Monday, November 29, 2010

Episode 47: Christmas and Commerce

We made it! This episode finishes up 1996's run of shows! Doesn't seem like much a feat when considering how many shows are left to listen to, but hey, it's a start, right?

This show is one that I've been looking forward to ever since I saw it was a Christmas episode- it includes "The Santa Land Diaries" by David Sedaris. This story, if you have managed to not hear or read it, in all of its epicness, is the real life tale of Sedaris being an elf at Macy's in New York City. He shares tales of just not wanting to be so cheery, the many different rigorous positions an elf could work in and everyday moments of other fellows elves and Santas at Macy's.

This story is one of the reasons that Sedaris is as well known in the public radio community, along with, I think, part of the reason his books sell so well (and this story is also part of why I dropped so much for a ticket to see him perform next April, but I evidentally am so cheap I just like being able to state that different places, as to feel better about spending so much to be entertained for a few hours). This is one of those stories that made me go out and purchase the book that includes it- and I'll even plug it here- "Holiday On Ice" is Sedaris' Christmas story collection and I highly suggest it, particularly this Christmas season, or anytime of the year. After working in retail for 4+ years, "Santa Land Diaries" is one of my must reads every Christmas holiday.

Besides Sedaris' now-classic Christmas story, there are three other pretty cool little acts in this episode. The show opens with Ira in the world's largest Toys -R-Us at closing time on Christmas eve. Act three is about a window actor who played Freud in a Barney's holiday window and the implications of the job, premeditated and not (having a therapy session? Why not!). The fourth act is some audio from one of the music guru's family Christmas, at age 3. Notably he gets a toy record player- I dare say at that point a life was forever changed.

These shorter stories are pretty good accompaniments to "The Santa Land Diaries", but Sedaris knows how to hold down this episode while also holding down the Christmas holiday (and I'm pretty sure we'll hear the hilarious tale over and over and over again).

Episode 46: Sissie

After debating on how to report on this episode that is about gay men and how they can act, I don't really know what I want to say about it except that it was a very interesting listen and well worth the time the crew spent on putting it together.. It was very entertaining and, from what I could tell, fairly advanced of an episode for 1996 (granted, at this time I was only 9 years old, so I don't have a huge grasp on what the gay community was at that time).

This episode includes a story by Nancy Updike and Dan Savage, two of my favorites to be on the show, and is one that I do suggest you listen to it and let me know your thoughts on it...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Episode 45: Media Fringe

I have to say it- this episode is quite a who's-who of story contributors. Really dig this episode, too. Let me give you a run down of some of the best folks to be seen on this series: Sandra Tsing Loh, Scott Carrier, Sarah Vowell and Cheryl Trykv.

Sandra Tsing Loh talks about her beginnings in Dada and performance art and I have to say I want to hear more. This lady is just awesome and you can read more about her previous stories, particularly great ones about her dad here).

Scott Carrier brings a non-fiction story about his life as a commercial radio reporter who never seems to quite have the good luck to episode 45. I know I've given Scott Carrier a lot of crap, but I'll give it to him- I'm coming around to him. Finally. Like I've said, just don't go the fiction route- it just doesn't work for me (and clearly I am the main person you're writing for, eh? I mean this is just one blogging girl's are probably a cool dude, Scott Carrier).  Anyways, this piece I really dig and feel for the situations he keeps getting into..I have a feeling that would be how a lot of my reporting would wind up, with little kinks in the plans, if I was in that profession.

Oh, Sarah Vowell, how awesome are you....Ms. Vowell's got the third act, one that had me laughing out loud. I just love how this lady writes- she's intelligent, she's witty, she just has a way of saying things that no one else would have worded that way- and it makes so much sense (watch her on the Daily Show in 2009 to fully understand this). Also in this story and her previous appearance on TAL, she talks about music and expresses a true love for it. I'm pretty sure we'd be the best of friends if we ever met- this story about 'selling herself' to make mixtapes for other people confirms it. The hooker metaphor is just too funny as she walks the audience through the process of making a mix, from getting an idea of who the tape is for to how deep and romantic the tape should be. Of course, there's a great twist at the end of the piece that I'll save for you to listen to...try not to laugh too loud.

The show finishes up with Cheryl Trykv tell her story about her brush with fame and an aging actress in Palm Springs, along with a great visual of how sunburned one can get after riding a bike in the blazing sun in only a swimsuit on...descriptions that can warm you up on a cold November night. 

So I may be a little biased when picking my favorite stories and all (I'll spare anymore Sarah Vowell fangirling in the future), but this episode is an example of how great stories just come together. 

Episode 44: Poultry Slam 1996

Aye aye aye, yet another Poultry Slam. I was not very impressed with the 1995, first anniversary version (as is documented here), so I had high hopes for 1996's edition.

Well, no point in even hoping- this episode is the same as the 1995 episode, minus one different story, so here's the rundown on that one....

Following David Sedaris' story about buying a turkey head with a foot attached, Ira gets a message from Michael Stumm, an actor who moved from the US to live in South Africa. Stumm was given the task to investigate how chickens are used by witch doctors in that area. He describes a practice that is supposed to be the key to getting your paperwork lost in court, a practice which includes poking out a chicken's eye and burying it alive.

The act is a pretty cool little snippet and worth a listen if you've got the time, but if not, just avoid the Poultry Slams all together...I'll let you know when they start getting better (and I'm trying to like them...).

Episode 43: Faustian Bargains

Ira states in episode 43 that there was a surge of Faustian stories in theater in Chicago in 1996, so they decided to produce this episode. These tales come in five acts and they are all interesting and worth a good listen.

Act one is the story of LuAnne Johnson, who wrote "Dangerous Minds", yes the film with the Coolio song "Gangsters Paradise". She tells about how the movie and subsequent television show were so different from what she put out in her book for the world to read. When she questions people who were making these works from her book, they simply told her that she had sold the story and it was not hers anymore. As a writer, makes me think twice about selling work (but if you're interested in purchasing some of my work...).

Act two is a creepy tape of someone asking about bringing a relative back to life. I'll let you folks listen to it to get the full effect of the's a great story that you just have to hear.

Act three is the tale of Jayna, a student who came to America from Korea at the age of 11 on her own, to study under a very celebrated violinist. She talks about how she adjusted well to American life but after a trip back home to Korea, she had some reservations upon her arrival back in the US. The point of view of this story is what makes it so interesting- to get to hear thoughts on someone who immigrated at such a young age, on her own, is a point of view that is not reported on everyday.

Act four is a somewhat crazy story of how making a deal with the devil started out looking good for a woman, Carmen Delzell, until the repercussions appeared and then she went slightly crazy (atleast that is what it sounds like to me). It's an interesting tale, particularly in its first person perspective and her references to using Haitian voodoo or black magic.

Finally, act five is something I haven't ever heard of on the show- reading of a children's book. Daniel Pinkwater reads his children's book, Devil in the Drain. As the name suggests, the character of the devil is literally in the drain in this story. As a children's literature fan, I really enjoy how the show included this in their regular format, particularly since Ira comments after the reading that the book has been banned by many children's libraries. Clearly if the book is banned, it's gotta be good- that's one thing I learned by getting my English degree, you know.

For this episode, I suggest giving it all a listen. All the stories are engaging and interesting and throw out ideas that can really make you think. Enjoy it!

Episode 42: Get Over It!

Episode 42 is an episode I remember having heard before. How I recalled having already heard this take is quite an entertaining one, at that. Ira says the word "nipples" in this one and I remeber being so entertained by that first time around, when I heard it again this time, it clicked (for the record, he is talking about an ex trying on clothes and where they covered when he drops "nipples". I know, I'm 8 because I was so entertained by this).

Anyways, the first story is Ira talking about interactions with an ex girlfriend, eventually referencing Jesus coming back, from the point of view of Jewish folks. Just listen to it. I do have to say, though, Ira, don't go into fitting rooms with ex girlfriends, particularly those who are trying on tight and short clothes to show off to someone else.

  Act two is a George Saunders story about a man who has a hard time getting over a death and act three is Scott Carrier on a quest to find out more about amnesia. He visits a hypnotists to try and get voluntarily put into the state but fails, eventually having the hypnotist have someone come in who claims to have had his mind temporarily emptied.

This time around, Ira's personal anecdote is the most entertaining story in the episode. Saunders' story is one that you have to pay close attention to or else you get completely lost and Carrier's is an interesting concept, particularly in how he seems so open to push boundaries in suggesting that he be put into having amnesia for entire day.  Overall, it's an episode that is good, nothing more, nothing less.

Episode 41: Politics

Ah, politics again. It's such a strange thing- I'm not a very political person, yet I am loving this 1996 political race coverage- but I can tell you exactly why I'm digging it so much: Michael Lewis. I know that I've written about how awesome this guy's writing is and how much he is just making for interesting what's he talking about this time?

More politics, of course. This time it's a funny story about having a video camera on the campaign trail and how different the response is from people around you, as opposed to just doing print journalism. Lewis' tale then fades into Ira discussing the difference in cable vs. network news campaigning with a professor from MIT.
I won't lie, folks, I listened to this episode over a week ago. Thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday, I've been in and out of the house, traveling around the southeast to visit family and waited too long to write this show up. I would go back and try to remember all that was on it, but even after reading the show notes on the website, I'm not completely recalling the episode. That says enough for me, atleast: the one story I've written about is pretty memorable. The other stuff? Take it or leave it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Episode 40: Lessons

The name "Lessons" makes this episode one that sounds mysterious, and I have to say, it was a pretty good one that I didn't expect it from.

There's four acts this time around, starting off with a monologue from Spalding Gray, about learning how to ski. It starts off kind of slow, but once he gets the momentum building, the story is pretty funny and entertaining. I mean, clearly, all the great people of the world can snow ski, so clearly that warrants what one could call an obsession.

Act two is a Scott Carrier story (yes, the same Scott Carrier I said was kind of strange in an earlier episode) and this one- surprise surprise- didn't seem so strange to me! This one was a real life account of his 3 year old learning how to swim from Mr. Switzer, a man I recalled hearing a story about this past summer on NPR, talking about running his swimming school and how he is such a legend (you can check out that story on NPR- I suggest it, it's a pretty interesting little tale). Knowing the background of Mr. Switzer and his school, this story was much more interesting, seeing it from another point of view than what a lot of the NPR story was- all from the parent's point of view this time, as opposed to the point of view of the teacher in summer 2010 (and, yes, Mr. Carrier is not creepy at all this time around. I like you doing non-fiction, sir!).

Act three is about a potato gun and how all the guys who saw it in the owner's neighborhood wanted to make one. Moving on...

Act four finishes out the show with some found tapes (well, vinyl actually) that tells how, in detail, for men to have an affair, the "proper" way. One notable idea of that being that you never try to make up an excuse if you're caught out in public with someone who is not your wife. Hopefully it didn't sell too many copies, but it was quite entertaining listening to it in 2010, as it was recorded in the 60's-70's.

40 down now...if we can just avoid further stories about potato guns, I would be thrilled.

Episode 39: Halloween

Ahhh, Halloween...means we're trekking along through 1996's episodes at a good clip.

For Halloween that year there's not a whole lot that just blew me away, causing the episode to be filed under "It's alright".

There's six smaller acts this time around, covering people who work in haunted houses and look to scare people, and why. There's the talk of how fear is related to sexual desires and those stinkin' screams that popped up on an earlier episode (and, frankly, just freaked me out).

There are two acts that are noteworthy, atleast. The first act is about folks who watched the old show, "Dark Shadows" for entertainment in the mess ups. The interviewed people are die hard "Dark Shadows" viewers, watching 4-5 hours a week of the show (sounds like someone doing a radio podcast listening project...) and trying to find the small nuances in the show, such as flies flying around.

When Ira and Nancy (Updike) go to the apartment of one of the viewers to watch the show with them, the feel of a party is almost palpable. The group sits around and points out flub ups and has a genuinely fun conversation about the show. It may be somewhat geeky, but I totally get it and wish I could be in there.

(It should also be noted that there is a report from one of these "Dark Shadows" guys at a convention on the episode "Conventions" in the 1997 season, so there will for sure be more talk of the cult classic tv show!)

The second of the acts that stood out is number five, speaking with a female mentor to girls involved in gang activity. The story that she tells is somewhat chilling, but not in a "jump out from behind the corner and yell 'boo!'" kind of way. I'll just share with you what the show archive has the description as:

Act Five. Gang Girl.
                      Gang Girl, on a body they thought was fake that turned out to be real. (10 minutes) 

So there you go, Halloween 1996. I do really suggest the two stories highlighted just skip around some.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Episode 38: Simulated Worlds

The picture that accompanies this episode on the TAL site points to a futuristic, space agey group of stories, but most of this episode points to the past.

Act one talks about "hyper reality" and applies the ideas given in Umberto Eco's writings about traveling from place to place, wax museum to wax museum. I'll be honest- it didn't all make sense to me, and maybe it was from a lack of paying attention, but hyper reality and all kinds of stuff related..yeah. There's also talk about Civil War re-enactors and how some go all in on being true to that time period and some just skim the surface of the time. 

Act two is Jack Hitt talking about dinosaurs. It didn't catch my attention as much as act three did though...

Act three is a story of Ira and Nancy ( of my fave producers on the show) take the late Michael Camille, a medieval scholar at the University of Chicago to a Medieval Times restaurant. The description of the place and how over the top yet fitting for the time period it was makes it quite a great story. 

Ira references Sir Gawain from the old stories, such as "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", and it gave me a chance to say "aha! I did learn something in those british lit classes!", so I think that may be part of why I enjoyed this so much, plus the fact that the professional scholar had such a good time at the restaurant/show.  You could just tell from Mr. Camille's voice that he was enjoying himself throughout the fanfare of the night, plus Ira even made it a point to let listeners know how much the professional and highly educated man was into what he was seeing. Even though he pointed out a few different things throughout the piece that made Medieval Times a not completely accurate portrayal of this very festive event- a jousting tournament. I even learned something new as this was being discussed on the show- Mr. Camille stated that knights would get off of their horses and fight on the ground during jousts, which after three times trying to take that British Lit I class, I had never run across in any literature I had read.

Overall, this piece is one that can teach you a lot about something you have very little prior knowledge on. The way that Camille comes at medieval in such an excited way, wanting to share it rather than go over someone's head is such an appealing thing and I have to say if I had this guy for a professor of literature from this time, I probably would have done much better in that class. Really glad that TAL got him on the show before he passed on  to his big medieval world in the sky (the folks give him some nice words about his untimely death on the episode archive page).

Act four has two minutes of Ira talking almost abstractly on the different levels of media- from the announcer, to the reporter to the actual person being interviewed. Reading the synopsis of the episode made me excited about this part, but it's only two minutes long. More? Please? I like hearing behind the scenes radio stuff from NPR- I'll even take the jargon!

So there you have it- episode 38; now go learn about medieval times (and I'm not talking about the restaurant!).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Episode 37: The Job That Takes Over Your Life

Episode 37 takes a look at jobs that become more of a lifestyle change than a 9-5. The stories share the tales of a "commune" that is formed by a college troupe that put on the show "Hair", Scott Carrier (that antelope guy that keeps popping up throughout episodes) talking about quitting a job and giving psychological tests to people, the explosion that took place in 1944 near San Fransisco and those who were affected by it. There's also a short piece, "Orientation",giving the mundane and everyday truths of office work, particularly the first day.

Act one, Scott Carrier's story is a rather strange one, as is most of his stories that I've been coming across (you can hear him in episodes 12 and 35). The point of view that Carrier brings to all of these stories come off as a bit strange, working as a medical tester who has to randomly find people to test (on the road all over the state, might I add). He's also seen elsewhere chasing antelopes, literally, and putting out strange little haikus. Dear sir, I know you try and you are talented, but somehow your work just throws me for such a curve I don't know what to do with it.

Act two is the story about the acting group that puts on "Hair" and lives a communal lifestyle. The way they talk about their situation and their relationships with each other truly bring to mind interviews and video I have heard/seen from the 60's, except in this story, the way the actors lay it on so thick make me wonder how long the story really is and wish for it to be over soon.

Act three is the story of a ship that blew up near San Fransisco and the workers on board who were affected by the incident. They speak about when the explosion occurred, along with the results of the blast. Of course the story was put on trial to charge the people in charge of the incident and this is what some of the men who were there say really happened, not just what was reported.

Act four rounds out the show with the piece "Orientation".  Recently entering the work world, more so related to the office world than the retail world (finally!), I can relate to the rundown of people and their jobs in the office and how things run. This concept of 'this is how it is and it's how it will be' seems to be all around us, just waiting to be reinforced for those who don't know the order of things.

Of course, that brings to mind the thought of who is going to shake up that world and actually make it different, for more than just a moment.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Episode 36: Letters

Totally unscripted, real and random.

Those are the best ones, as this one is.

This episode is Ira, along with a playwright out of Chicago, bring the writer's shows of people reading random letters to This American Life. Ira pulls names out of a hat and people get on stage with their letters, some written by themselves, some by others- there's even some found letters, too.

The hour passes quickly with the letters and share little pieces of different folks' lives.

Let's just say it- I want more!

Episode 35: Fall Clearance Sale

Ira and crew had a good idea with this one- no real theme to the episode, just random stories.

They were all pretty good ( including short stories by Scott Carrier, who wrote the story about running after antelopes in an earlier episode, comments on zooaphilia (yeah, that could get awkward...) and about a guitarist and how he learned to play), but Mr. Sedaris managed to steal the show, in my opinion.

David Sedaris reads a story from his book "Naked" about spending time at a nudist camp (they don't call them colonies anymore, the staff explains to him), and he even gets his sister Amy in on the act, as she voices the female characters throughout. I have read a bit of Sedaris' work and find myself laughing often, but there is just something about being able to put his reading voice to the stories on the page that just makes them that touch more entertaining. All I have to say is I can't wait to get to the "Very Sedaris Christmas" episodes down the road- and I'll leave you with the reading suggestion of "Holiday on Ice", if only to read his thoughts on working at Macy's as a elf for a holiday season.

I'm aware that just got rambling, but David Sedaris is the real deal- trust me on that one.

Episode 34: Democratic Convention

I guess if you do a Republican convention show, you have to do a Democratic convention show, right? Fair and balanced, that is NPR!

The episode didn't have the Dan Savage spin that I loved so much from the Republican convention episode, but Michael Lewis comes back into the picture to share his thoughts from this convention and Danny Drennen, who is introduced as a writer of a "90210" blogger (but this was 1996, so blogger wasn't quite the term) talks about what he saw on the C-Span coverage of the convention.

These two stories make the show pretty good. It's not quite as up there as the Repbulic episode, but pretty good- and that's just the entertainment side I got out of it, not political.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Episode 33: A Night at the Weiner Circle

Oh, I know...hello possibly awkward title.

Alas, here's what Ira shares, talking in 2006, at the beginning of the episode...this one was made for just the local Chicago audience and would form into another episode down the road a few weeks (hence how this ep. is sandwiched between shows dedicated to the Republican and Democratic parties), but it looks as if the full episode never came to fruition.

 This is a sad thing to note, seeing as the later episodes that are composed of spending an entire 24 hours in a diner and busy rest stop are so great, an entire night at the entertaining night shift at the Weiner Circle would make great fodor for an try again in 2011, Ira? Please?

There is a little bit of a story about the diner and its boisterous employees, in their own words, that made me laugh out loud more than once, but will all the editing and beeping over cursing, I can see how an episode would be a little harder to pull together just covering their life at the restaurant. 

There are a few other acts involved in this show, but honestly, the one thing that still stands out to me, 48 hours later, is the folks working at this establishment and how true it seems that they really were giving "dinner and a show", as stated by one of the patrons interviewed.

Basically, skip the last act or two and give the first bit a listen. Guarantee those folks will make you laugh.

(plus the songs are pretty great on this one, too).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Episode 32: Republican Convention

Once again, I thought "UGH! Politics in 1996, no way this will be good!" and, once again, I was proved wrong.

Episode 32 includes a story by Dan Savage, about his infiltrating the Republican party and trying to overturn some of their rules and regulations on gays. The story of his going to the party events and trying to turn them on their head- it's just pretty great. Probably the most I've ever laughed during a political story that was put together over 10 years ago.

Michael Lewis also makes another appearance, talking about visiting Bob Dole's house (but Bob isn't there...from what I could tell..?) and finishing up his coverage on the Maury Taylor election trail (see here and here for his earlier appearances on TAL).  Once again, I really like this guy.

This is going for 2 really good shows in a row...and the next one looks pretty sweet. Woohoo!

Episode 31: When You Talk About Music

Ok, so I'm cheating a little. I vividly remember listening to this episode not long before starting in on this here project, so I'm going to just give my thoughts on it then move on to number 32. The reason I so vividly remember it, by the way, is because it is such a great episode.

Obviously I am biased and would enjoy the music stories the most, but it has some of my favorite components all on one episode: a good monologue, the real life of a famous singer impersonator, zines, super fans and a closer of an old man who plays accordion and spread the word of the non-mainstream instrument all of his life. I'll elaborate on each seeing as I dig this episode so much.

Act 1 is a monologue by Dael Oralndersmith, an older african american lady, who in this instance, is speaking from the point of view of a middle age italian guy. Give it a listen and just try to not forget who exactly is speaking- you'll be convinced it's some italian guy you'd run into in the Bronx.

Act 2 is a story about radio producer Dan Gediman's brother, who just happens to be a professional Tom Jones impersonator. It's cool to get a glimpse at what brought him to being the type of singer that he is, along with what all goes into his act.

Act 3 is a zine reading (!!! I actually write a zine myself and am very partial to reading them, so seeing how they are included a lot in episodes of TAL make me thrilled..oh just wait til we start getting to hear from Dishwasher Pete! Then the exclamation marks will be flying...) about how there's just too many bands in the world and that is followed by Sarah Vowell (one of my faves, if we're admitting biases) interviewing the superfan of Seattle band, the Fastbacks. Makes me think of the local scene in Murfreesboro from my college days (oh those long ago...this past May) and all the great bands that passed through the town, most of them being finished with their run before too long but a few hanging on til the current time. What can I say- I can just get down with the music folks.

(In fact, this part of the show is just so good I think I am going to re-listen to act 3, now that I'm thinking about it some more as I'm writing.....)

Act 4 is a closing story about an accordion player who taught and played around Chicago for his entire life. It's just charming. Can't help but love when folks are really happy with what they do in life. And I especially can appreciate that when it comes to music, so this is a definite go.

TAL, you did it this time. Welcome to the top of my list.

Episode 30: Obsession

Episode 30 tackles the topic of obsessions, leaving a lot to be heard. There's a few different stories about people being obsessed with things, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, and other smaller obsessions, such as an artist who created an entire kitchen out of beads, taking 5 years to do so.

Moving on.
Excited to hear that the next episode is about music...this one would have been better if it had been moreso about the OCD specifically.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Episode 29: Bob Dole

It's 2010, almost 2011. I'm listening to an hour on Bob Dole in 1996.
Well then.

Have to say it, though, this episode isn't as bad as I had predicted. Political author Michael Lewis returns for some more of his commentary on candidates, this time Dole. This dude has to be one of my favorite writers on the show when it comes to making politics interesting.

Robert Smigel even shows up on this episode, talking about how to properly imitate Dole. Pretty great.

Have to say it- if you were picking this episode or the "Detectives" episode, I would definitely go with this one. I would even pick it as one of the better of the 30 I've almost listened to so far. Here's to hoping the comedians keep coming through the show and stay this solid.

Episode 28: Detectives

It's been quite a busy time lately- particularly a trip to see some friends from college in Murfreesboro/Nashville. Worth it though...this episode's been a booger for me.

The bulk of this episode is based around yet another David Sedaris story and the tale of Ira spending time with a private eye in Chicago.

And those were the highlights- I think I tried starting this one three times and had a hard time even getting through the Sedaris story, as it couldn't really keep my attenion.

Hate to say it, but the Bulls basketball episode a few back is what's still stuck in my mind of the run lately....onward we go...