Listener Feedback — Vol. 7

   

A listener named Alexandre reports from São Paulo:

Hi, Brad, how are you?

I’ve read The Nervous Breakdown and listened to Other People for quite some time. I’ve spent some time away from it, but started to listen again. The initial tune “You are not alone, you have found other people” always cheers me up.

Really like the monologues and recently loved the interview with Emily Rapp, what a touching story she has.

Anyway…I remember mentioning The Nervous Breakdown to Gay Talese and his wife. They came to Brazil last year for a journalism congress and took some people to dinner, I was in the bunch.

After having a cocktail and a beer [Gay] started to complain about today’s journalism, the internet, and said that he doesn’t see as good of writers as it used to be and stuff.

I told him about The Nervous Breakdown, said that it had “some pretty good writers in there”…Anyways, his wife, Nan, is an editor/publisher, as you might know, and [she] got interested. I don’t know if she contacted you guys, or even wrote down The Nervous Breakdown address, but you were the subject of Gay Talese and some journalism students here in São Paulo.

Best regards and keep up the good work.

Thanks, man.  Appreciate it.

And:  Never heard from ’em.   (Hi, Gay!  Hi, Nan!)

 

Max Millwood, the podcast’s most intensive listener/critic, offers his thoughts on Episode 171 — Matt Nelson.  He begins with some choice words on the monologue:

So Spencer Madsen decides he wants to get laid and also promote his own podcast, so what does he decide to do? He artistically (ironically?) leaves a message on Brad Listi’s phone, knowing that the latter will be too nice to do anything other than feature it on the show. Your naive Midwestern roots failed to see that he was clearly promoting his own podcast as well as the Artist Known As Spencer Madsen. It was cheap groveling for attention, and it’s a shame you felt compelled to welcome it on the show. Your kind and giving nature sometimes forces you to turn your show into this populist platform for others to stampede on. If you start letting every hormonal and narcissistic twenty-something on your show, you’re going to get swamped really quickly. Don’t let your niceness as a man force you to open the floodgates as a host. People won’t Express Themselves as you idealistically imagine; they’ll promote their own goings-on and/or they’ll just troll. Tame your instincts, Brad. Don’t let us on your show.

I don’t know if I agree.  First of all, I haven’t been “flooded” with similar messages since the airing of this episode.  (Should I feel bad about this?)  And besides, I like Spencer.  I’ve gotten to “cyber-know” him over the past several weeks, and he’s a good dude.  Smart.  Sense of humor. He sends me videos.  Leaves me messages.  And if he happens to be promoting himself in the process…at least he has the decency to be funny about it.  Not an idiot, Spencer.  And his publishing imprint, Sorry House, is up and running and doing some good things.

I don’t know…I’m unbothered by this.

 

Millwood is positive on Matt Nelson:

As an interview, it covered a lot of space; DIY, simplicity of good ideas, and business models, to name a few topics. You showed a part of yourself on this show that we seldom see: Brad Listi as Producer. Lest we forget that you’re the founder of TNB, you possess a silent ability to form a plan to organize, finance, and anticipate all sides of an organization. Of course this isn’t as sexy a skill as creative writing, but it is one that gets creative writing seen. In the interview, you intelligently brought up that there was no hard business model, per se, for Nelson, but more of a social value that largely goes undetermined for now. While others would be quick to offer a hard-and-fast financial plan, you shrugged and said ‘Who knows?’ That was a very bright response.

I think this is the first time Millwood has ever praised me for being dumbfounded/confused.

 

A listener named Leah weighs in on Episode 171, Spencer Madsen, Matt Nelson, Brooklyn, youth, et al:

Those voicemails were totally insane. I don’t know what to make of that guy. It’s kind of ballsy and creative, but also incredibly self-important and obnoxiously invasive. The tone of his voice reminded me of [Episode 171 guest Matt Nelson]. It’s a voice that makes it sound like they just don’t care/are under water/on prescription pain meds/totally dulled to life. Do all kids in Brooklyn under 27 talk like that? I have spent a decent amount of time there so maybe I know the answer. I think it’s yes. I don’t like it. WAKE UP people.

I did like your invite to leave Skype voicemails. Have you gotten any? I wanted to just call and say “Balls.” and that would be it. I’m not going to do that though. But it made me smile in my car just thinking about doing it.

You know what?  I’m not sure if I’ve gotten any Skype messages.  I’m clueless, generally speaking, when it comes to technology, despite how it might appear.  (I tend to know only as much as I need to know.)  Gotta figure out how to check voicemail.

 

Millwood has a boner for Ken Baumann, my (superb) guest in Episode 172:

He makes any man, young or old, sulk at his incredible abilities as a mind surpassed only by his attitude as a person. You clearly paled in comparison to him, but it wasn’t just you, Brad. We at Listi Watch get the sense that the whole audience sat back in their chairs and just watched him take the driver’s seat for this interview.

The gushing continues:

Most actors are aggressively positive and overly-agreeable because of industry pressure from above. Baumann largely met our expectations, though he avoided the common trapping of actors as desperate and whorish. The loudest moment for you as a host was your first one: the production choice to cut in on the two of you talking about corpses. After that, you could’ve moaned orgasmically and yet his champion-level eloquence would’ve still been our focus. Boy, did he command that interview.

Ken was terrific, I agree.  Made my job easy.  And you should know that I moaned orgasmically several times during the interview—but had the good sense to turn my mic down while doing so.

 

A regular listener and correspondent named Dmitry has some thoughts on Alt-Lit:

Been listening through some of the shows with younger writers in the last week or so, trying to get [a] handle on this Alt-Lit thing. There seems to be some variation between Sam Pink, Jordan Castro, and Mira Gonzalez, for example, but also some common attitude or stance. Maybe it’s the Adderall, Ritalin, etc., or the dogged insistence on avoiding punctuation or a kind of raw lack of “well-spokenness”? Who knows?

I’m sure they’re probably on to something that I might be too old or not sharp enough to appreciate but something about them disturbs me. Ms. Gonzalez especially. So privileged, yet utterly naïve and blasé about everything. Probably just youth, but it scares me for some reason.

In any case I appreciate you introducing me to this other weird subculture…

I happen to know Mira fairly well, actually.  She’s from LA (lives in Brooklyn now), and we’ve become buddies over the past year or so.  What I can tell you is that she’s far from naïve and incredibly, incredibly blasé.  (Wikipedia is telling me that “blasé” means “nonchalant.”)  You should read this gchat she just did with Steve Roggenbuck.  Mira’s good people.

As for the “Alt-Lit” thing…I think these writers are often misunderstood.  (I frequently misunderstand them myself.)  Probably generational.  And probably there are some “digital” implications, too.  Meaning:  I think their “voice” (if such a thing can be collective) is, at least partially, the result of having been born into a digital world.  They were weaned in cyberspace, and we’re seeing some of the results (?).

 

Millwood, responding to Episode 173, goes “full pervert” when responding to Anna Stothard:

She’s a little hottie, isn’t she? She’s got that ‘fuck you’ attractiveness that is a signal for rough, psychotic sex. Wouldn’t you love to have her staring at you as you’re inside her, doing her so hard that her shrub of curly hair shakes uncontrollably?

Classy.

 

He continues:

As is the case for almost every show, you devoted the first 15 minutes to location…Your compulsion to devote at least 25 percent of your show to the same topic every episode would surely spell your cancellation on a mainstream radio station, but since it’s a podcast and since you do have a lazy charm about this same topic (LA, LA vs. the Midwest, and the urban design of LA), your small audience tolerates it.

Point taken.  I need to stop talking about this stuff so much.  (In fact, I’ve tried to do so in recent episodes.  Is it noticeable?)  The problem, if there is one, has to do with phone interviews.  I like to get listeners oriented with respect to geography, immediate surroundings, etc.  I like to give people a “visual read” on where the writer is in space.  And moreover, I like to give myself this kind of read.  But to spend 25 minutes on it?  Way too much.  Touché, Millwood.

 

He goes on to tell me that I didn’t do a good enough job adapting to Stothard‘s conversational style:

We noticed that, like Howard Stern, you like to do some armchair psychoanalysis on your guests (You asked her where her anti-social behavior came from). However, not all guests are conducive to light psychoanalyzing, and Stothard was one of them. She was a guest with whom it would’ve been better to stick to the facts of her life, or ask her hypothetical situations, or get her opinions… something else.

I have no recollection of “psychoanalyzing” her, or attempting to.  Maybe I did.  I don’t know.  I’m just winging it, people.  This is my process.

 

A listener named Lee Bob says:

I’ve listened to ~20 podcasts. On the strength of “Other People” being consistently excellent, I bought [your novel] Attention. Deficit. Disorder.

I’m excited.

Thanks, man.   Appreciate it.

 

 

Millwood’s thoughts on Episode 174 — Benjamin Percy are wide-ranging.  First, he assesses the monologue:

You [did] what your audience likes best about your monologues: you told a story. From the hiking story to this latest story about your mother hilariously walking in on you meditating, it always works. And you’re a great storyteller. What you see in your own life is funny. We don’t know why you don’t just mandate a story for every monologue.

I try, man.  I try.  You gotta realize, I spend most of my time hunched over a keyboard, or interviewing people, or chasing my daughter around.  I don’t always have a story.  My life, like most lives, can be routine.  Boring.

If you knew how hard I stress out about the monologues—trying to make sure they’re not terrible—you’d probably laugh your ass off.  (Imagine me sitting in front of a microphone, doing, say, ten takes.  And unleashing a string of epithets every time my mind fades, or I fumble my words, or come up empty, etc.  That’s pretty much how it goes.  It’s almost always a battle.)

 

Millwood has kind things to say about Percy‘s appearance:

He conducted the interview like Captain Kirk would on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. A confident baritone, self-assured enough in his placement in the world to create fictional ones, realistic about his authorial abilities, and a borderline brilliant man. He was an interesting specimen to find on Other People — not cut from the show’s cloth of marginal authors who’ve downsized their dreams from “Great American Novel” to “really good book that covers a lot of shit about what it means to be human.” No, Percy comes from genre fiction, yet he’s not so immersed that he’s unable to talk of genre fiction comparatively. You very astutely called attention to this assumed dichotomy of Literature vs. genre fiction, and it led to some great insight from the both of you.

I like that topic.  I think the two “sides” have a lot to teach one another.  And Percy was there to shed light.  The perfect person to talk to about such things.

 

A listener named Darren lets me know that the Percy episode brought him back from the brink:

This pod restored my faith.

I was getting more and more disenchanted with Other People, but Mr. Percy’s staight talk on writing and the craft of storytelling was a welcomed breath of fresh air.

Percy was great.  Hands down.  Good radio voice, too.  Guy knows his stuff.

 

A listener named Drew has a story:

I just spent an hour composing an email to [indie publisher] only to erase the whole thing because it sucked because I was obviously trying to network. The whole time I was re-wording my little hello letter, I was trying to pretend harder and harder that I actually wasn’t networking. I ended up reworking the same bullshit paragraphs for an hour. It was a really weird hour and for some reason I thought you might relate.

I was trying to establish some sort of basic I’m a cover designer/You’re a publisher ‘nice to meet you’ thing but it felt so stalkerish I soon switched modes and started name-dropping. I brought up Lidia Yuknavitch, whom I sort of know, which sounded too pretentious to mention. I then made and deleted a reference to a local small press who I’d obviously design for, but truthfully their books actually suck, so I didn’t want to associate myself with them in front of [indie publisher] (who has really good design). I even brought up my job at the cool local bookstore that everyone knows, but it reeked of local pretentious bullshit so I went back to the drawing board, reworking my bullshit sales pitch until I gave up. I’ll try again later, but it was a funny enough experience I had to tell someone.

Sounds hellish.  Hellishly funny.  Is there anything worse than crafting this kind of email?  Trying to finesse the language and get the “messaging” right.  Trying to strike a delicate balance between earnest and desperate, professional and personable.

The horror.

 

A listener named Ben says

You said in a recent monologue that the internet is an addiction and I concur with that sentiment 100 percent. The whining, piggish mind spidering off listlessly in a flaccid, housebroken crawl across cotton candy fields of ephemera. I do my best (do I?) to reserve it for practical things and not entertainment and distraction from the reality of death masquerading as research or learning.

You can’t stop the waves, Ben.  But you can learn to surf.

 

A message from a listener named Ray:

Really enjoying the Panio Gianopoulos episode. After cherry-picking favorite author episodes for a while I’m just jumping around the last few months’ archives listening to shows regardless of whether I’ve heard of the guest (and usually I haven’t; I’m remarkably uninformed I guess).  Ep. 138 [Gianopoulos] was great because you really just dove right into it without the introductory fucking-around.  Listening to lots of episodes back-to-back, the whole where-are-you-sitting/what-did-your-parents-do/hey-i-lived-in-Indiana-too/are-you-Catholic thing can get a little samey.

Agreed.  And working hard to avoid said “samey-ness.”  Thanks for listening, Ray.

 

A listener named Brian listens to the podcast while recovering from an injury:

Recently I received a concussion in which doctors requested that I cease exercising, watching television, “doing computer,” and any other physical and visual activity for a couple of days. Needless to say, the tedium was tremendous. I, like yourself, have dabbled in the meditative arts and practiced consciously slowing my world down. Now, after this forced meditation, I long for nothing more than jogging while listening to Slayer. I write you to say that listening to the Other People podcast allowed me to shut my eyes and mend my brain, all the while being entertained by your insightful guests and humorous monologues. Keep up the good work, my friend. You are providing a much-needed service to all my concussed brothers and sisters out there.

Thanks, man.  Protect that egg.

 

Millwood shares his feelings on Episode 175 — Kendra Grant Malone:

Within the first 30 seconds of the interview, before we even knew she was a sex worker, Listi Watch was thinking that the conversation sounded a lot like phone sex. When you said “I like that” with regards to her hammock, it sounded like you got comfortable in that pathetically moist way that nude men get in parlors and chat rooms, when they call women “good girls” and ask in between short and heavy breaths questions about clothing color and “other boys.” But then we found out, she was a professional sex worker. Okay, we thought, well now we know what the next hour will be about.

Jesus.  Was I that bad?

I obviously knew about Kendra’s sex work prior to the call, and knew that it would be central to the conversation.  The reality is, you can’t talk to someone who’s a sex worker and not talk about sex work most of the time.  Especially in an interview recorded for an audience.  My feeling is, if I didn’t “go there,” you guys would wind up disappointed.  (Right?)

 

Millwood continues:

One thing we loved about this show was that for the first time Listi Watch can remember, you put on a voice and did an impression of a Minnesotan dominatrix with your “If ya don’t mind getting on your knees…” or something like that. As Listi Watch was walking in the misty rain to the bagel shop and heard that on his iPhone, he literally stopped and went “WOW!” It was such a departure from your character, and we hope to see more of that in the future.

Heh.  I’m not great at impressions, but I can (kind of) do a Minnesota accent.  My wife is from Minnesota.  And I, as you know, spent half my childhood in Milwaukee. Those are my people.

 

A listener named Rhonda has this to say:

Just checking in from sunny (soon to be a convection oven) Tucson.

I’m still listening.

You’re keeping it fresh and honest.

Your monologues are insightful, and sometimes they cause me to smirk and laugh out loud.

You portray a tantalizing mixture of polite neurotic and 21st century bad boy.

Yes.  Yes, I do.

 

She continues:

It appears to me that your college years’ drug experimentation catalyzed your self-evolution and a wonderful introspection, and I think that is why you usually go there with your guests. I don’t have a problem with that.

I would like to hear more about your Appalachian Trail experience and how it formed you as a young man.

Man, these podcasts seem like a lot of work; and twice a week.  Then with a 2-year-old.  Don’t wonder why you might not have too much time to write.  But you are onto something with your interviews and I hope you continue.

Thanks, Rhonda.  Appreciate it.

I do think my college years, for all of their messiness, had a big impact, most of it positive.  And I’ll try to find ways to talk about the Appalachian Trail more, when the opportunity presents itself.  (I feel like I’ve talked about it too much, if anything.  But maybe not?)

 

Again Millwood hammers me for my introductory banter tendencies, this time in Episode 176 — Michael Reynolds:

…we keep telling you that you need to cut introductory banter down by at least 5 minutes every show… You said “let’s talk about publishing” a whoppin’ 28 minutes into the show. Unacceptable.

Point taken.

 

He also questions my interview style in talking with an editor, as opposed to a writer:

The thing you gotta remember, Brad, is that when you don’t interview writers — and let it be known that we fully endorse diversity of guests — there’s an extra burden [placed upon you]. The inherent creative risk-taking of a writer gives the interview a bedrock that interviews of editors, agents, and publishers don’t have. It’s not Listi Watch’s job to tell you what that adjustment looks like, but just know that there does need to be an adaptation.

Not a bad thought.  Probably just need practice.  And I’ll get some soon enough—more interviews with editors and publishers on the way…

 

Millwood on Episode 177 — Masha Hamilton:

Some fantastic questions crept up in the show, and it’s not the ones you think. You’re probably sitting in your LA Thought Chamber thinking, “Yeah, he’s talking about the Chris Hedges question about addictiveness of war zones. Boo ya.” Nope. We’re talking about the fantastic question surrounding whether authors had an obligation to be political minds. It was a damn good question, Brad, and one Listi Watch has wondered a great deal in the past.

 

He then takes out the hammer:

It’s not an episode of Other People unless you get maudlin and self-congratulatory. That moment came with the whole Malala Yousafzai beat. Here was a girl whose name you hardly knew, whom you extolled as “superior.” So here you are: a host who in the same interview admits the complexity of these geopolitical issues, and also waxes on from his bleeding heart about Malala’s inspiring greatness. As a thinker, don’t vacillate between truth-soaked paralysis and blind moral emotionalism: triangulate the spectrum by rising above between the two.

I have to disagree here.  Have you seen Malala on television?  YouTube?   You don’t need to read a 1,000-page biography to know that she’s exceptional.  Just listen to her speak, for godsake!  And after all that she’s been through…

I stand by my claim.  The kid is amazing.

 

The aforementioned Leah writes in once again with her two cents:

That Masha Hamilton episode blew my mind.  She is an amazing woman.

Agreed.  What a life she’s led, and continues to lead.

 

Millwood turns sensitive in assessing Episode 178 — Deb Olin Unferth:

This was a very brave show, a show whose reins you didn’t necessarily have. You were strikingly vulnerable, and you allowed yourself to unfold to the audience in a way that was natural, understated, and at times, moving. I don’t feel the need to even rank this show because you became so authentic that a grade feels irrelevant. In the same way a psychologist doesn’t grade his patient’s “performance” during their session, I’m not going to grade this show.

Is this…mercy?

 

He liked my monologue—an anecdote involving a spate of recent celebrity sightings:

This is the universe agreeing with Listi Watch: you need to give us stories. Not opinions, not rants, not pity parties, and certainly not the pathetic nothingness you gave us last show. You need to recalibrate your senses and find the thousands of stories that fall just beneath your eye every day. You have a very great sense of pacing and storytelling, Brad. Not many people have that — I certainly don’t. You infused the celebrity sighting with a rhythm, rate of information disclosure, and descriptiveness that not many people have on a verbally spontaneous level, even authors. That’s no small talent, Brad, and it’s a talent that gets great exercise with a young daughter. Be confident, my friend.

I’ll try.

 

He continues:

Halfway through the show, you opened up. Your self-focus, which has been a detriment to all other shows, sprung about in an unapologetic way….the greatest moment of the interview was the last one. You said with piercing honesty that the episode was turning into therapy, and rather than shy away from that and get “back on track,” you bravely went deeper into yourself. At your least eloquent, you were your most truthful. Your saying that you wanted to “put a package together” made more sense to me than ANY five-syllable-word-laden description ever could. Then you stated that the culture might not care enough about literature, which was nervous code for “Am I not good enough? Is it me?” Unferth went on to give you advice in a way that was so tender and honest that we forgot that this was a show with a host. Please don’t feel emasculated by her schooling you; it was nothing of the sort.

I tend to agree with a lot of this.  Deb was an awesome guest, and I connected with her to an unsual degree.  What do you call this?  Chemistry?  I suspect she’s this way with a lot of people.

I feel very willing to “open up” with anyone on the show, but I have to be met halfway, I think.  It has to happen “in the moment.”  Not everyone can bring it out of me.  Clearly Deb could.

 

Millwood experiences internal conflict re: the monologue to Episode 179 — Melanie Thorne:

This show’s monologue, however, was successful despite not including a story, which gives Listi Watch pause. You brought forth (cloistered in a room behind a microphone) an appeal for guerilla literature, which manifested itself in your imagination somehow as graffiti. Despite the fact that graffiti mostly consists of illegible gang symbols and despite your gross ignorance of the socio-economic factors that go into the “publication vs. street art” spectrum, you fruitlessly called on us to preach our words to the masses. The graffiti artist wishes to be published, and the published artist wishes to have the soul of the graffiti artist. This complementary social tautness is just one part of the closed system that is our society. You won’t change it. From the cynical moralists to Augusto Boal to Improv Everywhere, nothing has changed. Take that for some cynicism.

And why, as a father of a child, are you saying there’s no problem with fucking in the streets? “That’s all we would talk about,” you say? The Boston bombers were all we talked about. (Sigh) On second thought, just tell stories.

LOL.  Dude…there’s a reason why talk show hosts of a professional stripe have, respectively, teams of writers.  Not complaining, mind you.  Just sayin’.

What can I tell you?  Doing the best I can.  The monologues are the hardest part for me.  Except when they’re not.  Which happens, say, one out of every four episodes.

 

And finally, from the world of Twitter…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(He means The Nervous Breakdown, and he’s referring to this, which you should listen to now.)