If poetry makes nothing happen, it also makes very little in the way of income. Take the acclaimed poet Bernadette Mayer. Often aligned with the Language Poets, Mayer overcame entrenched sexism to establish herself as one of the most influential poets of her generation. At 73, she’s still producing work. And yet she only made about $17,000 last year. That’s hardly enough to live on, even after Mayer and her partner moved out of New York City. Tech moguls like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk talk a...more
What happens when the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves turn out to be wrong? And what if the attempt to shape our life stories to fit some formulaic narrative arc fundamentally distorts them? Could different narrative forms tell more honest stories? Or do all narratives falsify reality in their own way? Three artists suggest new ways forward for narrative storytelling and making sense of the world. Maggie Nelson seeks to write stories that, in place of a traditional plot, instead reflec...more
Buck Gooter is quite possibly the hardest-working band you’ve never heard of. Since forming in 2005, the band has logged 18 albums and 531 live shows. Their latest, Finer Thorns, just came out. But they’ve never had a hit, never been reviewed by Pitchfork. A punk duo from Harrisonburg, Virginia, Buck Gooter is Billy Brett, 33, and Terry Turtle, 66. On paper, they’re an odd couple, separated as they are by a generation and change. But on stage, they’ve formed a tight and incredibly productive mus...more
[Explicit language] In 2017, David Lynch’s metaphysical detective soap opera Twin Peaks returned to cable television screens 26 years after its network cancellation. Most of the original characters resurfaced, but in several cases, either those characters or the actors playing them—or both—were dying. Over its 18 new episodes, this specter of commingled on- and off-screen mortality became as much the substance of the show as the narrative of mysteries, disappearances, violence, slapstick, romanc...more
On this week’s Organist, two stories about the surprising intimacy of anonymity. In the first, thousands of people sign up for a service, created by artist and programmer Max Hawkins, which wakes up thousands strangers with a phone call in the middle of the night then pairs them up at random and records their conversations. The vulnerability of that moment, and the anonymity of having a sleepy and total stranger on the end of the line, leads to recordings of astonishing intimacy. One night, a fi...more
If you’ve lived in L.A. anytime in the last thirty years, you know Angelyne. She’s the blonde bombshell on the billboards that used to be studded like rhinestones all over the city. Angelyne rose to prominence in the ‘80s, and she was a mashup of elements from the pantheon of Hollywood starlets: platinum hair, an hourglass figure, and a breathy, cooing voice. But Instead of a movie or a TV show or an album, Angelyne’s billboards just advertised herself. A ninth-grader named Kate Wolf interviewed...more
This week we bring you dogs, many of them. So many dogs that you can’t possibly scratch the soft fur behind all of their ears or gently caress the scruff of all of their necks or pat all of their bellies when they climb onto your lap and roll over prone for your affection. To investigate the connection between humans and canis familiaris, we talk with acclaimed character actor Bob Balaban, who you’ve seen in dozens of movies and TV shows including Best in Show, Close Encounters of the Third Kind...more
Recalling the experimental films of David Lynch or Andrei Tarkovsky, Chris Reynolds’s comic books, newly anthologized as The New World, confound his readers’ expectations at every turn. In these dream-like narratives, Reynolds twists the trope of a space-helmeted comic-book hero into an uncanny figure. Comic-book plotlines, including kidnappings and interplanetary travel, dissipate as the story shifts to focus instead on ominous silences, images of weirdly depopulated cityscapes, and the mysteri...more
Temple Grandin, an animal scientist and autism advocate, describes how she uses sound to make cattle slaughterhouses more humane. Journalist Bella Bathurst describes how she lost her hearing while conducting interviews with the last generation of Scottish lighthouse keepers and then how it felt, twelve years later, to regain it. Along the way, we’ll listen deeply to ABBA and the Beach Boys and hear an excerpt from Alexander Provan’s experimental essay/soundscape/bildungsroman Measuring Device wi...more
This week we visit the shady glen where language and music make out with each other, in a field surrounded by phonemes, intonation, and the throw-away vocables of human expression. What’s important here isn’t what we say, but how we say it. We talk with artists working at the boundary between language and music: the composer Kate Soper, the poet Jeremy Sigler, and the drummer Milford Graves.
This week, we explore how artists navigate disease, how disease can be both a stigma and an identity, and how artists both resist and embrace that identity even as it comes to define their work. We’ll listen to the audio diaries of multimedia artist David Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992. We’ll also hear from author Sandy Allen, whose uncle Bob, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, mailed them a manuscript of the “true story” of his life, which Sandy has translated into a new book, A Kind of...more
This week we explore two beliefs that persist in the absence of proof. In a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, Donald Glover made comments linking him to a community known as “Stevie truthers,” conspiracy theorists who believe that Stevie Wonder is faking his own blindness. When Glover asks Wonder for permission to use one of his songs on his TV show Atlanta, he wonders how Stevie will be able to watch the episode—but Wonder’s work in soundtracks goes back to 1979, when he scored the New Age doc...more
Wendy Davis’s epic thirteen-hour filibuster made the Texas legislature’s livestream into a viral sensation. But Jen Rice, our producer in Austin, argues that beyond these viral scenes, its season-length, character-driven plot arcs make the Texas legislature—or as die-hard fans call it, “the Lege”—every bit the equal of prestige-television staples like Game of Thrones or Mad Men. In her recap of the 85th Texas legislative session, Jen brings us the escalating rivalries, tearful monologues, fighti...more
This week, two stories from the borderlands of the U.S. First, the story of poet Javier Zamora. When he was nine, he crossed the Sonoran Desert into the U.S. to reunite with his family, who had left home before him in order to escape the political violence in El Salvador. Years later, Zamora found a way to process this childhood trauma by writing furious, luminous poetry. In this interview, he describes indelible images from his border-crossing—guns, dogs, crawling through tunnels, conflicted bo...more
After the death of Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Franz Wright in 2015, his wife Beth gave producer Bianca Giaever 546 audio tapes that he made as he was dying. Unable to type because of pain in his wrists, Franz used an audio recorder to dictate his poetry, but it picked up much more: Franz talked with his wife, made phone calls, cursed at his cat, and fantasized about the first human to ever speak. Franz was known in the poetry world as a genius and a lunatic. His father was James Wright, who won...more
This week we bring you voices from heaven, hell, and everywhere in between. In documentary films, the authoritative “Voice of God” style of narration presents a seemingly omniscient, impartial, deep-voiced male narrator. No one has had more practice with the role than Peter Coyote, best known as the narrator of Ken Burns’ documentaries (The West, The Roosevelts, The National Parks). Here, Coyote gives a master class on the major differences in meaning that arise from tiny shifts in register, pul...more
From KCRW and McSweeney’s, the Organist returns with its fifth season on July 12! We’ll be drilling down into pop culture to reveal its dark, beautiful, pulsating inner-core to bring you funny, sad, and surprising stories about the complex ideas and feelings behind the artists and thinkers that we adore. We’ll visit gutter punks and Pulitzer Prize–winners, we’ll talk to a poet who crossed the Sonoran Desert into the U.S. at nine years old, and a writer who traveled the entirety of the US-Canada ...more
The Organist is still in off-season hibernation, but we emerge for a moment in order to showcase KCRWâ€™s newest podcast: Lost Notes. In this episode, writer Donnell Alexander examines the racial politics of a strange chapter of early 80s pop-music history. To white America, Bostonâ€™s music scene was synonymous with the hard rock of Aerosmith and J. Geils Band. But alongside rock and roll was a vital tradition of talent shows in Bostonâ€™s Roxbury neighborhood which birthed the careers of Donna...more
Between 1967 and 1975, the Firesign Theatre put out nine albums that carved out a new space somewhere between comedy, sound art, literature, and rock and roll. The music critic Robert Christgau called them “a comedy group that uses the recording studio at least as brilliantly as any rock group.” In this episode, we focus not on how those albums were made, but how they were heard. From teenage house parties to soldiers’ barracks in Vietnam, the Firesign Theatre infiltrated thousands of American h...more
After King Kreon condemns her brother, a traitor, to rot on the battlefield, Antigone defies him, risking her own life, to give her brother a proper burial. This week, we present poet Anne Carson’s experimental translation of Sophocles’ play, an adaptation that incorporates within it 2,500 years of the play’s reception history, its performances (from Brecht to Vichy France), its interpretations (from Hegel to Judith Butler), and starring artist Margaux Williamson as Antigone. Many thanks to Anne...more
In the early 90s, when Meshell Ndegeocello released Plantation Lullabies, her first album, she helped to usher in the era of neo-soul. Her debut inspired a slew of artists such as Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Lauryn Hill. On later albums, Ndegeocello went on to experiment with silky jazz ballads, staccato rapping, quiet meditations—all of it led by the fat, undeniable groove of her bass playing. But even as she began to work with the energy of rock and the introspection of folk, her sound remained...more
This week, weâ€™re sharing a highly subjective journey through one narrow, eccentric, corridor of radio advertising, as heard through the ears of one man. His name is Clive Desmond. Clive is a radio advertising producer, writer, and composer. Heâ€™s been doing it for more than thirty years, and heâ€™s won some of the industryâ€™s top awards. Through those years heâ€™s been sort of a zelig figure: you can find his face somewhere in the margins of every one of the mediumâ€™s key aesthetic revoluti...more
This week, we pull out the stops and go full-Organist with an episode about Ákos Rózmann, an organist serving a Catholic church in Stockholm who played hymns during the day and by night invented unearthly electronic music in the recording studio he’d built in the church basement (where he often slept). It was there that he composed his roiling experimental six-hour-long composition 12 Stations—a sonic journey from hell to heaven, which emerged from the personal trauma of his childhood in Nazi-oc...more
As an artist, Martine Syms says she’s interested in how her experience—in particular, her experience as a young black woman—gets shaped and determined by various forms of media—especially digital media. She’s interested in the power of that media—not just the obvious power of those who produce it, but the ways in which reading and consuming can also be acts of power. One of Syms’s best-known projects is a critique of Afrofuturism, the artistic movement that explores and imagines the intersection...more
Warm yourself beneath an underpass of the information superhighway! Brian McMullen reads all one thousand of his epic catalog of unclaimed URLs in this special appendix to our recent episode, magnificentwebsite.com, which explored the disassembly of one’s public persona and internet-induced bewilderment. Brian has worked as an editor, art director, and designer for McSweeney’s, BOMB, Grantland, Cabinet, and Lucky Peach. With his wife Katie, he operates a small clothing company called Pantalaine,...more
Has the internet documented everything? This week we explore its lacunae and unmoderated chat rooms and the ways we might slip away from the public identities we create online and in the media. Joshua Cohen, author of Moving Kings and Book of Numbers, writes a novel live online, each word as he types it visible to the spectators of a raucous unmoderated chatroom funneling Reddit-grade hate speech into the margins of the author’s screen as he types, completing the novel in just five days. MF Doom...more
Caveh Zahedi conflates reality TV, experimental documentary, and discomfort comedy in unsettling high-stakes films about his own life. In each episode of his TV project The Show about the Show, the actors and crew recreate the conflicts, interpersonal dramas, and unwittingly shared secrets that occurred during the filming of the previous episode. Each level takes us further behind the performance, landing the viewer deep inside the eccentric mind of Caveh himself. With an oddly life-affirming ho...more
Note: this episode contains salty and/or strong language. Listener discretion is advised. Anne Thompson rented a billboard along Interstate 70 in Missouri to put up an artwork that says “Keep Abortion Legal.” Anne runs the I-70 Sign Show, a project that, since 2014, has displayed the work of artists including Ed Ruscha, Marilyn Minter, and Mickalene Thomas along a stretch of highway that runs across the state of Missouri. Though Anne wasn’t initially interested in addressing politics through the...more
This week we talk to two artists who see themselves as detectives. Trevor Paglen has designed sculptures for the Fukushima Exclusion Zone, as well as art that’s been launched into geostationary orbit. His photographs of secret military bases (taken at long range, using equipment made for astronomers) appeared in the Academy Award–winning documentary Citizenfour. We spoke with him about how to care for one’s personal digital hygiene in the age of surveillance. To document torture, mass executions...more
Horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, best known for Cthulhu, an octopus-faced cosmic entity, has long inspired obsessive fandom and his short stories, in the hundred years since they were first published, have influenced a wide range of figures, including William Burroughs, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, the makers of the Alien movies and the game Dungeons & Dragons, to name but a few. In Lovecraft’s cosmology, the human mind is incapable of comprehending the full psychic horror of reality and either must...more
Will Marlon Brando’s anguished shout from A Streetcar Named Desire survive as a cultural meme long after Brando himself is forgotten? Will the Stella scream become an enduring cultural reference in the vein of Shakespeare’s quotations? In 2011, essayist Elena Passarello won New Orleans’ annual Stella scream competition by channelling Brando’s abject bawling. This week we speak with her about screams, cries, and the full range of the human voice. How does the body play into the sound of our voice...more
If each episode of a podcast is an organ, an essential piece of a larger body, then this is an appendix to that body: a non-essential but still uniquely formed bonus episode. In it you’ll hear a hypnotic induction as performed and scored by the hypnotherapist Daniel Ryan. Ryan was featured on the Organist last week in our episode about the relationship between our bodies, our minds, and sound. One last note— it’s probably best if you stop operating heavy machinery while you’re listening to this ...more
How does music resemble food? How can sound work like medicine? To treat chronic digestive pain, producer Ross Simonini tried everything until visiting hypnotherapist Daniel Ryan, who uses only the sound of his voice through a technique shared by orators, monks, musicians, parents—and magician David Blaine. We also learn about the psychoacoustics of lawn sprinklers with Susan Rogers, a sound engineer who’s recorded albums for David Byrne, Barenaked Ladies, Tricky, and, most famously, Prince’s al...more
This week, we voyage deep into outer space for a story that’s funny, strange, somewhat erotic and a little depressing. It’s a science-fiction outer space radio drama featuring Martin Starr (Silicon Valley, Freaks and Geeks), Matt Bush (Adventureland), and Lilan Bowden (Parks and Recreation). It’s part of a series called The Outer Reach, directed and produced by Nick White. In it, Leon and Michael are the only residents of The Topiary—a tiny tourist planet near the edge of the galaxy, lush with e...more
In New Orleans, Will Oldham, Solange Knowles, and five-year-old children have all played a (mega-) phone booth, the “self-rattling house,” and a vocal processor that mimics the experience of neighbors talking through walls. Each of these homemade instruments is part of Music Box Village, a project that turns architecture—in the form of a sprawling complex of makeshift buildings—into an investigation of sound, but it also returns performers to the intuitive composition and experimentation of firs...more
Ottessa Moshfegh’s books are menacing and powerful; they’re filled with intimate descriptions of bodily fluids and bowel movements, but, like Flannery O’Connor, they also cut deep into the psychic substrata of her characters. In this week’s episode, Moshfegh discusses her process of writing these books—which apparently involves visitations from the paranormal. Last year Moshfegh was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for her novel Eileen, which is a story about a woman desperately seeking the...more
In an era of fake news and alternative facts, what is the role of literature that blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction? Novelist Lynne Tillman has figured out one possible role. She’s been writing art criticism for more than three decades, including criticism starring a fictional character named Madame Realism—a name that is itself a retort to the way women artists were marginalized and made invisible within the Surrealist movement. Tillman’s Madam Realism stories encompass not only ar...more
Humor lays the groundwork for a hard truth and, for poet Tommy Pico, that hard truth is about living as an indigenous person in occupied America. "Alien invasion overlord movies / r cute in a Monet way,” he writes. “I survive seven generations into a post-apocalyptic America / that started 1492. Maybe / you'll live too?" There are, he says, just a few images of Native Americans that have filtered into mainstream culture: the noble savage, the squaw, the horseback warrior, and the sad Indian, “wh...more
In 1921, the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach, after years of experimenting with different ways to use his artistic interests to expand the potential of psychoanalysis, created a series of inkblot drawings that reveal the unconscious mechanisms of a patient’s brain. Six months later, he died, just before the inkblot test became an international phenomenon. Since then, Rorschach’s inkblot test has become pop-cultural shorthand for both Freudian psychology and the depths of the human mind. It ...more
The novelist and countercultural icon Paul Bowles -- author of The Sheltering Sky, friend to William Burroughs, Gertrude Stein, and Tennessee Williams, and husband of the brilliant writer Jane Bowles -- lived in Tangier from 1947 until his death fifty-two years later. In 1959, he received a grant from the Library of Congress to â€œpreserveâ€ the music of Morocco. He set off in a VW bug (with his two driving companions, a Moroccan and a Canadian), laden with a massive Ampex tape recorder, bottles...more
William Bell never became a household name. His debut single, the one he wrote and recorded the year that Satellite Records changed their name to Stax, barely cracked the Top 100 chart. That song, "You Don't Miss Your Water," worked out a bit better for Bell's friend Otis Redding, and for a band called The Byrds. That's more or less the same story as "Born Under a Bad Sign," the song he cowrote with Booker T. Jones, which got covered by Cream and pretty much every blues rock band since 1968. Bel...more
Kyle Mooney grew up in San Diego, and many of his characters resemble hilariously contradictory and authentic depressive SoCal bros and antisocial, tenderhearted high school goths. In this interview, he talks about the deep YouTube research he does to produce the perfectly pitched homemade videos he makes for Saturday Night Live. Also: David J, the bassist from Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, recounts an uncanny encounter with David Bowie, where a single harmonica line spans the ages, from a jukeb...more
A man screams â€œwhy are you closed? Tell us the reason!â€ over and over as he rattles a pair of locked doors outside a Toronto shopping mall. Klaus Kinski berates the officiant at his own wedding while he lavishes a disturbing amount of affection on his bride. A clean-cut guy in glasses beatboxes the entire drum part of Rushâ€™s â€œYYZ.â€ The Tumblr Weird Dude Energy is singularly devoted to collecting the most inexplicable male behavior on the internet. Itâ€™s funny, and itâ€™s weird, but if y...more
Louis Chude-Sokei is a Nigerian-Jamaican- American writer and scholar at the University of Seattle, Washington. In this episode, he discusses the music culture surrounding Nigeria’s internet scammers (known as “Yahoozees”), his own experience as a black immigrant in Los Angeles’ Inglewood neighborhood during the era of NWA, and the way blackface performance is perceived outside the U.S. He’s the author of The Last Darky: Bert Williams, Black-on- Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (Duke U...more
Adam Colman examines the brutalist yearning of legendary punk band the Ramones and uncovers the rigorous curiosity that serves as the guiding principle for the scientific method. Then, Ross Simonini talks to musician and writer Sonny Smith (Sonny and the Sunsets) about his new album, "Moods Baby Moods." Smith performs two songs from the album, describes how he is able to use drawings and comics to write songs (and vice versa), and laments the modern age. Photo credit: Flashback
Craig Dykers is a founding partner of Snøhetta, whose projects include the expansion of San Francisco’s Modern Art museum, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, and the redesign of Times Square. In these projects and others, Dykers and his team contend with an invisible challenge all architects must face: acoustics. In his conversation with the Organist, Dykers argues that proper acoustics can lower your blood pressure, speed up or slow down your movement through a space, and even encourage gent...more
A lot of artists under the age of 30 find it natural to promote themselves and their work online. But the Bay Area rapper Lil B, and Steve Roggenbuck, in conversation with each other on this episode, both put social media at the center of their art. Their work lives and expands online, in an ceaseless stream of tweets and self-produced YouTube videos. Both artists communicate constantly with their fans, who speak to each other in the specialized idioms of their respective communities: Lil B’s fo...more
Christopher Owens is an American singer/songwriter best-known as the frontman for the recently disbanded San-Francisco indie-rock band Girls—and for his curious backstory, which features both a fundamentalist cult and an eccentric Texan multimillionaire. Since his departure from Girls, Owens has been recording music independently, attempting through his more recent writing to confront in reflection the realities of his childhood. In this episode, recorded live at The Organist’s first podcast eve...more
Free Black Press Radio, a new podcast by the avant-garde rapper Busdriver, is half lecture on the history of black resistance, and half freewheeling entropic swirl of cut-up Pharoah Sanders riffs. FBPR expands what's possible in the emerging podcast form, while also hearkening back to programs like Radio Free Dixie by the civil rights leader Robert F. Williams. Toni Morrison once said that good writing shouldn't be "harangue passing off as art," but Free Black Press Radio (and its civil-rights-e...more
Since the early 2000s, Joshua Beckman has experimented with nature of performing poetry. He has traveled with gangs of poets around the country in a bus, reading in far-flung and unusual venues. He has written live improvisational collaborative poems and recently has given many one-on-one poetry readings. In this episode of The Organist, Ross Simonini speaks toÂ Beckman about the way he reads and writes his poetry aloud, his favorite poetry recordings,Â and the many poetsâ€”Lew Welch, Frank O'Ha...more
David Shields’s new book got his publisher sued by the New York Times. Then his publisher sued Shields. But the fair-use questions surrounding these lawsuits aren’t even the most controversial aspects of the book. War Is Beautiful gathers sixty-four color combat photos that appeared on the front page of the New York Times between 1997 and 2013, and many of the photos are, despite their subject matter, quite beautiful. We see a US military convoy driving through a luminous orange sandstorm in Ira...more
Since the early â€˜90s, Graham Lambkin has created music that pushes the song form to its limits, using noise, samples, spoken word, and any sound that has the good fortune of finding its way into his field recorder. In this â€œListening Historyâ€ episode of The Organist, Lambkin discusses some of the songs that formed his sensibility, from experimental UK postpunk to the a recording of his family listening to Italian prog rock on a road trip through Britain.
Bina Rothblatt sat down at a computer and typed in her memories and thoughts and likes and dislikes for several days. Scientists at Hanson Robotics then took this “mind-file” she’d made and used it to create Bina48: a head-and-shoulders cyborg that appears to have many of the same memories and preferences as the “real” Bina, along with some unique fears and ideas of her own. The Organist sent Lois Parshley to the stifling garage in rural Vermont where Bina48 sits perched on a desk to talk with h...more
Located in a narrow alley in Lower Manhattan inside what used to be the ground floor of a freight elevator shaft, Alex Kalman’s Mmuseumm operates in a space that is almost as understated as the objects it exhibits. Kalman gives Rob Walker a guided tour through the exhibitions on display, which include homemade gas masks, KFC corsages, and a delicately detailed taxonomy of cornflakes. Banner Image Credit: Alex Kalman / Mmuseumm
Todayâ€™s story is about a family business that sells nothing. Alan Zorthian and his daughter, Caroline, are the owners and operators of Zorthian Ranch. Itâ€™s hard to say what their jobs actually are â€“ other than being Zorthians. Alanâ€™s father, the artist Jirayr Zorthian, built the ranch more than seventy years ago. It resembles a sprawling village built of out of driftwood and washing machines, perched on the northeastern edge of L.A., beyond Pasadena and Altadena, over a wobbly bridge and...more
After more than two dozen books ranging from the history of philosophy to David Bowie, Simon Critchley has written his first novel, which connects the Renaissance mnemonic device called memory palace to, among other things, pop songs. For The Organist, Critchley provides a guided tour through the pop music that constructs his life’s memories, offering reflections on Nietzsche, krautrock, Obama, and Swedish synth-pop along the way.
Jenny Slate (SNL, Obvious Child, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On) reads Lena Dunham’s Erotic Male Jewish Comedian Fan Fiction. We also catch up with the legendary undercover NYPD whistleblower Frank Serpico (played by Al Pacino in the classic 1973 biopic) and Sarah Vowell offers a new definition of “the fog of war.” Produced by Jenny Ament and Jenna Weiss-Berman.
In this original radio drama written by Lena Dunham and performed by Dunham with Jack Antonoff, going insane and going straight to voicemail are intimately linked. NOTE: This episode contains explicit content. CREDITS: Written by Lena Dunham. Performed by Lena Dunham and Jack Antonoff. Produced by Jenna Weiss- Berman. Music by Andrew Dost.
Christopher Knowles is often described as autistic, and his relationship to language is repetitive, humorous, and singular. He has worked with the theater director Robert Wilson and compose Philip Glass to write and perform massive, influential 20th century stage works including Einstein on the Beach and The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin. Knowles is also a visual artist; his paintings are currently on display in his first retrospective, at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. He...more
Scott McClanahan is from West Virginia, which accounts for his twang, and also for his love/hate relationship with the American South. In his 2013 memoir, Crapalachia, McClanahan tells his origin story, growing up in the backwoods of the South. McClanahan is a lovable nihilist when he discusses his writing, as producer Eliza Smith discovered when she spoke with Scott about his work for the Organist. This episode also features â€œThe Firestarter,â€ one of McClanahanâ€™s short stories that Smith a...more
Robert Kensinger moved to L.A. in the late 70's. He was hoping to make it as a film director after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. He stumbled into a job as a personal assistant to the legendary actor, writer, and director Orson Welles. Kensinger worked for Welles off and on for several years before he left to write scripts for indie producer Roger Corman. Then he carved out a long career as a set decorator on many studio films. People tend to think of Orson Welles as inactive...more
The legendary polymath broadcaster Studs Terkel hosted a radio show on Chicago's WFMT for 45-years, interviewing an astonishing range of artists, thinkers, workers, and activists. The writer and publisher (and prolific interviewer in his own right) JC Gabel dips into Terkel's massive archive to highlight three moments where Terkel stumbles sidelong into moments of sublime illumination, including arm-wrestling with Zero Mostel, sparring with Muhammad Ali, and impromptu guerrilla street theater wi...more
Barbara Maier Gustern is an 80-year-old classically trained singer in New York City. She teaches singing lessons out of her two-bedroom apartment in Chelsea. For decades, she’s taught a wide range of singers: Argentinian and opera singers, aspiring cantors, the Grammy-nominated vocalist Roseanna Vitro. But she’s become a favorite among the edgy and powerful voices of New York’s downtown queer, performance and rock scenes: Her students include Debbie Harry, Taylor Mac, Justin Vivian Bond, John Ke...more
Writer Hua Hsu on the mystifying genius of the great New York hip-hop group Mobb Deep, the genius of obsessive German hip-hop fans on the Internet, and the unfathomable, haunting piano loop that connects them. Photo courtesy Mobb Deep
Archivist, educator and filmmaker Rick Prelinger has a remarkable eye for the unexpected value of ephemera. A massive collection of educational and industrial films he collected under the auspices of the Prelinger Archives was acquired by the Library of Congress, and with his wife, Megan Prelinger, he co-founded the Prelinger Library in San Francisco, stuffed with printed material youâ€™d be unlikely to find elsewhere. More recently heâ€™s been working with old home movies â€” thousands of them,...more
We unearth two gems from season one of the Organist: a funny and strange interview with the funny and strange songwriter and artist Devendra Banhart, followed by "Old-News Summary" with novelist Sam Lipsyte.Â CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE. Image courtesyÂ Devendra Banhart
The wildly, diversely prolific artist Miranda July discusses her earliest, rarely seen punk plays, her radio work in the 90s, and her brand-new novel. CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE. Banner Image Credit: Miranda July
An exploration into the Aeolian tones of field recording, an art which uses contact microphones to summon alien compositions from the depths of seemingly benign ponds, bridges, and fence-posts. Produced by Lawrence Dunn.
The Baltimore-based electronic duo Matmos break down the process behind a song from their last record, revealing cut-up ping-pong blindfolds, looped handcuffs, isolation chambers, and telepathic Ganzfeld experiments. Plus Jenn Wasner, from the band Wye Oak. Photo by Matmos
Photo: Makkos Collection David Weinberg brings us the story of Joseph Makkos, who made a once-in-a-lifetime discovery trolling Craigslist for free stuff. Produced by David Weinberg City on Shoulders New Orleans DNA Mardi Gras, 1925 New Orleans DNA Mardi Gras, 1927 New Orleans DNA TV Radio Number New Orleans DNA From the Chicago Tribune From the NY Tribune From the NY World From the NY World Dolly Dimples Comic, 1914 New Orleans Digital Newspaper Archive
This week, The Organist premieres Funeral for Everyone I Knew, a new radio play by novelist Jesse Ball (The Curfew, Silence Once Begun, etc.) Starring Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) and Whip Hubley (Top Gun), the play follows the dark machinations of a dying man, and his elaborate plans for his own funeral. Photo: Joe Haupt
Drummer Neal Morgan, who has supported Joanna Newsom, Bill Callahan, Robin Pecknold, and others, sat down with Creedence Clearwater Revival's Doug Clifford to dive into ecstatic detail on the arrangement of "Long as I Can See The Light." Photo; Doug Clifford playing in Hamburg, September, 1971 (Heinrich Klaffs)
A greatest-hits compilation from The Organist’s first two years, created for a special holiday broadcast on KCRW, featuring Nick Offerman, David Cross, Sarah Silverman, Jack White, Lena Dunham, Judy Blume, and more!
This week, The Organist interviews the actress Greta Gerwig. Gerwig began acting in the New York film community of the 2000s with films such as Hannah Takes the Stairs and LOL. She has since worked with Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, and Whit Stillman, and continues to lend her voice to the Adult Swim cartoon China, Illinois. On The Organist, Gerwig discusses acting with her voice, her body and how her love of fiction inspires her performances.
Amber Scorah went to Shanghai as a Jehovah's Witness missionary. But in one of the most restrictive, totalitarian countries in the world, for the first time in her life, she found she had the freedom to think. Photo: Andy
Ilse Blansert (aka The WaterwhispersÂ on YouTube) discusses her experiences with ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, a curious, little understood physiological reaction to gentle sounds or "triggers" that provide relief from stress and insomnia. The videos of Blansert and her peers are hugely popular on YouTube and have helped to create a wide, digital community who can now sleep soundly as tingles dance up their spines.
Michael K. WilliamsÂ (aka Omar from The Wire; Chalky from Boardwalk Empire) performs a short radio drama written by the lo-fi blues musician and writer Willis Earl Beal, based on Bealâ€™s experiences as a â€œtriple-fictionalâ€ security guard in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE.
Actor/director/screenwriter Thomas Lennon (The State, Reno 911!, Hell Baby) performs two short monologues written by playwright Nick Jones (Orange Is the New Black, Jollyship the Whiz-Bang) and Blake Butler (300,000,000, There Is No Year).
Interviews with three musicians who suffer from hearing disorders. Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields discusses his hyperacusis, a sensitivity to loud sounds. Chris Johanson of Sun Foot and electronic musician Gobby explore their tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ear. Â CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
A mindbending new radio drama, written by the bestselling novelist and playwright Gordon Dahlquist, finds the connection between artificial intelligence and method acting. Starring Jared Harris (Mad Men), Leo Marks (co-founder, the Elevator Repair Service), and Laura Flanagan (numerous Off-Broadway productions). CREDITS Produced by Ross Simonini, Jenna Weiss-Berman, and Andrew Leland. Special thanks to David Levine for his input in the conception of this piece. Banner Image Credit: Max Barners
To celebrate the release of Lena Dunham's new book Not That Kind of Girl, out this week, we're re-airing a conversation recorded last year between Lena and Judy Blume. To order Lena's book, go here: http://lenadunham.com/ Banner Image: Lena Dunham & Judy Blume. Photo by Jenna Weiss-Berman. CREDITS Produced by Jenna Weiss-Berman, Ross Simonini and Andrew Leland. Thanks to Gary Scott, Jenny Radelet, Melissa Morton, Mario Diaz and Monika Scott.
Tao Lin is the author of the novels Taipei and Shoplifting from American Apparel, among others. For The Organist, Lin discusses his recent novel and reads his work aloud and employs rappers Kool AD and Kitty to read his prose at tongue tying speed for an experiment in reading comprehension. Christian Lorentzen, an editor at the London Review of Books, gives a critical perspective on Lin's work and Kitty provides a mixtape. CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE. CREDITS: Produced by Ross Simonini. The Organis...more
What if your neighbor's dog talks to you a la Son of Sam, except in this case it's just a mild daily annoyance that the neighbor's dog is always commanding you in vain to do horrible things? An original radio drama written by TV writer (Teen Wolf, Hannibal) and novelist (The Girlfriend Game, Fires) Nick Antosca and performed by legendary downtown actor and writer Edgar Oliver. CREDITS Produced by Jenna Weiss-Berman, Whitney Jones, Andrew Leland, and Ross Simonini. Banner Image Credit: Maia C
Peter Mendelsund is an award-winning book designer and the author of What We See When We Read, a phenomenological treatise on the visual art of reading. In this episode of the Organist, Mendelsund discusses the auditory side of reading and the sound of the classic orators of literature, including James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Dylan Thomas. CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE. CREDITS: Produced by Ross Simonini. The Organist is produced by Simonini along with Jenna Weiss-Berman and Andrew Leland. Banner Image...more
We’re thrilled to unearth a classic story by legendary radio producer Scott Carrier, an inspiration for radio producers from Ira Glass to Jad Abumrad, which hasn’t been heard since it originally aired on All Things Considered in 1993. CREDITS “The Drywall” was produced by Scott Carrier. David Weinberg interviewed Carrier and Ira Glass for the Organist. Banner Image Credit: Paolo Trabattoni
Neko Case, whose musical career spans over two decades, brings the listener on a journey of the music that has shaped her, from the time she was a child listening to "Taking Care of Business" by Bachman Turner Overdrive until now, listening to "People Have the Power" by Patti Smith. Over the years she's listened to 80s hardcore, country, gospel, and punk, all of which have contributed to her unique sound. CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE. CREDITS Produced by Jenna Weiss-Berman, Ross Simonini and Andrew L...more
We take to the streets with Mal Sharpe, a man who, along with his partner James Coyle, was among the first wave of fake newsmen, paving the way from everyone from Borat to Colbert. Over the years Sharpe has conducted thousands of surrealist man on the street interviews, accosting random pedestrians and asking them a series of progressively strange and extreme questions, creating classic recordings of absurdist radio comedy. Reporter Ike Sriskandarajah found Sharpe in San Francisco and returned t...more
The fiction writer, humorist, and essayist, George Saunders talks with the Organist's executive producer, Ross Simonini about the sonic aspects of his writing and reading. After reading aloud a passage from his most recent story collection, Saunders discusses his use of writerly voice as both a written and spoken device in his work. CONTAINS LANGUAGE THAT MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR YOUNG AUDIENCES. CREDITS This week's show was produced by Ross Simonini with Jenna Weiss-Berman and Andrew Leland. Ba...more
This week's show features an interview with composer and singer, Meredith Monk, who holds the 2014-2015 Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall. For 50 years, Monk has created music that bends the limits of the human voice, much of it connected to her own films, dance, opera, and site-specific performances. The Organist's executive producer, Ross Simonini interviews her about Buddhism, her early days in New York, and her wide array of curious vocal techniques. CREDITS This week's show was produced by...more
This week the Organist explores sound design in two new documentaries, Irene Lusztig's The Motherhood Archives and Matt Wolf's Teenage. The films each use a combination of archival footage and original music to convey the cultural constructions of two very separate stages of human development--birth and adolescence. the motherhood archives (trailer) from komsomol films on Vimeo. Produced by Jenna Weiss-Berman, Ross Simonini and Andrew Leland. Thanks to Gary Scott, Jenny Radelet, Melissa Morton...more
The story of Chris Stroffolino, who describes his journey from academia â€” writing Cliffs Notes to Shakespeare, teaching Creative Writing at NYU â€” to the downtown poetry scene of the 90s, to playing in the Silver Jews on their great 1998 album American Water, to a bicycle accident and eventual self-enforced homelessness â€“ where he currently lives in a 1983 Ford Econoline van retrofitted with a piano in the back, performing for pedestrians.Â CONTAINS LANGUAGE THAT MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR YOU...more
Daniel Fishkin is a young musician who played in bands and studied composition at Bard College. When he was 22 he got a bad case of tinnitus, a continuous ringing in his ears that drowned out all the sounds around him, and even some of the music in his head. It was a pretty tough blow for an aspiring composer. It wasn't the first time that a musician has had to deal with hearing loss, but what Fishkin did with this situation is remarkable. Produced by Jascha Hoffman. Â Â Â Daniel Fishkin Ph...more
Mike Mills' new film asks the kids of Silicon Valley workers (the sons of Google's cafeteria line cooks; the daughters of engineers at Apple) about their relationship with technology and what the future looks like to them. The journalist and critic Gideon Lewis-Kraus sat down with Mills in San Francisco to discuss the film and the ways in which growing up in the corporate-technological landscape leads to a strange new worldview for these kids. From now until July 1, Organist listeners get an exc...more
NOTE: This show contains language that may not be appropriate for young audiences. This week's show features two segments from the 2013 season of the Organist. Actor, writer, and artist James Franco (Spring Breakers, Palo Alto) performs a radio play by playwright Will Eno (Thom Pain (based on nothing), The Realistic Joneses) written exclusively for the Organist. Filmmaker Harmony Korine discusses his novel, A Crackup at the Race Riots, and some unreleased songs he wrote and recorded as a child f...more
This week's show features the premiere of an original radio play written by Alena Smith (@TweenHobo; HBOs The Newsroom) and performed by actor/director David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, Wanderlust, Role Models) and Rachel Dratch (@TheRealDratch; Saturday Night Live, Second City, 30 Rock). The play is followed by a casual conversation between the actors and writer on television binge-watching and the life-saving benefits of psychoanalysis. Horse Counselor was written by Alena Smith, performed ...more
Before he became a journalist, writing hilarious and harrowing books of reportage like The Psychopath Test and The Men Who Stare at Goats, as well as contributing radio stories to This American Life and BBC 4, Jon Ronson had a brief career as a musician. He played keyboards in a group called the Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band, which was a sort of experimental-comedy new-wave act. The group's leader was the comedian Chris Sievey, who possessed a confounding absurdist charisma both on and off...more
The Birthday Song, sung every day of the year at birthday parties across the land, is sweet, simple, and 120 years old this year. But it's also a highly contested piece of intellectual property, pulling in millions of dollars for a large music conglomerate, Warner/Chappell, which charges films and TV shows who want to include the song, and pull the films from the shelves and file lawsuits if they don't comply. Andrea Silenzi looks at the strange and somewhat tortured history of the song's owners...more
Annie Clark, better known by her stage name, St. Vincent, gives the listener a tour through her personal musical history. She talks about the music that raised and influenced her from age two (Ritchie Valens) through high school (Sonic Youth, Solex, Fiona Apple, Big Black). She also made a mix tape for the Organist featuring some of her current favorites. Listen to it below. This episode was produced by Jenna Weiss-Berman, Ross Simonini and Andrew Leland. Thanks to Gary Scott, Jenny Radelet, Me...more
A day on the streets of New York with the singular Alabama musician and artist Lonnie Holley. Holley always sang while making his junkyard assemblages out of objects including pick-axes and buckets, but it wasn't until the age of sixty-two that he began releasing records and performing live, both of which caught the attention of a younger generation of musicians (Animal Collective, Deerhunter, Dirty Projectors, Black Keys) who have since become his collaborators. This episode also features ...more