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Singer, Songwriter, and Guitarist Robbie Fulks

Fulks has one foot in the singer/songwriter scene and one in country music. He spent three years writing songs in Nashville, but no one opted to record his songs. So he's recently come out with a new CD of his own music, "Let's Kill Saturday Night" (Geffen Records). Fulks began his career as a regular at the same fabled Greenwich Village hole in the wall where Bob Dylan made a name for himself. He joins Fresh Air to talk about his career and sing some of his songs.


Other segments from the episode on December 2, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 2, 1998: Interview with Robbie Fulks; Review of the television show "A Charlie Brown Christmas."


Date: DECEMBER 02, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 120201np.217
Head: Robbie Fulks
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

For about three years Robbie Fulks wrote a song a week for a Nashville publishing company, but no performers chose to record his songs. Too bad for them, he writes some great songs and we're about to hear him sing a few.

He's gone off on his own now, writing and performing rock as well as country songs. He lives in Chicago where he taught for many years at the famed Old Town School of Folk Music. He's starting to become better-known; he opened for the Ben Folds Five on a recent tour.

Fulks first two CDs are on the small independent label Bloodshot Records, but now he's making his major label debut on Geffen. Before we meet him, let's hear the title song of his new CD "Let's Kill Saturday Night."


Every dollar I make
Is a buck I owe
And a forty hour week
Leaves ten to go

But every game in this town
Is just a nickel and dime
When the sun goes down
It feels like the last time

So (unintelligible)
If there's a fire inside
That's the one thing going
I've got the Mustang loaded

I've got a wrong to right
I've got a little red (unintelligible)
Let's kill Saturday night
(Unintelligible) this misery
I live in this history

Let's kill Saturday night

GROSS: That's the title track from Robbie Fulks new CD. Robbie Fulks, welcome to FRESH AIR.


GROSS: You kind of have a foot in the rock singer-songwriter world, and a foot in the country music world. What do you see as the difference between those two musical places?

FULKS: Well, first of all, I see that they have some things in common. They have -- my favorite kinds of rock and country music have a live performance quality in common where you get genetically great musicians in a room, looking at each other and playing off of each other.

And if there are occasional, you know, so-called mistakes then that's less important than the overall vibe and the quality of communication with each other in the band and with the listener.

And also, as far as the songwriting goes, a kind of -- a kind of unflinching honesty, and authentic personality, and point of view in the songwriting are things that I like both in rock songwriting and country songwriting.

But as far as what's different besides all the cosmetic things, you know, that one is kind of louder and uglier then the other one - a lot of the time. I think that rock songwriting permits more impressionism and more obscurity in some of the lyrics than country songwriting does.

To me, the special terrain that country works so well -- that no other kind of music does is the taking the everyday problems of life and dealing with them in simple, universal, uncompromising language.

GROSS: I'd love for you to do a song for us. Let me suggest a song that you also do on your new CD, and it's called "I Can't Win for Losing You." Would you say something about the song before you sing it for us?

FULKS: Yeah, it's not an earth shaking song, and the lyrics are, like I said, simple and universal. It kind of reminds me of a Roger Miller kind of '60s groove. It's a shuffle, and it's one of those things -- another thing that country specializes in, I guess, is sad songs set to happy uptempo grooves.


There you go again
Out of control again
Off running like the wind
Leaving me blue

Well I take you back and then
You break my heart again
It seems I just can't win
For losing you

We tried a thousand times
To keep this love alive
But your fickle heart
Just can't be true

Now I've pinned
my every hope
On to my I just can't win
For losing you

There you go again
Out of control again
Off running like the wind
Leaving me blue

I take you back and then
You break my heart again
It seems I just can't win
For losing you

Well a man's a fool
That makes the same mistake
Time after time
And feels each heartache

Like it was brand new
Yes I direct your broken dreams
With times
But I just can't win
For losing you

There you go again
Out of control again
Off running like the wind
Leaving me blue

I take you back and then
You break my heart again
It seems that I just can't win
For losing you

It seems that I just can't win
For losing you

GROSS: That's a really good song. I really like that a lot. That's Robbie Fulks, and it's a song he also does on his new album. The album is called "Let's Kill Saturday Night."

Robbie, you lived in Nashville for a few years, and you were actually working for one of those song publishing companies; writing a lot of songs for the company. Being like a staff songwriter.

That must have been a really interesting experience. What made you decide to go down to Nashville and try out that life, and that approach in the music business?

FULKS: Well, you know, Nashville was there and so I decided to take a stab at it. I had a friend that worked down there as a staff songwriter. I never did live down there actually, but I'd been up in Chicago for the last 15 years, and I got a family up here and stuff so I couldn't quite take the plunge and totally relocate.

But I thought I'd get my foot in the door and I was so -- I was so encouraged by my first trip or two down there that, you know, I got a writer deal in fairly fast order and got set up with a performance rights organization, and away we went.

And that's where I just kind of hit the brick wall after that, but it did let me spend three years kind of honing my craft, and, you know, as a part-time job it let me spend several hours every day just sitting in my room and writing songs; and that was just invaluable to me.

GROSS: What's the deal like working with a publishing company?

FULKS: Well, you sort of -- you sort of have a, you know, an editor to help give you feedback and, you know, somebody at the publisher will say: well, this line -- at a good publisher that is -- will say: this line doesn't exactly feed out of this line before it and this hook isn't quite strong enough; or, you know, this song -- go back and rewrite this from a female point of view; and make it a little softer; and take out that mention where you say that the singer is five feet two inches because we want somebody taller to be able to sing it to.

So, I get all sorts of comments like that, and sometimes I pay attention to, and sometimes I wouldn't. And then they'll go out and record and try to pitch them to Garth Brooks or whoever, and try to make you a million dollars.

GROSS: So, I can see how the artiste in you would feel offended that somebody was editing your songs. On the other hand, it must have been really helpful craft wise to have somebody critiquing your song like that.

FULKS: Yeah, well, I kind of knew what I was getting into, I guess, when I took the job. And to me it was: well, spend some time writing for this market or, you know, as best I can and that kind of work is sort of more like crossword puzzle work.

And then I'll spend the rest of the time just writing whatever I feel like, and that's how I got, for instance, a lot of the songs off of the "Let's Kill Saturday Night" record was, you know, that other half of the time that was just for me.

GROSS: What about "I Can't Win for Losing You," which you just played, which was that?

FULKS: That was more let's a Nash -- that was a Nashville pitch actually because I wrote it -- I cowrote it with a songwriter down there, and they demoed it in pretty quick order; they liked that one a lot.

But in general people down there aren't looking for something that old-fashioned sounding the same, and, you know, the shuffle quality, and the little yodel quality, and all the rest of that is so old hat and outmoded to them that that didn't really trip any triggers down there.

GROSS: So, what's in, if that's out?

FULKS: What's in is kind of soft rock. You know, my friend John Langford (ph) says that country music today is just kind of like suburban lite rock music, and that's pretty much it to me. It's got to be -- it helps if it's kind of feminized and socially aware, and doesn't -- and doesn't offend anybody.

GROSS: Do you want to do a few bars of what you think of as the prototypical song that you've just described?

FULKS: Well, no, I don't want to offend any other songwriters, but I got plenty that I wrote like that. Like -- here's a chorus of something I wrote.


Look how close we came
When we hardly had a prayer
And only seconds left to spare
Then the hand of fate

Came and pulled us from the flames
I can't imagine losing everything
But look how close we came

FULKS: That kind of thing, you know. To me, that was a Tim McGraw kind of a pitch, and I'm singing it - kind of making fun of it as I'm singing it. But it's a song about a guy that almost lost his wife, and then they almost lost his kids and blah, blah, blah, blah.

GROSS: I think whenever the hand of fate makes an appearance it's always a bad sign.

FULKS: A very bad sign.

GROSS: How did you feel when you wrote a "hand of fate" line?


FULKS: I thought it was great. "The hand to fate pulled him from the flame." I thought: well, this is just cliched enough to send out to middle America and see what happens.

GROSS: Now, who decides on the fate of a song? You write it, you send it to the publishing company, and then what happens?

FULKS: And then it's just out in the free marketplace down in Nashville for various A & R people, and producers, and artists to listen to and decide if they want to do it.

GROSS: How do they shop for songs or how are songs shopped to them?

FULKS: I don't know. I've never done it. I don't really know, except it's just kind of an insular network down there where they'll have meetings.

Well, an artist, for instance, will -- there's a thing called Rowfax (ph) which is a facsimile that is sent out every week and that has lists of so and so -- Brooks & Dunn are looking for an tempo tune a la Marie or whatever the last hit was.

And so and so is looking for a hot ballad. And most of them just say so and so is looking for a gigantic it.

GROSS: So, basically, you'd sit home and hope that the hand of fate would point one of your songs out to a hot singer.


FULKS: Uh-huh.

GROSS: My guest is Robbie Fulks. His new CD is called "Let's Kill Saturday Night." He'll be back after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is country and rock singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks.

Did you give yourself different assignments so, you know, that you'd have different kinds of singers to work for. Like, well, today I'll try the ballad, next week I'll try the uptempo for a middle aged singer-songwriter -- for a middle-aged woman singer or something?

FULKS: Yeah, definitely. You set yourself little tasks like that and, you know, at some point it just so un-you and so unauthentic that it just shows through the songwriting.

So it's -- for me it was a little difficult to walk that line where I'd use lyrics that were obviously cliched, and obviously that I didn't believe while I was writing them; but still try to make it sincere sounding. So, maybe it was just inevitably an impossible task from the beginning.

GROSS: On the other hand, I think there must be something very liberating about writing for a character as opposed to writing confessional autobiographical lyrics. And just thinking about, you know, the shapeliness of the song instead of thinking about whether you, personally, really mean it.

FULKS: Yeah. Or its like -- it's like a lot of great writers that got their start writing pulp fiction or obituaries or H.L. Mencken doing crime reporting or anything like that. It's just a place to get your tools together, and it is helpful to get outside of your personality and try to adopt other voices, I think.

GROSS: I'm going to ask you to do another song, and this is from a previous album that was called "South Mouth." And the song is called "Forgotten But Not Gone." Tell us how you wrote this, and if you had anybody or any type of song in mind while doing it.

FULKS: Yeah, I had sort of a Johnny Paycheck style in mind. Johnny's got a lot of stuff that he did with Aubrey Mayhew on the Little Darling label in the late '60s that is just as good as anything ever done in country music. This is, of course, well before the "Take This Job and Shove It" period which got a little bit more cartoonish.

But like a lot of stuff you write, the start with an idea kind of gets away from that, so the end product doesn't really sound that much like him, but it still has some of the chord changes that I liked about some of that stuff.


This old house turned cold
When he walked in
Oh when I felt myself fainting
As you smiled at him

Now lately I'm just barely hanging on
A shadow of the man you loved
Forgotten but not gone
Forgotten like a fool that time passed by

But the day that I let go
I know I'll die
Unwanted man a ghost in my own home
That's how it feels to be forgotten but not gone

Every night these two arms
Reach out for you
But you just can't feel their touch
The way you used to

I guess no heart
Can hold two loves for too long
One staked his claim
Now one remains forgotten but not gone

Forgotten like a fool the time passed by
Now I see my whole life passing
In your eyes
And the epitaph carved in your heart of stone

Here lies a true love
Forgotten but not gone

GROSS: That's Robbie Fulks performing a song that he wrote called "Forgotten but Not Gone." And he has a new CD called "Let's Kill Saturday Night."

So, what was the fate of that song after you wrote it?

FULKS: Nothing happened to that one. You mean as far as the Nashville network?

GROSS: Yeah, that's one of the ones you submitted, right?

FULKS: Oh, sure, yeah. I mean, I'd write four or five a month and send them all down, and just see what happened. Nothing happened to that one, so I went and recorded it.

And, you know, as I started doing my own records I started getting the suspicion that anything that didn't really excite them down there might be a worthy song so that I could consider it; one that I my record myself.

GROSS: Did you feel like you had to have a certain number of hooks per songs or like what advice did they give you on hooks?

FULKS: I think we -- my publisher and I both thought that I was pretty hook oriented to begin with, so I don't think I ever got the response: go back and make this more memorable sounding or, you know, centered all on the hook.

I had that part of the craft pretty well down. I think most of the advice that I got was -- was what I was saying, just take some of the hard edges off, nobody's ever going to sing a song like: oh, I feel like a dog. Or anything that's -- anything that's that un-up with people or bluesy; nobody's going to get that here. There's a wash of positive Oprah Winfrey style feeling down in Nashville nowadays, apparently.

GROSS: Robbie Fulks, he has a new CD called "Let's Kill Saturday Night." It's on Geffen Records. He'll be back in the second half of the show and play more of his songs for us.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

Back with singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks. He has a new CD called "Let's Kill Saturday Night;" he writes rock and country songs. For about three years he wrote nearly a song a week for a Nashville music publishing company.

No one recorded his songs, but now he's recording them himself. He that his editors at the publishing company occasionally asked him to change hard edged lyrics.

Can you play a few bars of something that got the most negative reaction that you like?

FULKS: Sure. Early on they -- I found out about the great -- I don't know, the great woman problem which was that stuff that you write for that market has to fit into what they think a woman would want to sing or want to hear, and that automatically disqualified about 90 percent of my catalog.

But they would say go back and write something that's more friendly to women. So, just to be sort of ornery I went back home one time and wrote a song called -- I said: I got one here that I really think you'll like. And they said: what's the name of it? And I said: "Hating Women" is the name of it.


The chorus kind of went:


Hating women hating women
Yeah I loathe them like the Dickens
But you won't get far hating women
All right

FULKS: And it had a verse about Ernest Hemingway; and a verse about pornographers; and a verse about shopping; and it was just calculated for them not to like it. It was a pretty good song too.

GROSS: Inspired a little bit by "Rockin' Robin," maybe?

FULKS: Exactly.

GROSS: Yeah. There's another song that I imagine didn't endear you to the Nashville community, though, I don't know if they ever got to hear it. And I'm thinking of a song that's on your new CD called "God Isn't Real." Did you send that one down to Nashville?

FULKS: Yeah. That's one of the ones that you send -- that I sent it in partly because it's so fun to watch the way the Christian receptionist down there at the place where I worked, and one of her jobs is to write up all the titles in the database.

And there were some titles of mine that she just wouldn't write, and it was always fun to try and make up some of these titles that would stop her fingers on the keyboard.

GROSS: Is that why you wrote the song?

FULKS: That was one of the -- that's not why I wrote the song, but that was definitely the most fun thing about submitting that, and also another song of mine "F This Town" which was another one that stopped her fingers from typing.

GROSS: It's like a Nashville anti-anthem. Play us a chorus of "God Isn't Real," but before you do tell us what inspired the song.

FULKS: Well, this song is an atheist song, and it basically represents my point of view or a slightly radicalized or a caricature version of my point of view about the problem of evil and the implausibility of divine intelligence in the world.

And the first chorus for instance, goes.


Go ask the starving millions
Under Stalin's cruel reign
Go ask the child with cancer
Who eases her pain
Then go to your churches
If that's how you feel
But don't ask me to follow
For God isn't real

FULKS: That's the first chorus of that.

GROSS: So, what reactions did you get to it?

FULKS: That is another one that kind of went into a black hole as far as they were concerned. But sort of an interesting reaction playing that -- that's on my new record and so I play it all the time now when I go out.

And there's often a contingent of people that either refuse to clap, very ostentatiously refused to clap, for that one; or stare angrily or, on occasion, just leave the concert at that point.

That's happened in a couple of cities so far; Atlanta, Oklahoma City, and a couple of other places. So, we always kind of look forward to playing that and just seeing what will happen.

GROSS: Does it ever bother you that by singing that "God Isn't Real" you're not only expressing your opinions as an atheist, but your saying the God other people believe in isn't real and that you really might be offending them or challenging them in some way?

FULKS: No, I don't think so because I think the free exchange of ideas is a fine and American tradition that I'd like to uphold. And I was -- on the same topic -- I was doing in an interview with a right-wing paper; the interviewer was Christian and -- this was just the other week, and he said: well, I appreciate your putting it out on the table like that because so much of the atheism that you hear in modern pop culture is just sort of a hidden and watered down pre-supposition in music; or in movies; or in MTV shows, and it's seldom stated so bluntly.

So, better to -- better not to be around the bush and just lay cards out, I think.

GROSS: So, what reaction did you get at your publishing company when you sent the song down? You didn't really expect somebody was going to do it, right?


FULKS: No, I really expected Alan Jackson might take a stab at that. I'm just that naive. No, I didn't hear anything, and I didn't expect to.

GROSS: Did you see the Garth Brooks TV special recently?

FULKS: No, I don't really watch TV. I heard about it -- I read about it somewhere.

GROSS: There's a part in his concert -- this was like a video clip where he goes flying a la Peter Pan across the stadium that he's performing in. he's, I suppose, suspended by wires the way everybody who plays Peter Pan on Broadway is.

And I thought,: wow, is that what you need to do now to sing country music -- is fly across the stadium while singing with one of those little portable microphones?

FULKS: That's great. I wish we could have just seen Web Pierce flying around over his audience.

GROSS: Exactly. Who can imagine that?


FULKS: I'd pay to see that.

GROSS: You have a song called "(Blank) This Town," "(Epithet) This Town" which is a song about Nashville. Do you want to do just a couple of bars of that? And you can say "(Blank) This Town" instead of the word that you really use.

FULKS: Sure.

GROSS: Or another substitute, if you prefer.


Hey this ain't country western
It's just soft rock feminist crap
And I thought they'd struck bottom
Back in the day of Ronnie Milsap

Now they can't stop the flood of (beep)
There ain't a big enough ASCAP
Sure I like old Tim Carroll (ph)
And BR549

But Nashville don't need that noise
No Nashville will do just fine
As long as there's a moron market
And a (beep)

FULKS: I don't how much I can say this.


So, beep.


GROSS: I'm wondering did the people who you were working with hear that song, and did they take it personally. Like: what are you this guy doesn't need a break if that's the way he feels about the city and the music coming out of it.

FULKS: Probably, that didn't help my cause.


GROSS: Probably.


GROSS: Were you in a moment of particular frustration when you wrote that?

FULKS: I was having a really good time when I wrote that, but -- I mean, I have to say as far as all of this relates to like sending stuff in and what their reactions were to it -- I just kind of -- after the first year of my three year deal I stopped even thinking about it anymore and just started writing for my own pleasure because so little was happening that I kind of gave up on it.

That song was written shortly after I gave up on it, and it was great to vent, spleen, and just to have total fun writing a song to say whatever you wanted to say.

GROSS: Robbie Fulks is my guest, and he has a new CD called "Let's Kill Saturday Night." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more and we'll hear some more music.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Back with Robbie Fulks, he has a new CD called "Let's Kill Saturday Night." He's a songwriter and a singer; he writes both rock songs and country songs and has a mix of both on his new CD.

Now that you're just writing for yourself, and your not sending songs to the Nashville publishing company, how has it affected your songwriting?

FULKS: It makes it harder because, as I say, when you're writing for a particular market and writing in a style that a lot of other people are writing in; the rules are kind of there, laid down, and it's a little more crossword puzzle like.

But in writing -- there's a song called "Take Me to the Paradise" on my new record that I absolutely wasn't working from some other form, at least consciously, in my head as I was writing it. There wasn't so much of a model or prototype for that kind of a song that I could think of.

And so it's a lot harder to get it right because you write a line and it doesn't automatically trigger: oh yeah, this says that and now the next think I need to say is that. If you know what I mean.

GROSS: Right. Right. Can you play a little bit of the song you were just describing, "Take Me to the Paradise?"

FULKS: Sure.


Stained glass windows smoked wood tables
The slaves of culture toil by night
The pall of perfume true confessions
And when the air gets thick as this

You can cut it with a straw
And as the moon hangs over Waverly they call
Take me to the paradise
Let me live once more

Better men have faced these walls
And fallen on the floor

FULKS: So, a song like that is clearly a little bit more literary in it's aims than a lot of the songs I was just playing for you a second ago.

GROSS: A little more oblique?

FULKS: Mmm-hmm.

GROSS: Mmm-hmm.

FULKS: And harder to write.

GROSS: Now, when you're writing a rock song do you think it needs hooks in the way that your country songs do?

FULKS: Yeah. I like everything to be memorable. I like a song that when you hear it one time, and you think: well, I've heard this a million times before but you haven't.

That's the kind -- that's what I liked about the music that hit me when I was growing up; the Beatles music and all that kind of pop music. And, yeah; hooks, hooks, hooks.

GROSS: When we have singer-songwriter's on the show I like to ask them at the end to redeem a song. So, I want to ask you if you can think of a song that a lot of us might find uninteresting or square, and that you think is a really swell song that you'd like to play for us and redeem? When you think of a song, would you introduce it for us?

FULKS: Yeah. Let me think a second. This is called "Dancing Queen" by ABBA.


Friday night and the lights are low
Looking out for a place to go
Where they play the right music
Getting in the swing

You're going to (unintelligible)
Anybody could be that guy
Lights are low and the music's high
Where they play the right music

And get in the swing
You're in the mood for dance
And when you get the chance
You are the dancing Queen

Long and sweet only 17
Dancing Queen feel the beat
Of a tambourine oh yeah
You can dance you can jive

Having the time of your life
Oh see that girl
Watch that scene
Dig it the Dancing Queen

When you tease and you turn it on
Leave them burning but then you're gone
Looking out for another
Anyone will do your in the mood for dance

And when you get the chance
You are the Dancing Queen
Young and sweet only 17
Dancing Queen feel the beat

Of the tambourine oh yeah
You can dance you can jive
Having the time of your life
Oh see that girl

Watch that scene
Dig it the Dancing Queen
Dig it the Dancing Queen

GROSS: Well, I'm very impressed. I mean, you not only did it, you did the whole song. You had it all worked out. Do you do this in your shows?

FULKS: No, I haven't done that one. We did it -- I don't know, maybe three years ago for two or three times and then it kind of got lost in the shuffle.

GROSS: Now, what do you love about the song? Why did you choose that to redeem?

FULKS: I like that one because it's so much about melody and chords, and, you know, the words are so obviously just kind of wretched words written by people that don't speak English that well. But to me it underscores the idea that the words are less important than everything else a lot of the time.

Just a general vibe groove, melody, chorus. And, I don't know any time that there's like a sexy 17 year old character in it it's ipso facto interesting, I think.

GROSS: Well, it's been great to have you on the show, Robbie Fulks. I thank you very much for performing for us and talking with us.

I'd like to end with some music from your new CD "Let's Kill Saturday Night." I was thinking -- well, I've chosen so many of the songs today -- would you like to choose the song to close with?

FULKS: Sure. Well, you said you liked that duet with Lucinda on there why don't you play that one?

GROSS: OK. That's called "Pretty Little Poison." This sounds to me like a heroin song, yes?

FULKS: Well, it's a love as narcotic - love as an addiction kind of a song.

GROSS: Tell me about writing it. Was this a song you wrote for Nashville or for yourself?

FULKS: I wrote it for myself a long time -- well not -- like six years ago. Something like that, and it always seemed incomplete. I never could get a second verse going to it.

But once -- once I got the idea of singing it with Lucinda, and once she had agreed to come in and do it, it just took on a life of its own. And when we had actually done it and listened back to it, it just sounded so good that we had to -- we knew that we had to put it on there on the album.

GROSS: Well, lets close with that. This is "Pretty Little Poison" from Robbie Fulks' new CD "Let's Kill Saturday Night." Robbie Fulks, a real pleasure. Thank you so much.

FULKS: Thank you.


Every time I turn you loose
Time breaks down my will
There's a craving in my heart
That no other love can kill

I can't find a way to stop
And so I just let go
You reach a place in me
I don't even want to know

Fill me up pretty little poison
Knock that magic through my legs
Make it flash make it right
Down I go pretty little poison

I can't tell this blindness from night
Oh love hold me tight between your knees
Oh love press my lips to your disease
Well my love is lifeblood

The thing I need inside of me
Fill me up pretty little poison
Knock that magic through my veins
Make it flash make it rain down like love

Pretty little poison
So I can't...

GROSS: Robbie Fulks and Lucinda Williams from Fulks' new CD "Let's Kill Saturday Night." His FRESH AIR performance was recorded at the NPR Chicago bureau by Lorna White and Bob Westin.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Robbie Fulks
High: Singer, songwriter, guitarist Robbie Fulks. He has one foot in the singer/songwriter scene, and one in country music. In fact he spent three years writing songs in Nashville, but no one opted to record his songs. So, he's recently come out with a new CD of his own music, "Let's Kill Saturday Night." Fulks began his career as a regular at the same fabled Greenwich Village hole in the wall where Bob Dylan made a name for himself. Fulks also taught guitar at Chicago's famed Old Town School of Folk Music.
Spec: Robbie Fulks; Entertainment; Music Industry

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Robbie Fulks

Date: DECEMBER 02, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 120202NP.217
Head: David Bianculli
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: According to our TV critic David Bianculli, the best thing on TV tonight is a show that's 33 years old and that CBS has repeated every year since it was first broadcast in 1965. But, David says, it's not the same holiday special it used to be.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: There's no contest. When it comes to holiday TV specials there is one that stands out above all others; "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was the very first attempt to adapt for television the comic strip characters of Charles M. Schultz. And no one's come up with a better Christmas special since.

The animation, in spots, is down right sloppy. For example, the scraggly Christmas tree Charlie Brown gets for the school pageant keeps changing shape from scene to scene.

That's because "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was a rush order made in three months for Coca-Cola, its sole sponsor. And separate animation crews were drawing different scenes as fast as they could.

But in a way, the almost childlike quality of the drawings fits right in with this wonderful special. Producer-director Bill Melendez had real kids doing the voices of the Peanuts gang, and composer Vince Garaldi provided a simple jazzy score that some of the best and most appropriate music ever written for television.

Then, of course, there's the author's message which is about the triumph of the true Christmas spirit in the face of rampant commercialism. All these elements come together near the end, after everyone laughs at Charlie Brown's scrawny little tree; everyone but Linus, that is, who takes center stage to recite a passage from the Gospel of St. Luke.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR PORTRAYING CHARLIE BROWN: I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn't have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don't know what Christmas is all about. Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR PORTRAYING LINUS: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights, please.

And there were, in the same country, shepards; abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night, and, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them.

And the glory of the Lord shall round about them. And they were so afraid, and the angel said unto them: "Fear not. For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this should be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger."

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying: glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace and goodwill toward men.

BIANCULLI: For the first five years it was shown, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was seen in an average of half the homes watching television. All these years later, it's still an annual TV tradition - along with "The Wizard of Oz, the Oscars, and the Super Bowl - one of the few we have left.

But here's the sad part: the special you'll see tonight is not really the same one that won both an Emmy and a Peabody in 1965. Over the years this half hour "Charlie Brown Christmas" has lost at least three minutes or more than ten percent of its content.

All to provide more time for CBS and its affiliates to sell ads. I checked with Leonardo Moran (ph), a director of animation at Bill Melendez Productions, and he told me this week that most of the cuts have come by deleting entire scenes.

There have also been a few changes; in the opening scene at the ice skating pond, Snoopy grabs Linus' blanket and takes Charlie Brown and him on a wild ride, eventually sliding Charlie Brown across the ice and into a tree.

In the original version, it wasn't a tree. In the one paid for by Coke, Charlie Brown smashed squarely into a Coca-Cola sign. I can see why that was changed after the first year, but I don't see why CBS doesn't give "A Charlie Brown Christmas" the respect it deserves, and offer a restored version with all the other original scenes reinstated.

The network could pair it with another special and present them in a 90 minute package, allowing room for the ads and the full length shows. Or, it could expand "A Charlie Brown Christmas" to an hour, adding a behind the scenes documentary about how it was made.

The year 2000 will mark the 35th anniversary of this great special, and that would seem to be plenty of time for CBS to order up a fitting showcase and tribute.

Meanwhile, we have tonight's truncated, but still fabulous rerun, and on TV and CD, we'll always have Vince Garaldi's best song of all - the instrumental called "Linus and Lucy." As far as I'm concerned, this is the true spirit of Christmas too.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the "New York Daily News."

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: David Bianculli
High: TV critic David Bianculli reviews "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Spec: Entertainment; Television and Radio; Charlie Brown

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: David Bianculli
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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