Fresh Air

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In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion contemplated how the rituals of everyday life were fundamentally altered after her husband died suddenly in 2003. The book was published in 2005, just months after Didion's only child, her daughter Quintana Roo, died at age 39.

Didion pieces together her memories of her daughter's life and death in her new book Blue Nights. She tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that she was unable to start mourning her daughter's death until she started writing again.

This interview was originally broadcast on January 24, 2011. The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws Of the Cosmos is now available in paperback. Greene is also hosting a NOVA series based on his book The Fabric of the Cosmos.

Our universe might be really, really big — but finite. Or it might be infinitely big.

When I was 12, I was hooked on James Bond, both Ian Fleming's elegantly pulpy novels and the cartoonish movies they spawned. One day, my friend's older brother, who went to Harvard, tossed a paperback onto my lap and said, "Here's the real thing, kid."

In 1985, David M. Kennedy visited Nickerson Gardens, a public housing complex in south-central Los Angeles. It was the beginning of the crack epidemic, and Nickerson Gardens was located in what was then one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America.

"It was like watching time-lapse photography of the end of the world," he says. "There were drug crews on the corner, there were crack monsters and heroin addicts wandering around. ... It was fantastically, almost-impossibly-to-take-in awful."

In the early days of high fidelity, which I remember from childhood, the idea was that it was "almost like being there" when you listened to a record, something the old recordings never really delivered. The five CDs and six-plus hours of The SMiLE Sessions are certainly almost like being there, in the studio with the studio musicians — and, occasionally, The Beach Boys themselves — and Brian Wilson, as he tried to realize something he heard in his head.

Tom Waits: The Fresh Air Interview

Oct 31, 2011

Tom Waits recorded his new album Bad As Me, his first collection of all-new studio recordings in eight years, in his studio, which he calls "Rabbit Foot" for good luck. The space, a converted schoolhouse, still has class pictures dotting the walls of each classroom.

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:

This interview was originally broadcast on Sept. 15, 2010. Man in the Woods is now available in paperback.

Many of Scott Spencer's novels feature a turning point — a dreadful, often unplanned act committed by one of the characters — after which nothing will ever be the same.

Two new films show how tough it is to do justice to good writers on-screen. Johnny Depp certainly means to do right by his pal Hunter S. Thompson in The Rum Diary. He played Thompson in Terry Gilliam's rollicking but not especially watchable Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and narrated a documentary about him.

Almost every time TV takes a look at itself, and tries to explore or explain what it does as a medium, the result is a major disappointment — at least to me. I want TV to take itself seriously, but it almost never does. Every show about TV is either one of those dumb "Top 100" lists that networks like E! and VH1 crank out every month, or it's a show that's built entirely around the guests it can book, the clips it can afford, and the shows on its own network it want to promote.

The title of Deer Tick's new album, Divine Providence, is a pun: The band hails from the capital of Rhode Island. But the other side of the pun is sarcastic. There's little on the album concerning divine providence or care. Nor is the band provident — frugal or prudent — about its talent and music. Group frontman John McCauley continues to sing as though the primary idea is to shred his vocal cords.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Musee d'Orsay in Paris have two of the world's best collections of the work of the French postimpressionist Edgar Degas. The two museums have collaborated on an important show called Degas and the Nude, which includes pieces from major museums and private collections all over the world. Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz, who lives in Boston, was moved by the show, which also triggered a sweet personal memory.

Steve Jobs did his last product launch last March, for the iPad 2. At the close, he stood in front of a huge picture of a sign showing the intersection of streets called Technology and Liberal Arts.

It was a lifelong ideal for Jobs, the same one that had drawn him to make his famous 1979 visit to the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, or Xerox PARC for short. That was where a group of artistically minded researchers had developed the graphical user interface, or GUI, which Apple's developers were to incorporate into the Lisa and the Macintosh a few years later.

Writer Jeffrey Eugenides laments the fact that he was born too late to write a novel about marriage in the style of writers like Jane Austen and Henry James.

"I envy writers who came from a world where social constrictions were still normative and they could still write marriage plots," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I couldn't, being an American born in 1960. ... I didn't think it was possible to write a Jane Austen novel now, and in fact, it isn't. But I did want to traffic in the same ideas."

It bugs Tyshawn Sorey that drummers don't get enough credit as composers, as if rhythm was the only thing they understood about music. That helps explain why Sorey's first two albums cut against expectations. They're studies in the slowly changing colors of long tones and sustained harmonies, a music of quietude and sudden disruptions. But his new album, Oblique — I, is mostly the kind of rollicking band album you'd expect from a powerhouse drummer.

Can people really change? That's the question Laura Dern and Mike White ask in their new HBO series, Enlightened, which premieres Monday night. The show features Dern as Amy Jellicoe, an ambitious executive who has a nervous breakdown at her workplace. She goes to a rehabilitation center in Hawaii, where she experiences an awakening.

Note: Wilhelm Furtwangler's last name is typically spelled with an umlaut over the 'a' character. The npr website does not support characters with umlauts over characters. A variation of Furtwangler's name without the umlaut is spelled Furtwaengler.

Wilhelm Furtwaengler's name may be hard for Americans to pronounce, but the reason this great conductor isn't so well-remembered here is that he chose to remain in Germany during WWII, though he was never a member of the Nazi Party, and was exonerated by a postwar tribunal.

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