Burning Couches, Turquoise Wisdom ... LA's Podcast Scene

MAILANDER’S LA - "My blog has always been a calling card to all the beautiful girls of the world," LAist, LA Times and KPCC alum Tony Pierce owned up to Colin Marshall last year, even while deeply enmeshed in his recently wrapped gig at the city's top public radio station.  Though it's not a surprise, as you'd learn in a minute from scrolling down Pierce's busblog.com, you wouldn't have read this anywhere, either.  Because we don't get unguarded nuggets like this even at Tony's ultra unguarded blog; we get them in podcasts.

Like Pierce and many others who straddle online and mainstream worlds while showing much circumspection towards both, I was invited onto Marshall's podcast show "Notebook on Cities and Culture" this past week.  The invitation was a most opportune one, because for me, even though podcasts and Internet radio have been around for well over a decade, it's right now that they are occupying more and more of my daily listening time.

Marshall it turns out is one of the top interviewers around here.  He has been delivering quality in-depth interviews to Los Angeles and the world since 2007.  His site colinmarshall.org hosts nearly 300 podcasts of his "Notebook on Cities and Culture" and other mutations of this long-running theme, with both LA residents and visitors, and also drawing from prolonged forays out of town and even out of country as well.

City and world: Michael Silverblatt, Tom Lutz, Alain de Botton, Steve Wozniak, Jessa Crispin...it's quite a list I mostly sheepishly joined.  But a few minutes in, I see the key to his success in the realm: his interview style is nearly entirely selfless, certainly self-effacing, but not disconnected at all.  While he may ask complicated questions, he rarely frames them with much information about his own life, excepting his predilection for public transportation and occasionally confessing a soft spot for bands like Sparks and early Talking Heads.

Indeed, a favorite interview of mine is the aforementioned one with Pierce, who is Marshall's fellow Gaucho from UCSB.  The two go hung toe to hung toe describing Isla Vista, or as Pierce has it "the nipple on the boob" of California, where you can hear the waves from your dorm and students once burned their couches on the street at the end of every so-called academic year.

Which is consistent with Pierce's best quality, irreverence.  But in a relaxed interview format, it's also instructive and even reassuring to listen to, for instance, LA's master pageview-fetcher describe his nascent days with LAist. Or Carolyn Kellogg--another early-adopter podcaster herself--relax and even dis the very industry she promotes at the Times, the publishing biz.  Or Silverblatt in an equally unguarded moment on Marshall's show unleash re LA's unjustly blemished reputation as a literary backwater.

Not that new media has any special leg up on old media.  Radio is really really old media, and Silverblatt at KCRW has been at bookworm for nearly 25 years--and every interview with every author is archived as a podcast at the KCRW site.  Nobel laureates, French Theory practitioners, Pulitzer winners are all archived, as well as idiosyncratic examples of LA lit and litchat life.  I find the archived interviews most welcome when reading a book by an author Silverblatt has already interviewed.

But I also recognize that the difference between Silverblatt and Marshall can be very wide, and why I'm more likely to find out something telling on Marshall's show.  The stakes aren't any lower on Notebooks, but they may feel to guests like they might be, and so people can relax, even be caught off guard.  It's not gotcha journalism, not at all, but people say the darnedest things when they feel unguarded.

And that's the value for me of the podcast: you catch people when they're less guarded--which is mostly the way I want them.  Marshall's early banter before he turns on a mike vaguely reminds me of the way Ed McMahon used to warm up a crowd, getting them relaxed but adding a tiny bit of excitement via a beloved topic too.  In my case, he asks me about Argonaut, a street in Playa del Rey I happen to have adored for going on fifty years.

Of musical podcasts, the one that has been capturing the most worktime for me lately comes out of dublab.com, [[hotlink]]  with deejays like Turquoise Wisdom and Kozy Kitchens in their stable of "labrats," heading into the dublab studio with digitized samples and the occasional "sachel full of wax" ready for firing in primo sequences.

Well-known to lots of neighbor types, of course, is LATalkRadio.com, where LA first heard KPCC's Alice Walton in days when she was rather less cautious as a host than she is as a correspondent today. These days I find myself tuning into State of the Arts a little more than I probably should, and also on the occasional lost Frank Sheftl Saturday night when Michael Higby's on.  I wouldn't call any of these shows structured, let alone overly structured--and that's their appeal, their promise.

Exploring LA's podcasts--and Marshall tells me that LA leads the league in podcasts--is sort of like pulling the car over to visit a garage sale--you could be bored or you could hit paydirt, and if you actually do find something, you can often even call in and be on the air in seconds.  I haven't done that but I'm nearly always entertained when it happens.  And I'll be glad to be on one myself very soon, archived with some others featured among LA's most notorious.

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs at www.josephmailander.com.)




Vol 11 Issue 32

Pub: Apr 19, 2013