Fresh Air

  • Hosted by Terry Gross

Opening the window on contemporary arts and issues with guests from worlds as diverse as literature and economics.

Brittany Howard, the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist with Alabama Shakes, says she still remembers the day she decided to start a band. She was 11 or 12 and attending a concert in her school gym put on by some classmates (including future Alabama Shakes guitarist Heath Fogg).

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While researching the book Cure, science writer Jo Marchant wanted to understand how distraction could be used to nullify pain, so she participated in a virtual reality experiment.

During the first part of the experiment, Marchant sat, without distraction, with her foot in a box of unbearably hot water. "It felt like a very intense burning pain on my foot when I just experienced it on its own," Marchant tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

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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:

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When The X-Files appeared on TV in the 1990s, there really hadn't been anything quite like it on TV for a long time. The Twilight Zone, with its monsters and flying saucers and anything-goes mentality, was an obvious inspiration and precursor. But investigations of unusual or unearthly phenomena, dramatized in a weekly series in ways that could be scary or funny, or both? As TV shows go, that's about as rare a sighting as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

Danny Bowien, the founder of the Mission Chinese Food restaurants, didn't grow up cooking Chinese cuisine. Born in South Korea, then adopted by a family in Oklahoma, Bowien was already an adult living in San Francisco when he decided to learn how to cook Sichuanese fare, known for its bold, pungent, spicy flavors.

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Pete Wells has a job that most people can only dream of. As restaurant critic for The New York Times, he gets paid to eat out four or five nights a week — often at quite pricey places — on someone else's dime.

But for Wells, going out for drinks and delectable meals is still work. He tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that coming up with words to describe flavors is something he "wrestles with all the time."

A 2014 report by the United Nations estimates that tens of millions of people in the world are currently enslaved. Most of them are in the developing world, where they work in mines, quarries or shrimp farms for no money and without hope of escape.

"Slavery is the complete control of one person by another, and violence is used to maintain that control in all forms of slavery," author Kevin Bales explains to Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "The adults in that situation know that if they attempt to leave, they may be killed."

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In January 2015, at a private conference in Palm Springs, Calif., the political network led by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch announced plans to spend $889 million in the 2016 elections. The organization consists almost entirely of groups that don't register under the campaign finance laws and therefore don't publicly identify their donors.

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When she was in fifth grade, Regina Mason received a school assignment that would change her life: to connect with her country of origin. That night, she went home and asked her mother where they were from.

"She told me about her grandfather who was a former slave," Mason tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And that blew me away, because I'm thinking, 'Slavery was like biblical times. It wasn't just a few generations removed.' "

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:

"Money doesn't talk," said Bob Dylan. "It swears." This is almost literally true in the blizzard of books, movies and TV shows about our financial one-percenters. If our wolves of Wall Street love anything more than obscene wealth, it's obscene language. These guys — and they are mainly guys — don't trust anyone who's shy about dropping F-bombs.

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross.

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Years before he led the Nazis in the genocide of 6 million European Jews, Adolf Hitler staged a coup and spent several months in prison. Though his attempt to overthrow the government was unsuccessful, his trial and subsequent time behind bars would be pivotal.

Peter Ross Range, the author of 1924: The Year That Made Hitler, tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that Hitler's public trial for the so-called "Beer Hall Putsch" was a confidence-builder that allowed him to sharpen the speaking skills that would help him win the German chancellorship nine years later.

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Talk about belated recognition. At its meeting in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 7, the American Dialect Society voted to make the 600-year-old pronoun "they" their word of the year for 2015. Or more precisely, a particular use of that pronoun that grammarians call the singular "they." This is the "they" that doesn't care whether it's referring to a male or female. As in "If I get a call, tell them they can call me back." Or "Did someone leave their books here?"

The first time I told a guy I'd met online that I didn't want to see him again, my hands were actually trembling. I paced the room. I typed sentences only to erase them and retype them again. You'd think I was telling the guy I was pregnant, not passing on his offer to eat homemade linguine.

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There was a time when actor Ray Liotta would never have considered taking a role on television. "When I first started, television was kind of like the wasteland," Liotta tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "It [was] like, 'Well, things are over now. Now you do television.' "

But the Goodfellas and Field of Dreams actor acknowledges that times — and TV — have changed. "Now television is very respected and people consider that when they're casting for movies. ... I thought, well maybe doing a show, a 13-episode type show, would be a smart move to make."

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