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
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.
For a while The Guess Who and frontman Burton Cummings were as big as it gets. And if you’re Canadian, they’re even bigger -- the first huge Canadian rock ’n roll act, paving the way for border-crossing superstars from Arcade Fire to Justin Bieber. Burton Cumming’s main songwriting collaborator in the early years of The Guess Who was Randy Bachman, the band’s guitarist. Their collaboration changed the sound of the late 60s, but their difference in temperament ended up driving Bachman out of the band. Cummings tells Here's the Thing host Alec Baldwin why -- and about how life has just gotten better since The Guess Who broke up. That's thanks to his dogs, his poetry, and a very dedicated fan-base.
As head of HBO Documentary Films since 1979, Sheila Nevins has exerted more influence on the medium than perhaps anyone in its history. She has overseen the production of literally hundreds of documentaries, which have won dozens of Oscars. Whether shot in a war zone or the back of a taxi, Sheila Nevins’ productions are powerful, brazen, and unflinchingly honest. But when it comes to telling her own story, truth gets trickier. As she explains to Here’s The Thing host Alec Baldwin, in her new book, You Don’t Look Your Age and Other Fairy Tales, Sheila Nevins blends fiction and reality.
Mark Twain once likened biographies to “the clothes and buttons of the man” saying “the biography of the man himself, cannot be written.” The quote is a favorite of Patricia Bosworth, a 1950s model-actor turned biographer known for capturing the lives of Diane Arbus, Montgomery Clift, and Marlon Brando. All three were revered and haunted by internal demons—a narrative she knows too well. Bosworth's own father, Bartley Crum, was a left-wing lawyer who famously defended the Hollywood before succumbing to his own psychological pain. It was her father's suicide, as well as her brother's six years earlier, that instilled a strong desire to seek out the stories of other tormented souls. Patricia Bosworth's latest book The Men in My Life turns that voyage inward, painting a picture of a resilient woman with a tragic story of her own.
Charles Munn's quest to save the Amazon revolves around one theory: if people see the beauty in nature, they’ll fight to protect it. So far, he’s right. Over four decades, the American conservation biologist’s ecotourism mission has helped restore 12 million acres of tropical forests in South America, including some of the most biologically diverse protected areas on earth. Today, he does this through SouthWild. Munn talks to Here’s the Thing about bird watching in the same garden as Einstein, using ecotourism as a conservation tool, and being the only safari guide in the world with a jaguar guarantee.
Much like the staggering beauty of her voice, Audra McDonald is impossible to ignore. The only artist to sweep all four acting categories at the Tony’s, she’s the most decorated Broadway star of all time. Reviews of her award-winning performances overflow with accolades, describing her stage presence as “spellbinding,” “haunting,” and “genius.” But for the California native, things haven’t always been easy. She talks to Alec about getting into Juilliard, making it on Broadway, and the suicide attempt that helped shape who she is today.
Many words can be used to describe singer-songwriter Jon Anderson; cautious is not one of them. Born in England in 1944, he began singing on his brother’s daily route as a milkman before falling head first for rock n’ roll. After meeting bassist Chris Squire in the late 1960s, he joined a rock group called Mabel Greer’s Toy Shop—and the two left to form a band that was later renamed Yes. Now 72, he’s sold more than 50 million albums worldwide. But for the adventurous Anderson—whose rendition of Goldfinger earned him the nickname "The Shirley Bassey of Rock and Roll," it’s still all about the music.
Before Sofia Coppola could talk, she was in movies, famously playing an infant in her father Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather. She’d appear in the next one too, as an immigrant girl, but it was her role in The Godfather: Part III that caught the attention of the media—not in a good way. Critics claimed her novice performance “ruined” the final chapter of his series. It was a painful moment for Coppola, but one that gave her a firsthand look at the vulnerability of stars. Today she has the reputation of being “soothing” on set—a tactic that, given her multiple awards and accolades, is an effective one.