Lynn, who died Oct. 4, grew up in poverty in eastern Kentucky and went on to have 16 No. 1 hits. Her life story was portrayed in the 1980 film Coal Miner’s Daughter. Originally broadcast in 2010.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Loretta Lynn, one of America’s most beloved and influential country music stars, died yesterday at her home in Tennessee. She was 90. Lynn was famous for her singing, her songwriting and her life story, told in the 1980 film “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” The film was adapted from Lynn’s memoir, which described how she grew up in poverty in eastern Kentucky, became a wife at age 15 and, after having four children, started writing songs and performing. She made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry in 1960. Lynn became the first woman to be named entertainer of the year by the Country Music Association in 1972, and in 1988, she was inducted into the Country Hall of Fame. Sixteen of her songs reached No. 1 on the country charts. In her New York Times obituary, Bill Friskics-Warren wrote, quote, “Ms. Lynn built her stardom not only on her music but also on her image as a symbol of rural pride and determination. Her music was rooted in the verities of honky tonk country and the Appalachian songs she had grown up singing.”
Terry interviewed Loretta Lynn in 2010. A tribute CD had been released, which featured her songs recorded by The White Stripes, Steve Earle, Miranda Lambert and others. They started with Loretta’s first recording, “Honky Tonk Girl,” followed by the version on the tribute album performed by Lee Ann Womack.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “I’M A HONKY TONK GIRL”)
LORETTA LYNN: (Singing) Ever since you left me, I’ve done nothing but wrong. Many nights, I’ve laid awake and cried. We once were happy. My heart was in a whirl. But now I’m a honky tonk girl. So turn…
GROSS: Since you worked as an usher at “The Lion King” when you started the process of writing “A Strange Loop” and the main character in “A Strange Loop” is an usher at “The Lion King,” now that you have a hit show, do you talk to the ushers? And do you try to hire ushers for whom this will be a good theater experience, a good opportunity for them to kind of almost be an apprentice?
JACKSON: Well, I don’t have anything to do with hiring the ushers. They’re – they belong to a union, Local 306. They place them in the theaters they work at. But I do. When I go to the show, I do often talk to them. They’re very nice people, but they also have a different situation than I had when I ushered because when you’re a Disney usher, you have this long employee handbook, and you’re considered a cast member. And you’re – and the people who come to see the shows are guests. And they are – and it’s almost like you’re working at a theme park. Like, they want to create, like, an experience for the people coming to see the shows. And so they’re just very strict about everything from grooming to how you can gesture to the restroom and all that sort of stuff. It’s – like, it’s pretty intense.
GROSS: How are you supposed to gesture to the restroom? What’s the proper call?
JACKSON: Open-handed. You’re never supposed to point.
‘A Strange Loop’ writer and composer started out on Broadway as an usher
Michael R. Jackson’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical is about a young Black gay musical theater writer named Usher, who works as an usher at a Broadway show — just like Jackson once did.
FP: After downtown celeb Harry Koutoukas’s apartment caught fire, in 1972, you authored In Search of the Cobra Jewels, a show about his attempt to help clean up the mess. You played Koutoukas. Your memoir recounts that Village Voice culture writer Arthur Bell “was arrested for holding another man’s hand as they crossed the street” from the theater. Progress has been made, but with record-breaking trans deaths and a Conservative backlash, are we moving backward on queer issues?
HF: I don’t believe it’s possible to move backward. We must allow each generation to find its way. What we see happening now with MAGA is the death throes of a generation that can’t stop progress. Conservatives want to move back to a time when they felt more comfortable. But that time is coming to an end.
FP: But there’s such a strident push to recreate the past.
HF: There’s a saying in the antique business—“You can’t go broke by selling people their childhood.” Hucksters are selling back to MAGA a picture of America that no longer exists. Think of it as the difference between weather and climate. The weather changes (MAGA arises) but not the overall (political) climate of ongoing, unstoppable change. That makes them all nervous.
FP: Hyperbole abounds while critical thinking skills evaporate.
HF: My “eBay theory” helps to explain. A postage stamp for sale is displayed in a 3-by-4-inch screen image. A Rolls Royce is presented in the same image size. Over time, Internet and social media technologies have us believing all things are equal.
FP: As in, my opinion is as legitimate as your evidence-proven fact?
HF: Yes. The idiot next door is a COVID expert because he says he is. If everything is equal, then what are critical thinking skills for? As the COVID pandemic progressed, we learned new ways to treat, what/what not to do regarding transmission. It’s a constantly moving target. What was true last month may not be true today, so we adjust our perceptions. We evaluate with critical thinking skills. Many have lost the ability to do that.
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by FRANK PIZZOLI
GROSS: You know, that actually really fits into what you were talking about wanting rules and structure in music.
SONDHEIM: Yeah. Order out of chaos. Order out of chaos. That’s why I like crossword puzzles – order out of chaos.
GROSS: Right. Right. Right.
SONDHEIM: I think that’s what art’s about anyway. I think that’s why people make art.
GROSS: To create order in…
SONDHEIM: To – out of chaos. Yeah.
GROSS: …In a world that’s chaotic? (Laughter).
SONDHEIM: The whole – the world has always been chaotic. Life is unpredictable. It is – there is no form. And making forms gives you solidity. I think that’s why people paint paintings and take photographs and write music and tell stories and – that have beginning, middles and ends, even when the middle is at the beginning and the beginning is at the end.
On why they chose to go with a persona on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
“We’d been The Beatles for quite a while. And when you made a record, you knew you were making a Beatles record, and so you imposed certain parameters on it. So we can’t get too far out because people just go, ‘What the hell’s going on? They’ve gone mad!’ So you had certain standards for Beatles records [and] you were always trying to advance those standards, but there were limits that you felt. And also when you stepped up to a microphone, you were conscious of all that background of, ‘I’m Beatle Paul, and I’m going to do a Beatle Paul song.’
“I don’t think it really was terrifying or even boring, but I had this idea to just change our identity and make ourselves think that we were kind of another band. So it meant now anything goes, we don’t have to sing like The Beatles. We can sing like whoever they saw the band is. In the end, the name came out of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. So the idea was so that when you stepped up to a microphone, it was not now John Lennon Beatle doing his song. It was a guy out of this strange band, and in some way, it was just liberating.”
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. My guests Desus and Mero host the Showtime comedy series “Desus & Mero” Sunday and Thursday nights at 11. Their third season resumed after a monthlong hiatus last night. It was their first show back in the studio since the pandemic. At the heart of the show is Desus and Mero talking to each other, making each other and the audience laugh about everything from politics to viral videos, sports, pop culture and the Bronx, where they each grew up in the ’80s and early ’90s. The show also has sketches, and in each show, Desus and Mero do an interview. They get high-profile guests like Barack Obama, Anthony Fauci, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Chadwick Boseman, Seth Meyers and Chris Hayes, who went to school with Desus.
Every seven years since 1964, in what’s known as the Up series, Granada Television has caught us up on the lives of 14 everyday people. The subjects of the documentary series were 7 years old when it began; in the latest installment, 56 Up, they are well into middle age.
Apted on what this experience has been like for him
“What can I say? I mean, it’s the favorite thing I’ve ever done, the thing I’m most proud of. It’s nerve-wracking, because you think you’re always going to blow it and you’ll wreck the whole thing. It seems fragile, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons about it. I’ve made mistakes on it and had to correct those mistakes. You know, particularly I got into a situation, I think, early on where I became judgmental about people — that if they didn’t agree with my standards of success, failure, happiness, whatever, then I would feel they were the lesser for it. And also I try to play God. I try to predict what might happen to people, and sort of set it all up for that. And I did that, and that was an embarrassing mistake. And I think what I’ve learned all the way through is the less I do, the better.”
Photographer Bob Gruen spent decades capturing the lives and performances of rock stars of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, including John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Tina Turner — and many more.
Gruen put in many hours backstage, in studios and on the road, sometimes doing drugs and drinking until dawn with his subjects.
“I carried a little flask of cognac in my camera case. It was part of my equipment. That’s the way it was in the ’70s,” he says. “I don’t know how I survived, because I crave peace and quiet — but I actually thrive in chaos.”
Gruen approached his subjects collaboratively, often soliciting their opinion about a photograph instead of trying to catch them off guard. He describes his work as an effort to capture the feeling and passion of music — not just the facts.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and Zócalo Public Square present “Is Rock ‘n’ Roll All About Reinvention?” featuring Eddie Van Halen with Denise Quan.
Find out more here
Sun-Times film critic and author Roger Ebert discusses his book “Roger Ebert’s Book of Film: From Tolstoy to Tarantino, The Finest Writing From A Century of Film” (published by Norton); reads passages from his book.