Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S8 E17 | FULL EPISODE

The Polaroid Project, Singer-songwriter Paula Cole, and more

In the height of its popularity, Polaroid cameras allowed people to capture moments in an instant. At the MIT Museum, The Polaroid Project exhibit tells the fascinating and instructive story of the Polaroid company, and the technology behind the instant print photos. Grammy winning singer Paula Cole discusses her new album, “Revolution,” and performs in studio.

AIRED: November 08, 2019 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

Polaroid and the development of the Insta craze.

>> The thing whirred and clicked.

The, the picture came out and developed slowly.

And that was described as magic.

>> BOWEN: Then Grammy-winning singer Paula Cole

is here to perform.

And she's talking about aRevolution.

>> I mean, I did think about leaving the music business,

because I was so distressed by the big star-maker machinery,

and the push to always be kind of sexualized in photo shoots,

or just the misunderstanding of my message.

>> BOWEN: Plus, a leather report.

>> I'm the one who picks out the leathers,

because I like what I see.

And I also do trim work and zipper work.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

First up, when it comes to photography,

we're all pretty much living in the Insta world.

We want our pictures now or never.

You can argue it was Polaroid that set us on that path

with its revolutionary camera.

The M.I.T. Museum is now telling the story

of how Polaroid popped

and the artists who were there to make it happen.

For Ansel Adams, it answered the call of the wild.

Chuck Close used it to get up close and personal.

William Wegman thought it was horseplay.

It was the Polaroid camera.

And when it came to photography, it changed everything.

>> You can see around, around me on the walls

all kinds of surfaces

and all kinds of ways of manipulating the materials.

I think probably it drove

some of the engineers at Polaroid mad,

because the artists were just ignoring the rules

and just making it up.

>> BOWEN: Here at the M.I.T. Museum

in Cambridge, Massachusetts,

just a few blocks away

from where the Polaroid camera was invented,

are decades of Polaroids.

Virtually from the day it was born,

artists were given cameras and film to experiment,

says curator William Ewing--

starting with Ansel Adams.

>> He was the bait.

Ansel gets very excited at times.

He'd say, "Oh, you should use it,

"they should use it in the theater.

You use it in astronomy."

He gets really excited.

>> BOWEN: The Polaroid camera bypassed the entire process

of developing film.

For the first time ever,

artists had an immediate look at their work.

>> It was a very small thing you could hold in the hand,

but you had to participate in the making of the picture.

The thing whirred and clicked.

The, the picture came out and developed slowly,

and that was described as magic.

>> I'm going to take your picture now, Jared.

>> BOWEN: Do you want me to pose for you?

>> Yes, please. >> BOWEN: Okay.

>> Okay.

(camera clicks and whirs)

Okay.

And it's going to take probably 20 full minutes,

but that blue sheet is the opacification,

and in a couple of minutes, this will emerge.

So I'm going to... >> BOWEN: 20 minutes?

>> I know, it's not an instant at all.

>> BOWEN: Deborah Douglas is the purveyor of Polaroid

at the M.I.T. Museum.

The pioneer, though, was Edwin Land,

owner of an innovation lab

who conceived of an instant camera in 1943

and launched it into top-secret development.

>> It's called SX-70.

S for secret, X for experimental,

and 70 'cause that's the number.

It could have been 68, 69, 71, 72.

>> BOWEN: The camera was an ingenious combination

of mechanics and chemistry.

>> All the little molecules are going around,

and it says, "Oh, I need a red one here,

a yellow one here, a blue one here."

And just like your television,

that can combine red, green, blue, uh, on your screen

and miraculously create the full spectrum.

>> BOWEN: The first Polaroid went on sale in Boston

the day after Thanksgiving, 1948.

It sold out in hours.

>> Land didn't actually believe in marketing.

He was even skeptical of his own company's efforts in that front.

He said, "You just have to have a feel for this."

This proved, by the way, very influential

to a generation of entrepreneurs,

most notably Steve Jobs and Apple.

>> BOWEN: Well, we're sitting on this floor right now

that we would all recognize, wouldn't we?

>> Yes, as a rainbow stripe.

And, and so, it's not coincidental

that the first Apple logos are rainbow stripes.

That is an intentional homage to Edwin Land.

>> BOWEN: Of course, the cool quotient came from the artists,

who were given cameras and film

to take the technology wherever they wanted.

>> It freed you up from all those chemicals

and, and the processes and the labs and everything else.

You could control it all yourself.

>> BOWEN: Artist Tom Norton had his go at Polaroid

in the early 1980s.

>> It's a vertical format.

And I didn't want that,

I want dancers to be jumping left-right.

And so the only way to do that is to have a mirror system.

So I made a mirror system that,

the camera was actually facing sideways.

>> BOWEN: Elsa Dorfman would use the Polaroid for portraiture.

With Polaroid, Andy Warhol could be even more prolific.

And Barbara Crane could revel in color.

>> These people felt they were part of a community.

They weren't alone.

So, you didn't just do your photographs,

bring them to Polaroid, and, and forget about them.

They would enter into the collection.

>> BOWEN: As we see here, in a history and appreciation

that's still developing.

Do we have to...

>> No, you don't have to shake it.

In fact, the engineers hated that.

(Bowen laughs)

>> ♪ Where is my John Wayne

♪ Where is my prairie song

♪ Where is my happy ending

♪ Where have all the cowboys gone? ♪

(vocalizing)

>> BOWEN: That was Grammy-winning singer-songwriter

Paula Cole, performing her 1996 hit song

"Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?",

a catchy single that gave an ironic poke

to the clichés of traditional gender roles.

But some audiences in the U.S. missed that entirely,

labeling her song as anti-feminist.

It's not the first time her music has been misunderstood,

but that hasn't stopped Cole from carving out her own path.

With her new albumRevolution,

she makes a call for activism.

We'll talk about that in a moment,

but first, here she is in our studios,

performing "I Don't Want to Wait."

>> ♪ So open up your morning light ♪

♪ And say a little prayer for I ♪

♪ You know that if we are to stay alive ♪

♪ Then see the peace in every eye ♪

(vocalizing)

(vocalizing continues)

♪ She had two babies

♪ One was six months, one was three ♪

♪ In the war of '44

♪ Every telephone ring, every heartbeat sting ♪

♪ When she thought it was God calling her ♪

♪ Oh, would her son grow to know his father ♪

(playing intro to chorus)

♪ I don't want to wait for our lives to be over ♪

♪ I want to know right now what will it be ♪

♪ I don't want to wait for our lives to be over ♪

♪ Will it be yes or will it be ♪

(holds second syllable): ♪ Sorry

(vocalizes)

>> BOWEN: Paula Cole, thank you so much for being here.

>> Oh, such a pleasure and an honor, thank you.

>> BOWEN: Well, we just heard you sing "I Don't Want to Wait."

I want to talk to you a little bit about that song.

>> Of course. >> BOWEN: First of all,

I think a lot of people have a certain connotation,

Dawson's Creek. >> Sure.

>> BOWEN: But there's obviously so much more context.

Tell, tell us a little bit about that song.

>> It's true, people know it for the show.

I had no idea it would be that huge.

And it, sometimes it has usurped me, for sure.

But the song was a hit, you know, well before that.

And the song was written, uh,

for my grandfather and my grandmother both.

They lived in Rockport, Massachusetts, where I'm from.

And they were big part of my life.

They lived right down the street.

And I wrote that song when I felt my grandfather

was going to leave the planet,

it was the end of his life.

And I felt compelled to write something for him,

and it came like a lightning bolt.

So that's what the chorus,

"I don't want to wait for my life to be over,"

that sense of mortality and urgency

and wanting to do good in a lifetime,

and looking at my father and my father's father,

and my grandmother-- all of them are in that song.

>> BOWEN: So,Revolution, this is your new album.

You've talked about the fact

that this is an inner revolution.

>> Yeah. >> BOWEN: What is that?

>> At the heart of it lies a song called "Silent."

♪ ...the shiest one of all of us ♪

♪ The tenderest lonely heart

♪ I watched in horror, helpless, silent ♪

♪ The moment passed me by...

That really represents the fact

that it is an inner revolution that's personal to me.

And that's me finally coming out with my MeToo movement song.

>> BOWEN: And we should explain to people,

you do talk about the circumstance that you had

on, on a tour, and what was that?

>> I was on the Peter Gabriel tour when I was 25.

Uh, it was a worldwide tour, it was five-star everything,

and, um, flying first-class and beautiful hotels,

and it was incredible, I was with my idol.

I love his music-- and he's still a role model for me,

I love him-- but, you know,

someone in his team was, you know, abusive to me.

He pushed his way into my hotel room, and so...

And there, there I was.

I was one of four women amongst a team of 60 men--

I never saw the other women--

and I was younger than everybody else.

And welcome to the music business.

I mean, that had been frequently the way I had...

I just had become acclimated

when I was at Berklee College of Music, for instance.

I think it was about 13-to-one men-to-women ratio.

Welcome to the music business.

>> BOWEN: Well, how does it feel

now that you, you have talked about this,

you have put it in song? >> Mm-hmm.

>> BOWEN: And now it's out there, too.

>> I'm not asked about that so directly,

and I admit, like, I'm a little nervous

talking about it right now, even.

I'm 51, and I'm still experiencing difficulty

and reticence around it.

But I, I refuse to let him, like, take my joy.

No, no, no, I never...

My joy has never left.

I, I was strong, and I, and I continued on,

and I, I made my world, I made my life.

So, I, I just believe that we Gen Xers, we Baby Boomers,

we do need to speak up,

we do need to cross generational lines.

>> BOWEN: Well, you've cited this quote from Picasso

that I had not read actually,

that, "Artists are the politicians of the future."

(both laughing)

Are you running for office, Paula Cole?

>> Maybe! I don't know yet.

>> BOWEN: But in what way, what,

how do you see that power, that platform?

>> I think about some of my heroes in music,

from Billie Holiday with "Strange Fruit,"

and Nina Simone, "Mississippi Goddam."

And Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young with "Ohio,"

and Peter Gabriel with "Biko,"

and Bob Dylan and Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye,

and I could go on and on-- Paul Robeson, right?

These artists, they talk and sing

more than just songs of love or navel-gazing.

They're, they're making social, political,

and spiritual content.

I felt the need to make an album that was, um,

social, political in content at this time.

>> BOWEN: I, I heard,

some songs just gush out of you,

and some have been sitting there for 20 years?

>> Yes, for 25 years. >> BOWEN: 25 years?

>> Yes. >> BOWEN: And how,

how do you know that it's time for them to come out?

>> Um...

They, they bother my subconscious, I think.

These songs that have been gestating

for a really long time in the back of my brain,

and I knew that they had potential.

I mean, I knew that my, my big hit,

"Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?",

which, now everybody knows the song--

they know the song more than they know me.

They do!

♪ Where is my prairie soul

♪ Where is my happy ending

♪ Where have all the cowboys gone? ♪

I believed in that song when it was buried in a demo

with a totally different rhythmic feel--

it had, like, a rumba feel.

(imitating rhythm)

Right?

♪ Where is my John Wayne?

(imitating rhythm)

And it was in this demo form

that nobody liked and nobody cared about.

And I thought to myself, "That's an interesting song.

"It's clever, it talks about gender roles

"in a kind of sly, wry, comedic, ironic way.

"But nobody's reacting to it.

So let me put my producer brain on"-- this is years later.

Pull it out of the closet.

Put it, you know,

put, like, a Ringo Starr beat on, on it,

and then I put on my catchy background vocals.

(imitating vocalization)

And I added a bridge.

And then everybody went really electric for it.

>> BOWEN: How did you deal with the criticism

that came your way with "Cowboys,"

and, and people who thought,

who didn't see the irony that you were just talking about?

And, and you were held up for... for, as an anti-feminist

for wondering where the cowboys have gone

without people really paying attention

to what you meant there. >> I know, more irony, right?

And it was shocking in the States

how fundamentalist the understanding was,

even to the point where Rush Limbaugh would play it,

you know, before his program and say, "I love this song."

And people likened me to the, Tammy Wynette,

"Stand By Your Man."

Spin magazine called me, "The Nancy Reagan of Lilith Fair."

And, and on and on and on, right?

So... so I wasn't understood.

I felt misunderstood, and it was shocking.

I mean, I did think about leaving the music business,

because I was so distressed by the big star-maker machinery

and the push to always be kind of sexualized in photo shoots,

or just the misunderstanding of my message.

Um, I remember being at the Grammys

and just feeling empty.

I, I missed my friends, I missed my family,

and I was estranged.

And my life had, it started to feel

like it wasn't my own life and...

When I wanted to leave,

I met with Emmylou Harris, on a, uh, on...

It's like a Nashville-style singer-songwriter in the round.

And I was so sad.

I played, like, a midlife crisis song,

called "El Greco."

And, uh... she came to me later

in her grandmotherly wisdom, and she said, "Paula,

"you can't quit.

"You can't quit, it just happened too fast.

I'm lucky," she said,

"I've just had this nice plateau."

And that's like the classic story

of the tortoise and the hare, isn't it?

And I've been the hare with my 19 nervous breakdowns

and my in-and-outs of the music business

and my cautionary tales.

But I'm still here now, I'm taking the course

of, of the tortoise now.

>> BOWEN: So you'll play us out

with your song "Blues in Gray," off the new album.

Tell me a little bit about that song.

>> "Blues in Gray" is for my great-grandmother.

Her name was Charlotte,

and I feel her spirit's with me,

guiding me in some intangible way.

She was a brilliant pianist.

She was one of the first women to attend Yale University.

Long before they began admitting women

in the regular college in 1969,

they admitted women in their music school,

and she was one of those first women.

But she became engaged, uh, to a man,

and, Victorian times, they felt it was shameful,

she was expected to stay at home and have children.

So, she left Yale University,

she left her professional dreams--

her spiritual dreams, her, her musical dreams.

And I think about her,

and I think of what Carl Jung says,

that we are primarily guided

by the unfinished hopes and dreams of our parents.

But I sing for my grandmothers,

and my great-grandmothers--

all of them are here with me.

They didn't have a voice.

>> BOWEN: Well, Paula Cole, thank you so much.

>> Thank you so much.

(playing intro to "Blues in Gray")

♪ Charlotte, she lingered and lived in the shadows ♪

♪ Helping Mother in the kitchen for hours and hours ♪

♪ Avoiding the charmers, Svengalis, and lords ♪

♪ I sing for the shy girl over minor chords ♪

♪ Blues in gray

♪ In a dream, she ascended outside of her body ♪

♪ She looked down below her to the white fields of cotton ♪

♪ And she realized

♪ She realized

♪ Her dream was long forgotten

(holding note): ♪ Oh

(stops note, continues accompaniment)

♪ She peers out a mousehole to an alternate world ♪

♪ To her great-great- granddaughters behind her ♪

(softly): ♪ And she whispers

(loudly): ♪ She hollers

♪ Know freedom

♪ From blues in gray.

(holding last note)

(song fades)

>> BOWEN: From singers to sequels,

it's time now for Arts This Week.

TheCall Me by Your Name story continues Sunday.

Author André Aciman discusses his sequel,Find Me,

with me at the Boston Public Library.

On Tuesday, get on the road for an ode to poet Walt Whitman.

On the 200th anniversary of his birth,

the Providence Athenaeum presentsPoet of the Body.

Boston Lyric Opera'sFellow Travelers opens Wednesday.

Set in the 1950s, the opera finds two men having an affair

amid McCarthy hysteria.

Thursday, happy birthday, Claude Monet, born in 1840.

Good thing he listened to his mother,

because his father wanted him to take over the family business--

as a grocer.

Saturday, actor Ed Asner is in town

appearing in A Man and His Prostate

at the Regent Theatre.

Wish him a happy birthday-- he turns 90 this weekend.

Finally now, we move to Mount Vernon, Ohio,

where four generations of one family

have been creating handmade, hand-tooled leather goods

for nearly 50 years.

>> You're in Down Home Leather.

We manufacture and make and design

all of the products in this store.

And everything is made right here in Mount Vernon.

We started in 1969,

so we've been here almost 50 years.

I grew up in a leather shop that my father ran in Mount Vernon.

And his father also had a leather shop.

Me and my son produce 90% of it.

My wife cleans up our act.

She's the quality assurance

to make sure the things we bring are finished,

or she sends them back.

>> I'm the one who picks out the leathers,

because I like what I see.

And I also do trim work and zipper work.

We have a lot of different colors.

We have, like, eggplant and a green

and gold and yellow and everything.

All my favorite colors, we really do,

that are fall colors.

>> Well, it's got this magic aroma that people seem to like.

And I do, especially.

The fibers are very tough.

You can cut them in almost any direction.

It's not like material, which, you have to be so careful

of which way the fabric is pulling or stretching.

But it's got a tough resiliency, and nice to work with.

You look at several things and you say,

"Well, if we made this better, or a different color,

it's going to look really nice."

So you have your own inspiration and your own ideas

that bring forth these ideas,

and, and hopefully somebody else is going to agree with you.

And we enjoy the, you know,

putting things together and getting it finished.

It sometimes does not behave itself,

and sometimes it's stiffer than it should be,

and other times it's not as resilient as it should be.

And every hide is completely different.

One mistake that people make with leather is,

when you get leather wet,

you do not want to get it near heat.

Don't try to dry it in any kind of heat

or put it in the sun.

If you just let it, at a cool temperature,

dry naturally, it will not hurt it at all.

>> After all these years, I see people

that, they had bought purses from us 30 years ago,

and they're still carrying them, and they tell me about it.

Makes me feel fantastic, it really does.

>> I mean, it's an enjoyable business at this point.

I hope it can stay this way.

I don't want to increase production

to a mind-boggling thing or anything else.

As long as we can keep people happy,

that's, that's an enjoyable part

of whatever anybody's doing.

>> BOWEN: That's all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, come back forCome From Away,

the heartwarming musical about a Canadian town

that became a beacon of goodness after September 11.

>> I had never seen a musical.

And I'm trying to visualize in my mind,

how are you going to make a musical

out of sandwiches, soup, and blankets and pillows and that?

And I figured that they would,

they were going to end up on welfare.

>> BOWEN: Plus, the treasures of ancient Nubia.

>> At another level, it's to enter a story

of another of the great adventures

in the human enterprise of civilization.

>> BOWEN: Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

As always, you can visit us online at wgbh.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioWGBH.

>> ♪ He showed up all wet on the rainy front step ♪

♪ Wearing shrapnel in his skin

♪ And the war he saw lives inside him still ♪

♪ It's so hard to be gentle and warm ♪

♪ The years pass by and now he has granddaughters ♪

♪ I don't want to wait for our lives to be over ♪

♪ I want to know right now what will it be ♪

♪ I don't want to wait for our lives to be over ♪

♪ Will it be yes or will it be

♪ Oh, so you look at me from across the room ♪

♪ You're wearing your anguish again ♪

♪ Believe me, I know the feeling ♪

♪ It sucks you into the jaws of anger ♪

♪ Oh, so breathe a little more deeply, my love ♪

♪ All we have is this very moment ♪

♪ And I don't want to do

♪ What his father and his father and his father did ♪

♪ I want to be here now

♪ So open up your morning light ♪

♪ And say a little prayer for I ♪

♪ You know that if we are to... ♪

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