The end of my self-imposed podcast fast.
I was reminded recently of an insightful quote (and comedy bit) from the late-great George Carlin. He joked: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” The podcast where I heard it was using it as a metaphor for the current political era, in that it’s the same perceptual mistake we all make when was say something like “anyone who thinks right of me is a fascist and anyone who links left of me is a socialist.” We all think we’re driving the exact right speed, just like we all think we are the only person being perfectly rational in our political viewpoint. Unless you’re the fastest car on the road, you’re too slow for someone else, and unless you’re parked, you’re a maniac speeder. It’s all relative.
Twenty-Fifteen: I’m doing something I’ve been putting off for far too long. I’m getting serious about reading, again. I’ve dusted off my paperbacks and charged up my Kindle. It’s time to take the time to feed my poor television-adled brain with a selection of healthy, nourishing fiction. So, read on, little brain. Read on. We’re going Book to the Future!
The happy accident of the kind possible with Kindle-ownership is that when researching a new novel to read for your “geeze, I really should read more this year…” novel-reading project you sometimes choose a book and are neatly informed by the Amazon store page that you probably shouldn’t buy this book AGAIN because, dude, you already own it and it’s already downloaded to your device. In fact, you bought it a year ago, so just read it already.
I decided to promote John Dies at the End to the next spot in my reading list queue because (a) I obviously own it and lacking a credit card makes it tough to buy new Kindle titles, and (b) I’ve been binge-listening to the Cracked Podcast for the last couple weeks and David Wong (aka Jason Pargin) is my new creative-platonic man-crush, and I figured I should read his novel.
As with all these novels, I’ve just barely skimmed the surface. In fact, I read the introduction and the prologue, from which I’ve gleaned that the book is readable enough to keep me reading it, and that it seems to be something along the lines of a bizarro, hipster poltergeist-type story.
And that’s all I’ve got…
Oh, except, apparently John dies at the end. Spoilers.
a mash-up of radio & food
I spent about twenty minutes this morning looking through various charts and search results and the best I can figure is that there are two types of audio food podcasts that still exist: ones that are not popular enough to crack the top 200 on the charts, and those that haven’t published an episode in at least half a decade. Sometimes they belong to both categories.
My research is hardly complete, of course, but it just strikes me as singularly odd that in a web full of reviews, blog, general information, recipes, and shopping tools, the idea of the food podcast has drifted into the ethereal archives of ancient memory.
There used to be podcasts. I know I used to listen to a short but interesting list of eclectic podcasts that I only discovered because they hovered near the upper levels of the download and popularity charts. I’m not a deep-cuts kind of guy, so they must have been.
a mash-up of commuting & (listening to) music
Every day I ride the train to and from work and every day I sit amongst hundreds of my fellow commuters as we speed nearly soundlessly down the tracks towards our various jobs. No one speaks. We all clutch our devices either reading, playing little games, or listening with our ears plugged into little private soundtracks pulsing from our players into and drowning out the world around us.
I’m among them, of course.
I put on some music or play a podcast or crank up an audiobook.
But apart from peaking over the shoulders of some unsuspecting stranger, an act that is just as like to get me a stern look as a slap in the face, I can’t do much to figure out to what everyone else around me is listening.
a mash-up of gatherings & television
…even though television hasn’t quite figured that out quite yet.
In an era of cable cutters and digital streaming, it would be easy to be distracted by the doomsaying of so many old style media moguls hearkening the rasping death of a medium from atop their shimmering piles of money, urging us to decry the evolution of a technology and cap artificial restrictions upon its successor to prop up a dwindling business model.
Personally, I think 2015 will be the year we join those cable cutting masses and move almost exclusive to new ways of suckling upon the teat of modern entertainment. We’re not going to stop watching television, but I do think broadcast teevee has peaked and it’s time to jump off that bandwagon.
I had my heart dashed upon the sharp, digital rocks of the Internets rockier coasts recently.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, I suppose. It was bound to happen. I think we’ve been sailing in the dark digital seas without much hope for proper navigation for a while, and it was only a matter of time.
See, I’ve been listening to this podcast. And this podcast failed me…
Wait. Let me back up.
To begin with it needs be understood that I’ve basically given up on radio. Music stations are gone from my playlist, and I couldn’t tell you for the life of me where standard talk radio now lives on my tuner. My clock is set to the local CBC station, but only because I can’t stand waking up to the bleating of an alarm. I have nearly all my music and my news delivered to my ears — about ninety-five percent of the time — via one of a few devices that consumes or stores digital audio and lets me pump it through headphones, speakers, or the car stereo: my phone, my ipod, or a computer of some kind. This digital audio comes largely in the form of music, audio books and podcasts. And nearly all my podcasts are pulled from the web via an automated update process and a carefully culled list that I maintain on my phone. I have so much to listen to, I literally cannot keep up.
I acknowledge fully that more than a couple of these podcasts are pure candy. But there are others, serious audio, I rely upon for news, discussion, and opinion of topics of niche interest to me. The thing is that one particular of these podcats — the name of which I will not mention because that’s not really the point — let me down last week — failed my confidence in an epic way — dashing my faith in the art of modern review journalism upon the crags of unreality.
But what do you care? Isn’t critical review all just a big popularity contest anyhow? Consumers doing what they do, consuming, and then scraping varying levels of fame from the chaff of greater things and recycling their opinions as critical reviews: Five stars. Two thumbs up. Recommended… or not.
Perhaps I’ve learned — been coerced by a false confidence in popular opinion — to take review at face value for what it is, and with only the merest grain or two of cynicism and within the properly weighted relationship that it deserves. But I make purchases based on review. I read books based on review.
I see movies based on review.
We went to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey the other day, Peter Jackson’s fourth offering from the Tolkien-lore-based film interpretation series. You know: the first of three Hobbit movies due to clutter our hearts and souls — and drain our wallets — for the next couple years. You know: the movie that has been reviewed ad naseum by the modern reviewer journalists of the Internets.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was the first novel I ever remember buying and reading. I was in elementary school. I read it. And then I read it again in high school. And then one more time recently for good measure — after re-reading the The Lord of the Rings for the second time. But I’ve read it. Remember that.
See, like so many reviewers have over the past weeks, the professional “popular geek culture experts” on the afore-alluded podcast were discussing the movie version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. They had mixed feelings. Sure, it had great special effects and there was that pesky frame-rate issue that eveyone seemed hung up on, but their real beef was that it was a bit too long. It was a bit too weighty. It lingered in places it should have cut. It over-explained details that seemed like they should have been simplified. It was three hours that could have been two… oh, and how were they going to fill another two movies? It was a pan, a movie to maybe go check out on Blu-Ray in a few months, but not exactly recommended.
I admit I had a different opinion.
Having watched it not five days prior, this movie was fresh in my head. I had really actually enjoyed it. I thought it was robust and strong and it explored as much as I expected the depth of the Tolkien world that I know and love.
I mentioned that I’ve read The Hobbit a few times, but I’ve seen and heard other interpretations as well. We have the animated version at home and a long time ago I downloaded not one, but two different dramatisations of the novel that I’ve listened to on more than one occasion. In other words I know this story. I understand the world and the literature, at least as far as a casual fan should. And, again, this movie was still fresh in my head.
…a review of reviews?
The guys on the mentioned podcast are not an anomaly, I imagine… and unfortunately so. I want to make clear that this post was written not merely because I disagree with their review. Instead, it was written because I disagree with the context in which they reviewed the movie — in the context that so many reviewers have reviewed it. A subtle nuance of a review that makes the difference between spouting one’s opinion welcome versus so-much-hot-air. This one was full of air and just made me the most sad: it was the metaphorical straw that broke the metaphorical camel’s metaphorical back.
In the course of the podcasted discussion it was revealed that, while they had all seen the movie, just one — ONE — of the five hosts had actually read the novel. That’s right: One. Of five. A children’s novel. And let me just add just so that we’re clear here: they were discussing the film based on a popular and famous novel, reviewing it in the context of a novel that defined a genre of literature, and having a discussion about a film’s merits as part of a series of films based on other novels which (again!) only one-fifth of them had actually taken the time to read.
The guys were specifically not recommending it because it (to paraphrase a quote) was “too long and boring.”
Now, these are just some guys. I know that. Maybe I’m getting this all wrong, giving them too much cred… taking them for something more than the ear-candy they intend to be. But they are doing a show, and I am listening to it, spending my time and bandwidth on it, and this is a kind of meta-review… a review of reviews, and a review of the whole idea of reviews. My review is that I’m disappointed: I’m calling them to task. Well, I’m calling them to task insomuch (if on some off-chance this humble post somehow ever scrolls across their screens) that they should know that their failure has highlighted a feeling of deep disappointment for at least one person in their audience… little-ole-me. And I can call them to task here: why? Because I listened to their show. I’ve listened to many of their shows. I’ve consumed from not only the primary source that I am reviewing, but I have consumed from the secondary references, too. I’ve listened to the actual podcast, and I’m commenting on the same.
I mean, it’s simple: do your research. If you’re going to talk about the book, read the book. And for good measure, if you’re going to review a film explicitly based on a book… y’know, probably read the book. This holds exponentially more true if you are holding yourself out as some kind of pop culture guru.
The boys of this particular unnamed podcast are certainly not the first to have flubbed expectations in such a subtle but meaningful way, will not be the last, and are in the ever-growing company of those who are following an all-too-similar path. It’s lazy journalism, and one step away from writing or casting just to have the proper keywords in your content.
Yeah, failure. And not just here, but rampant throughout the layers of new media. Perhaps it is a harsh word, but I would suggest that we’ve quietly crept into a new era, an era punctuated by exactly this type of opinion and review: unsupported by anything but the fluff of layered and borrowed ideas. Is it harmful to separate ourselves from the primary sources of art and literature whilst simultaneously becoming the bold-faced champions or scowling protestor reviewing, gate-keeping, and yea-or-naying with only our superficial experiences with works of others to back us? I think so.
I think we probably all need to elevate ourselves — myself included — if we want to be the voices of the Internets, at least ones worth listening to.
Or… we could just forget about reviews as a whole and go back to forming our own opinions again. I’m considering that as a viable option all around.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit images on this post are owned by Warner Bros. Entertainment Group and/or Ballantine, and are used — unaffiliated in whole or in part with me — completely without permission. But go read the book and see the movie… it’s all pretty awesome.
I know I just did an update a meager few days ago, but since then not only have I run the equivalent of a half-marathon distance (across three days) and brought my actual total to 282 KM and my virtual distance mapped right into the city of Calgary (all the way from Edmonton) but I’ve also had an interesting adventure sort-of run that I wanted to get into writing: the roller coasters.
Or, at least that’s how the clinic instructor explained the route to us as we were standing in front of the store priming our GPS watches for the impending run.
I’ve been listening to this running podcast called “The Extra Mile” where the host compiles audio submissions from various listeners into a kind of ‘dispatches from the world of running training’ show. Runners spanning the gamut of ability and location call-in or email an audio file wherein they narrate their personal and recent training updates or race experiences, reminding me a lot of some of the conversations I have while out on the trails with some of my fellow clinic folks. I enjoy it and have been wondering if my expereinces would ever be interesting enough to make the cut.
Last night? Perhaps a contender for such a thing.
Now, I don’t know if simply recalling the roller coaster run would qualify as interesting enough to make it into the podcast, but had I recorded this particular run, commentating on my own status as I was dashing through the trails yesterday evening before supper, it just might have… might have… made for some particularly interesting listening.
See, part of the larger, broader, philosophy of the training program that we invariably follow each time I run with a clinic is that — about half way through — we do hill training. For us this means this: nearby to the store is a little pedestrian overpass that has an elevation gain of about sixty meters (at best) and normally we trot over to that hill, run up and down a few times in the name of strength and endurance training, and then trot back to the store, our legs mildly sore the next day from the increased exertion. It’s not an easy run and most people dread it and complain about it, and then hold it up as the gold standard of a hard run. But that hill was pretty much nothing compared to our run last night.
It goes something like this: the current clinic instructor apparently does not abide by hill training — at least not the wimpy stuff we’ve been doing. She believes in doing hilly runs, and thus we were introduced to a somewhat less-than-familiar concept and what she casually referred to as the roller coaster trail. We started our run at a cool pace, jogging past the new South West Farmers Market operating in the adjacent parking lot and drawing the odd glances of dozens of kids in the brightly-coloured bouncy castle. We ran up and over that aforementioned pedestrian overpass hill… and then kept going, down and down, a casual trot deeper into the gradually sloping valley and past the fringes of the already sparse suburbs, and stopped, about two kilometers from where we’d started at the store at the top of a dirt trail decending at what seemed to be a forty-five degree angle into the dense trees.
“No breaks,” she told us. “Just run two kilometers in until your come to a bit of a clearing, then turn around and run back here. Ready?”
And then we ran, dropping into the shade of the dense poplar and pine forest of Edmonton’s river valley, a narrow dirt trail studded with frequent protruding tree roots, rocks, and ruts. We ran single file, even this not really preventing the bush-whacking, face-slapping of tree branches in our way. And the hills? The rough trails were little more than a bear path, equating to roughly two-kilometer (each way) of uneven terrain, a trail run that would have made even the most ardent roller coaster enthusiast dizzy with the non-stop changes in elevation, a quick up then down then up then down, followed by a steep climb and a sharp corner, and a near vertical drop followed by a similar slope in the opposite direction.
And we ran fast. We got into it and just went. We exaulted in the exhilaration of the natural setting with the fresh spring foliage and an early evening sun glinting through the canopy and the pounding of feet on dirt and the swirl of insects and dust and hush of the nearby river. Four and a half kilometers of this, in and out, and there I stood having barely the strength to climb back up out of the valley, back on an asphalt path overlooking the scenic trail systems snaking through the trees below, the group panting and high-fiving while we waited for the small handful of stragglers to amble back to the mid-start point.
The two kilometers back to our ‘shed’ were less interesting, a slow climb out of the valley trails, up and over our now-mediocre-seeming hill-training-hill and back past the fragrant aromas of hot dogs and popcorn cooking at the Farmers Market. And then home.
My legs hurt today. They ache, moreso than any real or actual pain. And tonight I rest.
In an ideal world I’d have all the time in the universe to listen to every bit of music there ever was. But life being what it is, I’ve had to choose. Yes, you read correct. I’ve had to choose! Damn you, universe!
Joking aside, after over half of a year of honing and refining, I’ve narrowed down the list of music podcasts to which I subscribe at work. I listen to podcasts at the office because (a) it saves me carting my iPod back and forth to work every day (oh, what a burden, you reply) and also because (b) they are all perfectly legal and thus there is no content of questionable copyright on my employer’s machine. At one point I had subscribed to nearly twenty different music feeds, but in the last couple months it has slowly whittled to just three, and three that I download each week and usually listen through at least once each.
Additionally, the whittling process took account of a number of not-so-conscious criteria. Each of these seems to be (at least to my mind) (i) consistently solid, awesome music, (ii) music to which I can listen, work, read, write, and be productive to — simultaneously — if necessary, (iii) enduring, in that they have each been around for years and hundreds of episodes, and (iv) thus-far well-aligned with my personal tastes. (Very objective criteria, don’t you think?)
The Chillcast with Anji Bee
Down-time, down-tempo, chill-out music with a passionate host.
From her website: “Anji Bee is a Southern California vocalist, lyricist, podcaster and vidcaster. She is one half of the indie band, Lovespirals, as well as the hostess and producer of the chillout music podcast, The Chillcast, and Chillcast Video, as well as the co-hostess and producer of the Chillin’ with Lovespirals podcast.” But I only really listen to her podcast. I can’t comment on the other work, though I should really track some of it down and have a closer look. That’s what you do when you become a fan, right?
I could probably go on and on about how she has an awesomely-smooth perfect-for-radio voice, or her selections slide together with a practiced elegance and a classic blur, or about the how the intensity of her genuine interest in the product and process comes through in the cast, but I’d just be gushing. I listen over and over each week because it’s solid work, polished music, and a great podcast. Each spans roughly an hour in duration, and this is just long enough for me to get into to zone, get some things done, and then sneak off to a meeting or something, fairly chilled and ready to do business.
Chill-out tracks with a philosophical host mixed in with the music.
I think I listen to Dave’s Lounge because had I the inclination, talent, or time to put a music podcast together, it is almost exactly the heights to which I’d aspire. From his website, Dave doesn’t seem to say much of himself but he writes that he is “Podcasting the best in chillout, trip hop and downtempo electronic music.” And I’m not in a position to argue. I listen to his podcast every week and have never really had reason to bail: again, consistently smooth and mellow tracks, perfect for getting things done and tuning out the drone of the office with my headphones on and fingers set to keyboard.
I also think what I enjoy about the podcast is that each week there is a bit of spoken commentary meshed in amongst the music. And not just the announcements of the songs and artists, either. It’s personal, heart-felt chats with the audience. Just there, hung out as if to say, hey, this is what I’m thinking about. It’s rarely controversial, but usually mildly philosophical, as if the host is just, off-the-cuff, talking about things that are bobbing about his mind. Like a blog, but not in-your-face nor the reason to download the episode: just there. Like icing. And I’ve started listening for it almost as much as I would with reading any blog I enjoy.
The Gareth Emery Podcast
Professional DJ and more up-tempo trance selections, great for working, walking, or zoning.
From what I understand this is a different beast altogether: Gareth Emery is relatively more established, Wikipedia claiming that he “has emerged in the last few years as one of the world’s major trance DJs.” Based in the UK, he seems to have a little more elaborate career in the music industry. In fact, not only do I listen to his podcast, but I’ve bought a couple of his albums and quite enjoy those too.
I say that the podcast differs from the other podcasts listed above largely in two ways: (a) it is far more commercial, not only with regard to production values, but in that I do very much get the sense that Emery is pitching his own work and albums as he plays a lot of his own mixes, and is looking for listeners to buy his stuff or attend his shows — though the passion for the music remains evident — and (b) it is far more upbeat, not so chill as the other two, and usually what I listen to when I’m drilling into something a lot less thinking-dependent and more grunt-work-ish. It’s still very good, though, and like all these podcasts a terrific value for great music at the el-cheap-o price of free.
Take it or leave it. My opinions, my two cents.
For the entire month of June I’m planning on writing a series of blog-a-day posts based on a set series of open-ended questions to myself. This is one of those posts.
June 9th // Something You Have Heard
I’m sitting here at the computer in my basement pondering what to write while iTunes hums away through my music collection in the background. And here I am again thinking about the so-called spirit implied by these questions. I mean, I could just tell you what I’m listening to right now and get onto playing some Minecraft instead of trying to write a blog post — which is all I pretty much feel like doing right now — but instead I’m caught in this vaguely half-assed attempt at coming up with something half-way meaningful in the context of something I’m seemingly implying has meaning. So — instead — I’m thinking, pretending, assuming, skipping-the-caring-bit-and-just-telling-you what you want to read here is perhaps a snapshot of the many different things I’ve heard over the course of today, as weirdly random as that might be. Care or not, it fulfills my daily blog obligations.
Those things are:
- CBC news as I flipped on the radio during breakfast;
- the chimes of the LRT echoing along the concrete platform in the warm spring moring air announcing the next arriving train barrelling towards the station;
- a few unremarkable lines, chords, maybe verses of some random-and-generic adult contemporary song playing over the cafe speakers as I bought my morning coffee;
- a chapter from my current Audible book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” via my iPhone while I chugged through processing some site changes at the office;
- the rah-rah chant of a random group of corporate challenge people riding a superbike through Churchill square while I ate an “AndyDog*” from Fat Franks at noon;
- the familiar bings of a crosswalk signal as I wandered across downtown to a meeting;
- the two buskers in Central Station — who are always in Central Station at the end of each and every work day — playing their guitars, strumming out the same Counting Crows covers;
- three sciencey-type articles from the audio edition of The Economist via my iPhone as I plodded through the commute;
- again, the CBC news broadcast in my car as I drove to my running clinic;
- the exercise-induced huff-puff-huff-puff of the eleven runners out doing our first night of many hill training nights, barely breathing as we reached the top of the climb on our last circuit;
- the podcast edition of “The Age of Persuassion” as I ate my supper recently rewarmed from the microwave;
- Claire, from her bedroom where she should be sleeping, asking dozens of delay-tactic questions followed by “goodnight! seeyouinthemorning daddy!”; and
- a selection of random electronica playing right now from my computer’s speakers…
Yeah. Just a smattering of random things. (I’m going to go play now.)
*AndyDog: The Art Gallery has an Andy Warhol exhibit on right now so Fat Franks, the hot dog street vendor, is selling a promotional/special so-called AndyDog which consists of a european weiner, a pickle, mustard, onions, and crushed potato chips. I thought I’d explain because I couldn’t find any reference to this having any sort of real meaning to anything relating to Andy Warhol via a Google search… but I might just be lazy.