Aspen Times Weekly: Top 10 Arts and Pop Culture Podcasts
An overflow crowd packed into Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale on Saturday morning. They sat on laps. They contorted into corners of the room. They spilled onto the street, standing in the rain and cocking their heads toward the shop’s open doors, trying to listen.
The occasion was the annual live taping of “The Dirtbag Diaries” podcast at the 5Point Film Festival. Host Fitz Cahall sat on stage, and had relaxed but revealing conversations with renowned rock climber Tommy Caldwell about his historic Dawn Wall ascent, then with Frank Sanders about recovery from alcoholism and life at Devil’s Tower, then with Forest Woodward and his father about family and a raft trip down the Grand Canyon.
Running since 2007 — and customarily taped in Cahall’s closet — “The Dirtbag Diaries” is a transcendent adventure podcast that’s totaled more than 3 million downloads and has united a global community through stories. With short narratives, and occasionally straight interviews like the locally taped entries, it’s not really about skiing or climbing or whatever the trek at hand. It’s about fear, relationships, self-reflection. Its is a kind of storytelling that didn’t have a home in traditional broadcasting and thankfully found one in this new form. It’s the best adventure podcast out there.
Seeing the crowd at Steve’s huddle together to listen to “The Dirtbag Diaries” got me thinking about the rest of the podcasts in my queue. I have one for sports, one for politics, and one for most of my interests. But for the arts and pop culture — where a dizzying number of podcasts have emerged — I subscribe to about 20 and have sampled many more.
So, for your listening pleasure, I’ve compiled my top 10 from the A&E world. They’re all free to download.
I’m not including the podcasts that simply transmit broadcast shows, though there are some indispensable ones. In particular, the arts programs out of KCRW in Santa Monica — “The Business” on the entertainment business, “The Treatment” with interviews about film by critic Elvis Mitchell, and “Bookworm” featuring author conversations with the brilliant Michael Silverblatt — are worthwhile downloads for those of us outside southern California who care about this stuff.
A weekly podcast, hosted by NPR’s Bob Boilen, showcasing new music and emerging artists, with extra episodes for events like Record Store Day and daily dispatches from SXSW in Austin. Stand-out recent discoveries: Son Lux, Torres, Wilsen.
MFA teacher Mike Ingram and Barrelhouse editor Tom McAllister offer up “tough love for literature.” Most weeks they pick a book — old, new, very good and sometimes extraordinarily bad — and pick it apart in irreverent, entertaining verbal jousting sessions.
The transgressive “American Psycho” author talks pop culture (but almost never books) with everyone from Kanye West to Marilyn Manson to porn star James Deen in unfiltered, free-ranging conversations. He hasn’t posted a new episode since October, but Ellis has said on Twitter that he’s bringing it back. Either way, the archives are worth digging through (his scathing post-interview rant about his distaste for Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein is Ellis at his controversy-courting purest).
Critics and editors from the film website The Dissolve (a spinoff of Pitchfork with similarly discerning tastes) talk movies. They usually do a roundtable on a current issue in film culture, then play a silly game or two that tests their movie knowledge.
An audio supplement to the weekly New York Times section, founded by Sam Tanenhaus and currently hosted by editor Pamela Paul, featuring excellent short interviews with authors and reviews of the latest releases (along with a round-up of publishing news and bestsellers).
An expanded universe of the Seattle radio station KEXP, “Music That Matters” stays ahead of the curve, offering new discoveries across genres from its team of DJs (Kevin Cole’s playlists tend to be my favorite).
The flagship of comedian Chris Hardwick’s expanding media empire, “The Nerdist” tends to book entertainers who are on the circuit with something to promote (musicians, actors, comic book writers, comedians). But these hour-long conversations cut through the inane late night show chatter and press junket promotion you tend to hear elsewhere.
Once a month, a writer with a new short story in the magazine picks a favorite from the 90 years of New Yorker archives, reads it aloud and then talks about it with New Yorker editor Dorothy Wickenden. George Saunders reads Grace Paley, James Salter reads Reynolds Price, Joyce Carol Oates reads Cynthia Ozick. It’s ear candy for literature lovers.
A roundtable of Ivy League guys promise to “subject the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn’t deserve” and they deliver. They’re at their best during summer blockbuster season, taking ludicrously deep analytical dives on the latest supherhero and action franchise entries. For a sample of the smart fun of overthinking, check out their episodes on any of the “Fast and Furious” films (or the whole episode they devoted to the “Furious 7” trailer).
This one’s no secret. It’s one of the most popular podcasts out there. Stand-up comedian Maron is a master of the long-form interview whose favored subjects include comedy, rock music, film, literature and philosophy. Recent highlights: filmmaker Joe Swanberg, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, and author Nick Tosches.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.