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Podcasts for Shut-Ins:
Tune In, Hunker Down

March 19th, 2020

I’ve been trying to track down a piece that I heard on NPR following the 9-11 attacks. I can’t remember who delivered it, but the voice in my memory sounds like Scott Simon. It was a reflective piece about the uncertainty felt in the aftermath of the attacks, a time when the country was bracing for an uncertain future.

As I recall, the commentator contrasted the moment with bombings in Europe during WWII, when people would hunker down and await the all-clear. The piece ended with the question: Will there ever be an all-clear this time?

That question seems even more relevant now.

Today, as we adjust to a world profoundly different from the one we knew a couple of weeks ago, it may be difficult to believe things will ever return to a semblance of normal. Yet, though there are never guarantees, the odds are in our favor if we follow the guidelines offered by the CDC and other reliable sources — all of which urge avoiding close contact as much as possible.

Unfortunately, isolation leads to other problems, not the least of which is a sense of disconnection and boredom.  If you’re lucky enough to be able to work from home, you already have part of the day covered. But what do you do with your downtime?

Books have always worked for me, and being able to download them from reliable vendors (a.k.a ones-that-pay-the-authors) makes it possible to access virtually anything without leaving the home. It’s the same with movies, where Universal is now making its latest theatrical releases available on your favorite streaming services. But lately, I’ve been turning to podcasts, where the conversations provide a sense of social connection. And unlike reading books and watching movies, I can tune in while walking, working out, cleaning my office, or doing home repairs that are not as easy to ignore as they used to be.

So what have I been listening to? Glad you asked. Here (in no particular order) are a few that work for me. Your mileage may vary, but all are worth a test drive.

First up is Inside the Hive from Vanity Fair. Hosted by tech-writer Nick Bilton, the blog covers technology, politics, and current events, with each show centering on a one-hour (give or take) conversation with writers, journalists, scientists, and political commentators. If you’re interested in checking it out, you might start with an episode from October titled “Sam Harris Explains Why There’s No Free Will” — just the thing to divert the mind from the fight-or-flight drive that seems to be running our lives today. Or, if you’re looking for an up-to-the-minute conversation about the current health crisis, you’ll want to check out this week’s show, where screenwriter Scott Burns (Contagion) is slated to talk about pandemics and other things related to the biggest challenge of the twenty-first century.

You’ll find it all at Vanity Fair, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. The interview with Scott Burns drops on Friday, March 20.

And if you want more conversation on the current state of affairs – and particularly if you like the Sam Harris interview on Inside the Hive – you’ll want to check out the most recent installments of Making Sense, where neuroscientist, philosopher, and best-selling author Sam Harris interviews Yale professor Nicholas A. Christakis (Episode 190), Johns Hopkins disease specialist Amesh Adalja (Episode 191), and psychologist Paul Bloom (Episode 192).

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a break from the challenges of the day, you might download Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast with Frank Santopadre, in which a hyperkinetic comedian (Gottfried) and a television writer (Santopadre) interview screenwriters, songwriters, comedians, directors, actors, and other folks who helped shape pop culture in the twentieth century.

Some of the best conversations are with people you may not have heard from in a while, like Michael Nesmith (guitarist for the Monkees) or Ron Dante (frontman for the Archies). The conversations are free-ranging and spontaneous, with the most interesting ones held together by Santopadre’s encyclopedic knowledge of each guest’s career. And Gottfried is hysterical, although there are times when he goes completely off the rails (as in a recent interview with Tony and Oscar-nominated Amy Ryan). You might find him an acquired taste, but when his antics work, there’s no one funnier.

And if you’re a horror fan, you might try Post Mortem with Mick Garris, which features interviews with some of the biggest names in scary movies. Currently produced by Fangoria, the podcast has featured conversations with Stephen King, Barbara Crampton, John Carpenter, and others. As a writer, director, and producer in his own right, Garris always makes the interviews sound like conversations between friends.

Of particular interest to readers of this blog might be the Post Mortem episode “Live at the Fantasia Film Festival,” recorded following the world premiere of Nightmare Cinema. It features directors Joe Dante, Ryuhei Kitamura and Alejandro Brugués along with writers Richard Christian Matheson, Sandra Becerril and the 21st-Century Scop himself in an hour-long conversation moderated by Fangoria’s own Tony Timpone. Pull up a chair and join us.

Also in the horror vein, there’s The Wicked Library, now in its 10th season of delivering novelette-length fiction for the ears. This year’s season kicks off just with the release of a new story by British writer Christopher Long. Read by Louie Pollard, scored by Nico Vetesse, and produced by 9th Story Studios, “Shiny Entrails” provides an interesting blend of psychological and ecological horror that rewards repeated listening. I found it a welcome diversion from the real horrors in the news streams of the day.

That’s some of what I’ve been listening to, but there’s lots more where that came from. Good thing too because it looks like it could be a while before we get the all-clear. Until then — hunker down, tune in … and scop on!