Fresh Air

Weekdays at noon

Fresh Air opens the window on contemporary arts and issues with guests from worlds as diverse as literature and economics. 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. Every weekday she delights intelligent and curious listeners with revelations on contemporary societal concerns.

This interview was originally broadcast on September 9, 2011.

The Bay State Winds, the clarinet quartet of the Air Force Band of Liberty, plays music ranging from patriotic songs to Bach to Broadway. The three clarinetists and one bass clarinetist who make up the group routinely play for community members and troops both stateside and overseas.

Over the past two decades, Grammy Award-winning producer Joe Henry has worked with some of the biggest artists in rock, folk, jazz, soul and alt-country.

Lars von Trier's Melancholia stars Kirsten Dunst as a depressed woman on her wedding day, just before the end of the world. "Melancholia" refers not only to the mood of the film, but to the name of a planet that's now heading for a direct collision course with the planet Earth.

When it looks like Melancholia is going to destroy the planet, everyone around Dunst's character Justine panics. But Justine remains eerily calm, seeming almost revitalized by the knowledge that all life on Earth might end instantaneously.

Four the Record is a transitional collection for Miranda Lambert. Her preceding three albums played up the idea of Miranda as a good ol' gal with an explosive emotional streak. You saw it in titles like "Kerosene," "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and "Gunpowder and Lead." Four The Record is an album whose subtext is all about coming to terms with the expectations of her audience, and with her expectations for herself as a performer wanting to broaden her subject matter, to work in more varied styles.

When critic James Wolcott was a college sophomore, he wrote an article about Norman Mailer for his student paper. After the article was published, Wolcott found Mailer's address in a copy of Who's Who and mailed him a copy. Mailer wrote back.

"[He said]: 'When you leave college, I'd be willing to write a letter for you to editor Dan Wolf at The Village Voice," recalls Wolcott.

Wolcott knew he couldn't wait the two years until graduation. He wrote back to Mailer.

How Dogs Evolved Into 'Our Best Friends'

Nov 8, 2011

Dogs have aided humans for thousands of years. Man's best friend has provided protection, companionship and hunting assistance since the days of the earliest human settlements.

But how and when dogs evolved from wolves is a matter of debate. Naturalist Mark Derr says there are two main schools of thought: Some researchers believe that humans domesticated wolves who were scrounging around their villages for trash. Others think that humans were taking care of wolves from the time they were puppies — until enough puppies were tamed and they somehow then evolved into dogs.

Ben Lerner's debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station is one of the most compelling books about nothing I've ever read.

Ordinarily, I'm not a fan of this kind of spinning-one's-wheels-in-the-sand fiction. Austen and Dickens and Hammett got to me early and spoiled me: I like plot. But Lerner's offbeat little novel manages to convey what everyday life feels like before we impose the structure of plot on our experience.

In 14 years on Saturday Night Live, Darrell Hammond did many impressions, including Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Sean Connery. Few of his cast members knew that Hammond struggled with drugs, alcohol and self-cutting as the result of childhood abuse.

In his memoir God, If You're Not Up There, I'm F-----: Tales of Stand-Up, 'Saturday Night Live' and Other Mind-Altering Mayhem, Hammond details the systematic brutality he suffered at the hands of his mother, who beat him, stabbed him and tortured him with a hammer and electrical outlet.

How The World's Tallest Skyscrapers Work

Nov 7, 2011

When the Empire State Building was constructed in 1931, it stood 1,250 feet tall. The famous skyscraper was the world's tallest building — and held that title for more than 40 years.

Today the world's tallest building is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It stretches more than 1,000 feet above the Empire State Building — 2,717 feet into the air. The Burj Khalifa smashed the record held by Taiwan's Taipei 101, a landmark skyscraper with 101 floors. And at 1,666-feet, Taipei 101 tops the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur by 183 feet.

Fresh Air Weekend: Tom Waits, Bill Nighy

Nov 5, 2011

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:

Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." — the 15-minute piece, and the album that's named for it — was one of the startling jazz recordings of the 1970s, a rethinking of possibilities open to the avant-garde. In the 1960s, free jazz was mostly loud and bashing, until some Chicagoans began playing a more open, quieter improvised music. That inspired St. Louis players like Hemphill, who also had ties to heartland rhythm-and-blues scenes. Hemphill's genius was to combine the Chicagoans' dramatically spare sound with a heavy backbeat. His new urban music smacked of old country blues.

Movies are often about falling in love and sometimes falling out of love, but the best for my money are about falling in and out of love in a way you'd need a higher order of physics to graph. That higher physicist could start with Drake Doremus's drama Like Crazy, which evokes as well as any film I've seen the now loopy, now jagged flow from infatuation to intoxication to addiction to withdrawal to re-addiction. It's not an especially deep or psychological movie. It's just crazy painful.

Like a lot of successful American Idol contestants, Kelly Clarkson made her reputation as a belter — as someone who could project to the rafters and rouse a crowd — which doesn't necessarily translate into good pop singing. Ever since Bing Crosby started using the microphone as an instrument for achieving intimacy and nuance, the idea of delivering popular song as operatic aria is a flawed strategy. But everybody loves an anthem, right?

To quote the immortal title of her 1965 collection of movie reviews, Pauline Kael may have "lost it at the movies," but she infinitely renewed her wide-eyed wonder as a moviegoer in her essays for The New Yorker magazine. Kael was no virgin as a critic when she started writing for The New Yorker in 1967 — but when she loved a movie, she always wrote like she was being touched for the very first time.

Bill Nighy shot to international stardom after playing an aging rocker in the 2003 romantic comedy Love Actually. The part led to roles in the movies Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest, Notes on a Scandal, Valkyrie, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Before his film career took off, Nighy acted on the British stage and in television. He returns to the latter in the BBC drama Page Eight, which will be broadcast stateside on PBS on Nov. 6.

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion contemplated how the rituals of everyday life were fundamentally altered after her husband died suddenly in 2003. The book was published in 2005, just months after Didion's only child, her daughter Quintana Roo, died at age 39.

Didion pieces together her memories of her daughter's life and death in her new book Blue Nights. She tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that she was unable to start mourning her daughter's death until she started writing again.

This interview was originally broadcast on January 24, 2011. The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws Of the Cosmos is now available in paperback. Greene is also hosting a NOVA series based on his book The Fabric of the Cosmos.

Our universe might be really, really big — but finite. Or it might be infinitely big.

When I was 12, I was hooked on James Bond, both Ian Fleming's elegantly pulpy novels and the cartoonish movies they spawned. One day, my friend's older brother, who went to Harvard, tossed a paperback onto my lap and said, "Here's the real thing, kid."

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.

"It was like watching time-lapse photography of the end of the world," he says. "There were drug crews on the corner, there were crack monsters and heroin addicts wandering around. ... It was fantastically, almost-impossibly-to-take-in awful."

In the early days of high fidelity, which I remember from childhood, the idea was that it was "almost like being there" when you listened to a record, something the old recordings never really delivered. The five CDs and six-plus hours of The SMiLE Sessions are certainly almost like being there, in the studio with the studio musicians — and, occasionally, The Beach Boys themselves — and Brian Wilson, as he tried to realize something he heard in his head.

Tom Waits: The Fresh Air Interview

Oct 31, 2011

Tom Waits recorded his new album Bad As Me, his first collection of all-new studio recordings in eight years, in his studio, which he calls "Rabbit Foot" for good luck. The space, a converted schoolhouse, still has class pictures dotting the walls of each classroom.

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 Sept. 15, 2010. Man in the Woods is now available in paperback.

Many of Scott Spencer's novels feature a turning point — a dreadful, often unplanned act committed by one of the characters — after which nothing will ever be the same.

Two new films show how tough it is to do justice to good writers on-screen. Johnny Depp certainly means to do right by his pal Hunter S. Thompson in The Rum Diary. He played Thompson in Terry Gilliam's rollicking but not especially watchable Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and narrated a documentary about him.

Almost every time TV takes a look at itself, and tries to explore or explain what it does as a medium, the result is a major disappointment — at least to me. I want TV to take itself seriously, but it almost never does. Every show about TV is either one of those dumb "Top 100" lists that networks like E! and VH1 crank out every month, or it's a show that's built entirely around the guests it can book, the clips it can afford, and the shows on its own network it want to promote.

The title of Deer Tick's new album, Divine Providence, is a pun: The band hails from the capital of Rhode Island. But the other side of the pun is sarcastic. There's little on the album concerning divine providence or care. Nor is the band provident — frugal or prudent — about its talent and music. Group frontman John McCauley continues to sing as though the primary idea is to shred his vocal cords.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Musee d'Orsay in Paris have two of the world's best collections of the work of the French postimpressionist Edgar Degas. The two museums have collaborated on an important show called Degas and the Nude, which includes pieces from major museums and private collections all over the world. Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz, who lives in Boston, was moved by the show, which also triggered a sweet personal memory.

Steve Jobs did his last product launch last March, for the iPad 2. At the close, he stood in front of a huge picture of a sign showing the intersection of streets called Technology and Liberal Arts.

It was a lifelong ideal for Jobs, the same one that had drawn him to make his famous 1979 visit to the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, or Xerox PARC for short. That was where a group of artistically minded researchers had developed the graphical user interface, or GUI, which Apple's developers were to incorporate into the Lisa and the Macintosh a few years later.

Note: Wilhelm Furtwangler's last name is typically spelled with an umlaut over the 'a' character. The npr website does not support characters with umlauts over characters. A variation of Furtwangler's name without the umlaut is spelled Furtwaengler.

Wilhelm Furtwaengler's name may be hard for Americans to pronounce, but the reason this great conductor isn't so well-remembered here is that he chose to remain in Germany during WWII, though he was never a member of the Nazi Party, and was exonerated by a postwar tribunal.