Thursday, April 13, 2017


podcasts april

I've been attempting to listen to podcasts again lately. I'm always hearing about great podcasts and even subscribing to them but they tend to pile up on my phone. The issue is that my mind wanders like crazy when I'm driving or walking alone. I try to listen to a podcast but suddenly realize that I've spent the last 15 minutes deciding exactly how to spend my future lottery winnings (I have a super practical plan, guys, too bad I never remember to buy lottery tickets) and I have no idea what anyone is talking about and then I have to try to back it up to the point where I stopped listening. Repeat that three times and you have my commute home, which explains why I eventually gave up. This also explains why I was a terrible student all through elementary school, before I managed to train myself not to daydream during class.

But after the third person in two weeks recommended Terrible, Thanks for Asking I decided I had to give it a try and I was hooked immediately. It's a podcast about how people deal with tragedy or hard times in their lives. The episodes vary because they're interviewing different people each time, but I've loved almost all of them. I still don't try to listen to it while driving but I've found that I can focus a bit better while I'm running and I made it through the entire season that way. And then when we drove up to Berkeley we made it through all of S-town and half of Missing Richard Simmons*, as I mentioned previously. Apparently I'm better at focusing when there is someone else around to discuss the podcast with, especially if there is drama/intrigue involved.

I do manage to listen to The Dinner Party Download almost every week, and I sporadically catch up on Fresh Air. I also do this novel thing where I listen to some shows live each week, on the actual radio, so I usually catch This American Life, Good Food, The Moth Radio Hour, and The New Yorker Radio Hour (does this make up for the fact that I gave up even attempting to get through The New Yorker every week?).

I tried My Favorite Murder when everyone was raving about it and it just didn't work for me. For a while I used to listen to the Savage Lovecast, but I feel like both the questions and the answers go on forever and it's almost like they're filling time (important note - definitely not safe for work, if you aren't familiar with Dan Savage already).

Anything you're listening to that you love?

* I was conflicted on this one. I totally get the impetus for the podcast, but it started to feel self serving really quickly and I felt bad for Richard Simmons. But then he signed a new licensing deal, so maybe I'm totally off base.


  1. I love the NYT's Still Processing, Dear Sugar, Call Your Girlfriend, and Buzzfeed's Another Round.

  2. I actually felt really, really uncomfortable with S-Town. I didn't feel uncomfortable listening to what was happening with John B's estate, but the flimsy excuse for the forensic investigation into his sexual orientation felt kind of gross. Similar to Richard Simmons... What did you think?

    1. Warning, spoilers! I'm not even sure I should write all this here because I would feel bad if I ruined it for someone else, but this is such a good point and now I want to discuss it! I am a little embarrassed to admit that I slept through part of the last episode (or maybe second to last?) on our drive home, so I missed a little bit of it. But I was awake for some of the "church" stuff and that made me uncomfortable because it felt like it was being used more for shock value than anything else. I actually didn't mind the exploration of his LD relationship so much (the Brokeback Mountain episode) but maybe that's just because it moved me, and so I was willing to overlook some of the issues.

      I totally get the concerns with privacy and consent, which are so tricky here! I didn't feel straight up icky about it, unlike Missing Richard Simmons, and I hadn't really thought about why that was, when both podcasts are delving into the life of someone who hasn't given their consent. I thought the (S-town) podcast was really moving and beautiful and for the most part compassionate, but does that justify it? If the subject initiated the investigation but then it went in a totally different direction, is that okay? Did he initiate the investigation because he wanted to be seen in some way? On a practical level, does it matter since it ultimately isn't hurting him? What does your legacy count for and how important are the stories that get revealed once they can't directly impact your life anymore?

      I love the question of who our stories belong to and who gets to tell them because it's so interesting and hard to define. As someone who loves storytelling, it's something I struggle with, at which point a story is mine to tell. I just don't know what the answer is here, and I think it's individual to each case. For example, I didn't choose to share anything about my dad on here when he was sick, because it didn't feel like my story to tell, even though I was very involved and it was a huge part of my life for several years. I shared some of it after he died, because it felt like at that point it was less about his experience and more about mine. However, I've shared quite a bit about my stepdad's TBI as we go through it. It's hard to even articulate why I make these choices, but it's based on a deep understanding of the people involved and also on a sense of how much ownership I have over the story, and of what benefit it is to share. It's easier for me to feel confident in those calculations when I'm talking about people I love. How do they play out when it's a journalist making the call rather than a loved one? I do feel like Brian Reed came to care a lot about John (oddly, I didn't end up feeling this way about the Missing Richard Simmons guy, even though they had a pre-existing friendship!) and I think that probably colored my view of the podcast.

      Whoa. That is so wordy. But I think what I'm saying is intent matters to me, and nuance, and I'm hoping that Brian Reed developed a good enough understanding of John that he was making those calculations about choosing to tell this story and feeling confident that it was the right thing to do (although I still think that some of the details they shared could have been left out without impacting the story). But that's just me!

    2. OMG - I knew that was long but didn't realize it was going to be a straight up wall of text. Whoops.

    3. Rachel, I love your super thoughtful take on this . Maybe you missed this (and total spoiler alert) but there was a point where Brian said that John B asked him not to share something regarding his sexuality, but post-mortem, Brian did. And I felt like that he did that for the STORY, not for JOHN, if that makes sense.

      It's SUCH an interesting question about whose story is it to tell. Do you read the New Yorker? There's the most fascinating book review I've ever read in this week's issue, and I don't want to give anything away (because there was a total drop the mic moment) but I had the same thought as you did about WHOSE story is this? And if the now deceased subject didn't reveal it, is it ok to reveal it?

      You know, for Richard Simmons, I didn't feel as icky about it as others did, because he put himself out there in SUCH a major public way, and I felt that the people that he ghosted genuinely missed him and were concerned. Maybe not the narrator as much... And I did feel that Brian cared very much about John B, and it was ENGROSSING storytelling, but I don't know that John B would have wanted us to *know* all this. Will his mother find out? Did she ever know?

      Anyway, it's such an interesting conversation! Thanks for engaging - I could go on and on...

    4. Oh, I think I missed that part, and that is weird. I wonder how Brian Reed justified that to himself.

      I had to quit the New Yorker because I could never keep up, but D subscribes and I will check out that review!

      It's so funny - I see it almost the opposite way. In that John is the one who initiated this investigation of his town (granted, the focus changed, but I still feel like the impetus was that he wanted to be heard) whereas Richard Simmons seems to be actively doing everything he can to not draw attention to himself right now. Also, Richard Simmons is alive, so the podcast actually impacts him in a real way.

      I had the same thought re: John's relatives, because I do think that what you do with someone's story impacts their loved ones. Except that here I didn't feel like it did so much, because his mom didn't seem very in touch with things and no one else seemed to care (heartbreaking). But that's my assumption!

      I guess I see the consent like this - Richard Simmons essentially granted consent for many, many years to many, many people, letting them into his life. But for whatever reason, he decided to withdraw his consent and I feel like it was well established that he did it of his own volition, so it should be respected. Past consent doesn't imply current consent, etc. John B. is trickier for me because he actively sought out Brian Reed, wanting him to do a story about his town. He didn't expect that he would end up being the lens through which we look at the town (would he have been okay with this? I have no idea, so I have to trust that Brian, who knew John better, believes he would have). So I see that as him giving consent, and then maybe he would have withdrawn that consent if he saw how the story progressed, but we don't really have a way of knowing. All this is just the way I see it, of course. Without the subjects actually telling us whether they're cool with it, there's no way of knowing. So interesting, though.

    5. With respect to S-Town, John B asked Brian not to share the name of the man with whom he had a relationship, as he was married and not out, and Brian respected that wish. John B didn't request that the whole conversation about the relationship in general be off the record, from what I understood of that episode. It seems he spoke willingly about his sexual orientation, at least a bit. I think that's it clear that John B spoke on the record about a whole lot of things that went far beyond the story that he initially contacted Brian about, and so it must have been apparent to him that the story was taking another turn. Perhaps he wouldn't have consented to the story had he lived, but as Brian says, John B was an atheist and must have accepted that what is said after his death can't affect him. But yes, so many interesting questions about to what extent people should be able to control their personal information after death, particularly when family may be impacted in a way that wasn't really relevant for John. I did find the narrative kind of frustrating in the end. I love story telling, and TAL does this well, but once the story deviated from its initial place, I would have loved to hear from Brian why they chose to continue it. I don't think they ever explained how John affected him or why he thought it warranted sharing.

  3. Death, Sex, and Money (every episode is great) and The Longest, Shortest Time (even though I'm not a parent).

  4. Probably old news, but Stuff You Should Know! Fun way to learn about everything under the sun and the guys are really funny. (I may or may not have a huge crush on Josh Clark because of this show.)

  5. If your podcast time isn't meant to be a moment away from politics, I am really enjoying the crooked media pods - especially Pod Saves America - and David Axelrod's Axe Files. I also second Death, Sex and Money. I find it works best for me not to subscribe and just to download episodes that intrigue me so my list doesn't get too long and I stay interested.

  6. I love food podcasts! Radio Cherry Bomb, Burnt Toast (food 52) Spilled Milk, and a Taste of the Past. I got into podcasts when I used to have a job with a ridiculous amount of drive time. I'm hooked. Oh! The Story collider, which is like The Moth but specifically science stories.

  7. I also tried to listen to My Favorite Murder-my daughter just raves about it but it wasn't for me. Way too much chatter.

  8. My current favorites:
    • How I Built This
    • Pod Save America
    • Happier with Gretchen Rubin
    • The Nerdist
    • Criminal

    And I loved S-Town.

  9. So, this comments gets to be about both S-Town and what podcasts I'm adoring. I think there's a place for podcasts like S-Town or Missing Richard Simmons, but that these also need critical cultural conversations about them, so that we have context and we understand not only the intent of the producers or the people being interviewed, but also culturally what are the driving forces behind the ideas presented.

    So, enter stage right, Still Processing. It's the NYTimes culture podcast, and the hosts are absolutely delightful and they delve into these issues, across all types of media. It's a great way to feel caught up culturally without having to listen or watch everything! Plus, it's turned me on to some really great films!


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