This profile from last week has some great nuggets on America’s “national interviewer,” Terry Gross of “Fresh Air.” Forgive me for quoting liberally from the article – writer Susan Burton does a great job of expressing a lot of the thoughts on Gross I’ve had listening to the “Fresh Air” podcast on a near-daily basis.
Gross is an interviewer defined by a longing for intimacy. In a culture in which we are all talking about ourselves more than ever, Gross is not only listening intently; she’s asking just the right questions.
Burton describes several people, including Matthew Weiner of “Mad Men,” who have fantasized about being interviewed by Gross.
‘‘Having the conversation’’ — that’s what’s compelling about the wish. It’s a wish not for recognition but for an experience. It’s a wish for Gross to locate your genius, even if that genius has not yet been expressed. It’s a wish to be seen as in a wish to be understood.
Going even further, she says
Gross’s interviews have often been compared to therapy.
I’ve definitely thought that before. Sometimes I’ll be listening to “Fresh Air” and there is what I call a “Terry Gross moment” – she makes a connection between things in a person’s past that is astonishingly astute, often even to the interviewee. And that is exactly what you’d want a therapist to do – to make sense of the story of your life. Burton refers to this as Gross being “sixth-sensey in probing personal biography.” It’s the perfect talent for an interviewer – or a therapist – to have.
When it comes to newsier interviews (of which it seems she doesn’t do as much of lately), I think she does well at asking the questions a real listener would want to know about, even if maybe they are a little basic. I appreciate that it seems she is not hung up on portraying herself as some kind of insider.
Ira Glass, who was my boss at ‘‘This American Life,’’ observes that Gross brings ‘‘real questions she personally has been wondering about’’ to the kind of interviews that tell us ‘‘what should we make of the latest news from Iraq or Syria’’ — as well as the good editorial sense of when to let an expert ‘‘march off in unplanned directions.’’
Burton delves a bit into Gross’ personal life, the details of which I have read a bit about in other places and honestly don’t fascinate me very much, though I’ve always wondered what the story is about her caring for her aging parents, since she refers to that somewhat frequently on the show.
I think my real fantasy is not to have Gross as a therapist but to have a friend like her, someone who is clearly intelligent, reads a lot, is ultra-perceptive and honestly, just seems like a nice person. Someone with whom you could have a nice conversation about that day’s episode of “Fresh Air.”