tv Charlie Rose Bloomberg December 4, 2014 10:00pm-11:01pm EST
vietnam war. it was written by david rabe. after his own return from the war. it has returned to the stage after several decades. "a fullic called it frontal attack on a hypercritical society." here is a look at the play. >> no legged boys, one legged boys. cincinnati, st. louis, reading. i have deliveries to make all across this country. >> it just feels wrong. where are you? >> i don't -- >> don't you hear me? the air is wrong. >> weight. >> joining me now is the playwright and three members of the cast.
bill pullman, holly hunter, and richard chamberlain. welcome and congratulations. is this the right time for this play to come back? >> it seems to be. it was the right time for me to get a glorious production. >> the right directory and the right cast? >> i tried to get it on numerous other times and it didn't work. i'm kind of grateful that did not happen because this is such a great production. >> in terms of timeliness, were coming out of iraq and vietnam. i just interviewed the secretary of defense and one thing we talked about is how suicide is rising in terms of people returning for all kinds of reasons. people are surviving things they previously did not because of medical care. the issue of how we treat veterans is still an issue. from vietnam. ptsd did not exist at the time. i would never say i had it, but
i was certainly messed up. my experience over there in the conventional sense did not justify me saying i had it. i did not feel at home when i came home, that was for sure. >> you are in the medical unit. when you came back, you did not jump into antiwar protests. like john kerry. >> i still felt an allegiance to the soldiers but i also felt after my little time back home, the experience crept in that there was nothing at stake. everybody was doing fine even though -- i came back early. i came back in 1967. the protests were just beginning. i just sort of looked around and it crept up into my psyche that this was wrong and there was no need for it. there was that kind of domino theory, if you recall.
>> may look back at the family that we think of as sort of a perfect mid-american family. >> i took ozzie and harriet, archetypes, the theatrical tradition of having archetypal names and drama. and then you can kind of build around that were destroyed with the reputation is or enhance it. my goal was to kind of do both, humanize in a more complicated psychology than they were presented but also cut my way through the values. i wanted very much to present -- part of my satisfaction with this production is that the play
itself is an experience beyond its political content. in 1972, it was very difficult to do that. >> the play itself? the experience beyond the politics? >> the theatrical nature. >> family, relationships, the father is the main character in many ways which was really impossible to make clear in 1972. the pressure demanded that the veteran be the main character and yet he isn't. plus, people wanted him to be a little more sympathetic than he turns out to be because he's so demanding. the play or the actors --erpretation gecko
interpretation? >> the play. david, as he comes home, what he asks for is almost not doable. he wants a form of madness, really, for everyone to admit what's going on and that the dead are everywhere and is brought them home with him and they should all agree that it is good. >> how did you see the father's place here? >> i never think of me playing the lead. that's not part of my lexicon. i think of the fact that the play itself is a lot about people there are around the returning event as well as the returning vets focusing on this family that has existed with all of its sub textual role conflict but existed in this comfortable way. all of that gets challenged. for me, it was a way to get into
it. my father was in world war ii and that was a vet generation and ozzie is a guy and there's a -- who did not get to go to world war ii drove and did not get to go to active service and there's a lot of buried things underneath all of that. david wrote a play in which the younger brother, everyone has their conflicts that kind of get heated up because of a result of this. that's probably why it's 50 years. they are starting the anniversary of the vietnam war and they are spending $7 million and we are going to go back into all of these issues. 6 million people signing a petition or whatever saying it was a massacre, and incidents.
we are going to get back into those issues. looking at families that come back, you're saying when the vets come back now with a back surviving things they did not before with the body armor. there are new land's, the concussive blasts that are now part of temporary warfare ranging from breaking down doors, bombs, understanding that the brain is doing, that trauma. everything is so heightened and we are getting to the point where we need to look at the families around these vets, too. there is a sociological thing as well. >> it was said recently on this program that when a soldier goes toward his family goes with him. talking about the agony for the person remaining at home. they go through whatever he or she goes through. >> that's very much what this play is about. on the cover of the play it says, the vietnam play by david rabe.
this is a family play taking place during the vietnam era. it very much is about how the vet kind of the implodes the family. >> tell me about the mothers attitude. >> it is so interesting that david chose to name the two characters ozzie and harriet. as the play has gone on it has had more and more resonance for me even though i do not think me or bill played a lot of attention -- paid a lot of attention to that program. the americana, the structure of the family after world war ii is something that is very much a part of that safety, that victory, that luxury, the life
of plenty that we, as a country, experienced after world war ii and it collides with vietnam in the 60's. >> the revolution as well as postwar. >> for the play to be sitting on that precipice is really on that now. >> from 1972 in "the new york times." it is a shattering indictment of that moral condition sometimes known as middle america and its rising flood tides of human conformity. >> i view war -- this need to have firm rules and guidelines for any family or society of when things are so you know when
things are ok. and then david, the vet, comes in shattering all of that. it throws everybody back on himself to a kind of self-examination and then how far he wants to take leads to something that could be what he called it. i do not quite look at it like that myself. that does not mean it's not true but i think it's a larger issue than just trying to stay sane. you expect certain things to be in certain places. you just expect the people coming toward you, you will gently part for each other. you do -- mainly, they do. otherwise he would not get anywhere. >> now they are all looking down at something so they don't see you. richard, welcome back to the table.
>> thank you, thank you. i happened to see on tv yesterday a clip from "ozzie and harriet," and i was struck by the fact that nobody can do that anymore. there was a naivete, a goodness, a simplicity about the people no actors can do now. it just does not exist anymore. we are too fraught and sophisticated. >> what's the role of the priest here? >> it's the curious thing bringing religion into it. my priest, he's a very successful. he decided to be a priest because it would give him a certain place in the community. has always longed for the respect and he organizes sports events and he does all the things priests to do. he just does not happen to have
a calling. he does not really know that. he's good at it. he's never been busted before. he goes up to david, the young man, to straighten them out. he has been a little troublesome. he goes upstairs to straighten him out and he gets totally blitzed until david will not have any of the nonsense that my character is spewing. my character never recovers from that. he remains a priest and he does priestly things but he does not believe it anymore and you probably start hitting the bottle. he is so destroyed by this guy. >> this is an early scene where holly expresses her concern about david's behavior since his return. >> there's something wrong with david.
he's been home days and days and still -- there's no bounce in his step, no smiles. he's not happy to be here. he doesn't want to be touched. i don't think he's even shaken your hand. has he shaken your hand? >> i don't mind that. why should i mind? >> now he's talking to himself. you mind that? he mutters. >> no, no. >> it's not a regular type of talking at all. it's very strange. spooky. >> i never heard him. >> you sleep to deeply. i followed the sounds, i was in his room. he laid there speaking in his room. >> was it words? >> kind of funny and fast. >> i bet it was prayer.
>> i know prayer when i hear it and it was not praying he was doing. brantley says he makes a case as one of american theaters classic embattled male losers, and man who finds his masculinity, vitality, his very existence under siege. >> does that resonate with you at all? >> sounds good. [laughter] it's a measure of great pride to have a play that has not had a major production or any revival for 42 years. we are trained in drama and things. you look at death of a salesman, long days journey into night and these great plays, we agree it's one of those quality of plays for the american drama and the 1970's, one of the most important family dramas there is.
getting that review is important for just reinstating the play am -- play. wouldn't you say? >> yeah, yeah. totally agree. >> you get the feeling it is important that this is being said now at this time. >> i think david rabe is one of the great american playwrights so to be a part of this and feel the resonance of the words in the kind of landscape that stretches out before us every night, stories from beginning to end, it's very impactful, very special. i feel privileged to be part of this play. that's a rarity. it's a rarity to have an intersection with something that you feel has greatness.
>> you said about david -- >> about a playwright that's living. it's not hallowed ground from two centuries ago. this is david rabe now and it's very special. >> you said he's not afraid of the dark. >> i don't believe that, no. [laughter] it's a headlong dive into the dark. >> you had family members who came back from vietnam? >> three. >> and you experienced some sense of that, that the country was not paying the price. the veterans paid the price. secondly they were not treated and accepted for the sacrifices they made for the country. >> there was shame involved in
the people felt a sense of shame, a national shame, and i think the vets were often thought of as kind of crazy. there was a kind of shunning. >> that was so desperately unfair to the returning veterans as if the war was their fault somehow -- which of course it wasn't. >> my three family members did not experience that kind of particular -- not at all. >> you've said somewhere that you thought the theme of this play is denial. >> it is absolutely one of the most potent themes that i think resonates with every single person alive. their relationship to truth. my relationship to truth. everybody here. what do you believe?
what do you know? what do you deny? what do you pretend? all of these things happen on a daily basis. this deals with the daily everyday profound. what do you fate? -- fake? how do you lie to yourself? >> could you have written this without having gone to vietnam yourself? or was that a central connection? >> i'm sure i would not have. i may have written something else but i did. >> when did it start for you writing this play? >> at that time, i was getting -- my tour was over and i was getting out of the army within the same day or a two. i flew back and i was in san francisco out of the army. i went back to my hometown of dubuque and then it started -- >> to germinate.
>> you align with the guys with you no matter your circumstances. you find your buddies, the people you can count on. after a few months, maybe five or six, i went back to graduate school. i dropped out of graduate school and knocked around -- that's how i got drafted. it was in theater at villanova. the teacher said you must have something going on. i was brooding. i started all four these plays about vietnam. pablo -- >> did you do all four? >> they were sequential and then i would jump to the other. pablo and sticks and bones --
although streamers was really written first. villanova was a wonderful place at that time in terms of the creativity. i was very encouraged. >> how long did it take to finish it all? >> streamers did not finish for about seven years but the other three were more or less finished within a couple years, two or three. >> do actors tell you things about your characters? >> yes. [laughter] when there is revelation and it's also just kind of amazing nuance in live readings, the thrust of a character you have not quite anticipated and that certainly happened throughout this. >> bill reaches his hand over to touch your knee and you take it
off. was that instinctive? >> i did not see that. i would rather not see what i'm doing. >> you did not watch. you looked down. >> the great thing working with the bill is it's always different. it's never the same. never, ever. we don't even want it to be. bill is different every night. i'm different with you every night. that's what keeps it so much fun and so alive. and actually, kind of -- not a sense of danger. danger is too broad of a term but i guess it's in the family of danger, the unpredictability of it keeps it exciting definitely for you intrinsically as an actor.
>> with scott elliott, the director, he's not been tightening the reins down to that degree. we have boundaries that we've been given permission to go around. that's the exciting thing. we don't have a long run. we will be done in two weeks. you get the chance, if you feel like, let's just throw it out there. how do you react? i'm hitting her and we are hitting each other's hands. >> the other night i went to bill afterwards and said, i will never do that again. i tried and failed. [laughter] >> what was it you did? >> i just did not do a larger piece of stage business. i didn't want to. i was not going to. yes, i will always do it from
now on. >> she did not do it and you just said? >> you are given a golden opportunity and the error changes immediately when something goes wrong or is off, the molecules in the air change and the next two minutes are some of the most exciting. everyone is scrambling to recover and react in the present. >> someone misses an interest or -- entrance or is a little bit , everyone is slightly levitating. it's just kind of fun. it gives you an opportunity. >> it's live. >> here's another clip where the father talks to ozzie and harriet explaining how he sees the priestly role. >> you know, religion, there is a relevancy much, much larger than the credit is due.
we are growing and our insights, when we have them, are two fold. i have come recently to understand how very often what seems to be spiritual problems are in fact problems of the mind rather than the spirit. not that the two can in fact be separate. so what we must do is apply these theories in which point we find that mind and spirit are one. i, a priest, and my psychiatrist and psychiatrists are priests. am i rambling? i feel like i'm rambling. >> oh, no father. >> no-no. [laughter] >> was that supposed to make sense? [laughter] >> i think it makes perfect sense. >> you said the play was both tragic and funny.
>> one of the amazing things about this play is you can't put it in a box. you can't put it in a net in say what it is or what it's a really about. it changes with lightning speed from fantasy, reality, tragedy, total denial. it is amazingly complicated and wonderfully so, i think. >> david, if you were writing it today, would it be different? in other words, take the play you wrote, "sticks and stones," -- "sticks and bones," but because you've lived more years -- >> i could not have written it now. >> did you consider changing anymore but because you had more
insight, more experience? >> small lines here and there and put everything back basically i had changed. it's really minor stuff. nothing essential. i changed some lines for logistical purposes if they were doing some blocking was really good and the lines could have been changed to facilitate that or be cut to facilitate that. it was nothing of the essence of the characters of the play or the story, just logistical stuff. >> have you written the play you think you were here to write? >> you know, i don't know the answer to that. i hope i have a few more. >> something for a long time you said, look, because of who i am, what i know i'm a what i've experienced, there is no combination of things i need to
put in one play that will have bigger, wider than anything i've done. >> that's a very big question. >> i'm sorry. [laughter] >> i will do my best. >> i like to see him uncomfortable. >> looking at this production of the play, frankly the dimensions are tapped and there are yields that i have either lost track of. >> it's about history. it reminds us. we've been through wars. >> it's like a time capsule of that time and yet it was of this time. >> one more clip. it explains itself. >> you are shaking. you are trembling. >> just a while. stay away. that's all i ask.
>> what? >> stay the hell away from me. >> how far? how far away? i will move over here. is this far enough away? >> it's in my hands. my feet. there's tiredness in me. i wake up each morning. >> oh. it is so hateful how you have no love different for people than yourself. even when your son comes on to tell you of them. you have no right to carry on this way. he did not bring him back. stop thinking only of yourself. we don't matter. only the children. when are you going to straighten out your thinking?
he's a singer, songwriter, and as you know a member of the rock and roll hall of fame. his career spans nearly four decades. among his most popular songs -- hurt so good, jack and diane, pink houses. his passion for the american heartland is well known. he cofounded the annual farm aid benefit concert. it is written by stephen king and directed by t-bone burnett. his latest album is called "plain spoken." the words ponder, trouble, freedom, god, mortality, the concerns of a songwriter acting his age.
i'm pleased to have john mellencamp back at this table. did you hear what i was reading? ponder trouble, power, love, god, freedom, mortality. the concerns of a songwriter acting his age. >> that's important. >> to act your age? >> that's important. i learned that lesson in the late 80's. i went to see james brown when i was 1965? it was unbelievable. he was on fire. i went to see him in the late 1980's and he tried to do the splits and they had to come and help him up. i thought to myself, if my career ever lasts about long, remember to act your age.
you don't want to be doing the splits on the stage and have someone come help you get up. he taught me a big lesson. you are that when you are 25, this at 45, this at 65. if you have a career that lasts that long, it's important to act your age. >> your career has lasted that long. >> i try not to look back at what i did when i was 35 and not get caught up with what people expect me to do, not do.
are you john mellencamp? i always say, yeah. you were probably expecting a much younger version. [laughter] people see these records and album covers and that's what they remember. >> why do you call it "plain spoken?" because it is? >> the name has been around for a long time. my friend tim white was the editor of "billboard" magazine years ago. in 1988 i named the record and it did not work for that title. the title had always been around in my head. finally i made a record. >> what has my friend t-bone burnett done for you? >> we've made three or four records together. >> this one? >> he executive produced it. he's busy. he would come in and check on us change this and that. >> would you listen? >> sometimes. occasionally. [laughter] charlie, i don't talk to him when i'm not listening. >> you have always stayed in
indiana. home is in the heartland for john mellencamp. >> i always figured i would be a little bit better off keeping to myself. i've never really been part of anything. i never really been part of the music business or any established -- the only thing i've ever been a part of was farming, really. >> side a, troubled man, sometimes there's god, the isolation of mister. the brass ring, freedom of speech, blue charlotte, the courtesy of the kings, lawless times. troubled man. what's that? >> i will play that here in a second. it was an idea that came to me.
i tried to write the song in 1990 one but i was not mature enough yet. you get to be a certain age and you come to certain realizations about yourself, things you've done, things you wish you had not done. and you start taking stock in who you are. >> what are your regrets? >> i don't have any. i'm just saying you do stuff. it's like that frank capra movie, "it's a wonderful life." what would it be like without george? you look at the good things you've done for people. >> why "troubled man? >> if you knew the song, you
would say, john, you wrote this about me. >> most of us? likes small things that most men, i think, in our age bracket have experienced. i think this song covers that topic. >> too late came to early for me to face myself. >> i think that's pretty true for everybody. when our life finds trouble, we don't want to deal with that too much. keeping secrets, keeping ourselves at bay, that seems to be pretty common business for the human race. that's just a global statement. >> do you study other songwriters? look at them, figure out what you have to learn from them? >> i'm always learning stuff on people.
i hear something and i think -- how'd they do that? at 63 years old, i'm still amazed at the magic that some people can produce and i still love music and i am still in awe. >> they are in awe of you of the same reason. what separates good from great? >> great songwriters have the ability to realize that there's always another song. some people think -- i had a guy once asked me, a very famous songwriter, have you ever had a writing block?
i won't mention his name but i just said, look out the window. there is so much to write about. how could you possibly have a writing block? i could not possibly cover all the topics that i need to if i just wrote every day in and out. >> what do you do every day in and out? you are about to be on the road. >> if i'm at home? i paint. >> oh, yeah. >> i start painting at nine, quit painting and seven. i have dinner. >> all day you paint? >> someone brings me my dinner and lunch. i watch the nightly news. i talk on the telephone, do business. in indiana, there's not a lot of places to go have dinner. it's not like new york.
you just kind of have dinner and talk on the phone, do some business, do it again the next day. >> you send this to my colleague at cbs, anthony mason -- >> great guy, nice guy. >> he gets music like few people do. tell him what you told -- tell us what you told him about spina bifida. >> when i was born with it in 1951, they had no idea what to do with kids who had spina bifida. they just let them die basically. they had three kids at the hospital at the same time that i had it. they went to my parents and said, this kid's going to die if we don't try something. do you mind? they said, if the choice is die or try -- try. they operated on all three kids.
one kid died on the table. the girl made it until she was about 14 and she was in a wheelchair her entire life and me. i didn't even know i had it until i was 10 or 11 and some kid asked with a big scar was across my neck. i can't see the back of my neck so i asked my parents. what's this big scar? i had a hand mirror. so anyway, my parents just downplayed it. don't worry about it. as i got older, i started realizing what a miracle it was that i was alive. this young doctor just tried this experimental surgery that just worked on me and consequently became the first step in dealing with spina bifida.
this is 1951. they operated on people with screwdrivers and shearers. think about it. >> incredible. >> he looked at me and he said, what's your faith? that's all he wanted to talk to me about. he said, you of all people should have faith. >> will a song come out of this? >> probably. anything -- charlie, if it's out there, it's available. even if it's been written. >> as bill merry said to me, you have to be alert and available. >> he's exactly right. >> why do you think you won't write anymore hits? >> i don't think that's available.
radio is so different than what it used to be. if you listen to what's on the radio today, it has nothing to do with what i started to do or what neil young does. we are just not in that field of music. >> you still have a good life. you go on tour. >> listen, charlie. >> you have the painting. lots of similarities. >> he got that from me. [laughter] >> dylan, too. >> these guys are always copying me. we don't have original thoughts. [laughter] >> does the song come to you, the lyrics? >> it all comes to me. the idea. you start writing and i can't even keep up with it. it's nothing i thought about.
i'm working with a guy on ghost brothers right now -- not steve, but another writer during transitions. he has to think about it. i will come back and two days -- no, no, no. 10 minutes. now. all different people have different process. >> how's your health? >> good as can be expected for 63 -- don't try to be adding age here, charlie. every year counts. for a guy who has probably smoked 10 million cigarettes. >> have you stopped? >> no. >> why don't you? >> charlie, it is the only thing i do well. [laughter] >> you are so bad. are you easy to be with?
>> i'm impossible. >> what makes you impossible? >> i've been in a rock band since i was 14. i do things my way. i wrote this in a song a long time ago. i do things my way and i pay an awfully high price. i'm not a very good collaborator. i don't play well with other kids. when you bring that home or into a relationship, i will not throw myself -- not without bringing you down with me. >> no more of this, ok? >> right. >> have you heard of spotify? >> yes. [laughter] if you want to get into the internet with me, you can.
what happened and what should have happened with the internet is it should have been treated as another delivery system but everyone acted like it was a miracle. it was the same miracle as radio. the record company should have come forward and said -- wait a minute. you guys can't have this lawless land where people can do this and that. if they would have treated the same way as they treated radio or television, we would still have intellectual property that was not considered to be free to everyone. but it was the lackadaisical feelings and confusion. , so consequently what we have
is if someone would ask me should i become a songwriter the answer is no. >> the genie is out of the bottle. -- >> that's right. and they say, well, we pay. listen. i have to get one million plays to make 16 cents. really? >> really? >> that's the kind of pay they have. i have always looked at my paintings as a hobby but now i have a gallery here in new york. >> do you really? >> aca gallery. >> i will be there. "plain spoken" the album by the incomparable john mellencamp. part of the american song. >> always good to see you, charlie. always good to be seen. >> as we go out, troubled man by john mellencamp.
new jersey governor chris christie paid a visit to calgary urging approval of the keystone pipeline and a better relationship between canada and the united states. >> one of my main reasons for coming is to indicate the importance of friendship. america has to pay closer attention to its friends. the u.s.-canada relationship has to be a priority. >>