I’ve been leaning heavily on podcasts to get me through the quarantine; they make some kinds of work easy (design or coding, walking the dog solo, organizing the basement) a lot more manageable. I’m super picky about my podcasts, because there can be subject matter I’m completely interested in presented by hosts I can’t stand—either due to their voices or their patter. Car Talk, the venerated NPR show that was ostensibly about fixing cars but was really about two annoying men with shrill voices laughing at their own jokes, drove me nuts. There are many podcasts that do the same thing. Here are a couple of new ones I’ve been enjoying this year:
20 Macs for 2020
A deep dive geek-out on Macintosh hardware, this is sort of a retrospective of Computers I’ve Owned; I can claim 8 of the 20 models listed so far. Hosted by Jason Snell, a longtime writer and editor of MacWorld, back when it was a magazine I subscribed to, it features a deep dive into the creation and design of each machine, and features contributions from other eminent figures in the Apple sphere.
60 Songs that Explain the ’90’s (only available on Spotify)
This is a relatively new one on the list, but something I’ve also been enjoying for the nostalgia’s sake: Rob Harvilla goes through a wide variety of songs to tease out what they meant to us during the time they were popular, and what they mean to us now. His format is a little strange, and he’s a bit snarky but overall it’s a good listen.
The Big Picture
This is a movie podcast that covers current releases and the industry in general; the Ringer’s footprint is big enough now that they can get A-level guests to join them for segments, which is a bonus: they’ve had Steve McQueen, Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater on in just the past couple of months.
I was dubious about this one at first but fell in love about 10 minutes in. The conceit is that the host was fired from the cast of Saving Private Ryan 20 years ago and just wants to know why it happened. Along the way he’s joined by some of the production staff and former cast members—Ron Livingston and Seth Rogen (who was not in the movie) are as awesome as I would hope they are, and another bit player talks about his experience on set and how it affected him afterwards. I burned through all of these last weekend building shelves in the basement.
Another podcast reviewing old movies, this has been a go-to for years. For all the reasons I didn’t like Car Talk, you may not like this one, but I genuinely enjoy the banter the four hosts enjoy. They’re all roughly my age and they like the movies I do—although their inability to appreciate the genius of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension led me to near homicidal rage. This was one of the podcasts that got me through weeks in the hospital and the low points of chemotherapy.
Lost Notes: 1980
Another music podcast. The host, Hanif Abdurraqib, dives into music made in one important year, featuring artists like Joy Division, the Sugarhill Gang, Grace Jones, and Minnie Riperton. The episode on Darby Crash and John Lennon was fascinating. I hope he does more.
Yes, another movie podcast. The concept here is that these are all movies that are made to be watched multiple times—with the understanding that the hosts picking the movies are white males, aged 40-50, from the east coast. They started out with Michael Mann’s Heat, one of my favorite movies, and they’ve rarely picked a dud.
Rivals: Music’s Greatest Feuds
This one is less about the music and more about the people behind the music, which is what makes it so fun: the hosts research the people involved and find out what happened and why they hate each other so much. Each episode goes on for about 20 minutes too long, in my opinion. I tend to cut it off around the same time every episode when it gets repetitive, but the bulk of it is good stuff.
The Smithsonian Institution has more stuff in storage than they can ever hope to display, and this podcast talks about that stuff (you get to go in the side door of the museum on a private tour). Their episodes on the Worst Video Game, Outer Space and Underwear, and Apollo 12’s Really Close Call stood out to me—but there’s a ton more to get into.
Slow Burn, Season Four: David Duke
This one has been fucking riveting. I was only dimly aware of David Duke when he ascended to power in Louisiana, but this podcast shows how his blueprint for success in 1991 should have predicted the Great Pumpkin’s success in 2016. The same playbook, the same coded messages, the same blatant use of the office for personal grift, the same indifference or outright cowardice from the Republican Party and the general public: silence equals consent. Also highly recommended: the other three seasons (Clinton, Nixon, and Biggie & Tupac).
You’re Wrong About
This is a relatively new one for me. It reexamines stories and historical events to see if what we’ve all agreed upon as the truth is, in fact, true. They’ve done a lot of deep dives on Princess Diana but have also looked at O.J. Simpson, the Ford Pinto, and the D.C. Snipers. I’m getting into it more and more as I listen.