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519 Topics: American Authors – Tom Wolfe; Aerosmith; to convince versus to compel; latter versus last; ultimate

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 519.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 519. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast and download this episode’s Learning Guide. What is a Learning Guide? Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s an eight- to ten-page guide we provide for all of our current episodes that gives you a complete transcript of everything we say. It also gives you cultural notes, comprehension questions, a complete glossary with definitions, and additional sample sentences for the key vocabulary we discuss on each episode.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about a famous American author by the name of Tom Wolfe. We’re also going to talk about a famous rock band from the twentieth century. Remember that? The band is called Aerosmith. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. was born in March of 1930 in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond is the capital of the state of Virginia, located about 100 miles south of Washington D.C., our nation’s capital. Tom Wolfe graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1951 and later went on to study at Yale University, where he got his Ph.D. in 1957. A “Ph.D.,” sometimes called a “Doctorate of Philosophy,” is the highest university degree that you can get. It usually requires a master’s degree, or at least the equivalent of a master’s degree.

Typically, for a Ph.D. in the social sciences – things such as sociology or anthropology or in the humanities – it takes about five years total to get a Ph.D., including a master’s. Now, sometimes it takes longer than that. Some people are able to get a master’s degree in two years and then a Ph.D. in four years. I took four years to get my Ph.D. in applied linguistics and education here in beautiful Los Angeles, California, at the University of Southern California.

After Wolfe finished his Ph.D., he did not become a university professor as is common with many people who get a Ph.D., including me. Wolfe instead became a journalist – a person who writes stories for newspapers, magazines, and nowadays radio, television, and the Internet. He worked for a few newspapers, including the Washington Post, which is the main newspaper in Washington, D.C.

In the 1960s, he started working at magazines as well, including New York Magazine and Esquire magazine. By 1977, he became the editor of Esquire magazine. An “editor” is a person who is in charge of deciding which stories get printed. The editor is the most important person in terms of the content of a magazine. Wolfe also wrote articles for Esquire, and interestingly enough, he was something of an artist – that is, he also was able to draw – and so he drew pictures for the magazines he worked for.

When Wolfe was just a writer for Esquire back in 1963, he began writing stories in a way that was very different from most other journalists at that time. In fact, one of the reasons Tom Wolfe is famous as a writer in the United States was because of this different method of journalism he helped develop. He would research stories, as all journalists do – or at least we hope they do – and he would learn the facts about what happened, but he would write the story not as a traditional news report but rather almost as if it were a story in a book.

Instead of just telling the facts, he would make it into a story. He would give lots of description about the people and the places involved in the story. And since it was a story, he also gave it some drama. “Drama” (drama) here means some emotion, some feeling, some excitement. We also use the word “drama” to talk about plays in a theater, but here it means emotion or feeling. This helped make the stories not only easier to read, but more interesting for readers.

This way of writing newstories became known as “new journalism.” Wolfe was one of the first writers to write in this manner, but there were other writers during the ’60s that also began to use this new way of reporting true stories. The writer Truman Capote was also known for writing in this new journalism style.

Wolfe’s first report written in the new journalism style was about a group of teenagers here in California. These teenagers would put a lot of time and money into creating what we might describe as “flashy cars.” “Flashy” (flashy) means very noticeable, attracting a lot of attention. When the car went down the street, you would look and go “Wow!” These cars eventually got the name of “hot rods.”

Well, Wolfe’s story about these hot rods was first published in Esquire in 1963 with a very unusual title. It was one of the most unusual titles for a magazine article anyone had ever invented, I think. It includes not just real words but sounds that you might associate with the story. Now remember, this is a story about hot rods, about very fancy cars that go fast. And so, the title of the article was “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm . . . . . )” I told you it was weird.

What Wolfe was trying to do was to convey, or give the feeling of, these cars moving fast down the street. And so he used sounds converted into words, of course, in the title of the article in order to give that idea. The article eventually was published in 1964, a year later, as a book called The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. Let me briefly explain the words in the title.

The first term is “kandy-kolored.” “kandy-kolored” would be something that has the color of candy – in this case, very bright colors. Now interestingly, Wolfe misspelled the words on purpose. Instead of spelling it with a “C,” because both “candy” and “color” begin with the letter “C,” he spelled them with a “K.” The second term in the title is “tangerine-flake.” “Tangerine” is a small orange-colored fruit, similar to a small orange. And so, something that is being described as “tangerine” has an orange color.

A “flake” is a very small piece of something, almost impossible to see. “Streamline” (streamline) describes something that is very smooth, something that can go very fast. The term “baby” is sometimes used to describe something that you love, something that you care for, something that you’ve given a lot of attention to. People will sometimes say about something that they’ve created or spent a lot of time on, “That’s my baby.” You could talk about a book you’re writing as being your “baby” – something that you care for almost as if it were your actual son or daughter.

So, the title of the book, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, became one that people noticed. They said, “Well, what kind of book is that?” And the book in fact included not just the article about the hot rods that Wolfe had written, but a collection of different articles that Wolfe had written during the early 1960s, including one about Las Vegas and about the boxer Cassius Clay, who would later change his name to Muhammad Ali.

It was this book that made Wolfe famous as a journalist, and he continued to write stories in the new journalism style throughout the ’60s and ’70s. In 1968, he published another famous book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. This was a book about the drug culture in the United States during the late 1960s, when certain people were taking drugs that among other things would cause them to hallucinate. “To hallucinate” means to see or feel things that aren’t real.

One of the more popular drugs during this time was called popularly “acid” (acid), which is why the word “acid” is in the title of the book. By the time I was in high school, Tom Wolfe was already well known as a writer. I in fact read one of his books in high school, called The Painted Word, which was a book about modern art. He wrote another book about art called From Bauhaus to Our House in 1981, which I read in college. So, I was familiar with Wolfe’s work even during my high school years.

Wolfe’s most famous book, however, was published in 1979, and it was called The Right Stuff. The Right Stuff told the story of the first American program to put people into outer space. It was a book about the early astronauts in American history. A few years later, in 1983, the book was made into a famous movie called The Right Stuff, starring Ed Harris and Dennis Quaid.

Although Wolfe was famous for writing nonfiction books, he also wrote some fictional books. “Fiction” (fiction) is writing about things that are not real, things that are imagined. We usually associate fiction with novels. Wolfe wrote a novel that was published in 1987 called The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was also later made into a book. A “bonfire” (bonfire) is a large fire built outdoors, usually as part of a celebration. “Vanity” (vanity) is usually the characteristic of a person who thinks about himself all the time, who is always worried about how he looks and how other people think about him.

However, the term “Bonfire of the Vanities” actually refers to an event that took place back in Florence in the late fifteenth century. There, “vanities” referred to anything that might cause you to sin, anything that might lead you to do something morally wrong. It sometimes happened during this period that a religious leader would invite people to bring things that might cause them to commit a sin and throw them into the fire. Tom Wolfe used this idea of the Bonfire of the Vanities as a metaphor for his book. The book was made into a movie in 1990s, starring Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, although neither the book nor the movie was particularly popular.

Wolfe continues to write. He published his most recent book in 2012, called Back to Blood. Although he left journalism to become a fiction writer, he really continues to be known in most people’s minds as one of the founders of new journalism. It was there, really, that most people think he did his best work. If you’re interested in reading a very different kind of journalism, one that has influenced nonfiction writing in the U.S. over the past 30 years, try to pick up a book by Tom Wolfe. I think you might enjoy it.

We turn now briefly to our second topic, which is the rock band Aerosmith. Aerosmith was started in 1970 by the singer Steven Tyler, the guitarist Joe Perry, the drummer Joey Kramer, and another guitarist named Brad Whitford. These four young men created a sound that combined the sounds of American rock and roll with British bands that were popular during this period, including the Rolling Stones. This was considered a unique or one-of-a-kind sound, although it was later copied by many other groups.

Their first album was released, or made available to buy, in 1973, but it wasn’t until their later albums – their second, third, and fourth albums – that the band really became popular. The most famous album was their third album, called Toys in the Attic, which was released in 1975. An “attic” (attic) is the very top part of a house. It’s actually a space between the ceiling and the roof of the house.

So if you have, as I do, a house that has two levels, or two stories, the attic is located in the space between the ceiling of the rooms on my second floor and the roof of the house. People who live in houses that have attics – and not all houses have attics – often use them to store old things. So, “toys in the attic” might refer to toys that you played with as a child but no longer use. I’m not exactly sure. The important point here is that Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic became very famous, and some of their most famous songs, including “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion,” were on this album.

The style of Aerosmith’s music was what we might describe as “hard rock.” It also had some elements of heavy metal. I have to say that, although I grew up during the 1970s – I was in junior high and high school during this period – I never really was a big fan of Aerosmith, but I knew that they were very popular. During the 1980s, the band members, as rock band members do, had some personal problems, related of course to drug and alcohol use. Joe Perry, one of the members of the band, left to start his own career as a soloist. A “soloist” (soloist) is a musician who performs by himself, not with a band.

In 1986, Aerosmith was no longer a popular band, however another musical group decided to record one of Aerosmith’s most famous songs, or at least do their own version of the song. This group, a rap group called Run D.M.C. recorded “Walk This Way,” but in a very different version, a different style, more of a rap style. The song became popular and Run D.M.C. and Aerosmith recorded a famous music video where both of the groups took turns singing lines of the song.

It’s a very easy song to remember because there aren’t very many words in it. The expression “walk this way” means walk in the way that I’m walking – walk as I am walking, using the same movements that I’m using. There isn’t much to say about the song. “Walk this way, talk this way,” and they just repeat that a couple of times. And at the end of the chorus, of the repeating part of the song, they say, “Ah, just give me a kiss.”

Well, people loved this new version of the song, and it helped make Aerosmith popular again. So, Joe Perry, the person who had left of the band to become a soloist, returned and Aerosmith began recording albums again in the late 1980s. The band members also stopped using drugs and alcohol, and dedicated themselves just to making music. The term “to dedicate (dedicate) oneself,” means to focus all your attention on a certain thing.

In some waysto, the band’s albums released in the late ’80s and early ’90s were even more popular than the songs they recorded in the 1970s. The songs included “Janie’s Got a Gun,” “Crying,” and one of my favorites, “Crazy.” In 1997, Aerosmith sang a song called “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” for a very famous movie at the time called Armageddon. The title of the song, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” means I don’t want to not see, hear, or experience something, I’m so interested in it. I’m so excited about it. I don’t want to not be able to experience it. I want to pay attention to everything that’s going on.

In 2001, Aerosmith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “To be inducted” (inducted) means to be allowed to become a member of a special group. Usually we use this verb when we’re talking about someone who is made a member of or made part of some group of the very best people in a certain line of work, in a certain field. So we have, for example, the Baseball Hall of Fame, which includes the very best baseball players in history. The Hall of Fame is usually a museum that you can go and visit and it has exhibits. It has displays of the person’s work, their photographs, and so forth.

You don’t actually live in the Hall of Fame. “To be inducted” just means that you are considered a member of that group. Sometimes people are inducted into Hall of Fames after they die. But in the case of Aerosmith, they didn’t die before they got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Where is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Well, you can visit it in Cleveland, Ohio, which is probably one of the only interesting things there is to do in Cleveland, Ohio, at least that I know of.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Alexei (Alexei) in Ukraine. Alexei wants to know the difference between “convince” and “compel.” “To convince” (convince) means to cause someone to believe that something is true or to get someone to agree with you about something. “I want to convince you that the Los Angeles Dodgers is the best baseball team in America.” I’m going to give you reasons why you should believe that is true. I want to convince you.

“To compel” (compel) is very different. “To compel” is to force someone to do something. “I’m going to compel you to leave this room.” Maybe I’ll take a chair and start threatening you in order to force you, to make you leave this room. Often, we use this word, this verb, when we’re talking about, say, the police or the government “compelling” someone to do something. They’re forcing them to do something. They have no choice, or I suppose if they don’t do it, their choice is to go to prison, to go to jail.

Now, interestingly enough, when this verb becomes an adjective, “compelling,” it means very interesting, so interesting you can’t stop reading or you can’t stop watching or you can stop listening to it. So, if someone says, “This book is compelling,” he means this book is so good, so interesting, or perhaps contains a message so powerful that you have to pay attention to it. It doesn’t mean that it forces you to do something, unless I suppose you consider it to be forcing you to pay attention, but it’s forcing you to pay attention because it’s so interesting, it’s so important, or so powerful.

I apologize for my voice today. I’m not sure why I’m not able to talk without sounding like I’m a frog.

Gian Paolo (Gian Paolo) in Italy wants to know the difference between the words “latter” (latter) and (last). Well, let me start with the last word I mentioned there, the word “last.” “Last” means final, something that comes at the end or after all the other items in a sequence.

Let’s say I’m going to drink three cups of coffee this morning. The third cup of coffee is my “last” cup. It’s the final one. There will be no other cups of coffee that I will drink this morning. Your wife may tell you, “This is the last time I’m going to remind you about our anniversary.” She means she’s not going to remind you again. She’s not going to say anything else to you again. This is the last time, the final time. Maybe she’s reminded you ten times before. Well, this is the last time. The 11th time is the final time, in this example.

“Latter” means the second of two things or two groups of things. The word “latter” is usually paired with the word “former” (former). An example will make this word easier to understand. “I have a choice between chicken and beef for dinner tonight. I want the latter.” That means I want the second of those two options, those two choices, which is beef. I could say, “You know what? Actually, I want the former.” That would mean I would want chicken. “Former” is the first of two things. “Latter” is the second of two things.

Now, don’t confuse “latter” with another word that is pronounced exactly the same, which is (ladder). That “ladder” is a set of the steps that you climb to get up on top of your house or high up on the side of a building. Many people think that these words should be pronounced differently, and sometimes you will hear people over-pronounce the words when there might be some confusion. That is they will pronounce them in a way that we wouldn’t normally pronounce them.

They’ll say, for example, the “latter.” Notice how that’s different than “latter.” Or they might say, if they’re referring to the thing that you climb up to get to the top of your house, a “ladder” instead of “ladder.” However, in normal conversation these two words are pronounced the same.

Our last question today comes from Vitor (Vitor) in Brazil. The question has to do, interestingly enough, with a concept that is related to the ones we just mentioned. The word is “ultimate” (ultimate).

“Ultimate” can, in some instances, mean the same as “last” or “final.” Usually, you’ll hear the word “ultimate” with the words “goal” or “aim” or “purpose” when it means “last” or “final” and it really has the connotation of meaning “the most important.” “My ultimate goal is to retire in Hawaii.” I have lots of goals. I have lots of aims. I have lots of purposes, but the most important – the one at the end of all those other purposes and goals – is to retire in Hawaii when I’m ready to retire, when I’m ready to stop working.

So, even though if you look this word up in the dictionary, you’ll see the word “final” as one of the definitions, it’s usually used in a way that means a little bit more than just final. It often means “most important,” which is another definition of this word – “the greatest,” or perhaps “most extreme.”

Nowadays people will often use “ultimate” not as an adjective but as a noun. They’ll say, “This is the ultimate (in something).” “This is the ultimate in cars” – that means this is the very best car you can possibly find. It’s the greatest car. Or you could say, “This restaurant is the ultimate in fine dining.” It’s the very best restaurant possible to get a very good meal, which of course is the reason you go to a restaurant, right?

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and
Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational

journalist – a person whose job is to write news stories for newspapers or magazines, radio or television news programs, or news websites

* Natasha was one of the few journalists who had been allowed to interview the President because she was known for being honest and fair in her reporting.

to research – to study and learn about something in great detail in order to find the truth or to get a better understanding

* Before buying a new car, it’s recommended that people research the different cars on the market to make sure they buy the one that is best for them.

drama – events, situations, or circumstances with a lot of emotion, feeling, and/or excitement

* Giovanni got tired of his girlfriend’s screaming and crying without any real reason and her need for constant drama in their relationship.

flashy – something that is very noticeable and attracting a lot of attention, usually because it looks very expensive

* The chairman came to the reception in a very flashy new sports car, getting everyone to notice his arrival.

streamline – something very smooth and that allows air to flow easily past it, making the object very fast

* The airline’s newest airplane is incredibly streamlined, and not only flies faster than the older airplanes, but also looks much more modern.

to hallucinate – to see, hear, or feel things that are not real, usually as a result of taking a drug or other substance

* People who have not had enough sleep for long periods of time sometimes begin to hallucinate, hearing or seeing things that are not really there.

fiction – story; a form of writing that describes people and things that are not real

* June doesn’t read any fiction, preferring to read books about real-life events.

bonfire – a large fire built outdoors used for celebrations or to signal for help

* After the big game, the fans got together at the beach and built a bonfire to keep them warm while they celebrated the team’s win.

unique – with nothing else like it; unlike anything else

* After being complimented on how unique her earrings were, Elianna explained that she had made them herself.

soloist – a musician who performs by him or herself while no one else plays; a musician who performs alone and not with a group

* The soloist is a classically-trained violinist who had been performing for over 10 years to sold-out crowds.

to dedicate (oneself) – to focus all of one’s attention on doing something; to give all of one’s time and energy to doing or achieving something

* Yuko decided she was going to run a marathon in just over two months, so she dedicated herself to running every day to be ready for the race.

to be inducted – to be admitted into a group or organization; to be allowed to enter into a special group

* All members are invited to join and inducted into our club at a special ceremony.

to convince – to cause someone to believe that something is true; to cause someone to agree to do something

* How do we convince Benoit to lend us money to open a new restaurant?

to compel – to force someone to do something

* The law compels everyone to pay income taxes on their earnings.

latter – relating to or being the second of two things or groups

* Our family owns a car and a truck, and the latter is always in need of repairs.

last – after all others; at the end

* Janice attended three colleges and graduated with a nursing degree from the last.

ultimate – greatest or most extreme; happening or coming at the end of a process or a series of events

* This is the ultimate dessert! It has ice cream, cookies, cake, candy, and strawberries in one dish.

What Insiders Know
The American Theater Hall of Fame

The American Theater Hall of Fame was founded in 1971 in New York City. A “hall of fame” is an organization that honors the best in the history of a particular area, such as a sport or a form of art. In this case, the American Theater Hall of Fame honors people involved in the “theater,” performances on stage.

“Inductees” (people who are honored and included) are selected among the groups of people who contribute to theater, including actors, “playwrights” (people who writes plays), songwriters, “set designers” (people who create what audiences see on stage), “directors” (people in charge of how a play is performed), and “producers” (people who manage and find money for a production). All inductees must have had long careers on Broadway, or in the theater business, for at least 25 years. They must also have at least five major theatrical “credits” (being listed as being responsible for a certain part of a production). Selections are made with the help of about 400 “voting” (giving their opinion) members.

The American Theater Hall of Fame was founded by four men: Earl Blackwell, James M. Nederlander, Gerard Oestreicher, and L. Arnold Weissberger. Their wish was to honor “lifetime achievement” (what one has accomplished in one’s lifetime) in the American Theater. The “induction ceremony” (official event where new members are allowed into an organization) takes place at the Gershwin Theatre in New York City. At the theater, you’ll find “plaques” (flat, thin pieces of metal or wood with writing on it that are used especially as a reminder of something) containing the names of the inductees hung on the walls.

Many famous actors and performers have been inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. Actors include Al Pacino and James Earl Jones. Singers and “composers” (writers of music) include Barbara Streissand and George Gershwin.