Does anyone but me feel crushing anxiety when I don’t post a blog for a while?
Okay. That’s fine.
Consider this proof of life and let’s move on, friends.
I was looking through all the little nibbly bits of starts of blogs that have stacked up, and I noticed that a bunch of them are about podcasts, so I figured I’d just squish them all together like chunks of mini blog play dough. Why not? What the hell?
One of these days I’ll get a complete thought or two from brain to paper, I swear. I have further rambly thoughts on a couple of these, and they deserve their own posts when I get my shit together. Soon, my monkeys, soon.
Meanwhile, here you go. Podcastapalooza? Podstravaganza? Podcastrophe? Yes, I think Podcastrophe.
Part the first:
Alice Isn’t Dead from Night Vale Presents
At its basest elements, this is a show about a road trip. Road trip stories are, often, escapism stories, stories about people running from something when they think they’re running to something else. But, being made by the same lovely weirdos who brought us Welcome to Night Vale, the batshit hits the fan so quickly with this one I can’t wrap my head around some of the more lit major-y storytelling elements.
Briefly: Our unnamed narrator has lost her wife, Alice, under circumstances that are never made perfectly clear. She figures out that Alice had been leading some sort of double life and she decides to get to the bottom of it. Because nobody likes being lied to by the person they trust most in the world, obviously. Following all the clues, which are many and strange, she ends up getting a job driving for a shady trucking company in order to retrace Alice’s inexplicable movements and get in her head a bit. Running a trucking company is a genius move, by the way, if good or bad guys are trying to get clandestine shit done sneakily in plain sight. Being the show that it is coming from the brain that it does, we are soon confronted with monsters, conspiracies, phantom towns where time stands still, crazy hitchhikers with little regard for the laws of both man and physics, and, all the while, a deep dive into the special kind of angry, nihilistic mourning that comes with widowhood. Luckily for us, she talks to herself (or to Alice? Or to us? I’m not sure) and records all of it. It’s like a one-woman black box play, very claustrophobic somehow, even when reality occasionally breaks in. This is rare, and leads to much “I have to explain/recap what just happened,” which is annoying but as a plot structure I get it and its limitations. It’s worth it.
It’s not really relevant to the plot at all, but just as a side note I’d like to say that it’s nice to see LGBT characters being normal people who aren’t there as a token or caricature. The writers don’t make a thing of it at all, much as with Cecil and Carlos in Welcome to Night Vale, and I dig that. It’s about damn time.
Anyway, a total rabbit hole, this podcast. I highly recommend.
Part the second:
Within the Wires from Night Vale Presents
Also in the Welcome to Night Vale family, Within the Wires is equally weird. Maybe even weirder. I hesitate to use the word “spinoff” for either Alice Isn’t Dead or Within the Wires, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they inhabited nooks and crannies of the same fucked up universe.
Is it our universe? Or another universe? Or a connected universe? Who can say? Does it matter?
I can’t even sum up Within the Wires. I can describe it, but that feels lacking. Anyway, I shall do my best: each episode sounds like a guided meditation. You know. “Feel your breath move through your body, be conscious of the space around you” kind of stuff. But there is quite a lot of weird shit going on. It’s an interesting format. One gets the impression that the recordings (ostensibly on cassette, which is anachronistic, but whatever) are being made for a patient/prisoner on some sort of locked ward where they (who may or may not be you, listening) are being studied/held captive/experimented on. I feel like there’s a breakout plot afoot, perhaps. The voice keeps dropping hints about when the cameras are pointed where and repeating the layouts of hallways and whatnot. I also feel like this might be a kind of dystopian society, because the voice says things like “after age ten we have no family” and “when we were allowed to feel things” and “do you remember how to survive without the institution?”. I haven’t put all the pieces together yet. I still have a couple of episodes left to listen to, though, so I’ll keep you posted.
I have only ever encountered a few situations where the reader/listener/viewer is forced into participating by the use of the second person point of view. I don’t appreciate it on principle, it makes me feel icky and used, but when it’s done well it can occasionally rock one’s socks off (I’m looking at you, Tom Robbins). That aside, I dig Within the Wires. It confuses me in the most delightful way.
Part the third:
The Guest DJ Project from KCRW
Obviously if you’ve read this blog more than once you know that I have much to say on the subjects of both music and myself in the 1990s, and often those two things intersect in important (to me) ways. I have more than once been called a nostalgia junkie. However, the successful creation of a satisfactory autobiographical playlist still eludes me. It will probably be a lifelong quest, and when I die, you bastards better play the whole thing at a raging kegger. It may take a few days. Be prepared.
Anyway, that’s the point of The Guest DJ Project, on a smaller scale. It’s very simple: all sorts of interesting people sit down with a five-song playlist and talk us through why those songs are meaningful or beautiful or beloved or underrated. Clearly five is the only number that will work in this context (that is a very weak High Fidelity joke and if you don’t get it, you are hereby sentenced to watch every John Cusack movie ever made, it is so ordered). I like this show because it gives surprising little glimpses into the lives of actors, writers, musicians, scientists, and tons of other artsy weirdos. And now I have a huge list of bands I want to check out. Like I have time for that shit.
Part the fourth:
The News from Lake Wobegon from Prairie Home Companion
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. It’s one of those old people shows, one of those painfully NPR shows. You can feel the ghosts of pledge drives and tote bags past all around you whenever it’s on. But whatever. I like it. And Garrison Keillor has retired now, which I feel might be a rarity these days. Don’t famous people just die? Who’s the last famous person you heard of retiring to go be old and fat and happy? Much respect. So, I listened to his last episode and got sucked into a vortex of Midwestern storytelling charm for a few days listening to the back catalog and I have to say I loved every second of it. I’ve always liked Prairie Home Companion, but Lake Wobegon is my favorite part. There’s something more honest about it, more appealing than the vaudevillian bits (although I also quite dig Guy Noir, he reminds me of Eddie from Roger Rabbit for some reason). Maybe it’s because I have so many friends who are dyed-in-the-wool Midwesterners, and that gossipy kind-heartedness is comfortable for me. Or maybe it’s because it’s summer. There’s something about the way he talks about the weather that gives me all the feels. When I lived in California we had six months of rain and six months of frying pan heat, and I really, truly missed spring and fall. I couldn’t listen to him talk about the changing leaves or the lovely chill in the air or the ice melting or the crocuses. I just couldn’t. It made me sad. It was unbearable. Funny the things that make you homesick when someone’s not even talking about your home. Also, I like that the town of Lake Wobegon itself is the most important character. The feel of it, the mindset of the people there, the humor, they all make it seem like a Mayberry-type unattainable utopia where nothing really bad (or outlandishly bad, I should say – people die and get divorced and whatnot but that’s just life) ever happens and for my jaded, cynical, 24-hour news cycle-addled brain that’s soothing, you know? It is what it is.
Part the fifth:
Hello from the Magic Tavern by Arnie Niekamp
So, this one’s a bit of a weirdo. Basically, this gentleman fell through a portal behind a Burger King (what was he doing back there? Doesn’t he know that dumpsters are gross and crackheads lurk in the shadows like cockroaches behind those sorts of places?) into a fantasy-type realm. You know it’s fantasy because I said “realm.” They’ve got magic and wizards and dark lords and talking plants and all kinds of nonsense. With the little available wifi still coming through from the Burger King he decided to record and upload a podcast from the local watering hole, the Vermillion Minotaur, in which he interviews local luminaries and other interesting folken. It’s silly and hilarious and defies all logic. Any questions about our world or technology or cultural misunderstandings are met with a firm “I don’t want to talk about Earth stuff” from Arnie, and I’m totally satisfied with that. I still haven’t figured out how much of the show is scripted and how much is just these people riffing off of each other, but they’re funny enough that it doesn’t matter. For sure this should go in your earholes posthaste if you’re into dumb fantasy comedy, a genre that is shockingly sparse and should have more stuff in it.
That is all the parts! Go forth and listen, friends. Happy fresh time suck to all of you! You are welcome.