Friday, May 18, 2012

Radio for the Eyes

Thank you Ira Glass for letting Taylor Dayne tell it to my heart.

My long-overdue evening with a girlfriend got off to an inauspicious start at the Continental.

It wasn't our first choice since I'd already been there once (enough) but it had the distinct advantage of being on the way to the Modlin Center.

Walking in to a packed bar and nearly full house at 6:00, we inquired about a table.

"Are you going to just drink or eat?" we were asked with no hint of a smile. "You have to eat at a table."

Such hospitality! Such customer service!

After assuring her that we'd come to eat, we were granted a table.

"Do we look like drunkards?" Friend asked me. I made a point not to drink.

The dining room was ungodly noisy, so much so that conversation was all but impossible.

Maybe that's why the portions are so ridiculously large; if you're busy chewing endlessly, who can talk?

Giving up on a convivial meal, I ate my black bean nachos and she her wedge salad so we could move on.

Next stop: "This American Life: Live," an evening of radio brought to life.

Ira Glass' NPR show had been taped last week in NYC and was being re-broadcast tonight for a live audience.

He said the inspiration for the show came with wanting to feature people whose stories were too visual for radio.

Walking in to a Bugs Bunny cartoon, we were also treated to a Superman cartoon and a winsome 2011 cartoon called "Little Boat" before the main event.

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Start.

The show's theme was "The invisible made visible," sort of an analogy for everything we were experiencing.

The band OK Go kicked things off by doing a song with audience accompaniment.

Attendees with a smartphone had been able to download an app that allowed them to push one of three icons on cue to make music.

"Everyone who doesn't have a phone, you're the rhythm section," Ira said.

That was me.

With a screen showing us Luddites when to stomp and when to snap and the phone crowd pushing away, we made music with OK Go playing bells and percussion.

It's hard to explain the sense of shared effort, but looking around at glowing phones, concentrating faces and stomping, snapping participants, it felt like an ad hoc street band with a really good bandleader.

They went on to sing "Needing/Getting" ("It don't get much dumber than trying to forget a girl when you love her") without our assistance.

And the show was off and running.

Act 2: Groundhog Day featured comedian Tig Notaro explaining, "I love Taylor Dayne and not ironically."

And did she ever.

She told of seeing her at a party and, as a huge fan, speaking to her ("I don't mean to bother you, but I love your voice").

A year later she saw her at a restaurant and did it again.

"She's the easiest person in the world to run into," Tig deadpanned.

The uber-fan admitted to more sightings and more awkward conversations ("I'm the reason Taylor Dayne made another album") before saying goodnight to the audience.

Before she could walk offstage, Taylor Dayne herself walked on, singing, of course.

She put her arm around Tig, who pretended to sing a little back-up and bust out her Micheal Jackson dance moves. All with a look of disbelief on her face.

After they left the stage arm in arm, Ira came out and said, "Beat that, Car Talk!"

Comedian Glynn Washington told a story of a well witcher looking for water on his god-fearing family's land.

A short film by comedian Mike Birbiglia riffed on NPR with Mike doing an interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Once the interview ends, he insists they go for coffee, where she continues to treat him like an interview subject.

He invites himself to dinner at her house and then tags along when Gross and her husband decide to rob a bank.

At no point does Terry Gross stop interviewing Mike.

The film was called "Fresh Air 2: 2 Fresh, 2 Ferocious." It was hysterically self-mocking.

At one point Ira explained that he was using his iPad to help him do the show, cuing music and video, but admitting the device was "a little buggy."

"My relationship with Apple Corporation is not the best," he noted with a twinkle in his eye.

There was a piece about the discovery of tens of thousand of negatives of an unknown street photographer, Vivian Maier, a Chicago nanny who'd taken pictures daily in the 60s and 70s.

I'd heard about this woman and her prodigious picture taking before tonight, but this was a chance to see many of her photographs.

They were like a diary of her life walking around the city. She was compared to Emily Dickinson, whose poems weren't discovered or published until after her death.

"The living always kick the asses of the dead," it was noted because Maier had been the type who did not want her work seen.

The guy who'd bought the negatives from a storage facility after her death said, "I feel an appreciation she'd never have wanted us to feel."

David Rakoff told his story of growing up gay ("You can't imagine the pleasures of seeing undressed bodies in the locker room in the pre-Internet early 80s") and becoming a dancer.

A tumor behind his collarbone eventually robbed him of the use of his left arm, which he kept tucked in his front pants pocket, but he finished his saga of adjusting to the new him with an eloquent dance in the center of the stage.

More dance followed, this time by two women (one named Monicabill) and set to James Brown's "Get Up/Sex Machine."

In turtlenecks and pleated skirts, they did a frenetic piece that beautifully captured the energy and humor of the song.

My friend and I figured they burned more calories in that one dance than we had taken in at dinner, and that's saying a lot.

Davis Sedaris, in clown make-up and tiny hat, did a rant on bad coffee service in a Vermont hotel.

OK Go did "Do What You Want" ("So you were born in an electrical storm, took a bite out of the sun,saw your future in a machine built for two") and credits began to roll.

Ira had explained that he had to say certain things solely to have them available for when the editing process for radio began.

And I've no doubt that those who hear that show on the radio will find it as fascinating and clever as all his shows.

But they won't have stomped and snapped along to OK Go.

Or seen Terry Gross as a knit-capped bank robber.

Much less seen Taylor Dayne walk onstage to the amazement of the woman who'd just been making jokes about her.

You'd have to have a heart of stone not to revel in an evening like that.

Take that, Car Talk.


  1. Love, love, love This American Life! Boy, wish I'd known this was being shown, sounds awesome!!

  2. I know, right? I've never even listened to "This American Life" before and I was fascinated. A true fan would have been over the moon, I'm sure.