Tag Archives: fresh air

Terry Gross, National Interviewer: 40 Years of Fresh Air

Photo by Will Ryan

This fall, Gross marks her 40th anniversary hosting “Fresh Air.” At 64, she is “the most effective and beautiful interviewer of people on the planet,” as Marc Maron said recently, while introducing an episode of his podcast, “WTF,” that featured a conversation with Gross. She’s deft on news and subtle on history, sixth-sensey in probing personal biography and expert at examining the intricacies of artistic process. She is acutely attuned to the twin pulls of disclosure and privacy. “You started writing memoirs before our culture got as confessional as it’s become, before the word ‘oversharing’ was coined,” Gross said to the writer Mary Karr last month. “So has that affected your standards of what is meant to be written about and what is meant to maintain silence about?” (“That’s such a smart question,” Karr responded. “Damn it, now I’m going to have to think.”)

Gross is an interviewer defined by a longing for intimacy. In a culture in which we are all talking about ourselves more than ever, Gross is not only listening intently; she’s asking just the right questions.

In The New York Times Magazine Susan Burton profiles “national interviewer” Terry Gross, who celebrates 40 years behind the microphone as the host of NPR’s Fresh Air.

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How Harper Lee Helped Bring Back ‘Bloom County’

Berkeley Breathed is responsible for one of the more delightful things to happen to my Facebook feed in some time: The Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, who created “Bloom County” and characters like Opus the penguin, has revived his beloved comic strip after a 25-year hiatus, posting new installments on his Facebook page.

In a new interview with NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Breathed says he has author Harper Lee to thank for the decision. He was stunned when Lee’s supposed second novel was published earlier this year as Go Set a Watchman:

BERKELEY BREATHED: I watched slack-jawed in horror as they threw one of the 20th century’s most iconic fictional heroes, Atticus Finch, under the bus. At the time — and this was a couple of months ago — it made me think that there would have been no “Bloom County” without “Mockingbird” because I was 12 I read it, and the book’s fictional Southern small town of Maycomb had settled deep into my graphic imagination and informed it forever. If you look at any of my art for the past 30 years, there’s always a small-town flavor to it.

So this summer, just a couple months ago when “Go Set A Watchman” was causing an uproar, I went back to my files and I pulled an old fan letter from years ago. It says (reading), “Dear Mr. Breathed, this is a plea from a dotty old lady and from others not dotty at all. Please don’t shut down Opus. Can’t you at least give him a reprieve? Opus is simply the best comic strip there is and depriving him of life is murder – a hard word to describe an obliteration of your creation. But Opus is real. He lives. -Harper Lee, Monroeville, Ala.”

And now Opus lives again.

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What Etgar Keret Learned About Storytelling from His Father

Photo by Garoa

Author Etgar Keret’s new memoir, The Seven Good Years, chronicles the time between the birth of his son and the death of his father. Keret’s parents were both Holocaust survivors, and in an interview with Fresh Air, Keret said that experience shaped his father’s stories:

My father was very charismatic and a very good storyteller but he couldn’t invent anything so he would tell me stories about things that had just happened. And these stories would be amazing and there was sometimes violence in them, many extreme things, but at the same time, they were full of love for mankind and even the people who would do those extreme things, you would still understand them and like them. The protagonist in those stories, they would always be prostitutes and mafia guys and drunk people.

As a 5-year-old I asked my father, “What’s a prostitute?” He said to me, “A prostitute is somebody who makes a living by listening to other people’s problems.” I asked him, “What’s a mafia guy?” He says, “A mafia guy is like a landlord but he collects money from houses that he doesn’t own.” And I asked him “What’s a drunk person?” He said, “It’s somebody who has a physical condition that the more liquids he drinks, the happier he becomes,” and at that stage I couldn’t really decide if when I grow up I want to become a drunk prostitute or a drunk mafia guy, but options seemed very attractive.

When I became 10 or 11 I understood that something was really wrong about the stories that my father had told me and I kind of confronted him about it and my father apologetically said to me, “Listen, when I wanted to tell you stories my first instinct would be to tell you stories from my childhood, but what kind of stories would I tell you? How the Nazis caught my kid sister and tortured her to death but she would still not tell where I was hiding? Or how we spent more than 600 days in a hole in the ground being afraid that we would be discovered and killed?” …

Those stories, for me, were always the model for the function of stories and storytelling in our lives — the idea is that you kind of look reality straight in the face, it doesn’t matter how ugly it is, and you try to find humanity in it, you try to find beauty in it, you try to find hope in it. So you can’t beautify it, but at the same time, you should find these tiny things that you know that would make sometimes very violent and unhappy occasions still human and emotional.

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The Origins of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”

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TERRY GROSS: So were you writing the song on assignment? Were you writing it for The Righteous Brothers?


CYNTHIA WEIL: When we wrote the song, they weren’t that crazy about it (laughter).

GROSS: Really?

MANN: Well, when I sang it – I loved The Everly Brothers at the time, and I sounded like The Everly Brothers. So when I sang it to Bill and Bobby, they said, you know, it sounds really good, very good for The Everly Brothers. And another thing that happened is that at the time, you know, the records that they had been putting out, they both sang together, and this one, Bill Medley had the lead. So Bobby said, well, what am I going to do while he sings? And I think Phil Spector says, well, you’ll be walking to the bank.

-Legendary songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, in 2000.

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Joan Rivers: 1933-2014

Joan Rivers, comedy legend, has died at age 81. Three stories from the Longreads Archive:

The Fresh Air Interview: Joan Rivers (Terry Gross, NPR)

GROSS: So, like, that’s kind of a paradox to me that you live to be on stage and at the same time, there’s this dread of being on stage.

Ms. RIVERS: Not a dread of being on stage, a dread of not doing well, of disappointing them. I you know, I always you think I have one friend who’s a very good, very, very famous comedian, comic, who once said to me: I give them five minutes. If they don’t like me, I go on automatic.

And I thought: They have bought the tickets, they have paid for a babysitter, they have come out to see you. They want to have fun. I want them to walk out of a show and say, that’s the best show I’ve ever seen.

I fight to the end. I worry to the end, worry are they having a good time?


Joan Rivers Always Knew She Was Funny (Jonathan Van Meter, New York magazine, 2010)

At the age of 76, it seems, she has been rediscovered. Much of it has to do with a new documentary about her life, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, which opens in theaters on June 11. Roger Ebert wrote, in one of the film’s many rave reviews, that it is “one of the most truthful documentaries about show business I’ve seen. Also maybe the funniest.” The film comes at the end of a remarkable year for Rivers, one that began when she won The Celebrity Apprentice (after one of the uglier reality-TV showdowns), outfoxing all those bimbos, has-beens, and two-bit poker players to emerge—somehow—as the sympathetic character. At long last, not fired! It’s unfamiliar territory for Rivers: to be the one people root for.


The Playboy Interview: Joan Rivers (1986)

I didn’t realize what a liberated lady I was. I always said, “My life is liberated. Leave me alone. I have no time to join a movement, because I am the movement.” I didn’t have time to go up to anyone and say, “Go out and make it in a man’s world.” I just said, “Look at me and you can see what I’m doing.” I never wanted to say that because I was a woman, things were harder for me or I was judged separately. It took two incidents — my book and this business about leaving the Carson show — to turn me around. With my book, as I said, women seem to understand it more than men. And when I left The Tonight Show, I got such good wishes, such support from women. I didn’t realize how nice it was that women were behind what I did. It’s wonderful.

David Rakoff on the Downsides of Childhood

I had a beautiful childhood and a lovely childhood. I just didn’t like being a child. I didn’t like the rank injustice of not being listened to. I didn’t like the lack of autonomy. I didn’t like my chubby little hands that couldn’t manipulate the world of objects in the way that I wanted them to. Being a child for me was an exercise in impotent powerlessness. I just wasn’t—and I was never terribly good at that kind of no-holds-barred fun. I mean, you know, I’ve essentially made a career on not being good at no-holds-barred fun.

But, you know, I was just never sort of like, hey, yes, let’s go play. I was always more sort of like, does everybody know where the fire exit is and let’s make sure there’s enough oxygen in this elevator.

-The late David Rakoff, in a 2010 Fresh Air interview.

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Photo: poptech2006, flickr

What Goes On in Joaquin Phoenix's Head When He's Shooting a Movie

When I first started the film [“The Master”] — when I first read the script — there was a great deal of flashbacks where we actually saw all these injuries and these were things we were going to shoot; but as the film progressed we didn’t end up shooting those things so I’d kind of been developing this physical reaction to these things that I thought might be happening that we might be seeing but we weren’t no longer shooting them and seeing them, I imagine, because of budget.

That’s actually what I love about movies; like, when you start kind of investigating them and going into it, you realize that so much of it sometimes is just, like, luck. Because, you know, you just, you don’t know how it’s going to go and I think you just come up with these ideas and you’re just trying things and you don’t know what’s going to work, you don’t know what the final film is gonna be.

That’s why I always give credit to the directors because I feel like they’re the ones that are ultimately responsible for the performance.

Joaquin Phoenix, in a rare interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, on what you don’t see in the movies. Read more Fresh Air interviews.


Photo: ssoosay, Flickr

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Playlist: 5 Podcasts on the Business of Film and TV


Gabrielle Gantz (@contextual_life) is the blogger behind The Contextual Life. She’s a frequent longreader and also a big podcast fan, so we asked her for some recommendations.

For a while now we’ve been hearing about the rise of television, how shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones have surpassed the film industry when people think of quality viewing experiences. Gone are the days where writers and actors dreamed of making it big in pictures, now talent is flocking to small screen.

Here are some recent interviews that will be of interest to those who like to dig deeper:

WBUR On Point: Is The U.S. Movie Industry Broken? (45 min.)

This is a panel discussion featuring Lynda Obst, a film and television producer whose credits include “Sleepless in Seattle” and whose recent book, Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business, chronicles the recent changes in the movie industry—with big blockbusters more common and smaller films barely getting made. Alongside Obst, sometimes arguing, sometimes agreeing, was Sharon Waxman, CEO and EIC of TheWrap.com.

KCRW The Treatment: Sofia Coppola (29 min.)

Despite the industry’s changes, Coppola is still making “small films,” including her latest, The Bling Ring, a film based on the real-life events (chronicled by Vanity Fair’s Nancy Jo Sales) of a group of California teenagers obsessed with celebrities; so much so that they break into stars’ homes. 

NPR Fresh Air: Elisabeth Moss (41 min.)

Mad Men just wrapped up its sixth season and has one more to go before it’s off the air for good. Terry Gross spoke with Elisabeth Moss (aka Peggy Olson) about the evolution of her character and how much she knows about the show’s direction before shooting an episode. (Read the transcript here.)

The Nerdist: Charlie Hunnam (1 hr., 17 min.)

Here’s Hunnam, who plays Sons of Anarchy‘s “Jax” Teller, with Chris Hardwick on being approached by real bikers and his life growing up in a working-class town in North East England.

The Nerdist Writer’s Panel: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (1 hr.)

Nerdist Writer’s Panel host Ben Blacker sits down with the people behind The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a web series that’s a modernized adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with the story told primarily through the lead character Lizzie Bennet‘s video diary entries. The episode includes co-creator Bernie Su, writers Margaret Dunlap, Rachel Kiley, and Kate Rorick, and writer/transmedia guy Jay Bushman.


Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC

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