NEW ON CD
Quirky stories reveal much about the nature of life
AS AUDIENCES are still basking in the afterglow of Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" shows in Honolulu last week, let me make a pitch for an equally entertaining program heard over Hawaii Public Radio every weekend, namely "This American Life."
While the Peabody Award-winning program hosted by Chicago Public Radio's Ira Glass has gone on the road, it's never played live here. But one of its regular contributors, humorist David Sedaris, has made a well-received appearance here, and he's part of the radio show's just-released two-disc compilation.
|"This American Life: Stories of Hope & Fear"
"This American Life" can be heard Saturdays at 1 p.m. on KIPO-FM 89.3. The show's two previous CD collections -- "Lies, Sissies & Fiascoes" and "Crimebusters & Crossed Wires" -- are also highly recommended. For information about free downloadable podcasts, go to www.thislife.org. In January, "This American Life" will be a weekly series on Showtime.
Sedaris' contribution, the surprisingly poignant "So a Chipmunk and a Squirrel Walk Into a Bar," is actually one of the minor pieces in this collection of "Stories of Hope & Fear."
Glass writes in his introduction that despite the show's weekly themes, the overriding theme for "This American Life" is always "It Turned Out Different from What I Thought." That is the case for two of the compilation's most powerful stories. David Wilcox's "Thinking Inside the Box" starts off describing the worst mix tape ever made, put together by his mentally challenged sister. By story's end it's gone 180 degrees, concluding with his dying mother's failing attempt to reach her daughter through a homemade videotape.
Glass' interview with a couple of siblings in "The Babysitters" is an example of the show at its best. As Glass gently prods, a now-aging brother and sister from Buffalo, N.Y., vividly recall the stories that they made up about a rich family on the other side of town that they supposedly baby-sat for. They created the fantasy to get out from under the thumb of their strict mother, and the imaginary family became the family both mother and children wish they could've been. It becomes a heart-rending story, centered on a mother whose "best was so bad."
The compilation is rounded out with other riveting tales -- the worst thing about karaoke comedy, how a "butch dyke" felt like a jerk when she transgendered into a man, the brief if hilarious moral downfall of a 13-year-old Jewish girl, the trials and tribulations of correcting a phone bill, the complex relationship between a gay son and the ailing mother he cares for, and how a dangerous ride on the New Jersey boardwalk punctuated a tough year for John Hodgman, "Daily Show" contributor and Apple computer pitchman.