Inside Podcasting

Curating the resurgence of the spoken word.


06/01/2017 This is a story about Huntokar. The voice of Huntokar is Tina Parker. Weather: "Full Metal Black" by The Royal They "Ghost Stories" now available on iTunes and Bandcamp Night Vale Presents's 5th Birthday Party - June 21 at the Bell House, featuring very special and secret guests and something we're calling "Night Vale After Dark." The second Welcome to Night Vale Novel "It Devours!" is available now for presale (signed first editions available)! Support the first ever PodCon coming to Seattle Dec 9-10 Join authors Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor at BookCon 2017 in NYC on June 4 for a live talk and book signing. Live Tours of "All Hail" in the US & Europe (Summer & Fall), click on live shows Music: Disparition, Logo: Rob Wilson, Produced by Night Vale Presents. Written by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor. Narrated by Cecil Baldwin. More Info:, and follow @NightValeRadio on Twitter or Facebook.
The addicting and odd "Welcome to Night Vale" is a funhouse reworking of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, the fictional town that has its utterly made-up coming and goings reported on during the beloved and long-running "Prairie Home Companion" radio show. Some have also compared "Night Vale" to Stephen King's vaguely interconnected Castle Rock stories, or to John Keel's "The Mothman Prophecies" with its focus on an unnerving conspiracy. The order of the day for the popular podcast is deadpan funny plus Lovecraftian creepy. The show, which has been running since 2012, was created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and Cecil Baldwin performs the role of Cecil Gershwin Palmer, the show's host, narrator, and main character. Co-creator Fink says the initial idea was to set a show in a desert town where "all conspiracy theories are real" and proceed from there, building up as wooly a mythology as they could manage. The show's individual episodes are meant to stand alone, but a warning on the most recent episode - "A Story About Huntokar" - says otherwise ("This is maybe not the one to start with".) That episode begins with a rundown of items available from the "carefully curated" Night Vale store. From the first moment, it's hard to tell whether any of this is meant to be taken straight. That is, of course, the idea. In general, the show builds its mythology over the course of seemingly unrelated episodes, in a combo of faux-news broadcast and horror-tinged soap opera. Plot arcs and running jokes are revealed slowly, and faithful listening pays off. Case in point: One of the series' most popular characters is known as The Glow Cloud. This odd being can hypnotize the residents of Night Vale with noxious gas and psychedelic colors (there's your Lovecraft), and the Glow Cloud storyline eventually ends up with the thing becoming president of the town's school board (there's the Lake Wobegon influence.) A recent storyline climaxed with a beagle puppy from hell being summoned like a homunculus by a former show intern. The show's rerouting of cosmic horror as "drab mundanity" marks it as a unique listen for those late-night desert drives.
05/22/2017Actresses Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda join Norman and Paul to talk about Grace and Frankie, laughter keeping you young, how social media affects activism, and the state of America's affairs today.
It's hard to miss the fact that the podcasting world is full of the voices of young and youngish people. If you canceled all the podcasts produced and hosted by people currently between the ages of 25 and 50, it would be 1982 again and the only thing you could listen to in the car would be Casey Kasem's top 40 countdowns. So a podcast hosted by a 94-year-old, let alone a comedy legend, is worth consideration. When you throw in a still-nimble comic mind and a backlog of stories about everyone from Martin and Lewis to John Wayne, it becomes something close to essential. Norman Lear, he of the most famous porkpie hat this side of Popeye Doyle, seems to be enjoying yet another career renaissance of late, with the 2017 Netflix reboot of his "One Day At A Time" fully eclipsing the 80s iteration in terms of critical hosannas. The "All Of The Above" podcast, co-hosted by Paul Hipp, opens with a mock-stentorian reading of Lear's truly unrivaled list of credits (creating the groundbreaking "All In The Family" might have been enough for one television legend) that concludes with the most reassuring, inviting tagline I've heard in a long time: "No matter where you are or what you do, Norman Lear is just another version of you." But, yeah, he's still an icon, the kind who can get pop cultural grand dames Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin ("Frankie and Grace") to sit for a free-form conversation drenched in hard-earned wisdom and bone-deep humor. Co-host Hipp, a bit overwhelmed by the company, asks jokingly if he might one day be considered a legend. ("You get to be a legend when the media says so," Lear responds, "It's all bulls**t.") We're a culture that has a laser-focus on youth, and we have been for at least 40 years. But Lear, Fonda, and Tomlin all go back to an arguably healthier era, especially for political discourse. Fonda and Lear talk about what they see as the tragic loss of civics classes from high school curriculums, and how that loss has negatively affected the sense of the familial that once underlined even the most impassioned political disagreements. Fonda remembers when conservatives and liberals were "friends across the aisle," and both she and Lear find themselves whisked back via the memory machine to a progressive telecast Lear produced in the early 80s. At the show, liberal firebrand Fonda and hardline conservative John Wayne both appeared and were openly respectful of the need for each other's opinion to be aired - no matter how fiercely they disagreed with it. Times have surely changed. Lear then buttons the conversation, turning to Tomlin and asking, "Lily, what did you think about when you woke up this morning?" The ineffable Tomlin replies, "I thought that I wished I could sleep longer." As the conversation turns to the effects of aging, the 79-year-old Fonda relates how she feels these days: "If you disregard what’s happening globally and what's happening in the United States on a social and political level, I’ve never felt happier or felt closer to my ideals. But my body is giving way." After recounting her own knee replacement, Lear casually mentions that he still has all his original parts. The three legends (and Paul Hipp) then launch into a conversation about the value of laughter and a sense of humor for one's long term health. It's a rambling, warmhearted kind of show, and a reminder that not all older people have calcified into "keep outta my yard" grumps. Some, like Lear, have never stopped evolving. Makes me wonder if all the cool kids are 94 these days.
05/12/2017TLF Presents: "Pandemonium, Inc." (unabridged, heavily modified) by The Lapsed Fan
It’s work to love professional wrestling in 2017. Today’s WWE audience consists mostly of men who were in college during the late-1990s, amid the famed “Attitude Era,” when The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hollywood Hogan and the nWo ruled during Monday Night Wars. Recognizing that today’s overly scripted product pales by comparison to the spontaneous creative havoc of the late-1990s, The Lapsed Fan podcast takes the 40-something fan back to the glory days, that brief period between 1997-1999, when young men could actually tell girls they were wrestling fans, and not only would those girls not run screaming from your dorm room, but they might actually shout “suck it,” at the TV alongside you. Jack Encarnacao and JP Sarro, a journalist and a comedian, take a “deep dive” into the era pre-John Cena's jean shorts. The podcast was launched with meticulous reviews of Wrestlemanias 1-30, where in some cases the podcast lasted longer than the actual shows. We now have every Starrcade, and listener-funded shows, where thirsty lapsed fans can pay to hear the podcast hosts review their favorite PPV show of the old days. The strength of the Lapsed Fan podcast is the duo’s amazing knowledge of the product and as well as the historical context that they apply to what was happening in the ring at the time. Encarnacao is the straight-man of sorts, the reporter, who provides the news peg or “nut graph” for each show, explaining why a particular show “mattered.” Sarro is a hilarious sidekick, and his voice impersonations of Vince McMahon are dead-on gold. He also does Kevin Nash, Triple H and Stone Cold Steve Austin particularly well. Not only do we get history, we get creative re-enactments and re-imagining of conversations that may or may not have taken place back in the day. If you lived through the Attitude era, you will laugh out loud when you hear these two. (And if you didn't live during the era, here's the place to start.) In the latest podcast, “The Lapsed Fan” acts out the script for the upcoming Vince McMahon biopic called “Pandemonium Inc.” The genius here is that the listener doesn’t know what elements are actually in the script and what is coming spontaneously from Encarnacao and Sarro's riffing. Because McMahon’s personality is so outrageous and because Encarnacao and Sarro are so dynamically witted, it’s legitimately difficult to distinguish what’s part of the script and what’s made up by these two guys on the fly. Only the truest of lapsed fans would know the difference.
05/05/2017A strange experience interpreted as a bad omen, more UFO stories, a haunted operahouse and jail…lots of spooky on this week’s edition of Campfire! -CASPER- This week’s Campfire is brought to you by Casper! Casper is an online retailer of premium mattresses for a fraction of the price because everyone deserves a great night’s sleep. […]
It's a little less than six months to Halloween here at Inside Podcasting Central, and that means preparations are under way. I'm already four days into an apple cider vinegar regimen for my hair, in hopes of matching Kurt Russell's mane as displayed in the new "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie. Yes, I will be going as Ego. Which reminds me that I need to find a cape. And there's no better soundtrack to early Halloweening (or cruising Burbank looking for a place that will make me a splendid bespoke cape) than "Jim Harold's Campfire." Harold has been producing podcasts having to with the paranormal and other generally creepy stuff since 2005. The "Campfire" is one of his two mainstay shows. The show's format truly hearkens back to those days at summer camp (okay, for me it was computer camp), and the inevitable moment when the "cool" camp counselor sat his charges around a campfire and laid some terror on us. At the start of each "Campfire" podcast, Harold invites us to gather around his fire, and then he begins to field phone calls from listeners who have "real life" spooky stories to tell. According to "Den of Geek," the paranormal content of those calls is mutable: some are ghost stories, some relate strange dreams, and one guy talked movingly about having just encountered a seemingly magical swarm of butterflies on a particularly rough day (and yes, that story is more sweet than scary, but the paranormal element is arguably there.) This week's episode is called "An Omen of Death," and Harold's callers offer a nice spread of horrible things that I hope never happen to me but are sure fun to hear about when they happened to someone else. Among the tricks or treats this episode are stories about odd experiences interpreted as death omens, a haunted opera house AND a haunted jail, and a few UFO sightings to keep up that end of the horror bargain. You know from the description if this show is for you: it's a blast.
04/18/2017Barbara Loden won a Tony Award for playing a character based on Marilyn Monroe in Arthur Miller’s After the Fall. Like Marilyn, Barbara was a beauty with no pedigree who fled a hopeless upbringing in search of the fulfillment of fame. Like Marilyn, Loden found some measure of security as the mistress (and eventual wife) of a powerful man, in Loden’s case Elia Kazan. But instead of satisfying her, her small taste of fame and her relationship with Kazan left Barbara Loden wanting more, which would lead her to write, direct and star in a groundbreaking independent movie of her own. 
Hopefully, I'm not breaking the news of this remarkable podcast series to anyone, as it's one of the best, most rigorously researched and passionate series out there. This, then, is an appreciation of the latest episode of the latest season of host Karina Longworth's investigation into old Hollywood legends and lore. For this season, Longworth has focused on "Dead Blondes," a knowingly glib title for a series of shows about blonde women who either got chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood machine, or figured out a way out. The latest episode is about the relatively obscure Barbara Loden, who in fact may be most famous these days for figuring so strongly in Elia Kazan's autobiography, "A Life." In fact, Loden left behind very little personal info in the form of journal writings or interviews after her death, so Longworth is forced to lean hard on the Kazan book. Kazan's autobiography is highly-regarded, but as with any autobiography, the history on display is subjective. When you add into the mix that fact that Kazan is such a divisive figure (directing some of the finest, most progressively naturalistic movies of the 1950s but also playing ball with Joseph McCarthy's communist witch hunt to save his career), we are reminded that so much of the 20th century was filtered through the perception (and corrupted POV) of paternalism, even the work of a major auteur like Kazan. Loden's childhood was no dream, and she found her modeling career dissatisfying and limiting. Her big acting break came with regular "sidekick" appearances on early TV genius Ernie Kovacs' popular show. Kazan and Loden were both married when they started their affair, and the elder director was 23 years older than the young actress. Kazan brought Loden onto the set of his Montgomery Clift masterpiece "Wild River" (a failure at the time) and then gave her the plum supporting role of Warren Beatty's sister in the more successful "Splendor in the Grass." The pair split up, then came back together and got married. When Kazan was directing Arthur Miller's "After the Fall" for the New York stage, he knew that Miller had based the lead character on his own wife, Marilyn Monroe. He cast Loden in the part. But Loden's career dried up under Kazan's admitted overprotection, and it was only when she struck out on her own to make a movie that she found her greatest glory. (Kazan based much of his oft-derided but very compelling late 60s freak-out "The Arrangement" on their marriage.) "Wanda" was written, produced, and directed by Loden, and she cast herself in the lead for the small movie set in the anthracite coal region of eastern Pennsylvania. The movie won a major prize at the 31st Venice International Film Festival, and Longworth cannily notes that the film's naturalism predates the startling 70s work of John Cassavetes. In her way, then, Barbara Loden bridges the two major advancements in mid-century movie naturalism, from Kazan to Cassavetes. It wouldn't be an entry into the "Dead Blondes" season if the story didn't have a sad ending, but we'll leave it to Longworth and her unparalleled knowledge of movie history and behind-the-scenes drama to take you there. It's a highly compelling listen.
10/28/2014Episode 1: the 2014 Version. "Sex, Death, and Halloween." Sometimes a picture says it all. The Tobolowsky Files is a podcast from the people who brought you the /Filmcast [1], featuring a series of stories about life, love, and the entertainment industry, as told by legendary character actor Stephen Tobolowsky [2]. You can always e-mail Stephen at stephentobolowsky(AT)gmail(DOT)com, or you can e-mail David at slashfilmcast(AT)gmail(DOT)com. You can also follow Stephen on Twitter [3] or follow David on Twitter [4]. You can now become a fan of Stephen on Facebook [5]. Please let us know what you think of the show! You can find Stephen's new e-book story on Amazon [6]. Download [7] or Play Now in your Browser: [audio:] Subscribe to The Tobolowsky Files: [8] [9] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7][8] [9]
Most of you will recognize Stephen Tobolowsky from character parts in "Groundhog Day" and "Memento." But his Tobolowsky Files podcast reminds me more of his work as a writer, namely as co-screenwriter of David Byrne's oddball 1986 Texas travelogue curio "True Stories." The podcast, which Tobolowksy has been hosting for /Film since 2009, features just the kind of intimate, gently comic ribbing of human foibles that the underrated Byrne movie was built upon. In fact, the show sprung from the 2005 indie "Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party," which also traded on Tobolowsky's storytelling. Producer and co-host David Chen loved that picture and thought the writer/actor's stories might form the basis for an addictive podcast. 75 episodes later, the show is a kind of classic. When Chen approached Tobolowsky with the idea, the latter accepted even though he had no real sense of how the show would unfold: “I had several story ideas formulating in my head, and at that particular time, I wasn’t working. I had to ask myself, ‘Stephen, what are you waiting for? David is offering you an opportunity.’ And I had to be willing to walk through the door," Tobolowsky told writer and fan Alan Sepinwall. The first episode was about Halloween. The second was about Davy Crockett. “What I wanted the stories to work as was the way memory works, which is that it’s not necessarily chronological. I think we all have this Google in our brain, and my Google pops up and five things come up. I didn’t want to tell the story of my life in any chronological way, but rather in how the importance of that intruded itself in that particular moment," Tobolowsky says.
11/06/2009 [1] In this episode, Stephen explains exactly what Davy Crockett and a rogue hippopotamus named Bubbles had in common. You can always e-mail Stephen at stephentobolowsky(AT)gmail(DOT)com, or you can e-mail David at slashfilmcast(AT)gmail(DOT)com. Please let us know what you think of the show! Also, starting with episode 5, The Tobolowsky Files will no longer appear in the /Filmcast feed, so be sure to subscribe to the Tobolowsky Files using our new links for the podcast at [3]. Download it [4] or Play Now in your Browser: [audio:] Subscribe to The Tobolowsky Files: [5] [6] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]
Most of you will recognize Stephen Tobolowsky from character parts in "Groundhog Day" and "Memento." But his Tobolowsky Files podcast reminds me more of his work as a writer, namely as co-screenwriter of David Byrne's oddball 1986 Texas travelogue curio "True Stories." The podcast, which Tobolowksy has been hosting for /Film since 2009, features just the kind of intimate, gently comic ribbing of human foibles that the underrated Byrne movie was built upon. In fact, the show sprung from the 2005 indie "Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party," which also traded on Tobolowsky's storytelling. Producer and co-host David Chen loved that picture and thought the writer/actor's stories might form the basis for an addictive podcast. 75 episodes later, the show is a kind of classic. When Chen approached Tobolowsky with the idea, the latter accepted even though he had no real sense of how the show would unfold: “I had several story ideas formulating in my head, and at that particular time, I wasn’t working. I had to ask myself, ‘Stephen, what are you waiting for? David is offering you an opportunity.’ And I had to be willing to walk through the door," Tobolowsky told writer and fan Alan Sepinwall. The first episode was about Halloween. The second was about Davy Crockett. “What I wanted the stories to work as was the way memory works, which is that it’s not necessarily chronological. I think we all have this Google in our brain, and my Google pops up and five things come up. I didn’t want to tell the story of my life in any chronological way, but rather in how the importance of that intruded itself in that particular moment," Tobolowsky says.
03/28/2017Everybody lies. This is not breaking news. But what separates the average person from the infamous cheaters we see on the news? Dan Ariely says we like to think it's character — but in his research he's found it's more often opportunity. Dan Ariely is a professor at Duke University and the author of the book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves.
"Hidden Brain" is an especially thoughtful podcast about the science of human behavior and the sometimes shadowy workings of our own brains. Host Shankar Vedantam has a palpable enthusiasm for his subject, the kind that can make the listener feel like he's been missing out on something endlessly exciting. And of course, when the topic is our innermost selves, there seems to be infinite wonders available to the curious. Recent topics have included scarcity and its relation to desire, the difficulty of changing false beliefs, and what it is that might drive young men to murder. The interview-based podcast lacks a lot of production bells-and-whistles, but there's something about hearing soothingly intelligent voices in rapt conversation that serves as a balm on at least this writer's soul (not to mention his drive time.) The most recent episode, "Liar, Liar," features an interview with Duke University professor Dan Ariely, author of "The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie To Everyone - Especially Ourselves." Vedantam expertly prompts Ariely to lay out a fascinating breakdown of human lying: what prompts us to lie, how we live with it, and why some people just never seem to do it. Ariely notes that while most of us assume that lying comes down to character ("Nice people don't lie"), his more sobering take is that the thing separating the honest from the dishonest is not so much character as opportunity. Not the most soothing thing to hear, but it carries the ring of truth. That said, the mysterious process of deciding whether to be honest is most cleverly (and most reassuringly) illustrated by Ariely via a conversation he had with a waiter one night. Before he even ordered, he asked the waiter what the best methods he might have available to skip out on paying. The waiter, of course, knew them all: pretending to go to the bathroom, waiting for a big party to leave and slipping out in their midst, sneaking down the back alley (classy move, that), etc. But when Ariely asked how often this kind of thing happened, the waiter responded "very rarely" and added that most people who leave without paying will call apologetically later that night to pay over the phone. So the methodology of lying, the ins and outs of sneaky and self-serving behavior, are open and available to us all. Ariely's theories on how or why or when we choose to take those immoral (or at least unethical) short cuts makes for fascinating listening. Take my word for it, you'll feel like you've had your mind sharpened in just under thirty minutes. You may even have the shavings to prove it.
03/23/2017We ask—and then we try to change emoji history. Learn how an emoji gets made as we submit our pie emoji proposal to Unicode.
The Burnt Toast podcast, which has just kicked off a second season, is hosted by James Beard Award-nominated host and producer Kenzi Wilbur. The show is all about the ways food intersects with our lives, often in more complicated arrangements that the traditional hand-to-mouth system. With the unimpeachable goal of supplying listeners with "the perfect pieces of cocktail party fodder," the agreeably lo-fi show is a genuine charmer, especially if you like slightly retro synth music (which I do.) Case in point: the latest episode is titled "Why Is There No Pie Emoji?" While this may sound like a set-up for a dreary comedy routine, in fact Wilbur has put together a rather beguiling audio essay on how and why certain items of food make it for consideration as emoji ideograms, and others don't. (A collage of soundbites gathers a collection of voices asking after other conspicuously missing food-based emojis, including bagels, dumplings, samosas, and chorizo.) Her guest is Jeremy Burge, who runs the Emojipedia site, and sits on the Unicode Emoji subcommittee that gets to decide which proposed glyphs will graduate to the agreed-upon set. Burge talks about the origins of emojis in the 90s, how the original set of 176 has bloomed to over 1800, and why it is that there are so many trains to choose from. (Burge notes he was himself initially unsure why a there was an Easter Island statue emoji, until he realized it actually referenced a landmark at a Tokyo train station.) Food is difficult, though. Burge shares the story of the paella emoji (or, to be specific, the "shallow pan of food" emoji), which pictures a flat pan loaded with chicken and prawns. Spanish users, however, recoiled at the ingredients shown, and asked that the glyph be redesigned to represent the more traditional ingredients. All of this is lead-up to host Wilbur's actual submission to the Unicode Emoji Committee: pie. What kind of pie? Fruit or meat? A slice or a whole pie? You can see how this gets interesting. Burge says the onus is on the person submitting the emoji for consideration: he or she has to prove via search volume and hashtag usage that their idea is sound. Past episodes have focused on Kit-Kat bars, meatloaf, and thousand-year-old eggs. It's not a foodie show so much as a really interesting podcast that happens to be about food.
02/07/2017 A Meditation
In a culture where sincerity and intimacy are increasingly mocked, "The Heart" podcast is most certainly not for everyone. Even beyond the close-up subject matter, the tone of host Kaitlin Prest and many of the featured subjects tend towards the kind of breathy even-handedness that could cause you to pass out and drive off a cliff (if you're driving while listening, which I don't recommend.) Once you figure out that the series aims entirely to soothe, the tone makes sense. "The Heart" proceeds in offbeat "seasons," each collecting five or six stories from the intimate personal lives of Prest's subjects. The most recent season, "Pansy," deals with men who have been noted as effeminate by the people in their lives, or by little nagging voices at the back of their minds. A man named Allen, a friend who Prest always thought of as a "regular straight dude," surprised her one day by identifying himself as gender clear. His story has been spun into an episode called "The Beloved," in which Allen relates his "long journey" from a startling discovery during sack time with a girlfriend. (The descriptors and language are fairly graphic, though related with humor and warmth; that said, this is for open-minded grown-ups only.) At the end of Allen's journey (so far), he discovered another self (a feminine one) within him which he touchingly refers to as "The Beloved." "The front of her body is the back of mine," he poetically illustrates. While not every story on "The Heart" is directly related to issues of gender identity, that kind of emotionally resonant material is the show's raison d'etre, and in an often harsh and hurried world, it is most surely welcome.
02/27/2017 The Memory Palace is a proud member of Radiotopia, from PRX, a curated network of extraordinary, story-driven shows. Music This piece has two selections from Saunder Jurriens and Danny Bensi's score to Christine, Yes But and Back to Work. Notes This very good article in the Museum of Hoaxes gives a nice overview and links out to the original article. Hampton Sides In the Kingdom of Ice has a nice telling of the story with a lot of background on the editor of the Herald.
Nate DiMeo's "The Memory Palace" is an addictive, quizzical historical podcast that features the host relating odd (bat bombs, which is as hare-brained as it sounds), fascinating (Franklin J. Pierce framed as 'the saddest president"), creepy (five instances of newspapers using the phrase "horrible death" in relation to a person's passing), and sad (the extinction of the passenger pigeon) historical anecdotes. For the most recent episode, "Amok," DiMeo spends about ten minutes relating an outrageous story that the New York Herald reported ("A Shocking Sabbath Carnival of Death!") on one morning in 1874. According to the story, a pestered rhinoceros broke out of his cage at the Central Park Zoo, trampled the zookeeper who was needling him, then proceeded through the zoo bashing open every cage he (or she?) could. From there, madness descended on New York City. A woman kneeling in prayer was killed by a bear; a gaggle of seamstresses watched one of their own be split in two by the aforementioned revolutionary rhino; a young nanny's four charges were taken off by a lion, never to be seen again. And more! A lion and tiger brawled in the middle of 59th street. Exotic prey was devoured on every corner by exotic predators. Swedish big-game hunters and the city's heroic 80-year-old governor (a Civil War vet!) took to the streets to shoot down the attacking beasts, but even so... the night had fallen with anacondas and panthers on the prowl somewhere in the city, still unaccounted for, still hungry. The editor of the New York Times was outraged that his paper had failed to run anything about "the biggest story in the history of the city." People bought guns, locked doors, and held their children close. Sharp-eyed readers of the Herald, however, would have noticed something a bit odd in the last paragraph of that "Shocking Sabbath" story. I'll leave it to DiMeo, as I couldn't possibly do it justice. Needless to say, it's quite a story even if all is not as it seems. And it certainly can't miss relating to many issues the press faces today. (The individual episodes of "The Memory Palace" are fairly short at about 15 minutes, so one can easily devour 3-4 in a sitting. Beware, though, as new episodes are slow to arrive, so you don't wanna burn through them all at once.)
02/11/2016 James explains his deep bond with Sinatra. Deeper than you might think.
We're highlighting another addictive, offbeat podcast today that, like the best ones, truly makes the most of the medium and could hardly be imagined in any other format. "Getting On with James Urbaniak" is a fiction podcast that features host Urbaniak reading a different in-character monologue each episode from a different member of a rotating stable of apparently quite gifted writers. Urbaniak is a terrific performer, and Vulture calls the stories "taut, daring experiments in structure," and says that at its best moments the show "comes damn close to being art." Many such moments are featured in the latest episode, "The Big Comeback," where we hear a very modern, very average man try to convince us that he's Frank Sinatra's son, despite an utter lack of evidence. He notes that he has one blue eye (like Sinatra) and one brown eye, but that he is "not David Bowie's son." The bit doesn't initially seem like it can support a full twenty minutes, but it deepens substantially as it passes the five minute mark, becoming a rather touching (if consistently funny) portrait of the painful desire of every human to amount to something, especially when compared to such a legendary life as Sinatra's, especially in age where there is less and less room to distinguish one's self. The monologue morphs into a personal hit parade of Sinatra's major achievements, from early pushes for diversity to his invention of the concept album at Capitol Records in the 50s. (One line, about the moon, is a truly lovely description of Sinatra's 1955 masterpiece, "In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning," marking writer Joseph Scrimshaw as a keen observer of the Sinatra's work.) When the narrator returns to attempting to prove his wild parentage claim, he recounts being asked for DNA evidence. The character says of course he has access to Sinatra's DNA, and that we all do, because "It's spread across our entire cultural landscape, you a**hole!” Within that defense is the frustration of a man who knows that even Sinatra's popularity is slowly beginning to fade: "If a life that well documented can be forgotten so quickly, what hope do the rest of us have? Who will remember we existed at all?” Touching, heady, very funny stuff.
02/23/2017 photo by CNBC Who is this guy? Who is he really? We think of him as a villain, but perhaps he's more the tragic hero, doomed to lose everything he cares about. The link to Bonnie Raitt on the David Letterman show Donate
Scott Carrier's "Home of the Brave" is a quizzical, dryly funny, often soulfully incisive political podcast. Carrier's low-key tone and delivery may take a minute to get used to (especially if you're trying to determine his political leanings by his voice, as I am sometimes stupidly wont to do), but what he says is often fascinating, never simplistic, and quite human. The most recent episode, "It's All Over Now," begins with several minutes of listener calls edited for maximum impact. In a past episode, Carrier had raised the notion of a protest where thousands would go to Washington and literally surround the White House. His listeners, a dryly funny bunch, are not so sure the plan has merit. One listener says he is "not so into surrounding the White House literally," which leads to a momentary reverie by Carrier on how one might surround the White House "metaphysically." After another plan (everyone shaves their heads and sends all the hair to Washington) is beaten about a bit, Carrier moves on to the meat of the show, where he delivers a quietly stirring op-ed. For this episode, Carrier's op-ed frames President Trump not as a villain but as a "tragic hero," "a fraud who knows he's doomed to fail," but who "rose to power blending truth and fiction like a jazz musician." Carrier sees a moment soon when Trump will no longer know the difference between reality and lies, "and at this point Donald Trump will have entered The Twilight Zone." He says that we need to take control of the narrative and start characterizing Trump as a tragically flawed Charles Foster Kane type. That's all well and good (and it really is compelling), but what sold me on "Home of the Brave" was the episode's coda, where Carrier ends the show with audio of Bonnie Raitt performing Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" some years ago on David Letterman's show. Signing off, he says the performance comforted him, because it reminded him that "Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan and David Letterman are bigger and better than Donald Trump."
01/30/2017 The film Moonlight tells the story of its main character, Chiron, in three chapters: when Chiron is a young boy, nicknamed Little, when he's a teenager, and when he's an adult, nicknamed Black. For each chapter of the film, composer Nicholas Britell created a theme, and in this episode, Nicholas takes those themes apart. The score for Moonlight was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, and the film itself won the Golden Globe for Best Drama.
We mentioned "Song Exploder" a few weeks ago when The Guardian chose it highlight it, and I've been curious about taking a deeper look at the show since then. I'm glad I did. Vulture says the show comes "pretty damn close to being the perfect podcast," and it's not hard to see why: In twenty minutes, one recording artist or a group of band members talk about the genesis on one song, from writing to recording and release. Hence the title, as songs are discussed in an "exploded view" so that up-and-coming and hopeful musicians can see how the pieces came together. And for this non-musician who loves exploring the "little universes" of great pop songs, it has undeniable appeal. All that said, the episode I listened to breaks from the pop music train to focus on the main theme(s) from "Moonlight," Barry Jenkins' Oscar-nominated drama about modern identity and time. In a compelling interview, the film's composer, Nicholas Britell, relates how he came up with the film's three interlocking main themes, one for each of the character's evolving identities as he progresses through his early life. When Britell read the script for "Moonlight," he said he was "overwhelmed" by the beauty and poetry of the piece, qualities he believes director Jenkins brought to the screen intact. It was in trying to come up with a theme to underline that tender poetry that "Little's Theme" (originally called "Piano and Violin Poem") came about. "Little doesn’t say much, he’s quiet, but you know what he’s thinking and feeling," Britell says of the main character as a young boy. To achieve a comparable effect in the music, the composer hired a violinist and asked him to play the violin line as quietly as he could, and as close to the recording device as he could. Paired with a conspicuously out-of-tune piano ("Different pianos have different feelings," Britell says), "Little's Theme" was written, soon giving way to the darker and deeper variations, "Chiron's Theme" and "Black's Theme."
10/03/2016What is your beautiful brain up to as you comprehend language? Cognitive psychologist Jenni Rodd takes a peek. Visit for more information about this topic. Find me at and The Allusionist is a proud member of from
Helen Zaltzman "take(s) you down to language town" on her fascinating etymology podcast "The Allusionist: Small Adventures in Language," and while that may not sound like a riot to those addicted to true crime podcasts, Zaltzman's deep and broad knowledge of linguistics make for fascinating listening - instantly fetching British accent or no. (Zaltzman is best known for the "Answer Me This!" podcast she began in 2007 with collaborator Olly Mann.) Episode 44 of "The Allusionist", called "This Is Your Brain On Language," begins with two minutes of the history of the word "banal" (and its journey from an original meaning of "royal decree" to its current definition) before moving on to interview cognitive psychologist Jenni Rodd. The topic is how the brain deals with hearing a word, how quickly it defines that word, and what kind of internal algorithms are involved. While truly unambiguous words are easier on the brain than those with multiple definitions (like "see" and "sea"), actually finding one isn't easy: Using the example of the seemingly unambiguous word "run," the brain must decide by intonation and context whether the speaker is talking about the physical act, a political campaign, or how long a movie is playing in the theater. Comedy writer Zaltzman's running commentary is canny and funny, serving to drain any starchiness out of the proceedings before they begin. The host is clearly someone fascinated by language, and that fascination is infectious.