Category Archives: Interviews

The Food Of Dictators. The Music Of Love.

        

Imagine you have the task of cooking meals for a dictator? What was Pol Pot eating while two million Cambodians were dying of hunger? Did Idi Amin really eat human flesh? And why was Fidel Castro obsessed with one particular cow? Traveling across four continents, from the ruins of Iraq to the savannahs of Kenya, award-winning journalist, Witold Szabłowski tracked down the personal chefs of five dictators known for the oppression and massacre of their own citizens—Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Uganda’s Idi Amin, Albania’s Enver Hoxha, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and Cambodia’s Pol Pot. Witold listened to their stories over sweet-and-sour soup, goat-meat pilaf, bottles of rum, and games of gin rummy. Witold Szabłowski joins Norman B to talk about his remarkable book, How To Feed A Dictator – Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, And Pol Pot Through The Eyes Of Their Cooks.

Over the last few years, London-based musician and spoken word artist, Josh Idehen has made frequent appearances on Life Elsewhere. First representing his band Hugh and their sublime music, then, more recently as part of Benin City, a three-piece with Tom Leaper and Shanaz Dorsett. “The name Benin City was chosen” says Josh, “because I grew up there, even though I was born in London and we are two-thirds black and two-thirds gay, so it seemed to fit.” It’s the slightly irreverent attitude that comes to the fore in their music. Benin City doesn’t shy away from expressing their opinions, yet they cleverly manage to concoct catchy popish sounds to do it. Their latest single, Hold Them Close was written over a year ago, long before Covid-19. While in isolation, they determined the sentiment of the song was exactly what everyone needed – Hold Them Close. In our conversation, as is typical when talking with Josh, we quickly diverted off into a tangent about politics and the responsibility of governments in the UK and the US. In listing major concerns, Josh touches on a topic not well known outside of the UK, the Windrush scandal a 2018 British political issue concerning people mostly from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands who were wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation, and, in at least 83 cases, wrongly deported from the UK by the Home Office. Our conversation with Josh Idehen and Tom Leaper was recorded via Zoom and will be available soon. 

Show #374

The Way Of Birds. The Ways Of Prue.

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Jennifer Ackerman photo by Sofia-Runarsdotter

The Bird Way: A New Look At How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent and Think by Jennifer Ackerman

“There is the mammal way and there is the bird way.” But the bird way is much more than a unique pattern of brain wiring, and lately, scientists have taken a new look at bird behaviors they have, for years, dismissed as anomalies or mysteries –– What they are finding is upending the traditional view of how birds conduct their lives, how they communicate, forage, court, breed, survive. They are also revealing the remarkable intelligence underlying these activities, abilities we once considered uniquely our own: deception, manipulation, cheating, kidnapping, infanticide, but also ingenious communication between species, cooperation, collaboration, altruism, culture, and play. Drawing on personal observations, the latest science, and her bird-related travel around the world, from the tropical rainforests of eastern Australia and the remote woodlands of northern Japan to the rolling hills of Lower Austria and the islands of Alaska’s Kachemak Bay, Jennifer Ackerman shows there is clearly no single bird way of being. In every respect, in plumage, form, song, flight, lifestyle, niche, and behavior, birds vary.

Anna Dorn

Vagablonde by Anna Dorn

Prue is a 30-year-old attorney who wants two things, the first is to live without psychotropic medication, and the second is to experience success as a rap artist. Her life is good on paper: she has an easy government job and a nice girlfriend who gets her into all the right shows, but she wants to truly thrive. When Prue is introduced to music producer Jax Jameson, a human disco ball as manic and unpredictable as he is talented, they instantly vibe. Prue joins Jax’s “Kingdom,” a collective of musicians and artists who share Prue’s aesthetic sensibilities and lust for escapism. Soon, she’s off her meds, closing her law practice, and becoming entangled with a suspect crew of heavy drug users. The group they form, Shiny AF, quickly reaches cult status, and using the stage name Vagablonde, Prue finds herself in a new reality dependent on self-commodification and her growing fandom’s approval. This is the background to LA-based writer, Anna Dorn’s debut novel. But, as you will discover in Anna’s conversation with Norman B, there’s more: a revealing study of LA’s millennial-hipster-scene, drug use, music-obsessives, sexual fluidity, and the big question – is Prue, Anna Dorn

Show #373

Hyper Education & The Twitter Exile

In Hyper Education – Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough, Pawan Dhingra uncovers the growing world of high-achievement education and the after-school learning centers, spelling bees, and math competitions that it has spawned. It is a world where immigrant families vie with other Americans to be at the head of the class, putting in hours of studying and testing in order to gain a foothold in the supposed meritocracy of American public education. A world where enrichment centers, like Kumon, have seen 194 percent growth since 2002 and target children as young as three. Even families and teachers who avoid after-school academics are getting swept up. Drawing on over 100 in-depth interviews with teachers, tutors, principals, children, and parents, Dhingra delves into why people participate in this phenomenon and examines how schools, families, and communities play their part. Moving past “Tiger Mom” stereotypes, he addresses why Asian American and white families practice what he calls “hyper education” and whether or not it makes sense. By taking a behind-the-scenes look at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, other national competitions, and learning centers, Dhingra shows why good schools, good grades, and good behavior are seen as not enough for high-achieving students and their parents and why the education arms race is likely to continue to expand. We are delighted to welcome Pawan to Life Elsewhere and look forward to more conversations with him.

Dave Hill is a comedian, musician, actor, author, raconteur, dilettante, fashion icon, and…wait-for-it…a Twitter exile! The droll,  mild-mannered Hill voiced his opinion on Twitter about a draft-dodger who also happens to unfathomably hold a high office. The rabid supporters of the draft-dodger took exception to Hill’s accurate albeit caustic one-liners. To counter the onslaught of Twitter vitriol against him, Dave Hill took to what he refers to as “mom jokes” as if spewed out by an adolescent boy. This further outraged the draft-dodgers increasingly unhinged followers and prompted one bitchy Tweeter to question Dave’s sexuality, apparently based on the comedian’s penchant for velvet and silk and flowing scarves. The diatribe had now sunk to a new low, says Dave. So he countered by going even lower and more absurdist. “It was ridiculous!” Says Dave, “I could make hateful racial jokes and that was OK, but inferring I had sex with your mother or father, now that was too much for Twitter.” Dave received a message from Twitter…you are banned for life! 

Dave Hill has a new comedy album, Let Me Turn You On

Norman B’s conversations with Pawan Dhingra and Dave Hill were recorded using Zoom and will be available on our new YouTube channel soon.

Show #371

Challenging Covid With Music!

Barzin, the talented singer-songwriter, poet, all-round good guy, and friend of Life Elsewhere alerted us to a new compilation he had contributed a previously unreleased cut to. If Barzin was involved it had to be seriously worth checking out. We did. And, it is. “Love In The Time Of Covid” curated by Andrea Vascellari, is an exceptional collection of music. Based in North-East Italy where the virus has wreaked devastating havoc, Andrea took it upon himself to reach out to acts from the most relevant in slowcore, dreampop, and drone-rock scenes. He requested tracks that had not been released before. And, he explained, “All proceeds will go to the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund, supporting the World Health Organization’s work to track and understand the spread of the virus, to ensure patients get the care they need and the frontline workers get essential supplies and information, and to accelerate research and development of a vaccine and treatments for all who need them”. The seventeen tracks Andrea selected for “Love In The Time Of Covid” perfectly evoke this peculiar and unfathomable of times we are all enduring. Andrea Vascellari is a fan, he is a musician, he is passionate about bringing together this remarkable compilation to challenge Covid. 

Please make sure you do not miss our exclusive conversation with Andrea Vascellari. And, support this cause.

“Love In The Time Of Covid”

Dean Wareham – Holding Pattern (Live At WXPN)

Idaho – Be My Friend

Pall Jenkins – On The Rise

Mark Rolfe – Every Setting Sun Part 1

Lycia – The Bee Eater

Matt Christensen – In Boxes

Jessica Bailiff – With You (Friendship Version 2020)

Barzin – There Will Be Time For

Jon DeRosa – High And Lonely (David Sisko Remix) 

Chris Brokaw – Lady Old Song

Remora – Never Make It Home Again

Yellow6 – Hallo

Shores – Litany (Demo)

Lullabier – Raindrops

Thorn1 – A Bus 

If Thousands – They Are Not What They Claim To Be

Coastal – CovidLOVE 

Show #370

Jailhouse Psychiatry During Covid-19. The Story of Coffeeland

Cuyahoga County Jail

As the concerned amongst us continue to practice self-isolation there are those who deliberately thumb their nose at directives to go about our lives safely – then, there are those who have no choice – they are incarcerated. Worse still, many suffer from mental illness. Dr. Joseph Baskin, staff psychiatrist with MetroHealth in Cleveland and an assistant professor with Case Western Reserve University works as psychiatrist at the Cuyahoga County Jail. His work under relatively normal times means doing his best to advocate both for the individual and society at large; not interfering with justice, but providing insight and support when possible. Dr. Baskin explains treating mental illness is the last safety net. Many of his patients don’t have insight, they don’t think they are mentally ill and a judge is a final authority they will understand. He compassionately treats antisocial personality, high rates of trauma and ADHD. In his work, he tasked with managing behavior. With Covid-19 in full effect, the doctor’s work is made all the more stressful and, he has to continually be aware of and monitor his own well-being. Dr. Baskin shares his thoughts and gives critical insights to his work with people who are unable to willingly self-isolate.

What do you know about coffee? A wonderful new book will change how you look at – or taste coffee again. Augustine Sedgewick takes us on an extraordinary adventure of discovery, revealing details and history, even the most ardent coffee lover will be surprised by. In Coffeeland – One Man’s Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug the learned Augustine Sedgewick has brilliantly chronicled the most consequential revolution by telling the global history of one family. His book is both innovative and factual as he effortlessly untangles the routes that carried coffee from the slopes of El Salvador to the shelves of US supermarkets. Augustine exposes a realm of ruthless entrepreneurs, hardworking laborers, laboratory chemists, and guerrilla fighters. Plus, he is a wonderful and enthusiastic guest. 

Show #369

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