Sunday, October 24, 2010

Episode 27: The Cruelty of Children

Finally we're hitting episodes I've heard before- and this one is a good one to listen to again. It opens with a David Sedaris story about his time at camp in Greece when he was in his younger years and realizing how he felt about things, particularly his sexuality. Of course, given it is a Sedaris story, it has funny moments and also touching, almost sad moments throughout.

The second act is one of the stories that has stuck with me the most in all of my time listening to TAL-The Man in the Well is a fiction story by Ira Sher and it is completely creepy to me. It is literally a story of children who find a man trapped in a well and how they do nothing to help him get out. Even after a second listen, it still makes me somewhat uneasy when giving it another chance. Guess that means that Mr. Sher is quite the writer.

The third act is about how children relate to each other and if they let other people play with them in kindergarten. It's ok but the first two acts really take the cake on this episode.

Episode 26: Father's Day '96

Father's day in 1996 covered the topic of fatherhood- from fathers who are more so out there (Sandra Loh's dad...remember her talking about his hitchiking in episode 22?) to dad's who left their family to the very functional relationship of Ira and his own father. Throughout the episode, which Mr. Glass co-hosted with Ira, it is a great showing of the very functional relationship.

Overall, the Glass gentlemen keep the show rolling and the interaction between the two was very enjoyable. As I've been growing up I'm really getting the message about getting to know your elders and spending the time you can with them, while they're still around, and to get what all you can from them.

Episode 25: Basketball

[art by Will Bryant -It was just too fitting]

This episode was a little more interesting than I would originally thought it would be, considering that I was fully aware of the Chicago Bulls mania that was going on at this point in time. Even in my rural Tennessee house, Michael Jordan was one of the big hitters and I even remember watching some games with my dad (and I'm not big into sports). Knowing that, I kinda figured what was coming when taking a listen to episode 25. Stories about basketball, and mostly about the Chicago Bulls at that time.

From my point of view, this is an episode that is almost like a time capsule. It talks about the players and what they did on the court and to influence culture (like how Scottie Pippin had his name attached to a car lot at that time) and  even all the way to the people who were sitting around the barber shops, watching the games unfold. Seeing what all these different folks had to say about the time, I feel more informed about something I lived through and was even a tiny bit involved in, even if it was 10 hours away from home.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Episode 24: Teenaged Girls

So if you can't sleep at 5:30 am, listen to TAL, right? The list of what needs to be done is keeping me up and this is one thing on the list, so here we go...

This episode is one that is a little difficult for me to listen to, realizing how teenage girls can act. Even though I have gone through this time period in life, this episode reminds me how cruel girls really can be.

Act one is a collection of Jo Carol Pierce songs, told from a teenager's perspective, performed at middle age. At first the songs feel a little, well, crazy, but once you give in and just listen, it all makes sense somehow. Go figure.

Act two is a tough listen. Rennie Sparks shares the story "Skanks", relating the experience of going to the mall, dealing with a 'best friend' who is everything to but to her and her own self image. This one almost had me crying it was so true and realistic to how girls can be. Thankfully none of the girls I knew at that point in my life (or now even) were like this, but OH MAN how I wished I could be transported back to that time period, find Rennie's friend Dawn and give her a good kick to the head or something.

Act three is the second time playing of a piece from episode 13.This piece bothered me at first listen and it still does at second listen. Between the second and third stories, the fact that I have spent time around girls of the teenage years and work everyday with kids who will soon reach that age, the fact that anyone could do things like Dawn did to Rennie or how the boy "enlightened" the woman in the third story at the age of 13, frankly it kills me. I've got the worst mama syndrome when it comes to thinking of younger girls and their lives. Perhaps it was being in a fairly conservative upbringing that didn't expect you to do anything too crazy (and I really didn't, especially when in high school), I can't fathom such things going on as are described here. And even though I know these things do happen, it bothers me that girls are so willing to let themselves get walked all over and taken advantage of- I just wish they knew what they were really worth- not just as a sexual object or "hanger onner".

Girls today.
And this story was put out in 1996.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Episode 23: Drama Bug

Episode 23 has some David Sedaris and some more kids who are in high school plays. Pretty good listen. Not the best work out there, but can see how TAL is hitting its stride at this May 1996 point.

No more, no less. Hope ya dig, wasn't my fave but wasn't too bad. The music was pretty good, in that kinda creepy way TAL can do sometimes, too...I mean, Cybil Shepard? Just listen to it...

And by the way, have I mentioned lately how much I love the fact they put up these players for every episode? Because they are pretty awesome.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Episode 22: Adult Children

Ok, I'm pretty sure this episode includes a Fresh Prince & DJ Jazzy Jeff jam.

Now that stated, we can begin.

This episode was pretty good- one of the more entertaining of the ones thus far. Ira's mother starts off the show by discussing the meeting she had recently been leading- the topic being  that of adult children and how parents deal with them. She is indeed one of my favorites to hear on the and it's extra entertaining when Ira points out how he hadn't done what all parents want them to do, get married and have grandchildren for them. I love hearing what she's got to say and take some of what Mrs. Glass says to heart, that good motherly advice.

After Ira's mom, Sandra Loh adds some more entertaining stories to the show (she was part of the first really good episode, "Vacations" ). She tells of her father and his funny adventures in catching rides with strangers (including Angelica Houston) and his idea to get a mail order bride. Too funny. Sandra's probably one of my favorite contributors from the earlier shows and I'm looking forward to checking out some more of her stuff throughout the different episodes.

Dig it.

Episode 21 is missing..?

Episode 21 isn't listed on the radio archives on the TAL I guess it's MIA?

Guess cuts me off an extra hour then...

Episode 20: From A Distance

I think through listening to TAL so far, I'm catching the fact that I enjoy the 'human interest' side much more then the others (politics...bleh). This episode's pretty sweet, discussing the different situations of idolizing someone. From going on a big pilgrimage to see an artist you idolize, to becoming good friends with someone  you idolize to even copying them.

This one's a pretty good one...totally dig the different aspects of looking up to others and how it's done in different situations. The Snuggie bear things is kinda creepy, I'll warn ya, but at the end my girl Claudia from episode 8 is back reporting about the Selena film auditions. Sweet!

Give this one a listen.

Episode 19: Rich Guys

This episode's talking about guys who have lots of money and how they act due to this. Stories on rich folk who run for president and set up their wife with 15 viles of their sperm for after they die so more kids can be produced.

Yeah. Some people clearly need more money to blow on stuff.

EDIT: Writer Michael Lewis is one of  my favorites, after some other shows with his pieces. Listen to this man. Plus his story here links up to episode 31.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Episode 18: "Liars"

Compulsive liars are what this episode is all about, as the title suggests, and it talks about all kinds. Dads who lie to their kids, college roommates who lie about who they are, significant others who lie about fianances and their "extra" relationships.

 One thing that I noticed in this episode is the lack of female liars in the stories. I know as a female, I am tempted to lead males to think that we don't ever lie, but I know that isn't quite true. Maybe it isn't quite as elaborate lies females usually tell, but there aren't even any on the episode. Just a thought.

Overall it was a pretty decent episode, finally hitting the stride of the show I currently love- introspective and relateable, while sharing aspects of life that may not be everyday for each listener. Keeps me coming back for more.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Episode 17: "Name Change/No Theme"

FINALLY the name change! I feel better about things and doing this project now that the name of the show was officially, finally, changed to "This American Life". Good riddance, "Your Radio Playhouse"- I can see how those public radio folks hated the name.

As the title states for this one the name changed and there wasn't a theme- there's around 5 different stories going on in the three acts and they're alright but nothing that spectacular.  The follow up to the Navy Pier story from the week before was an interesting thing, sharing the fact that the pier had announced, after the episode promoting how much they were giving back to the city of Chicago, that they were having to cut a lot of the job force due to loss of money. Then Ira dropped that people paid $16 to park for this place. Then I lost any sympathy I had towards to the government and their running of the place. Anyways- I liked the follow up, the city of Chicago still not wanting to give into having to tell about their possibly boo-boo in the economy.

Overall, this show's a listen to it and just let it go on shows...the stories that were told, of no particular theme that is, could possibly pop back up at some random times on you.

No harm, no foul, thank the Lord they changed the name.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Episode 16: "Economy"

Considering that I'm not a highly political person, this episode was produced in 1996 and at that point I was still enjoying my elementary school years, I enjoyed episode 16 quite a bit. I was skeptical when reading the synopsis of the different acts, talking about presidential elections and such, yet the story on the economy was very reminiscent of something that would be reported on, say, a year ago. The unemployment that is represented in this episode was actually presented in a bit scarier way than it was in the recent recession we are recovering from.

Act 1, eh let's skip it. Dole vs. Clinton...yadda yadda yadda...moving on.

Acts 2 and 4 were my favorites- 2  told from the point of view of two temps that TAL hired for a few days (and then Ira hustles for them to get some work, via the show). It was a great look into the lives of guys who are just trying to earn a living and make it in the world but they can't catch quite the right break. It's obvious they wanted to do the work and wanted to succeed- more than once they say that they will work anywhere, for any price. Frankly, I think if more people had the opportunity to get to know folks more than just on the surface, as is seen through this story, the people who deserve the best things in life would get them- and to them the best things would simply be what is necessary to just get by comfortably.

Act 4 is a rundown of the $156 million renovation of the Navy Pier in Chicago and the economic influence that projected onto the city and state of Illinois. It is a pretty interesting listen, considering it is the place that WBEZ studios are located and Ira gets a kick out of explaining the layout to the listeners.

(Oh, and Act poets and their artistic writings...I prefer the straight forward and straight the Johnny Cash song getting played in Act 2).

And one other note for this episode- Ira exhibits an underlying sense of humor for this week's show. Plus now he'll make me giggle everytime I hear the "Market Place" 'doing the numbers' music...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Episode 15: "Dawn"

Jack Hitt hits it out of the ballpark in this one (ohhhh terrible pun, please forgive me, I couldn't resist). The entire episode, sans the brief first act about a school employee who is seen as a father-like character to his students and the effects he has on them, is based on Hitt's story about Dawn, a misunderstood woman from his childhood in Charleston. Dawn was understood to be a man, in Jack's memory, then has a surgery, so the story goes, and marries a black man. All of these things were not the most kosher in the 1960's, if you know what I'm saying.

Hitt goes on a quest to find Dawn (who goes through a few different names I got lost with throughout the story) years later and finds her in New York, but only after giving a full history from his childhood and other people's story about Dawn and her legend.  Have to say, this one got me  wanting to hear more, so 1996 is looking good now...hope to keep the streak alive.

Oh, and the last act of this episode is an update from 1998, so I'm not sure the exact layout of the first run in 1996, so that's why Ira references Hitt's article in a magazine from 1998.

Episode 14: "Accidental Documentaries"

Ahhh, finally! One of the episodes I already knew I loved. I remember listening to atleast the first part of the "Accidental Documentaries" stories- the audio tapes (as in the big tins, not a cassette tapes) of the life of a family from 1967, to be sent to their son at medical school. The give and take between the mother and father's recordings, unbeknown to them, makes for a very interesting and entertaining look at their everyday life.

Act 2 is about Ira's father and his past years working in radio. Getting hear the work that Mr. Glass did on the Baltimore is a grand foreshadowing to what Ira's life would be based around- which he wasn't even aware of in the beginning. Pretty cool to hear. Feels like the listener is getting to know Ira's family just as he is doing so himself. Can't ever hate on someone letting others that close - feel like we're going to be bffs by the time I hit 1997 episodes, Sir Ira.

Act 3 has a surprise twist at the end of the story. Love it, too, since it is another story about a person's family and their history. I have to say that I think stories like this are why I love public radio shows (send them a donation, eh?)- just getting to know someone over the airwaves, even when it as recorded over 10 years ago, it's just real.

Oh, and the music on this episode is pretty sweet. Can't complain about that at all... and now I breathe a sigh of relief getting to write thoughts on an episode where I'm not just saying it was too dull or creeped me out. And here's to the rest of TAL and that niche they are starting to really find in this episode.

Episode 13: "Love"

Finished this episode the other night but put off giving my thoughts on it...go figure- I didn't really dig it (man, I feel so pessamistic...but I tell ya, they do get better- there is a reason I'm doing this project after all). The three acts of "yearning", "sex" and "a wedding". The stories came off as slightly creepy in the first two acts, barring Nancy Updike's take on unprotected sex and the young ladies of the mid-90's and their thoughts on this. The real way that Nancy tells her stories, from here and onward in the series, makes her one of my favorite people to listen to on the show.

Besides that, much of the first and second acts came off as a little creepy to me, particularly the piece about a woman's first time having sex at 13...not quite what I was looking for, folks.

Ira's third act, telling the stories of the Chicago Marriage Court, is the other story I really dug, discussing different aspects of the $10 marriage services that they hand out- reminded me of the film "Paper Heart" with Michael Cera and the sharing of different thoughts on love from all different walks of life.

The third act is a good note to end the episode on, lacking the creep factor I was getting from the first two acts, so Ira and editors, I thank you for that. Yeah, even the Madonna song was creepy.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Episode 12: "Animals"

Ok, this one just wasn't my bag. At all.

The Pine Tree Gang radio play was pretty sweet, written by Sedaris, with rhyming couplets throughout the entire thing (and this impresses an english degree holding girl like me). Of course, it was a welcome distraction after I had to skip over half of the second act, an artist talking about taking photos of animals as they are eating other animals. Yeah..a bit too much...

My favorite part? The usage of a song from the "Jungle Book" movie at the end of the episode.

Episode 11:"Enemies"

Oh, how I love pledge drives. My local NPR station,WUTC, has been holding theirs this week and then I get to episode 11 and I find talk of WBEZ's 1996 pledge drive on episode 11.

Overall, the episode wasn't that bad, mainly telling the story of two boys and their friendship, from being best friends to enemies and then bringing it back up to present day and their thoughts on it. Their story does make for an interesting listen and there is a lot to it. I dug it, but have to note that if the three different parts were solely one episode (with a 5 minute David Sedaris story tagged on), I would have been quite quickly over it. However, the breaks between segments does them a favor and makes it a much better story.

The short Sedaris story is read by Sarah Thyre in the patented Sedaris-like southern voice. The story takes the form of a letter, written by a recently deceased woman, giving instructions on what to do after her death, including taking down her best friend and ex. If there were funerals that really took place like this one, I would want a front row ticket on the action...maybe if I travel a little more south..?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Episode 10: "Double Lives"

Episode 10 brings a continuation of the heavy, depressing episodes. This one talks a lot about families and the secrets of certain members in their fold.
There is, thankfully, lots of laughter thanks to Mrs. Glass, psychologist who Ira finds out is giving love advice in Marie Claire magazine, unbeknown to him. Of course, after her short interview, she leaves him with the advice of "find a nice girl and get married". And with that, I continue to love the cameos Mrs. Glass has in the show.

That being said, the next episode has Sedaris on it again so it's due to be funny...I hope....two depressing shows in one night is just a bit too much...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Malcolm Gladwell Lecture//Episode 9: "Julia Sweeney"

I've finally hit the next episode, after getting the opportunity to see Malcolm Gladwell speak (for free! Score!) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga last night (I highly suggest seeing him if you can. Good stuff). I felt like I was in a real life episode of "This American Life" or something. He spoke on leaders who are so sure of themselves that causes the missteps. Comparing the financial meltdown to a Civil War battle was something I would have never thought of, but made total sense. I feel very enlightened and admittedly, slightly hipper, having gotten the chance to see such a popular and awesome speaker.

Anyways, onto the episode...

Julia Sweeney was on Saturday Night Live back in the day and this episode of  TAL is parts of her stand up from 1994-1995, speaking on her experience having cancer, while her brother also has the disease. I won't ruin the episode by saying too much about what goes down in her story, but it is a very interesting one and I can't hate on it because it is such a strong episode. Much of the hour, I almost couldn't stand how personal and real her stories are and I had such a response to it, but then I considered my thoughts on art: if it makes you have a strong response, it's good.

Well, I had a strong response, so I guess it could be considered art. The nonchalant way that
Julia tells the story is almost painful at moments, yet it is worth the listen. As Ira notes in the show, the stories lighten up some when Julia begins speaking about her diagnosis of cancer, which is appreciated after the utter dark cloud over part one, but it is still clear it isn't all sunshine in her life and her families lives.

Overall, even if it doesn't sit easy with you, listen to this one. It's pretty good.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Episode 8: "New Year"

Yay for making it to 1996! Admittedly, I've been a little distracted by catching up with my new favorite show, Mad Men, and other new fall line up tv episodes, but I have found a time for this bit of  TAL listening.

You would think starting the show off with coverage of the new Beatles interviews that had just come out on cd when the show came out, but the way Ira talked about, quoting the number of the "limited edition" cd that they had purchased (something like 52,000 or something ridiculous) makes it seem kind of silly to make such a hubub about the band. Add to that the comments from the band themselves through the snippets that Ira played and, well, they kind of seem like a big deal for nothing.  You can hear the fab four indirectly saying "stop asking us about dumb stuff that's everyday- we aren't anything that special", which is a somewhat lens to see them through. Now we're getting somewhere in what I'm searching for to reflect on via this blog- something seen through another lens for once.

The stories of high school student Claudia are the best part of the entire episode, though. She takes a look into the Mexican area of Chicago, which gives looks into many different folks lives and reflects on the previous year. Ira also gets to ask the hard questions to Claudia herself at the end of the show, which proves to be an interesting listen, too. After learning more about her hometown area and her life, I would be very interested in what exactly the then 18 year old is doing now.

The other of the stories is about being the first to integrate into new situations, particular for an African Americans woman and her integration to a new, white neighborhood. Ira made the comment he had been working on the story for a year and while it was an alright listen, it was one that you had to have your head in the game and try to hang on every word of to make it all work out (I have a tendency to be on other websites or painting while spending all this time listening to TAL, so if a story doesn't completely suck me in, I have a predisposition to get lost).

Overall, this episode is one I can vouch for, just be leery that the middle story is one you have to pay a lot of attention to.