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.

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 is an combination of broadcasts from Oct. 22, 2008 and Oct. 6, 2003. His early standup routines, TV specials and other TV appearances have been released in a new DVD box set.

Right now, as we near the end of the 2012 fall TV premiere week, there's a tendency for a sense of weariness to set in. So many of the new TV series are so bad this year, and not one of them is outstanding. It tends to get a little depressing.

But then you think about the rich bounty of returning series, and how good television drama has gotten lately, and there's cause to rejoice all over again.

I adore time-travel pictures like Looper no matter how idiotic, especially when they feature a Love That Transcends Time. I love Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, The Time Traveler's Wife, even The Lake House with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in different years sending letters through a magic mailbox. So terrible. So good. See, everyone wants to correct mistakes in hindsight, and it's the one thing we cannot do. Except vicariously, in movies.

One night in 1984, British scientist Frances Ashcroft was studying electricity in the body and discovered the protein that causes neonatal diabetes. She says she felt so "over the moon" that she couldn't sleep.

By the next morning, she says, she thought it was a mistake.

But luckily, that feeling was wrong, and Ashcroft's revelation led to a medical breakthrough decades later, which now enables people born with diabetes to take pills instead of injecting insulin.

When Amy Adams read the script for Paul Thomas Anderson's new movie, The Master, she saw an opportunity to play a character type she'd never played before.

"Somebody who on the surface was very, very mothering, almost genteel, and then underneath, there was this boiling almost rage," Adams tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

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.

"I thought it would be healthy to live vicariously through a bank robber at that moment that bankers were ruining the world," Moehringer tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

In his first historical novel, Sutton, Moehringer writes from the point of view of Willie Sutton, whom he calls the "greatest American bank robber."

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.

Mindy Kaling says she loves romantic comedies, even though she wrote last year in The New Yorker that saying so "is essentially an admission of mild stupidity."

Her new Fox TV show, The Mindy Project — which she created, stars in, writes and runs as co-executive producer — is essentially a serialized romantic comedy, where each week, viewers can check in with the character to see how her life is going, Kaling says.

Except she hopes her show is "actually funny," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Albums made by collections of professional studio players once had a bad reputation with the traditional rock audience. Such works were supposedly arid and chilly — more like the results of a board meeting than the recorded adventure of an organic group of fabulous friends. Some music fans may still feel that way, but they are few. Nowadays, a tight-knit gaggle of session musicians like the Analog Players Society gets points from traditionalists simply because the music is made by flesh and blood.

Given the glut of autobiographies, a provocative subject alone isn't enough to snag a reader's attention, although, admittedly, the title of Charles Rowan Beye's new memoir, My Husband and My Wives, is certainly arresting. It's Beye's charming raconteur's voice, however, and his refusal to bend anecdotes into the expected "lessons" that really make this memoir such a knockout.

Beye won me over in his "Introduction" when he admitted that, looking back at the long span of his life — he's now over 80 — the big question he still asks himself is, "What was that all about?"

Journalist Robert Draper says the 27th Congressional District in South Texas looks like a Glock pistol. It's just one of several "funny shapes" you will see in states across the U.S. as a result of the redrawing of congressional boundaries — otherwise known as redistricting.

"These maps can be very, very fanciful — they're these kinds of impressionistic representations of the yearnings and deviousness of politics today," Draper tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies.

If you listen to the music on Charmer, hearing Aimee Mann's vocals as just another lilting instrument, you'd probably think the album was just what the title suggests: a charmer. The melodies have an airy quality, at once floating and propulsive, and even without fixing on the words, you can hear that they're metrically precise, with carefully counted-out syllables and tight rhymes.

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:

Fresh Air Weekend

Sep 22, 2012

Fresh Air Weekend

This interview was originally broadcast on Jan. 9, 2008. Gilpin is featured in PBS's American Experience called Death and the Civil War. It premiered Sept.

The hero of both the novel and the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a high school freshman loner named Charlie whose best friend committed suicide the previous spring. He's on psychiatric meds, lots of them, and still has blackouts and mysterious visions of a doting aunt who died when he was 7.

There must have been times in 1963, when Vince Guaraldi was riding high on his surprise hit "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," when he thought, "This is what I'll be remembered for." Not that he minded. He said taking requests for the tune was like signing the back of a check. The song's got a great hook tied to a poppy, uplifting chord sequence.

A Close Look At Your Bills' 'Fine Print'

Sep 20, 2012

Americans are paying high prices for poor quality Internet speeds — speeds that are now slower than in other countries, according to author David Cay Johnston. He says the U.S. ranks 29th in speed worldwide.

When Kelly Macdonald landed her first acting gig in Danny Boyle's critically acclaimed 1996 film, Trainspotting, her lack of experience made it hard for her to relax on set.

"I don't think I spoke very much — I was very, very shy," Macdonald tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "I kind of hid in the toilets most of the time when we weren't required on set."

Before Trainspotting, Macdonald was working at a bar in Glasgow, Scotland. After two friends separately handed her fliers for the movie's open casting call, she decided to audition.

Dwight Yoakam persists in mixing genres in a way that may leave him out of the country mainstream, but puts him in a good position to make a personal album with some of his best music.

Debunking The 'Myth Of The Muslim Tide'

Sep 19, 2012

The violent protests that erupted in North Africa and the Middle East over a video insulting the Prophet Muhammad were in part a reflection of conflicting values — Islamic strictures on images of the prophet versus the Western principle of respect for free speech.

But journalist Doug Saunders says that the video itself reflects a troubling current in Western political discourse — an irrational fear of Muslim communities in Europe and the United States.

Susanna Moore's latest novel, The Life of Objects, is a slim World War II saga that reads like a cautionary fairy tale: It's packed with descriptions of ornate furniture and paintings, lavish banquets, demons and diamonds. At the center of the story is a young girl bewitched by her own desire to live a larger life, a wish that's granted with grim exactitude.

The battle in Syria is being fought by rebel fighters who lack many of the basics typically associated with warfare: helmets, a large supply of ammo, and military planning.

"I was with one fighter who had 11 bullets, and he was, like, roaming as a freelance fighter along the front line trying to pick up a fight somewhere," journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad tells Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies.

At this point, there's nothing special about jazz musicians playing post-Beatles pop: It's just the new normal. But one of the trendsetters on that score was pianist Brad Mehldau and his versions of Radiohead and Nick Drake tunes. Now, Mehldau's trio has a new covers album out.