Fresh Air on WEKU

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  • Hosted by 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.

Coupled with last week's Game of Thrones premiere, this weekend's HBO lineup really demonstrates the wide range of programming this premium TV service is capable of providing. On Friday, there's a new special, called Talking Funny, in which four top comics spend an hour sitting around and talking comedy.

On Saturday, there's a new made-for-TV movie, called Cinema Verite, which recreates the making of the landmark 1973 PBS documentary series, An American Family, which essentially marked the birth of reality television.

This interview was originally broadcast on Nov. 17, 2010. Siddhartha Mukherjee recently received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for 'The Emperor of all Maladies.'

Oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee was treating one of his patients, a woman with advanced abdominal cancer who had relapsed multiple times, when she asked him what seemed like a simple question.

Perhaps the most famous line in late-20th-century literature comes from Milan Kundera. "The struggle of man against power," he wrote, "is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

One man who has never stopped struggling is Patricio Guzman, the Chilean filmmaker who was imprisoned during the U.S.-backed coup that toppled Chile's elected president, Salvador Allende, and installed a military dictatorship that lasted the next 17 years. Guzman's documentaries have done as much as anything to keep alive the world's memory of what happened to his country that Sept. 11, 1973.

In 1994, three French cave explorers discovered hundreds of prehistoric paintings and engravings on the walls of the Chauvet Cave in southern France.

Carbon dating has since shown that the depictions of rhinoceroses, lions, cave bears, horses, bison, mammoths and other animals are between 30,000 and 32,000 years old.

That doesn't mean the ancient drawings are any less sophisticated than what artists create today, says filmmaker Werner Herzog.

[Editor's note: A new five-disc box set, The Bristol Sessions, 1927-1928, documents a series of historic recordings made on the Tennessee-Virginia border. Ed Ward has this reflection on the sessions and the music they spawned.]

"The Victor Co. will have a recording machine in Bristol for 10 days beginning Monday to record records — inquire at our store."

We all know that plastics are common in modern life, but science journalist Susan Freinkel says they are really literally everywhere — in our toothbrushes, hair dryers, cell phones, computers, door knobs, car parts — and of course in those ubiquitous plastic bags we get it seems every time we buy anything.

The bags are made from polyethylene, the most common type of plastic in use today. By one estimate, Freinkel says, the amount of polyethylene produced in America every year is nearly equal to the combined mass of every man, woman and child in the country.

To fully give yourself over to Mary Gordon's luscious, wistful new novel, you first have to make yourself forget that the Internet exists.

In Stewart O'Nan's 2002 bestseller Wish You Were Here, Emily Maxwell and her family met and squabbled at their summer lake home a year after her husband's death. O'Nan revisits Emily and her family in his latest novel, Emily, Alone, which takes place nearly a decade after Wish You Were Here. The moodily comic novel finds Emily now partially dependent on her sister-in-law Arlene for emotional and physical support — and struggling with the daily indignities of growing older.

Jon Sarkin was working as a chiropractor when he suffered a massive stroke. Afterwards, the 35-year-old became a volatile visual artist with a ferocious need to create, as his brain tried to make sense of the world at large.

"[My artwork is] a manifestation of what happened to me," Sarkin tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I've learned how to visually represent my existential dilemma caused by my stroke."

From 1950 until he died in an auto accident in 1962, Ernie Kovacs created some of the most inventive and unusual television ever made. A new Shout Factor DVD boxed set collects more than 13 hours of the TV pioneer's best and rarest programs. Fresh Air's TV critic David Bianculli, who also teaches television history at Rowan University, couldn't be more thrilled.

The award-winning director Sidney Lumet died Saturday in New York City from lymphoma. He was 86. Lumet was one of Hollywood's most prolific directors, making more than 40 films, including Network, Serpico, Fail-Safe, Dog Day Afternoon, The Wiz, The Verdict and Prince of the City.

In 1988, Lumet joined Terry Gross for a conversation about his career, which spanned more than five decades and included credits for acting, directing, screenwriting and producing.

Kelly Reichardt's frontier drama Meek's Cutoff opens in the year 1845, on the wide-open plains of Oregon, where a wagon team of three families has set out on a journey along the Oregon Trail. After their guide, a suspicious man named Stephen Meek, tells them about a shortcut across the Oregon desert, the settlers, led by Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, become lost.

"I'm losing sleep, I'm losing dignity," Edwyn Collins sings in the title song of his new album, Losing Sleep. Powered by soul-music rhythms and sung in a tough, terse tone, Collins sounds impatient, eager to get on with his life. The music is the work of a man on a mission.

The first shots of the American Civil War were fired 150 years ago in the Charleston, S.C., harbor. Less than two days later, Fort Sumter surrendered. It would take the Union army nearly four years to bring the coastal fortification back under its command.

On Fresh Air, historian Adam Goodheart explains how national leaders and ordinary citizens responded to the chaos and uncertainty in the days and months before and after the struggle at Fort Sumter, an almost-bloodless two-day battle that became the start of the Civil War almost by mistake.

In the world of The Smithereens, women tend to be girls, who tend to be either saviors or destroyers of the singer's closed-in universe. With a lesser band of middle-aged American men deploying guitar chords and harmonies that assiduously evoke 1960s British Invasion pop, this could come off as stunted, even laughable. With The Smithereens, however, it's an achievement in a musical conservatism rendered joyously.

This interview was originally broadcast on Feb. 8, 2010. 'The Autobiography of an Execution' is now available in paperback.

Attorney David Dow has made a career out of defending death row inmates in Texas — a state that boasts the highest number of death row executions nation-wide since 1976.

To me, the only depressing thing about the return of Upstairs, Downstairs — which ran on what was then called Masterpiece Theatre from 1974 to 1977 — is that I reviewed it the first time around. How time flies when you watch too much TV. But I loved it then, and in this new, surprisingly fresh yet faithful sequel, I love it now.

Brian Carpenter's music is like a road map of the U.S. The multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter has cited places like Coney Island and the Florida Panhandle as inspiration for his concept albums Dreamland and Boy From Black Mountain.

On his latest recording, Hothouse Stomp — which he recorded with his ten-piece Ghost Train Orchestra — Carpenter musically travels to the jazz scene in 1920s Harlem and Chicago, when bands had fewer horns and more eclectic rhythm sections.

I Can't Make a Friend, a compilation of The Vagrants' complete body of work, has just been released by Light in the Attic Records.

The Vagrants, between 1964 and '68, rose from a bunch of New York high-schoolers rehearsing in a basement in the Forest Hills section of Queens to playing for thousands of kids in clubs. Chances are, though, if you weren't in the audience, you've never heard the band.

There's a singer-songwriter intimacy in many of the songs on Middle Brother, as though band members John McCauley, Taylor Goldsmith and Matthew Vasquez were sharing secrets and anecdotes and decided to set them to music.

I was raised to dislike Elizabeth Taylor. My mother, who taught me about the movies, disapproved of her countless men — she never forgave Liz for stealing Eddie from Debbie — and flat-out scoffed at her acting. "She's only beautiful," Mom would snort, a line I found convincing — until I reached puberty. Then, like almost every man in the world, I felt the tidal pull of that violet-eyed, raven-haired beauty, whose ethereal perfection contained within it the promise of carnal delight.

In an essay published last November in Canada's Maisonneuve journal, physician Kevin Patterson described his experiences working as an internist-intensivist at the Canadian Combat Surgical Hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

One detail he noticed: The Afghan soldiers, police and civilians he treated in Kandahar had radically different bodies from those of the Canadians he took care of back home.

Twenty years ago, Italian food was predominantly cooked by Italian immigrants in home kitchens. It was associated with Chef Boyardee's canned spaghetti, cheap ingredients and pasta with red sauce. There was no extra virgin olive oil, no celebrity chefs and no high-end pizza restaurants offering patrons their choice of eclectic toppings, followed by gelato in assorted homemade flavors.

Geoff Nunberg is the linguist contributor on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He is the author of the book The Way We Talk Now.

At the start of the fall TV season, HBO gave us the best new series of the year with Boardwalk Empire, which was set in the Prohibition era in Atlantic City, N.J. This Sunday, HBO launches an ambitious, impressive five-hour miniseries — and as with Boardwalk Empire, it's set during the Depression.

There are many spoilers ahead in this piece, and by spoilers, we mean this: If you want to be surprised by the final few episodes of Big Love, you should not read or listen to this piece until you finish the season.