Sunday, March 22, 2015

Listen 'Til the End

Ask me and I'm yours.

A friend had tickets for Ira Glass, part of the UR Modlin series at Centerstage, and needed a date. Always happy to substitute for a husband, I walked over in the last of the evening sunlight so she wouldn't have to pick me up.

I was greeted by a couple of friends loitering near the entrance, promising to meet up with one for dinner and discussing mac and cheese devotion with the other. Behind them was my date, waiting for me.

Turns out we had terrific seats in the sixth row of a sold out theater, hardly a surprise since she'd gotten the tickets months ago. We got busy catching up about her toddler who has developed a devotion to Taylor Swift's videos, although she noted that he prefers her early work.

I thought that was hilarious.

Not Ira Glass hilarious, but then I readily admit to being partial to a handsome middle-aged man with a big brain and outstanding sense of humor.

Our beloved Ira took the stage in darkness saying, "The thing you have to understand is it's radio." Major laughter.

He kept on talking on a darkened stage, admitting that he'd wanted to do the entire show in darkness but UR wouldn't let him. "Seeing people in the stories is overrated."

Once the lights were up, he began a brief history of "This American Life," saying that it was the first NPR show that you didn't listen to because it made you a better person.

He talked a lot about the power of humor (something he had in abundance) using some of his past broadcasts, such as the a story about the war in Afghanistan.that began with an interview with the woman whose job it was to refill the vending machines aboard an aircraft carrier. All day.

Cracking himself up, he shared a story about a high school student who bought weed for the new girl at school only to have her turn out to be a cop. The punchline of that story was that Ira had had it turned into a musical, parts of which we heard. The lyrics came straight from the student's dialog.

That Ira is brilliant.

A fair amount of time and discussion was spent on "vocal fry," a manner of speaking common to young women these days. The problem is how offensive older listeners find it with NPR receiving scads of complaints after using younger journalists with the distinctive register.

The story concludes with a respected linguist alluding to the evolution of language and saying, "It only bothers old people." Funny, but complaints to NPR about vocal fry dried up as soon as that story ran.

That said, my friend found their voices lacking authority and professionalism and I thought they sounded like teen-aged twits, which makes us both old.

Roaming the stage as he talked, Ira explained structuring a story (much like a good detective novel), using a broadcast about a New Zealand girl who'd been bitten by a shark as an example of knowing the outcome of the story but not the good part of the story (cue narrative suspense).

Wanna know Ira's goal? It's that if you tune into his show, you won't be able to turn it off until the end.

I about lost it when he talked about how his parents didn't want him to go into public radio. "They wanted me to be a doctor. Why? Because we're Jews."

Demonstrating his parents' sense of humor, he said they took out a classified ad in the Baltimore Sun advertising a job for him. Leaning toward the audience, he said, "Classified ads, they were like Craig's List printed on paper and delivered to your house." Not sure if the UR students got it or not.

He posited that the "topic sentence industrial complex" was responsible for story structure not being taught in schools. To a language nerd, that kind of comment makes a girl swoon.

We got a lesson in the FCC and obscenity - you can call someone a dick once, but not four times in a story- and in Ira's opinion, a child hearing an obscene word "doesn't turn him into a criminal or a UR student," although he offered no proof of this.

His point that radio is an empathy machine that shows "us" what it's like to be "them" was well argued.

During the Q & A, a wanna-be journalism student asked him what she should do and he suggested she make work whether she gets paid for it or not (I see this as unlikely but it's true) and to keep plugging even when she's no good.

As an example, he played a clip from his seventh year in radio when he was 27. "This is to show you that I sucked," he said and he did. His story was boring and went nowhere, but he then proceeded to retell it to us in a livelier, more interesting manner, more like the Ira we know today.

Proof positive that even the mighty handsome Ira had to develop his talent and voice. But them don't we all?

After over two hours, Ira said goodnight and my date and I headed to Lucy's to talk.

When the bartender spread out menus - wine, cocktails, food - in front of us, the owner came up behind him. "Are you thinking of ordering food?" she asked. Um, no?

"Good, because if you did, I think the kitchen guys might start crying." Well they certainly didn't need that after a busy night.

Instead we sipped the crisp and lovely Famille Perrin Rose while rehashing our love fest with Ira. She showed me some of her favorite podcasts.

A guy came up to the bar to ask a question about cider, looked at me and thought he knew me. I'd thought the same about him but couldn't place him. Aha, Valentine's Day, that was it. His memory got more points than mine.

My date and I outlasted all the other tables before she announced, "I'm going to sleep good tonight."

Spoken like a true vocal fry hater.

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