At Pacific Standard, Katie Kilkenny interviews Brian Reed, the host of the popular investigative podcast, S-Town, from the producers of Serial and This American Life. Reed shares his perspective on his approach to reporting the story. He relates how he earned the trust of the people he interviewed (the story takes place in Bibb County, Alabama — a poor and rural part of the state not used to outsiders) and his thoughts on reporting on someone after they have died. Warning: the interview contains spoilers.
I did find, in general, with some people down there, the “fuck it” attitude that I talk about in the story applied to talking to me. They got a kick out of me being there and having a reporter interested in their lives. That can be a lot of things — it can be annoying and it can be overwhelming, but it can also be validating to have someone listen to you as long as you want to talk, and listening to your every word, which I would do a lot of times. Otherwise it can be fun, and add some spice into your otherwise normal day, when you have this guy with a microphone following you around, and it’s funny. I think all of those were present in these relationships.
I read Alana Massey’s essay collection, All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers, with a pencil in hand. I read it behind the counter at work when it was quiet and customer-free. I read it in bed, long after my partner and cat had fallen asleep. I read it in Starbucks when I should’ve been writing but needed inspiration. Massey is a writer I’ve followed since I became interested in journalism. I admired her incisive blend of pop culture and literary criticism. I especially loved when she wrote about religion—Massey spent time at Yale Divinity School—because I went to a conservative Christian college and I was yearning to see how I could translate my weird, vaguely traumatic religious background into beautiful sentences. I bought her book as a reward for myself for meeting a writing deadline.
This reading list is partially inspired by Massey’s excellent writing about the way our society honors and rejects celebrated women—and also about society’s inclination, if not blatant desire, to know every little detail about our favorite celebrities and judge them according to our own arbitrary moral standards. (I’m not immune to this: I spent ten minutes in bed Googling potential paramours of one of my favorite YouTube stars, even though I know it’s none of my damn business.) Why do we feel like we own celebrities—not just their art or their products, but their images and their personal lives? What do celebrities owe us, if anything?
“Many of them have chosen to live here and just don’t know how to make a connection,” James Lin, Glide’s senior director of mission and social justice, tells me—they have a neighborhood, in other words, but scarcely know their neighbors. Enter Glide. The church had both the cred and the networks to facilitate an introduction between its oldest and newest residents. As cofounder and minister of liberation, Williams has stood astride poverty and fame for half a century; he marched in Selma, he’s counted the Mandelas and Obamas and Oprahs and Bonos of the world as friends. A newly arrived company looking for an ally on these blocks, or perhaps a broker, could do far worse.
To Felicia Horowitz, wife of tech luminary Ben Horowitz and a devoted Glide supporter, the tech industry has to work extra hard for community acceptance—even as far more insidious local industries mostly escape public reprobation. Chirag Bhakta didn’t mutter about predatory lending bros ruining the neighborhood. At the center, Horowitz sees an abiding tech truth. “We’re outsiders. That’s what it comes down to. We always have been,” Horowitz told me.
“My first campaign was in 2012, and I did that for GQ, and it was essentially a blog. I was on the trail covering it every single day, multiple times a day. So I was trained pretty narrowly as a political reporter. But I always had this ambition to be a magazine features writer, and after 2012 I tried to lay the groundwork of doing features, about politics but also about other things. …
“After spending a year at GQ covering the campaign — I had gone there with the idea that I was going to be a daily blogger on the campaign trail and also write these great longform features. And guess what? It’s really hard to blog every day, and also write longform features. So at the end of the year I was sort of looking I was like, ‘Well this was great, but I didn’t write anything that was like a classic magazine feature.’ I freelanced for about eight months and I just use that time to really establish myself as someone who could do the features because, for one, I wanted to know that I could do it. But I also wanted to say to other people, ‘Here’s the kind of writer I am.'”
-On my latest episode of the Kill Fee podcast (iTunes), I spoke with journalist Marin Cogan about her early career, and how she navigates the world of politics, sports, and beyond.
Marlo Mack’s podcast How To Be a Girl is a sensitive and honest exploration of the joys, fears, and struggles of raising of a transgender child. Earlier this year, Marlo and her seven-year-old daughter M (both pseudonyms) met transgender actress Laverne Cox (“Orange Is the New Black”). The story and photos of that meeting had a brief flare of online virality. In a recent episode of the podcast, Marlo (who also blogs at gendermom) talked about what happened after that meeting, as M began to understand that the world can be a difficult, even dangerous, place for transgender people like her. Below is a transcribed excerpt of that podcast.Read more…
Horace Silver was one of jazz’s most influential composers and talented pianists. He’d played with countless greats, from Sonny Rollins to Miles Davis, and led a quintet that shaped jazz as we know it. You might not know Silver’s songs by name, but you’ve probably heard his melodies sampled in hip-hop. Silver died in June 2014 at age 85; Peter Keepnews reflected on Silver’s legacy in a New York Times obituary that ran that same month:
“I had the house rhythm section at a club called the Sundown in Hartford,” Mr. Silver told The New York Times in 1981. “Stan Getz came up and played with us. He said he was going to call us, but we didn’t take him seriously. But a couple of weeks later he called and said he wanted the whole trio to join him.”
Mr. Silver worked briefly with Getz before moving to New York in 1951. He was soon in demand as an accompanist, working with leading jazz musicians like the saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. In 1953, Mr. Silver and the drummer Art Blakey formed a cooperative group, the Jazz Messengers, whose aggressive style helped define hard bop and whose lineup of trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums became the standard hard-bop instrumentation.
Radio producer, writer, and storytelling all-’rounder Al Letson (State of the Re:Union, Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal) recently launched a new podcast called Errthang. The show is a personal outlet for Letson’s stories and diverse passions — a venue for “errthang” he wants to do. Kicking off in style, the first episode is built around the story of how Letson’s life changed when, at 7 years old, he got what he’d long wished for: a brother — but an older brother, who brought some strong older-brothering skills to his adoptive family: Read more…
Most musicologists who’ve traced the origins of “Happy Birthday” agree that its musical score dates back to the work of two Kentucky sisters in the late 19th century: Mildred Jane Hill (b.1859), and Patty Smith Hill (b.1868).
After graduating as valedictorian of Louisville Collegiate Institute, Patty went on to be a central figure in the progressive education movement, endorsing hands-on learning techniques and interactive teaching methods. She invented “Patty Hill Blocks” — a set of large, cardboard bricks that children could use to learn about structural engineering — and then founded the Institute of Child Welfare Research at Columbia University Teachers College.
In 1889, while serving as a kindergarten teacher at a Kentucky grade school, she began working on a set of childrens’ songs with her older sister Mildred, a well-known organist, composer, and “Negro music” scholar. Four years later, the two released their first collection of tunes in a book titled “Song Stories for the Kindergarten.” Among the songs, was a little ditty entitled “Good Morning to All,” which would later be the source of the sheet music for “Happy Birthday.”
A few years ago, Uber was barely started. Travis is at my house up in the mountains over the holidays, hanging out with me and my family. And he’s palling around with my dad. And my dad says, ‘Hey, let’s play a game of Wii Tennis (Nintendo Wii). And my dad had a Wii at home; considered himself a pretty good tennis player; he’s mildly athletic, used to play in little local tennis tournaments. So Travis is, like, ‘Alright.’ Travis is barely awake yet. And they sit there and start playing this Wii tennis game, and my dad is getting just abused. He’s losing handily to Travis. And Travis is barely moving, he’s barely raising his arm, and my dad is taking tennis swings. And so he’s just exhausted by this.
Travis, in full Princess Bride-style, says, ‘I’m sorry, I gotta confess: I play with my opposite hand.’ And so he switches the controller to his other hand. They start the match again and my dad doesn’t score a single point. He’s just absolutely swinging away and he gets no points in, and half of Travis’s serves are just aces. And my dad is just completely dejected. And so this grin comes over Travis’s face, and he’s, like, ‘Hey, Mr. Sacca, I’ve got something to confess.’ And he starts thumbing over on the controller to the settings page on the Wii to where they have the global high score list and he says, ‘I’m actually tied for second in the global rankings in Wii Tennis.’ He was the second best player in the world in Wii Tennis.
I don’t what the day was when Travis decided he wanted to become one of the best Wii Tennis players in the world while founding what’s gone on to become the biggest transportation company in history, etcetera etectera, but it was in that moment that I saw his true obsession with obtaining a goal. Once he sets something out as a goal for himself, he’ll absolutely accomplish it–at probably any cost.”
Chaz Ebert stopped practicing law when she married Roger, and ran the business side of things for him. They worked side-by-side throughout their marriage. As he became sicker, and was only able to communicate through a computer, Chaz’s role grew.
At some point, he asked me to be his voice. So we would do some things on the computer, and then he would say, but I want you to say this. It’s important for you to say this part. You know, and so we — when he was very sick, it felt like we became one person. There, I didn’t feel the boundaries that you feel with two people. And I know those boundaries so well because when he got better and he got stronger, those boundaries were resurrected. And I became my own person again and he became his own person. But the period where we became one was a very interesting period when I think back on it. Because I didn’t realize that that’s what was happening. I don’t even know how to explain it. But I actually did feel him in my soul when we became one person.
— Anna Sale interviewed Chaz Ebert for WNYC’s Death, Sex & Money podcast. You can listen to the interview, or read a transcript of it here. Life Itself, a documentary about Roger Ebert’s life up until his final days came out in theaters this summer.