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Professor Eric Klinenberg

His new book is Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. It*s about a 1995 heat wave in that city which proved to be an insidious natural disaster. Streets buckled, electric power blew, and over 700 people died. Klinenberg is an associate professor of Sociology at New York University.


Other segments from the episode on August 15, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 15, 2002: Interview with Eric Klinenberg; Interview with Dave Attell; Commentary on Murco Records.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Eric Klinenberg discusses the deadly 1995 Chicago heat
wave told in his book "Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

It's hot out. Right now the Northeast is suffering through record-high
temperatures. A new book, "Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in
Chicago," looks back at the summer of 1995, when, according to author Eric
Klinenberg, 739 people died of heat-related causes in one blistering week. To
put this in context, he points out that the great Chicago fire of 1871 killed
half that many. The San Francisco earthquake of 1989 killed 62. And
Hurricane Andrew killed 26. Klinenberg says that we don't generally think of
heat waves as natural disasters or serious public health hazards, but we
should. An assistant professor of sociology at New York University,
Klinenberg decided to conduct a social autopsy when weather scientists
couldn't account for the high death toll in Chicago that summer. Though it
wasn't the longest heat wave ever in the city, the weather was extreme.

Professor ERIC KLINENBERG (Author, "Heat Wave"): The roads buckled. There
were problems with train rails. The power went out for 200,000 people in the
city through the course of the week. Fifty thousand people suffered loss of
power when one substation alone went out. In the poor neighborhoods in
Chicago, where there weren't many publicly air-conditioned places, residents
opened up the fire hydrants, and 3,000 fire hydrants were open during the
week. And at one point, several communities on the South Side lost their
water pressure. So there were places in Chicago that had no energy and no
water during this period of intense and dangerous heat.

BOGAEV: How many days did it take before the city saw its first deaths from
the heat? And how fast did the casualties mount once they started?

Prof. KLINENBERG: Among the first deaths in Chicago were two toddlers who
were being cared for at a home day-care center where the woman providing the
service had taken eight or 10 children out in a van to go to an
air-conditioned movie theater and get a quick bite to eat, and when she
brought the children in, she forgot about two of them and left them in the car
where the temperatures quickly spiked to 160 or 170 degrees. And those first
two deaths prestaged what the city was about to see.

On a typical day in July of Chicago, about 72 people die. This week, the
death toll spiked incredibly. One day there were about 350 deaths, another
more than 200. In all for the week, medical researchers now know that there
are 739 people in excess of the norm who died in Chicago. It was a death toll
like nothing the city had ever seen.

BOGAEV: Apparently the morgue in Chicago ran out of bays to put the bodies.
How did the city deal simply with the body count?

Prof. KLINENBERG: Well, the fast-thinking medical examiner, Ed Donoghue,
realized he needed lots of assistance to store the bodies. He put out a call
to an owner of a refrigerated truck company, and this man was willing to send
some vehicles into the morgue. First he sent two or three, and quickly they
filled up and he sent more and they filled up as well. By the end of the
week, there were nine--according to one report 10--48-foot-long refrigerated
meat-packing trucks right in the center of the city storing the bodies that
the morgue couldn't handle. And you can imagine this is kind of a surreal
scene in a city like Chicago, the famous meat-packing city of Upton Sinclair,
and here we had this kind of, you know, return of the repressed in American
life in dramatic fashion. So many dead bodies in the center of the city that
almost no one could make sense of what had happened.

BOGAEV: You know, this is really horrific, and I don't even know how to
phrase this. I'm sure the horrible irony of this isn't lost on you, that
these people who died of excessive heat were then stored in refrigerated
trucks to preserve their corpses.

Prof. KLINENBERG: No, it's something I say in "Heat Wave," that one of the
sad aspects of the story is that people got the kind of attention that would
have saved their lives, artificial cooling and care of public service workers,
only after they died. You know, one of the points that I make in the book is
that Chicago, and the nation more generally, has had real trouble coming to
terms with what happened here during that week, and in part I think it's
because the stories we tell ourselves about what happened in American cities
in the 1990s don't fit well with the story of Chicago in 1995. Chicago was in
the midst of a period of great prosperity, a major economic boom and
revitalization. The streets were coming to life. There were new trees and
planters everywhere you looked. There was a kind of jubilant rhetoric about
the turnaround that the city had. And it was preparing for the National
Democratic Convention, which would come to kind of restore the reputation of
Chicago. And suddenly we see these dozens and then hundreds of deaths right
in the heart of Chicago, and these bodies get delivered to the morgue,
literally just a few miles from the Loop.

BOGAEV: I think at one point the city buried 68 people, during this crisis,
in a trench? Is this right?

Prof. KLINENBERG: That's right. About a month after July, there were so many
unclaimed bodies in Chicago that the county had to deal with the remains, and
as they typically do they brought in a truck and moved the bodies to a
cemetery of a suburb on the South Side. And there, cemetery workers dug a
trench that was about 160 feet long and 10 feet wide, and buried 68 people, 41
of whom were heat victims, and 27 of whom were people who just died around the
city and had no one come to claim their bodies. And they were buried together
in the end.

When I show this image to people for the first time, they typically think it's
a shot of Bosnia or El Salvador in the 1980s, some faraway war zone, a world
that's totally different from our own, and when I tell them it's Chicago, and
more than that, Chicago during this period of great prosperity, they find it
hard to believe.

BOGAEV: It's interesting when you interviewed Chicago residents later, about
a month after the heat wave, they had the impression that only about a hundred
people died. And when I talk to people around town here, `Do you remember,
you know, 1995 in Chicago?' they had that same impression. Do you think this
is because of denial or bad memory, or the fact that we distrust the media to
report numbers or what? How do you explain it?

Prof. KLINENBERG: Well, it's some combination of all of those things. From
the moment that the heat hit the city, the collective, and particularly the
political response to the disaster has been marked by denial of what happened.
And if you think about the contrast here between the story of the heat wave in
Chicago and other American disasters, it's pretty revealing. In other
circumstances we all know that local officials are exceedingly quick to
declare an official emergency or disaster, in part so that they can get
federal assistance funds and call attention to what's happening in their town.

In Chicago, the opposite process was at work. When the medical examiner began
to issue his death reports, the mayor of the city, Richard Daley, immediately
told reporters not to blow the week out of proportion, and he questioned the
scientific legitimacy of the medical examiner's findings. This sparked a
political and scientific controversy in the city, one that local journalists
quickly picked up into this scandalous debate over whether the deaths were
really real or whether they had somehow been fabricated by the medical
examiner himself.

BOGAEV: I think there's some other things at work here, though. Isn't that
people don't really consider heat a disaster, because you can't really see it,
there are no really big pictures on TV that--you know, for instance, when
there's a hurricane, you see evidence of the disaster. It's such a silent,
invisible death that so many of these people suffered.

Prof. KLINENBERG: I think you're right. It's not easy to picture a heat
wave. If you close your eyes and try to imagine what a hurricane or a tornado
or a flood looks like, images come very quickly to your mind.

BOGAEV: And TV cameras can glom onto them. I mean, they can put things on

Prof. KLINENBERG: Absolutely. I say we all carry stock photos of those
disasters in our minds because we've seen them so many times on television or
on the front pages of our newspapers. But heat waves don't make good
television, and they don't make good news graphics most of the time. They're
these invisible killers, as you said, and so we're somewhat skeptical about
them and they--I think the other thing, in contrast to the other disasters
that we've described, is that for many people heat waves are very easy for
people to manage. You go to your office or to your home and you turn the
button on your air conditioner and suddenly everything is OK. Heat waves are
less universal disasters. They pinpoint the vulnerable and poor people who
can't defend themselves, and I think for many of us that's hard to understand.

BOGAEV: I'm speaking with Eric Klinenberg. He's an assistant professor of
sociology at New York University. His new book is "Heat Wave: A Social
Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago." We're going to take a break now, Eric, and
then we'll talk some more.



(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back with my guest sociologist Eric Klinenberg. His new book about a
disaster which claimed the lives of more than 700 people in Chicago in the
summer of 1995 is called "Heat Wave."

What are some of the factors that you considered in looking at how isolated
these elderly people were who died alone? And I'm thinking when I hear about
these heat waves and I hear about these elderly people found dead at home with
the windows shut...


BOGAEV: ...I think, `How did that happen? Did they not have the strength to
open their windows? Or were they afraid that they'd get robbed if they did
open their windows?' How did this happen?

Prof. KLINENBERG: Well, I think the association between the high neighborhood
crime levels and the high death rate provides part of your answer, that people
who live in areas where they know that they're more likely to be victims of
crime are themselves interested in providing kind of makeshift security
systems. Since they typically can't afford to have expensive, you know,
private home alarms, they'll do things like have neighbors or relatives come
and seal shut their windows, or in some cases nail shut the windows, you know,
really safeguarding the apartment. They'll lock or sometimes double lock
their doors. Sometimes they're skeptical when someone knocks and looks in on
them, part they're worried that it could be a predator of some kind. And when
they're living in neighborhoods with high crime and violence, they become more
likely to shut themselves in and use this kind of reclusion as a safety

BOGAEV: You read police reports of these deaths. What struck you about

Prof. KLINENBERG: There's a short and crisp and brutal language that we use
to make sense of death. Sometimes it's clinical if it comes from medical
researchers or a medical examiner. Sometimes it's just more curt and social,
like when it comes from a police officer doing an investigation. I was able
to track down the police reports from a number of people who died that week.
I found one, for example, that simply listed the following items: `Female,
age 73, white, July 17th, 1995. A recluse for 10 years, never left apartment.
Found today by son, apparently DOA. Conditions in apartment when responding
officers arrived: thermostat was registering over 90 degrees Fahrenheit with
no air circulation except for windows opened by son after death. Possible
heat-related death. Had a known heart problem 10 years ago, but never
completed medication or treatment.' And that was it.

There were dozens of accounts like this, and they left me with a kind of
partial sense of the stories of these people, this kind of secret society of
people who lived and died alone, but I was not satisfied by it. I felt as if
there was much more to say when there's so many hundreds of people who die and
die alone in a booming city. That's something we need to understand outside
of the medical vocabulary or the vocabulary of the police report.

BOGAEV: Well, you also went through the boxes holding the personal effects of
people who had died alone during the heat wave and who had no one to claim
their things. Were you trying to get a sense of who they were?

Prof. KLINENBERG: I was, exactly. It was almost impossible to understand
what happens to people who die alone and are out of contact with the world
around them. You obviously can't speak with them. By definition, there
weren't other people watching them, spending time with them as they perished,
and so there are no last-minute accounts that you can get in most cases. And
so I felt, through much of the process of writing this book, that there was a
story I couldn't quite get at.

And then I learned about the Public Administrator's Office that investigates
these cases where people die and have no one to come and claim the body or the
estate. And I got in touch with the office in Chicago, and they invited me to
come in and look at the files that remained. They had done about 170
investigations during the week of the heat wave. That means that there were
at least 170 people who died alone and then had no one come to claim then
until an investigation started. And by the time I got there, there were about
60 completed files of cases that had still never been claimed, and an
administrative officer picked up a box and an assistant picked up another one
or two and they put them in a small room and left me there with them. And
suddenly, after years of trying to understand this event, I was face to face
with the personal effects of dozens of the victims.

I started opening the envelopes and came across watches and wallets, personal
letters, photographs from the room. In one case, I found this file of a man
who had been a decorated war veteran who had won a Bronze Star and had a
certificate for his contributions in war, and a photograph of him as a young
soldier sat just a few feet from the place where he died alone. And I think
one disturbing experience, you know, based on this--or a kind sort of
knowledge from this is the sense that at one point someone could be so
successful, so socially integrated, so alive and connected and not long after
be found dead and alone in an American city.

BOGAEV: Now part of your book is an indictment of how the city of Chicago
responded to the crisis in 1995. What were some of the city's massive

Prof. KLINENBERG: The public health emergency programs in Chicago were
completely overwhelmed during the week. There were thousands of calls for
emergency medical care, for paramedics. And the fire department, which
manages emergency medical care in Chicago, was so overwhelmed that their
response times were delayed, in many cases, it took more than 30 minutes to
reach someone and in at least one case, the wait was over 70 minutes. And the
ambulances were extraordinarily busy, so much so that the department was using
fire trucks to respond to emergency calls.

Now there are several paramedics in Chicago who reported to me that they made
specific requests to higher-ups in the departments for more ambulances and for
more paramedic staff, but had their requests turned down. They felt like they
weren't being taken seriously by the administration. And you can see this
through the city's response to the mounting disaster in several levels. There
was no capacity to coordinate the emergency health system, for example. At
one point, 18 different emergency rooms in Chicago closed their doors to new
patients, they went on bypass status. And 23 hospitals in the city, almost
half in Chicago, closed, and there was no administration of this. There was
no on putting it all together from above.

The city has a famous community policing program, one that's designed to have
officers on the streets getting to know residents, providing special kinds of
support and care, and yet no one activated the officers who are in charge of
providing for seniors doing this community work during the week. And in part
I think the problem was that there was no leadership from above issuing an
emergency that would trigger a sense of danger in all of the departments. The
responsibilities were so diffuse that no one could see what was happening.
The event unfolded as a series of isolated and segmented problems in part
because city governments had become so segmented, and in this case I think
that segmentation made it difficult to recognize what happened in the city.

BOGAEV: Eric Klinenberg's new book is "Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of
Disaster in Chicago." We'll continue our conversation in the second half of
the show. I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music; credits)

BOGAEV: Coming up, comedian and insomniac Dave Attell talks about life on the
other side of midnight. Also, rock historian Ed Ward looks back at an obscure
Southern soul music label. And we conclude our conversation with Eric
Klinenberg about the deadly Chicago heat wave of 1995.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.

Let's continue our interview with Eric Klinenberg. His new book, "Heat Wave,"
examines one sweltering week in 1995 in Chicago when 739 people died. Chicago
and other cities are looking at what went wrong that summer in order to better
protect vulnerable citizens from the heat.

Now there are some simple solutions to excessive heat that we've had since the
mid-20th century: you turn on an air conditioner. And, of course, you have
to have an air conditioner and you have to be able to afford the electricity
for it if you do have it. But these aren't really insurmountable problems for
a city government, are they? I mean, if you have an emergency response team
and people are knocking on doors trying to see if there are people home alone
in danger of heat exhaustion, that they could reach these people and do
something. How do air conditioners and air conditioning fit into this whole

Prof. KLINENBERG: Well, heat is very easy to combat if you have an air
conditioner and if you can afford the energy to use it. Some people think
that providing air conditioners to more people in cities would make for a good
public health solution. As expensive as it would be, it would be a fraction
of the cost that we spend to react to other major disasters.

Of course, we'd also need to provide guarantees for summer energy the way that
we do for winter heat. Collectively, we've recognized that it is cruel and
inhumane to leave Americans without heat in the winter, but we don't have that
same sensibility about summer heat. We don't provide cooling. So perhaps
that's an area that we could investigate more seriously, collectively,
particularly now that we know that heat waves do kill more Americans than all
of these other disasters combined.

There are some other things that city governments can do to protect residents
from the dangers of summer heat. And, in fact, Chicago does most of them now.
For example, there's a heat weather warning system developed by a geographer,
Laurence Kalkstein, in Delaware, that many cities use, including Philadelphia.
And the system is able to distinguish between truly dangerous summer weather
and ordinary heat. And when cities use it, they can oftentimes predict a
dangerous climate long before it arrives.

Once they do, there are a number of steps cities can take to trigger these
emergency programs. You mentioned cooling centers, and cities can open them.
But they have to make sure that the people who would use them can get there.
And so it's important to have special public transportation programs set up.
In order to recognize who's at risk, cities also need to be aware about this
emerging population of people who are old and poor and living alone during
normal times.

In Chicago today, the local government does quite a lot to keep track of who
is vulnerable in the city. They have names and addresses and phone numbers.
And when there's extreme summer weather, city workers and volunteers go to the
heat command center and make phone calls, checking up on people who are at
risk. The community police officers and other city workers actually do go
door to door sometimes. And they city is quick to call local media and urge
them to make public warnings.

BOGAEV: There's an energy issue here, though, while we're talking about
cooling and air conditioners. And one of the problems Chicago had in 1995,
and all major cities have during these heat waves, is blackouts and rolling
blackouts. And I understand also in Chicago that the heat itself overwhelmed
their technology, that the system kind of burnt up.

Prof. KLINENBERG: There were so many people using air conditioning in Chicago
that the power grids broke down and the heat systems--sorry, the energy
systems literally burst into flames. Here, there's another story to tell
about the politics of air conditioners. We're currently engaged in some major
discussions at the federal level about the standards we should hold
air-conditioning makers to when they produce their units. We can produce more
energy-efficient air-conditioning units with a grade of 13. That limits the
amount of energy that they demand when they're in use. In fact, that was a
standard that President Clinton set.

But when President Bush came into office, he lowered that standard from 13 to
12. And although it might appear to be a somewhat innocuous decision, in
fact, that means that when city residents use those air conditioners, they'll
need more energy. And in order to provide the energy, there'll be more
utilities companies building more plants, and until that happens, there'll
probably be more cities having electrical shortages and people both paying
more for their energy and also being more vulnerable to power outages.

BOGAEV: How well do you think major cities in the country are prepared for
heat waves now? Have they learned from the example of Chicago and heat waves
in the past?

Prof. KLINENBERG: I think that some have: Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago,
St. Louis, Milwaukee. There are some cities that have experienced extreme
heat waves themselves, or have learned from Chicago, and are now trying to do
something about it. But my sense is that for the most part, it remains a kind
of invisible crisis in the United States today, that it's not a matter of
national significance. And, for example, we haven't had congressional
hearings about the dangers of summer weather. As far as I know, there are no
major federal reports that urge cities to implement a series of public health
protection strategies. And my sense is it's still somewhat off the radar
screen. Clearly, what happened in Chicago in 1995 signaled a warning to many
public health experts and city leaders. But was the warning strong enough? I
don't know.

BOGAEV: Eric Klinenberg, thanks very much for talking with me today on FRESH

Prof. KLINENBERG: Thanks for having me.

BOGAEV: Eric Klinenberg's new book is "Heat Wave."

Coming up, a travel show for people who can't sleep. This is FRESH AIR.

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Interview: Dave Attell discusses traveling around the country to
film his show "Insomniac with Dave Attell"

Every major city has a tourist board whose mission is to present their town in
the best, purest and most sparkling light. Dave Attell might well be their
worst nightmare.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DAVE ATTELL: (Singing) Come with me and you will see a late-night freak
show, you believe. Kick the sandman in his sack, stay up late, insomniac.

BOGAEV: Attell is a stand-up comedian and host of the late-night show
"Insomniac with Dave Attell" on Comedy Central. Every show begins with a
snippet of Attell's stand-up act from a comedy club somewhere in North
America. Then, Attell and his crew wander through the streets until dawn,
visiting bars, factories, more bars, 24-hour stores and various strange and
wondrous clubs, private parties and tourist destinations. Attell's adventures
have taken him to a cockfight in Tijuana and a night out with aging strippers
in Kansas City. The show is a cross-country nocturnal romp with a very
politically incorrect, off-color guide. As it turns out, this is a dream job
for Attell, a lifelong insomniac. Here he is in Atlanta visiting a
projectionist of the all-night Starlight drive-in movie theater.

(Soundbite from "Insomniac with Dave Attell")

Mr. ATTELL: So Paul's changing reels now for "Lord of the Rings." Will Frodo
get rid of the evil ring? Who knows? It's really up to Paul. While you're
out there in your car steaming up those windows, making that fender bounce,
Paul's back here making sure you have a movie to watch when you come up for
air or, you know, open the condom or unscrew the lube or realize that, you
know--It's not a family show, all right?

BOGAEV: What I enjoy about the mix that "Insomniac" has is that it is kind of
part-travel show, where you do see parts of cities you might never, ever get
to as a traveler. It's also kind of part-comedy. And what's really good
about it is that there are so many travel shows that are just aimed at the
upper crust, with the sonorous-voiced narrator intoning platitudes over these
aerial shots of the French Riviera.

Mr. ATTELL: Right.

BOGAEV: And your show is such an antidote to that.

Mr. ATTELL: Yeah. We try--like, I try and show that exotic side to, like, a
town like Kansas City or Charleston, West Virginia, Nashville, like, you know,
small towns. Like, that's where I get the biggest kick out of it, which is,
like, go in to a real small town and, like, showing, you know, just something,
I guess, if we can find it, something that, like, not many people know about,
you know.

But you're right, it's not like the French Riviera or we're going to the
Cannes Film Festival or the, you know, romantic islands of Greece or anything
like that. It's basically, you know, kind of right off the highway stuff.
It's about the whole country, and it involves every type of people, which is,
you know, whether you're, you know, any ethnicity, any sexual preference, any
philosophy is all right as long as you're up late. And sometimes all those
elements get together and it's incredibly boring. And that's what we try and
show, too, which is, like, you know, it could be a hot fetish club somewhere
and nothing's going on. You know, it's like, here you are, deviant, fetish,
you know, crazy, wild stuff and nothing's happening. And I think that's
funny, too, you know.

BOGAEV: Well, that is. I think you go to a male club and they're getting
piercings in various very sensitive parts of their anatomy, and it's nothing.
It's kind of boring. It's really just a party.

Mr. ATTELL: Well, that was my favorite bit. I'm glad you brought--that's in
Boise, Idaho, at the fetish club. I guess it was a, what you might call,
alternative lifestyle club. Those guys were great. Like, they were so much
fun and they were, like, you know, just hanging out. And we were all kind of
laughing at the situation. Even the guys getting the piercings, you know,
because I believe the head guy and his partner there, they were, like, `I
can't believe we're doing this,' and they would just start giggling. And I
was, like, laughing at them taking the pictures.

And, you know, sometimes I feel like, you know, `Am I ruining a good time?'
like, this would have been a better time if I wasn't here with my camera and
everything like that. But people really get off on it. You know, I guess
everybody wants to be on TV now. That's basically it.

BOGAEV: I'm thinking, in one episode, you do go to a strip club for older
strippers. I forget where it is in the country. And one of the women crushes
beer cans between her breasts. And this, on the surface of it, sounds like a
kind of sad, sordid story, but it's not that way at all. It really seems like
a party, mostly because you don't make fun of the people you talk to.

Mr. ATTELL: Oh, thanks.

BOGAEV: Do you find yourself holding yourself back?

Mr. ATTELL: That strip club was in Atlanta, called the Claremont, which is,
like, the oldest strip club, I think, in Atlanta. And holding back is, I
guess--you know, I'm just glad that these people aren't hanging out with me.
So it's not like I'm really holding back. I hold back in other situations on
the show, like with the drunks on the street. We try not to show people who
are superdrunk, and I don't like gun them. I don't like really attack them
like I would in a stand-up club. See, that's the big difference. Like, when
I do my act live, like if somebody heckles me, I'll attack them. You know,
like, it'll be like what you see in comedy clubs. But, like, when I do my
show it's really basically I want everyone to feel comfortable, like, they're
all a part of it. You know, they make the show. I appreciate them being on
the show. And unless they're outrageously drunk, we're not going to show them
on the show, you know.

BOGAEV: Yeah. It's funny that you describe the show as reality TV, and I
guess it is in a sense. But there's this explosion...

Mr. ATTELL: It's reality-based.

BOGAEV: Yeah, there's this explosion of reality TV programming on the
networks now, and most of it is very different. It's more exploitative or
it's violent or it's just really horribly pathetic.

Mr. ATTELL: There's all these reality shows out there, and a lot of them has
to do with people doing, you know, crazy, outlandish things. And I'm not
going to say we've never shown that kind of stuff on our show, but it's really
such a basic show. It's really about me. I'm the biggest loser on the show.
I have a couple of drinks, I try and see some sights, hook up with someone
who's working late. It's so basic, you know. I wish there was a philosophy
to it, you know. It's like "The Iliad" or a man searching for himself, or,
you know, man's inhumanity against Jagermeister or something. I don't know.
What do you like about my show, Barbara? What do you like about it?

BOGAEV: I like it best when you talk to people who are working at the
supermarket, the night shift late at night, and talk to the meat guy.

Mr. ATTELL: Yeah, I like that, too. I like it when you get to, like, talk to
a guy doing a job that, like--a lot of these jobs, like, I always wondered
about, but I've never actually seen done. Like, we were at a steel mill and I
was, like, you know, everything's at a steel mill, like--I don't know, like,
the first scene in "The Deer Hunter," you know, pouring out that molten steel
and everything. But there's so much work that goes into it and it's such an
involved process, and it's really, like--you really gotta know, like, a
million different, like, disciplines like chemistry and metallurgy and all
that kind of stuff. I mean, these are, like, real, like, blue-collar dudes
and women, but they, like, talk like they're scientists. It's amazing.

BOGAEV: Well, yeah. And so much on TV is this scripted stuff or the
late-night talk shows you have where you pretty much know exactly what's going

to happen and everybody's so smooth and everybody looks good. And this is
such a departure from that.

Mr. ATTELL: Yeah, I think that's what people like about this show, which is
that they show me when I screw up. And I'm not an actor and I'm not really a
good host. That's the thing about it. It's, like, I'm not a good host, and I
always thought that was holding back the show, which is, like, I'm not really
good at introducing things, like, `And now we're going to go to this place.
And you ever thought about doing blah-blah? Well, let's go.' I'm really not
good at that. I'm not comfortable like that. But I think once I get into it,
I feel like, you know, there's, like, funny stuff to talk about, try and
involve as many people, you know, make it like a party. That's what I can do.

BOGAEV: What does dawn feel like?

Mr. ATTELL: I love dawn. I like just as the sun's coming up--and I hope
this doesn't sound too, like, you know, commercial or whatever--but, like,
just as the sun's coming up and it's just right before, like, the traffic hits
and, like, right before the real day begins, I feel like I'm the coolest guy
in the world, like, `I'm up, I'm the last man standing. Everybody else went
to bed. Everybody else wussed out. I made it. You know, it's a new day.
You know, who knows what's going to happen. I made it. Now I can go to

BOGAEV: Dave Attell, host of Comedy Central's "Insomniac," which airs Sunday
nights at 11:30. Attell performs his stand-up act next week at the Punch Line
in San Francisco. In September, he appears in Pittsburgh, New York and

Today is the birthday of jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. He was born 77 years
ago. Here's his 1959 recording of Cole Porter's "In The Still Of The Night."

(Soundbite of "In The Still Of The Night")

BOGAEV: Oscar Peterson on piano.

Coming up, the story of Murco Records. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) All right. Uh-huh. ...(Unintelligible) Hey!
All right! Oh, yeah! Ah! ...(Unintelligible).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Remembering Murco Records, a small independent label in
Shreveport, Louisiana, during the 1960s and 1970s

There's a rich heritage of independent record labels in this country
stretching from the late 1940s to the present day. In the '60s, they tended
to be in the South, and today Ed Ward tells the story of one of the most
obscure: Murco Records of Shreveport, Louisiana.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Oh, baby! Now when I kiss from my sweet baby's
lips, they said we would never, never part. I said how could I miss with a
boy like this, so I gave him all the love in my heart. I found a lover, oh, a
sweet lovin' man. I'm gonna try to please him by doing all I can. I found a
lover, oh, a sweet lovin' man.

ED WARD reporting:

When Dee Marais bought the Bayou Record Store in Shreveport, Louisiana, in
1960, he changed the face of the Southern record business in two ways. The
most notable was that the Bayou's former owner, Shelby Singleton Jr., headed
to Nashville, where he began a long and colorful career that would bring us
everyone from Jeannie C. Riley to Orion, the maybe Elvis. Less notable was
the fact that Marais started a handful of labels to record local country, rock
and soul talent. Murco, his soul label, deserves to be better-known.

(Soundbite of "Losin' Boy")

Mr. EDDY GILES: (Singing) I'm a losin' boy 'cause my baby is gone. I got
the lovesick blues, so all I do is weep and moan. I have lost my chance and
her romance. So I'm a losin' boy. I'm through with romance...

WARD: Eddy Giles' "Losin' Boy" was his first and only hit. Marais had been
after Giles, a local gospel singer, to cut a soul record, and it took a while,
but in 1967, he finally succeeded. The record took off in Dallas and then in
various other locations in the South. It even charted for a brief moment.
Giles went on to record more singles for Marais and later for other producers,
but he wound back in the church and hosts a gospel radio show in Shreveport to
this day.

If Eddy Giles was the up-tempo soul man, Reuben Bell was the ballad

(Soundbite of "It's Not That Easy")

Mr. REUBEN BELL: (Singing) You say to forget you, find me somebody new. It's
not that easy when I placed all my faith in you. You know that I--that I love
you, love you only. And as each day...

WARD: Songs like "It's Not That Easy" show a man with an expressive, soulful
voice. And if the backup, always the weak point on these small-label Southern
soul records, isn't so good, you just don't notice it when Bell's voice is up
front. Like Eddy Giles, Reuben Bell is still in Shreveport and released an
album as late as 1982.

Dori Grayson's still there, too, teaching school. I wonder how many of her
students know this side of her.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DORI GRAYSON: (Singing) I don't care if you got some one new. I don't
care just what you do. You don't have to be mine all the time. Just be mine
sometimes, baby. Please be mine sometimes, baby. I know that you're...

WARD: Ms. Grayson released six singles for Murco, and none of them went
anywhere, which is a shame because, as you can hear, she had some good
material to work with.

A lot of the problems labels like Murco had were due to the fact that they
weren't in the big cities, and neither was their audience. They weren't hip
to the latest fashions in music, and so a lot of their records were a bit
behind the curve. None of Dee Marais' productions shows this better than
Charles Crawford's "A Sad, Sad Song," which would have been a hit in 1968.

(Soundbite of "A Sad, Sad Song")

Mr. CHARLES CRAWFORD: (Singing) Go on feelin' sorry for yourself and
spendin'--Mm-hmm--your nights alone. I said, `Go on, keep on drinkin' that
wine and singin' them old sad songs.'

WARD: But "A Sad, Sad Song" came out in 1973, long after such Otis
Redding-flavored deep soul had been popular nationally. It was Crawford's
only 45, although I understand he still performs around Dallas occasionally.

Another thing small labels like Murco are good for, though, are singles nobody
else would record or release. And Ann Alford's one 45 for Hy Sign, Murco's
successor in 1972, was certainly that.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. ANN ALFORD: (Singing) Well, I guess I'm gonna have to get me a job
'cause there ain't one thing on the streets no more. Now I've been hustling
for all my life, playing cards, dice and other games, and I'm broke just the
same. I got to get me a job. I got to get me a job.

WARD: Talk about a slice of life. Apparently, Ann and her husband, Don,
showed up in Shreveport, cut the record and left town. It and its flip side,
"If It Ain't One Thing (It's Another)," are vignettes that are just too real
and sordid to be hits, but they're fascinating documents.

Dee Marais wound down his record labels in the '70s and closed Bayou Records
in 1994. He, like so many of his artists, is still in Shreveport, remembered
by a handful of European soul fanatics.

BOGAEV: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. He played music from "Shreveport Southern
Soul: The Murco Story," compiled by Ace Records of London.


BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) I used to worry about you, baby. Oh, but I ain't
gonna worry no more. So if you want to, I'm not gonna stop you. I'm gonna
let you just walk out the door. 'Cause I know I've done my part, and what
I've done for you was from my heart. I used to worry--Oh, baby!--I ain't
gonna worry no more, oh, no. If you get lonesome after you're gone, I'll
still love you though you're doing me wrong.

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