Category Music

Episode 200 – Thomas Dolby

Virtual Memories Show #200: Thomas Dolby

“I’m never happier than when I’m out in my converted lifeboat studio staring out over the North Sea, playing with sounds. I prefer sounds to people.”

Two-hundred episodes!? Who’d’a thunk it? My guest for this special anniversary show is musician, tech entrepreneur, professor and now memoirist Thomas Dolby! We talk about his new book, The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology: A Memoir, the upsides and downsides of his major careers, the gestalt of artist-artwork-audience, his curious mixture of shyness and arrogance, our respective imposter syndromes, teaching music for films, moving beyond the keyboard as a computer interface, having students who don’t know about his music career, looking back at his life and starting to figure out the big picture, and meeting the one rock band that doesn’t find Spinal Tap funny. (Jump to 7:00 to skip my intro.) Give it a listen! And go buy Thomas Dolby’s memoir, The Speed of Sound!

“I don’t write relationship lyrics. I don’t write typical pop lyrics. I start where typical pop lyrics leave off. The obsessions that I have, about geography, history, the planet, about technologies and their faults, about parallel worlds, and about my role in those worlds as a dissident: that seems to be what connects with a certain type of person.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Thomas Dolby has spent his career at the intersection of music and technology. He was an early star on MTV, and then moved to Silicon Valley, where he has had an extraordinary career as an entrepreneur. He has been named Johns Hopkins University’s first Homewood Professor of the Arts, where he will help create a new center that will serve as an incubator for technology in the arts. He lives in England with his family.

There’s a more extensive bio at his faculty page at Johns Hopkins.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Mr. Dolby’s home in Baltimore on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of me and Thomas Dolby by his wife, Kathleen Beller. It’s on my instagram.

Episode 198 – Ed Ward

Virtual Memories Show #198: Ed Ward

“There’s a large narrative in this book: the popular music tradition of A&R, where songs were given to artists to record, was on its way out.”

Lifelong rock & roll journalist Ed Ward joins the show to talk about his new book, The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1963 (Flatiron Books). We get into how he discovered his calling, how he memorized Billboard charts the way other kids memorized baseball cards, the joy of being a “rootless cosmopolitan”, the music world’s shift from A&R to audience-driven songwriting (and why they were tired of guys named Bobby from Philadelphia), why Tutti Frutti is the “first” rock & roll record, how he wound up in Austin, the experience of meeting 50-somethings who don’t know Chuck Berry’s Maybelline, how he got hired at and fired from Rolling Stone, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy the first volume of Ed’s History of Rock & Roll!

“Every summer, minority females want ballads. Black labels knew that, consciously or not.”

It’s the last Virtual Memories podcast of the year! Lots of great conversation about music, culture, race and Ed’s burgeoning side-obsession with pre-expulsion Spain and its intersection of Jewish, Muslim and Christian populaitons, so get on it and go listen to the show!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Ed Ward is the rock and roll historian on NPR’s Fresh Air and has been involved with the SXSW music festival since its inception. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and countless other music magazines. He is also the coauthor of Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll. He lives in Austin, TX.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the offices of Flatiron Books in New York City on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of me and Ed by me. It’s on my instagram.

Episode 185 – Willard Spiegelman

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Virtual Memories Show #185: Willard Spiegelman

“It’s an existential question, not a historical one: what kinds of places make you feel at home? Some people feel at home nowhere, and some feel at home everywhere. I’m myself, wherever I am.”

1472770093-bk_spiegelmanWillard Spiegelman returns to the show to talk about his wonderful new essay collection, Senior Moments: Looking Back, Looking Ahead (FSG). We get into the process of deaccessioning, Mark Strand’s advice on paring down to 100 books, Willard’s take on 45 years living in Dallas (and what he’ll miss about it now that he’s retired), the joy of getting lost in Italy, the best way to pick someone up in NYC, the contrast of his 50th high school and college reunions, and more. Give it a listen! And go buy Senior Moments!

“I’m enthusiastically looking forward to getting rid of everything.”

We also mix it up over the aesthetic sunk cost fallacy, ponder being alone in the middle of a crowd, compare Japan and Hungary relative to being linguistically uprooted (I argue that Hungary is tougher, because it looks like you should be able to piece together the language), examine the pharaonic idea of hoarding, and listen to time’s winged chariot hurrying near. Now go listen to the show!

“I’m much too old to write a memoir. That’s the province of 25-year-olds.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Willard Spiegelman is the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. From 1984 util 2016, he was also the editor in chief of Southwest Review. He had written many books and essays about English and American poetry. For more than a quarter century, he has been a regular contributor to the Leisure and Arts pages of The Wall Street Journal. In 2005, Willard won the PEN/Nora Magid award for literary editing. In addition to Senior Moments, he’s also written or edited Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness, How Poets See the World: The Art of Description in Contemporary Poetry, Wordsworth’s Heroes, Imaginative Transcripts: Selected Literary Essays, Majestic Indolence: English Romantic Poetry and the Work of Art, The Didactic Muse: Scenes of Instruction in Contemporary American Poetry, and Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt. Oh, and he’s quite dapper.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Spiegelman’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Mr. Spiegelman by me.

Episode 182 – Virginia Heffernan

Virtual Memories Show #182: Virginia Heffernan

“It’s very, very weird to do something along with three billion other people.”

magic-and-loss-9781439191705_hrCultural critic Virginia Heffernan joins the show to talk about her new book, Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Simon & Schuster)! We talk about what’s behind the screen, why the internet is bigger than the Industrial Revolution, her first experience online in 1979, what it’s like to be in a piece of performance art with half the world’s population, her crushing defeat at meeting Joan Didion, why she’s nostalgic for landline phones, the motive motive of Pokemon Go, asking The New York Times to host a shred-guitar competition, and why there’s value in Reading The Comments! Give it a listen! And buy Magic and Loss!

“The Magic is the part of the internet that is delightful, that moves you to a new space, that is the Mystery of existence. The Loss is that sick feeling you have when you’ve been online all the time.”

We also get into the karmic hassle of filing expense reports, the necessity of having an online avatar, balancing her virtual and physical presences, the Talmudic ferocity of language-correctors online, the long history of selfies, what goes wrong every time she tries to write fiction, being a fiction fact-checker for The New Yorker, why people should read upthread, and the miracle of her author picture and the uncanny valley. Now go listen to the show!

“Absolute banality is not good, but babbling eccentricity is dangerous, too.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

vheffavatarVirginia Heffernan (a.k.a. @page88) is a journalist, critic and author, most recently, of Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Heffernan has been called “America’s preeminent cultural critic,” “a public intellectual for the 21st century,” and among the “finest living writers of English prose.” Edward Mendelson in The New York Review of Books called Magic and Loss, “surprisingly moving…an ecstatic narrative of submission.” Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of WIRED, writes, “Heffernan is a new species of wizard. It is a joy and a revelation to be under her spell.”

From 2008 to 2012, Heffernan wrote “The Medium,” a weekly column about Internet culture, for The New York Times Magazine. Before introducing the column, Heffernan spent four years as a television critic at the daily New York Times, where, in addition to writing reviews and features, she chronicled the convergence of television and the Internet. In 2002, she received a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard, where her dissertation was on financial dynamics in American novels. Before that, she served as articles editor at Talk Magazine, senior editor at Harper’s Magazine, and television critic for Slate. From 2012 to 2014, she was the national correspondent at Yahoo! News. From 2015-2016, she was a Visiting Scholar in the department of Media, Culture and Communications at NYU, and editorial director of West, a venture-capital firm in San Francisco. She still consults with VCs and startups.

Heffernan has also written for The New Yorker, Mother Jones, New York Magazine, Salon, MTV, Politico, VICE, WIRED, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Glamour, The Message, Matter, and many other publications. She has appeared on The Open Mind, 20/20, CNBC, MSNBC, and regularly on NPR. As an academic and a journalist, Heffernan has lectured and keynoted at Google, The Library of Congress, The New York Public Library, Princeton, Dartmouth, Ohio University, Harvard, Union College, NYU, The Savannah College of Art and Design, The National Gallery of the Arts, and Boston College, among many other institutions, universities, and corporations. Her essays have been widely anthologized, including in Extreme Exposure (1999), Unholy Ghost (2002), and Prime Times (2004), Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future (2014), What to Think About Machines That Think: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence (2015). In 2005, Heffernan (with co-writer Mike Albo) published the comic novel, The Underminer (Bloomsbury).

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded Ms. Heffernan’s apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Ms. Heffernan by Francis Hill.

Episode 181 – Chris Rose

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Virtual Memories Show #181: Chris Rose

“After Katrina, I looked around and saw we had reporters out covering the destruction, but ain’t nobody looking around and what’s left. So that’s what I started to do to. I drove my car around the city until I ran out of gas. I got on my bike and rode around until I got a flat tire. And then I started walking. And I wrote about what was here, rather than what was gone.”

Chris Rose wrote the definitive book of life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, 1 Dead in Attic. I caught up with him for his Magical Musical Mystery History walking tour of the French Quarter, and after we sat down in Harry’s Corner bar and talked about his life, his art, his three literary feuds, how he went from winning a Pulitzer Prize to waiting tables, going from celebrity-stalker to the Bard of the Crescent City, the myths and truths of the French Quarter, and a whole lot more. Give it a listen! And buy 1 Dead in Attic and book a walking tour of the French Quarter!

“My tour is like standup comedy, but we keep moving the stage. Drop all the pretension, and just start telling the stories like you do on stage.”

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If you can make it through my self-pitying ramble of an intro (just skip to like 6:45), and you’ll hear a great talk about being New Orleans famous and/or infamous, the catharsis of the 10-year anniversary of Katrina, the other walking tours he’d love to run, his literary and journalistic heroes, how he got blackballed by his college newspaper, the time he got a cease-and-desist letter from Richard Ford, and why he’s never leaving the city again. Now go listen to the show!

“I was an ordinary man living in an extraordinary time. . . . All I did was write every day about what it was like trying to live in an unlivable city.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Chris Rose used to be a columnist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, where he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary. He won a Pulitzer for his contributions to the Times-Picayune‘s Public Service. He was a finalist for the 2006 Michael Kelly Award. His book, 1 Dead in Attic, was a New York Times bestseller. In recent years, he worked as a waiter. Now he’s a licensed tour guide. He lives in New Orleans with his 3 children. Chris Rose reigned as King of the Krewe du Vieux for the 2007 New Orleans Mardi Gras season.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Harry’s Corner bar on Chartres St. on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photos of Mr. Rose by Amy Roth.

Episode 180 – Leslie Stein

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Virtual Memories Show #180: Leslie Stein

“I’m able to be what people want me to be when I’m behind the bar or playing music, but I’m not a performer by nature, so it’s not an easy transition. With comics, the joy I feel when I’m drawing comes through.”

EOTMC3_Cover_FINALCartoonist Leslie Stein joins the show to celebrate her new book, Time Clock (Fantagraphics)! We talk about her amazing diary comics (recently collected in Bright-Eyed At Midnight), why she picked a really weird name for her ongoing comics project (Eye of the Majestic Creature), the artistic benefits of boredom, finding her style(s), drawing for online vs. print (and color vs. b/w), her strategy for surviving comic cons and festivals, how she got a gig publishing comics at VICE, the disconcerting discovery that she had an audience, and how she strikes a balance of cartooning, being in a band, and tending bar! Give it a listen! And buy her newest books, Time Clock and Bright-Eyed At Midnight (my personal fave of all her work)!

“I’ve been thinking about this one project for five years, and that’s been keeping me from starting it. I feel like it could be amazing or it could be terrible, and I just have to spend a few years on it to figure that out.”

This episode was recorded at the School of Visual Arts, where Leslie studied. Past guest Nathan Fox, chair of the MFA Visual Narrative Department at SVA, offered us a space to record. SVA’s low-residency MFA Visual Narrative Program includes two years online and three summers in NYC. The program focuses on the growing need for original content creators in advertising, video games, picture books, graphic novels, film, comic arts, illustration and animation, and it prepares artists and authors to become innovators in the ever-evolving art of visual storytelling. Now go listen to the show!

“I started diary comics on a whim, which is how I approach everything.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Leslie Stein is a cartoonist and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the comic book series Eye of the Majestic Creature, as well as the author of Bright-Eyed At Midnight, a collection of diary comics, both published by Fantagraphics Books. She regularly contributes comics to VICE. She plays music with Prince Rupert’s Drops.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the School of Visual Arts on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup, inside a closet in Des Allemands, LA. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Stein by me.

Episode 166 – Ben Model

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Virtual Memories Show #166:
Ben Model

“I’m trying to create music that’s pretty enough to listen to but not interesting enough to pay attention to.”

Ben Model has made a career for himself as a silent-film accompanist, playing for audiences throughout the US (and a city in Norway!). I was thrilled to have him on the show and ask him how he got his start and how he reached the top of his field. We talk about the not-exactly-secret society of his peers, the challenge of reading and adapting to audience and movie simultaneously, the importance of audience preservation, the differences between playing live and recording a score for a movie, the reasons young and old audiences get engaged by silent movies, why you need to city Chaplin’s City Lights with a live orchestra, and more! Give it a listen!

“No film collector is going to hold up a 4tb hard drive and say, ‘Look at all the movies I have!'”

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Ben & I also discuss the difference between digital and “real” instruments, the way his style has evolved, the Kickstarter revolution and how it funds his DVD label, the Stan Laurel comedy that makes little kids lose their minds, his love for Ernie Kovacs, the awful and sometimes incomprehensible stereotypes of century-old comedy, his theory of Undercranking, where the next generation of accompanists is coming from, the multi-decade dearth of comedic filmmakers with distinct vision, the lost comic genius of Marcel Perez, and what it’s like to create “music of momentary significance” (as his mentor described it). Go listen!

“Bringing the silent movie experience to a place where it doesn’t usually get to happen is great fun for me.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Ben Model is one of the nation’s leading silent film accompanists, and performs on both piano and theatre organ. Ben works full-time presenting and accompanying silent films in a wide variety of venues around the USA and internationally, carrying on a tradition he learned from silent film organist Lee Erwin (1919-2000). Over the past 30+ years Ben has created and performed live scores for several hundred silent films, films lasting anywhere from one minute to five hours. Ben is a resident film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art (NY) and at the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre. His recorded scores can be heard on numerous DVD/Blu-Ray releases, on TCM and on his YouTube channel. His indie DVD label Undercrank Productions has released several discs of rare/lost silent films, including films preserved by the Library of Congress. Ben is a regular accompanist at classic film festivals around the U.S.A. and in Norway, and performs at universities, museums, and historic theaters. Ben is the producer and co-founder of The Silent Clowns Film Series, now in its 19th season in NYC. Ben has composed film scores for both orchestra and concert band for accompaniment to films by Chaplin and Keaton. These scores are performed around the U.S. every year by both professional and school ensembles. In his work as a programmer, Ben has co-curated a film series for MoMA, and co-programs a monthly silent film series at the Cinema Arts Center. As archivist of the Ernie Kovacs/Edie Adams collection, he also curated two recent DVD box sets of Ernie Kovacs television shows for Shout! Factory. He is currently a Visiting Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University.

Credits: This episode’s music is Ben noodling on my friend’s Steinway. The conversation was recorded at my friend’s place in Manhattan on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. B/W photo of Mr. Model by me; no attribution for the color photo.

Episode 164 – Kliph Nesteroff (& Liz Hand)

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Virtual Memories Show #164:
Kliph Nesteroff (& Liz Hand)

“I was a Henry Morgan authority at the age of 24.”

26451704925_5cd9679b02_zKliph Nesteroff joins the show to talk about his new book, The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy (Grove Press). We discuss the evolution of comedy over the century (from vaudeville to comedy podcasters) and how he got started chronicling it, American comedy’s twin themes of struggle and influence, the connect-the-dots game of comedic lineage, the stories that didn’t make it into the book, comedy’s role in the civil rights struggle, Kliph’s autodidactic background and how it shapes his pursuit of history, the story of how he got kicked out of high school, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Kliph’s book, The Comedians! (NOTE: Kliph’s section starts at 17:15, if you wanna skip right to that)

“I’m just as deeply immersed in the history of film, the history of music, of TV, of pop culture. . . . But Leonard Maltin already exists; he’s got it cornered. Jerry Beck is the world’s foremost animation historian; he’s got that market covered. There’s a million people who write about music; I don’t need to be one of those guys. But there’s no other comedy historian. I’m happy to pick up that mantle.”

9781250030382Plus, I give Liz Hand a call on the occasion of the publication of her new book, Hard Light: A Cass Neary Crime Novel! We explore how her nihilistic, burned-out, drug-addicted post-punk-scene photographer-protagonist has grown over the course of three books of increasing mayhem and murder. (Hint: she doesn’t decide to become a nurturing mom and validate herself with a rich husband.) Go listen! And buy Hard Light! (NOTE: Liz’s section starts around 3:30)

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Kliph Nesteroff is a former stand-up comic turned writer. A longtime contributor to WFMU, writing about the history of comedy, Nesteroff’s latest project is hosting the Classic Showbiz Talk Show, a live series in Los Angeles that has welcomed comedy luminaries like Mel Brooks, Fred Willard and Laugh-In creator George Schlatter.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at an undisclosed location in Manhattan on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup. The conversation with Liz Hand was recorded using Call Recorder on Face Time Audio; I was using a Blue Yeti USB mic. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Kliph by me.

Episode 163 – David Leopold

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Virtual Memories Show #163:
David Leopold

“Hirschfeld is an artist who discovered what he wanted to do early on, and works at it his whole life and gets better and better at it.”

9781101874974David Leopold, author of The Hirschfeld Century: Portrait of an Artist and His Age (Knopf), joins the show to talk about the thirteen years he spent working with the great artist Al Hirschfeld, how he wound up running the Ben Solowey Studio, his career curating museum exhibitions, what he learned from following The Grateful Dead, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy The Hirschfeld Century!

“I don’t collect art; I collect artists.”

We also talk the trip that led Hirschfeld from painting to line art, the way MGM’s costume department started making the Marx Brothers look more like Hirschfeld’s drawings of them, one of David’s biggest regrets (not bringing Al Hirschfeld and Jerry Garcia together), Billy Rose’s plan to buy Ellis Island and make it a retirement home for millionaires, the fleetingness of artistic reputation, the goals of the Al Hirschfeld Foundation, and the wonderful history of the Ben Solowey Studio. BONUS: You get to hear me discuss how I almost quit doing the podcast last week! Go listen!

“Every day, he was faced with a white board that couldn’t care less about what he’d accomplished.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

dleopoldDavid Leopold is an author and curator who has organized exhibitions for institutions around the country including the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, and the Field Museum in Chicago. Internationally, he has curated shows for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Filmmuseum in Frankfurt and Berlin. He organized the archive of Al Hirschfeld’s work for the artist, visiting Hirschfeld in his studio at least once a week for thirteen years until the artist’s death in 2003. He is now the Creative Director for the Al Hirschfeld Foundation. His latest book, The Hirschfeld Century: Portrait of an Artist and His Age, published by Alfred A. Knopf to coincide with a major retrospective that Leopold curated for the New York Historical Society has won universal acclaim. The Washington Post called it an “instant classic,” and Amazon selected it for its “Top Books of 2015.” His other books include David Levine’s American Presidents (Fantagraphics, 2008); Irving Berlin’s Show Business: Broadway – Hollywood – AmericaHirschfeld’s Hollywood (Abrams, 2001). He also authored a number of monographs on underappreciated artists for various museums.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Studio of Ben Solowey in Bedminster, PA on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of David by me. Hirschfeld drawing of Carol Channing via Knopf’s publicity page for The Hirschfeld Century: Portrait of an Artist and His Age.

Episode 160 – Bob Stein & Ashton Applewhite

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Virtual Memories Show #160:
Bob Stein & Ashton Applewhite

“In the last few hundred years, we thought of reading as something you do by yourself. What we’re discovering now is that all media consumption — whether movies, games, or reading — is going social. And it’s going to be completely different.” –Bob Stein

What do you get when you synthesize Marx & McLuhan? Ask Bob Stein! Bob’s the rare person for whom the term “visionary” isn’t an overstatement (seriously: check out his bio below). He’s been at the forefront of digital publishing for decades, and has plenty to say about how technology is transforming human experience, from LaserDisc to Oculus Rift. We talk about the importance of failure and the era of Good Enough, how his Maoist background may or may not influence his long-term vision for humanity, the directions that future media creation and consumption may take, Silicon Valley’s twisted obsession with immortality and machine intelligence, living comfortably in the virtual world, his hopes for a VR revolution, and more! Give it a listen!
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“Should my goal be to remain what I was when I was 20? What kind of insane, self-corrosive goal would that be?” –Ashton Applewhite

Then Bob’s partner, Ashton Applewhite, joins us to talk about the publication of her new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism! We discuss the societal bias against aging, what she learned by dyeing her hair gray, the decision to “self”-publish This Chair Rocks, why she doesn’t want to think about writing another book for at least a decade, the potentials of an all-age-friendly world, and more! Go listen and then order a copy of This Chair Rocks!

“The real book of the future is going to connect everyone.” –Bob Stein

Also, if you want to find out who Bob & Ashton are reading nowadays and get a list of the books we talked about in this episode, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! At the end of March, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who he’s reading and why.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guests

Bob Stein writes, “I got bit by the electronic publishing bug in 1979 and haven’t looked back since. I spent the first 15 years expanding the notion of the page to include rich media. the two companies i founded, Criterion and Voyager, managed a lot of firsts — the first films with commentary tracks and supplementary sections; what is widely regarded as the first commercially viable CD-rom, The CD Companion to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, referenced in Edward Tufte’s Visual Explanations and referred to by Alan Kay as “the first piece of digital “content” worth criticizing”; and the first electronic books — Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Trilogy and Martin Gardner’s Annotated Alice in 1992. After that there were a bunch of years spent on tool-making and in 2004 the Macarthur Foundation gave me a huge five-year grant to explore the question of what might happen to publishing in the internet era. with that grant I started the Institute for the Future of the Book where my colleagues and I conducted a bunch of exciting experiments around the question of what happens when you locate a text in a browser with a live dynamic margin. The upshot of this work was a new company SocialBook aimed at building the first truly post-print publishing platform. we’ve been developing the underlying principles for almost ten years and actual code writing for more than three. SocialBook is browser-based and it works.”

Ashton Applewhite writes, “I didn’t set out to become a writer. I went into publishing because I loved to read and didn’t have any better ideas. I had a weakness for the kind of jokes that make you cringe and guffaw at the same time, my boss kept telling me to write them down, and the collection turned into the best-selling paperback of 1982. I was a clue on Jeopardy (“Who is the author of Truly Tasteless Jokes?”; Answer: “Blanche Knott”), and as Blanche, I made publishing history by occupying four of the fifteen spots on the New York Times bestseller list. My first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, was published by HarperCollins in 1997. Ms. magazine called it “rocket fuel for launching new lives,” and it landed me on Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum enemies list. It also got me invited to join the board of the nascent Council on Contemporary Families, a group of distinguished family scholars. I belonged to the Artist’s Network of Refuse & Resist group that originated the anti-Iraq-invasion slogan and performance pieces titled “Our Grief is Not a Cry for War.” As a contributing editor of IEEE Spectrum magazine, I went to Laos to cover a village getting internet access via a bicycle-powered computer. Since 2000 I’ve been on staff at the American Museum of Natural History, where I write about everything under the Sun. The catalyst for Cutting Loose was puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce (visualize depressed dame on barstool) so different from the happy and energized reality? A similar question gave rise to my new book, This Chair Rocks: why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? I began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is also when I started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog. Since then I’ve been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism and been published in Harper’s and Playboy. In 2015 I was included in a list of 100 inspiring women–along with Arundhati Roy, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Germaine Greer, Naomi Klein, Pussy Riot, and other remarkable activists–who are committed to social change.” This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism (Networked Books) was published in March 2016.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Roosevelt hotel on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Bob & Ashton by me.

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