Media Review: Podcasts

Like slow-cooked food, good narrative requires attention. It’s not Twitter. It’s not Facebook. It’s different and it takes time. I love having my mind engaged. Perhaps that’s why, despite my “what am I going to do now?” joking, getting my cable TV turned-off was the best thing ever.

brain rotAs far as time-investment-to-imaginative ratios go, podcasts are a terrific deal. TV? You feel your brain turning to mush as you sit there drooling on yourself, literally getting stupider by the minute – something I can ill afford. It’s the ultimate fast-food nation approach: don’t have to think, it’s just handed to you. To be fair, cinema can offer wonderful, brilliant art. Just don’t expect to find it on 99% of what you get with your monthly TV package. Sure, sometimes we just want to be entertained, and that’s cool on occasion.

And we all get busy.

Podcasts? I don’t have time to sit and listen – of course you don’t. But when I’m driving? I can’t read. And, thank god, I can’t watch TV. Music, I love it. Sometimes it moves me, sometimes it relaxes me, sometimes I just veg. Great narrative always engages me. The voice adds another dimension. I insert the visuals with my mind’s eye, I wonder things that get partially answered, and I feel a connection with the author through the personality of voice.

So, yeah, I’ve become a huge fan of podcasts – it started a year or two ago with the much-heralded and award-winning This American Life (hosted by Ira Glass; free download every week). It’s awesome, and Ira Glass is the master.

Then I started hearing about what some called “This American Life for climbers and adventurers” – The Dirtbag Diaries (also free), a creation of climber Fitz Cahall. I subscribe to both through iTunes, and love ‘em. I’ll put them on my mp3 player and listen while going for a walk or waiting for a flight. I’ll burn hours upon hours of them for road trips. Listening to them in my car makes regular daily driving tolerable – even enjoyable.

My praise for the DD might seem disingenuous (as if I’d ever be accused of being ingenuous…), since I’ve now done two “Shorts” episodes for Fitz. But I was a fan first. And mine aren’t the best – the best I’ve heard is The Crusade. Download it, burn it to a CD or onto your mp3 (iPod if you’re kewl), and just listen, forming pictures with your mind. You’ll love it.

A recent DD favorite is The New Conservationists – it’s about passionate people, from John Muir to the three featured in mini-stories on the show, people with a sense of purpose, who reinvent themselves, face failure, brush themselves off and try again, all for places they – and we – love.

Three Eighths to Eternity mesmerized me, a spellbinding and beautiful story about a homemade sailboat journey.

For those with lower expectations and wanting a good rant, my first episode was The Peach – a story of my history of deadend jobs (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, bread boy…) undertaken so I could climb more. Some commenters loved it, others thought me an ass-hole because I unabashedly ripped on a boss who deserved it, and also ripped on the American holy grail of mindless consumerism. OK. My most recent one, Friends in High Places, belies my earlier highbrow “ohhh, I like having my mind engaged” blather, as the episode follows my bumbling journey with Facebook – it might be closer to TV after all. Or not.

Regardless of your favorite episodes, I venture to say that any of them are better than rotting your brain in front of the TV or getting pissed-off while sitting in traffic, and the Dirtbag Diaries might even engage your imagination, might inspire you to quit your job and launch off on a homemade sailboat, or to become John Muir, or, if you have particularly low expectations, to get a job at Pizza Hut.


ADDENDUM: While writing the above (as subsequently prompted by Blake’s comment below), I forgot one of my favorite DD episodes — perhaps my all-time favorite, on equal ground with The Crusade: The Cowboy and the Maiden. I listened to it twice in a row when it came out, just amazing, inspiring, funny at times, wild, and very moving. An absolute must-listen.

12 thoughts on “Media Review: Podcasts

  1. Hey I listen to the latest dirthbag diaries and strangely enough you were there!
    Your take on facebook and the Internet simply cracked me, I couldn’t stop laughing and you certainly made my day.
    I happen to be a climber that is also a geek. oops. Yes, I am a geek. I program computers and chase security vulnerabilities across the systems. You would think that I have a facebook account… Sorry to disappoint you but no. Ad even if I did I wouldn’t update it. I still don’t get the whole thing with facebook. What’s the point?
    Anyway, like you, I love podcasts or books on cd’s since they let you “read” a book or listen to something interesting while you are enclosed in a car / airplane / or any other place where your time is usually wasted.
    Great post!

    ps: sorry for the long rant. Too much caffeine.

  2. yo kelly. you might consider checking out ‘stuff you should know’ (also free on itunes). one of the best i’ve found thus far. second only to ‘this american life’ of course. speaking of ira glass, did you ever have a chance to read ‘the new kings of nonfiction’?

  3. right-on, thx for the comments. uri, glad ya got a good laugh, and i got a good laugh at your comment — long live the geeks! i know, the Fbk thing is weird…i held out for a long time, like 2.5 yrs, and now i’m wasting all kinds of time on it. “what’s the point?” — good question!

    thx craig — will subscribe to that one, too. been looking for other good ones since TAL is only 1x/wk. and yeah, i LOVE that book you gave me — thanks. i’ve been holding on to it b/c i want to re-read some stories. and then i’ll pass it on to someone else, like you said.

    interesting, the crusade enhanced — despite my negativity toward some video stuff, i like enhanced ones. but i only view ’em after i listened. it’s kinda cool, in a way, to compare how the mental images in my mind match up to the real ones. i did this with No Country For Old Men, too — read the book first (Cormac is my favorite), then watched the movie. Now i think i’ll re-read the book, see what seems different.

    Ah, Blake, THANKS! damn, totally forgot that one in my post — definitely a favorite. maybe my #1 favorite. i listened to it twice when it came out, just amazing. really moving, too. no doubt, chad’s “Bail???!!!” reaction is all-time for sure.

  4. Kelly Kong:

    The Peach is brilliant. My biggest rate is the Dirtbags Cowboy and the Maiden – Dylan and Chads big push and the heavy bangs along the way.

    Fitz is brilliant. And I’ve thought you have something similiar in you for some time.

  5. I had to share this, apologies for the length:

    Me and two friends recently went on a month-long road trip to the Cascades. Three dudes crammed into the bench seat of my Ford Ranger (driver drives, passenger sleeps, bitch seat tries not to get his junk shifted into by the gear shifter…). We made it from Boston to Seattle in 79 hours, had a total epic on Guye Peak, piddled around with some more climbing for a couple weeks, and took our time (7 days) driving back, covering roughly 7500 miles.

    …And the ONLY thing that kept us from falling asleep and running the truck off the road, or shooting ourselves from boredom while trapped in the truck, was This American Life. We downloaded 12 years worth of the show and listened to most of it. So effing good! Our hopes to hear an episode about climbing mountains never materialized, but even so… Ten thumbs up for This American Life and Ira Glass.

    • man, thx for the great little story! no prob on the length, loved it, cracked me up. 12 yrs of TAL, ha! what a great road trip. now, though, since you know about the DD, you can find episodes about climbing mountains — and the best climbing one is The Cowboy and the Maiden, check it out. keep up the great spirit of adventure, too!

  6. Thanks for the write up Kelly. The Diaries has been such a gift to me. I’m glad people dig it. People got to send me some hot leads. I’m looking for the next Crusade or Cowboy.

  7. Hear, hear!
    Cutting the cable can only set you free! I actually heard somewhere that you actually burn fewer calories sitting there watching TV than you do just sitting there because your consciousness slips lower down the brainstem towards catatonia. Don’t know if that’s real as in really true, but methinks it’s a rumor worth spreading to get masses off their asses. TV opiates all classes, but the video medium has its place; maybe you’ll include some video on here at some point?

  8. Being a regular Diaries listener, I remember listening to The Peach for the first time and laughing for a solid five minutes afterwards. Friends in High Places was also pretty cool, though I did download it with the assumption that it would actually be about climbing 🙂

    I agree, The Crusade is sick, but it’s hard to beat Cowboy and the Maiden, The Crusade, the Golden Hour, and A Brief Moment.

  9. love the thing about fewer calories burned while watching TV — i don’t doubt it. i’m taking it as gospel truth. indeed, though, good video can be amazing. it’s a bummer that good video gets unfairly lumped with mass TV — agreed, it has its place.

    glad you liked the recent one, Scott, and the Peach (thinking back to those real-life Peach stories still makes me shake my head and chuckle). i know, i kinda wondered myself on the Facebook one…i’m like “well, *I* think this is fun, but it really isn’t about climbing at all.” it’s kind of about nothing in a way — maybe Jenna was right on the Seinfeld comparisons. Ha. a good climbing episode is something i should try to work on.

    more i think about it, Cowboy and the Maiden…damn, that one set the bar. might have to go listen to it again.

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