“The real challenge is if you don’t look super sexy, like a Brad Pitt, you’re going to have to try harder. You’re going to have to make up for it in other ways. You’re going to have to charm the pants off them. You’re going to have to make them laugh. But those are good hoops to have to jump through. You’re going to have to do some writing. Let’s face it, the great comedians now that are handicapped in the looks department are tremendous writers.”—Jack Black on comedian stereotypes
We found this gem on graphic designer/illustrator Levi McGranahan’s blog. And he took this picture this past weekend at a little truck stop somewhere around Richmond, Indiana. From Levi:
I found this completely by accident on my way to a family reunion this past weekend. I pulled into the first parking space I saw and noticed this stencil on the parking block. This is the best piece of truck stop graffiti ever. So great…I’M TERRY GROSS.
Have you spotted this Terry Gross stencil? Send in your tips.
“Damon Wayans and I would rate movies using snaps. The fun of In Living Color was exposing black culture, and in that sketch, gay culture, that I don’t think America had ever seen at that point. I had already done Dreamgirls on Broadway, and being in a musical and working with other performers who were gay, I was privy to that vocabulary backstage. They were being themselves. So a lot of it was hijacked from what I heard in the theater and what was permeating around. Now at that time, if a gay person was going to read you — to tell you off — it was always accompanied by snaps. Now I don’t know if it was a gay thing, but it was also a very black thing.”—David Alan Grier on the snaps from In Living Color
One time in 1965, our family all piled in the car and we drove across the country to California. The car broke down in the salt flats. I remember going to a gas station and my father gets out, because our air conditioner was broken. He must have been in there for 10 minutes. He got in, ashen-faced, and quietly said, ‘Everyone stay in the car. They don’t like Negroes here.’ That was a rude awakening.
We had to spend the night in this small desert town. My father and mother told us not to play in the pool, to stay in the room. My brother had a skateboard. I remember we wanted to play. It was bewildering. It was not psyche-shattering because I didn’t grow up in that kind of world. My grandmother was born in 1900, and she would regale me with tales I call Little House on the Prairie tales, but they were tales of segregated and racist America growing up in Alabama and Mississippi, where she came from. … Our household was infused with black history. I grew up in a home and in a world in which you can do anything. We were all expected to go to college. My father was a doctor.
Why would he be obsessed with Porgy and Bess? My father contracted polio on a troop train in Korea. He’s a retired psychiatrist. And all of a sudden, I go, ‘Of course. Now I understand. He’s seen all these productions of Porgy and Bess, and he ultimately came to the show. Which, boom — this was him, in a lot of ways, to have this opera depict [Porgy] on stage. In a lot of ways, this was an aspect of him that he saw, and it became infused with so much more for me.
“I’ve been a real loud active voice in the movement to get marriage equality. And I had gone up the month before to Albany, when they were days away from that historic vote, to rally and to see who I could talk to, and just be another face out there saying let’s do the right thing here. … I had read a beautiful story in The New York Times about the couple who were getting married, and that Mayor Bloomberg was going to preside over their wedding at Gracie Mansion. And my friend called me and said, ‘They’d love to have you come and sing.’ And I was floored. I was so honored. And I cried like a baby at that ceremony. And I brought my daughter. And it was a very moving moment and a very teachable moment having my daughter there. And as far as she was concerned, it was just another wedding. She doesn’t really see the issue, which is great. So that’s how it came about. It was a beautiful day.”—Audra McDonald on performing at the first legal gay wedding in New York City
“My agent called me and told me that this letter [appeared]. You know, you get certain calls and the phone rings in certain ways, and it just doesn’t sound good. And that was one of those times. I was shocked. I knew how much Steve loves Porgy and Bess. He’s never shied away from how passionate he is about this particular opera. And I think he is a genius; he is one of the great composers of American musical theater. And I respect his passion. But I know how I feel about this opera. I know how I’ve always felt about this opera. And I have never had anything but the greatest love and respect for this opera. So even if that’s how it came across in the piece — or that’s how it came across to Steve in the piece — there’s not one iota of disdain for this opera in my heart. And that’s apparent by my obsession with it over the years.”—Audra McDonald on Stephen Sondheim’s critical letter in The New York Times about the production before it began previews
The final Broadway performance of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is September 23rd. The production won two Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical.
The last melody in the show, after an entire night of [Bess] singing and being raped and kicked and beaten and all of this stuff, is ‘Summertime,’ and it’s a lullaby, and it’s high, and it has to be high and pretty and sung to a baby,” she says. “And it freaks me out that after all this, I have to sound high and pretty and fresh. And I’m always holding onto that baby, going, ‘I know you’re just a doll, but help me.’
“It’s a GI’s word most often used for officers, and in particular, officers who are full of themselves. The first military leader to have been called with the A-word — both by his men and his superiors by the way — is George Patton, and that makes perfect sense, particularly if you read the unexpurgated Patton, not the Patton of the movie. … It’s a word that looks up. And the A-word always does. It’s a critique from below, from ground level, of somebody who’s gotten above himself.”—Geoff Nunberg on the origins of the A-word among griping WWII officers
“I had been a metal-head for a number of years by that point, so it was in my DNA, there was no way I was going to lose that. And what I got to have then was the influence of hip-hop. Hip-hop was the music that everyone was listening to in Rosedale, not to mention much of the rest of the United States, but it was just starting to really bubble up and become the popular music. And I just got to take that on as well and it was only years later that I sort of thought about it and realized both hip-hop and heavy metal are both working class male power fantasies, right? That’s all they are: ‘I sold my soul to the devil and I am now an overlord,’ or, ‘Look at my car, I got a lot of money.’ They are both about, ‘I don’t have anything but I want to get something,’ and for that reason, both of them had a great impact on me and it wasn’t so hard to take both on.”—Victor LaValle on being a metal head and getting into hip hop
Victor LaValle Loves Monsters, Especially Godzilla
What’s beautiful about Godzilla is, of course, it’s in every way a symbol of Japan dealing with the aftermath of the atomic bombs being dropped on them, and their ideas of how they’re affected by it. But rather than make a movie where they sit around and say, ‘Man, that was really rough, those bombs really did a lot of damage,’ they said, ‘What did it feel like? It felt like a 100 foot-tall giant lizard came through our city and crushed it.’ And I really felt I understood that experience to some degree. I really connected with that fear and that power because, at times, when I was a kid, I would say the chaos in my household — the chaos in my life — felt very much like a 100-foot reptile crushing everyone and everything.
I had a pretty bad time when I was an undergraduate at Cornell University. I failed out of school. I was much, much heavier. I was doing very poorly, certainly academically, but even mentally…I’ve never been institutionalized, [but] it doesn’t mean I haven’t had brushes with real psychological problems — I just was never hospitalized for it.
And I managed to graduate after working pretty hard through some summer courses, but at the end of that time, I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go because I was just a mess in every way. I had destroyed myself, is the truth of it…I had tried to do myself in in various ways and then to my utter surprise, some people who were close to me suggested that maybe I talk to someone, I get a little help, and I found some people who helped me out…they did a lot for me, they helped me psychologically and quite frankly, even just to feel like you [I] can do this thing you [I] want to do, which was write, and I wasn’t really believing I could do that either.
“They’ve come to the conclusion that [his campaign] needs to find a way to talk about what his faith means to him without talking about the individual tenets. And what’d they like to do — and I know what they’re talking about doing — is talk about how as a church leader, he helped people who were disadvantaged, that this was the way this very, very wealthy man heading a private equity company in Boston was able to meet with people who might have been poor or disadvantage in various ways as a church leader.”—Michael Kranish on the role of Rommey’s faith in the campaign
“Whatever you think of Mitt Romney, whatever you think of his tenure at Bain, whatever you think of Bain Capital or private equity, I think we have to stipulate that Mitt Romney certainly has some economic fluency. He has trafficked in this world for years and I think there is certainly some truth to his statement that he knows how jobs come and he knows how jobs go. So I think he is largely correct to say that he has some significant understanding of how the American economy works, but I think it’s a different question entirely, when we’re saying, do we want this kind of man to be our leader? Do we want somebody who is very successful making money for very wealthy people running the economy that’s supposed to be for everybody? And I think that’s where his pitch is a little less persuasive.”—Scott Helman On Romney’s Experience at Bain Capital
For roughly a century and a half, the Brontes have been the subject of biographies that, much like poor Branwell’s painting, cover up more than they reveal. When Barker’s monumental family biography of the Brontes was published in 1994, it was as though a skilled restorer had come along to work on the group portrait, gently rubbing off the lurid colors of myth and gossip, and revealing the bones of truth underneath.
Now, Barker has updated the biography — which has become the standard Bronte biography — with new material. The footnotes alone, in this new edition of The Brontes, run to 136 pages. It’s rare that I have occasion to say this, but, taken collectively, those footnotes are thrilling. Referencing sources as diverse and dry as the daily engagement diaries of obscure Bronte neighbors, Barker attests to the fact that with steady scholarly detective work, the truth of the past can slowly be approached.
“I had this strong feeling of pride and identity as a Jew even from being very little. But…you couldn’t go to synagogue. You couldn’t do stuff like that. But we did have little relics of religion passed down here and there, like my grandmother, my mom’s mom, would always make sure that we knew when Passover was and she would somehow get, through a connection of a connection, we would have matza. And so she would make chicken soup with matza balls, but then we would have bread alongside that because we didn’t know that you’re not supposed to eat bread.”
“World War two was fought on its soil. There was the blockade. Every single person was touched by the war in some way. Everybody had a lot of people in their family that fought that died. It’s very different having war on your soil rather than sending troops to some remote place where the people don’t really feel it. There are people walking around with an arm missing a leg missing. It was just real visible wounds and stories of survival, stories of heroism, stories of destruction – that all the kids grew up with it all the time.”—Regina Spektor, On Growing Up in Russia, Feeling Like WWII Just Happened
Attention passengers. While we bring you this short in-flight interruption...
Yowei here - I’m another associate producer at Fresh Air and I’m *excited* to be joining Heidi with Tumblr-ing, Tweeting, and writing up our interviews for the web. We’ll be switching off around every two weeks, and playing musical chairs at a desk with multiple screens.
With the exception of the above headline, I promise to try my best to avoid airplane humor.
…which, of course, makes me wonder, how does fresh air get into airplanes?
Thank you, Internet. Really, on average, airplane air is refreshed 20 times an hour compared to 12 times an hour in an office building?
Of course, what’s missing from both these visions of Brazil is, well, Brazil. Especially the country that, like China, has been enjoying an economic boom for almost two decades. This modernizing, increasingly prosperous Brazil finally comes to our screens in the sly, funny, unsettling new feature, Neighboring Sounds. Written and directed by Kleber Mendonca Filho, this isn’t merely the best new movie I’ve seen this year, it may well be the best Brazilian movie since the 1970s.
“Currently in the legal system there’s this myth of equality. And the assumption is if you are over 18 and you have an IQ of over 70 then all brains are created equal. And, of course, that’s a very charitable idea but it’s demonstrably false. Brains are extraordinarily different from one another. Brains are essentially like fingerprints; we’ve all got them but they’re somewhat different. And so by imagining that everyone has the exact same capacity for decision-making, for understanding future consequences, for squelching their impulsive behavior and so on, what we’re doing is we’re imagining that everybody should be treated the same. And, of course, what has happened is that our prison system has become our de facto mental health care system. Estimates are that about 30 percent of the prison population has some sort of mental illness.”—neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito
“What is a secret, actually? And, you know, it’s - because you have competing populations in the brain, if you have one part that wants to tell something and another part that does not want to because of maybe the social consequences of revealing something like this, that’s a secret. If both parts want to tell, then that’s just a good story, and if neither part wants to tell, then that’s something that’s, you know, not terribly interesting. That’s why it’s not interested in telling.”—neuroscientist David Eagleman on Fresh Air
Our friends at On The Media did a story in July on this neat tool called the SuperPacApp. It allows your to wave your phone in front of a TV and find out who and how much money are behind the political ad playing. Now, a good reason to stick around during the commercials…
“If you look at the two largest Super PACs on the Romney side, they have raised $122 million. By July they had, anyway. And in contrast, the two largest supporting Super PACs that are supporting Obama have raised only $30 million by that period, so it’s a very big differential. But it doesn’t begin to explain how much of a gap there is in money. There’s an even bigger gap in other kinds of outside groups that are not Super PACs — there are nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors and there the differential is just overwhelming. Obama is being completely out-raised in these secret donations which are piling in for Romney at this point.”—The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer on Fresh Air
"The Supreme Court is saying that campaign spending is a matter of free speech, but it has set up a situation where the more money you have the more speech you can buy," Axelrod says. "That’s a threatening concept for democracy." He adds, "If your party serves the powerful and well-funded interests, and there’s no limit to what you can spend, you have a permanent, structural advantage. We’re averaging fifty-dollar checks in our campaign, and trying to ward off these seven- or even eight-figure checks on the other side. That disparity is pretty striking, and so are the implications. In many ways, we’re back in the Gilded Age. We have robber barons buying the government."
“The way out was kneeing people in the balls. I figured this out. It would end the fight in five seconds. And, as I say in the book, I got a reputation as a dirty fighter. Perhaps that’s true. But it was only because I didn’t want to fight. And after I did that once or twice when people confronted me, and they’re writhing on the ground and the fight is over, people stopped taunting me or trying to pick fights with me, so I was free. So dirty tactics liberated me from the whole business.”—Paul Auster reveals his secret to getting out of fighting as a boy
“A very clear memory I have is watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton. Watching that movie and the scene where he swings down and saves Esmeralda [played by Maureen O’ Sullivan]. … And I just remember the way it’s shot, you see him way in the background and then he comes right into frame and picks her up. It’s an amazing shot and the music kicks in, and I just remember when that happened, my mom gasping behind me and her watching, going, ‘I just love this, I love that moment.’… That moment is one of my favorite moments because it’s a great film moment, but I just think of my mom … getting choked up…so that feeling, you just become a junkie for it. I just want that feeling over and over again.”—Bill Hader on his love of old movies
“Starting in Hollywood in the 1940s, Ronald Reagan developed a special relationship with the FBI. He became an FBI informer, reporting other actors whom he suspected of subversive activities, and later, when he became president of the Screen Actors Guild, the FBI had wide access to the Guild’s information on various actors. At one point, the Guild turned over information on 54 actors it was investigating as possible subversives — so the FBI viewed Reagan as an extremely cooperative source in Hollywood. He was far more active than we know from previously released FBI records. As a result of this, Hoover repaid him with personal and political favors later.”—Seth Rosenfeld on Ronald Reagan’s Affiliation with the FBI