first
frightened of marriage counseling because they thought it was, you know, sort
of like getting the coffin out and examining it. So he refused at that point.
About six months later, I come back to him and said, `Look, I'm going to call
a lawyer if we don't go to counseling.' And he said, `OK.'

So we entered counseling. We spent about nine months in counseling. The
counseling is very useful because it really revealed for the first--it sort of
swept away the rubble of that everyday life and revealed the real differences
between us, the sort of permanent, difficult pieces that weren't probably
going to change. And so it was in the process of that counseling that I
finally came to a realization--in fact, at one point, the counselor turned to
me and said sort of privately, `I think you know what you need to do.' And I
went home, I thought, `Oh, my God, somebody just gave me permission.' But it
was helpful to really clarify what I was dealing with.

GROSS: What were some of those differences that you felt would never change?

Ms. SWALLOW: I think in some ways my ex-husband didn't want to be married,
and we had a fascinating conversation about four years after we split up where
we sat around one night on his porch and drank some brandy and I said, `You
know, I used to feel like I was an annoyance in the house, just by being in
the house, I irritated you.' And he said, `Yeah, actually, you did.' He
said, `You know, but it wasn't you.' He said, `Actually, you know, it would
have been anybody.' And I think in many ways he has--I think it's a challenge
for him.

He gets a lot of energy from people, but he also likes his privacy. He's very
intellectual. He loves to read. He likes his quiet. I mean, there were many
things that I did just by being another person in the house that annoyed him,
but it made me feel as if I didn't have the right to live in my own house,
which it's not a very easy way to go through life, feeling that you, you know,
can't call your mother on the phone because that will irritate someone. And I
just think that we had very different living styles that made me feel as if I
had to constantly pull in my wings and sort of tiptoe around. And that was
difficult. He also struggled with depression. He struggled with his temper,
and that was corrosive over time. It's hard to rebuild a marriage that's
suffered a lot of that.

GROSS: What kind of problems did his depression pose for you?

Ms. SWALLOW: Well, it was mostly that his depression was laced with anxiety

GROSS: Anger?

Ms. SWALLOW: ...anger. And I began to see over time that the anger was
rooted in anxiety, which made me more sympathetic to it, but I still didn't
want to live with it. You know, I didn't blame him, but I still didn't want
to be around it sometimes. And so, you know, it meant things like, you know,
we didn't take as many risks as I thought we should. I mean, every now and
then, if I was--every time I tried to make a job shift, he would counsel me,
you know, not to do it, not to be too ambitious, that, `You're not ready for
that yet.' And I found over time that I just couldn't, you know, sort of
confer with him on these things, that I needed to do what I felt I needed to
do for my career even though it would make him nervous 'cause he'd be afraid
I'd, you know, get fired or lose a job or something.

GROSS: You were aware that there were serious problems in your marriage at
the time that you decided to have children, and you say in your memoir that
all your friends asked you, `Why you were having children if there's problems
in your marriage.' So let me ask you, too. Why did you decide to go forward
consciously with having children knowing that there were such serious marital

Ms. SWALLOW: Well, the more serious marital problems really manifested more
between the kids and then after our second was born. And I think when we had
our first child, we were still--you know, he had only been in counseling for a
couple of years. I think I was still very hopeful that counseling for him
would make a really substantial difference, that he would change in a radical
way. And, you know, I believed that it would cure him on some level. And I
think that was naivete. You know, I didn't really know what to look forward
to. And I also thought that medication would help. You know, that has helped
to some degree but, you know, he was in his 40s and, you know, I think that
when people are older, it's harder, you know, to have really, you know, a
complete personality change at that age. But I was still very hopeful. I was
still very optimistic.

And I think that--there's a part of the book where I talk about it's very
difficult to live your entire life sort of on hold as if you might get
divorced any minute. You really can't live that way. You continue with your
life. I mean--and all kinds of couples I've seen, you know, they schedule a
complete kitchen renovation and then in the middle of it get divorced. It's,
like, you didn't know two months ago that you were on the verge of divorce?
Well, it's hard to pick that point at which you stop trying, because most
couples I think try. They try desperately until it gets to the breaking
point. And so you try almost everything. And I think in some ways, you know,
we were ready to have kids. We both very much wanted children. I'd had one
miscarriage. You know, I was getting a little worried that I might not be
able to have children if I waited too much longer. And I wasn't ready to get
divorced at the point I had my first son.

Then after I had him, just the power shifted. The power of the relationship
in our marriage shifted fairly considerably after I had my first child because
I began to sort of assert my own opinion and power much more in the
relationship. And that made the relationship more difficult. And then we had
our second fairly quickly, partly because it made sense for me to career-wise
to have them close together. And that ultimately proved to be a good
thing--they're very close--but once we had the second child, then a lot of
things escalated.

BOGAEV: Wendy Swallow speaking with Terry Gross. Swallow's new memoir about
divorce is called "Breaking Apart." We'll hear more after a break. This is


BOGAEV: If you're just joining us, we're featuring Terry Gross' interview
with writer Wendy Swallow. Her new memoir of divorce is "Breaking Apart."

GROSS: You write that there was a period in your life where you started to
imagine that the man who was your husband was dead and it seemed like this was
a way of not having to decide to divorce...

Ms. SWALLOW: Right.

GROSS: ...that actually going through with the divorce seemed so hard and so
something that you really didn't want to go through with, that if he had just
kind of died, it would have made it possible for you not to go through this
terribly painful divorce. It's such a bizarre way of thinking, though.

Ms. SWALLOW: It was, and that scared the daylights out of me that I would
think that. I've since discovered that a lot of divorced people went through
a period of wishing that their spouse would die. It's just--you know, fate
takes over. It's not your fault anymore. And I think that that was part of
it, was that I didn't want to be the bad girl. I'd always been a pretty good
girl. I'd been--you know, I'd done everything everyone told me to do. And I
think on some level when you have children and you create a family, you sort
of makes this--you know, it's almost like this contract with society, and
including my parents. I felt like I was failing everyone, that if I couldn't
make my family work, then I had really screwed up and I was a failure as a
person in ways that--you know, in much more substantive ways than I'd ever
failed at anything before. I mean, it just didn't even come close to anything
else before.

And so it was much easier to fantasize about, `Oh, well, maybe some miracle
will happen, and he'll just drop dead one day.' But then I would sit there
and look at myself--`What kind of person was this who would sit there and wish

The irony, too, was I knew in my heart that it was not what my kids needed,
for their dad to die. And so that was a brief period. It was one of those
moments when I realized that the divorce was making me--that the conflict
around this divorce was making me into someone that I didn't want to be, and
that, you know, I didn't like this person that was emerging, and that I needed
to sort of get a handle on things and myself to be able to make sure I could
live my life as someone I would be proud to be.

GROSS: Were you ever surprised that it was you who was asking for the
divorce? Because after all, one of the problems you had in your marriage was
that the man who was your husband seemed to be irritated by your presence. He
had such a need for privacy and for quiet so he could read, which you would
have, I'm sure, interpreted as him having a problem with you. But it was you
who was asking for the divorce. Were you surprised that it was you and not

Ms. SWALLOW: Oh, yeah, a little bit. I think I for years thought he might
divorce me. And I--but then as--I think now that I look back on it, you know,
he really--I think on some level he was willing to live with our lives the way
they were more than I was, and that--I'm not sure he had a sort of paradigm of
a happier place in his head. I'd had a quite happy childhood. I had--my
parents had a very happy, stable marriage, very supportive marriage. And I
still wanted that. I had that in my mind as, you know, the thing that I
couldn't manage to achieve somehow. And so I think ultimately, you know, it
took an enormous amount of courage to actually do it. And not that he lacked
that courage. I just think that he didn't think divorce would make things
better, and so why tear it all apart and why hurt the kids that way?

GROSS: When you told the man who was your husband that you wanted to divorce,
did he promise to change?

Ms. SWALLOW: Not at that point. He had promised to change earlier, and it
had never really happened. There was a point in the first six months after
our separation when we were--`fighting' is maybe too strong a word, but we
were in conflict over the custody arrangement for the kids, and I said, `You
know, if you don't learn to manage your anger, it's really not--you know,
you're going to lose these boys the way you lost me.' And he got that, and he
worked really hard after that on changing and he did change. And it was
interesting to see it happen. But he didn't do it for me, he did it for them.

GROSS: What was it like when you decided to go ahead with your divorce?
Things were moving forward, but you were still living together.

Ms. SWALLOW: Well, that was the worst period. It was--I think of it as this
demilitarized zone. You know, we--on some level, we were both, I think,
relieved that we knew what was happening, but, you know, we hadn't told the
kids yet. They were only three and five, so, you know, you don't want to tell
them, `Well, in three months, Mommy's moving out.'

We also--we hadn't settled the custody issue yet, and we weren't sure who was
moving out. At first, he said he would move out, and he even put a deposit on
an apartment and things like that. And then he was advised by his lawyer not
to move out so that it wouldn't weaken his bid for joint custody. And so
suddenly I realized nothing was moving. It was a very difficult period. And
so then I mobilized and moved out myself.

GROSS: What kind of custody arrangement did you work out?

Ms. SWALLOW: We actually worked out a 50-50 split. And at first--the first
year, we had a week on and a week off. The problem was that there were much
too young, particularly the three-year-old, to be able to cope with being away
from the other parent for a whole week. And the worst moment was the
first--when I moved out, I actually took the boys with me for that week and
the next week, though, when they went back to their dad's, I went up--I
actually had the right--I guess I had them one night in the middle of the
week, and so I went to his day-care center--I hadn't seen him since Sunday,
and it was a Wednesday--and he came running up to the fence in the playground
and he looked at me, he goes, `Mom, you came back.' Well, I had been telling
this child non-stop that I would be back. I would see him on Wednesday. I
showed him on the calendar. I did everything all the books said to do.

And I was talking to a psychologist about this later, and I said, `You know,
it was if he thought I'd gone to the moon.' And she looked at me, she goes,
`No, he didn't think you went to the moon. He thought you died.' Well, the
thought that my three-year-old son spent several days thinking Mommy had
totally disappeared and probably died was so overwhelming it was just awful.
I think shortly thereafter we decided to split the week so that the kids would
only be away from each of us for about three days. And that was much better.
We still do that, in fact.

GROSS: What was it like for the kids to have to switch homes every couple of

Ms. SWALLOW: Well, a lot of people will tell you that that's very damaging.
And I think the problem--you know, the reason why custody is such a painful,
difficult, difficult issue is that there's no good solution to it. And once a
couple splits, there is no good solution. So you look at, you know, what does
the least damage. I truly believe now, from having watched my own children,
that losing significant time with either parent is damaging, is truly
damaging. But moving back and forth between houses is--it's logistically a
bit of a headache, but that's something the kids adapt to better than not
having a relationship with one parent, or with either parent.

So my kids have bounced back and forth fairly easily. They--when they were
younger, we transferred a lot more stuff back and forth. Now that they're
older, they don't need to bring the same stuffed animals--I mean, they're
beyond stuffed animals now, but--now they--sometimes I almost feel like
they're a little relieved. You know, like, they get to leave Mommy's house
before she actually made them clean their bedroom up, you know. They get to
sort of escape to Dad's.

GROSS: When you divorce and you have children, you still have to be partners
in parenting. So you've said goodbye to your husband. He's now your
ex-husband. But you still have a relationship through your children. And you
still have to do planning together and working things out together. Is that
difficult for you?

Ms. SWALLOW: Well, it's very difficult at the beginning, and I think that
many couples never get beyond that point. You know, to tear apart a marriage
almost necessitates, you know, anger and bitterness. I mean, to actually make
the break, it's very difficult. There are so many unconscious bonds in
marriage that you really don't recognize until you start to unravel them. So
you know, many couples come out, you know, in this very embittered, angry

And yet, if you're co-parenting, you really need to start to work together.
And I think what we finally came to--we hired a psychologist who worked with
us, and she was really great at identifying what--you know, what would work
and what not to try that we finally came to think of it as a businesslike
arrangement. I mean, we had--we weren't adversaries in our goal to raise our
children. I mean, the irony here is that it would be terrible if my
ex-husband died. I mean, he's the only other person on the planet who cares
about my children the way I do, and will, you know, do anything for them and
think of their needs first. And we came to recognize that that was a very
powerful bond.

And so--but it took translating that into little acts. And this is, I think,
where it's both challenging, but ultimately rewarding. I mean, every time I
talk to a teacher about one of the kids, I either e-mail him or call my
ex-husband up and say, `I just wanted to share this with you. This is what's
happening in the kindergarten class.' And we had to really operate in a way
that almost every societal model said wouldn't work, which was to continue to
have, you know, daily conversations. And it was difficult at first, but in
time, it really started to pay off. And so I think we both, fairly quickly,
came to recognize that, you know, we could make a huge difference in the way
our kids experience this divorce by the way that we work together. And that
was the single most important thing that we focused on for several years.

BOGAEV: Wendy Swallow's new memoir is called "Breaking Apart." We'll hear
more of her conversation with Terry Gross in the second half of our show. I'm
Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Coming up, the slow progress towards divorce. We continue our
conversation with Wendy Swallow, author of a new memoir about the end of her

Also, we remember punk rocker Joey Ramone, who died Sunday at the age of 49.
And David Bianculli reviews last night's premiere of "The Weakest Link."

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

Let's return now to Terry's interview with Wendy Swallow, a former staff
writer for The Washington Post. Swallow has come out with a memoir of her
divorce, called "Breaking Apart." She and her husband ended their marriage
after 12 years. They've now been apart for nine.

GROSS: I think your divorce took about five years to go through. Do I have
that right?

Ms. SWALLOW: Well, yes. I mean, we made quite a bit of progress in the
first couple of years. And then some of that time, about a year and a half of
it, in fact, was just slow legal machine. You know, it took months to get on
the docket in DC. And when we did, it turned out that the judge didn't think
we were even legally married, so we had to go back and get the right marriage
license, which was sort of strange, and then come back three months later. So
about the last year and a half we were pretty much ready. But some of that
time was settling the financial piece, which was hard because we didn't have a
lot. I mean, we had our pensions and we had a house, and that was pretty much
it. So it was difficult to split that up.

What finally worked for us was the mediators that we worked with through the
DC Superior Court, who were just wonderful; really helped us see that our
needs were different. Because he was 10 years older than I was, he was much
more concerned about preserving his retirement funds, where I was more
concerned about having money, you know, immediately. I mean, the poorest
years of my life will turn out to be, probably, the three years after I
separated. And so I was struggling with, you know, not being able to, you
know, get the car fixed.

And so we were able to--once we sort of recognized that our needs were
different, we were able to sort of horse trade stuff back and forth in a kind
of creative manner and we finally, you know, came up with something that
really, really had the goal of both of us coming out whole. I mean, we both
wanted to be able to reinvest in real estate. We both wanted to be able to
take vacations. And we both wanted, you know, to be stable in our jobs. And
we made that a commitment in our agreement was that we would honor and respect
our career needs, you know, 'cause we knew that having both of us work was an
important piece of supporting the boys financially. So it wasn't motivated
by, `Well, I'll make him pay for that,' you know. There was a lot of give and
take. And, ultimately, that was easier because we both, I think, came to
believe that it was really about supporting the kids, that neither one of us
were going to spend a lot of money on ourselves. So that made it easier.

GROSS: So you liked the experience of having a mediator?

Ms. SWALLOW: The mediators were terrific, yes. What worked was two
mediators, in fact. We tried one mediator, and that didn't seem to work at
all. But the two mediators we worked with, one was a former social worker and
one was a former lawyer. They were both sort of somewhat retired, the lawyer
in particular. But the nice thing was that one was male, one was female. And
they were very good at helping us see possibilities we couldn't imagine. And
they would listen to us each individually, listen to us together. They set
ground rules for the discussion. So, you know, there was no swearing, there
was no--and you know, they would cut it off if somebody, you know, tripped
over that line. And so I felt safe--I came to feel safe in that environment.

I always thought that mediation wouldn't work for us because my ex-husband had
studied--he was a political scientist, particularly his expertise was in labor
union work. And so, you know, he's a pretty clever negotiator, basically. I
mean, he understood a lot about negotiation that I did not. And so I always
thought, `Oh, if we go to a mediator, I'll just end up with nothing.' But the
mediators had a fairness model in mind that they never let go of, and that
helped protect me in the process. And I also learned how to speak up and say,
`Sorry, that's not fair and that's not what the law says I'm entitled to.'
And, you know, I learned how to speak up for my rights better in the process.

GROSS: You're about to get married. Can you tell us a little bit about the
man you're marrying now, or how you met him?

Ms. SWALLOW: Well, the interesting thing was, when I first wrote about--this
book grew out of an article I wrote for Washingtonian magazine, which was a
first-person piece about divorce. And the man I'm going to marry called me up
after the story ran. That's how I actually met him. And he and about, you
know, 10 to 15 other single dads in the Washington area either wrote me or
sent me letters, pictures of them and their kids. And I think there's a real
hunger out there, among single dads, to meet someone who, I think, understands
what they've been through. And I think that's part of what was attractive
about me in the article. We also have a joke between us that those personal
ads in the back of Washingtonian that are, you know, only 30 words, that
that's just not long enough. You know, if you have 3,000 words, you can
really make a case for yourself. But I had no idea that I was doing that when
I wrote the article.

GROSS: Well, you didn't think of yourself as doing that.

Ms. SWALLOW: No, I didn't, but...

GROSS: Well, I'm surprised it...

Ms. SWALLOW: worked.

GROSS: I'm actually surprised you followed up and met one or more of the
people who wrote you because, I mean, I think a lot of people would have the
opposite reaction and not want to meet somebody who was asking them out on a
date, basically, you know, through the mail.

Ms. SWALLOW: Well, of course, none of them ever...

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

Ms. SWALLOW: Yeah, but none of them made it sound like it was a date. The
other thing, too, is there's some sort of solidarity among divorced people,
particularly single parents. I mean, there's an instant sort of
understanding, you know, about a lot of things in your life.

The other benefit was both he and I, the man I'm marrying, had worked at The
Washington Post. And, in fact, we'd only missed each other by a couple of
months. I had--he came to work there shortly after I left. And so we had a
lot of friends in common at the newspaper. And it was--he liked the same
people that I liked and respected. And so I knew, from that first
conversation, that he had to be a pretty good guy if these people were close
to him. And, in fact, before I actually met him for lunch, I called several
of them and they said, `Oh, he's a wonderful man. A wonderful man.'

So I thought--it was funny. At the time I thought that the irony was I had
just bought my house. Literally, I had been in the house three days, and I
needed to go to Home Depot 'cause I didn't have any mini-blinds or anything on
the windows. And I had sworn to my realtor when I bought the house that I
would not move until the kids were done with high school because she thought I
had paid a little bit too much for it. I said, `No, I'm not going anywhere.
This is it. I've given up.' You know, I'd been out of my marriage for about
six, seven years. And three days after I move in, he calls. And within a
month or two, we knew we would probably get married. But that was several
years ago. We've taken it slow.

GROSS: So are you selling your house now?

Ms. SWALLOW: Yes, now I'm selling my house. But the market's gone up, so
it's OK.

GROSS: Well, I wish you very good luck in your new marriage.

Ms. SWALLOW: Oh, thank you.

GROSS: Thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. SWALLOW: Well, it was a pleasure, Terry. Thank you.

BOGAEV: Wendy Swallow is the author of "Breaking Apart: A Memoir of

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Analysis: New collection of poems and lyrics by Paul McCartney
to be published next week

A new collection of poems and lyrics by Paul McCartney will be published next
week. It's called "Blackbird Singing." Terry Gross recently recorded an
interview with McCartney which will air soon. Many of the poems were inspired
by McCartney's late wife, Linda McCartney, and by the late Ivan Vaughan, a
schoolboy friend who introduced Paul McCartney to John Lennon. One lyric
featured in the collection is for McCartney's song, "Blackbird," from The
Beatles "White Album."

(Soundbite from "Blackbird")

Mr. PAUL McCARTNEY (Musician): Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take
these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for
this moment to arise. Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these
sunken eyes and learn to see. All your life, you were only waiting for this
moment to be free.

THE BEATLES: Blackbird, fly. Blackbird, fly into the light of a dark black
night. Blackbird, fly. Blackbird, fly into the light of a dark black night.

Mr. McCARTNEY: Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken
wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment
to arrive. You were only waiting for this moment to arrive. You were only
waiting for this moment to arrive.

(End of soundbite)

"Blackbird Singing." Paul McCartney's collection of poems and lyrics comes
out next week. Terry Gross will speak with McCartney on an upcoming edition

Coming up, you are "The Weakest Link." This is FRESH AIR

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Review: New TV shows "Chains of Love" and "The Weakest Link"

Network television's eagerness to try almost anything when it comes to quiz
and reality shows continues in full force this week. Last night, NBC
premiered the quiz show "The Weakest Link." Another episode airs tonight.
Also tonight, UPN unveils "Chains of Love," a so-called reality show about
four people chained to one person of the opposite sex. TV critic David
Bianculli has this review.


It's easy to identify the missing link between "Chains of Love," the awful new
series from UPN, and "The Weakest Link," the delightful new series from NBC.
For both of them, we can thank ABC and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." When
that show hit two summers ago, it changed all the rules of prime-time TV.
CBS, the following summer, tried "Survivor," and the rules changed even more.
Networks tried, and mostly failed, to come up with another popular quiz show.
Instead, we got junk like the Fox series, "Greed." And networks tried, and
mostly succeeded, to come up with other popular reality shows, so we got junk
like the Fox series "Temptation Island" and "Boot Camp."

ABC thought it had the next big quiz show in "Mastermind," which, like
"Millionaire," was based on a British game show from the same production
company. The problem with "Mastermind," and the reason ABC ultimately passed
on it, was that the show and its contestants were too smart. Forget about
viewers at home playing along by knowing the answers; it was tough enough just
trying to understand the questions.

"The Weakest Link," on the other hand, is a perfect melding of the
not-too-tough questions of "Millionaire," and `The tribe has spoken,'
rejection process of "Survivor." The game starts with eight contestants, all
of whom try to pool prize money into an every-growing pot by answering
questions correctly. After each lightning-fast round of questions, the
participants get to vote someone out of the game, until the last two players
compete in a winner-take-all final round. The game is ruthless, just like its
host, Anne Robinson, whom NBC wisely imported straight from the original
British version.

(Soundbite from "The Weakest Link")

Ms. ANNE ROBINSON (Host, "The Weakest Link"): Marcus, what is the two-word
motto for the Boy Scouts of America?

MARCUS (Contestant): Always faithful.

Ms. ROBINSON: Be prepared.

Kiera, which Nobel Prize winner did Time magazine name Person of the Century?

KIERA (Contestant): Nelson Mandela.

Ms. ROBINSON: Albert Einstein.

Karen, which delivery company is famous for the slogan, `When it absolutely,
positively has to be there overnight'?

KAREN (Contestant): FedEx.

Ms. ROBINSON: Correct.

John, which O is the Japanese art of decorative paper folding?

JOHN (Contestant): Origami.

Ms. ROBINSON: Correct.

Renee, in science, which 15th-century Polish astronomer was the first to
suggest that Earth orbits the sun?

RENEE (Contestant): Galileo.

Ms. ROBINSON: Time is up. The correct answer is Copernicus. And out of a
possible $125,000, team, in that round, you banked a miserable, depressing,
pathetic $7,500. That money will, however, go through to the next round, but
one of you will not. Who is keeping you out of the upper tax bracket? One of
you is about to leave with nothing. It's time to vote off "The Weakest Link."

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: "The Weakest Link," like "Millionaire," is instantly addictive:
just fast enough, just smart enough, just mean enough. NBC, far behind in the
quiz and reality genre, finally has a winner, and knows it, which is why "The
Weakest Link" is being sprinkled across the prime-time schedule all this week.

NBC also knows a loser when it sees one, which is why, after starting to
develop "Chains of Love," it dropped the show like a cold potato. The premise
has one person chained to four people of the opposite sex, set up for the
duration in a special apartment and given the power to reject one of them at
regular intervals until only one contestant is left. It's supposed to be a
combination of "The Real World," "Survivor" and "The Defiant Ones." But what
it is is horrendous. But when NBC dumped the concept as too tacky, UPN, the
home of "WWF SmackDown!," was ready and eager to lap up the table scraps. The
attitude at UPN had to be `Too tasteless and low-rent for NBC? Where do we
sign?' And watch out, because here it comes.

(Soundbite from "Chains of Love")

Unidentified Woman #1: A distant bell summons the group into the ritual room
where the chaining ceremony will begin.

Unidentified Woman #2: Great.

Unidentified Woman #1: In a few minutes, you are all going to be chained
together, and you will stay that way 24 hours a day for several days.

Andy, there are going to be certain times when you must choose which of these
women you want to release from the chain. You will know when those times come
when you meet the locksmith. The locksmith carries a key to your chain and
$10,000 cash. Andy, when you release each woman, you must decide how much of
that money you feel that woman deserves.

Now can you all please stand?

Andy, on your way over here, you opened up...

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: That's enough of that. It'd be accurate to call "Chains of Love"
the worst reality show to emerge since the arrival of "Millionaire" and
"Survivor," but that's being a little premature and optimistic. There are so
many more of these shows in development that I'm afraid we ain't seen nothing

BOGAEV: David Bianculli is TV critic for The New York Daily News.

(Soundbite from "Chain of Fools")

Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): Chain, chain, chain.

Unidentified Chorus: Chain, chain, chain.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Chain, chain, chain.

Unidentified Chorus: Chain, chain, chain.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Chain, chain, chain.

Unidentified Chorus: Chain, chain, chain.

Ms. FRANKLIN and Chorus: Chain of fools.

Ms. FRANKLIN: My problem is, I thought you were my man. But I found out
love, I'm just a link in your chain. Oh, you got me where you want me. I
ain't nothing but your fool. You treated me mean. Oh, oh, you treated me

Chain, chain, chain.

Unidentified Chorus: Chain, chain, chain.

Ms. FRANKLIN and Chorus: Chain of fools.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Every chain has got a weak link. I might be weak, child, but
I feel the strain. Oh, yeah.

Unidentified Chorus: Who. Who. Who. Who. Who. Who. Who. Who. Who.
Who. Who. Who. Who. Who. Who. Who.

Ms. FRANKLIN: You told me leave you alone. My father says come on home. My
doctor says take it easy 'cause your loving is much too strong. I made it to

Chain, chain, chain.

Unidentified Chorus: Chain, chain, chain.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Chain, chain, chain.

Unidentified Chorus: Chain, chain, chain.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Chain, chain, chain.

BOGAEV: Aretha Franklin recorded in 1967. Coming up we remember Joey Ramone.
This is FRESH AIR.

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

Interview: Joey Ramone discusses his musical career
(Soundbite from "I Wanna Be Sedated")

THE RAMONES: Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go, I wanna be sedated.
Nothin' to do. Nowhere to go. I wanna be sedated. Just get me to the
airport and put me on a plane. Hurry, hurry, hurry before I go insane. I
can't control my fingers. I can't control my brain. Oh no, oh ho, oh ho.
Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go. I wanna be sedated. Nothin' to do.
Nowhere to go. I wanna be sedated. Just put me in a wheelchair and get me on
a plane. Hurry, hurry, hurry before I go insane. I can't control my fingers.
I can't control my brain. Oh no, oh ho, oh ho.

(End of soundbite)


Joey Ramone, founder and lead singer for the pioneer punk rock band The
Ramones, died Sunday, at the age of 49, of lymphatic cancer. He had battled
the disease for six years. In 22 years performing together, The Ramones
influenced such British groups as the Sex Pistols, the Clash, later Nirvana
and U2.

As a drummer turned front man, Joey Ramone was the central personality of the
band. Gangly and hawk-nosed with his raw voice, black leather and massive
frizzy dark hair, he made ungainliness irresistibly hip. After The Ramones
disbanded in 1996, Joey Ramone continued to perform occasionally with his
brother, Mickey Leigh, and others. Terry spoke with him, in 1988, about his
years with The Ramones.

(Soundbite from interview)


The band sounded really radical and alien, different when it started. But I
would think that, in a lot of ways, you really saw yourself, when you started,
as being more related to the roots of rock 'n' roll than a lot of the, quote,
"progressive rock" of the time.

Mr. JOEY RAMONE (The Ramones): Yeah, well, that's what we're reacting
against. Rock 'n' roll wasn't rock 'n' roll anymore. I mean, it was fused
with all kinds of things. I mean, albums became six cuts. You know, like you
wouldn't hear songs anymore. They were nonexistent. They were like all kinds
of jams and guitar solos and total cliche pretentiousness. I mean, rock 'n'
roll was always simple and exciting and pure and from the guts. And you could
listen to Buddy Holly or Elvis Presley or The Beatles or The Stones or The
Who. I mean, that was exciting music. That was exciting rock 'n' roll music.
I mean, you know, what happened to it--it just didn't ex--it was a void. You
know what I mean?

GROSS: So you were playing really short songs, songs under three minutes...

Mr. RAMONE: Well...

GROSS: ...with...

Mr. RAMONE: ...the songs we grew up on that, you know, was rock 'n' roll
music, were three-minute songs, you know, I mean, whether it be The Beatles or
The Stones or The Kinks or Who or, you know, the American bands, you know,
Phil Spector. You know, songs were meant to be short, you know. They weren't
supposed to go on for hours, you know.

(Soundbite from "Pinhead")

THE RAMONES: I don't wanna be a pinhead no more. I just met a nurse that I
could go for. I don't wanna be a pinhead no more. I just met a nurse that I
could go for.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: A lot of your songs were basically two, three or four chords with a
real thrashing rhythm. And I was wondering if the musicians in the band just
played a few chords because that's all they could play, or it's because they

Mr. RAMONE: Well, that's...

GROSS: ...or was it all they wanted?

Mr. RAMONE: Well, that's--well...

GROSS: Or does it not matter to you?

Mr. RAMONE: No, because you're wrong there. I mean, yeah, a lot of the
songs were like three or four chords, but then, if you listen to Buddy Holly
or Elvis Presley or Little Richard, those songs are three chords, too. You
know what I mean? So you know, I don't...

GROSS: Uh-huh. Yeah.

Mr. RAMONE: So, you know, I don't understand what people are saying, you
know, I mean, that rock 'n' roll was always simplistic. And that's where the
intensity is. I mean, it's like short and simple and exciting and
spontaneous. That's what rock 'n' roll is, spontaneity.

GROSS: You started out playing at CBGBs, the club in New York that became
known as the center of the punk scene in the mid-'70s. What were the initial
reactions The Ramones got when they first started to play there?

Mr. RAMONE: Well, our first audience there were Hilly Kristal, who is the
proprietor, the bartender and his dog. Those were the first people who came
to see us because CBGBs was a slum bar that nobody would come to. And they
came too much later, you know. It was like word of mouth in the beginning,
you know? And then we got the Warhol crowd, you know, because the gays were
always the first to pick up on things.

GROSS: When the word `punk' was coined to describe the kind of music you and
other bands were playing, what did you think of the word of punk rock?

Mr. RAMONE: Well, we got tagged punk rock. We always considered ourselves
rock 'n' roll, you know. And to me, like my feelings about the term `punk,'
punk is like an attitude. And, like, some people are punks and some people
aren't, you know. And it's really a state of being the term punk. I mean,
Elvis Presley was a punk, Jim Morrison was a punk, Iggy Pop is a punk, you
know? Mick Jagger. So if you're going to call us punk, I mean, no I'm not
going to mind. I mean, I think John F. Kennedy was a punk, you know?

GROSS: When you first started singing songs like "Teenage Lobotomy," I think
you were no longer a teen-ager. You were probably in your early 20s when that
came out? And I guess I was curious about singing and writing so many songs
with teen-age-type lyrics, yet not really being in your teens any longer?

Mr. RAMONE: Well, it's all state of mind, isn't it? I don't get old. I
decided I wasn't going to get old, and I'm still the same.

GROSS: As you pointed out, when The Ramones started to play, the music
sounded really radical. Well, how does it sound now? Do you think it still
sounds alien? Does it sound different? Does it sound more pop than it used

Mr. RAMONE: No, it's more radical now than it ever was before, but there's
other forms of music now that didn't exist then, like speed metal or thrash
metal. See, like, The Ramones, we like songs. We're song orientated. And
bands like Anthrax and Metallica and Megadeth and, you know, whoever, I

GROSS: Do you like their music?

Mr. RAMONE: Yeah. I think they're great. I mean, I really like them because
I like their attitude.

(End of soundbite)

BOGAEV: Joey Ramone, from a 1988 interview. He died Sunday at the age of 49.


BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

(Soundbite of song)

THE RAMONES: Go! Well, the kids are all hopped up and ready to go. They're
ready to go now. They got their surfboards and they're going to the
discotheque. Ah, go, go. But she just couldn't stay. She had to break away.
Well, New York City really has is all, oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Sheena is a punk
rocker. Sheena is a punk rocker. Sheena is a punk rocker now. Sheena is a
punk rocker. Sheena is a punk rocker. Sheena is a punk rocker now. Well,
she's a punk, punk, a punk rocker. Punk, punk, a punk rocker. Ooh, a punk,
punk, a punk rocker. Punk, punk, a punk rocker.

Well, the kids are all hopped up and ready to go. They're ready to go now.
They got their surfboards and they're going to....
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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