Host: Brian Lamb
Guest: Stanley Crouch
BRIAN LAMB, HOST, Q&A: Stanley Crouch, we haven’t talked for a while, what have you been up to?
STANLEY CROUCH: Well, just trying to adjust to the blogs on the websites that are supposedly bringing an end to the to the experience of print. I think that’s garbage, but for the time being it’s taking up a lot of space and conversation in the world, right?
LAMB: You still do a column, don’t you?
CROUCH: Oh, yes. Yes, I still write for the ”Daily News.” It’s still it’s still being printed, and I write for Skip Gates’ website ”The Root,” and I write for Tina Brown’s, which she calls ”The Daily Beast,” and it lives up to its name frequently.
LAMB: So, what do you think of the blogs?
CROUCH: Basically full of garbage, because, you see, what they really turn out to be if we were unfortunate enough to have recordings of what people talked about when they had hand radios, when that was the trend, those conversations would probably be as interesting as much of what you actually see on blogs, because the people don’t know what they’re talking about most of the time. And it just gives you know, American’s always have a lot of time to waste, and the blogs the whole Internet is proof of the fact of how much time we have to waste, because there’s so much the sheer intensity that people bring to it, it’s kind of like if people had the misfortune to read the mail that I get they would conclude one thing literacy is supremely important, because certain people are so crazy that if they couldn’t express themselves in words they would harm themselves or harm somebody else.
LAMB: Let me, I went back and found one of your columns, December 28th of last year, right after Christmas, and you said ”we may sink under the weight of corruption and incompetence from our leaders at the top, but the invincible vitality of life below the board meetings and the congressional sellouts remain in place. Our humanity is up to any challenge.”
CROUCH: Yes, well, that’s what I believe. I believe I think that the the nature of American democracy will win out in the long run. Now it takes a long time, though. Now, see, one of the reasons people become so frustrated in the United States is because they misunderstand totalitarian velocity with competence. See, they think that because the Chinese say, well, now we wanted to do this, and so when you run everything you can you can say that, but when you actually have people who can make decisions it takes a long time to convince enough of them to agree with to agree with something to get a new policy brought in, or to better a policy that’s already in place.
LAMB: You also said in that same column ”after we go down much further we will rise again because quality will prove to be more important to business success than profit alone. As our banking system and our corporations have made clear, we are now sinking under the belief that incompetence is acceptable as long as it pulls along an enormous wagon of rolling profit.” And then you said, at the time, ”happy holidays.”
CROUCH: Right. Well well well, you know, my attitude is that we’re we’re we’re at a position where the Chinese I think are actually the are actually the great hope for the United States, because I think they’re going to put so much pressure on us, in terms of international competition, they will have to address the importance of actually having a first-class public education. We’ll have to develop the minds of our population, because, as I’ve said many times and will continue to say, a nation’s population is its greatest natural resource. And I think that America has, over the last 30 or 40 years, begun to underestimate that resource and has accepted a level of of of ongoing incompetence because it’s brought in a lot of money, but on but on the world stage it’s not going to work much longer.
LAMB: The first time I met you was when we recorded ”Booknotes” in 1996, 14 years ago.
LAMB: And you said then that you were a radical pragmatist.
LAMB: That work for you today?
CROUCH: Yes, I think so. I’m probably more radical than I’m probably more radical and more of a pragmatist now than I was then.
LAMB: What do you mean by more radical?
CROUCH: Well, the thing is, you see, I I have basic I have a basic disdain for the Republicans and for the Democrats, for the right and for the left, so I attempt to never actually align myself with either one, because I don’t really trust either one, because history, it seems to me, teaches us that anything can be corrupted, anything can be done in a incorrect way, anybody can follow a failed policy. And so so to automatically assume that somebody who’s on the left is correct, or somebody who’s on the right is correct I think that’s kind of naοve.
But, the Republicans have convinced me of one thing over the last year or two, and that is that when you see when you sell out to lunatics purely for votes then you actually you actually endanger the quality of the system at large. See, because because what has happened is that once the Republicans sold out to the religious right, to me, once they did that and guys began to take positions that they really didn’t believe in, but they thought it would play well to the anti-abortion people, they thought it would play well to the to the religion religion and school people, all of those all of those people who had problems with with modern life, once they began once see the trick is this, see you can’t if you have if you have a mob of people screaming for blood, right, and you jump up and you say I believe that we should give blood too, and everyone says ”Yes,” and you and then you then it gets good to you and you keep saying it, right? And so then after a while you realize that you have a bunch of lunatics out there who want to tear something up, and if too many of them have gathered then you they’ll stop following you and you have to start following them, and that’s what I think has happened to the Republican Party repeatedly.
LAMB: When we were together for ”Booknotes” that was your second book. How many have you written since then?
CROUCH: Oh, I don’t know. I can’t say off the top of my head.
LAMB: What’s your favorite book then?
CROUCH: Well, my favorite book is my novel, ”Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome,” because
LAMB: ”Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome.”
CROUCH: Yes, it’s a jazz novel. I think you would like it, because as a jazz man. And it’s about a an interracial couple, and the problems that they have in the United States, and what how the the complexity of the culture plays itself out in the lives of these two people and their friends.
LAMB: When did you write it?
CROUCH: I wrote it 10 years ago, 10 years ago this year. I’m still very satisfied with that book.
LAMB: And where did you get the idea for it?
CROUCH: I got it because I had well, actually, I got it in a strange way. See, I I intended to write a very different book than the one I ended up writing. See, I was going to write a book about this this this couple with this with this white jazz singer and this black guy, who played the saxophone, and they were going to break up. And it was going to be like a short one it was going to be a 15 or 20-page story maybe. But the woman kept saying you should come over here. You should leave them alone and come over and pay more attention to me. That’s the the woman who became the prognostic, and eventually I surrendered and just gave up and let her have her way, and so she took over the book and it became about her.
LAMB: This isn’t about your own life is it?
CROUCH: No. I mean, in some sense, any any novel is about your life, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be about the specifics of your life, as much as it can be what you understand about things that are are going on around you.
LAMB: How long have you lived in New York City?
CROUCH: I’ve been in New York City since 1975.
LAMB: And the last time I I remember taking a picture of you for our first ”Booknotes” book in your in your house down there on West 14th Street.
CROUCH: Oh, West 11th Street.
LAMB: Excuse me, West 11th. It must have been somebody else’s house.
CROUCH: Well, you never know, they’ve probably enshrined it now.
LAMB: And there were lots and lots of CDs in those days. Are you still living there?
CROUCH: No, I’m not living there. I had I had a fire three years ago, and I awakened at about 3:30 in the morning with the with some screams telling me that the building was on fire, and so, of course, I thought it was just somebody screaming, but when I woke up I saw that there actually was smoke in this and that, so one thing led to another.
But, I had I had a very good experience because I stayed inside the house with this water coming through the ceiling and everything, because I was concerned about my computer right? So, I said to one of the fireman I said, I’m a writer. I’m afraid my hard drive might get burned up. He said he said don’t worry we’ll take care of it. So, I go next door and he comes in later with my hard drive and he says you’re Stanley Crouch, aren’t you? I said yes, as far as I know. He said, you know, I’ve read some of your books in the classes oh really. He said here’s your here’s your hard drive. And I was like I said you know, I thought to myself, finally being a writer paid off, right?
LAMB: Was your house destroyed?
CROUCH: Basically, yes.
LAMB: What caused it?
CROUCH: They don’t know, and the reason I know they don’t know is because they sent a guy from the insurance company who was looking for anything that would give them an excuse not to pay up for it, so when they when they couldn’t when they couldn’t find out what started the fire I was convinced that nobody knew, because, of course, people were telling me over and over that my landlady had set the fire. She didn’t do that.
LAMB: I wanted to go to politics. A couple of weeks ago, in Chicago, Tavis Smiley had another one of his ”Tavis Smiley Presents,” and an old friend of yours, Cornel West, was on the the dais, and I’m going to run what he just a little bit of what he said and get you to react to it.
CORNEL WEST: ”And in the age of Obama there’s a lot of confusion, because they have a black face in a high place easily leads us to forget so many folks stuck in the basement of the house, and we get obsessed with the breaking through at the top and we forget about the least of these, so we put pressure on our brother, loving pressure, but we already see that any president is under tremendous pressure from the strong, to corporate elite, to Wall Street oligarchs, various powerful folk at the top and can easily push Obama in such a way that he tilts too much toward the strong and doesn’t focus the way he ought on the weak, on the poor, on working people. That’s why we’re here today. And I was going to add this too, that we don’t have to ask permission from anybody to talk about Black suffering and Black social misery. We love who we want to love, and we love other folk, whether they love us or not. That’s what Martin Luther King was all about.”
LAMB: What do you think?
CROUCH: That’s not what what he normally says. I don’t the first thing is, see, I don’t really separate Black issues, so called, from American issues. See, in other words, I feel this if if Black people are basically not doing well in the public in the in the public education system, well, then that’s a problem for the country at large. It’s not a Black problem, and when it’s and when it’s only discussed as a Black problem it reduces the significance of it, see, because we’re in a period where we actually need every qualified person to do a good job at what they do, and it’s not and so you can’t say you know, like I had to speak to some Republicans about 20 years ago, in Washington, D.C., and I said I said, but, you know, the way you guys are going at it, if you were fighting a war you would think that you could just send people to West Point and Annapolis and not have any basic training and go out a win. You can’t do that. You have to train your troops. And so it was interesting, that’s the first time they ever thought, right, apparently, that there was a relationship between the running of the country and the quality of the education to the populous. And so what I was saying was this I said, you know, you’ve got to compete with people who for whom quality is number one, because they’re behind.
So, the Japanese, the Chinese they can’t they can’t pretend that they can come and compete with us with an inferior product, but we’ve decided, in some strange way, that we don’t need to have the quality product that that that the name America used to mean. And so what I mean is when you when you take a position that that Black suffering, Black social problems are separate from the country at large, or you give the impression that they might be of special interest, see, I don’t believe that that so-called Black American problems are special interest problems, because anything that’s done that creates higher quality students, higher quality products, those things affect the country at large and are good for everybody.
LAMB: Go to the other side of that, just talking about President Obama, how would you rate his performance so far?
CROUCH: Oh, I think he well, the first the first thing is no one who has that job, right, actually understands what is going on. They just read a stack of stuff every day, and they and they pick people whom they think they can listen to, you know. I mean, I said, well, who who do you need who do we need to to pay attention to on cable television, right?
LAMB: Brian Lamb.
CROUCH: Oh, OK, put him on the list. That’s just how it goes, because you know and I know the President can’t figure out the savings and loan prices. He can’t figure out the Middle East. He can’t figure out Afghanistan. He can’t figure out what’s going on with coal. He can’t figure out how to handle the ecology. That’s too much stuff for anyone to understand, but but Obama’s very good at giving the impression that he does, in fact, understand it. But, I think he also is good at giving the the truly American sense that if what he’s doing now doesn’t work he’ll do something else. Because, see, I think that the glory of the American system is based on the fact that you can improvise beyond the bad decision. You know, Abraham Lincoln didn’t understand the Civil War until 1863. After Gettysburg it became clear to him, oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. But it took him three years and many, many thousands of men being killed before it became clear to him, and he was probably the brightest guy in the United States at the time, so if he didn’t understand it in 1863, until 1863, you know a guy in 2000 in the 21st century got a different problem.
LAMB: So, what’s he doing well and what isn’t he doing?
CROUCH: Well, I think what he well well, see personally, he’s a little he’s a little nicer a guy than I think he has to be, given his opposition. See, I think it see, if I if I were in his position I would’ve paid more attention to Lyndon Johnson than I did Abraham Lincoln or to FDR. Well, maybe no, I’d pay attention to FDR too, because both FDR and Lyndon Johnson made a very strong decision at a certain point. If you coming or you going to be pulled, you are coming over to this square right here. Now, you think you can stay there, but I’m not going to let you. I’m the president, you’re not, and I think that he’s he’s begun to act more like that.
LAMB: So, what kind of a grade would you give him on the health-care bill?
CROUCH: A C plus, because the first thing is you know, a friend of mine was talking to one of the senators who was involved in the passage of the bill in Washington recently, and the guy said, well, of course, the bill is going to pass. He said it doesn’t have any teeth in it, but that’s the way it is. You know, in Washington you pass stuff. That’s he said that’s how the game works in Washington, things are either passed or they aren’t passed. In this case, we’re getting a health-care bill. It doesn’t have any teeth in it, but but as Paul Berman said to me, the most important thing is that now you can move you can once once it’s once it’s there you can improve it, so now it’s in a position where it can be improved, because I mean, I was fairly astounded by the the intractability of the Republican Party.
LAMB: You write a lot about people who represent some of the Republicans. You actually write on both sides, including Glenn Beck
CROUCH: Oh, he’s a comedian.
and Sean Hannity ...
CROUCH: He’s another comedian.
LAMB: ... and Bill O’Reilly ...
CROUCH: He’s not quite as comic as the two of them.
LAMB: And Ann Coulter.
CROUCH: She is truly funny.
LAMB: And why do you say they’re comedians?
CROUCH: Well, because they want they don’t have any respect for the truth. It doesn’t make any difference to them. I mean, you could because and, see, the thing that’s great about Beck is that when he’s caught he just basically says, oh, I’m just an entertainer. I’m not to be taken seriously. I don’t why these people are getting upset with me. I just think of this every day. I wake up in the morning, I think of something, and I just go in front of the studio and I start talking, and I go in front of the camera and I start talking. And so that’s so he’s the different kind of a guy.
LAMB: But, you’re right about and you’re right about Rush Limbaugh, but didn’t you’ve written about a couple of other MSNBCers Joe Scarborough.
CROUCH: Oh, yes, he’s very important, because he because he recognized the problem, because he’s a conservative who says that he doesn’t believe that the that conservative Republicans should let other voices that are irrational take over the discussion and represent conservatives, and I think he I thought that was I mean, the first thing, when somebody’s getting over six figures a year and says one thing like that I don’t really consider that being a very brave proposition. I don’t think that that he that had he that had he not said it his job would have been safer than him saying it. It was safe all along.
LAMB: But what role do all these folks that you’ve been writing about play in the system?
CROUCH: Well, see, I think, right now, America is is is basically in a in a very confused state, because because reality is less important than publicity.
LAMB: Back in November of 2009 you wrote this: ”We rarely hear words such as integrity used anymore, because the counterfeit celebrity culture is thought more important. Confess or admit to anything that can be sold as a crazy story, true or not, and a following will come forward.” And you alluded to some of this earlier, but expound on that a little bit and why are we there, if that’s the case?
CROUCH: Well, I think that I think I think that we’re caught in a in an unusual situation in which the the reality of life is that life periodically is disappointing, but the the delusional American way of dealing with disappointment is often to pretend that it’s not there. So, now what has happened is, in this is in this celebrity culture, you take all of these minor men and minor women, and you make them into these huge figures, right, for doing things like performing in a cartoon, like ”Avatar,” and then you make all of these people important, as though as though they’re actors. Now Sigourney Weaver as an actor, actress without a doubt, but what I mean is she’s in a she’s in a vehicle that’s basically not really a vehicle. You know, so what I mean is is that you can take all of these these minor genres, these minor talents, you can put a lot of money around them, you can advertise them a lot, and you can have people believing that this people are important. Now, the problem is that is that what used to just be a normal entertainment approach to the selling of a product has invaded our politics, so, you know, from when they put out that book about Nixon when he won when he won the presidency, and they talked about the making of Nixon
LAMB: ”The Selling of the President”?
CROUCH: Yes, ”The Selling of the President,” and how how they had to make him look, you know, what kinds of photographs he had to have made of him, all of these things. Those were those were those were Hollywood devices. They didn’t have anything to do with politics, right. Now, see, one of the great things about John Ford’s movie with Spencer Tracy, about Boston politics, is that there’s that fun is made of the original mix-and-checkers speech, in which you sit you have this guy who’s basically a dumb guy, right, sitting with his family and stuff on a couch, and showing that he’s like an all American guy and he’ll be a good representative. Now, he doesn’t know anything, but what Ford recognized, at that point, was that entertainment values had overtaken politics, had overtaken American politics. Now that doesn’t mean that politicians in any country where they can be elected will not use as much that they find that works, from the world of entertainment, as part of their campaign, but when the campaign becomes more and more entertainment and less information, fewer ideas, then you end up with people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, all these people, they don’t they don’t their basic interest is in is in whipping people up. They’re not interested in doing anything. They are interested in getting people whipped up.
LAMB: Have you found humor in what Rachel Maddow does?
CROUCH: Well, Rachel Maddow see, I think Rachel Maddow is one of the most brilliant people you will see on television, I mean with the exception of C-SPAN, right, because what she does brilliantly is see she actually will get find footage of you saying the opposite of what you’re find footage of you saying on Monday the opposite of what you’re saying on Thursday, and she’ll say, oh, well, senator so-and-so says this, but now this is what he said last week. Now but, the interesting thing to me is that she can do that and it has no impact. What I mean is you could not do what Sarah Palin did during the campaign when I was growing up. I was born in 1945 and, you know, I started paying attention to presidential elections in 1960. OK, you couldn’t during that period you could not be found guilty of an abuse of power as a governor, be on a ticket, and then come out in a press conference and say I’m very glad that the investigating committee exonerated me of all charges of abuse of power. And then Maddow says, well, that’s not what they did. This is what they actually said. Now, what struck me, at that point, when when is that things had so shifted that now you could actually be caught absolutely in a lie and be running for be on the ticket for for the White House and get away with it, and that’s the big difference now is that is that people can can they ask as though the truth is just an opinion.
LAMB: Let me show you what you said in ’96, when we talked, which was the year that I think Fox and MSNBC went on the air, but here’s what you said in our ”Booknotes” discussion:
CROUCH: ”I also recognize that we have enormous problems that we have to deal with, you know. We’ve got to rebuild the public schools. We have got to to a collar on street crime. We’ve got to get Americans to recognize that we’re going into another period where things are not necessarily going to be as secure as they were in the past, but that’s an inevitability that’s connected to the technological interventions of the period, but that we have to we have to to maintain morale based on the human capacity to deal with problems. And I think that that’s the the fundamental power of American democracy is that we can get the job done. We have all kind of things getting in the way. I mean, you know, corporate greed, fiscal racism, sexism, but all all those things in the mix, but I think they were all were foreseen by the founding fathers who recognized that you have to be you have to have an instrument that will allow you to write the wrongs of the past, or the wrongs of the present.”
LAMB: Did did you know what was coming?
CROUCH: No, at that time, I had no idea we’d be where we are now. I couldn’t have I was what I mean is, the specifics of what Fox moves became, at that time I had no idea.
LAMB: But, more than that, I mean, you were also predicting you weren’t predicting this specifically, but 911 changed a lot, and what happened to you after 911? What impact did that have eon you? Were you here in the City when it happened?
CROUCH: Oh, yes, I was here. Well, the thing is that is that for a short period of time, well, maybe a month, New York has completely reversed the way they dealt with each other. You know it used to be people would step on your foot and keep walking, or they would bump into you and not say anything. You know, they would do you know, they were basically rude. But, after the unification of of the disaster, of the imposed disaster of 911, then suddenly it was as though New York City went to charm school, and everybody started treating other people like they respected them, right, but then one night I was going I was about half a block from my house, and I heard this guy screaming with enormous intensity, saying you well, some words that I can’t use here. He said you so and so, I don’t know you got a got a driver’s license, but I ought to park my car right now and get out and put my foot in your blah, blah, blah, blah, right. And then I said and F you, and your mother, and your kids and everything. And then I said, oh, New York’s now back to normal because when that kind of obnoxiousness, if this came back, I said, well, anything can survive, even obnoxiousness, and that’s what and that’s what that proved to me.
LAMB: Where we you on the Iraq war then in 2003?
CROUCH: Well, what did I think about the invasion?
CROUCH: I wasn’t that I wasn’t I wasn’t completely convinced. Now, I wasn’t, nor was I that I automatically assumed that things could go as badly as they did go, or that information could be as manipulated by the White House as it was, nor was I at all prepared for the the enormity of money that just this cash cow that was was created in the Middle East, where all of these people made all this money. See, I I wasn’t ready for that. I was I was kind of shocked by it.
LAMB: Well, if you go back to that clip we used of you in 1996, were you thinking of the Wall Street crash?
LAMB: And did did that not surprise you?
CROUCH: Well, it well, actually it didn’t really surprise me because of the way that the previous scandal with with that involved one of the Bush’s that was you know, we got into this mess, the savings and loan thing turned around, then somebody came up with the big idea that we could all be taxed and people should get their money back. And, so so so what fascinated me then was the way that a number of guys on the right actually think. Now, theoretically, they’re not for government interference. They believed that the market and everything should be free of the government, but every time they have a problem they come with both hands. They don’t come with their hand out, they come with both hands out saying give us some money, we’re in trouble. And, so I found it to be extraordinary that the Republic Party seems to be absolutely at ease with all of this, that you can say we don’t want big government on the one hand, and then you can say, well, we need nearly a trillion dollars to straighten things out because there are companies that are too big to fail, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then once they get the money then they say you spent too much money.
LAMB: You know, in some ways you sound like a disappointed Republican.
CROUCH: Well, I well, I don’t know.
LAMB: Have you ever been a Republican?
LAMB: Have you ever been a Democrat?
CROUCH: I guess I kind of have been a Democrat, kind of, but basically I’m neither one, because fundamentally I don’t really trust either one.
LAMB: Why not?
CROUCH: Well, because I don’t think that see, I don’t think that Americans should trust political parties. I think they should be skeptical of all of them, or both of them, well, now that there are two of them. I think they should be skeptical of both parties. They should look very, very closely at what’s being presented, and they should not allow the name Republican or Democrat to bring about automatic allegiance. See, I believe that automatic allegiance is one of the worst things that can happen in the United States because people need to spend more time on looking at what actually happens.
And, see, I think that and I told you this before, but, see, that’s that’s one of the the keys to the ongoing interest that people have had in C-SPAN for all these years, because they know that they can actually plan out actually was said, because it used to be the because I remember when when I used to look at the news and I’d say, oh, that’s what they say he said, and then I’d look and say, oh, he’s coming on C-SPAN now find out what he actually said. Because, the thing is, everything has to be truncated because there’s so much information, but if you can actually get a real sense of what actually happens it it gives you a better it gives you a strong position from which to make a decision, and I think that that too many decisions are made on faith and false information. I mean, like look, when you see guys get on television, whether it’s a guy like Ann Coulter, or a guy like Glenn Peck, Beck and they actually will say things that make you think that they believe that Barack Obama was not born an American citizen. Now, the first problem is this, we know that’s bunk, because if Barack Obama were not an American citizen the if RNC couldn’t have found that out and figured that out last year they all need to be fired. You know, if if they could actually lose to a person who wasn’t born in the United States and he could actually end up in the White House, well, then they need another job.
LAMB: Speaking of Barack Obama, you slipped in one of your columns, a connection between Barack Obama and the other one of the other loves in your life I’ll read it. ”We know that Barack Obama is neither a philistine nor a dull writer and could perhaps come to understand how democracy functions in artistic action in a jazz ensemble because the whole point of jazz in improvising is e pluribus unum.”
CROUCH: Right. Well
LAMB: Explain that.
CROUCH: Well, you know, in in a jazz band, because it’s improvised, you everybody relies on everybody else, so in a certain sense if you’re playing and you come up with a series of ideas and everybody in the band pulls your way then in a sense they vote for your esthetic decisions at that moment. If somebody else takes it over you vote for them. So, what I mean is, is that you have this ongoing on the on the in the moment set of decisions within a forum that have a a set of esthetic goals that are sometimes determined in motion, and then sometimes determined beforehand. Now that’s that’s that’s about as close artistically as you can get to the constitution and the and the whole idea of amendments, the making of laws, the passages of laws, the changing’s of laws, the improvements of laws. All of those things are very similar to what happens in a jazz band.
Now, Barack Obama is clearly intelligent enough to understand jazz. The question, though, is whether he has enough taste to understand it. It is not intelligence. He doesn’t have a problem with he has no problem with intelligence. I doubt that there’s been anybody maybe since 1900 who you could actually say is innately smarter than he is, but I don’t think that but, see, that doesn’t have anything to do with art. You know, what I mean is you either have taste or you don’t have it. You have a taste for something or you don’t have a taste for something. See, I think that Barack Obama is a rhythms and blues guy, and that’s just how it goes, you know. Now, one day he might wake up, and look at the window, and realize that he and Louis Armstrong were born on the same day and that must mean something, right. If it hits him it’ll be good for the country and good for the music.
LAMB: This is probably a good place to segue and do another one of your favorite subjects. I actually have a friend who used to have two birds. One was named Charlie this is serious and the one was named Parker.
CROUCH: Right, right.
LAMB: And I always I wondered why, and because they were big fans of Charlie Parker, and you know why I’m asking you that.
CROUCH: Oh, yes. Well
LAMB: And you’ve been working on a biography of Charlie Parker since 1982?
CROUCH: Yes, that’s true.
LAMB: And when’s it coming out?
CROUCH: Well, volume one should be out within the next year.
LAMB: And who was he?
CROUCH: Well, he was a person who was perplexing to many people who had to deal with him, because he he was given to disruptive, self-destructive appetites, and he was a basically very irresponsible person.
LAMB: But, I mean, what did he do?
CROUCH: Well, he added another style to to to jazz, and he also could play I mean he could he was the perfect musician, it’s that simple.
LAMB: What instrument?
CROUCH: He played the alto saxophone, and as John Lewis, the leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet once said about him, he said he was perfect. If you wrote some music he could play it. If he wanted to pay it in tune, he could play it in tune. If it was difficult to play, he could play it.
LAMB: When did he live?
CROUCH: He lived from 1920 to 1955.
LAMB: Did you ever know him?
CROUCH: No. I might have seen him, but I don’t recall it.
LAMB: And why do you want to write a book, or why have you spent all these years writing a biography of him?
CROUCH: Well, he was a fascinating guy, and in those years that he lived were extremely interesting and important years in American life. And I think that he represents a the tension between narcissistic irresponsibility and esthetic clarity, because he was a his sense of order as a player was so overwhelmingly effective, but he just was kind of a wild person.
LAMB: You know, some political columnists write about politics most of the time and then they always throw in their baseball column.
LAMB: You write about politics and then you always throw in your jazz column.
CROUCH: I guess that makes me a very interesting man.
LAMB: I’m not sure, but I wanted to ask you that, whether or not are writers really political writers really frustrated because they can’t write about what they love first and foremost?
CROUCH: Oh, no, most of the political writers whom I know don’t know about anything other than politics, and when they’re when they’re when they’re way at the top end it doesn’t make any difference.
LAMB: What do you think of Howard Stend? He used to write every other book he wrote was on sports.
LAMB: David Broder writes a baseball column all the time. George Will wrote a book, wrote a bunch of columns on.
CROUCH: Oh, yes, but, see, the other thing, though see but when you’re talking about a guy like George Will he’s not he’s in another class. I mean you couldn’t say, well well, we have George Will and then we have Rush Limbaugh. There’s no there’s no comparison there.
LAMB: George Will and Stanley Creft? And
CROUCH: Well, George and I are good friends. We’ll leave it at that. I have great respect for him.
LAMB: We’ll go back to Charlie Parker. Is there anything political about Charlie Parker and what what during those years did you find do you find a political connection?
CROUCH: Well, he wasn’t he wasn’t he wasn’t a guy who who had much interest in politics, other than the fact that he was put out by the racism of the period, like everybody else was. What I mean is I’ve yet to to meet any Black people who lived during that era who said everything was fine and dandy. I haven’t met them yet. Now, they might be out there somewhere. I’ve just yet to meet them.
LAMB: Is it fine and dandy now anywhere?
CROUCH: Well, probably not. But, see, the other thing is fine and dandy might be overrated, like everything else. What I mean is see I my orientation is more blues influenced in that I in that I expect things to go wrong. Now, I don’t expect to be overwhelmed by them going wrong, but I but I’m the kind of a person who I believe life is is pretty much like playing baseball. When you go to the bat the odds are against you getting on first base every time you get you get the bat. Now, I think that life basically treats you like a pitcher does, you know, it doesn’t throw anything for you to hit. Now, if you hit the ball, well, good luck, but life but, see to me, life is strange in that it seems to be an indifferent pitcher who has a very high average for striking people out.
LAMB: So, you just joined the George Will clan here by citing baseball as your connecting connection to life. Go back to Charlie Parker.
LAMB: Why’d you like him?
CROUCH: Well, what I liked about Charlie Parker was I like his audacity, and I liked the fact that he could that he had many, many different sides to his personality, he was a great mimic, and he was really a funny guy. You know, he had an extraordinary sense of humor. Now now some of the things that he did and thought were funny we’re probably not funny to to the people to whom he was doing them, but they still, when you step back from them, and you look at them, they are very funny.
LAMB: And you know that Barack Obama’s second book was ”Audacity of Hope,” so do you consider him to be audacious?
CROUCH: He’s doing the best he can and he and the thing I you see, the thing I like most about him is that he keeps his focus on the on being the President of the United States. And, I was recently reading on some website, where some some Black writer pointed out that Barack Obama’s job isn’t isn’t the job of the President isn’t to uplift the Black community. You know, in other words, he said he should do it, but he should make that part of his that shouldn’t be part of his agenda, because then people will say, oh, see there, he started thinking about them. Now, the problem, though, is thinking about them shouldn’t be seen as separate from thinking about the United States, but Barack Obama is smart enough to know that if he gives the impression that he has a special interest in a particular community, or a people who, like they love to say today, look like him, then he’ll have problems with that.
LAMB: Where did you learn you’ve referred a number of times to the constitution, and this country, and the way it’s put together. Where did you learn about the constitution? I’m asking for a reason, because I want to go back to your Pomona days.
CROUCH: Oh, how where did I learn about it? Well, I just learned I learned about it from reading.
LAMB: But you you had what a year-and-a-half of college?
CROUCH: That’s true. I dropped out. I’m not a I’m not an intellectual. I’m still developing.
LAMB: But how did you talk Pomona into giving you tenure?
CROUCH: They didn’t give me tenure.
LAMB: Well, I read that somewhere.
CROUCH: Well that’s that’s there again
LAMB: What you read.
CROUCH: Right, right, right. Yes, it wasn’t you see, it wasn’t said on C-SPAN as a fact.
LAMB: But they did hire you, though, to teach?
CROUCH: They hired me to teach, yes.
LAMB: What did you teach on?
CROUCH: I taught theatre, I taught history of jazz and I taught literature.
LAMB: You know, when you talk about teaching for those seven years at Pomona it brought me to another column that you wrote, because you were an academic, and then you wrote this: ”We can see that there are none more pathetic than academics pretentiously presenting themselves as hip and perfectly in tune with the streets. They feel they must do this. The street is where the real Black people can be found, the pimps, drug dealers and prostitutes. Following their logic, we should take more seriously those academics who can, quote, get down, unquote, with the lower depths.”
CROUCH: Oh, yes.
LAMB: Were you one of those
CROUCH: No, no
well, no, I don’t think I was. In fact, I know I wasn’t. But, I was referring to this guy who teaches at FC, just as teaches theater, or teaches film, Todd Boy boy, unbelievable. Well, not really unbelievable, it’s just that he’s just an example of just the decay of the American Academy.
LAMB: You’ve got everything decaying. You got politics to decaying, Academy decaying. Is there anything that you look upbeat about?
CROUCH: Oh, no, the thing is I’m not I’m not downbeat about it, it’s just to me that it’s important see, if if you, or I, or anyone else goes to a doctor he’s not doing us a favor if he tells us that we’re in perfect health when he knows that there’s problem that we have. So, my contention is telling people that there are certain problems in American life do not suggest that I think that the whole house is about to fall down.
LAMB: Let me try another one on you. Here’s the column from just a couple of months ago, or a month ago, so, ”on the ubiquitous red carpet women, and pop music and film always see like they’re on their way to a conference of hookers. The self demeaning is now considered no more than another way of being hot.”
CROUCH: Right, yes. Well, you know, that that I was talking to a young woman not long ago, and she was trying to explain to me that women should be able to look hot if they want to look hot. And I said, well but I said but why does looking hot have to look like a whore? That’s all I that’s the part I don’t understand. I said, I don’t know why somebody who’s like a fine actress has to have her her hemline about six inches below her vagina. I don’t why that is. I don’t know what that means, except that these actresses have accepted the idea that this woman exposed in this book called ”Female Chauvinist Pigs,” in which she pointed out that American women had bought into the ”Playboy” ethos and that that’s why they were going to strip bars, and dressing like hookers and all that that they had accepted that idea of that that was their idealization of the sexy woman.
LAMB: So, where will this country be in 50 years? You prognosticated 14 years ago.
CROUCH: Well well, the first thing is, I’m sure we’ll have a much better public education system, because I don’t think we’ll be able to maintain the quality of American life with a substandard education system, and so so I think I’ll improve, not because of any vision, but because of necessity. I think that just the world, world competition is going to demand that of us, and I think that’s going to do a lot for us.
LAMB: What else?
CROUCH: Well, I think that what I’m hoping is that these various special interest groups lose interest in what I call ”special interest PR.” You know it’s like if you have some homosexuals in something they have to be exemplary homosexuals, or if there are Black people they have to be exemplary Black people, if they’re Italians they have to be exemplary Italians. Now, all of that is OK, except that it doesn’t have much to do with human reality, so I so what I’m hoping is that we’ll get to a point at which a criminal represents criminals. You know if you take a big dope dealer like Mickey Barnes, when he was in power, when I first came to New York, he didn’t represent Black people, he represented dope dealers. And a murderer, Ted Bundy doesn’t represent white guys from the Midwest. He represents serial killers, right. So that’s who these people are, and I think that as soon as we can get as soon as we can take the onus off of failing to do the PLR job, I think we’ll be closer to getting where we where we need to go.
LAMB: Stanley Crouch, weekly column in the ”Daily News,” New York we’re out of time book on Charlie Parker coming out in a couple of months.
LAMB: Thanks. Thanks for joining us.
CROUCH: Thank you for having me, Brian.