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Giving You Oral
January 13, 2014 7:12 PM   Subscribe

Don't fight it. It's the year of the oral history. If there hasn't yet been an oral history on your favorite pop culture phenomenon, it won't be long. In the meantime, for your reading pleasure, how about starting with an oral history of Captain Marvel: The Series? Or perhaps you'd rather read about The Telluride Bluegrass Festival? If your taste runs more toward technology, check out an oral history of Apple design. More reading inside!

The Gulf War
The party scene from Clueless
Jay-Z's The Black Album
Friday Night Lights
The 2003 NBA Draft
Good Will Hunting
Pearl Harbor
The Hangover
Kirk Gibson's homer in the 1988 World Series
HBO's Real Sex
1988 Dominique Wilkins/Larry Bird playoff matchup
The march on Washington D.C.
1982 Cincinnati Bengals/San Diego Chargers Freezer Bowl
The Wrens: the Meadowlands
The George Brett "pine tar" game
The 2003 Fiesta Bowl
Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog
The Hollywood Morton's
Islam in Pittsburgh
Madonna's debut album
Black porn
Rottentomatoes.com
The first Lollapalooza
Napster
The Sandlot
Nine Inch Nails
Newsweek Magazine
The Vietnam War
The Epic Collision Between Journalism and Technology

Also: The Wire's Best Oral Histories of 2012
posted by MoonOrb (24 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I blame Studs Terkel
posted by Area Man at 7:13 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


The "black porn" link is missing (the text links to the "Islam in Pittsburgh" article instead).
posted by EmGeeJay at 7:31 PM on January 13


Shit. I'm on my phone now, but I'll ask to have that fixed later tonight. Thank you.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:40 PM on January 13


I'll admit it -- I love oral histories. Sure, Studs Terkel looms large over the whole genre, but for damn good reason. The Good War was as riveting and enthralling an account of World War II as you could hope for, but Hard Times was just as good. I haven't read everything he's written yet, but I have the sneaking suspicion that I will someday. Living in Chicago, and being a former newspaper reporter, I guess it's only natural to be drawn to Studs. Stud's Terkel's Chicago is sitting on my bookshelf right now, but Division Street: America is taunting me from my Amazon wishlist, as well.

If you're like me, then the Studs Terkel homepage is a treasure-trove of awesome material, including recordings of interviews from his books and elsewhere.

As a former journalist, however, one thing that always mystified me about Terkel was how he managed to get such well-spoken, articulate people to speak at such length. When I was a reporter, it'd be a good day if a source spoke two or three sentences in a row worth quoting. I had a sneaking suspicion that Terkel's interviews weren't quite -- exactly -- reproductions of what his interviewees actually said. I guess I wasn't the only person to wonder about Terkel's interview technique; Michael Lenehan in the Chicago Reader sat down with Terkel to find out how he did it. Turns out, Terkel felt pretty comfortable chopping up and re-arranging his interviewees' words. Sentences, phrase, paragraphs, they'd be cut and pasted and put in more interesting order. He insists that he never changed what they said, only the order they said it. You'd get fired for doing the same thing at a newspaper, but I don't know if I mind so much from an oral history. It's just so much more compelling -- and readable -- that way.

Which is why I'm such a sucker for my favorite oddball offshoot of the oral history craze: fictional oral histories. I loved, loved, loved, Max Brooks' World War Z, which Brooks says is his vision of Terkel writing The Good War after a zombie apocalypse, and it tickled all the right places in my novel-reading brain. Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse, tried to do the same thing, but didn't quite work as well. I can't wait for a flood of strange oral history novels to follow-up on the current popularity of the form. Bring 'em on, I'll read them all.

But, I can't help but feel like the current crop of oral histories are quite a bit less inspired than Terkel (or even Brooks). I mean, an unedited interview transcript isn't quite an oral history, is it? I guess that's what I find so exciting about Terkel's version: it's obviously more interesting and more readable than real life, but with the inescapable verisimilitude of people's real voices.
posted by Eldritch at 7:49 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


I blame Studs Terkel

Well, I celebrate Studs Terkel. I love hearing the stories from those who were there. Plus, if I'm not being lied to -- and here you ask, do you trust your parents? -- he is the very reason I exist, because my mom asked him where's a safe place to get a drink in this town, and he told her, drink where the Swedes drink...and that's how she met dad.

I didn't realize how awesome he was until much, much later.
posted by eriko at 7:49 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Here is one of my recent favorites (even though it's from 2012), which includes a mind-blowing story about Willie Nelson's drummer.
While Waylon and other Nashville stars adopted the outlaw mantle as a means of climbing the charts, most Austin musicians dismissed it as a cynical pose. In fact, the real outlaws happened to be back in Texas. One of the characteristics of a regional music business was that the players, operating out of the glare of the big media centers, often made their own rules. These were people who’d given Willie gigs through the lean years of his career, and he remained deeply loyal. As he rose, they rose with him, the joke being that the only disqualifier for getting on his bus was mistreating old people or children. Two of his more colorful consorts were his drummer, Paul English, who’d also served as Willie’s money collector with stingy club owners, and a mercurial Dallas promoter named Geno McCoslin.

MICKEY RAPHAEL I was riding in an elevator in L.A. once with Paul, and he had on his black cape with red satin lining that went all the way to the floor, black pants and shirt, and red patent leather cowboy boots. The door opens up, and standing outside is Little Richard in the same getup—but his cape only comes to his waist. Paul doesn’t even look at him, just struts out like he’s the Prince of Darkness. But Little Richard does a double take.
posted by jessssse at 8:06 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


For whatever reason, these are everywhere, and for a lot of silly, trivial things. They're all still pretty awesome, and in a lot of ways, it's more interesting to read stories about, say Bill Murray and other members of Saturday Night Live as told by the people themselves than by most writers.

Like pretty much anything else, the ones that interest me (let's say Nine Inch Nails, the 2003 NBA draft, Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog, and the first Lollapalooza), I read. The ones that aren't so interesting to me (Clueless, the Sandlot, Fiesta Bowl) I'll skip.

But yeah, Studs. Studs was awesome.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:10 PM on January 13


Is the Captain Marvel one supposed to play sound? Because I don't hear anything or see any playback controls...?
posted by JHarris at 8:58 PM on January 13


Oh, I see, the links at the bottom I had assumed were just to similar articles on the same site, in the style of many such sites, but here those lead to the actual content.
posted by JHarris at 9:01 PM on January 13


Er, or not? I'm confused.
posted by JHarris at 9:02 PM on January 13


Okay, just out with it: I don't see anything of interest on the Captain Marvel page. Nothing to hear or read, except links to other articles, some of which have to do with the character and some don't. Can someone tell me what am I missing? Please?
posted by JHarris at 9:41 PM on January 13


[Fixed black porn link.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:42 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


the captain marvel stuff was a broken link, looked for it and the whole series starts here and looks really long, haven't read it yet
posted by Enigmark at 9:48 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


There we go, thanks Enigmark.
posted by JHarris at 9:50 PM on January 13


Sigh. I've found this recent crop of oral histories as usually being lazy, aimless dumps of people talking with little editing to bind things into a good story. Sure, there are great nuggets of insight and experience in there but I'd prefer a writer to distill things down just a bit, or for things to be done more like a formal interview. If anyone can prove my opinion wrong with some counterexamples, I'm all for it.
posted by zsazsa at 10:31 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


That's not a real Captain Marvel.
posted by Mezentian at 3:50 AM on January 14


(And since the Captain Marvel link turned out to be broken, if a mod could fix it in the FPP? It's weird that no one else reading this noticed. Is The Big Red Cheese really so on the outs?)
posted by JHarris at 5:54 AM on January 14


I know I've said a lot so far, but really, that (fixed) Captain Marvel link is terrific, and I'm still on the first page. I think it could have carried the whole post by itself! (It's not that I have no interest in the other links, but, like, one at a time!* At this rate, it'll take me awhile to get through the whole post....)

Captain Marvel is just so iconic. The little kid who finds a magic tunnel in the subway leading to a wizard, who gives him the ability to become a superpowered grown up by uttering a word. The mad scientist villain, whose own kids ally with the hero. There's so much story potential in that premise.

* I have problems with megaposts that go overboard with this much content on a wide variety of topics. Every one of these links could be its own post, and because the reader interests are all over the map, it's hard to get a good conversation started on any of them except for the general topic of oral histories. By the time a really interested reader goes through all of these links, it'll probably be approaching a month and the thread will be closing!
posted by JHarris at 6:19 AM on January 14


I've been trying to get the Captain Marvel link to work in a variety of ways, and Newsarama's site seems to be horribly broken. The only way I've been able to read the articles is by running a site-restricted search on Google, then clicking directly to the article I want to read.
posted by Shepherd at 6:29 AM on January 14


If you go to the different empty "pages" of the link in the post, you'll eventually find links to the parts of the oral history as related articles. That's how I found them, and was working on putting direct links together for a comment here when Enigmark found the keystone, so to speak.

Here:
THE FAWCETT YEARS
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

THE LOST YEARS
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

THE SHAZAM YEARS
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

THE MODERN YEARS
New Beginning - Modern Part 1 - Modern Part 2

posted by JHarris at 7:25 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


Oh. Oh man. Oh man oh man oh manos the hands of fate.

Michael Uslan in the Captain Marvel article, The Lost Years Part 1, on the incomparable Otto Binder, who reads here like the friendliest man in the world:

“The next time I interacted with Otto Binder in a significant way was the first comic convention ever held anywhere. This was in 1964, in a fleabag hotel in downtown New York called the Broadway Central. And Otto was the guest of honor.

“He was one of the very few pros who showed up there. Most of the pros in the business were afraid to show up at that first comic con – there were maybe 200 of us there, and they couldn’t believe that there were adults who were still comic book fans who weren’t mentally impaired or some sort of sociopaths.

“I think at that first convention, outside of Otto, Gardner Fox was there, Bill Finger…from Marvel, Stan Lee was afraid to show up, so he sent Flo Steinberg, his secretary [laughs]! It was there were everything you know about comic book conventions – costume contests, panels, auctions – was invented.

“Otto took Bobby and me by the hand, and he showed us for the first time what original artwork looked like, and how you go from pencils to inks, and then he said, ‘How’d you boys like to meet the creator of Batman?’ And that was how we met Bill Finger.

“Otto was a mentor to us, and he was the one who opened up the world of Captain Marvel to me.”


This is a treasure trove.
posted by JHarris at 7:30 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


Uslan's story of Binder and his family turns tragic in Lost Years Pt. 3, though. Otto Binder's daughter Mary is killed by a car, and his family just crumples after that.
posted by JHarris at 7:50 AM on January 14


From Spin: It was 20 years ago. Oral histories of the makings of all sorts of things, from Cantaloop by Us3 to Killing in the Name of by Rage Against the Machine.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:49 PM on January 16


Awesome, MoonOrb! So many riches!
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 10:45 PM on January 16


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