Jesse Thorn is the creator of The Sound of Young America, which has nothing to do with Up With People!. As his website says,
Think of it like Conan O’Brien on public radio, or “Fresh Air,” but more fun.
Or think of it as Terry Gross on mescaline. A grad of UC Santa Cruz, Thorn lives in Koreatown where he blogs, produces his show, and obviously agonized over our carefully crafted questions. (If we were really clever, there’d be a podcast. Sigh.)
1. What newspapers do you read? The only actual physical newspaper I get is Current, the industry rag for public media. I read the New York Times online a lot, along with the San Francisco Chronicle’s sports section for a Giants fix.
Reading the NYT (and the New Yorker) is a contractual thing for us public radio personalities… there are pop quizzes, and you can actually lose your show if you don’t remember the subject of Frank Rich’s last column or whatever.
2. Which ones do you move your lips to while reading? I actually read everything out loud as slowly and clearly as I can (to practice my gravitas).
3. Which Web sites (besides FBLA)are on your favorites bookmark? Bloglines, for the quajillion blogs and news feeds I read compulsively. I love Boing-Boing and Ask Metafilter, and the Apiary family of comedy blogs particularly. A couple of forums–my site’s, where I mingle with my really cool smart interesting listeners, Okayplayer.com, where I argue about rap music, and aspecialthing.com, where I talk about comedy with fellow comedy super-nerds. A couple of sites of questionable legality, where I make up for the fact that I don’t have cable. The usual, in other words.
4. Where do you get your car washed? I only recently acquired a car, but I plan to bring it to the car wash at… I wanna say it’s sixth and Western? Maybe third and Western? I am still pretty awed by the number of car washes in this city, it kind of makes my mind reel. The idea of a $6.99 car wash is totally amazing to me. Car Washes are a SoCal metaphor that someone should jump on. Perhaps they could talk to Steve Martin in LA Story 2?
5. Do you know your dentist’s first name? Dentist?! Hah! I don’t even have the money to go to the doctor doctor for actual medical conditions. I went to a dentist once last year during a brief period of dental insurance… literally three weeks. I hope one day to visit one again. I’m not afraid of them, just poverty-stricken.
6. Do you believe newspapers are going to die? If so, when? They tell me that they are, and who am I to disagree? My hope is that if and when that happens, news that isn’t tied to a deadline cycle will grow. The internet makes scoops important, but once someone has the scoop, everyone else has to do analysis, which I think is kinda great.
Cable news is unwatchable to me, and many newspapers are equally lame but I enjoy listening to public radio news. I think it’s because in public radio, there’s no deadline culture–partly because they were incapable of breaking news in the early days, since they had so few reporters. The joke motto was “report it a day late, call it analysis,” but I think it’s of much greater service to the citizen to convey information in context than it is to “break” a story. For most stuff, what day you find out is much less important than what you find out.
In other words: what the fuck do I know? I’m not a real journalist. I didn’t even write for the high school newspaper.
7. What was the last book you read? The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders. The publisher people were nice enough to give me an advance copy, I think it comes out in August or something. Saunders should be as famous as David Foster Wallace or any of those guys. His writing is so sharp, so funny, I almost can’t believe it’s real. He was also on my show last year and was funny, insightful and really, really nice. So he gets points from me for that, too.
8. What’s the last book you say you read? Who was the last author on my show? Just kidding, folks. I read all my guests’ books cover to cover, and so does every other broadcast personality. I also highlight, underline and make marginal notes.
9. If you got a unicorn what would you name it? I actually have a unicorn–a pegasus unicorn. More accurately, I share custody of her with my girlfriend, who got her as a gift when she finished her first year of law school. Not only can you brush its mane with the included brush, but according to the packaging, “she just found out she’s a real princess!” So chew on that.
10. What does you TiVo think about you? My lifestyle doesn’t really afford me a TiVo yet. I’m still working on cable. I do have Netflix, though, and it seems to think I like screwball comedies much, much, much more than I actually do. The trick is that if you like comedy (and I do), there are only a couple movies a year that come out in the genre that are actually good. So once you’ve seen those, it thinks you want to watch Bringing Up Baby.
11. character of fiction you most resemble? Rob from High Fidelity? I know it’s cliched, but I certainly identify with his struggle to find a real place in the world, as a creator rather than as a curator.
Probably my favorite film is A Thousand Clowns, which was adapted pretty faithfully from the play of the same name. The protagonist is a comedy writer whose basic struggle is how to grow up, so he can take care of his family and relationships, without abandoning the person he was before. Will he still be able to be fun and funny and creative if he values other people as much as himself? Does growing up always mean buying into the system? I identify with that, too. In fact, I cry every time I watch it, and not because of the outside circumstances, but because of the pain of that struggle inside him, and the fact it may not be solvable.
Also: Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World is in it, so that’s cool.
12. Who plays you in your bio-pic? How about Will Arnett?
13. Do you floss? Periodically.
14. Did you ever believe your toys come alive when you leave the room? No. I did think there might well be mummies in my closet, though.
15. How many old cell phones do you own? Counting my current old cell phone? Two, I think. I’ve had some lucky selling old phones on craigslist and ebay for like twenty bucks a pop.
Seriously, I just read that last paragraph, and I think given the persistent evidence of my poverty in this interview so far, I might as well just come out and say that I drive one of those pickup trucks that collects cardboard boxes from the alleys behind grocery stores.
16. Best show legendary biz/movie star encounter. I was pretty excited when I met Ira Glass at a party. I actually met Jack Black like 15 minutes before that at the same party, and he was really nice (and is a wonderfully talented guy), but meeting Ira Glass trumped that by far. If anyone is the reason I’m in public radio, it’s probably him. Not that what I do is really anything like what he does, it’s just that This American Life made me think that there were, you know, possibilities. When I met him, he totally gave me advice and everything, it was really awesome. Plus, he was a little bit tipsy, and that was really funny to me.
17. Do you get satellite radio? I worked at XM one summer in college, and it was a really great experience. We got some kind of discount, so I had it in my El Camino for a couple years, but then I had to sell that car.
I had a Subaru wagon for a while that didn’t have satellite for a while, then a Dodge Dart that didn’t even have FM radio. I sold the Dart like a year or a year and a half ago to buy the equipment I now use to produce my show from home.
I just bought my first car since then, another El Camino that previously belonged to my aunt. I replaced the speakers, but I imagine I’ll put in something besides a Craig cassette deck before I invest in satellite.
That said — the siren song of XM is calling me again, because my show is on XM Public Radio, channel 133. (Saturdays, noon pacific). They’ve been really supportive, so maybe I should drop the ten bucks a month on a new setup. Or maybe I should use that money to get a tape deck that has a rewind button, or even, dare I suggest it–AUTO REVERSE?
18. And as a follow do you “get” satellite radio? Yeah, I think it’s pretty great. Right now, it’s less useful to me because I work from home and lord knows I have all the music I need, and plenty of great podcasts to listen to while I’m working. When I was driving from San Francisco to Santa Cruz regularly, it was a godsend.
19. Do you read the Enquirer/InTouch/US/People? Nope.
20. Do you lie about it? Nope. I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures. If you’re guilty about it, there’s probably a reason. If it’s something good, with real merit, that gives you real enjoyment, don’t be guilty.
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