A listener named Ty weighs in on the recent spate of ‘double-header’ episodes:
I love the show, but lately the double-header and mini interviews have swelled the length of the show into uncomfortable territory. Too much of a good thing, pineapple for example, can leave a stinging feeling in the mouth (or brain).
I am slightly tired and currently sitting in my cubicle staring at two LCD screens so I hope this is coherent and not offensive. I love the show.
And Max, perhaps my most intensive listener, offers up another installment of ‘Listi Watch,’ his episode-by-episode critique of the program:
THIS WEEK ON LISTI WATCH.
So this Wednesday, we had Episode 154. The guest was obviously a “name,” which naturally turns the show into something of a “prod”cast. However you managed to ask Lipsyte the insightful and inciting questions without coming across as amateur or desperate. There was no “Gee, Mr. Gehrig, how do I make it into the big leagues?” kind of thing. The only trace of that, and it was scant, was when you let yourself go and asked towards the end, “How can I get over it?” in regards to the abundance of literature being written around yours. A consummate creative, he replied saying he didn’t know what to read. He has self-engineered himself to be receptive and open to others, rather than felt the burdens of manufacturing success among competition. Aside from the guest aspect of the show, the personal side of things was something of a meditation on self-awareness. See below:
Brad, I don’t think you realize that your self-awareness is one of the best things about you. Or at least the reason we listen to your show. It is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. Right from the top, you wondered if your habitual opening line of introducing your name, title, and location was a narcissistic thing. It was wonderful to think that, especially in your dry, embered voice. Your self-scrutiny gives you the reflective fuel to put pen on paper and make sense of this world. You then wondered if it was self-involved to listen to your podcast. We at Listi Watch think that in order to detect the ways you can improve the craft of podcasting, you need to listen back and see what worked and what didn’t. The act of listening back is not egocentric; the act of listening back, and thinking ‘I’m the shit’, is egocentric. And yes, your fear of how you’re coming across is the flipside on the same ego coin to ‘I’m the shit.’
After endearing yourself to the audience with self-consciousness, you told the story of your mountain rescue. You struck a very heartfelt chord that resonated all the way to the end of the story. It also enhanced the undercurrent of your decency, which has become a trope, if you will, of the show: the desire to be decent, to be seen as decent, and to let your decency thrive. I have to imagine it’s a Midwestern thing. Even Kate Zambreno will overlook your statement of “it feels good to rescue women” because of your thoughtless heroism off the trail.
You then went on to discuss a philosophical hang-up you were having regarding altruism as a form of self-interest. You wondered if it’s still “good” altruism if it’s done simply because it feels good. We at List Watch first of all thinks it doesn’t matter what it feels like so long as good deeds are done. Secondly, intentionality is nebulous and ever-changing. As soon as you pinpoint what a specific intention is, and whether that intention matches with action,it changes. So, when it comes to altruism, let’s just stay happy with the surface. And listen to J. Geils Band albums.
You then went over an array of mail. Your method of reading a diverse array of mail with minimal editorializing is very effective, and gives you great credibility as a fair host.
In episode 154, you spoke with Sam Lipsyte. He is definitely within the top 10 authors who’ve been on your show in terms of industry respect and public success. You went into this one strong, you didn’t let it get to your head, and kept a very steady pace throughout the whole show. It was a structured interview without getting mannered. One of the temptations when talking to someone of Lipsyte’s caliber, is to kowtow and defer. You kept your self-respect with almost every question, and rightfully so! Kudos. Kudos on all levels: landing that guest (The Ask), conducting a great interview with him (The Fun Parts), and letting us all listen (Attention. Deficit. Disorder.).
What that desperate hiker kept repeating, Lipsyte seemed to adopt as a personal creed: “it’s all loose.” As per usual with creative people who continually function at a high(er) level, their thoughts can be clunky or come out in incomplete threads. Never trust an eloquent artist, Brad. Such was the case with Lipsyte whose answers were certainly not fluid by any standard, but he managed to provoke great conversation that you flew with well. There’s not a great deal to critique in terms of overall energy and execution with this show. A few nitpicky things:
The Place was brought up again much to the delight of Listi Watch. You talk of it with a tone that betrays the typical sentiment/embarrassment of childhood recollection. What were mud-piles in 1983 like?
There were some moments that you didn’t pick up on during the show. One was particularly uncomfortable. When Lipsyte was describing the abuse he got from anti-semites in school, you replied, aghast, with “Jesus.” This might not have been the best word choice following a Jew’s description of being called “kike.” But it’s okay. You were raised Catholic. (Then there was the collar-loosening thing you said about “launching” something after 9/11).
There were two spurts of inward passion that you had peppered in the interview. By this I mean deeply embedded opinions you have that you brought up in the interview almost irregardless of Lipsyte. As a creative person yourself, it’s highly admirable that you don’t let that happen more often; you have wonderful restraint. The two moments I’m speaking of were a) when you talked about imitation being a necessary first step for a writer, and b) when you talked about your ambivalent relationship with social media. It sounded like you had to get those items off your chest, and Lipsyte nobly tried to follow you.
It was a pleasure to listen to you and Lipsyte bond over industry phoniness, over the word “quirky” and the phrase “big fan of your work.” The more moments of casual bonding you can foster with your guests going forward, the better.
In discussing with Lipsyte what made an artist both prolific and relevant, you brought up two great points, the both of you. You said that curiosity was the engine for continued artistry and Lipsyte alluded to this zeroed-in focus. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. I would be careful though to label Dylan as constantly curious and seeking. He has been marketed and mythologized that way, yet one could argue that he himself is the greatest salesman of Bob Dylan there is. Just because a man doesn’t disclose as much about himself as his peers do, does not mean he has a sixth sense or his finger on the pulse of all things past and present. It’s in his mystery that people project their own sense of greatness on Dylan, and that’s a slippery slope. Something about him almost suggests anti-curiosity.
A growing annoyance on the show is that you’re becoming something of a philosophical tease. You will open up these really great questions about the culture, a guest will reply in kind, and then you’ll cut the subject, typically with a moment of levity. Do you do this consciously? Do you not want to dig too deep in the questions you raise? If so, I have to imagine your audience is the type that wouldn’t get turned off by a little extra excogitation.
The last moment of the show is always a tenterhook moment because your audience is waiting to see how you can one-up our expectations. What irony is he going to smack us with? What cynical, jaded tone? What syntactical screwball? What? Do it to us. Do it to us. Hurt us.
“LISTI WATCH” NOTES
• WORD/PHRASE OF THE INTERVIEW: “Blunts the instrument.” Bob Marley and the bass player of Phish would love this one.
• THINGS YOU SAY A LOT: “—proper (as a suffix),” “Candle that burns at both ends,” “Slack-jawed,” “I was raised Catholic” No new additions this interview.