"Stop at nothing... Betray, violate, cause enormous harm."
November 9, 2013 8:56 PM   Subscribe

"I listen to Ira’s show on and off, because I think they do the best work there is in that form. But This American Life has inspired this proliferation of programs where people tell their stories, and I think it’s gotten—there’s too much of it. I find it annoying, because it’s very uneven. Now it just seems like everybody’s telling a story, and it’s beginning to sound narcissistic, and I’m thinking, Who gives a shit about your story? You’re just another person telling your story. How many do we need?" Joe Frank interviewed by Jonathan Goldstein for The Believer

Joe Frank (previously, previously) is a cult radio host and artist who creates programs built around monologues, improvised scenes, music loops, and other material. (You can find more details on the wiki.) Some of his more recent work has been on KCRW's UnFictional podcast: Thief, Old Man, Reality Check, Dreamers, A Conversation, A Hollywood True Story, A Life Well Lived. Portions of older shows and a live performance were broadcast on KCRW as part of the Joe Frank: Return Engagement program. (Other shows are available from Frank's website.)

Jonathan Goldstein is the host of the CBC radio show WireTap and an alumnus of This American Life.

In the interview, Goldstein references Susan Emerling's 2000 profile of Frank for Salon: Public radio's bad dream. In 2003, when Frank won the Third Coast Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award, NPR rebroadcast Terry Gross's 1990 interview of Frank.
posted by Going To Maine (71 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sounds about as dismal as Jonathan Goldstein's Wiretap schtick. What an insufferable asshole. Of course, his story, and Joe Frank's story is worth telling, and worth listening to, right?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:11 PM on November 9, 2013 [15 favorites]


So he's basically the 1% Invisible?
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:49 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


The more, the merrier. It's not like we need less of this on the airwaves, and more corporately programmed pop music.

Ira Glass certainly owes a debt to the many personalities and producers (like Frank, like Jean Shepherd, like Vin Scelsa) who came before him. That doesn't in itself delegitimize what he does.

I can understand that the TAL style gets tiresome (though, for me, the RadioLab style gets tiresome way way faster), but that doesn't mean it's bad or dangerous. It means we could use more interesting audio diversity, not less, and we shouldn't try to drive other experimenters off the airwaves either. Let more people get onto the radio with more different storytelling approaches.

Also there is a lot more to this interview than this aspect of the discussion.
posted by Miko at 10:01 PM on November 9, 2013 [21 favorites]


"Now it just seems like everybody’s telling a story, and it’s beginning to sound narcissistic, and I’m thinking, Who gives a shit about your story? You’re just another person telling your story. How many do we need?"
This is bullshit. Telling our stories is how we make sense of what's happened to us. It's how we empathise with the billions of people across the globe who are not us, and who we know nothing about.

And in my opinion, there's not enough empathy in the world today.
posted by Quilford at 10:12 PM on November 9, 2013 [38 favorites]


A man finds something annoying. Ok.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:13 PM on November 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Perhaps I chose a poor pull quote, going for spice. Here is a different one:

"There was this guy, Arthur Miller—not the playwright—he was really smart, and he had a very deadpan sense of humor. I had a show at the time at WBAI and I invited Arthur to appear on it pretending to be a famous mime on tour across the United States. So he came into the studio and we discussed the history of mime, and he sounded completely legitimate. Then I asked him, “Well, if you’re going to be doing a show at Carnegie Hall, perhaps you would like to do something for us?” And he said, 'Well, there is a piece, it’s not too long, that I think your audience would appreciate. It’s one of the more popular pieces that I do.' Then there was dead air for about a minute."

But then, all of these things are part of Frank's character.

Similarly, perhaps I should have directly noted Glass's debt to Frank, and how he considers listening to Frank to be the first time he "heard anyone tell a story on the air that was actually truly can't-turn-away think-about-it-for-days-after compelling. "
posted by Going To Maine at 10:13 PM on November 9, 2013 [8 favorites]




Oh, fuck. DNTO. Canadians know what I'm saying.
posted by sweet mister at 10:18 PM on November 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think that pull quote is not the best introduction to Frank or his work. I grew up listening to his shows on KCRW and to this day, I am still surprised that "Eye in the Sky" was a thing I listened to and not a bad dream I'd had.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:23 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


A man finds something annoying. Ok.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:13 PM on November 9 [+] [!]


Not just any guy! Joe Frank is a genius artist storyteller. seriously, listen to his work.
posted by Bwithh at 10:25 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


sweet mister: I know what show you are talking about, I just don't get the connection.

I always found Wiretap boring and creepy. If you want to listen to CBC radio these days Q, Spark, Quirks and Quarks and Ideas are where it is at.
posted by Canageek at 10:33 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Who gives a shit about your story? You’re just another person telling your story. How many do we need?

I soooo feel this quote. Also proliferation of memoirs which seems to be on the wane finally, actually. Creatives: Please bring back fiction!
posted by latkes at 10:35 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Canageek, today we had stories about 'regret'. None of which had any point or any insight. It was like watching a tennis match where the ball never came back over the net.
posted by sweet mister at 10:36 PM on November 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


DNTO I can handle for very brief periods. With WireTap I dive for the radio dial to change the channel; I can't stand Goldstein. It's that super-affected, studied delivery. It's like he took an intensive NPR course on Radio Show Talking. A wannabe Sedaris.
And the whole "Radio Play" thing I find really precious and lame if it's not from the 1940-50's.
posted by chococat at 10:41 PM on November 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


today we had stories about 'regret'. None of which had any point or any insight
I actually listened to this briefly in the car today. My son and I laughed at the kids they interviewed, particularly the boy who regretted drawing a unibrow on his sleeping brother with permanent marker.
posted by chococat at 10:43 PM on November 9, 2013


Jonathan Goldstein and Ira Glass are all influenced by Joe Frank but Glass focuses on nonfiction and is not experimental, Goldstein veers towards the whimsically humorous (and self-parodies too much). Benjamen Walker is another one who is influenced heavily by Frank - some of his work comes closest to Frank's in style but is a lot more uneven, but none of these 3 reach any where near Frank's extraordinary sustained level of inspired and unique audio work. Frank's style is much deeper, much darker, more surreal, and endlessly inventive and surprising.

Even if you loathe Glass/TAL, Goldstein/Wiretap ( I mainly listen for Howie...), and Walker, I urge you to seek out Joe Frank's works. He is truly exceptional as a radio creative.
posted by Bwithh at 10:44 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think he's talking not about TAL but the many public radio spinoffs, like the Moth (which seems overly fond of celebrities and manipulative storytelling) and Snap Judgment (I actually like the highly sytlized moderator's spiel, but the stories feel like second string TAL). Possibly even Story Corps (Core?).

And I think he's basically right. It's the reality TV show of public radio, they figured out that people hand you content for free, and all you have to do is pick and choose among them. Perfect for limited budgets, but dilution definitely makes it less worthwhile. NOT everyone has a story that all of America needs to hear. Let bartenders, therapists and pastors do their jobs too.
posted by msalt at 10:50 PM on November 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Q is very hit and miss. They get great guests, but Jian Gomeshi (sp?) is way too flattering and affable. He risks becoming the Larry King of radio.
posted by msalt at 10:51 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's the late 80s. You are fourteen or so, listening to the radio, and there's this strange story bring told, it doesn't make any sense, but it's got that smooth delivery, and it's exciting, adult, something new. It's the late 80s. There is no Google, no internet (for you at least) so you listen for a while, tell your friends about this amazing thing you heard the other night, and forget about it. Until a few weeks later it's on again, you recognize the cove and style immediately. This time you catch the name. Joe Frank. And you have a vague idea of when it's on. It's exciting. Now you listen as often as you can, you make your parents put it on the radio when they are driving back from a family trip and get embarrassed because the story is semi explicit. But you keep listening anyway.

When you go to college, Joe Frank, like many things that fascinated you in high school, no longer seems important. There are so many more new things to discover, Joe Frank is forgotten. Until many years out of school you are driving one night and his voice comes in, unmistakable. You are amazed he's still at it, it must have been over a decade now. You remember how exciting he was back then, and you listen out of respect for the child you were half a lifetime ago. He still had presence, maybe not as much as you remember, but you aren't 14 anymore.
posted by aspo at 10:52 PM on November 9, 2013 [12 favorites]


Not a mention of ole Terkel yet eh?
posted by edgeways at 10:58 PM on November 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Jian Gomeshi (sp?) is way too flattering and affable

He does seem to get in the way of his own interviews.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:04 PM on November 9, 2013


I think he's still trying to live down the Billy Bob Thornton thing.
posted by peppermind at 11:15 PM on November 9, 2013


He risks becoming the Larry King of radio.

Larry King was the Larry King of radio before he brought his entire schtick (Hello, Peoria!) to television, adding only the visible suspenders.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:28 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Now it just seems like everybody’s telling a story, and it’s beginning to sound narcissistic, and I’m thinking, Who gives a shit about your story? "


Is it narcissistic to tell a story, or is it narcissistic to not give a shit about someone else's story?


Four fingers pointing back at you, Mister.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:36 PM on November 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


ugh seriously can someone just delete everything in italics from the fpp
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:37 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Joe is my idol of the radio. I've spent many, many, many hours attempting to reverse-engineer his process in producing my own radio show (now 6 years running) for my local community radio station, and I'm not even close. His genius is so ideally, uniquely, and uncompromisingly suited for the medium that it makes other radiomakers despair at their (our) own callowness and acceptance of mediocrity. I'll always love Joe Frank.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 11:39 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


You’re just another person telling your story. How many do we need?

'Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay.' --Christopher Hitchens
posted by stbalbach at 11:40 PM on November 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is it narcissistic to tell a story, or is it narcissistic to not give a shit about someone else's story?

either or, maybe both.

context matters
posted by philip-random at 12:30 AM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I drove home from band practise at 1:30am. Ira Glass introduced a story about a girl who diarises her experience of being tested for the Huntingtons gene. I drive past my house, and find a vacant lot and sit for the next 30 minutes listening. There can never be enough of these stories.

As an aside.. here is a youtube version of it... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I260ysXly2E
posted by a non e mouse at 1:42 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


He definitely has a point.
posted by ReeMonster at 2:42 AM on November 10, 2013


Who gives a shit about your story? You’re just another person telling your story. How many do we need?
"Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts." ~Salman Rushdie
We need every single one. You don't have to listen to any of them, they may not be told well, but they deserve to be told.
posted by headnsouth at 3:49 AM on November 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


The pull quote in the MeFi post is one if the least-interesting remarks in the interview. This passage, where he talks about his habit if secretly recording his conversation with his friends and using it for the show without their knowledge, trumps it by a mile:
JF: ..... this woman became a friend. She came out to L.A. and we hung out, and I wanted to have an honest and truthful relationship with her. So we were at dinner and I said, “I want to tell you something.” And I told her about recording all of those conversations and having them transcribed, and I said, “I thought it would be really interesting for you to read it, because it’s like a historical document.” And before I got any further, she was just livid, furious that I had taken advantage of her. And she said, “I want to read that immediately.” So we left the restaurant in the middle of the meal and we went back to my house. I pulled the thing out and she began to read it. Thing is, I didn’t know this transcriber had added her own commentary to the transcription—“What an idiot!” “Oh, she’s trying so hard.” You know, very disparaging remarks.

BLVR: That’s horrible.

JF: Horrible. And I didn’t have any idea that they were in there. So this woman really went off. She went back to New York and decided to sue me, got an attorney, and I had to settle this lawsuit. The funny thing—or the ironic thing—is when I told her, I was well intentioned. I told her because I didn’t want there to be any secrets between us. And I thought, Well, it will be very interesting for her to read it. Boy, did I make a mistake.

BLVR: If someone had told you that they had been secretly recording their conversations with you, what would your feeling have been?

JF: Anger. Great anger. Oh, I would have been really pissed off. I would have been as angry as she was.

BLVR: So why were you surprised by her response?

JF: I don’t know. I was obtuse.

BLVR: Did you feel that your stake, as the artist, was different? That it was sort of like a gift to them?

JF: That I’d record their—

BLVR: Yeah.

JF: No. I didn’t think it was a gift to them at all. I thought of it as a gift to me.
posted by Diablevert at 4:33 AM on November 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


This is the first I've ever heard of Joe Frank -- maybe his shows were never on air in places I have lived? That's too bad, because he sounds interesting. I'm going to enjoy exploring these links.

I can clearly remember how compelling and revelatory TAL was when I encountered it for the first time. Like, holy shit, I've never heard something like this on the radio before. At some point it started sounding kind of samey, though, and for some years now I've only listened to it very, very rarely.

Like someone said above, a lot of the follow-on spinoff shows are just derivative. A few are even worse than that -- I find Radiolab so sonically irritating that I've never listened to more than five minutes in a sitting.

What's needed is the next TAL that takes the medium in a new direction, not more copycats of TAL. Maybe everyone does have a story, but there has to be better ways of telling and exploring them.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:35 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


'This American Life' Completes Documentation Of Liberal, Upper-Middle-Class Existence

What's funny is that The Onion has become a part of this research project. I think I heard TAL getting stories from guys from The Onion last week or so. It must be hard getting quirky, touching stories every week. Eventually, like any variety show, you end up interviewing your friends... other white liberal upper middle class people.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:47 AM on November 10, 2013


This whole post and comment thread is amusingly weird if you initially confuse Joe Frank with Joe Franklin.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:58 AM on November 10, 2013


I'm inclined to think he's a giant scumbag for recording conversations with people without their consent. (notably, in the interview, he tries to justify it with the "it's for art!" trope and states he doesn't regret it.)
posted by jpe at 6:12 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've certainly pulled over to finish a TAL story but they may be running out of A-list stories, I just heard a bit of a recent story, a long detailed account of a family that talks about medical problems obsessively, well, I for one was waiting for the kicker where the bad son got an ax... but no, just one bad tummy after another bad tummy. There was a theme, a point about life, an important message, but all about bad tummy aches.
posted by sammyo at 6:40 AM on November 10, 2013


I love true, if somewhat polished, stories. TAL has always been a favorite, and I go seeking even more of them. For a raunchier, less-polished version, I like Kevin Allison's Risk! podcast.
posted by xingcat at 6:50 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Alongside my intense dislike of Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe, another bit of radio Canadiana I can't stomach is DNTO. Sook Yin Lee just sounds so grasping and trying-to-be-like-the-cool-aunt to my ears that I cringe when I occasionally catch bits of it.

The whole TAL/Joe Frank/DNTO/The Moth, etc school of radio confessional really isn't terrible in itself, it's just that now everyone thinks they can do it. We have an acquaintance here in the Townships who hosts her own version of this--styled after DNTO, natch--every Wednesday night on the sole English-language station here in town. God love her, but it's so earnest and self-congratulatory that I can't take it.
posted by Kitteh at 6:52 AM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


the TAL style gets tiresome (though, for me, the RadioLab style gets tiresome way way faster

Why choose? Both are equally pretentious, tiresome bourgeois entertainments that pretend to inform but generally propagandize.
posted by spitbull at 7:33 AM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


The whole TAL/Joe Frank/DNTO/The Moth, etc school of radio confessional....

...kind of makes me think you haven't actually listened to Joe's programs; they're much more in the way of fiction than non-fiction, more absurdist storytelling than confession.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 7:54 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I cannot stand Stuart McLean. My brother-in-law had to pick him up at the airport once for an event and wasn't familiar with him or the Vinyl Cafe, and once McLean realized that, he was very rude. My sister was sitting in the front seat and knew exactly who he was. She was appalled. It's not as if I needed that anecdote to dislike the Vinyl Cafe, though. I'm completely unclear where Stuart McLean gets his accent from, for one; Dave is exactly the kind of "hey guise I'm a goofy husband with a grown-up wife who has to do all the real thinking and has to act like my mother!" character I think is actively setting back both feminism and masculinity generally; and apparently he doesn't visit the local people and places like he says he does. Producers do that. That's the one show I will run to shut off on the ceeb.

DNTO isn't the same without the brilliant Nora Young.

Anna Maria Tremonti, though. I love that woman. I would listen to her do anything. I hate to miss The Current.

I used to listen to This American Life religiously, but I've fallen off the habit in the last few years. I'm not entirely sure why. I really loved RadioLab when I first found it, and I still think it's format is a really effective way of communicating complicated ideas around science to people who don't have the first clue, and I love that they have an experimental musician as one of the co-hosts. It's fun to listen to, but the more recent themes and stories haven't carried as much weight for me as the earlier ones did. RadioLab was the first really fresh thing I can remember hearing on the radio. They seem to think of radio in three dimensions, which is a really interesting and useful addition to the radio landscape.

I don't think the confessionalism is really the issue here, personally. I can't imagine we'll ever get tired of hearing individual stories well told; that's kind of a cornerstone of being a human being. I'd love to see more experiments in radio, though. I listen to Wiretap, and I think there are some brilliant moments in there (I particularly like the monologues spoken as if from biblical figures), but I could do without all the bits where he sits around being abused by his "friends". I love real radio dramas and I would definitely sign up for more. The medium is so rich, I wish there were a larger culture around it interested in innovating. We need to see the Mad Men of radio appear sometime soon.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:09 AM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've been doing story slams for the last couple of years and have performed at my city's Moth a few times in addition to getting up on the mic at a local storyslam series that had been going before the Moth became a national brand. It's long enough that the complaints in this thread about mediocrity and "not everyone needs to hear your story" are familiar. I mean, yeah, on a given night at the local Moth there are going to be ten storytellers and at least three will be barely on theme or in the time limit or have a discernible plot. A couple of others will be very polished and Trying Too Hard. Yet, there will always be one or two stories that really touch you or bring some kind of delightful surprise.

Sturgeon's Law you guys ...dealing with the bland is part of getting to the juice. Its a serious first world problem that we are so inundated with so many venues for people to share their lives with us that we have to complain that these opportunities for empathy are not entertaining enough
posted by bl1nk at 8:17 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


But I also agree that the bigger theme to discuss here is the way that mining personal experience for art and performance can make you do hurtful things when your identity as an Artist trumps your identity as a human being
posted by bl1nk at 8:19 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The anecdote Diablevert relates is actually in one of Joe Frank's shows, where it's presented in a much more interesting fashion (I had assumed it was made up, but who knows).

Joe Frank's story is worth telling, and worth listening to, right?

A lot of Joe Frank's best shows are (fictional) monologues, or radio plays. The ones that are autobiographical bring in a lot of commentary from other players. They're very well done and aren't just him telling "his story". Even the "radio verité" shows have a mix of elements.

TAL and its derivatives may be great for someone who wants to tell what he or she considers to be "his/her story" (though that's a concept that I'm rather leery of, at least given the way it generally gets deployed—on two counterposed dimensions: (a) why think you have one singular story? Isn't that kind of strange? (b) why think you have even one story?), but it is, actually, another question why anyone would want to listen to the stories told, especially given the gauzy production that gives everything a samey, cauterized feel.

So, yes, the stories Joe Frank tells are worth listening to.
posted by kenko at 8:34 AM on November 10, 2013


but I could do without all the bits where he sits around being abused by his "friends".

Funny, this is really the only part of Wiretap that I liked, and I stopped listening when he dialed it back a bunch a couple seasons ago. His monologues are okay sometimes, but I find his stories (and the ones he chooses from other writers/producers) pretty uninteresting.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:35 AM on November 10, 2013


A quote from the Salon article:

In his first KCRW fund drive since returning to the air [in 2000], Frank raised more money in one hour than anyone else on the station. During the drive, he exhorts his audience with virulent hate mail and accounts of the humiliations he will suffer if his audience doesn’t validate his return to the air by pledging. He pleads with listeners to “open a vein and bleed money our way,” inventing such donor categories as “bodhisattva” and “enlightened being” and offering, as a premium, a “Vietnamese monk’s self-immolation kit, which comes with a can of gasoline and a pack of matches.” An hour later, he has raised $16,635 from a record-breaking 247 callers.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:40 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


The pull quote unintentionally makes this sound like an anti-TAL piece which it isn't, but I'll say this about TAL, with the utmost respect and love:

The very first time I heard it, it was late at night, I was staying up on AOL, my girlfriend was out of town, things were a little odd and surreal already, and I turned on NPR and it was Running After Antelope. If there is a TAL contributor who is most Joe Frank-like, it is Scott Carrier, and I remember being totally bewildered and mesmerized by both the story and his hypnotic voice.

I'm not sure there's much else on TAL that nears the etherial weirdness of Joe Frank - not that that is the goal for that show - but it was a sort of magic I would like to find more of, somewhere.

What happened to Scott Carrier anyway?
posted by latkes at 8:54 AM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love good radio, so I'll have to seek this Joe Frank out. It's really hard to get NPR in Toronto, for some reason.

Q - I think Ghomeshi is one of the best overall 'pop' interviewers on radio these days. He can conduct a positive, 'up' interview yet also draw out the interviewee in an insightful and intelligent way. Main issue (I won't call it a flaw) is his Canadian "we're all people" approach which rubs some of the bigger egos the wrong way (...Billy Bob). Also, he did play the fawning fan-boy when he interviewed Neil Young and Daniel Lanois, when Young had released "Le Noise".

I have become a fan of Wiretap. At first it was cringe-inducing and I would tune away as soon as it came on, but one day, I listened to one of the readings/mini-stories Goldstein often starts with and it totally enchanted me, and I can now get past the schtick to appreciate the writing and insight.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:03 AM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The bigger problem here, of course, is that Frank's work needs a better steward on the web. This thread has lots of people talking about how great it is and nobody actually linking to it. That's not the posters' fault, though...what are you going to link to, a circa-2007 website offering $11/month access to streaming audio files? Get real. (And I say that as someone who's been a subscriber since the beginning.)

Frank's body of work is an important part of American literature, and someone needs to step up and treat it as such. There has to be a way to make the work more accessible to interested listeners while eclipsing the subscription income of the current site. The work deserves to be heard.
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:05 AM on November 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


I did not think to check when I posted, but an archive.org user has posted their home tapes of every episode of "The Other Side". Another archive.org user has posted a number of episodes played as the "Sunday Morning Sermon" on KCRW.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:38 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


[Telling stories] is how we empathise with the billions of people across the globe who are not us, and who we know nothing about.

In theory, yes, but in practice, does something like The Moth really help us empathise with billions of people across the globe? It's helped me empathise with two or three kinds of people who have all, whatever the differences (if any) between their starting points in life, arrived at the same niche cultural event, as well as essentially the same outlook on the world. And that's a pretty narrow segment of all humankind. We're naturally fascinated by the lives of people who are like us or who we recognise from our experiences, and the most minute difference between them is meaningful. But unless the stories have genuine scope, what might feel like learning about people is really just turning ever further inwards. I agree that telling stories is important, and believe that great insights can come from small experiences, but if you're saying that the shows Joe Frank's talking about are actually telling us about the billions of people all over the world, that's just erasing a lot of the world and a lot of its people.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:51 AM on November 10, 2013


One more thing from the Salon piece, which I love to imagine:

After a few years... Frank was inexplicably hired by National Public Radio as a host for the weekend "All Things Considered."... [H]e admits he was “in way over my head” and that the five-minute essays he produced at the end of the hour were inappropriate for the journalistic format. “The kinds of questions I was interested in ["All Things Considered"] didn’t answer,” he says. “Why are we here? What is the nature of God? If nature is bred with tooth and claw, is human compassion just an anomaly?”

Humorist Harry Shearer... remembers Frank’s "All Things Considered" days differently. "For 51 minutes it was the regular vanilla news program, only not the usual NPR voice — less nasal and less vocally constricted," he says. "Then the last five or six minutes of the show was an essay that was like a fist coming out of your radio..."

posted by Going To Maine at 10:29 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I first found Frank through a coworker who had endless cassettes taped from the radio that he'd play while we were working late at night on print deadline. His stories were so weird, so transporting, that I fell for them hard. I ended up on Slsk (to date it), downloading all these KCRW back catalog. I still love them, though my girlfriend doesn't get why — she finds 'em really creepy, which does make sense sometimes.

As for the pullquote — he's absolutely right. The idea that everyone's story deserves hearing because, as someone suggested upthread, this is some mechanism for building empathy? That's bullshit. Most stories are boring. When I have worked as an editor, churning through the slush pile, the biggest question that a story has to answer is, "So what?" followed by, "Who cares?" Not everyone's story is worth reading, or hearing, and a tremendous number of them fail to ever get past that "So what?" point.
posted by klangklangston at 11:37 AM on November 10, 2013


"For 51 minutes it was the regular vanilla news program, only not the usual NPR voice — less nasal and less vocally constricted," he says. "Then the last five or six minutes of the show was an essay that was like a fist coming out of your radio..."

Yeah, I haven't heard the Frank's stuff and what I found fascinating about the Believer article was that last bit kind of comes across anyway....It's really weird, it seems like he has these supporters within radio that admire him so much for being willing to do things you're not supposed to do on the radio. Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, I am bringing truth to the masses, and so who gives a fuck who it hurts....you never hear that attitude straight out defended any more, as an artistic manifesto. And on the radio, of all places. The milk and cookies, anodyne, yelling and lecturing radio. He seems like messiah without a cult.
posted by Diablevert at 11:51 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


What happened to Scott Carrier anyway?

He had a book published in February, and until recently was teaching at Utah Valley University.

Hearing Voices has archived many of his non-TAL radio pieces, but the most recent one is from 2009.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:36 PM on November 10, 2013


.. annoying, because it’s very uneven.

That sums up my impression of Joe Frank's work. Some of it is great, like the show that contains Earnest Hemingway's nada poem (from A Clean, Well-Lighted Place) apparently from The Death of Trotsky. I didn't know it was Hemingway until today:

Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name.
Thy kingdom nada, thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada.
Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas,
and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada.

Some of the shows are not great. I recall those shows as dialogs or monologues, phoned-in, literally and often metaphorically as well.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:50 PM on November 10, 2013


Yes, Frank is definitely an asshole. Highly narcissistic, egotistical, arrogant, you name it.

He's also a great artist. For whatever reason, those traits are very common among really talented artists. I can empathize with it, frankly (ha). I can see how it makes you bitter when you work extremely hard to make something truly great, and the majority of people reject you simply because they are too dim to appreciate it.

(And that doesn't necessarily mean you're dim if you don't like Frank's stuff; it might just be a matter of personal taste. But it might also be because you're "limited", in his words. LOL)
posted by mikeand1 at 12:53 PM on November 10, 2013


I don't know that Frank himself is any more narcissistic or arrogant than anyone else, he's just conscious of how those aspects of humanity motivate and stymie us, and so he openly works it into his art. I also wouldn't take anything he communicates in mass media as purely factual truth (such as surreptitiously recording his friends), not because he is a liar but because his public method of inquiry isn't predicated on journalism. He creates and dignifies drama. He seems more curious about nigredo than his own present personality.
posted by methinks at 1:29 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It was years ago, my partner and I were having to make monthly commutes between San Jose and Santa Barbara.We got a late start one night, so around 10:00 pm we were crossing through the hilly section of highway 101 between Gilroy and Salinas. I was tired, and scanning the radio for something to keep me awake. The saturation clocked on a person relating how a man with a trust fund and boundless enthusiasm created one stealth generation scheme after another: ski resorts in the Sahara; teleportation; brain c hips. And each disaster was followed by a litany of self help self esteem boosters. The station faded and we frantically scanned until the story was picked up again on another station. We listened to this perfect dissection of the yuppie mentality in awe and hilarity, because it was at once incredibly funny, and at the same time so true. I Ann convinced there are people in silicon valley who listened to this show, didn't get the joke, and are starting in on mind chips, with the first stage being cockroaches.

The next trip we listened to a depiction of a traffic Copter where where things escalated from a fender bender through a tanker car explosion to the Apocalypse... it was like taking lsd while being able to drive.

In short, if you haven't listened to Joe Frank, you haven't listened to the best that radio has to offer. It's simply incredible, and it'sa crime that he isn't freely available.
posted by happyroach at 1:34 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been listening to Snap Judgement recently : it's great!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:37 AM on November 11, 2013


Oddly enough, this guy's schtick where he's interested in stirring up human drama at any cost seems very much like that of the reality TV producer. Maybe he should get into that.
posted by ignignokt at 5:00 AM on November 11, 2013


Oddly enough, this guy's schtick where he's interested in stirring up human drama at any cost seems very much like that of the reality TV producer. Maybe he should get into that.

This is emphatically not Joe Frank's "schtick." Joe Frank is interested only tangentially in reality, and this comment like many others in this thread betray ignorance of his work which is a pity.

Here's an example to illustrate: One of Frank's celebrated programs is called "Rent-a-Family." It is a three hour production that details a fictitious emerging industry where men can rent women and their children to be a temporary family for a fee. The show alternates between a panel discussion of experts who weigh in on the social implications of rental families, and the terrifying personal story of a divorced woman who becomes involved in the program. The whole thing is entirely imaginary, but sounds entirely real.

That's Joe Frank's version of a reality show.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:07 AM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've always wondered if the authors of revealing comic memoirs kept friends for long. It seems that Joe Frank has ended a few friendships in the name of artistic authenticity.

Perhaps that's the choice one makes: Do I maintain the sanctity of this relationship, or is this good material?

Story slams, Twitter, and episodic personal blogs bother me for that reason: You're mining your life for material. I did it too; it was an honor to be quoted in one's Livejournal article, and I did my damndest to retell every anecdote and install my own pithy commentary. I was the star of my own show, and I had comments and retweets to back up my catty dismissal of pop culture. It's not some great evil, but it took me out of the moment, furious as I was to memorialize every dick joke.

Hey, our dorm is so weird! We could make it a TV show!

Does every moment of our lives need documentation? "Stories make us human" is a good rallying cry, but does your anecdote have more value if it's broadcast nationwide?

Maybe it's like photography; there are some really great pictures in art galleries, our homes, and the internet, but sometimes we need to put down the damn camera and enjoy the moment. I won't remember this sunset in 30 years, but I'll remember enjoying it, and a picture of it won't evoke the same thing anyways. Pay attention to your family and the people around you, and don't worry so much about timing and wording your big reveal. They won't love you any less if you don't stretch their words for a radio audience.
posted by Turkey Glue at 10:32 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


As for the pullquote — he's absolutely right. The idea that everyone's story deserves hearing because, as someone suggested upthread, this is some mechanism for building empathy? That's bullshit. Most stories are boring.

Fine. When you're editing your own show, you of course choose the stories that interest you.

But he crosses over into sad old man territory when he starts shaking his fist and saying, "Stop it! Too many boring stories on the radio! I'm too dumb/lazy to find the stuff I like among the stuff I don't like. And all these podcasts! I can't keep up with all that. People should just shut up and stop telling stories that don't interest me!"
posted by straight at 12:08 PM on November 11, 2013


I think buying into that everyone's story is equally interesting, or at least interesting enough for public consumption without some underling reason is not invalid. Frank of course as everyone who's read the piece actually spend very little time on the subject, he is not telling people to shut up, rather is asking the kinda important question why should I/we care? Something beyond... "well it's my story!" would be nice.

Personal stories are kind of like dreams... most of them ARE boring unless you share some sort of context. Knowing what my sisters did yesterday is not boring to ME, but would be tedious beyond belief to 99% the rest of the world. Unless there is context we are just flapping our gums.

I think, and I may be completely wrong here but a stab in the dark, one take of what he is saying in that little overblown paragraph has to do with experience vs telling. We may need less telling and more experience in order to tell interesting things.
posted by edgeways at 12:21 PM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can someone clue me in to the appeal of WordJazz? I can see why someone would like Snap Judgement which is a show that rubs me the wrong way because of the affected narrator, but I don't get the appeal of that other show.
posted by Carillon at 1:14 PM on November 11, 2013


Can someone clue me in to the appeal of WordJazz?

Ken Nordine

(derail, I know)
posted by Artful Codger at 8:07 AM on November 12, 2013


I've been listening to Snap Judgement recently : it's great!

Stephen Tobolowsky had a radio show for a little while on PBS, telling stories of this and that sort. It was pretty good. I wonder if he'll ever get back to that.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:33 AM on November 12, 2013


This thread encouraged me to find some copies of Joe Frank's work. From the past few days of listening I'm amazed at how good the good episodes are (but wow there's a lot of mediocre and overindulgent episodes as well, things I would have been less likely to realize when I was a teenager. Also amazing, damn there's a lot of his work that I semi-internalized as a teenager, and it's kind of spooky realizing just how just lieing in bed with the headphones on late at night listening to some radio show really did have an effect on my way to looking at the world.

But most of all, I wish I still had it in me to get in the car, put the episodes on the stereo, and drive all night long to no where in particular. There's something about his voice and delivery that just begs to be in a slightly overheated car at night in the middle of nowhere, with no other cars on the road.
posted by aspo at 7:38 PM on November 13, 2013


Perhaps that's the choice one makes: Do I maintain the sanctity of this relationship, or is this good material?

Story slams, Twitter, and episodic personal blogs bother me for that reason: You're mining your life for material. I did it too; it was an honor to be quoted in one's Livejournal article, and I did my damndest to retell every anecdote and install my own pithy commentary.
It's funny you mention Livejournal. I think that one thing that I loved about LJ was that while there was an opportunity to use it as a platform to be some Big Internet Personality, the support for filtering and security made it the opposite of that. There's an inverted thrill in being so trusted or so intimate with someone that they'll put you on a filter and share something with you that they wouldn't with anyone else, and there was a norm within that platform around tighter, more private access rather than broader public ones.

So, because it was a formative experience for me, the reward that I got from writing on the Web was writing to and for my friends, not some nameless, faceless audience. And, when you write for your friends, there's less of a temptation to burn them or skewer them simply for the sake of an amusing anecdote. Acquaintances may get singed, sure, but any story that I would tell publically would always be from the point of view of: "would I tell this at a dinner party with a bunch of people that I know and who would know everyone involved?"

and, I don't think that's a bad way to approach any storytelling exercise.
posted by bl1nk at 8:01 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


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