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Fresh Air Weekend: Jason Isbell, J.K. Rowling Review

Calling Fresh Air a podcast may be a bit of a stretch. Every week, nearly 5 million people listen to the show’s host Terry Gross talk to an eclectic collection of public figures from her WHYY studio in Philadelphia. Since 1987, the Fresh Air team has cranked out daily, one-hour shows. It’s aired on almost 600 stations worldwide, and has effectively cemented its status as a cultural touchstone.


Jason Isbell photo by Eric England

Fresh Air is a pretty big deal. Not to imply podcasts can’t be a big deal; I’m just saying this show has a bit more going on. BUT it was an early adopter of podcast technology, and championed the idea of portable programming very early on.

Keeping up with Gross and Company can be a full-time job. I’ve come to rely on their weekend recaps (Fresh Air Weekend) to keep me up to date, and last week was a doozy:

Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell, former (and the most talented) singer-songwriter for the Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers, talked with Gross about his new album Southeastern, as well as his struggles with addiction, and his newly found sobriety. He sings songs and charms his way through the interview. If you haven’t bought the album or cherry picked some songs from iTunes yet, you will after you hear this episode.

Great music, cool guy. And there’s an awesome blooper in the middle where Isbell drops his guitar right in the middle of Gross’s question. Come to think of it, that  may’ve been edited out of the weekend edition. Anyway, great guest, good interview.

Cuckoo’s Calling

Literary critic Maureen Corrigan reviews J.K Rowling’s pseudonym-penned novel Cuckoo’s Calling in one of the shorter segments.  Corrigan is less than impressed with Rowling’s stab at detective fiction, and says, “I couldn’t even find a memorable quote from this novel. The only really distinctive thing about The Cuckoo’s Calling is its title, which comes from a Christina Rossetti poem … The only surprise in Rowling’s [book] is the author … Robert Galbraith.”

Side note: Corrigan, a professor of literature at the prestigious Georgetown University, misuses the word ‘entitled‘ in her review. Another side note: I may’ve just misused the single quotation mark when commenting on Corrigan’s grammar flub.

Orange Is The New Black

TV critic David Bianculli  has a little segment on Orange Is The New Black, the new Netflix series created by Jenji Kohan, who also created Weeds. Bianculli calls it another Netfilx success, but I’ve watched the show, and honestly, there were just too many exposed boobies for me to take it seriously. I see it’s merit; I just couldn’t find the story beneath all that skin.

Verdict: a good wrap up. Take a listen: Fresh Air Weekend


How David Sedaris Invented the Podcast

Origins are a big deal. We like to know who did it first, so we can talk about who’s doing it BEST. This tendency defines art, and post-modern culture completely embodies it. People have been tracing origins and calling out copycats in music since Mozart, and they’ve been doing it with paintings since we started started doodling on cave walls probably. It’s a living-breathing, seemingly immortal, conversation.

Podcasts are trickier though. Because technically, the podcast is brand-derived. It’s an off-shoot of Apple’s iTunes platform. You’ve heard Adam Curry‘s name thrown around I’m sure. Curry wrote a program (not unlike an RSS feed I’m guessing) called iPodder. It enabled him to automatically download Internet radio broadcasts to his iPod. So the technological origins are pretty cut and dry.

People cite Ricky Gervais a lot too. Along with Steve Merchant and Carl Pilkington, Gervais set the tone for a lot of the current successful ‘casts out there with his brief, but internationally successful, hit show. He monetized it practically from the get go though, charging listeners two bucks per download, a detail that differs from today’s model.

david sedaris

I trace it back further though, to 20th-century public radio. I’m not talking about a show, or even Terry Gross or Ira Glass. What we (podcast enthusiasts) listen to today was born in the fires of the audio memoir of The Santaland Diaries. It started as an essay and reading on NPR’s Morning Edition in 1992, wherein David Sedaris told NPR’s listeners about his brief employment at Macy’s as a department store elf.

His quavering voice and accessible vulnerability brought his memoir to life, instantly. There was something so human about his style. He was cynical but optimistic; he was friendly but venomous; but above all, he was honest. His brief turn on Morning Edition took a sedated NPR vibe and humanized it. Sedaris later published the essay in the collections Barrel Fever two years later and Holidays on Ice three years after that.

His audiobook versions of the aforementioned anthologies feel like podcasts. The stories are real, sometimes dark, often funny, and told with precision timing. Whether podcasters know it or not, they all seem to be channeling this celebrated raconteur.

Sedaris is currently promoting Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. Go ahead and take a listen to his latest interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. I think you’ll see what I’m talking about.