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A Little Dinner Music

Singer Neko Case plays a quiz about Necco Wafers.

Transcript

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

We got one last treat for you. Let's call it dessert. It's one of our favorite interviews ever, with the great Indie musician, Neko Case. Now, you may ask what she has to do with food. Well, just listen.

All right, you have lived, as far as we know, in Virginia, Washington State, Vancouver, Chicago and Arizona, right? And you're a relatively young woman.

NEKO CASE: Yes.

SAGAL: And now you're moving to Vermont.

CASE: Yeah, I'm kind of like a hobo.

SAGAL: What is chasing you, Neko Case?

CASE: Well, I lived in Vermont when I was little and I always wanted to go back because everyone was so kind. And they don't age; it's really weird.

SAGAL: They don't age?

CASE: Well, I don't know, I say my friend's mom for the first time in 15 years, a few months go, and she was even wearing the exact same shirt that she had been wearing the last time I saw her, which, you know, I was in, like, sixth grade.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: My experience reading and watching a lot of science fiction growing up, instead of starting my own band like you did, is that communities where people don't age usually have a terrible, dark secret.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Like some sort of alien...

CASE: It could be a Pet Cemetery situation.

SAGAL: Yeah, for example.

CASE: I don't know, but I'm going to find out.

SAGAL: You're going to go.

CASE: I don't know.

SAGAL: We understand that in Vermont you have a barn filled with pianos.

CASE: I do.

SAGAL: Why do you have a barn filled with pianos?

CASE: Well, I went on Craigslist to find a piano for the farmhouse, and there were so many free pianos, I thought that it would be really hilarious to see how many free pianos you can get, because nobody wants their pianos, right.

(LAUGHTER)

CASE: Then, you know, I also learned that free pianos aren't free, because you have to move them and then you have to tune them. They're like having an entire team of draft horses or something. They're very high maintenance, in the end.

SAGAL: Wow.

CASE: And also, getting a piano on Craigslist does not guarantee that it is tunable. I have eight and there are six that were tunable.

SAGAL: Wow.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: Wow.

CASE: Yeah.

SAGAL: So what do you do with six tuned pianos?

CASE: Well, what we did was we made a remote recording unit and we had lots of people come out: some folks from The New Pornographers and myself and Paul Rigby from my band and Garth Hudson from the band, The Band.

ADAM FELBER: Wow.

CASE: And we did some recording, and there's birds and frogs and all kinds of stuff that you can't get rid of on there, too. So that was pretty fun.

(LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: I think also a good question is what do you do with two pianos that can't be tuned?

(LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: Just the recordings aren't as good?

CASE: I think I'm going to literally put them out to pasture.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

CASE: I just thought it would look kind of good out in the field, resting.

POUNDSTONE: Yeah.

CASE: Piano in repose, through the season.

JULIA SWEENEY: Or you could plant things in it. That'd be great.

CASE: It'll be like life duty, at the end of life duty. The remainder of my days, on the soft grasses, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Neko Case, we are so pleased and honored to have you. Neko, we've invited you here to play a game we're calling?

CARL KASELL: They taste like a magic combination of sugar, happiness and chalk.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So, obviously, your parents were either fans of the drug addicted singer Nico of the Velvet Underground or, and we prefer this option, they just loved Necco Wafers. Those are the yummy hard little discs made by the New England Confectionary Company. So we're going to ask you, in fact about Necco...

CASE: Bring it.

SAGAL: Bring it, all right. We've put these together...

CASE: Bring it.

SAGAL: Three questions together. We got help from Steve Almond. He's the author of a book called, "Candyfreak." Get two questions right, you win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Ready to do this?

CASE: I'm ready.

SAGAL: All right. Carl, who is Neko Case playing for?

KASELL: Peter, she is playing for Kate Bauman Johnson of Philadelphia.

SAGAL: Ready to play?

CASE: Yes.

SAGAL: She's already ready.

CASE: Kate, I'm going to do my best for you.

SAGAL: All right. I like this focus here. The history of the candy Necco Wafers goes back a long way. In fact, the wafers could be found where?

A: floating on the water by the thousands after the sinking of the Titanic? B: in the rucksacks of union soldiers during the Civil War, they just loved them? Or C: at Ellis Island in the 1890s where they were the first, quote, "American food" many immigrants ever tried?

CASE: I'm going to go with C.

SAGAL: You're going to go with C, Ellis Island. The immigrants arriving there being handed these dusty little wafers going, "oh my god, the food here is small and dry and crunchy and tasteless."

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: That's your choice?

CASE: That's my choice, yes.

SAGAL: I'm afraid it was B; it was the union soldiers.

POUNDSTONE: No.

SAGAL: The candy was first made in 1847.

CASE: What?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And union soldiers...

CASE: Come on, they always talk about hard tech; they never talk about Necco Wafers.

(LAUGHTER)

CASE: How come Ken Burns hasn't put that in the documentary?

SAGAL: Oh yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

CASE: I watched it like 30 times. I know every single thing about every battle, but I don't know that they ate Necco Wafers. I can picture their severed limbs on the battlefield, but they never said anything about Necco Wafers.

SAGAL: No, didn't you hear...

POUNDSTONE: Lincoln mentions it in the Gettysburg Address.

(LAUGHTER)

CASE: Lincoln was too depressed to bring up this whole Necco Wafer thing. Sorry.

SAGAL: No, Necco Wagers were first made in 1847 and union soldiers carried them. They enjoyed them, and in extreme situations, they could be thrown with great effect at the enemy.

(LAUGHTER)

FELBER: You don't remember that from the Ken Burns' documentary?

CASE: Well, it was in black and white. I couldn't tell if the little discs were colorful or not.

SAGAL: That was like...

FELBER: My dearest Annabel, thank you for the letter, and for those delicious round wafers.

(LAUGHTER)

CASE: It would brighten my soul greatly should you...

SAGAL: Should you send me some Necco Wafers.

CASE: Should you set aside some Necco Wafers for me at my funeral.

(LAUGHTER)

FELBER: Miraculously, I had a Necco Wafer in my breast pocket.

(LAUGHTER)

FELBER: And it turned aside the...

(APPLAUSE)

POUNDSTONE: Elijah Hunt Rose.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Here we go; question number two.

CASE: Yes.

SAGAL: One of the enduring questions, maybe since those first days of the Necco Wafer, maybe this is what they talked about, waiting for battle in the Civil War. What exactly are the purple ones supposed to taste like? Is it A: beet? B: clove? Or C: steak?

CASE: I'm going to go with B, clove.

SAGAL: And you're right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: They are clove-flavored candy.

(APPLAUSE)

CASE: George McClellan kept the Necco Wafers under his saddle, and he wasn't in battle, which he never was.

SAGAL: He actually refused to commit his troops to the Seven Days Battle because he didn't have enough Necco Wafers. Did you know that?

CASE: No, he didn't. They're not moving anywhere until the Necco Wafers come.

(LAUGHTER)

CASE: We must build the Pontoon Bridge to bring the Necco Wafers.

SAGAL: General Lee's plans for the Battle of Antietam were found on a Necco Wafers' wrapper.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right.

CASE: Curse their Yankee candy. They brought it everywhere. They have no subtlety.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

FELBER: They're as flinty and indestructible as the candies they carry.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, here's your last question. Get this right, you'll win it all. Necco Wafers today...

CASE: OK.

SAGAL: They're odd tasting. They have one use in which they outshine any other confection. What is it? A: practice communion wafers for kids?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B: leveling wobbly tables? Or C: replacement ammunition for the popular Rayline brand toy disc-shooting guns?

CASE: All of those answers would probably be correct. I'm going to go with A.

SAGAL: You're going to go with A, the communion wafers?

CASE: Yeah, but I mean I never had one of those guns.

SAGAL: Yes.

CASE: I don't know.

SAGAL: Go with A.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You're right, it's A. Congratulations.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(APPLAUSE)

CASE: Yay.

SAGAL: They're good, Necco Wafers, because of their shape, size and lack of flavor, are good for both practicing first communion and for having your own ceremonies at home, if you're so inclined.

(LAUGHTER)

CASE: They build your relationship with the Lord, like no other candy.

SAGAL: They really will.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Carl, how did Neko Case do on our quiz?

KASELL: Neko did very well, Peter. Two correct answers, so she wins for Kate Bauman Johnson. Congratulations, Neko.

(APPLAUSE)

CASE: We did it, Kate.

SAGAL: You did it. Congratulations.

CASE: We did it.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I love it. Neko Case is one of my favorite musicians. Neko thank you so much, for being with us.

(APPLAUSE)

CASE: Thank you so much for helping me. Thank you.

POUNDSTONE: Bye, Neko.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.

CASE: Bye. Good luck, Kate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAGAL: That does it for our food show.

KASELL: If you need to burp now, feel free.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAGAL: Thanks to Carl Kasell, to all our panelists and our guests, judges, and scorekeepers, and thanks to all of you for listening. I am Peter Sagal. We will see you next week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAGAL: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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