For nine years, I was one of the producers for The Bob Edwards Show, a daily interview program on SiriusXM. We also made a version that was distributed to public radio stations, called Bob Edwards Weekend.
I helped research guests, record interviews and edit tape. I enjoyed doing those things, but the most fun I had was writing words for Bob to speak. I took it as a great honor and responsibility to write for a voice I’d been listening to my entire life — a Hall-of-Fame broadcaster.
The recordings of those interviews aren’t available online. But I’ve excerpted some of my favorite scripts for Bob here:
For an interview with Michael Chabon about his book, Telegraph Avenue.
The East Bay of northern California is a place defined by what is NOT. The cities there — Oakland and Berkeley — are unlike their ritzier cousin on the other side of the bay. Berkeley — home of the University of California, brimming with progressive politics, has a reputation for standing apart from the rest of the country. And Oakland, with a more industrial lineage, and a history of racial strife, has been infamously described as having no “there” there — a collection of nothing at all. What a place to set a novel. Telegraph Avenue is both the title of Michael Chabon’s latest book, and the border between Oakland and Berkeley. I asked him to talk about the two cities.
It’s The Bob Edwards Show on Sirius XM Public Radio. I’m talking with Michael Chabon. His new novel is named after a street in California. Telegraph Avenue is like the Rio Grande in Texas. The people on each side are as alike as they are different. The avenue is the border between Oakland and Berkeley, where white college types mix with working class African Americans. The characters in ‘Telegraph Avenue” bump up against racial politics as they muddle through events that threaten their businesses and their marriages. Despite all the bumps in the road that Chabon creates for his characters, the book has an upbeat tone.
It’s the Bob Edwards Show on XM Public Radio. In the early 1990s, the top women in music were Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, and Whitney Houston. None of them ever sang anything like this:
[MUSIC UP FULL FOR LIZ PHAIR LYRICS]
Liz Phair burst onto the music scene in the summer of 1993. Her first album — Exile in Guyville — was released in 1993 and hailed by the alternative music press, appearing on countless year end top ten lists. Phair recorded the album in Chicago, and the buzz there was huge even BEFORE the CD hit stores. She got a lot of attention — from the media, record companies, and other musicians. It was quite a change for someone who didn’t have a band, hadn’t performed on stage, and who was used to being ignored by the male-dominated music scene.
[MUSIC UP FULL]
Phair patterned Exile in Guyville after the Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street, which she thought of as a long love letter. Guyville was the flipside — a letter from a young woman who both wants to lash out at the men in her life, but also find love.
There’s no sport more popular than football, in America. Fans paint their bodies and wear silly costumes to sit in stadium seats that they spent thousands of dollars to occupy. They travel hundreds of miles to see their college team play the hated arch rivals… maybe even setting fire to a few cars, depending on the outcome. Football is a money maker, too. Television networks pay millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast games, top college coaches have six-figure incomes, and even lowly professional franchises sell for a billion dollars. Even high school football is big business, with private academies recruiting students from all over the country. But, in some communities, high school football is MORE than business. It is salvation. If a boy can throw farther or run faster than anyone else on his team, he just might escape a life of poverty and random violence to attend college and become a millionaire in the National Football League. That’s the situation Bryan Mealer found when he visited Belle Glade, Florida. I asked him about his first impressions of the town.
For an interview with Christo and Jean-Claude, as they were planning the installation “Over The River.”
When Christo and Jeanne-Claude begin planning a work of art, they don’t hunt for brushes and canvas. They take bids on miles of fabric, tons of steel, and giant spools of wire. They don’t negotiate with galleries, but with mayors, farmers, and the Bureau of Land Management. The world is their canvas, and to it they add carefully arranged oil barrels, custom-designed umbrellas, and draped fabric, which has covered trees, seacoasts, and bridges, among other things. Their works do not remain forever. After a set period of time, art returns to its former life, as an ancient wall, a prairie, a valley. What Christo and Jeanne-Claude create is visually striking, and challenging — How does covering a bridge or a seacoast with fabric transform it into “art?”
In 2005, Christo and Jeanne-Claude created The Gates. For sixteen days, New York City’s Central Park was festooned with 7,503 saffron-colored, free-standing doorways. Fabric hung from the top of each one, playing in the wind, and nearly brushing the heads of the people who walked underneath. Seen from above, it appeared an orange river was flowing through the park. Now, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are planning Over the River, a project that will suspend fabric panels above the Arkansas River in Colorado.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude were born on the same day, June 13, 1935… he in Bulgaria, she in France. They met 23 years later in Paris … beginning their partnership not through the avant-garde, but art-for hire.
Professional wrestling gets a bad rap. Elites deride it as lowbrow entertainment. Sports fans dismiss it as fake. Both of these perspectives miss the point. Wrestling is fun. Professional wrestling showcases the drama of competition, with the drama amped up and the competition ratcheted down. Not to say that the grappling part of wrestling is fake. The body slams, pile drivers and folding chairs to the skull are quite real. But fans can scream for blood, egged on by posturing bad guys and conniving managers… knowing that the REAL point of the match isn’t to maim, but to entertain. That mission is part of the name of World Wrestling Entertainment, the largest professional wrestling company on the planet, which broadcasts to one hundred and forty-five countries, and trades under the stock symbol WWE at around ten dollars a share. That’s a long way from the humble beginnings of professional wrestling — touring carnivals in the 1940s and 50s that led to regular matches and regional territories. A new documentary tells the story of one of the most colorful territories. It’s called “Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin’.” I talked with the director, Chad Schaffler, and one of his subjects, Jerry “The King” Lawler, who explained the difference between wrestling and wrasslin’.
For an interview with Ed Hamilton, during a visit to his sculpture studio in Louisville.
It’s The Bob Edwards Show on XM Public Radio. Few public artists have been able to tap into the emotional struggle of history in the way that Ed Hamilton has. He’s made sculptures commemorating Joe Louis, the slave rebellion on The Amistad, and African-American soldiers of the Civil War. Hamilton didn’t set out to be a sculptor, or even to focus on the struggles of African-Americans in this country. But he grew up in segregated Louisville, and when Hampton University commissioned him to create a memorial of Booker T. Washington in 1983, Hamilton found a calling that allowed him to explore race, identity, and history.
Hamilton works out of a two-story row house that’s packed full of parts and pieces — sketches, models, extra limbs, and tubs of clay. His studio is in Louisville’s Phoenix Hill neighborhood… close to downtown, and not far from the river, which is where his latest public piece is located — the Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park … unveiled in June. Hamilton’s Lincoln is twelve feet tall and seated. Resting on a rock, with a stack of books nearby, the future president gazes at the Ohio River.
The day Hamilton invited me to his studio, he was finishing the clay mold of a life-sized bust of William McAnulty, who was Kentucky’s first black Supreme Court Justice. McAnulty died in August of 2007, less than a year after he was elected to his first eight-year term with the court. The bust sat on a stand at the back of the building, next to a CD player shuffling through jazz albums and behind heavy sheets of plastic hanging from the ceiling. A music stand nearby held several photographs of Justice McAnulty … none of which approached the remarkable liveliness of the sculpture Hamilton had created.
For an interview with Elaine Pagels, about her book, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy and Politics in the Book of Revelation.
The rapture is overdue. Last May, billboards and radio stations announced that the day of God’s final judgment would soon arrive. But, Memorial Day came and went, with no seven-headed beast in sight. It was only one of COUNTLESS predictions of the end of the world inspired by the final book of the New Testament — the Book of Revelation. It’s an odd way to end the Bible. There are no moral teachings, and no stories from Jesus. The tone recalls the “angry” God of the Old Testament — quick to punish the wicked. Elaine Pagels says the Book of Revelation has ALWAYS been controversial — from the time it was first published, two generations after Jesus was crucified. Pagels is a professor of Religion at Princeton University, a MacArthur “Genius,” and the author of several books, including “The Gnostic Gospels,” which won the National Book Award in 1980. Her latest is titled, “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy and Politics in the Book of Revelation.”
For an interview with Allen Toussaint during Jazz Fest in New Orleans.
I met Allen Toussaint at the high-rise Westin hotel, just off Canal Street, next to the French Quarter. The lobby was full of tourists in town for Jazz Fest, people clad in baggy shorts and garish t-shirts. Toussaint stood out in a beautiful navy blue pinstripe suit, and an orange-and-cream-striped shirt with a matching tie and pocket square. Some people really know how to dress — the rest of us just wear clothes. Of course, Toussaint knows how to PLAY, too. He’s been at the piano in the studio and in clubs from the time he was a teenager … writing several hit songs, including “Working in the Coalmine,” “Mother-in-Law,” “Fortune Teller,” “Southern Nights,” and “On Your Way Down.” Over fifty-some years, Toussaint has worked with Fats Domino, Lee Dorsey, The Meters, Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Elvis Costello, Theresa Andersson, and Trombone Shorty — to name a few. And he does solo albums, too. The most recent is “The Bright Mississippi,” which came out last year. I figured that with so many people wanting to record with Toussaint, it must be hard to get him into the studio. I was wrong.
For an interview with Dick Teresi, about his book, The Undead, a deep dive into the world of organ transplantation.
It’s The Bob Edwards Show on Sirius XM Public Radio. For centuries, our most terrifying ghost stories have been about people who might have been a ghost except for one thing: they were still alive. Mourned, buried, and desperately scratching through six feet of dirt. Even now, we fear death, and still don’t understand it completely. Most people are confirmed dead because their hearts have stopped beating. It’s an event they wouldn’t forget, if they were alive to remember it. But a small percentage of people who are dead have beating hearts. It’s their brain stems that are damaged, which results in a diagnosis of brain-death, and makes them eligible to donate their organs. Dick Teresi is the author of the book, “The Undead,” and when we spoke in May, he told me the diagnosis of brain death gets even more complicated, if you consider all of the REVERSIBLE conditions that mimic brain death.
For a tour of the Gibson guitar factory in Memphis.
The electric guitar has come a long way from Les Paul’s four-by-four chunk of wood. But one of the most famous models still bears his name. Every one of the dozens of versions of the Les Paul Gibson — in fact every Gibson guitar — is made in America. The company has factories in Nashville, Memphis, and Bozeman, Montana. To get a better understanding of what it takes to turn a tree into a musical instrument, Bob toured the Gibson Memphis Factory, where they make limited editions and semi-hollow body electrics — think B.B. King’s “Lucille.” Gibson’s David Winters led Bob through the painstaking process — pressing, binding, neck-fitting, painting, buffing and tuning. It’s a rare factory that features virtuoso solos rising above the din of band saws and belt sanders, but that’s just what you find in Memphis, where they make about fifty guitars every day. And the beauty of the finished product is enough to make you forget about your day job and reach for your wallet, even if you can’t play a lick.