Shakespeare In A Divided America

Often in writing a promotional piece for an upcoming show, we attempt to come up with a clever alternative to the title of a book as a headline. James Shapiro’s new book is so incredibly good, so perfect we could not even try to better the title for our header, Shakespeare In A Divided America. The subtitle, What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past And Future explains where Mr. Shapiro is going to take us. Yet, what you don’t know from the title and subtitle is the amazing adventure you are about to embark on from the very first page. Shapiro, with impeccable style and elegant wit delivers a rich and surprising argument for how William Shakespeare’s plays continue to command center stage in American discourse and debate, as they have for well over two centuries. Shakespeare In A Divided America is a story of conservatives and liberals, presidents and activists, students, writers, actors, lawyers, and soldiers who have all turned to the Bard’s works when wrestling with our political fault lines: race, gender, sexuality, violence, immigration, and free speech. With masterful research and narrative skills Shakespear scholar, James Shapiro traces how 400-year-old tragedies and comedies have been invoked and at times weaponized at pivotal moments in US history. Shapiro takes us from President John Quincy Adams’s disgust with Desdemona’s interracial marriage to Othello to Abraham Lincoln’s and his assassin John Wilkes Booth’s competing obsessions with the plays, to the early 20th century when The Tempest became an inflection point on anxieties over immigration, up through the fraught debates over marriage and same-sex love at the heart of the celebrated adaptations of Kiss Me, Kate and the 1998 film Shakespeare In Love. Shapiro’s narrative culminates with a chapter on the 2017 controversy over the staging of Julius Caesar in New York’s Central Park, in which a Trump-like leader is assassinated. In this chapter and throughout the book, Shapiro reminds us of the critical role the theater has always played as a meeting-place of classes, voices, and the backgrounds of American life. James Shapiro has written an exceptional book and true to form, he is a wonderful guest.

Show #364 V2

Pandemics And Human Evolution

“If the Corona Virus doesn’t change the way we behave – we are idiots!” The uncompromising words of Augustin Fuentes, professor of anthropology. Pandemics have been decisive markers in over ten thousand years of evolution and human behavior has changed in response explains professor Fuentes. Our future after the coronavirus pandemic will change, but Augustin suggests we should take a positive approach. After all, the resourcefulness of humans, technology and most importantly, our use of social media should be exciting. We will probably find new ways to interact with each other. How we go about and conduct our daily lives may change forever. Yet, in the here and now, the anthropology professor warns that we must heed the health risks and warnings. Our immediate response to implementing a workable national healthcare system in the United States is imperative. And, yes after a number of weeks of self-quarantine, we should expect in about a year, a boom in the birthrate.

Agustin Fuentes, trained in Zoology and Anthropology, is the Edmund P. Joyce C.S.C. Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. His books include, Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being (Foundational Questions in Science); The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional; Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature. Agustin is a frequent guest on Life Elsewhere.

       

Show #364

Madame President? Fearless Cooking. New Music.

After November 8, 2016, first came the sadness; then came the rage, the activism, and the protests; and, finally, for thousands of women, the next step was to run for office – many of them for the first time. More women campaigned for local or national office in the 2018 election cycle than at any other time in US history, challenging accepted notions about who seeks power and who gets it. The Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election saw an unprecedented and a record number of women running for office. Now Super Tuesday is behind us and as if time has stood stubbornly still, two late 70s white men are the front runners. To begin to unravel how we ended up without a woman to effectively fumigate the White House of the most debased misogynist of all time, we revisit our 2019 interview with journalist Caitlin Moscatello. She reported on the wave of female candidates who decided to run for political office after the 2016 election. Caitlin followed four candidates throughout the entire process, from the decision to run through Election Day, Her excellent book, See Jane Win takes readers inside their exciting, winning campaigns and the sometimes thrilling, sometimes brutal realities of running for office while female. What she discovers is that the candidates who triumphed in 2018 emphasized authenticity and passion instead of conforming to the stereotype of what a candidate should look or sound like, a formula that was intended to be more relevant than ever as we approach the 2020 presidential election. This look back at Caitlin Moscatello’s exuberant work serves as the forerunner to future examinations of why “Madame President” is not likely to be heard for at least another four years.

Food stylist, recipe developer, and cookbook author, Susan Spungen has a lot to say about Fearless Cooking and Entertaining. In her appealing new book, Open Kitchen she gets straight to the point by telling the reader whether physical or spiritual, an open kitchen is a place to welcome company, to enjoy togetherness and the making of a meal. Her cookbook is full of contemporary, stylish, and accessible dishes, from simple starters such as Burrata with Pickled Cherries and centerpieces such as Rosy Harissa Chicken, to desserts such as Roasted Strawberry-Basil Sherbet. Norman B’s conversation with Susan is a mouth-drooling exercise in the love of food, cooking and the wonders of discovering new recipes.  

Also in the show, a selection of new music from an enterprising compilation, The Music Of Others. This came about when The Glad Cafe, a cultural hub in Glasgow’s south side discovered they were facing closure if they couldn’t come up with 40,000 pounds for repairs to the roof of their building. To help raise funds, the venue started a crowd-funding rally. The outcome was a new label imprint, Glorious Traces Recordings. In turn, they released a 22 track collection which sees a whole host of brilliant names covering each other’s songs…the result is, honestly one of the best compilations we’ve had the pleasure play in quite a while…here then are Wolf with Help This Animal originally by Paul Vickers & The Leg followed by Emma Pollack with Holy Smoke originally by Robin Adams Enjoy!

Show #363

A Conversation With The Shend

The Cravats

“What a nice fella.” That was my immediate takeaway after spending an hour in conversation with The Shend. From the promotional photos he sent us, the man appears formidable. The videos of The Shend performing with his band and some clips of his acting roles suggest he could be a little grumpy. The Shend swept away any concerns I might have had with a pre-chat message, “Hi, mate, I’m looking forward to talking with you.” The Shend, along with Svor Naan, Viscount Biscuits, Joe 91 and Rampton Garstang make up The Cravats. Originally from Redditch, near Birmingham, the band haphazardly got together in 1977 after seeing and being impressed by The Stranglers. Their first single, Gordon b/w Situations Vacant was self-financed with a little help from The Shend’s mum, who didn’t approve of “that awful punk noise”. A recording contract with fledgling indie label Small Wonder led to the attention of  John Peel and in turn, four sessions for his influential BBC radio show. The band took a rest in 1982 with original Cravats member Robin Dallaway and The Shend forming The Very Things, as well as DCL Locomotive and The Babymen. The Cravats story picks up again in 2006 with a double CD compilation of Cravats singles and other material was released as The Land Of The Giants – The Best Of The Jazz-Punk Colossals on Overground Records, including unreleased track Seance mixed by Paul Hartnoll of Orbital, and also released as a single. A CD reissue of their first LP, The Cravats In Toytown was released in 2012, accompanied by an additional CD featuring a complete remolding of the original In Toytown 8 track masters by Penny Rimbaud of Crass. The Cravats recorded their first new material in 30 years in the form of Jingo Bells b/w Batterhouse, a limited edition 7″ released on Overground Records. This was followed by the album, Dustbin Of Sound in 2012. And now The Cravats are back with a new long-player, Hoorahland. It’s twelve tracks of rollicking, rambunctious Englishness. (Even though the decidedly American Jello Biafra joins in on Now The Magic Has Gone). In our conversation, The Shend and I zig-zag between the early days of innocently putting out records without a clue, but magically being able to snag Judas Priest’s drum kit for their first recording session – to the remarkable DIY ethos of today’s enterprising music-makers. Plus, I unabashedly tell The Shend how much of fan I have been of The Cravats since that very first single. Trainspotters take note: this conversation is full of references and name-checks. Enjoy!

Norman B – March 2020 

LEM Vol 171

Life Elsewhere’s Juke Box Jury

“Would you listen to this again?” We asked the jurists after playing each new release. We didn’t want boring answers, so we selected three guests we knew would provide intelligent, and entertaining critiques of every song. The first edition of Life Elsewhere’s Juke Box Jury features three highly qualified guests:

Mark Haskell Smith, author of rollicking smart fiction – Blown, Raw, Salty, Baked, Moist and Delicious. The LA-based writer is also a deft hand with non-fiction – Naked At Lunch and Heart Of Dankness. When not hunched over his MacBook, Mark teaches, writes screenplays and searches for the ultimate cocktail. In his earlier years, he slung a guitar on way down low and was part of Seattle post-punk noise-makers, 3 Swimmers.

Highly acclaimed creative director, Robert Newman has an impressive list of magazine designs under his belt, including, Real Simple, Entertainment Weekly, New York, Details, Vibe, The Village Voice and Guitar World. He was also the editor of The Rocket, a music and culture magazine based in Seattle. Newman and his teams have won over 500 design awards. Plus, he is past president of the Society of Publication Designers and has been a guest lecturer at the Poynter Institute. Robert is based in New York City and is an avowed music aficionado.

Singer-songwriter, poet and producer, Sylken Somers came to our attention just a short while ago. So impressed were we with Prone, her three-track EP, we had to find out more about this intriguing talent. We reached out to engage Sylken in conversation, (available here), she talks about music, life, love, mental and physical health, plus being non-binary. Sylken’s obvious delight in vocabulary made her a perfect choice for this show where we asked our guests to articulate their opinions – honestly.

The music we selected:

Akai Solo – Stand Alone Calm (prod. Ibiss)

Onipa – Makoma

Jordana – Signs

Iceblink – Dialoghi

Stutter Steps – Giant Sand Heart

David J with Emily Jane White – I Hear Only Silence Now

Hallows – Subtle

Grimm Grimm – Ginourmous

Drama – Forever And A Day

Nnamdï – Price Went Up

Listen carefully, do you agree with the opinions of our Jury, Sylken Somers, Robert Newman, and Mark Haskell Smith?

Show #362

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