Virtual Memories Show:
Clive James Bonus Episode

“Culture makes the world tolerable. It makes it possible to live in a world that would drive you mad if you saw it in an uninterpreted way.”

“I should have led a more balanced life, but that’s easy to say at the end of things. When you’re caught up in what you’re doing, it’s very hard to be reasonable. And art isn’t really made of being reasonable.”

“Facing death, there were two alternative courses: one was to lie back on a couch, admire myself for my achievements, and sign off; the other was to go on as if I had forever. I chose the second.”

After 10 years of illness, Clive James died on November 24, 2019. We recorded a conversation in February 2015, and it stands out as one of the greatest episodes of this podcast. I’ve recorded a new introduction and remastered the audio, so please join me in celebrating Clive’s life and work with our conversation. (The good stuff starts at 13:05.) Give it a listen! And go buy Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts, along with all his other books!

The 50-hour trip to the UK to record with Clive — plus Prue Shaw and Anthea Bell — was made possible by an informal crowdfunding effort. I’d like to thank those 2015 contributors again: Emily Brock, Erika Dreifus, Mark Feltskog, Aaron Finkelstein, Stona Fitch, Paul Giordano, Judith Gurewich and Other Press, Rachel Hadas, Paul Jones, Ian Kelley, Jessica Kelley, Fred Kiesche, Kate Lacour, Roger Langridge, Eric Lyon, Bryan Samuel, Jesse Sheidlower, Bob Sikoryak, Craig Sirkin, Katie Skelly, Ron Slate, Tom Spurgeon, Levi Stahl, Claudia Young, and Garrett Zecker. Thanks again, friends!

About me he said, “I see what you’re up to, and I approve of your activities.”

“The more enjoyable I find a conversation, the more it’ll exhaust me. And I’ll be prostrate after this, because this is very enjoyable.”

“What do you do as you’re getting to the end? Well, above all, you don’t adopt an elegiac tone!”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Born in Australia, Clive James lived in Cambridge, England. He is the author of Unreliable Memoirs; Collected Poems: 1958-2015; the best-selling Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts; and the translator of The Divine Comedy by Dante. Since this 2015 session, he has published Sentenced to Life: Poems; The River in the Sky: A Poem; Play All: A Bingewatcher’s Notebook; Latest Readings; and most recently Somewhere Becoming Rain: Collected Writings on Philip Larkin.

He has written for the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. He is an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). You can find a longer version of his bio at his site. He died on Nov. 24, 2019.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Clive’s home in Cambridge on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro in 2015 and remastered with some editing in 2019 in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. James by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 350:
Ed Ward

“I don’t like nostalgia. I consider it destructive to a rational understanding of history.”

From the Sex Pistols’ last show to the backseat of Elvis’ gold Cadillac, Ed Ward has had a front-row seat to the history of rock & roll. He returns to the show to talk about The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 2: 1964–1977: The Beatles, the Stones, and the Rise of Classic Rock (Flatiron Books), and we get into the challenges of chronicling the form in that that era (both narratively and chronologically), his novelistic approach to history, the destructive nature of nostalgia, and how glad he was to get corroboration on the circumstances of Jim Morrison’s death. Along the way, we get into his oft-quoted but misunderstood review of the first Stooges record (and how Iggy validated him), how Woodstock predicted the collapse of the music industry, why he thought (incorrectly) that the ‘70s were a nostalgia-proof generation, why he doesn’t listen to music anymore, and his answer to the key question of the era: Beatles or Stones? Give it a listen (and check out our 2016 podcast)! And go buy The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 2: 1964–1977!

“I was there and I know how the story of rock & roll ends.”

“Music is no longer central to youth culture.”

“Disco was rhythm & blues by other means.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Ed Ward was the rock-and-roll historian on Fresh Air for more than thirty years, reaching fourteen million listeners. Currently he is the cohost of the Let It Roll podcast. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and countless music magazines. He is the author of The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1 and of Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero. His new book is The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 2: 1964–1977: The Beatles, the Stones, and the Rise of Classic Rock. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Fairfield Inn near Penn Station in NYC on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Ward by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show:
Tom Spurgeon Bonus Episode

“The danger isn’t in the limits of what you can do for someone. The danger is in withdrawing, and realizing you don’t have those relationships anymore. If you can be engaged in someone’s life . . . that’s what you have and that’s what you work with.”

Following the unexpected death of Tom Spurgeon, my best friend and an inveterate supporter of the show, I’ve re-posted our 2012 conversation, along with a new (and emotional) introduction. Give it a listen

“I was morphined up and looking out the back of an ambulance for about three hours. You get to see things as a beginning, middle and end. . . . My story might end in a couple of hours. What does that mean? What was that life like?”

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show: iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS

About our Guest

At the time of his death at the age of 50, Tom Spurgeon was the editor of The Comics Reporter and executive director of CXC – Cartoon Crossroads Columbus.

Credits: The conversation was recorded at Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD in 2012 on a pair of Blue enCORE 100 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H4 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of me & Tom by my wife. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 339:
Simon Critchley

“What are the plays telling us that philosophy is not telling us, and that we need to attend to?”

In his amazing new book, Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us (Pantheon), Simon Critchley explores how Ancient Greek tragedy captures the eternal crises and tensions of human life, and how philosophy went wrong in trying to tame it. We dive into how Critchley learned to appreciate the drama of the tragedies, how it led to his critique of Plato and Aristotle and much of what comes after them, and how we continue to wrestle with the central question of the tragedies: “What shall I do?” Along the way, we talk about the perils of moral monotheism, Wallace Stevens’ philosophy-as-poetry, what it means to treat Plato’s dialogues as drama, the role of women in Greek tragedy, the allure of the antiquity’s lacunae, the difference between reading plays and being at the theater, why he thinks philosophy begins in disappointment, not wonder, and how he’s dealing with recently losing his heavily marked-up copy of The Peregrine. We also explore his various obsessions, including medieval cathedrals, the possibility of change, 19th century America, soccer, and most importantly, David Bowie! Give it a listen! And go buy Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us!

“This book is my quiet — or maybe not so quiet — critique of the profession that I’ve been associated with my whole career: philosophy.”

“I’ve always been attracted to the idea of thought being articulated in non-propositional, non-philosophical forms: music, poetry, even soccer.”

“You always felt like David Bowie was talking to you, and you alone.”

“I’m really grateful to get paid to think. It’s great!”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. His many books include Very Little . . . Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy and Literature, The Book of Dead Philosophers, The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments In Political Theology, and Memory Theater: A Novel. He is the series moderator of The Stone, a philosophy column in The New York Times, to which he is a frequent contributor. His new book is Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Simon’s apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Critchley by me. It’s on my instagram. Photo of bust of Euripides by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Virtual Memories Show 338:
Simon Doonan

“Drag has been the wallpaper in my life forever.”

Author, fashionista, creative ambassador, and recovering window-dresser Simon Doonan takes us on a guided tour of gender non-conformity with his latest book, Drag: The Complete Story (Laurence King)! Simon & I talked through his personal history with drag, how drag has evolved over the millennia, how the current moment is pushing drag in new directions, and why male British comics were so comfortable performing in it (a long-standing question of mine). We also get into his love of craft and how dressing windows at Barneys New York was the perfect venue for him, the value of having a day job and not making art the center of one’s life, how a kid who failed his 11+ wound up writing a shelfload of books, the joy of his crafting reality show, Making It, why he didn’t get through the auditions for Queer Eye, the TV skill he had to learn, his love of history and his abhorrence at the idea of being anyone’s role model, why it’s life-affirming to wear some color, what sort of drag I’d be able to pull off, and plenty more! Give it a listen (conversation begins at 7:35)! And go buy Drag: The Complete Story!

(NOTE: All of Simon’s proceeds from this book go to the Ali Forney Center for LGBTQ youth at risk for homelessness)

“I think it’s good for writers to get out and work. Like Simone Weil: she used to work in a car factory.”

“The message I got from my parents was that life’s just not that complicated. The idea that they’d have been involved in my college application is absurd!”

“I have the ability get very interested in things that are outside of myself. My windows were often based around that.”

“I thought about being an Artist, but realized how much more fun it was to be a window-display designer.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Writer, Fashionista and Author Simon Doonan is the Creative Ambassador for Barneys New York. His books include Saturday Night Fever Pitch: The Magic and Madness of Football Style, Eccentric Glamour: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You, Confessions of a Window Dresser, and Gay Men Don’t Get Fat. Simon appears as a judge on the NBC television show, Making It, co-hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. His new book is Drag: The Complete Story.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at an undisclosed location on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Doonan by me. It’s on my instagram.