It happens to all of us. We reach an age at which, while behind an automobile’s steering wheel, we find it more pleasurable to listen to middleaged people conversing than much younger people singing. This happened to me at around the dawn of my 40s. Hearing that there was going to be an interesting guest on the NPR interview show Fresh Air would make me exclaim, “Oh boy!” Over the years, though, I find that I have come to listen to the program less and less frequently, for the simple reason I absolutely cannot stand its host, Ms. Terry Gross.
Many find distasteful the sight of a person, and specifically a woman, dressing as though very much younger than she actually is; the Brits, predictably, even have a cruel expression for it — mutton dressed as lamb. In the photos I’ve seen of her, Gross seems to be going in physical self-presentation for Mousy to the Max, but if it’s untoward for a woman her age to dress like Miley Cyrus, let’s say, it’s even more untoward for her to talk like one of La Cyrus’s pre-pubescent fans, as Gross does. You may think you’ve overheard teenaged girls saying “like” a lot, but they say it not at all compared to Gross. “Do you want to, like, edit [your daughter’s] tweets?” she asks the movie producer Judd Apatow. She describes herself to an actress from The Office as “like, really short, and when you see, like, jackets with the shoulders drooping off of you and pants that are just, like, way too, like, tight in one place and loose in another place, it’s not a good thing.” Buttering up Stephen Colbert, she oozes, “You’re walking the line so well between, like, your character, and your own beliefs.”
Which isn’t even to mention her second most annoying tic, the time-buying “y’know” with which she peppers her speech no less relentlessly than a rapper who keeps demanding, “Know’m sayin’?”
But back to the fawning she does with, uh, cultural (rather than political, for instance) figures. You thought American Idol host Ryan Seacrest was obsequious with the beautiful people? Gross is twice as obsequious with the unbeautiful (and they don’t come much less beautiful than the hoarse jazzbos she’s forever exhuming in spite of the fact that nobody’s ever heard of them, except maybe their own rhythm sections), here giggling delightedly at their feeblest attempts at humor, here squealing with helpless delight. It turns out that Colbert can sing, sort of. To hear Gross’s reaction, you’d have thought he was Pavarotti crossed with Otis Redding. She’s like the desperate plain girl in high school, laughing too hard at the cute boys’ wisecracks, trying too hard to demonstrate that vivacity and high-spiritedness really can trump good looks.
Put her up against someone aggressively obnoxious, like Kiss’s Gene Simmons, and she gets all gee-whizzy, exuding a sort of persecuted little sister petulance that made this listener, then a New York resident, punch the button for the Woodstock station that plays Tom fucking Petty and The Pretenders 45 times per hour, every hour, every day of the year.
There will be some who will read this and think me monstrous for denigrating so spiritedly someone as benign as Gross. But I have it on good authority, from a [state withheld] Public Radio employee who’s worked with her that Gross’s on-air persona is as genuine as Gene Simmons’s hair color. When her mic is turned off, my acquaintance says, she’s a cold-blooded bitch.