Fresh Air

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  • Hosted by Terry Gross

Opening the window on contemporary arts and issues with guests from worlds as diverse as literature and economics.

Fresh Air's Terry Gross
Credit Will Ryan

Terry Gross hosts this multi-award-winning daily interview and features program. The veteran public radio interviewer is known for her extraordinary ability to engage guests of all dispositions.

This interview was originally broadcast on Nov. 8, 2005.

When Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg were working on the film Lincoln, they had many conversations with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Her book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, is about Lincoln's relationship with his cabinet. Both her book and the film showcase Lincoln's remarkable political skills.

It seems that every time you turn around, you find another anniversary of some big cultural or historical event. I'm weary of the media's habit of playing all these things up, so I'm abashed to admit I'm about to do just that.

But you see, in the same three-day period I recently saw the new James Bond picture, Skyfall, and Crossfire Hurricane, a new HBO documentary about The Rolling Stones. And because the Bond movies and the Stones both turn 50 this year, I began thinking about how they might fit together.

Tony Kushner spent years writing the screenplay for Steven Spielberg's film Lincoln, but that wasn't the only heavy lifting he had to do. It also took some effort to overcome Daniel Day-Lewis' reluctance to play the title role.

"I wanted to write to him and say, 'Daniel, apart from the fact that you're like one of the greatest actors ever, look in the mirror. God is trying to tell you something — you look like Abraham Lincoln!" Kushner tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies.

In 2009, Susannah Cahalan was a healthy 24-year-old reporter for the New York Post, when she began to experience numbness, paranoia, sensitivity to light and erratic behavior. Grasping for an answer, Cahalan asked herself as it was happening, "Am I just bad at my job — is that why? Is the pressure of it getting to me? Is it a new relationship?"

But Cahalan only got worse — she began to experience seizures, hallucinations, increasingly psychotic behavior and even catatonia. Her symptoms frightened family members and baffled a series of doctors.

Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth is that oddest of literary achievements: an ingenious novel that I compulsively read, intellectually admired and increasingly hated. By the time I got to McEwan's last sneer of a plot twist, I felt that reading Sweet Tooth is the closest I ever want to come to the experience of watching a snuff film. Think that's harsh? Open up Sweet Tooth and find out what McEwan thinks of you, Dear Reader, particularly if you're a woman, as most readers of fiction are.

Jamey Johnson, one of the most popular country singers of recent years, has just released an album titled Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran.

When reporter Tony Dokoupil was a teenager, he found out that his father had sold marijuana, but he just thought his parents "were hippies." A few years ago, while working on a story about his father's drug dealer past, he discovered that actually, in the 1970s and '80s, his father, Anthony Dokoupil, had been a big-time marijuana smuggler.

"He was arrested in the early '90s on a job selling 17 tons of marijuana," Dokoupil tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "which was enough at the time to roll a joint for every college kid in the U.S."

When Andrew Solomon started his family with his husband, John Habich, he says, people were surprised that he wasn't afraid to have children, given the topic of the book he was writing. That book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, explores what it's like for parents of children who are profoundly different or likely to be stigmatized — children with Down syndrome, deafness, autism, dwarfism, or who are prodigies, become criminals, or are conceived in rape.

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

This interview was originally broadcast on Nov. 1, 2011. Don't Shoot is now out in paperback.

In 1985, David M. Kennedy visited Nickerson Gardens, a public housing complex in south-central Los Angeles. It was the beginning of the crack epidemic, and Nickerson Gardens was located in what was then one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America.

Cody ChesnuTT is the best sort of egomaniac. He places himself at the center of his musical universe; he contains that universe within him. On his new album, Landing on a Hundred, he sings one song in the voice of the entire continent of Africa.

Two icons, Abraham Lincoln and James Bond, make triumphant appearances this week in movies with more in common than you'd expect. True, Lincoln is a titan of history, liberator of slaves, and as such an adversary of Western colonialism, while 007 is an outlandish stereotype embodying white male Western authoritarian power. But the makers of these films do a sterling job of testing their respective subjects in front of our eyes — before pronouncing them fit to carry on in our collective imagination.

If you read Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain as a manual on how to take over a state and turn it totalitarian, the first lesson, she says, would be on targeted violence. Applebaum's book, which was recently nominated for a National Book Award, describes how after World War II, the Soviet Union found potential dissidents everywhere.

"It really meant anybody who had a leadership role in society," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "This included priests, people who had been politicians, people who had been merchants before the war, and people who ran youth groups."

Ethiopia enjoys a rich tradition of enticing music, filled with asymmetric rhythms set to a haunting, five-note scale and sly double-entendre lyrics in the Amharic language. It's a shame that, for Western listeners, a full, clear picture of Ethiopian music has been elusive.

President Obama has been re-elected. Democrats and Republicans have maintained their respective majorities in the Senate and in the House. So does this mean there will be more partisan gridlock?

Norm Ornstein, a writer for Roll Call and a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that it's a mixed message.

In Oliver Sacks' book The Mind's Eye, the neurologist included an interesting footnote in a chapter about losing vision in one eye because of cancer that said: "In the '60s, during a period of experimenting with large doses of amphetamines, I experienced a different sort of vivid mental imagery."

He expands on this footnote in his new book, Hallucinations, where he writes about various types of hallucinations — visions triggered by grief, brain injury, migraines, medications and neurological disorders.

John Schwartz and Jeanne Mixon first suspected that their son, Joe, was gay when he was 3 years old — and they wanted to be as supportive and helpful as they could.

"As parents you love kids," Schwartz tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "As parents, you want your kid to be happy."

Schwartz and Mixon drew on the experiences they had raising their other two children and by asking their gay friends about the best way to talk to Joe about his sexuality.

Something must have been in the tap water in Gloversville, N.Y., during the 1950s when Richard Russo was growing up there — something, that is, besides the formaldehyde, chlorine, lime, lead, sulfuric acid and other toxic byproducts that the town's tanneries leaked out daily.

But one day, a droplet of mead must have fallen into the local reservoir and Russo gulped it down, because, boy, does he have the poet's gift. In a paragraph or even a phrase, Russo can summon up a whole world, and the world he writes most poignantly about is that of the industrial white working class.

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

Katey Sagal, Holding Court On 'Sons Of Anarchy': The actress plays Gemma, the fierce matriarch of the biker gang in the FX series. She's best-known for playing the acerbic Peg Bundy on the long-running show Married With Children.

This interview was originally broadcast on Fresh Air on July 18, 2008.

A new revival of the hit musical Annie is now in previews on Broadway, scheduled to open Thursday. In the new production, the canine co-star Sandy is played by "Sunny," who has an understudy named "Casey." Bill Berloni trained them both — and, like the original Sandy in the original Broadway show, those dogs, too, were rescue dogs, found in animal shelters.

This interview originally aired on Fresh Air on Jan. 9, 2012. Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend is now out in paperback.

When Thomas Ricks first learned that Terry Allen, the successful general in charge of the 1st Infantry Division during World War II's Sicily campaign, had been fired, he says, his jaw dropped.

Mitt Romney was on CNN not long ago defending the claims in his campaign ads — "We've been absolutely spot on," he said. Politics aside, the expression had me doing an audible roll of my eyes. I've always associated "spot on" with the type of Englishman who's played by Terry-Thomas or John Cleese, someone who pronounces "yes" and "ears" in the same way — "eeahzz." It shows up when people do send-ups of plummy British speech. "I say — spot on, old chap!"

If you ask climate scientist Radley Horton, it's difficult to say that Hurricane Sandy was directly caused by climate change, but he sees strong connections between the two. Horton is a research scientist at The Earth Institute at Columbia University. He says that in New York City, the sea level has gone up about a foot over the past century and that researchers expect that rise to continue and even accelerate.

As Gemma, the fierce matriarch of the biker gang in the FX series Sons of Anarchy, Katey Sagal has shot and killed people, hit somebody with a skateboard, pulled a gun on a baby and done other horrible things. It's all part of the challenge of playing the character, Sagal says.

"She does things in the name of loyalty, which I relate to, but she goes way beyond anything I would do."

This review was originally broadcast on Sept. 26, 2012.

Jazz multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers, who died at 88 in December 2011, recorded with many trios in the 1970s. But his most celebrated trio was barely recorded at all. In 2007, it played a reunion concert — its first in 26 years.

This interview was originally broadcast on Sept. 26, 2012.

After the global financial crisis hit in 2008, Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer was so angry at banks, he says, he decided to write about the people who rob them — in the form of fiction, since he's not an economist.

This interview was originally broadcast on Nov. 24, 2010.

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