A Conversation On Life In Isolation With Five Creatives. Plant Love. Healthy Skin.

Perhaps you have become acclimatized to living through a pandemic? Maybe you have rearranged your everyday life to accommodate social distancing? Or, are you going stir crazy? These are some of the questions we asked five of our favorite creative guests at Life Elsewhere –  author, educator, Anna Dorn; musician, educator, Harry Stafford; author, educator, Mark Haskell Smith; musician, poet, educator Joshua Idehen; musician, author, educator, Martin Atkins. The conversation was conducted via Zoom, connecting to Stockholm, Manchester, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Their responses ranged from the need for physical contact to being content with a little solitude. And, as expected, all of our creative guests were eager to share their thoughts. Hosting a talk show remotely over the internet may well be the new normal when this pandemic is finally over. If it is, then this edition of Life Elsewhere proves how engaging it can be.

                                               

Also in the program, Summer Rayne Oakes, an urban houseplant expert, and environmental scientist has managed to grow 1,000 houseplants in her Brooklyn apartment (and they’re thriving!) Her secret? She approaches her relationships with plants as intentionally as if they were people. Summer joins the show to talk about her book, How To Make A Plant Love You: Cultivate Green Space In Your Home. Plus, James Hamblin, a  preventive medicine physician and staff writer for The Atlantic was curious about the new science of skin microbes and probiotics. He discovered that keeping skin healthy is a booming industry, and yet it seems like almost no one agrees on what actually works. In his new book, Clean – The New Science Of Skin, Hamblin explores how we care for our skin today. He even experimented with giving up showers entirely. His conclusion on the meaning of “clean” may be surprising and at times, humorous.  

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Baseless & Unidentified

                             

Nicholson Baker –  Baseless: My Search For Secrets In The Ruins Of The Freedom Of Information Act

With great pleasure, we welcome back to Life Elsewhere, acclaimed author, Nicholson Baker. His latest work of non-fiction is a remarkable hybrid of history, journalism, and a memoir. Eight years ago, while investigating the possibility that the United States had used biological weapons in the Korean War, Nicholson requested a series of Air Force documents from the early 1950s under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Years went by, and he got no response. Rather than wait forever, he set out to keep a personal journal of what it feels like to try to write about major historical events in a world of pervasive redactions, withheld records, and glacially slow governmental responses. The result is one of the most original and daring works of nonfiction in recent memory, a singular and mesmerizing narrative that tunnels into the history of some of the darkest and most shameful plans and projects of the CIA, the Air Force, and the presidencies of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. In his lucid and unassuming style, Baker assembles what he learns, piece by piece, about Project Baseless, a crash Pentagon program begun in the early fifties that aimed to achieve “an Air Force-wide combat capability in biological and chemical warfare at the earliest possible date.” Along the way, he unearths stories of balloons carrying crop disease, leaflet bombs filled with feathers, suicidal scientists, leaky centrifuges, paranoid political-warfare tacticians, insane experiments on animals and humans, weaponized ticks, ferocious propaganda battles with China, and cover and deception plans meant to trick the Kremlin into ramping up its germ-warfare program. At the same time, Baker tells the stories of the heroic journalists and lawyers who have devoted their energies to wresting documentary evidence from government repositories, and he shares anecdotes from his daily life in Maine feeding his dogs and watching the morning light gather on the horizon. The result is an astonishing and utterly disarming story about waiting, bureaucracy, the horrors of war, and, above all, the cruel secrets that the United States government seems determined to keep forever from its citizens.

Colin Dickey – The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, And Our Obsession With The Unexplained

In a world where rational, scientific explanations are more available than ever, belief in the unprovable and irrational–in fringe–is on the rise: from Atlantis to aliens, from Flat Earth to the Loch Ness monster, the list goes on. It seems the more our maps of the known world get filled in, the more we crave mysterious locations full of strange creatures. Enter Colin Dickey, Cultural Historian and Tour Guide of the Weird. With the same curiosity and insight that made Ghostland a hit with readers and critics, Colin looks at what all fringe beliefs have in common, explaining that today’s Illuminati is yesterday’s Flat Earth: the attempt to find meaning in a world stripped of wonder. Dickey visits the wacky sites of America’s wildest fringe beliefs–from the famed Mount Shasta where the ancient race (or extra-terrestrials, or possibly both, depending on who you ask) called Lemurians are said to roam, to the museum containing the last remaining “evidence” of the great Kentucky Meat Shower–investigating how these theories come about, why they take hold, and why as Americans we keep inventing and re-inventing them decade after decade. The Unidentified is Colin Dickey at his best: curious, wry, brilliant in his analysis, yet eminently readable.

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A Conversation With Michael Bentham

“Our film is sadly inspired by real-life events.” Says Michael Bentham, director of the new independent Australian movie, Disclosure. “We made this film because we want to help change policy, by raising the profile of the pressing issue of child-on-child abuse, and the inadequate institutional responses to this escalating problem”. One of the key challenges faced by young children who have experienced abuse is the reluctance of parents, and institutions, to accept the words of children as evidence, despite the wealth of research showing that children almost never make up stories about being sexually abused. The reality of Disclosure’s basic plot is unsettling. In conversation with Norman B, Michael explains why and how it was so important to deliver his message in a unique and powerful way. His dialogue is, at times, brittle yet so authentic you forget this is a movie drama. Are the difficulties of speaking about sexual abuse amongst children made all the more obvious when we consider how long it has taken for the Me Too movement to be taken seriously? Bentham understands this, so he forces us to watch entranced at gorgeous, lush, verdant settings as four adults grow increasingly agitated. His static camera and middle distance framing are quietly unnerving. 

We encourage you to listen carefully to what Michael Bentham has to say, not only because he is a wonderful conversationalist and guest, but also because the distribution company of Disclosure is giving us 10 DVDs to give away to our attentive listeners. All you have to do is answer a simple question, “What country do the two sound designers for Disclosure work in?” The first correct 10 answers we receive will each receive a copy of the Disclosure DVD.

Send your correct answer to normanb@lifeelsewhere.co

Thank you to producer Donna Lyon, and Michael Bentham for very kindly allowing us to use a clip from Disclosure

You can watch the movie Disclosure now on iTunes, Vimeo, Vudu, and FandangoNow or order the DVD on Amazon

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LEM Vol 190 – Image & Music – A Conversation With Pela + Music From Calabashed & DJ Squarewave

Popular music has always been about image. From the brazen eighteen-year-old truck driver in Memphis, Tennessee who donned showy pimp-like garb slicked his not-yet jet-black hair into a pompadour, grew sideburns and applied eyeliner and rouge – to the spotty youth from Aberdeen, Washington with straggly blond hair and a habit for raggedy urchin-look cardigans,  image was all-important. It still is today. Recently,  I pondered on the relevance of image while chatting via Zoom to Hannah Coombes and Olly Shelton, who go by the moniker of Pela. The South London duo had made a couple of singles which led to my enthusiastic raving, in turn requesting an interview. Looking at the poised couple via Zoom I couldn’t resist mentioning how lovely they are. “You’re gorgeous!” I blurted out. But, my sense of what is politically correct stymied my urge to babble on about Hannah and Olly’s fabulous camera-ready looks. We are here to talk about Pela’s intriguing music, I reminded myself. Their singles, You Got Me and South Of are so good I included them back-to-back in Life Elsewhere Music Vol. 187. Hannah’s sensual voice with Olly’s manipulated sounds presents a “now” sound with honest references to the best of past popular music. The duo has a distinctive sound that is thankfully difficult to categorize. Listen closely to the start of You Got Me, is that a needle dropping on a scratchy disc? The tinkered-with title is repeated then Hannah’s crystal-clear vocals come in as a plaintive piano coda plays with a guitar or processed “other” sounds appearing here and there. More manipulated vocals and the tune fades with a morse-code-like sound emanating from who knows what source Olly has played with. South Of opens with a keyboard riff or maybe it’s a processed guitar, after all in our chat Olly makes it clear he enjoys disguising the original sounds and instruments. Again, Hannah’s voice delivers emotive words. Is this a love song? Is she in despair of a lover leaving? Does South Of (Something) mean it’s all over? The absence of obvious drums with a bass directing the beat adds to the mystery. Olly’s deft hand at the mixing board and digital production are ion fine display on this track. Their latest release, Reverie sounds so familiar as it begins. You cannot help feeling you’ve heard this cut before. It’s that good. Except, it’s completely new. A sax appears to confirm this is an original masterwork of pop music. The title and the lyrics almost contradict Hannah’s seemingly laid-back delivery. She’s questioning, “Are we in reverie?” What happened? An unrequited love affair? “I think we might be holding on” she offers. Reverie sounds nothing like Human League’s Don’t You Want Me, yet here is a song with the same magic formula that’ll have you singing along with the chorus. Hannah and Olly very kindly allowed us to include an as-yet-unreleased track to round out the show, All The Way (With Me). Here Olly gets busy from the opening with processed vocal samples. Is that Hannah at a different pitch? The blips and beats could be micro edits of well anything…is that Hannah in reverse? We catch glimpses of lyrics, “All the way with me”, “In the morning sun…”. This is the most abstract of Pela’s work so far. It drives along with a percussive beat that will surely turn out to be anything but percussion. Then, All The Way (With Me) stops suddenly leaving the listener wanting more. Hannah and Olly are engaging, honest, and forthright. They make wonderful, innovative music and yes, they are delightful to look at.

Ask Joshua Idehen about image and I dare say he will not be lost for words. A favorite guest on Life Elsewhere, Josh of Hugh and Benin City fame has teamed up with Alabaster DePlume to form Calabashed. With other notable musicians from London, Calabashed has released, Ode To Jazzman John Clarke. This is what Josh says about the track, “So yeah, a story. There used to be a poet on the scene, Jazzman John Clarke. One of the mad ones to be honest. You’d see him at any open mic, pages full of rants and pain and fuckifiknows. But every time we spoke, he was always kind to me, treated me as an equal even when I had just started out. I remember, at a jazz open mic, halfway through a performance, he threw his papers in the air, jumped on the stage and yelled: “I WEAR MY SOUL AS A JACKET!” I didn’t even know what he meant, only that it shook me. I’m glad I got to tell him that night. He passed away, I found out via Facebook. I felt in a way like I could have been more than a poet acquaintance, but that’s another story. This song is in honor of him.” And we are honored to play, Calabashed Ode To Jazzman John Clarke. Thank you Josh for sending the music file over to us.

The image of Dubstep and Drum & Bass may well be a little fuzzy here in the US. None-the-less, these genres of music overlap, encouraging a large fan-base worldwide. With a critical eye on always trying to include as many styles of modern music in my shows, Dubstep and Drum & Bass have become consistent additions. I’m always on the lookout for the exceptional offering, so listen carefully to DJ Squarewave & Frenk Dublin ft. DRS with Word Forbidden on New World Audio. London based DJ Squarewave has been involved in the scene since the age of 16. Having started out buying turntables, collecting records and playing at drum and bass events. So far, I haven’t caught too many pictures of the man, but I have no doubt that he carefully considers his image. You don’t have to dress up to listen to this volume of Life Elsewhere Music, but I do ask you to be aware that para-military clobber on anyone ‘ain’t cool. 

Norman B. 7.18.2020

Rest In Peace John Lewis & C.T. Vivian

Two Disturbing Books. An Impressive Movie. Plaintive New Music.

 
James B. Stewart – Deep State: Trump, The FBI, And The Rule Of Law

There are questions that the Mueller report couldn’t—or wouldn’t—answer. What actually happened to instigate the Russia investigation? Did President Trump’s meddling incriminate him? There’s no mystery to what Trump thinks. He claims that the Deep State, a cabal of career bureaucrats—among them, Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page, and Peter Strzok, previously little known figures within the FBI whom he has obsessively and publically reviled—is concerned only with protecting its own power and undermining the democratic process. Conversely, James Comey has defended the FBI as incorruptible apolitical public servants who work tirelessly to uphold the rule of law. For the first time, bestselling author James B. Stewart sifts these conflicting accounts to present a clear-eyed view of what exactly happened inside the FBI in the lead-up to the 2016 election, drawing on scores of interviews with key FBI, Department of Justice, and White House officials and voluminous transcripts, notes, and internal reports. In full detail, this is the dramatic saga of the FBI’s simultaneous investigations of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump—the first time in American history the FBI has been thrust into the middle of both parties’ campaigns for the presidency. Stewart shows what exactly was set in motion when Trump fired Comey, triggering the appointment of Robert Mueller as an independent special counsel and causing the FBI to open a formal investigation into the president himself. And how this unprecedented event joined in ongoing combat two vital institutions of American democracy: the presidency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At stake in this epic battle is the rule of law itself, the foundation of the U.S. Constitution. There is no room for compromise, but plenty for collateral damage. The reputations of both sides have already been harmed, perhaps irrevocably, and at great cost to American democracy. Deep State goes beyond the limits of the legally constrained Mueller report, showing how the president’s obsession with the idea of a conspiracy against him is still upending lives and sending shockwaves through both the FBI and the Department of Justice. In this world-historical struggle—Trump versus intelligence agencies—Stewart shows us in rare style what’s real and what matters now. And for the looming 2020 election.

Julian E. Zelizer – Burning Down The House: Newt Gingrich, The Fall Of A Speaker, And The Rise Of The New Republican Party

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, President Obama observed that Trump “is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party.” In Burning Down The House, historian Julian Zelizer pinpoints the moment when our country was set on a path toward an era of bitterly partisan and ruthless politics, an era that was ignited by Newt Gingrich and his allies. In 1989, Gingrich brought down Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Wright and catapulted himself into the national spotlight. Perhaps more than any other politician, Gingrich introduced the rhetoric and tactics that have shaped Congress and the Republican Party for the last three decades. Elected to Congress in 1978, Gingrich quickly became one of the most powerful figures in America not through innovative ideas or charisma, but through a calculated campaign of attacks against political opponents, casting himself as a savior in a fight of good versus evil. Taking office in the post-Watergate era, he weaponized the good government reforms newly introduced to fight corruption, wielding the rules in ways that shocked the legislators who had created them. His crusade against Democrats culminated in the plot to destroy the political career of Speaker Wright. While some of Gingrich’s fellow Republicans were disturbed by the viciousness of his attacks, party leaders enjoyed his successes so much that they did little collectively to stand in his way. Democrats, for their part, were alarmed, but did not want to sink to his level and took no effective actions to stop him. It didn’t seem to matter that Gingrich’s moral conservatism was hypocritical or that his methods were brazen, his accusations of corruption permanently tarnished his opponents. This brand of warfare worked, not as a strategy for governance but as a path to power, and what Gingrich planted, his fellow Republicans reaped. He led them to their first majority in Congress in decades, and his legacy extends far beyond his tenure in office. From the Contract with America to the rise of the Tea Party and the Trump presidential campaign, his fingerprints can be seen throughout some of the most divisive episodes in contemporary American politics. Burning Down The House presents the alarming narrative of how Gingrich and his allies created a new normal in Washington. 

Disclosure

Disclosure, a new independent movie from Australia asks the question, what would you do if your child came to you and began telling you a story about something that happened to them, that is one of your worst nightmares as a parent? And what would be the consequences of your actions? This is director, Michael Bentham’s debut full-length film, set in the lush tropical landscape of Victoria. The story is a dark psychodrama, yet Bentham shooting in 4K captures startlingly colorful scenes with unobtrusive camerawork and exceptional acting. Norman B was so impressed with Disclosure, he wants you to know all about it. In this edition of Life Elsewhere, you’ll hear his review.

Jess Williamson ft. Hand Habits – Pictures Of Flowers

To round out the show, new music from Jess Williamson featuring Hand Habits with the lovely and plaintive, Pictures Of Flowers. Written by Jess and performed by Jess Williamson (acoustic guitar, vocals), Meg Duffy (electric guitar), and Jarvis Taveniere (bass, drums, mellotron) remotely from their homes during quarantine. In her bio, the Texas-born, L.A.-based singer-songwriter is described as making “…deeply felt songs that orbit around her powerful voice, a voice that’s strong and vulnerable, big room flawless, quietly ecstatic, and next-to-you intimate.” We agree. 

Please let us know what you think of Life Elsewhere, we want to hear your feedback, your questions, queries, and comments. Write to normanb@lifeelsewhere.co

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