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A face for the radio

Last night I was speaking to my friend Lisa Jayne about radio. I made my weekly appearance on Downtown with Rich Kimball yesterday, discussing the one-game playoffs that the Red Sox participated in in 1978 and 1948. There were basically no other one-game playoffs that did not involve the Red Sox. It was, I think, rather a compelling segment. Have a listen?

She had thought that the show was prerecorded. It is not. We do it every week at 5:05 on Tuesday, and they put the link up later. I get this sometimes because I never stumble over my words, I talk in periodic sentences and interlocking clauses, I don't pause and um and ah, I don't default to cliches, I have an overall narrative structure with substructures. At NPR, that is taped, and people re-do their "parts," but I don't re-do mine. What you hear when I'm on there is what I said in the studio the first time.

I've never heard myself on the radio. I don't need to. I'm there. I remember what I said, how I said it, and my voice has always sounded to me exactly how it sounds in my head when I have heard it elsewhere. I once went out with a woman who got very angry that I did not listen to myself on the radio. She thought it was arrogant. (She also told me that if a person did not move to a different region every two years, they could only stagnate and become increasingly stupid. This was back when I drank, and we were at a bar on a Sunday afternoon. It was a nice bar, in Mission Hill. I think it was called the Salty Pig? Anyway, it had pig in the name. They had an impressive array of microbrews on tap, and I got a Wachusett blueberry ale. Just typing that makes me want to have one.

It came in a glass that had blueberries floating in it. You didn't ask for it that way, that's just how it came. Like a nice surprise, right? She thought it was childish that there would be blueberries floating in a glass of a blueberry ale. She sucked. She sucked big time. I did not enjoy her. Edit: It was not the Salty Pig, which is in the South End, but rather the Squealing Pig. I had arrived early, because there was an old church some blocks away, whose architecture I wished to check out. As a result, I emerged not from the direction she thought I would--for she was also early, and waiting outside when I got there--and this prompted a curt, "Why are you coming from that way?" I answered, and she also thought this was foolish. She hated people, clearly, but it was even more obvious how much she hated men. I wonder, now, what she posts on social media, about whom we must believe, no matter what, and how white males are basically a legion of devils. I just had the one blueberry ale; all I wished to do was leave, which I was polite about, having put in my thirty minutes of affable conversation, at least on my end. I was ready to pull a legger, though.)

"How do you know if you were any good?" I told her I was there. I know what I said. And she would just not let this go. "But you have to evaluate your weaknesses for your resume." I told I didn't have a resume, and I was pretty assured in my performances. "But you can't actually know." Um, okay. "Not looking for your weaknesses is so entitled." Um, great, thanks again. Now, as someone pointed out to me, it would have in reality been arrogant to be playing the tapes, trotting them out at parties--not that I have parties to go to--that kind of thing. But, I do my thing, I do it at the level I do it, and I move on. Truth be told, when I am on the radio, I am usually doing other things simultaneously. That can be sending out pitches, begging people to pay me, working on new stories in my head, all of them at once. I do what I do, I move on to what I must do next, as I try to get out of this hell I am in.

Now, what I aim to do in these matters, in terms of the actual speaking, is many-fold. I've studied radio for a long, long time. And when I first started making appearances in it, my aim was to be better at it than Orson Welles. Words are easy for me. I can do anything with words, create anything with words. And sound makes a unique sense to me. My "pull," as it were, as an artist, comes more from sound than books. The way sound is organized, can be organized, and its tonal properties, informed how I shaped and understood stories. A lot of this comes out as "feel." You'll notice that hardly any writers right now have any feel for how things sound, how they come together; it's one reason you see so many laughably awkward phrases and word combos. They can't tell. They have no clue. But feel and the ideal way to arrange word shapes and sounds and word sense is, in part, why my work is so easy to read, without me ever "dumbing down" anything, or stinting on the insight into humanity that true art must have. I have that inner system of a kind of narrative echolocation that others do not. Radio was a natural outlet for this.

It frustrates me to no end that I do not have my own program. Programs. That I do not have a daily radio gig of four hours, that nothing happens there, despite my attempts, when I can do all subjects, and when I hear so many people who can barely talk, let alone think, making seven, six figures on the air every day. Sports radio people without a clue in their brain, who basically just say the phrase "at the end of the day" over and over again. They're not entertaining, they're not informative, they're not funny.

What I aim to do with everything I do--that is, everything I say or write--is be inclusive to all. If I'm writing or talking about Beethoven's late string quartets, I'm going to make you think that is a fun and awesome and fascinating subject even if you never listen to classical music, even if you hate it or think you do. Likewise, if you're a professor at Boston Conservatory, and you're listening to what I'm saying, you're going to feel like you're being exposed to all kinds of cool things that you never knew or considered that is going to inform, perhaps alter, how you hear those late string quartets. This I do with Beethoven, baseball, film, Beatles, what have you. And sometimes I'll use baseball to make the point about Beethoven. I leave no reader or listener behind. Ever. And it seems to me that if you have something that is idiot-proof, that Socrates could also mull deeply, you should be able to make a mint, because I know of no one else who does that. But instead, I am left in this corner, as this oddity because I have no connections--and that is how all of these jobs happen; they're not given out for talent--and people end up also looking for people who remind them of other people. Which is pretty easy to do right now. But you want to have that person who ordinarily thinks they have no interest in the subject feel like they're getting everything you say, that there is one principle level here, and it their level. And you want the Boston Conservatory person to feel that way, too, for their level. So, you're working on multiple levels at once, and I'd argue that the greater the artists, the more levels they are working on, but it's a case of making the levels visible to those who can and should see more, but also having other levels remain unseen for others, so that they don't think or feel that they're missing out. Do you know how hard that is to pull off? Well, that's one of the main things the true artist must pull off. It's almost like magic, isn't it? But it's the most real thing there ever was.

I had mentioned a post or so back--the one about October terror recommendations--that boom, you make that a two hour weekly NPR arts program. Start me out at night. Sunday night, Saturday night. Give me that block. Let me build it up. When it gets more successful, give me a better time block. I have the voice for it, too. I could play sound to make further points, and it would be so lively and engaging. Or (or additionally), make me your morning sports co-host. I say things that no one would have the balls to say, and I say them without any worry that anything will befall me, because I've learned that if 1. What you say is correct and 2. You say it in a way that is better than anyone could say anything else, no one is going to do jack to you. Save ignore you. Because they can't launch their two-bit opinion at you. And when people can't do that, in this often hateful society, people pack up and leave. They feel that they don't have a voice in the discussion because you've been definitive. They know you're smarter, they know they can't win or keep up, so off they go to have at someone else. (It's like when I write the op-eds I write. Look at some of the stuff I say. Crazy, right? Not crazy in the sense that it's not correct, but crazy in that who would dare to say some of those things, here in this time period? And you know how much blow back there is? None. Nothing. Maybe a random note comes in via this site. But basically nothing. Each and every time. Now, if I said those things less well, 5000 angry, alcohol-enhanced people would send me the worst stuff going. True, I would not read any of it--like I said, I do what I do, and I'm on to the next. But they'd send it.)

Now, that's just some people. The toxic people. The people who loathe themselves who have at others at every opportunity. In a way, no matter what I say, I don't give you the opportunity, because of how I say it. And I'm not there to get a rise out of you. I don't say or write something just for an effect. Everything I say is about two things: Maximum truth, maximum entertainment. I convey truth, I entertain. That is, what I believe, what every great artist has in common, be it Shakespeare, be it Dylan, be it Twain. Truth and entertainment. The former doesn't rule out the latter, the latter doesn't mean there has to be less of the former. I don't have ego, emotion in the race, anything; I'm a form of ruthless cognition. When it comes down to the thinking. My own feelings and emotions make no inroads with my cogitation. I'm able to compartmentalize. Have I always been this way? No. I've evolved into this. Over the decades. Over the last six years in which I have walked 3000 miles each year alone with my thoughts. That sounds bloody Biblical, but it's true. What do you think you'd be like if you walked 3000 miles in a year, with only your thoughts? Can you even imagine? You change. You just do. So much. There is no way you can't. Now, your change might be to implode upon yourself. But it might also be new levels of self-awareness you could not have even imagined. You know what would be a great solution right now for this world? For one month only, have everyone walk fifty miles a week. Four weeks. No phones, no music, just walking and thinking. The average person walks three miles per hour. You can easily do that walking and live your life, pick up your kids, go to work. The world, in a month, would be vastly different. There might be less people in it, but it'd be vastly different for other reasons as well.

That could be a two hour show on this imagined arts program of mine. I discuss works of art about walking. Music. "Walkin' Blues" by Robert Johnson. Literature. Cape Cod by Thoreau. In art, we could discuss the twenty, thirty mile walks of Van Gogh, and examine the letters he wrote about these walks. Why, we can discuss how Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in his head on twenty mile walks across London in the autumn of 1843, at night, when everyone else was asleep! You talk about these works of art and these artists--The Twilight Zone episode "Walking Distance" would also be good--and you make the larger points, smartly, humorously. So easy to do these. Walkabout would be a great film to discuss. There's your show in a long line of excellent shows. Hire me.

As we're talking about radio, and it's October and I'll be sharing some scary items throughout the month, I will post this broadcast of the program Suspense from September 23, 1943. It's a version of The Most Dangerous Game, which is about a guy on a remote island off the coast of which a lot of shipwrecks happen. The survivors wash up, and the guy takes them in, clothes them, then gives them a head start in the forest, and hunts them. Timely, no? The 1932 film version is quite good. Orson Welles plays the hunter in this program.


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