Twice a month I’ll post a list of 4 episodes from podcasts you hopefully haven’t heard of that follow a theme and fit into boxes of a New and Old and Light and Heavy “Punnet Square“. Light podcasts are meant to be listened to without the need to focus on the content too much, a refreshing alternative to music as background noise. Heavy podcasts should be approached with some caution and willingness to listen a little more carefully.
Last article, I posted about Who Weekly, Imaginary Worlds, 74 Seconds, and The Dollop.
I apologize for including three Gimlet podcasts this week, they’re just too good to ignore. Light podcasts this week focus on the evolution of music. Specifically they discuss how Disco lives on in the music we listen to today, despite being disliked – really disliked – by some. Featured podcasts are Mogul: The Life and Death of Chris Lighty and Undone, both by Gimlet. Heavy Podcasts take two tacks on making the end of life a little less… lifeless. Featured here are Reply All and Freakonomics Radio.
Mogul: The Life and Death of Chris Lighty | Part 1: That Beat, That Beat Right There | June 15 2017 | Runtime 35:16
Suitable for: Anyone who is interested in the origins of music and culture, particularly if you born within 3 years of 1990.
How to Listen: To skip ads go to :45. To go straight to the music part, skip to 17:35 (You will miss things crucial to the series, but this half of the episode stands alone).
Series Binge Rating: 5/5 – Skip the “Mogul Cameo” entries if you’re not into interviews. The series gets somewhat heavier in later episodes.
Why Listen: What kind of music do you listen to? If you’re like me, the answer is “all kinds”. Regardless of preferences, Mogul – though specifically about Hip Hop music – is excellent. I’ve heard all the criticisms of Hip Hop and Rap, but there is no denying the beats are catchy. I’ve always been curious about where it came from and why is it just so catchy. While all music builds on previous genres, it turns out Disco can claim parentage of many popular genres today. Unsurprisingly, Hip Hop’s roots are in Disco, and listening to experts discuss those origins is fascinating. The concept of the “breakdown”, a musical interlude meant for dancing, is something I recognize. In Hardcore and Metal music – the music of my white boy high school years – the breakdown is a staple for mosh pits. Listen to Mogul for a breakdown of how breakdowns led to Hip Hop.
Undone | Disco Demolition Night | November 14 2016 | Runtime 39:20
Suitable for: Anyone who is interested in the origins of music and culture, particularly if you born within 3 years of 1975.
How to Listen: To skip ads and other junk, go to 1:00.
Series Binge Rating: 3/5 – Unfortunately I think this episode is the best in the series, but there aren’t many episodes.
Why Listen: Haven’t had enough of breakdowns? Lucky for you, this episode of another Gimlet show discussed a different descendent of Disco: House music. It’s true that this episode is really about how people hated disco and took out their frustrations during an ill-fated baseball game in Chicago. That story is well-tread in podcast world, but the interesting part is truly how that night led directly to the advent of electronic, beat-heavy music. Just like in Mogul, the breakdown section makes an appearance building up the concept even more. If I made a podcast it would be about the history of black culture on music, so I’m a little biased. This show does as good of a job as Mogul at breaking down musical elements and tracing their roots to disco. These two episodes force you to ask: did disco ever truly die?
Reply All | #101 Minka | July 13 2017 | Runtime 43:20
Suitable for: American humans who have tread over the painful ground of seeing a parent or grandparent slowly fade in a detestable facility only ostensibly suitable for them.
How to Listen: To skip ads and other junk, go to 1:38.
Series Binge Rating: 4/5 – This show would get a 5 but there are now too many episodes.
Why Listen: While this topic is no doubt heavy and worth thinking about before you really have to, this podcast keeps it light. Our culture doesn’t often allow parents to move back in with children in old age. I imagine this is for many reasons, but it seems to be largely an American anomaly. My own grandfather stubbornly insisted he die in his own home, and it took a toll on our family. My grandmother now lives in a facility that sounds like the one described here. I have spent the past few years imagining if I could handle having a parent live with me. Deciding I will want them to be close, the next step is how. This episode is sort of a PSA for attempting to make it easier to allow our elders to live around us, and it’s a cause I could get behind.
Freakonomics Radio | Are You Ready for a Glorious Sunset? | 38:50
Suitable for: American humans who would like to see their retirement play out differently than their parents or grandparents… very differently.
How to Listen: To skip ads and other junk, go to :33.
Series Binge Rating: 4/5 – Many early episodes of this show are fantastic. Some of the more recent ones have sort of followed Dubner’s personal obsessions too closely, to the show’s detriment.
Why Listen: Dubner (as he seems to like to be called) has fascinations that play out across arcs of podcasts, sometimes over the course of years. End-of-Life care is one of those, and this podcast elaborates on his idea about really changing the narrative. After hearing this idea I started to think about other things differently, too. That’s the real magic of Dubner, he puts ideas in your head you can run with. Why can’t I just move to a farm in Maine and raise goats? Why can’t I open a vegetarian diner that stays open 24/7? Freakonomics can be truly inspiring, even when discussing depressing topics like death. I personally hope this kind of insurance payout exists when I’m getting too old, it would be a great way to go.
This week I have two “Honorable Mentions”, podcasts I think fit into the narrative but I chose not to include.
Honorable Mention for Light music podcasts:
Song Exploder | MGMT – Time to Pretend | January 19, 2016 | Skip to 1:10
This song even has an Easter Egg of disco music! Chances are you haven’t heard this song in 10 years, it’s still vapid and dumb, but it’s so darn catchy. I didn’t include it because it’s so short.
Honorable Mention for Heavy End-of-Life Podcasts:
This American Life | Death and Taxes – Act One | April 24, 2014 | Only Listen to Act One
This Act had an impact on me, as it aired amidst my family facing these troubles. It is not at all light and should be listened to when you have nowhere to be.