—Mary Doria Russell

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A couple of weeks ago when we were taping Krista’s interview with novelist and retired paleoanthropologist Mary Doria Russell, the conversation briefly touched on some of her musical tastes. Intrigued by what I had heard, I did some further research and learned that, growing up, Mary Doria Russell was the kind of kid who “liked the Stones better than the Beatles, Beethoven better than Mozart, and orchestral music better than string quartets.” These days, she says, her “calm, well-ordered and intensely bourgeois life” apparently continues to seek refuge in large-scale, emotionally-charged, musical productions.

As someone who was coming of age in the 80’s, I was surprised to learn that Ms. Russell, who is approaching 60, is quite a fan of what she calls the “big hair” bands of those days, and even claims to have “worn the oxide” off her cassette copy of Def Leppard’s 1986 release, Hysteria. On one of the e-mail exchanges I had with her she said, “Listen, punk. Hysteria is the best rock album ever made, and don’t you forget it!”

So, I decided to give her a call, hoping that we might get a little deeper insight into the musical affections of a “well-ordered” novelist — affections that include Beethoven, Chopin, and Puccini but also Van Halen and, of course, Def Leppard.

In all seriousness, Mary Doria Russell has been very open and on record about her tastes in music. I appreciate her being such a good sport about it in this conversation.


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LOL, what an entertaining piece, Mitch! That last question was gold. You really poured some sugar on me... ;)

The front man for Def Leppard is Joe Elliot! I couldn't come up with his name during the interview. Loved the way you mixed Eddie Van Halen's stuff with the Emperor Concerto!

I was thoroughly impressed by that transition too. Who knew there was such classical influence and sophistication in that Van Halen piece. I have a Hagar story myself — from the Three Lock Box days — that involves my first rock concert t-shirt, bleach, and heartbreak without compensation. Oh, the painful memories of being a teenager. *grin*

Thanks so much for taking the extra time to do this interview. We had a lot of fun with it; it's not often we get to be a little more light-hearted on SOF!

Is it possible to download a written version of the interview with Mary Doria Russell to print out? I loved the interview. Not only was her voice full of joy and the conversation riddled with laughter, the views that she expressed were thought provoking and ones that I really want to explore. I do plan on reading her books but would also like to read this conversation just to dwell on some of the premises that were discussed. Krista Tippett's questions were wonderful. Thanks.

Most certainly, Nell. We provide a free transcript of each week's program on the companion site. You find it and print it out from http://speakingoffaith.org/pro.... Merry reading!

I knew that a woman who could make such regular and frequent allusions to popular film in her books must have been able to hold her own in a conversation about musical (dis)taste.
Thoroughly entertaining.
I am considering introducing the word 'punk' to my daily lexicon.

Padraig, incorporate it into daily conversation and you'll sound gritty in you social circles. *grin*

We are guilty of our guilty pleasures. That said, both Van Halen and Def Leppard represent some of the most simplistic, banal drivel ever produced. "Hair" metal, arena rock--I guess I'll leave it to the Jewish Agnostic, whatever that is.

Marvelous little follow-up interview. Although I would put Van Halen's 5150 up against Hysteria any day for the title of best piece of big-hair arena rock from the 1980s; both great albums, but Hysteria lacks the sheer virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen's playing -- including the famous "tapping" technique he learned from none other than a former guitarist for my absolute favorite band, Genesis.

I wonder if MDR is aware of the recent album by the band Metaphor that is based on, and titled, The Sparrow. Not exactly fist-in-the-air metal -- they're a prog-rock band -- but an intriguing treatment of the novel in a different format.

Inspiring segment all around, but this post-script is so worth the effort. As a rock musician with a BA in English (cf Lou Reed), I find it takes a tremendous effort to accept that sometimes lyrics are merely the syllables that hold the notes or explain the title and mood of the song (perhaps the opposite of Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen or Conor Oberst, all of whom use familiar musical progressions). Further, I'm happy to know that my espousing the Beethoven-(arena) rock for the past 30 years is independently corroborated!