Here's The Thing with Alec Baldwin
Summary: From WNYC Studios, award-winning actor Alec Baldwin takes listeners into the lives of artists, policy makers and performers. Alec sidesteps the predictable by going inside the dressing rooms, apartments, and offices of people we want to understand better: Ira Glass, Lena Dunham, David Brooks, Roz Chast, Chris Rock and others. Hear what happens when an inveterate guest becomes a host. WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other leading podcasts including Radiolab, Snap Judgment, On the Media, Death, Sex & Money, Nancy and many others. © WNYC Studios
Jeffrey Toobin is such a TV institution as a legal commentator that it can be hard to imagine him in casual clothes, outside a news studio. But it was the real, flesh-and-blood Jeff that showed up to his interview with Alec, talking about life before CNN and the New Yorker. There's lots to discuss about what made him the man he is, both personally (his mom was Marlene Sanders, the first big female TV news star) and professionally (when he went to publish his first book, he was threatened with criminal prosecution, accused of disclosing secrets of the Iran Contra investigation). And of course Alec and his guest got into lively discussions about the Patty Hearst kidnapping and the OJ Simpson murder case. Toobin wrote the definitive books on both. Ever wonder what each of OJ's lawyers thought about his guilt or innocence? Listen and learn.
Alec is a BIG fan of Justin Hayward -- vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter for The Moody Blues, pioneers of complex orchestral arrangements in rock. As he tells it, their songs were the only thing that could mellow out his rough crowd in high school. Interspersed with Alec's observations on some of his favorite musical passages, this intimate conversation ranges from the technical details of how the group created its signature orchestral sound (a mechanical wonder called the Mellotron) to Hayward's sense of alienation from his younger self. Hayward muses, "Here we are now talking about the Justin that was, from 17 years old to 30 years old, and this ghost is always with me." More revelations abound -- some melancholy, some very funny -- on this episode of Here's the Thing.
Daughter of a science professor and an IRS agent, a double-graduate of Columbia herself, Janice Min turned her talents in the early 2000s to the glossy magazine Us Weekly. Celebrity journalism has never been the same. In its pages, she revolutionized pop culture as well as publishing, slaking a thirst Americans didn't know they had for J-Lo, the Kardashians, and The Bachelor. Min paid legions of paparazzi and helped create the fun, intimate, gossipy tone that characterizes web content today. Then she moved to the moribund Hollywood Reporter and worked the same magic but in a different key, making it the go-to magazine for serious coverage of show business. Once Alec and she cover all that history, they turn to #metoo, Woody Allen, and how to create lasting change in Hollywood. Min's take is fascinating and genuinely surprising: think Frances McDormand with a dash of Deneuve.
Cameron Crowe's teenage years are familiar to anyone who's seen his autobiographical Almost Famous: 16-year-old writing prodigy convinces Jan Wenner and Rolling Stone to let him tour with and profile the greatest rock musicians of his generation. But what came after is just as interesting: going undercover as a high-school student to write Fast Times at Ridgemont High; falling into the Say Anything director's chair after the two first choices turned it down; hanging out with Led Zeppelin to get their blessing of the songs in Almost Famous. Crowe and Alec are friends, and it comes through in their affectionate back-and-forth about movies, writing, family, and the bands they love. And throughout this extended interview are interspersed some great tunes that demonstrate how Crowe is a master of the "needle-drop," using music to further the story, character development, and dramatic tension of his films.
Michael Wolff’s Trumpland tell-all, Fire and Fury, has set Washington ablaze with its terrifying (and controversial) depiction of a White House in chaos. But all the focus has been on the White House intrigue and the downfall of Steve Bannon. The man behind the book has gotten surprisingly little attention, even though it was partly Wolff's position at the top of New York media's social heap that won him Trump's trust, and access to the White House. Alec set out to do a different Michael Wolff interview. At a live event at Manhattan's Town Hall, audience-members learned about the Jewish kid from Jersey with a shoeleather reporter for a mom, who gave up on being a novelist to do big-money media deals – even as he wielded his poison pen against peers in the New York media elite. And Wolff lives up to his reputation as one of New York's best conversationalists, giving answers by turns open, cantankerous, and very, very funny.
There was no such thing as serious rock journalism when Jann Wenner borrowed money to ink the first issue of Rolling Stone onto cheap newsprint in 1967. His creation changed the landscape of both music and magazines. It also put Wenner, a suburban middle-class kid, into the heart of the counterculture. He tells Alec about his complicated relationships with the greatest stars of their generation, from Dylan to Jagger to Lennon -- and about the brilliant writers like Hunter S. Thompson whom Wenner found to document their lives and times. In the 1980s, Wenner became a media mogul, too, acquiring titles like Us Weekly that brought unprecedented wealth and thrust him even further into the public eye. That exposure was a mixed blessing as he dealt with coming out of the closet and, this time with his new husband, becoming a father to young children again in his 60s.
"The feeling of power" that comes from playing a dark, diabolical role? Kyle MacLachlan tells Alec, "I get it." "It’s not something you want to abuse, or let exist other than when that camera is rolling." The wholesome, square-jawed actor's dark side can be jarring. As Alec puts it to him, "You're the guy that could be Andie MacDowell’s boyfriend bringing a basket of puppies, and then you’re like this nightmare." David Lynch recognized the two sides of Kyle MacLachlan from the day they met in 1983, but that wasn't how MacLachlan saw himself: he tried to break out as a Hollywood romantic lead, but always found himself drawn back into the Lynchian orbit. Join MacLachlan and Alec as they stroll through Kyle's life story, from his conservative stockbroker father, through his glamorous girlfriends, to the joys of fatherhood and winemaking -- all to figure out why he's the perfect vessel for Lynch's uncanny characters.
New York City generates 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater every day. 16 million pounds of trash. Eight million pounds of recyclables. Think of the awesome engineering and effort behind making all of that "go away" without our thinking about it. Alec wanted to nerd out on those secret systems, and the conversations that resulted are fascinating and fun: you don't get into this line of work unless you have a passion for it. Pam Elardo is the Deputy Commissioner of New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, leading the city's Bureau of Wastewater Treatment. Ron Gonen was New York City's first "Recycling Czar" and now thinks about the problems of waste-management from the perspective of a businessman: he's the CEO of a major investment fund looking for the Next Big Idea in recycling. Pam and Ron walk Alec through what happens from the moment people flush the toilet or toss out their coffee-cup -- and they talk about the big-picture environmental impact of our choices. And since this is Here's the Thing, Alec also learns the incredible life stories each one brings to the job -- from Pam's persistence in the face of the sexism that discouraged women engineers of her generation, to Ron's luck stumbling into the home of a prominent environmentalist while doing housework to make ends meet for his family as a kid.
From the humane wisdom of Farmer Hoggett in Babe to the simmering evil of Captain Dudley Smith in L.A. Confidential, James Cromwell realizes his roles with unmatched emotional honesty. He brings that same openness to a wonderful, sprawling conversation with Alec: Cromwell is a natural storyteller who’s had a remarkable life in theater, TV, and the movies. The two actors swap stories about shared teachers, loves, and frustrations – and political protest. Cromwell might be the most committed activist in Hollywood: his civil disobedience has led to multiple arrests and even a stint in state prison. And throughout the interview, you can hear the explicit and implicit influences of Cromwell’s father, a major Hollywood director who split from the family when James was six.
When John Dean found his conscience, America found its backbone and impeached a president. The Nixon Administration tried to undermine American democracy during the election of 1972 through now-legendary dirty tricks aimed at their Democrat opponents. They almost got away with it. Dean was Nixon’s White House Counsel, and participated in the cover-up of the Watergate break-in. Then he began cooperating with investigators, and blew the case wide-open. Dean is one of the most complicated and fascinating characters in modern American history. In a frank and funny conversation with Alec Baldwin in front of a live audience, John Dean opens up about how it all went down – and how it could go down now under Trump, who he says shares Nixon's paranoia and authoritarian instincts.
When two people who really love something talk about what they love, the exuberance is contagious. Alec Baldwin, a New York Philharmonic board-member since 2011, and Alan Gilbert, the outgoing Music Director, both really love the Phil. When Gilbert took over in 2009, he was just 42, one of the youngest orchestra-directors in the country. He wanted to inject enough new programming to keep the institution vital, even as the most dedicated orchestra-concertgoers nationwide average 60 years old and prefer the old standbys: 29% of ticket-buyers say that more contemporary music could keep them away from the box office. But Gilbert found the perfect balance, and Baldwin invited him on to Here's the Thing to say thanks. Gilbert, the child of two Philharmonic musicians, tells Alec about what it was like to grow up to lead it -- and about the ups and downs of his eight-year tenure. Plus, the two men discuss which pieces overwhelm them with emotion, and the art of directing an orchestra: why are conductors even necessary, and what makes for a great one?
Nobody chronicled the go-go 80s like Tina Brown. Her creation, Vanity Fair, wrote that decade’s cultural history as it happened. It was also part of the story: its fashion-spreads, celebrity gossip, and serious reporting wielded real influence in America’s centers of power. But Brown herself was at the center of it all. Michael Jackson wanted a moment of her time. She did cocktails at the Kissingers'. She had everyone's ear and everyone's phone number, and she turned Vanity Fair parties into the perfect embodiment of 80s excess. She also became famous for hosting the best dinner parties in New York, and she brings that deft conversational instinct to Here’s the Thing. Alec draws out what it took to build VF, why Brown left for The New Yorker, and her personal struggles as she tried to maintain her confidence, her integrity – and her family – through it all. And since Brown worked with Harvey Weinstein on her post-New Yorker magazine project, Talk, she and Alec talk about the current crisis, too.
American Weimar, novelist Steve Erickson’s 1995 essay on threats to American democracy, has always been among Alec Baldwin’s favorite pieces of writing. But last year, when all of the chickens Erickson identified came home to roost, it became clear that the piece, and its author, deserved even closer study. Erickson warned, “Democracy cannot long navigate a sea of national rage. Untempered by rationale and open-mindedness, fury eventually consumes democracy rather than nourishes it.” Today, Americans look back on the 90s as a relatively happy time, but Erickson saw our increasing polarization and our unwillingness to make tough policy choices, and he saw where those failures could lead. Erickson’s updated observations are just as fascinating, and troubling, as the original essay. His latest novel, Shadowbahn, riffs on the same American themes. In funny and moving prose, it captures a fractured people, unable to overcome our troubled past but stubbornly holding out for redemption... as one reviewer put it, “a country with hellhounds on its trail but better angels just over the horizon.” Steve Erickson is a lot of novelists’ favorite novelist. Pynchon says he has a “rare and luminous gift;” Rick Moody says he’s in a league with Pynchon. Murakami’s a fan. David Foster Wallace (in a presumably rare lapse into cliché) deemed Erickson “the cream of the crop.” Erickson’s own novels employ a wild range of genres and narrative devices -- from the Hollywood farce Zeroville, currently being turned into a movie featuring Will Farrell, to the meditative Shadowbahn, a family roadtrip through alternate American histories, featuring Elvis’s stillborn twin brother. Erickson’s exuberant mashups feel natural and even spontaneous, but he is also a professor of Creative Writing, so in his other life he has the near-impossible task of teasing out and precisely naming the building blocks of great fiction. And he has to decide which books best model each one for his students. During Alec Baldwin’s conversation with Erickson on the latest episode of Here’s the Thing, he asked Erickson for the reading list he provides to his Creative Writing students at UC Riverside, matched to which writing-tool each one can help budding novelists master. Below (in the order in which it came), is that list. Unreliable Narrative: Wuthering Heights by Emily BrontëMixed Textual Media: Cane by Jean ToomerThe Interior Vision: To the Lighthouse by Virginia WoolfStructure: Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald & Light in August by William FaulknerVoice Driving the Narrative: Tropic of Cancer by Henry MillerLandscape as Character: The Sheltering Sky by Paul BowlesSocial Commentary Posing as Genre: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (crime) & Ubik by Philip K Dick (science fiction)Integrity of Worldview Posing as Anarchy: V. by Thomas PynchonFiction of Ideas: Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges, Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino, & The Names by Don DeLillo
Barbra Streisand has had multiplatinum albums every decade going back to the 60s. She’s got Emmys, Oscars, Grammys, and a Tony. She’s as big as a star gets, and she’s gotten there not despite but because of the fact that she’s remained distinctly Barbra -- the working-class Jewish girl from Brooklyn unwilling to compromise herself or her work. That Barbra is on full display in this intimate conversation with Here’s the Thing host Alec Baldwin. Inside her Malibu home, the two friends range over wide conversational terrain, touching on Barbra’s childhood, how the communist government in Czechoslovakia offered up the Czech Jewish community to be extras in Yentl, and the relief of getting behind the camera after years in front of it: “you never have to raise your voice, because everybody’s finally listening.” And of course, old friends can’t meet over an empty table: food runs throughout the conversation.
It was just 15 months ago that Bernie Sanders ended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, but by his own telling, he’s already converted that political insurgency into a movement that’s changed what’s considered mainstream in America, from a $15 minimum wage to universal healthcare. In his new book, Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution, he distills what he’s learned into a how-to for grassroots activists. But with Hillary Clinton still on a book-tour putting part of the blame for Trump’s victory on Sanders, the self-described socialist is clearly feeling contentious, and puts plenty of blame back on Clinton and an “upper-middle-class” Democratic party, which he joined in 2015 to run for president.