I love writeups that get the most boring information out of the way...

As Ira Glass says every week, "Each week we choose a theme and invite different writers and performers to contribute items on the theme." Most shows consist of a short introduction by Glass and 3 or 4 10-15 minute stories about people you've never heard of, all of which relate in some way to that theme.

It sounds boring, but it's amazing. This American Life reminds you that every life is full of drama, passion and meaning. Take, for example, the show "Family Business." Glass explains that he had the idea for the show when he read estimates that say "40 to 60 percent of our nation's gross domestic product is created by family businesses, but talking to anyone who works for one of these companies, you end up wondering...how?"

So you have four stories. One is about a woman who discovers that her father's family was destroyed over a fight about the family business, and tries to go back to find out why a 1963 letter led to the collapse of a family. Another is done by a relatively liberal man who ends up as a campaign worker on his brother's run for office--as a Republican. A third is a story from the 80s. The storyteller worked for a family of Grecian refugees who were running an ice cream parlor in Toronto, and who turned out to have an even stranger story than the one they admitted to. The fourth piece was about a family who run "Chad's Place," a restaurant dedicated to the memory of a family member who was tragically killed just before his high school graduation.

These are stories...you have to be drawn into them, and when the twist in the story comes you twist right along with it. "Chad's Place" begins with the restaurant, and people walking around with shirts that say "Chad's Brother." "Chad's Father." The family explains that Chad is dead and that this was his dream. How did he die? Well, his best friend accidentally shot him while they were playing around with his father's gun. This is their monument to him. When you hear the father--an ordinary working-class guy--saying, "you look in the mirror and you think it will get better...but it never gets better," and you hear these guys--guys who listen to Motley Crue and hunt--talk about how they all contemplated or attempted suicide--you won't forget it.

And this happens every week. The woman whose authoritarian father was adopted as a guru by an alternative rock band. The woman who calls her adult sister and asks to speak to her stuffed animal. The Rent groupies who found out that one of their number was dying, just like in the musical. The teenage girl who decided to become Latina. The sixth-grade teacher who got his class to take over the school by force and institute a dictatorship. And they all happen.

One of the best things in any medium.

(I've been waiting for a reason to add to this node for years).

Ira Glass and his band of intellectual cronies are hard at work filming a cable television series, set to air on Showtime in early 2007. Ignoring the fact that Showtime isn't exactly known for its highbrow entertainment (I vividly remember being excited as a young man for 11:30pm to hit the network because that's where the softcore pornography lived) let me explain to you why, success or not, it will fail; why, in fact, it was doomed to fail before it even left the gate.

There's this photo of Ira Glass that I use for my Livejournal icon. Black and white, Glass is holding a clipboard up in front of his face between himself and the camera; written on it with a thick black pen are the words 'Radio = No Pictures.' Those three words were so affecting on me that it's become a bit of a philosophy of mine.

(Incidentally, to anyone who thought that was a picture of me: I'm flattered, but no.)

The reason radio storytelling is so unique and so noble is that it exercises a muscle so rarely used in america these days: a person's imagination. Until I found that picture and bio of Ira Glass, I had zero idea what he looked like except what I knew from his stories. I knew he was bright and funny, and sounded young though probably wasn't. He sounded like he wore glasses (he does) and he sounded vaguely gay (he's not). I pictured him as fair-haired (no), clean-shaven (yes), and quick and precise in his movements (no idea damn straight). Over the last eight years of me listening to his show, I built an image of him. In a very real way, I created Ira Glass in my head. Well. My Ira Glass anyway. I could say the same thing for his entire crew.

Paradoxically, Sarah Vowell looks exactly like she sounds.

Anyway. To go with this ideology, Ira has constantly and adamantly refused to be photographed because that wasn't the point. He believed that the picture of him his listeners had in their heads was far more powerful and important that what he actually looked like. He believed in the power of storytelling and of fabulism and of Public Radio as the last bastion of those who preferred to learn with their ears instead of with their eyes, of people who created and believed in the world that lived between their ears far more than what they saw, a world where what they thought just existed right there in their minds, real as life. People who learn aurally speak better, write better, imagine better. They are the owners of what's left of the American aural tradition, the owners of this (not the) American Life. Even the title is a giveaway - it says, right there, that his is just One American Life; he was just lucky enough to have access to a bigass antenna and a production budget.

you know the saying "A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words?" I call Bullshit. You can take a photograph of a woman staring out a windowpane streaked with glass and call it 'melancholy' but nothing can compare with the vividness of the image in your own mind because the photograph is someone else's. The Melancholy of your imagination is yours. It's in your head, fully realized. It breathes.

I won't watch his television show, not even close. But maybe, just maybe, I'll bury my face in the crook of my arm like I used to fall asleep, eyes swollen shut, and listen.

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