Fresh Air

Weekdays at 11am
Terry Gross

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the Peabody Award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, is one of public radio's most popular programs. Each week, nearly 4.5 million people listen to the show's intimate conversations broadcast on more than 450 National Public Radio (NPR) stations across the country, as well as in Europe on the World Radio Network.

Though Fresh Air has been categorized as a "talk show," it hardly fits the mold. Its 1994 Peabody Award citation credits Fresh Air with "probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insights." And a variety of top publications count Gross among the country's leading interviewers. The show gives interviews as much time as needed, and complements them with comments from well-known critics and commentators.

Fresh Air is produced at WHYY-FM in Philadelphia and broadcast nationally by NPR.

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Commentary
12:04 pm
Mon December 23, 2013

Sorry Assiduous (adj.) SAT-Takers, Linguist In Dudgeon (n.) Over Vocab Flashcards

Decades ago, the SAT test was seen as a measure of raw ability, not as something students ought to cram for. Now, test prep is a huge industry. Linguist Geoff Nunberg wonders what exactly students learn when they're flipping through vocabulary flashcards.
Mario Tama Getty Images

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 2:01 pm

When I took the SATs a very long time ago, it didn't occur to us to cram for the vocabulary questions. Back then, the A in SAT still stood for "aptitude," and most people accepted the wholesome fiction that the tests were measures of raw ability that you couldn't prepare for — "like sticking a dipstick into your brain," one College Board researcher said.

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Fresh Air Weekend
7:03 am
Sat December 21, 2013

Fresh Air Weekend: The Coen Brothers And 'Anchorman 2'

Joel (left) and Ethan Coen wrote and directed Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man and True Grit. Their latest film is Inside Llewyn Davis.
Stuart C. Wilson Getty Images

Originally published on Sat December 21, 2013 9:50 am

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:

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Remembrances
10:32 am
Fri December 20, 2013

Fresh Air Remembers Country Music Artist Ray Price

Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price, pictured above in 1983, died Monday at age 87.
AP

Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 1:24 pm

Pioneering country music artist Ray Price — who created hits like "Heartaches by the Number" — died Monday of pancreatic cancer. He was 87 years old. Price was born in Cherokee County, Texas, in 1926. When he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, he was described by musician Kris Kristofferson as a living link from Hank Williams to the country music of today.

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Interviews
10:18 am
Fri December 20, 2013

Jason Isbell Locates His Musical Compass On 'Southeastern'

Jason Isbell was previously a member of Drive-By Truckers. His solo albums include Sirens of the Ditch and Here We Rest.
Eric England Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 1:24 pm

This interview was originally broadcast on July 17, 2013.

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Movie Reviews
6:05 pm
Thu December 19, 2013

A Man And His Machine, Finding Out What Love Is

In the sci-fi romance Her, a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) finds love in a rather unexpected place — with a computer operating system named Samantha.
Warner Bros.

Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 1:24 pm

Her is the best film of the year by a so-wide margin. It's gorgeous, funny, deep — and I can hear some smart aleck say, "If you love it so much, why don't you marry it?" Let me tell you, I'd like to!

I certainly identify with the protagonist, Theodore Twombly, who falls in love with his computer operating system, his OS, which calls itself — sorry, I gotta say "who calls herself" — Samantha, and who sounds like a breathy young woman.

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Movie Interviews
11:09 am
Thu December 19, 2013

A 'Kind Of A Big Deal' Gets Even Bigger In 'Anchorman 2'

Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate reprise their roles as competing news anchors in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
Gemma LaMana Paramount Pictures

Originally published on Thu December 19, 2013 12:43 pm

Way back in the 2004 film Anchorman, Ron Burgundy was a local TV-news host in '70s San Diego. Fast-forward to this year's sequel, and that epic haircut is national news: Set in 1980, Anchorman 2 follows Will Ferrell's vain, shallow character as he graduates to a CNN-style cable news network.

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Commentary
9:26 am
Thu December 19, 2013

Narcissistic Or Not, 'Selfie' Is Nunberg's Word Of The Year

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a "selfie" with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.
Roberto Schmidt AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 9:48 am

I feel a little defensive about choosing "selfie" as my Word of the Year for 2013. I've usually been partial to words that encapsulate one of the year's major stories, such as "occupy" or "big data." Or "privacy," which is the word Dictionary.com chose this year. But others go with what I think of as mayfly words — the ones that bubble briefly to the surface in the wake of some fad or fashion.

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Religion
1:20 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

In Francis' First Year, A 'Radical Pope' Seeks To Save His Church

Pope Francis began his papacy in March. In his first year as pope, columnist James Carroll says, Francis has put unprecedented focus on "the dilemma of the vast majority of human beings who simply don't have enough to live decently."
Filipo Monteforte AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed December 18, 2013 1:55 pm

"Who am I to judge?" With those five words, Pope Francis "stepped away from the disapproving tone, the explicit moralizing typical of popes and bishops," writes columnist James Carroll. Francis made that statement in July, in response to a reporter's question about the status of gay priests in the Church.

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Music Reviews
1:20 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

Michele Rosewoman Goes Back To Afro-Cuban Jazz's Future

Michele Rosewoman (bottom right) is joined by batá percussionists in performance with her New Yor-Uba Ensemble in 2013.
Tom Ehrlich Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed December 18, 2013 1:57 pm

When Michele Rosewoman was growing up in the Bay Area, she played piano from childhood and congas from her teens. After moving to New York in the late 1970s, she began making music in two areas: modern jazz and traditional Cuban music. Before long, she started combining the two in her New Yor-Uba band.

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Best Music Of 2013
1:09 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

Ken Tucker's Top 10 Albums Of 2013

Jason Isbell's Southeastern was Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker's favorite album of 2013.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue December 17, 2013 10:21 pm

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Movie Interviews
12:36 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

The Coen Bros. On Writing, 'Lebowski' And Literally Herding Cats

Joel (left) and Ethan Coen wrote and directed Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man and True Grit. Their latest film is Inside Llewyn Davis.
Stuart C. Wilson Getty Images

Originally published on Tue December 17, 2013 10:21 pm

If you ask the Coen brothers about how they write their films, you might not get a straight answer. "It's mostly napping," Ethan tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

"We go to the office, we're there, we're in a room together," Joel adds. "We take naps, but, you know, the important thing is that we're at the office, should we be inspired to actually write something."

The brothers don't split up writing responsibilities — they "talk through" the dialogue and "work it out together," Joel explains.

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Music Interviews
12:28 pm
Mon December 16, 2013

Fresh Air Remembers Jazz Pianist Jimmy Amadie

Jimmy Amadie.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon December 16, 2013 12:39 pm

For decades, Jimmy Amadie played solely in his home, heard only by his students when he'd play for them during lessons. His performing career was derailed because of severe hand problems. But later in life, he achieved some fame for his albums — and for the story of what he'd had to overcome to make it possible for him to record. Amadie died of lung cancer on Dec. 10. He was 76.

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Music
11:40 am
Mon December 16, 2013

Holiday Music To Bring Folks Together

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. With so much contention in air around holiday get-togethers, jazz critic Ken Whitehead wonders if music might help bring together folks with opposing views. He has some listening and viewing recommendations for seasonal dinners.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEEN TOWN")

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Music Reviews
11:40 am
Mon December 16, 2013

A Former Girl-Group Singer Goes 'All Or Nothing'

With new songs and covers, La La Brooks' All or Nothing isn't just an attempted career comeback.
Jacob Blickenstaff Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon December 16, 2013 12:33 pm

A half-century on, La La Brooks still sings about boys and girls falling in love. At an age when other veterans of first-generation rock movements are thinking about retirement or oldies tours, Brooks has come up with a fresh, energetic collection that doesn't deny her past, but also refuses to succumb to mere nostalgia.

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Fresh Air Weekend
7:03 am
Sat December 14, 2013

Fresh Air Weekend: Robert Redford, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Sheen

In All Is Lost, Robert Redford plays an unnamed sailor, stranded at sea on a badly damaged yacht.
Daniel Daza Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

Originally published on Sat December 14, 2013 9:46 am

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:

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Remembrances
12:46 pm
Fri December 13, 2013

Celebrating The Centennial Of Lyricist Sammy Cahn

American songwriter Sammy Cahn, pictured above in 1987, would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. He died in 1993, at the age of 79.
David Gaywood AP

2013 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of lyricist Sammy Cahn, who was born Samuel Cohen, on the Lower East Side of New York City, on June 18, 1913. We didn't want the year to end without celebrating this centennial.

Cahn had his most successful and enduring partnerships with composers Saul Chaplin, Jule Styne and Jimmy Van Heusen. Several of his songs were written for Frank Sinatra. Cahn died in 1993, at the age of 79.

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The Fresh Air Interview
12:46 pm
Fri December 13, 2013

Fresh Air Remembers Jazz Guitarist Jim Hall

Jim Hall performs at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri December 13, 2013 5:57 pm

Jazz guitarist, composer and arranger Jim Hall died in his sleep Tuesday; he was 83. Hall was known for a subtle, lyrical playing style, a gift for innovation and collaborations with a host of talented musicians in a career that stretched more than seven decades.

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Movie Reviews
5:30 am
Fri December 13, 2013

A 'Hustle' With Flow (And Plenty Of Flair)

A '70s con-artist couple (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) are forced to team up with an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper, right) in American Hustle, inspired by a real-life sting targeting corrupt politicians.
Francois Duhamel Columbia Pictures

Originally published on Fri December 13, 2013 12:46 pm

David O. Russell hovers at the top of my list of favorite directors. He captures the messy collision of self-interests that for him defines America. In American Hustle, he whips up a black comedy based on Abscam, the late-'70s FBI sting that centered on a bogus sheik and led to the bribery convictions of sundry U.S. politicians. But he doesn't tell the real Abscam story; he adapts it to fit his theme, which is that most of us are busy reinventing ourselves and conning one another.

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Movie Interviews
11:40 am
Thu December 12, 2013

At 77, Robert Redford Goes Back To His Roots

In All Is Lost, Robert Redford plays an unnamed sailor, stranded at sea on a badly damaged yacht.
Daniel Daza Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

Originally published on Thu December 12, 2013 4:23 pm

Robert Redford isn't merely the star of the movie All Is Lost — he plays the only character. He plays a man stranded alone on a small yacht in the Indian Ocean, and New York Times film critic A.O. Scott says it's "the performance of a lifetime."

We don't know the man's name, why he's there, or anything about his background — but when disaster strikes, we learn that he's resourceful and doesn't succumb to panic. After a stray shipping container rams his vessel and leaves a gaping hole in the hull, he must make the boat seaworthy again in order to survive.

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Books
12:25 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Need A Read? Here Are Maureen Corrigan's Favorite Books Of 2013

Illustration of woman and books.
Nishant Choksi

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 2:10 pm

First, a word about this list: It's honestly just a fluke that my best books rundown for 2013 is so gender-biased. I didn't deliberately set out this year to read so many terrific books by women.

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Movie Interviews
12:25 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Michael Sheen On The 'Accuracy And Invention' Of Real-Life Roles

Michael Sheen plays Dr. William Masters, the senior member of a research team that conducted pioneering studies for more than three decades into the physiology of human sexuality.
Michael Desmond Showtime

Michael Sheen's show may be called Masters of Sex, but ultimately, he says, it's a study of intimacy. It's about: "How do we deal with being vulnerable with each other?" he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "How do we deal with the challenges of intimacy and the kind of games we play and the defenses we have?"

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Music Reviews
12:25 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Ella Fitzgerald's Early Years Collected In A Chick Webb Box Set

Ella Fitzgerald sings with bandleader Chick Webb in Asbury Park, N.J., in 1938.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Thu December 12, 2013 7:44 am

Drummer Chick Webb's 1930s orchestra terrorized competitors in band battles and sent dancers into orbit at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. They could be similarly explosive on record, but only rarely. Early on, they did have some hot Edgar Sampson arrangements that Benny Goodman would soon turn into hits, like "Blue Lou" and "Don't Be That Way." But the Webb band also had an old-school crooner, Charles Linton, with pre-jazz-age enunciation.

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Politics
11:56 am
Tue December 10, 2013

How ALEC Serves As A 'Dating Service' For Politicians And Corporations

President Bush speaks to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Philadelphia, on July 26, 2007.
Mel Evans AP

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 10:07 am

A batch of internal documents recently leaked to The Guardian has revealed new insights into the goals and finances of the secretive group called ALEC. The American Legislative Exchange Council is a group that brings together state legislators and representatives of corporations. Together, they develop model bills that lawmakers introduce and try to pass in their state legislatures.

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Music Reviews
11:56 am
Tue December 10, 2013

A Nostalgic — But Bumpy — Journey With The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys in 1964. Top row: Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson. Bottom row: Mike Love, Al Jardine, Brian Wilson.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Tue December 10, 2013 3:44 pm

All it takes is two seconds of hearing "Round round get around / I get around" and you're there — in the sun, on the beach, in the '60s. The Beach Boys vaulted up the charts while branching out from surf music to psychedelia. This year the remaining band members released Made in California, a six-CD box set loaded with outtakes and other rarities. Critic Ed Ward examines the rise and long decline of a beloved group with a unique sound.

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Book Reviews
11:00 am
Tue December 10, 2013

Frustrating Heroine Stars In Fresh, Feminist 'Nightingale'

iStockphoto

Originally published on Tue December 10, 2013 1:33 pm

There's an unforgettable moment in the diary of the great Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz. He's on the beach and he spots a beetle that's been blown on its back by the wind and now lies there helplessly, legs wiggling, unable to right itself. Gombrowicz saves it by turning it over. He sees another upside-down beetle, and turns it over. Then, another. Looking along the sand, he realizes that there are so many beetles he can't possibly save them all. Eventually, he gives up trying.

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Music
11:38 am
Mon December 9, 2013

Review: Jonas Kaufmann Sings Wagner And Verdi

Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 2:28 pm

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. At 44, the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann may be the most popular tenor of his generation and one of the most versatile. Music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviews two of his recordings this year, dedicated to both Verdi and Wagner, celebrating the bicentennials of their birth.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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Author Interviews
11:24 am
Mon December 9, 2013

Delia Ephron On The Closeness And Complexity Of Sisterhood

Delia Ephron is a novelist and playwright. Her essays have been published in The New York Times, O, Vogue and the Huffington Post. Her older sister, writer Nora Ephron, died in June 2012.
Elena Seibert Penguin Group

Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 2:56 pm

In the opening chapter of her latest book, novelist Delia Ephron writes that losing her older sister, writer Nora Ephron, was like "losing an arm, it's that deranging." Nora, who wrote When Harry Met Sally, died of acute myeloid leukemia in June 2012. Delia and Nora were writing partners; they co-wrote the movies You've Got Mail and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as well as the off-Broadway hit Love, Loss and What I Wore. Delia was an assistant producer on Nora's film Sleepless in Seattle.

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Fresh Air Weekend
7:03 am
Sat December 7, 2013

Fresh Air Weekend: Alexander Payne, Baby Photos And Ted Williams

Alexander Payne arrives at the 69th annual Golden Globe Awards in 2012.
Chris Pizzello AP

Originally published on Sat December 7, 2013 9:12 am

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:

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Television
12:35 pm
Fri December 6, 2013

Delightful 'Six By Sondheim' Leaves You Wanting Six More

The life and work of composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim is examined in Six by Sondheim, a documentary from James Lapine, who also directed several of Sondheim's shows.
Jerry Jackson HBO

Originally published on Fri December 6, 2013 1:06 pm

On Monday, HBO presents the premiere of Six by Sondheim, a new TV special that's part biography, part music-appreciation lesson and part performance piece. It's all about the life and music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, in which he explains, among many other things, how and why he became a musical theater composer and lyricist, and the inspirations for some of his most familiar songs. If you're new to the works of Stephen Sondheim, this TV special should entice you. If you're already a fan, it should delight you.

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Movie Reviews
10:50 am
Fri December 6, 2013

Great Soundtrack Aside, 'Inside Llewyn Davis' Hits A Sour Note

In the Coen brothers' latest film, down and out Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is trying to make ends meet as a folk singer in New York in the early 1960s.
Alison Rosa Long Strange Trip/CBS Films

Originally published on Fri December 6, 2013 1:05 pm

The films of Joel and Ethan Coen pose a challenge: How do we reconcile their wildly disparate tones? Consider O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a burlesque of Homer's Odyssey centering on three stumblebums — but with a soundtrack assembled by T Bone Burnett of heartfelt historical gospel and country music. Ditto The Ladykillers: venal idiot characters, soaring African-American spirituals. The ridiculous and the sublime sit side by side, with no spillover.

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