I’m a pretty huge fan of podcasts; I listen to them when I’m driving somewhere, or walking somewhere (which is always in Manhattan), or taking the subway. I love learning about worlds other than my own; podcasts keep me informed, entertained and often angered. But never bored.
That said, I wasn’t really looking for any new ones, as I don’t have time to listen to all the ones I already like.
But on the most recent new episode of “This American Life,” they played a long stretch of a fantastic new podcast called “Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People,” and I was hooked. There’ve only been seven episodes so far and I’ve devoured three of them in the last couple of days.
Here’s the premise: A comedian named Chris Gethard sits in a studio, and people call in. He picks one phone caller each week, gets them on the line, and then for the next 60 minutes, they talk. The caller stays anonymous, and Gethard must stay on the phone for the whole hour, he can’t hang up, no matter where the conversation goes (the caller can hang up anytime).
It sounds so simple, and so open-ended, and it is. The podcast works because Gethard is a terrific listener who asks great questions, and the conversations go anywhere and everywhere at once.
Just to give you an example of what it’s like: One episode features an illustrator living in New York City, struggling to make ends meet in a difficult profession, ruminating with Chris on staying true to his art or “selling out,” but the conversation goes all over the place, to NYC parking rules, the Star Wars movies, and lots of other places.
There has been one incredible episode featuring an Army soldier who played with a Ouija board on leave, and he asked the board if anyone in his platoon was going to die that year, and the board spelled out a very unusual first name, the name of a guy in his platoon, and the caller never told the guy and then the guy was killed by a sniper eight months later.
And the caller is dealing with the weight, and the guilt, of that, plus his Grandma was a French spy and his grandpa was an Allied officer and they met during World War II. (That’s episode 5)
Maybe the most emotional episode was No. 4, with a formerly homeless voice actor just talking and working stuff out with Gethard, who is alternately empathetic, angry, funny and just exactly the kind of guy you’d want to spend an hour on the phone with.
**Next up today, like many people I’m sure I spent a bit of my weekend reminiscing about Prince after his death on Thursday; a highlight for me was the 10 minutes I spent at my aunt and uncle’s Passover Seder Saturday explaining to my uncle exactly why Prince was so talented, and so beloved for his music.
Two tributes I saw over the weekend that I wanted to share that I thought were great: First, above, is the cast of “Hamilton” closing their show Thursday night with a fantastic little dance tribute to Prince, and the second, below, is Bruce Springsteen, showing once again he’s a rock god, opening a concert in Brooklyn Saturday night with “Purple Rain,” featuring the amazing Nils Lofgren on the great guitar solo halfway through the song.
**And finally today, if you’ll permit me a minute to rant about my New York Rangers, whose season mercifully ended on Saturday, with a 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I’ve been spoiled these last four years as a Rangers fan; my favorite team in all of sports got to the conference finals in 2012, then the Cup finals in 2014, then lost a Game 7 of the conference finals last year. That’s a whole lot of hockey, a whole lot of excitement. Those Rangers teams, I was proud to support. They deserved admiration and love.
This year’s team? This team was pathetic. The effort was lacking in so many games this year, and then in so many playoff games. They hung the best goalie in the world, Henrik Lundqvist, out to dry many times. They had a penalty killing unit that would’ve had to improve to be considered dreadful.
Several young players took steps backward this season (I’m looking at you, Kevin Hayes), and I’m honestly not sure if King Henrik’s poor year was an omen of things to come (ducks lightning bolt).
Just a miserable Rangers season. But like I said, I’ve been spoiled.
Also, these Stanley Cup playoffs have been so-so so far; the Blues-Blackhawks series has been sensational (can’t wait for Game 7), but outside of that, kind of meh. Hated that the Islanders won Sunday night, but happy for many of my Isles fan friends who hadn’t seen a playoff series win since 1993 (That was before O.J. murdered Nicole and Ron, that’s how long ago that was.)
Expecting great things out of Caps-Penguins in Round 2, and as always, playoff overtime hockey is the best thing in sports.