Not long ago, Nick Lowe was approached by his American record label about releasing a Christmas album. The esteemed UK songwriter, who gave the world "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" and "Cruel to Be Kind," says the idea seemed laughable.
"But I was confused by how snooty I felt when they asked me about doing it," Lowe says. "I think it's a Brit thing, really: Making Christmas records is seen as a not very cool thing to do. And I thinkg it's all bound up with strange ideas from the 1960s, about selling out and things like that."
Lowe says his management was skeptical, too. Then, an idea struck him.
"Instead of just knocking out the same 12 songs that everyone always seems to do," Lowe says. "I thought, 'Well, with a little bit of work, I could make it a little bit different.'"
That meant writing new songs, ones sardonic and original enough to sit alongside any in his catalog, and giving what Lowe calls "a brand new suit of clothes" to the more well-worn classics. He NPR's Arun Rath in the studio to chat about the process and perform a few songs from the new Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family. Hear their conversation at the audio link.
Late-night comedy show hosts are known for opening their programs in a certain style. David Letterman takes to the stage with a wave and a smile. Jay Leno comes out and shakes hands with the audience.
Eric Andre takes quite a different approach: flying into an uncontrollable rage as soon as the band plays him on and smashing nearly everything on the set.
"During the intro of my show, I hurt myself, I hurt my shoulder pretty bad. I hurt my back really bad," he tells All Things Considered host Arun Rath.
"I jumped on my desk and landed right on my tuckus during the Vivica Fox interview and I just like wrenched my back and sent a shock wave up my spine. ... My back still feels kind of asymmetrical."
The Eric Andre Show lasts just 15 minutes, and appears in the middle of the night during on the Cartoon Network.
Nothing about the show is normal, least of all the celebrity interviews — which he conducts with outrageous questions and stunts that sometimes border on mockery. Andre says he's not trying to be mean.
"Nothing I'm doing is meant to be mean-spirited because that's not fun or funny. Anybody can be mean," he says. "It's more about just being absurd and just wildly inappropriate for the sake of comedy."
Spin Magazine has called it "the weirdest show on TV."
Still, it's generated a rabid fan base. The show wraps its second season Thursday, and has been picked up for a third season.
On the vision behind the show
It is like a mock-talk show or an anti-talk-show talk show, where I just destroy the talk show from the beginning to the end — deconstructing ... the fact that most talk show hosts have to just be overly polite and be like, "You're so great, Victoria's Secret model who doesn't know anything! We're best friends."
And I just think it's way funnier for a host to just be completely uninformed and spaced out and apathetic.
Do celebrity guests know what they're getting into?
Some people are totally in the dark. Some people don't even know the name of the show or who I am before they do it. Like, we had Demi Lovato on the show for the New Year's special. And I called her up, I just wanted to like call her up and be like, "Hey thanks so much for doing the show," before she came on. And she goes, "I just wanna let you know I've seen your Billion Dollar Movie a hundred times." And I was like, "Oh no, that's Eric Wareheim. That's 'Tim and Eric' Eric."
And then she goes, "Oh." ...
I just kept my fingers crossed that she wouldn't cancel.
On getting the show renewed for a third season
I'm so happy it's all working out because I was so broke for like 10 years trying to make a living doing comedy. I was eating beans by candle light for a decade. It's nuts that people are listening to the demons in my brain. But it's awesome. I can't believe it.
A European lawmaker says former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is set to testify before a civil liberties committee of the European Parliament later this month.
Snowden, of course, is expected to talk about the surveillance activities of United States' National Security Agency. Reporter Terri Schultz filed this report for our Newscast unit:
"Snowden could appear in a videoconference conversation as early as December 18th, says German Green member of parliament Jan-Philipp Albrecht. The initiative comes from the former NSA contractor himself, who reportedly brought it up months ago with his lawyers.
"Members of the civil-liberties committee will have to vote in favor of holding a Snowden hearing; some British conservatives are opposed but the proposal is expected to pass. Even supportive members, however, question Snowden's motivation in the entire affair and would like to grill him on whether he's now cooperating with the Russian or Chinese governments.
"Since interviewing Snowden live could reveal clues about his exact whereabouts in Russia, committee members would send him questions and he would record answers to be played back to the parliament."
European countries have become very interested in the work of the NSA, because documents leaked by Snowden show that the U.S. collects vast troves of data of French and German citizens.
A German lawmaker had previously asked Snowden to testify before his Parliament, but Snowden declined, saying he would happily do so, but he first wanted to testify before the U.S. Congress.
It's not clear why Snowden, who is exiled in Russia, has changed his mind.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just published a blockbuster story that's today's must read: Based on court records, police reports and dozens of interviews, the paper details how the ATF used "rogue" tactics — including providing underage youths with alcohol and allowing them to smoke pot — to run storefront gun and drug stings across the country.
In our estimation the most explosive allegation made in the report is that the agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives used mentally disabled people to run their stings.
In cases across the country, ATF agents recruited mentally disabled men to promote their "businesses" and recruit other illegal gun purchasers. In one case, the paper reports, the agents running Squid's Smoke Shop in Portland, Ore., convinced Aaron Key, 19, and described as "mentally disabled," to get a tattoo of a squid on his neck to promote the store.
Key agreed and agents posted pictures of him to their fake Facebook page. When the sting came to an end, Key was sentenced to 18 months in prison for "selling a sawed-off shotgun and arranging for prostitutes to come to a party being thrown by the undercover agents."
The judge, however, ordered that if Key wanted his the tattoo removed, the ATF should pay for it once he is released from prison.
The paper started looking at store front stings after it reported on a "flawed operation" back in April. The mode of operation was similar: ATF agents made a mentally disabled Milwaukee man a central part of their sting. That brought up questions about tactics and the ATF said it was an "isolated incident."
What the paper reports today, is that the case was not at all isolated. The ATF did not give the Journal Sentinel an interview. Instead, it issued a written statement saying: "Long-term undercover investigations are one of many tools used by ATF in locations that have high levels of violence occurring in the demographics and a mechanism is needed to rid the area of a large volume of individuals (as) opposed to a handful of individuals."
The whole investigation is worth a read, so we encourage you to click on over.