DATE April 22, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: David Klinger discusses his new book "Into the Kill
Zone: A Cop's Eye View of Deadly Force"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.
For years, criminologist David Klinger had been interested in police use of
deadly force, but he found there was surprisingly little research on police
shootings. He wanted to know what circumstances prompted cops to pull a
weapon, how well they're trained to anticipate them and how a shooting affects
an officer who pulls the trigger. With a Justice Department grant, Klinger
interviewed 80 officers involved in more than a hundred shooting incidents.
The result is his new book, "Into the Kill Zone: A Cop's Eye View of Deadly
Klinger acknowledges there are incidents of police brutality and important
issues to consider about deadly force and racial patterns in police shootings.
But his book is about the experience and perspective of cops. Klinger has a
PhD in sociology. He teaches criminology and criminal justice at the
University of Missouri in St. Louis, and he does training seminars across the
country with police officers and executives on the use of deadly force and its
Klinger's interest in police shootings isn't purely academic. A former Los
Angeles police officer, he shot and killed a suspect only four months into the
I began our conversation by asking him to describe the incident. It occurred
when he and his partner, Dennis Ossavader(ph), were called to a nighttime
standoff between police and a potentially armed suspect in a house. The two
officers were clearing bystanders from the scene, and Klinger's partner walked
over to one angry man who refused to leave.
Professor DAVID KLINGER (Author, "Into the Kill Zone: A Cop's Eye View of
Deadly Force"): So I looked to my right, over my right shoulder, and I saw
that Dennis was talking with this gentleman. And then a few seconds later,
the gentleman took a step away from Dennis and it looked as if he was going to
be walking out of the kill zone, as Dennis had instructed him. And then
Dennis took a step with the guy, and then in literally a flash, the gentleman,
who had his back turned to Dennis, reached across his body with his right hand
into his left shoulder area, where he had a shoulder bag, pulled out a
butcher's knife, stabbed Dennis in the chest and then attacked Dennis again.
And Dennis backpedaled to try to get away from the guy, and then after a
couple of seconds and after parrying several blows, he fell on his back. The
suspect jumped on top of Dennis, and I was running across the street as this
By the time I got to my partner's side, he was laying on his back. The
suspect was astride him with his legs on either side of Dennis' hip, trying to
impale Dennis with this butcher's knife. It was a 13-inch butcher's knife
with probably a six- or seven-inch blade, maybe an eight-inch blade. And I
thought I could take the knife away, and so I reached in there and grabbed as
hard as I could, and like a hot knife through butter he just pulled right out
of my hand, and I was shocked by that. And the Dennis said, `Shoot him,' so I
did that. From literally an arm's length away, I took a spot in his side,
pulled the trigger, and at that point, Dennis was able to get the knife away
the immediate threat area and we were then able to grapple with him. Some
other officers ran down the street, and we took the knife away from him. And
then some of the officers dragged him away to a point of safety behind this
other vehicle, and then Dennis and I ran up on a porch, and then I watched the
DAVIES: What was it like to see him die, knowing you'd pulled the trigger?
Prof. KLINGER: It was interesting. Part of it was almost a dispassionate,
disconnected view, almost like watching a movie play out before me. Actually,
before I pulled the trigger, I figured the guy was going to die, and that was
a very harrowing moment in my mind: `I'm about to kill somebody.' But once I
pulled the trigger, my belief was he was going to die because of where I
placed the bullet. And so there was a part of it that was dispassionate, and
in another part of me, I was just overwhelmed that something that horrific
could happen so young in my police career.
DAVIES: When you were in this encounter that resulted in your shooting the
suspect, your partner was being menaced by this man with a knife.
Prof. KLINGER: Right.
DAVIES: He'd already been stabbed at least once.
Prof. KLINGER: Right.
DAVIES: And when your partner said, `Shoot him,' you said there was a few
milliseconds where your mind spun and a number of things went through your
head. Slow it down and tell us, if you can, what were you thinking?
Prof. KLINGER: Well, what happened is I was on Dennis' right side, if he's
on his back, and my gun had fallen to the ground, and I had to reach back and
pick up my gun before I could pull the trigger and, you know, come back on
contact--I mean, come back on target and shoot. And so I thought about--`OK,
you said "Shoot him." Do I need to do that? Yeah. I need to shoot him
because I tried to take the knife away. That didn't work. But I don't want
to shoot this guy. But I'm reaching for the gun. I've got the gun in my
hand. I know what I need to do. I need to put a bullet in this guy, at least
one, and I need to make sure I don't hit Dennis. I need to make sure that I
don't miss and shoot my partner.'
So I picked up my gun, and my back was to the action for about a half a
second. Interestingly enough, during this half a second, we believe that what
probably happened is Edward Randolph stabbed me in the back, because I had an
extra ammo pouch on the rear of my police--called a sand-brown belt that
didn't have a knife mark in it when I went out on patrol that night. And lo
and behold, when I got back to the station and took my gun belt off, a knife
had struck that ammo pouch.
Dennis doesn't recall that it happened. I didn't feel it. But by the time I
spun back around, Dennis had grabbed the guy's wrists again. And so what I
did is my head spun back before my body turned around. That is, my eyes got
on target before my gun came around because the head spins quicker, obviously,
and I picked out a spot in the suspect's left side that I identified as
halfway between his xiphoid process and his left nipple, and I actually was
thinking that: `OK, that's a spot halfway between those two points. If I
stick my gun right there and pull the trigger it'll hit him.'
And the very last thing that went through my mind before I pulled the trigger
was, `I'm going to be indicted.' I believed that the press was going to
descend upon me, that the district attorney was going to investigate and
decide that I was wrong to have shot this individual. And I think the reason
I believed that was because we'd had a big brouhaha a couple years prior where
some police officers in Los Angeles had shot a woman with a knife, and they
went through the wringer.
DAVIES: You open your book with this story, and you begin with the name of
the gentleman you killed. `Edward Randolph was 26 years old when I killed
him.' I'm curious how much you learned about the man that you shot.
Prof. KLINGER: During the course of the investigation I was told that he was
an ex-con from Texas who had a history of confrontations with the police, he
had moved to Southern California not too long before we had our encounter, and
that he had told people in the neighborhood that he didn't like the police,
and the next police officer that, quote, unquote, "hassled or "harassed" him
he was going to kill him. I also learned that apparently he was intoxicated
with PCP that night, and I found out that he was 26 at the time. That's about
DAVIES: You didn't want to know much more than that?
Prof. KLINGER: No, that was enough for me.
DAVIES: How much uniformity is there among laws and department policies
governing deadly force? I mean, are there fairly agreed-upon legal standards
about when you can shoot someone?
Prof. KLINGER: Yeah. The legal standards are fairly clear. Basically what
it boils down to is across the country police officers are allowed to shoot in
two circumstances. One is to stop an attack that involves the infliction, or
likely infliction, of great bodily injury or death. Basically we call it
defense of life, so if there's an imminent threat of death to an
individual--an officer, a citizen--police officers can shoot under that
Second one, according to a 1985 Supreme Court decision called Tennessee v.
Garner, the justices set forth a standard for stopping fleeing suspects. Not
allowed to shoot at anyone unless you have probable cause to believe that they
committed a violent crime, one that involved the infliction, or threatened
infliction, of death or serious bodily injury. Save that, people are free to
run from the police and not be shot.
DAVIES: The theory on shooting a violent suspect is that you may be
preventing further harm in the future.
Prof. KLINGER: Absolutely.
DAVIES: Well, David Klinger, there are a lot of laws and guidelines that tell
cops when they may shoot someone.
Prof. KLINGER: Right.
DAVIES: But clearly there are times when officers elect not to fire. Do cops
think ahead of time and decide--or develop their own standards that may be
different from department guidelines about when they'll shoot?
Prof. KLINGER: Absolutely. Most police officers that I know--and I've
talked with literally hundreds of police officers around the country, in
addition to working with dozens of police officers when I was on the job 20
years ago--have what I call, and some people call, a personal shooting policy.
And you get a wide variety.
Some officers say, `Look, as soon as I perceive a threat, I'm going to shoot.'
Other officers say, `Well, you know, I'm going to wait. I'm going to
hesitate. I'm going to give them that extra second, that extra millisecond,'
whatever the time line in their own mind might be. Some officers might say,
`Look, if a guy's got a knife, I'm going to move to take the knife away from
I guarantee you, you would not find me in another situation where I would
allow you to get close with a knife. I would shoot you very quickly if you
were to approach me with a knife in an aggressive fashion because of my
experience and I know how dangerous knives can be. So every officer has a
somewhat different idea about how they are going to proceed if the proverbial,
you know, deadly force situation comes their way.
DAVIES: Citizens sometimes wonder, when a police shooting occurs,
particularly a fatal shooting, why the suspect wasn't shot in the arm or leg
or in an extremity that would have, you know, disabled them but not been
life-threatening. Why is that?
Prof. KLINGER: Well, the bottom line is that the situations, such as mine,
where police officers are confronted with these split-second decisions,
expecting a police officer to accurately place a bullet into an arm or a leg
is not realistic. Officers are trained to shoot for center mass, and one of
the--the center of the torso, and the reason for that is that we know that the
gunfire is probably not going to be spot-on. It's not going to be completely
accurate. And if you miss by a couple of inches when you're shooting into the
center mass, you're still going to strike the person. You're shooting for an
arm or leg and you don't hit exactly what you're aiming at, you're going to
miss the limb entirely and then the person continues their attack.
The second reason is what we call terminal or wound ballistics. Much as the
case in my situation, most times when people are shot they are not immediately
incapacitated. The body continues to pump blood to the extremities, to the
brain, to the organs, and people can live for a substantial period of time
with deadly injuries, and during that time they can kill a police officer. So
you shoot somebody in an arm or a leg, they can continue to press the attack.
DAVIES: Is there also a risk that if you shoot at an extremity and miss,
you're more likely to hit a bystander?
Prof. KLINGER: Absolutely. Any round that a police officer fires that misses
has that possibility, that it could strike an unintended target, with
obviously tragic consequences.
DAVIES: I'm wondering if you put much thought into the use of deadly force
before you joined the police force. Had you thought about a situation like
this coming up?
Prof. KLINGER: Yeah, I actually had. I was very deeply involved in an
evangelical Christian tradition. I had gone to Seattle Pacific University,
which is a Free Methodist school, and I had spent countless hours, literally,
talking with pastors, professors, fellow students. I even went so far as to
track down some police officers who shared my religious heritage who'd been
involved in shootings and talked to them about how it affected them. So I
spent a considerable amount of time mulling the possibility long before I
joined the police department.
DAVIES: My guest is David Klinger. His book is "Into the Kill Zone." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: My guest is criminologist David Klinger. His new book about police
shootings is called "Into the Kill Zone: A Cop's Eye View of Deadly Force."
Klinger told me there are a number of factors that go into a police officer's
decision on whether or not to use deadly force.
Prof. KLINGER: Several of the officers that--in fact, the vast majority of
the officers I interviewed had been in situations where individuals were
non-compliant, they had firearms, even circumstances where they fired their
weapons, and the officers didn't shoot because there was something about the
encounter that led them to hold their fire.
DAVIES: Give us an example of that, a case where they saw something in the
scene that told them that the situation was not as threatening.
Prof. KLINGER: Sure. A police officer is part of a narcotics task force.
They make entry on a dynamic warrant where they go in with their raid jackets,
and there's a woman sitting in a bed with a gun in her hand pointed in the
general direction of this police officer who is down the hall from her.
However, this officer said, `You know, there was something about the way she
was holding the gun. I just didn't think that she really knew how to use it,
the way that her finger was near the trigger. It wasn't really there in the
trigger, and I just decided that I could hold fire.' And the officer is
playing out a dialogue in his own mind. `I have to shoot this girl, but no,
I shouldn't. Do I shoot? I'd better shoot her.' He says, `I decided I was
going to give her one last verbal command: `If you don't drop that gun, I'm
going to shoot you.' Finally, it's like the lightbulb went on over this
woman's head. She dropped the gun. The officer took her into custody.
DAVIES: You know, I remember that story in the book. It's a really gripping
account because it's a case of where an officer has a gun drawn on this woman.
She has a gun pointed right at him.
Prof. KLINGER: Yup.
DAVIES: He doesn't shoot. But if I recall, afterward the officer thought
he'd made the wrong call, that, you know, she could have shot him and that if
he had it to do again, maybe he should have shot her.
Prof. KLINGER: Absolutely. And I've been involved in situations, when I was
a cop in LA, where I didn't shoot where people were pointing guns at us or
reaching for guns. And if I would have had different information from the
information I had at the time, I likely would have taken the person under
DAVIES: Even for a trained police officer, for a veteran officer, shooting
someone has to be a pretty traumatic experience. What do police departments
do to evaluate and help officers cope with the psychological effects of
Prof. KLINGER: Well, one of the things that police agencies have historically
done is tell police officers about the fact that they might have what we call
post-shooting trauma, some negative reaction that can encompass everything
from not being able to sleep, not being able to eat, not being able to hold
food down, flashes of anger, so on and so forth. And so officers are almost
socialized, in the academy, into the possibility that they might have a
And, indeed, one of the things I point out in the book is that many officers
came to believe, from this training, that they were bound to have a problem.
And so agencies have done that, and I think they're setting officers up for
failure because, as you point out, it can be devastating for a police officer
to take a life or shoot someone and have them survive even. But it doesn't
necessarily have to be that way. Many police officers seem to do pretty well,
particularly once the initial hubbub of the incident is over.
So one of the things that I do when I train police officers, particularly
police administrators, is let's quit telling officers, `You're bound to have a
problem.' That's beforehand. Afterward switched-on police agencies have
either psychologists on staff or have a contract with mental health
professionals, where officers can go and talk and have a mental health
professional say, `Yeah, this person is ready to go back to work,' or, `No,
this person needs some help.' The problem is that it's not unusual for police
officers to lie to the mental health professionals during these debriefings.
Prof. KLINGER: And several of the officers I spoke with said,`You know, I'm
not going to tell them what I'm going through because then they're going to
tell the chief that I'm not ready to go back to work, and that's going to look
bad in my package. How am I going to get promoted? How am I going to stay on
the SWAT Team?' whatever the case might be. So many officers look at the
mental health debrief as a chore to get through rather than a true opportunity
DAVIES: You shot and killed a suspect when you were a police officer who was
on the verge of killing your own partner with a butcher knife.
Prof. KLINGER: Right.
DAVIES: What effects, if any, did you suffer afterwards?
Prof. KLINGER: I think the biggest one was a lot of anger and a lot of sorrow
and a lot of a sense that I'd done something horribly wrong. As I mentioned,
before I went into law enforcement I was very deeply involved in Christian
evangelical tradition. And one of the notions in that is that everybody
always gets a second chance. But once they're dead, they don't get a second
chance. And so basically by taking a life, I'd cut off this individual's
opportunity for redemption. And that was very, very hard for me to deal with
for a long, long time. And I never had a problem sleeping, never had a
problem with eating food or keeping food down but just a sense of sorrow, a
belief that I'd done something wrong and a lot of anger. And the anger was
sort of diffuse.
DAVIES: Did you get counseling?
Prof. KLINGER: Intermittently. I didn't--LAPD did not provide counseling for
me. I didn't seek it out until after I had left law enforcement. And I've
spoken with a couple of mental health professionals over the years. And I
think finally--you know, the way I put it, I was in purgatory for about 20
years, and now I'm out. And I can look at it as an event that happened, and I
wish it hadn't happened. But on the other hand, I'm glad that I was there to
save my partner's life.
DAVIES: Do you think that the likelihood of shooting incidents differs when
officers are patrolling with a partner they've known and worked with for a
Prof. KLINGER: I think that that creates an opportunity to avoid a shooting.
One of the things that most people know absolutely nothing about is that
police officers are trained to approach people in ways and fashions and use
verbal tactics and so on and so forth to structure encounters so that suspects
are less likely to attack them. And when you work with a regular partner, you
then have the opportunity to get a pattern, as it were, where you know each
other, you can read each other, so that if you and I are partners and I step
out and do X, you know that you're going to now do Y, and we don't run into a
situation where we have miscommunication, so on and so forth.
DAVIES: Can you give an...
Prof. KLINGER: So I would say...
DAVIES: Can I just interrupt?
Prof. KLINGER: Sure.
DAVIES: Can you give an example of structuring a situation so you're less
likely to be threatened or attacked?
Prof. KLINGER: Sure. Let's say that you and I are partners, and there's a
guy in a car in front of us. We run the license plate, and it comes back as a
stolen vehicle. Well, if we walk up on the car and he's got a gun in the car,
we're standing there with absolutely no protection, and he could then pull the
gun, point it at us. And now we have a shooting, and hopefully neither of us
gets hurt. That's not the wisest thing.
The wisest thing to do is do what we call a high risk or a felony stop. We
stop our vehicle not real close to your vehicle, a little bit further back.
And what we do is we do not get out of our car but, rather, stay in the car
with--open open the doors, put our respective feet out. You're the driver
officer, I'm the passenger officer. We draw our guns. We point it at that
vehicle, and we order the suspect out of the vehicle, have him put his hands
up, turn around, bring him to a position, then lay him down on the ground,
then go look in the car and make sure there's nobody else in the car and then
move in, handcuff the suspect and then pat him down to see if he's got
So if we do it that way, we're not going to have a situation where we're
caught out in the open. We're going to be in a tactical advantage. And if
you think about it, if you're the bad guy in the car ahead of us and you look
in your rear-view mirror and you see these two cops with guns pointed at you,
and you see that we have made ourselves very small targets, that is going to
be a huge disincentive for you to try to attack us.
DAVIES: Well, David Klinger, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Prof. KLINGER: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
DAVIES: Criminologist David Klinger. His book is "Into the Kill Zone: A
Cop's Eye View of Deadly Force." This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Coming up, in 1971 pop musician Harry Nilsson wrote the story and
songs for a whimsical animated movie called "The Point." Music critic Milo
Miles takes a look back at the film, now out on DVD. Also, filmmaker Tareque
Masud. And jazz critic Kevin Whitehead listens to a new CD by pianist Bill
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Analysis: DVD reissue of "The Point!"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.
By 1971, singer and songwriter Harry Nilsson was a cult figure known for his
connection to The Beatles and the movie soundtrack hit "Everybody's Talking."
Just a year later he would become a pop star with the runaway single "Without
You." In between he wrote the story and songs for a made-for-TV animated
feature called "The Point!" It's just out on DVD, and Milo Miles has a
(Soundbite from "The Point!")
Unidentified Man: (Singing) Me and my Arrow, straighter than narrow, wherever
we go, everyone knows it's me and my Arrow...
MILO MILES reporting:
Although "The Point!" cropped up on TV with some regularity after its original
1971 broadcast and has been put on stage, it's been away for a long time, and
it's good to have it back. Now pushed as family entertainment, of course,
"The Point!" is really out there by itself, a unique piece of television
animation. Indeed, it was the first animated feature made for television.
"The Point!" begins with a frame tale of a father, voiced by Ringo Starr,
reading his son a story about the Pointed Village, a place where every
building, object and creature comes to a point on top, including the people
with their nice triangular heads. The protagonist, Oblio, is a boy born with
a round head and, through the maneuvers of an evil member of the royalty, is
exiled as an undesirable, along with his lovable dog, Arrow. Oblio wanders in
the wilderness, where he meets a series of whimsical creatures who teach him
the value of individual self-worth, much in the manner of "Alice in
Wonderland," "The Wizard of Oz" and a contemporary animation, "The Phantom
Tollbooth." Oblio returns to the village and soon triumphs over prejudice and
bad law. It's nice that Harry Nilsson eventually admitted the story was
inspired by an acid trip.
(Soundbite of "The Point!")
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Ah, ha. Bali, tali, Bali, so high. Bali high.
Bali, tali high. Bali high. Bali, tali, bali, so high. Bali high. Bali,
tali high. Bali low. Bali, bali, bali, so low. Bali high. Bali, bali high.
Bali low. Bali, Bali...
MILES: What's unexpected about "The Point!" is that its pace seems both crisp
and leisurely, sort of a lively midtempo, right in keeping with Nilsson's
charming songs, or maybe we should call it antique modernism. Given the
extreme tech and hyperactivity in current animation, "The Point!" looks
hand-made, dominated by watercolors and pencil-sketch rough edges. Oblio
himself suggests the Jolly Green Giant's kid sidekick, Sprout, no doubt
because director Fred Wolf's studio also invented that character.
(Soundbite of "The Point!")
Unidentified Man: (Singing) Sit beside the breakfast table, think about your
troubles. Pour yourself a cup of tea and think about the bubbles. You can
take your teardrops and drop them in a teacup. Take them down to the
riverside and throw them over the side to be swept up by a current, then taken
to the ocean to be eaten by some fishes, who were eaten by some fishes and
swallowed by a whale, who grew so old he decomposed...
MILES: In the spirit of those times, resistance to authority and progressive
change were taken as givens, although having the king of the Pointed Village
be a sweet old duffer is a bit of a cop-out. And after more than 30 years,
two aspects of Nilsson's songs really jump out. The first is how little they
are tailored to be kiddie tunes or blandly universalist. The top 40 hit "Me
and My Arrow" is one of the great double entendres. "P.O.V. Waltz" and "Are
You Sleeping?" are grown-up love songs with fantasy overlay. Even stranger,
there's a core of melancholy, loss that cannot be filled, at the center of
many Nilsson tunes and not just obvious examples like "Life Line."
(Soundbite of "Life Line")
Unidentified Group: (Singing) It's cold, and I'm so lonely. Hello. Is there
anybody else here? Hello. Won't you throw me down a life line?
Unidentified Man: (Singing) I'm so afraid of darkness, and down in here it's
just like nighttime.
MILES: An adult watching "The Point!" nowadays cannot help by think about the
troubled career and premature death of Harry Nilsson, who never matched his
early '70s peak and was plagued by alcoholism. This movie was created by a
kind of Oblio, who knew it is much easier to assert that everyone and every
life has a point than to be certain, in the depths of the night, that it is
so, which makes his happy fable even more pointed.
DAVIES: Milo Miles is a contributing writer to Rolling Stone.
Coming up, filmmaker Tareque Masud. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Tareque Masud discusses his new film "The Clay Bird"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Americans in the post-September 11th world have gained a new awareness of
Islamic fundamentalism. Filmmaker Tareque Masud's interest is lifelong and
deeply personal. He was raised in a middle-class family in Bangladesh, but
when he was young his father became a born-again Muslim and sent him to a
madrassa, an Islamic school where children are drilled in prayer and ritual.
His largely autobiographical film "The Clay Bird" deals with the effects of
religious orthodoxy on a Bengali family at a time of turmoil. It's set in
what was then East Pakistan, just as West Pakistan's military regime began a
savage campaign of repression that led to civil war. The conflict killed an
estimated three million Bengalis and resulted in the creation of the nation of
Tareque Masud made "The Clay Bird" with his American-born wife, Catherine.
The film has won several awards, including the International Critics Prize at
the 2002 Cannes festival. The film tells the story of a family whose father
has become a devout Muslim. He sent his son to a madrassa and imposed
religious restrictions on his wife and daughter.
I asked Tareque Masud how his own father's religious awakening affected their
Mr. TAREQUE MASUD ("The Clay Bird"): So my mother was the first victim. You
know, she was only 14, and she grew up in a very liberal atmosphere. But
suddenly my father put her under burqa, which is kind of religious
confinement, you know, not letting her go out and mix with, you know, men or
otherwise. So that's how my father's new identity started. But the next
target was myself. I was sent to madrassa because the village that I grew up
in was very big and with a lot of mystic festivity and all that. And he
thought this is not good for me, and he wanted to sort of protect me from
those pagan influences.
DAVIES: So it was to give you a deeply religious upbringing. Was it a
cultural shock for you to be with kids who were sort of not of your background
Mr. MASUD: Yes, it was a cultural shock, but I was kind of a very docile boy.
I never said no to my father. And I was very curious. And as I was very much
curious with all pagan festivities that I grew up with in village, when I was
sent to madrassa, even madrassa interiors tend to be very interesting, very
strange with these Koranic chants and Ezan and all these rituals.
DAVIES: You said Ezan. Explain what you mean by that.
Mr. MASUD: Ezan is the Islamic--the call for prayer, which is five times a
day and particularly in the dawn time when we were--you know, we used to get
up. We were asked to get up and do all this obolation(ph), this ritual of
cleansing with water. But I really felt slowly, slowly--I spent like eight
years there, and slowly, slowly I felt like I was very much suffocating. It's
very much of--very static. I mean, it was very much contrast--when I used to
come back from the madrassa to my village for a vacation or something, the
whole village would burst on me with color and vibrancy. And that was
DAVIES: You know, in the post-September 11th world I think a lot of Americans
look at this kind of school with, you know, rows of young boys in prayer caps
reciting the Koran as a rigid, even menacing, kind of setting for instilling
an anti-Western paternalistic kind of orthodoxy. I mean, do you think that
sense of the madrassa is accurate today?
Mr. MASUD: I don't think really because, you know, first of all, a madrassa
is definitely very strict. It can be compared with any religious, you know,
convent schools, possibly Catholic schools or something. It's not very
different. But the picture we're getting of this very violent or militant,
you know, look of this madrassa--it's not really compatible with the kind of
madrassa that I have experienced myself or even today's madrassa in Bangladesh.
Maybe in some cases in Afghanistan or Pakistan you definitely have much more
But, you know, let me tell you one thing. I mean, it's not those orthodox,
naive madrassas that these militants are coming from. That's not really the
breeding ground of little Talibans, as far as I know. But some of those
madrassas are much more integrated to mainstream education--rather, I would
say Western education. They're much more equipped with, you know, English and
other scientific knowledge. And those other madrassas are becoming more
dangerous and potential place of any recruiting for any kind of political, you
DAVIES: So much set in this village in Bangladesh in 1971 is, in part, about
contending visions of what Islam represents. And there was this compelling
scene, I thought, which was a concert in which a man and a woman are singing
to a crowd out under a tree, and they take turns singing about different
religious themes. What's being said here in this exchange? What is this all
Mr. MASUD: So this is a kind of a debate, which is called an Islamic word,
`bahas'(ph) in the musical form, in narrative forms. In narrative musical
form it's a very popular phenomenon. And in the film you saw it for two and
three minutes or so, but it starts at 10:00. These two persons start singing
and debating, and it goes on till 6:00 in the morning. And it's an open-air
concert and is mostly improvised. There's common themes and lines and
refrain, but most of the theme is improvised and is incredible phenomenon.
But it's very popular.
DAVIES: Let's just hear a little of this, and I'd like you to tell us about
(Soundbite of "The Clay Bird")
Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)
Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)
Mr. MASUD: The whole theme of the song is like, you know: What should be the
relationship of God and humankind? They stick to, you know, greed of Islam,
the sharia, what it's called. According to that, I mean, you know, it would
be the fear of God. Have fear of God and the greed of heaven. You should
have fear of God. And the Sufi, the guru, who's taking the position of guru
voice--he's saying, `Love of God, not fear of God.' So it's basically the two
discourse on Islam.
DAVIES: One of the interesting things about the film is this young boy who's
at the center of the film is sent away to Islamic school, the madrassa. But
when he comes back to his village, he attends, you know, festivals and
ceremonies that I guess are Hindu. Give us a little bit of a sense of sort of
to what the relationship is among these different religious and cultural
groups in the villages of Bangladesh. Is that the...
Mr. MASUD: Yes, yeah. One of the things is like this boat festival you have
seen. It happens once a year with the pujah, a Hindu pujah that is called
Vishnu Kurma. This is the pujah of the artisans. And the goddess Vishnu
Kurma is celebrated. And now it's exclusively a Hindu ritual, but as you see
in the film, it's predominantly participated by the Muslim peasants with beard
and topee and long gowns and everything. So that is much more representing
the greater, you know, real culture in Bangladesh. It's very harmonic. The
Muslims--there's not much, you know, differences. You know, the Muslims
attend the Hindu festivity and vice versa. And that is, you see, among the
ordinary people. But when it comes to the class of Kazi, particularly this
guy of newborn Muslim...
DAVIES: Kazi being the father in the film.
Mr. MASUD: Father. Yeah, yeah. Here, they try to, you know, distance
themselves, this educated Muslim, you know, population, old section, I would
say--try to distance themselves from any pagan, you know, culture or, you
know, traditions as if these are not, you know, Muslim enough. These are
Hindu or indigenous.
DAVIES: Tareque Masud, you mentioned that when you were very young, your
father sent you away to a madrassa, an orthodox Islamic school, and that
this--because your father had become, I believe you described him, a
born-again Muslim. I'm wondering, are you a practicing Muslim today?
Mr. MASUD: Well, I don't have a very clear answer to that. Yes, in the very
narrow sense of the word, I am not a practicing Muslim because I don't go to
prayer. I don't do prayer five times a day. But at the same time I do have
a very profound respect for any believers, and I respect people's, you know,
sensitivity and, you know, their feeling. And I also very appreciate the Sufi
mystic tradition of Islam. I'm very much, you know, influenced by Jalal
al-Din Rumi and so many other--and, also, very famous Bengali mystic poets
like Lalan and others. I mean, you know, Tagore, the Nobel Prize-winning poet
of Bengal, was very much influenced by Lalan, this mystic Sufi. Now what I'm
trying to say is I'm very much interested and intrigued by the religiosity as
a whole, but I can't say that I'm a practicing believer.
DAVIES: Tareque Masud. His film, "The Clay Bird," opens in New York, San
Francisco and San Rafael April 30th and in other cities in coming weeks.
DAVIES: Today's the birth date of the late composer and bassist Charles
Mingus, who was born 82 years ago. Let's celebrate with music from his 1959
recording "Blues And Roots." This is "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting."
(Soundbite of "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting")
DAVIES: That's Charles Mingus with "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting."
Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews a new CD of Leonard Bernstein songs by Bill
Charlap. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Bill Charlap's new CD titled "Somewhere: Songs of Leonard
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new CD by pianist Bill Charlap
interpreting the popular songs of Leonard Bernstein. Though best known as a
classical conductor and composer, Bernstein wrote music for shows, including
"West Side Story," "On The Town" and "Candide." Kevin says Charlap, the son
of a Broadway composer and jazz singer who demoed songs for Broadway
composers, is ideally cast for this project.
(Soundbite of music)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:
Leonard Bernstein wanted recognition for his big orchestral works, but his
smaller pieces have proven more durable so far. The classic songs he wrote in
the 1940s and '50s are distinguished by their easy and open lyricism, unfussy
but elegant harmonies and maybe a twinge of regret that the classic American
pop song was on the way out when he came in.
His tunes include "West Side Story" hits like "America" and "Somewhere,"
but also lovely earlier ballads, like "Some Other Time" and "Lucky to be Me."
(Soundbite of "Somewhere")
WHITEHEAD: Pianist Bill Charlap, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny
Washington on their third and, to me, their best CD on Blue Note, "Somewhere,"
the music of Leonard Bernstein.
As the son of a composer and a singer, Charlap respects the integrity of these
songs. He highlights the pretty melodies and doesn't gussy things up too
much, making effective use of space and stage whispers. The lines he plays
with his right hand really sing in a way that recalls low-key '50s vocalists,
like Bobby Troup and Blossom Dearie, who, by the way, recorded four of the
same Bernstein tunes in a 1959 salute to lyricists Comden and Green.
If Charlap's tendency to underplay makes him sound like a cocktail pianist
once in a while, he also finds the blues inside these tunes, even the
sentimental "Ohio" from the show "Wonderful Town."
(Soundbite of "Ohio")
WHITEHEAD: Subtle ballads are Charlap's hallmark, but he can kick up the
dust, too, and his rhythm section is happy to join in. The precisely weighted
touch that serves Charlap well on ballads also lets him swing the piano
hammers against the strings like a strongman. The jumpiest tune on the
Bernstein album is "Jump," from "West Side Story," which hops from one
rhythmic figure to another, like a jazz rock tune from the '70s.
(Soundbite of "Jump")
WHITEHEAD: Listening to Bill Charlap play Leonard Bernstein, you sense an
artist at home with his materials, one who understands where the music came
from, how it works and what it means. You get the feeling he's found his
subject, that he could mime this composer's book for a good while to come.
DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for the Chicago Sun-Times, The Absolute Sound
and Down Beat. He reviewed "Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein" by
the Bill Charlap Trio on Blue Note.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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