The Transom Review

Volume 3/Issue 2

Jonathan Goldstein

April 1st, 2003 | (Edited by Sydney Lewis)

Jonathan Goldstein

Sometimes you hear a new radio writer and it’s like a breeze coming through. Oh, that’s nice. Jonathan Goldstein sounds like that. His work for the CBC and This American Life can be funny and moving all in one sentence. He has made pieces about Travel, Telemarketing, Voice Mail, Love… and now he’s written about radio. Prepare to be strangely moved by an image of pre-chewed food. Jonathan can’t think of a title for his manifesto, but he has some interesting questions stored up for you, in case you can’t think of anything to ask. Jay A

Jonathan Goldstein’s Manifesto

An Introduction

I was going to start off by asking this: “Where does the person on the radio exist?” Then I was going to answer myself with this: “The person on the radio exists nowhere. He is already dead.” Next I was going to add: “The person on the radio has nothing to lose or gain in telling you the truth. When he enters the studio, he is entering the tomb. He encrypts himself, drinks from the water cup to cleanse his throat, and then steps to the mike as though presenting himself before the throne of God.” And finally: “The voices on the radio come to you as souls free of the body and, because of this, they are already closer to Heaven.”

Then I thought, but what the hell do I know.

Initially, my feeling was that such a series of statements would establish a tone of gravity, and I like gravity. But then I thought that if I were to simply start off by confiding to you, my radio confreres, that the preceding words were merely considered, then they could be imparted to you in quotes, as words that are as loaded with old-school pomposity as they are with my ambivalence about my role as any kind of authority.

What I accomplish by doing so, at the risk of getting all Charlie Kaufman on your ass, is I let you in on my inner process and by doing that, I do two things: 1. I make what comes next feel more real; and 2. I create an intimacy between myself and the reader. My feeling is that this business of offering a glimpse behind the curtain can be used to create a more personal and intimate radio. Or not.

A Life Lived In Radio

My earliest experience in radio came when I was ten. I would spend whole afternoons taping songs off of CHOM FM, a hard rock station in Montreal who’s slogan was “We like to rock.” My big challenge was trying to press the stop button quickly enough at the end of songs so I wouldn’t end up with the DJ saying stuff like “that was Cheap Trick rocking you harder than a heavy metal rocking chair.” Getting close to the end of songs was a time of high anxiety. Also, I didn’t have one of those “boom boxes” that could record radio internally. All I had was my tape recorder so I’d press its microphone to the speaker of my parents’ hi-fi unit. This meant that at the same time that I was recording the radio, I was also, rather inevitably, recording whatever was going on in the background. Thus, mixed in with Pat Benatar’s Treat Me Right, were the sounds of my father screaming at my mother for “hiding” his underwear.

The audience– which consisted of my sister and my friend Lenny who’d listen to the tapes as we all played board games– were given a glimpse into the psyche of the man with the mike. It was rock and roll heard through the proscenium arch of our household—the sounds of our family’s dysfunction “troubling” the text of the rock and roll. Instead of being impersonal, the tapes were personal and they said something about me and my family. Incidentally, to this day, whenever I hear the drum and bass solo during the Rolling Stone’s Miss You, I can also hear the phantom sound of my mother threatening to flush my dinner down the toilet if I didn’t come to the table.

The next twenty-odd years were uneventful as well as virtually worthless. I completed my public school education and then did a ten-year stint in a telemarketing office. Then one day, my friend Joshua Karpati told me about a phone message that was circulated throughout Columbia University in the early nineties. The message essentially consisted of a Jewish mother telling her Jewish son to go fuck himself. He told me about all the various lives that were touched by this message. I decided to produce a story about it on TAL.

During the course of production, I began to feel that just as important as the story of the message’s circulation, was my friend Josh’s telling it to me, and so I decided that the story needed to begin with a portrait of Josh. That way, hopefully, in knowing a little about Josh, the audience would be able to delight in his story in the way that I did. Also, I would be able to get in Josh’s famous “diggy-doo” anecdote. It had little bearing to the message of the story, but I enjoyed saying diggy-doo, and it is my belief that people enjoyed hearing it spoken.

My friendship with Josh, as well my trepidation in pursuing the story, all became as important as the story itself. All of these factors became frames through which the story would eventually be heard. It also helped to bring the listener closer to me. By allowing the audience to hear Josh verbally berate me (calling me, among other things, a stentorian-toned, public radio pussy-talking bitch-squealer), I was allowing the audience to hear the metaphorical “where’s my underwear” of my dysfunctional friendship with Josh mixed with the “rock and roll” of the actual story. For the first time in my life, I was humiliating myself in public for a reason.

Stuff on the periphery can be exciting when it reveals something about personality. It’s nice to hear someone going to use the bathroom during an interview, or putting a pot of tea on because their throat is dry. It feels real and it can add to the drama and, at bottom, it says, in a lyrical way, that we are human. I would say that these are good things that can make for good radio.

My intention in the Columbia message story was to create intimacy—not only in terms of the details that were revealed in the conversations with Josh, but the way that they were revealed. It just felt like there was more at stake that way, that there were more layers to the whole thing. I allowed myself to get involved—because I was involved. I am not some invisible, omniscient gas. I am Jonathan Arturo Goldstein. Okay, Jonathan Stuart Goldstein. But still…

Wow. Those Are Some Balls.

All of this said, I still wrestle with the same thing that Scott Carrier writes about in his Transom discussion — that nagging feeling that tells you that to narrate — to put in too much of yourself and your world– is to have failed. For one of my first radio stories, I interviewed my parents about the kind of music they listened to. My father loves Bread (“the music of Bread is timeless!”); my mother loves Paul Anka (“I saw him in ’77 on a revolving stage. He had some ass.”) I wrote in the piece, “The sound of music emanating out of our hi-fi unit in the basement on Sunday mornings, rising up into my bedroom, was akin to the mounting anxiety that only a clogged and over-flowing toilet can inspire.” The thing is, that initially, I didn’t want to come in and say anything. I just felt that my parents were so great and so funny and warm, and that for me to have to come out like a circus barker and point a megaphone at them seemed like cheap carnie tricks. Though I was resistant to the idea of over-narrating, what I eventually learnt from the experience was that the listener might be able to hear my parents and find them funny, but in order for the listener to find them funny in the way that I find them funny, I had to provide the listener with a frame. Anyway, it’s still something I wrestle with, and I often feel like the guy with the pointer who directs the amphitheatre’s attention to the size of the elephant man’s testicles.

Listen My Parents’ Music – [Audio No Longer Available]

I talk with my parents about the music they love.

Another thing we use on TAL to create a frame through which to hear voices is music. Music creates an emotional frame which more or less tells you, like the autocratic fascist that music is, how to hear something. If the music is telling you something that you mostly agree with (“yes this is a haunting little story and I suppose I do find myself a bit weepy”) then your listening experience will be a good one; if the music is telling you something that you believe in your heart to be fundamentally untrue, (“Is that Philip Glass’s excruciatingly beautiful DancePieces playing under that carpet salesman’s lamentation of the demise of the wall-to-wall shag?”) you will feel exploited. Anyway, there is an excellent way that a hard swallow in someone’s voice, mixed with some swell of just the right music that can be very much like a throat punch to the heart. I think the right combination of music and story can be that powerful. I wasn’t going to say this, but I will, and I’m not even going to say it in quotes: The right music can free the heart to love.

What I also learnt at TAL is that everything you do as a producer is in the interest of getting meaning across. The beauty of this is that you decide, at every turn, what that most important meaning in a story is. The hard thing is that every little thing that’s there that isn’t about that meaning is just a distraction. So each breath, choice in level, word, silence and bit of music works towards the refinement of your chosen meaning. Producing a radio story is like writing a book, reading it to an audience and conducting a symphony all at the same time. By this I mean to say that radio is for control freaks.

A Conclusion

The eyes are not the window to the soul. The radio is.

On the radio there are no mullet cuts or rat tails, no toreador pants, no neon make-up, halitosis, sweaty hands, or dandruff. Just the soul. The listener becomes like the blind man in those old Greek tragedies who, despite his lack of sight, possesses true vision.

There’s always something troubling about meeting someone who you have only known from the radio. There’s this discord that you face. On the radio they are superheroes, capable of non-stop wisdom and emotional greatness. It makes no sense that that voice would emanate from this mouth. The two have become separated in your mind. No matter how much “sense” the match between their face and their voice might make, you have created a greater sense. A sense that makes no sense. I thought that Ira Glass was going to look like Guy Smiley from Sesame Street. I thought Sarah Vowell was going to be in black and white. Oddly though, I thought Scott Carrier was going to look exactly like Scott Carrier. He did, and that was cool.

In the time since the Columbia message story aired, Josh has lost 140 pounds. He has lost a whole person. But on the radio, this does not matter. His soul is just “husky” as it always was. Likewise, on the radio I have a beautiful mane of hair, as opposed to the Ed Asner ‘do I sport here in “reality.”

There’s this Jack Kerouac tape I used to listen to when I was a young man. It was something that he and his friends recorded themselves in someone’s kitchen. Among other things, they would recite Proust, sing, and get progressively drunker and drunker. At one point Kerouac said, quoting a Frank Sinatra song, “unrequited love’s a bore.” Unfamiliar with Sinatra at the time, I heard the words as “unrecorded life’s a bore.” I think my confusion was prescient. Recording life, out there with a mike and goofy head phones, is like trying to love life back a little—by noticing it, by slowing it down, by performing the absurd act of presenting your favorite parts of it to the world, to simply share it with people the way you would a meal—a meal you have chewed up like an Eskimo mother for her papoose.

About Jonathan Goldstein

Jonathan Goldstein was born in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of the prize-winning novel Lenny Bruce is Dead. He is the co-author of Schmelvis: In Search of Elvis Presley’s Jewish Roots. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Saturday Night Magazine, The New York Times, and The Journey Prize Anthology. His radio stories and essays have appeared on This American Life where he is a contributing editor. He was a producer at the show from 2000-2002. In Canada, he’s contributed to numerous shows on the CBC. He was also the host of the CBC summer radio program Road Dot Trip. In 2002 he was a co-recipient of The Third Coast Audio Festival’s Gold Prize. He currently lives in Montreal with his girlfriend Heather and her daughter, the Renaissance girl, Arizona O’Neill.

Additional Support for this work provided by
Open Studio Project

with funding from the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting


The National Endowment for the ArtsNEA

111 Comments on “Jonathan Goldstein”

  • Sean Cole says:

    "I am not an invisible, omniscient gas."

    I want to tape that to my computer. Actually, I want to make up tee-shirts with that slogan on it for radio reporters everywhere to wear to their next edit. Not that I think every story on the air needs to have a reference to self in it. But it seems like holding fast to the pretense that we are/were not there, experienced nothing as humans, had no reactions etc., is just throwing a valuable tool out of our utility belts.

    Anyway, glad you’re here, doing this.

    – Sean.

  • Amy O'Leary says:
    Plan B: The Aftermath

    Jonathan: What did 10 years in telemarketing do to you? A.

  • Julia Barton says:
    yeah, and

    Bank just sold our phone number to the entire universe, so what’s the best thing to say to these people? And did you ever/will you ever do a story about the universe of cold-calls? At least you wouldn’t have to make it up, like Stephen Glass and his psychic hotline.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    Dear Amy and Julia, Thanks for asking about my days as a telemarketer. Unfortunately, I am only answering yes or no questions.

    No, but seriously… I’m not sure what telemarketting has done to me just as I’m not sure what public school has done to me. It was a part of my life. I’d like to think that it’s made me more sensitive when someone calls me up.

    I recently spent twenty-five minutes on the phone answering survey questions about the Canadian railway. I wanted to surprise the woman on the other end with my endurance and good will.

    "Am I the first person tonight who’s answered the whole survey," I asked.

    "Yeah," she said. "You are.

    She seemed a bit freaked out and eager to get off the phone.

    While voices on the radio may allow you a glimpse into the soul, voices on the telephone–especially when selling newspaper subscriptions, photocopier toner, or personalized pens– do not. But I do remember certain hopeful days, where I would try to learn something about the people I was talking to. It was like bronco riding. I tried to stay on the phone as long as I could. I guess that might be the thing to do, right? When a telemarketer calls you up, try and learn something about them. Either you’ll have a semi-interesting conversation or you’ll get them to hang up quicker. Everyone’s a winner. They might start off as cold calls, but sometimes they end warm. For, I’m Jonathan Goldstein.

  • Amy O'Leary says:
    la lutte continue

    Thank you, Jonathan, for your kind reply. I will handle my next cold call differently. I might pick up the phone. I might try even giving them "The Rundown" a la Ms. Kine. To elaborate: Part of what I was wondering about when I wrote my question was if telemarketing forced a kind of creativity out of your ability to both listen and speak to others? Did your practice in "seducing" the potential Gazette subscriber help you develop skills that are useful when trying to seduce a listener, or a source? And, of course, do you ever feel guilt about it? Unfortunately for my curiosity — which was as springy and doe-eyed as a new lamb until you slapped the YES/NO contingency on these proceedings — These questions are open-ended, like therapy. So in the event that you want to get in and out of this discussion quickly, like a race car driver in the pit, I will oblige you, as I have many questions stored up for the length of your stay. Are your ideas ever/frequently/sometimes rejected? Does the Piero Umiliani ever get old? Do you need those same "certain hopeful days" to work in radio? Do you ever get criticized for being a Canadian who works on This American Life? Do you interpret "American" as North-American, as opposed to United-States-American? With the best of intentions, Amy

  • Jay Allison says:
    In the mail…

    a Transom t-shirt to Amy O’Leary for conversational vigor.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    >telemarketing forced a kind of creativity out of your ability to both listen and speak to others?

    Listening, our sales manager told us, was crucial for "countering objections." But really, you started to learn that what you were really listening to wasn’t so much what they were saying, but how they were saying it– the hesitation, the warble in their voice– it was like the smell of blood. Really I’m thinking that telemarketing didn’t give me more speaking ability, because it just felt more desperate and sweaty– and you knew what you wanted: to sell a subscription, which ultimately makes things less interesting and more robotic than an interview. But it did present a challenge: how to hold onto your humanity and allow the person on the other end to hold onto theirs. Yeah, there’s probably more to this… I’m going to think about it some more.

    >Did your practice in "seducing" the potential Gazette subscriber help you develop skills that are useful when trying to seduce a listener, or a source?

    I guess it did. You just try to keep someone from hanging up on you the same way you would try and keep someone from changing stations. On the radio you keep putting forward a new enigma, something that points to a new something interesting, another thing that happens– you spin a story. On the telephone you keep saying, "wait… wait! One more thing… do you… like Pizza?" You’re more like a nine year old who’s trying to stay up a little later. And with the radio you imagine the person you are trying to seduce. You craft an ideal listener in your head. This might be a combination of your father, a college prof you once had, Alan Alda, etc. On the phone, you hear them breathing, rustling around, kids crying… by all of this I mean to say that telemarketing is a harder medium.

    >And, of course, do you ever feel guilt about it?

    Although I feel guilt about a wide variety of things, I don’t feel guilt about that because hopefully there’s some entertainment value involved; and also there’s complicity. Everyone wants to be seduced.
    You’re job is to make that feel okay. God, that sounds smarmier than I intended.

    >Are your ideas ever/frequently/sometimes rejected?
    Yes. Oh, yes.

    >Does the Piero Umiliani ever get old?
    I’m going to look that up and get back to you.

    >Do you need those same "certain hopeful days" to work in radio?
    You need those for everything. You have to really make those days your bitch.

    >Do you ever get criticized for being a Canadian who works on This American Life?
    No, but being Canadian let me get away with a lot of odd behavior.

    >Do you interpret "American" as North American, as opposed to United-States-American?
    I usually think of American as North American, but for stuff like This American Life or American Idol, I think of American as American.

  • Amy O'Leary says:
    A Thousand Spawned…

    Each answer spawns a thousand child-questions. I’ll try and limit myself to my first-born triplets. 1. Who is your ideal, imaginary listener? Is it Alan Alda? Do you always have the same one in mind, or do you shift him/her based on the piece? 2. I would dearly love to know of some of your ideas that have been rejected, since you answered with a resounding affirmative that indeed, you’ve had many ideas that were cruelly cut short before their time. You see, it’s fairly easy to know what kind of things do work and get aired — of that we have hundreds, even thousands of examples. Personally, I think I could learn a lot more from hearing about what kind of things have been pitched and haven’t worked. Then again, most people don’t like to mention these things. For one, you still may be intending on using these ideas. Secondly, the mention of them may cause undue pain. I will understand if you choose to ignore this second question altogether, skipping over this pain, and moving directly, silently, and immediately to the third. 3. How did you pitch a piece like the one on Love? Or was it written in entirety before presented? How did it come about? Kindly, Amy [Sorry to be obscure…Umiliani is composer of the oft-used scoring clip with the alternating wa-wa guitar and bass line —

  • Jay Allison says:
    telemarketing is a harder medium

    This is an interesting thread… the telemarketing/radio connection. It translates pretty easily to live radio, where you can feel time going by and sympahetically imagine the distracted attention of the listener. You can feel yourself boring yourself, and know you have to change the rhythm or the volume or the subject.

    It’s much harder to do in pre-produced radio where time is pre-measured by you, the producer. You can get way far off in your perception of time — perhaps because you come to know the material too well and develop a relationship with it that no one else has — and only realize that you’ve blown it when the piece plays for other people, back in real time, and you notice that you’ve lost them or are boring them mercilessly.

    Jonathan, have you done public radio pitch breaks? That’s where the telemarketing chops could put you in a class by yourself.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:

    I like the part where you say the trick is maintaining the humanity of both speakers.

    (Coincidentally, I had meant to say something about the gentle(manly) aspect of the other discussion with Bill Siemering.)

    Did the mutual respect ethic have something to do with your gravitating to public radio?
    It often sets public radio apart. But perhaps it also sets public radio up for criticism. Ironically, the signals some people give to indicate a climate of respect can be interpreted by others as being precious, and therefore elitist, or old-fashioned… do you think?

    Hey, could you imagine doing a piece about telemarketing? The ever-more-present little telephone dramas we don’t know how to handle? There must be hours and hours of tape to chose from, all those hours of "this call may be monitored…"

  • John Hodgman says:

    Hello Jonathan and thank you for doing this.

    I admire your desire as a telemarketer to preserve the humanity of your callers, and naturally I am sympathetic to your own desire to be human. But I can’t imagine that emphasis on shared humanity was in the training manual. Did anyone ever tell you to be less sympathetic?

    And what was your average call time?


  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    >Who is your ideal, imaginary listener? Is it Alan Alda?

    I guess I think of my friends, and what I would do to try and make them laugh. I also think of my father, who, whenever we see a movie that gets too arty, will always say, "What da hell happened to da plat?" I think if I was talking to Alan Alda I would get very shy.

    >I would dearly love to know of some of your ideas that have been rejected,

    going to Mardis Gras with my friend Josh to talk people into putting on tephillin… spending a year in kindergarten and trying to start my life over fresh…

    >How did you pitch a piece like the one on Love?

    It was tied to the show theme, "Before it had a Name." I had the idea of writing about those moments that you think are love but really aren’t. It was just a series of different moments of that.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    >have you done public radio pitch breaks?

    Yes, but I’m not the best. I think I get a little too ironic. That might be why I wasn’t the best telemarketer either. I’ve pitched with Starlee Kine and she actually runs around the room and hyper-ventilates, which I think is a very sincere thing to be doing when you’re asking for money and she does very well with it.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    >Ironically, the signals some people give to indicate a climate of respect can be interpreted by others as being precious, and therefore elitist, or old-fashioned… do you think?

    What you say reminds me of a sort of eulogy I recently read for CBC’s Peter Gzowski. You got the feeling that the author, Jay Teitel wrting in Saturday Night, wasn’t crazy about his particular style of radio interviewing and commentary, which was incredibly– often uncomfortably– earnest and passionately sincere–things that seem a little old-fashioned– but the point that Teitel makes, which I think is a very good one, is that people like Gzowski allow great things like Letterman, The Simpsons, etc to exist; it gives them a reason to exist, something to play off of.

    >Hey, could you imagine doing a piece about telemarketing?

    There’s a story I did about telemarketing that’s on the audio page. As far as all the taped conversations that are out there, I wonder if there’s a way of accessing the more interesting ones without going through thousands of hours. Do you think there’s someone whose job it is to archive all that stuff?

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    >Did anyone ever tell you to be less sympathetic?

    Hi John, they just told you to be polite… not to swear at people, which was always happening. The hard sell is really difficult to pull off, although there was this guy in the office who was a telemarketing legend, and he had, supposedly, called this woman a bitch and had still succeeded in selling her a subscription. It was talked about all the time.

    >And what was your average call time?

    I varied. Some days there’s just something in your voice– no matter what you say– that just makes people hang up on you like you’re the foul stench of death calling collect. Other days you were the life of the party. God, that sounds so sad. I remember that staying on the phone with somone for a minute was considered pretty good.

  • Julia Barton says:

    Yeah, it’s like, at least they made some phones ring during my pledge break, even if they hung up or never actually sent in a check. At least they CARED enough to waste our time…

  • Jackson says:
    How fast is this discussion going?

    So fast that no one has discussed the depth of the Columbia mother’s ultimate response. Was it you and Thumbelina? I just wanted to chime in here because you seem to embrace the discovery of tape that should not be discovered, and yet there is something curiously circumspect in your approach to the holders of such tape. It kinda ties in to telemarketing. Some of the beings here no doubt attempted to sell Electrolux vacuum cleaners door-to-door (please don’t tell me I’m the only one!!!). There is something similar there, too. I note a certain blurring of the line between real and real in the course of your work. Do you regret that you had to wear a cloak named named Stewart?

  • Amy O'Leary says:
    Your Beginnings?

    Jonathan: Was the CBC piece your very first for radio — if not, what was your earliest effort and how did you decide to start doing radio in the first place? Sincerely, Amy

  • Robin S. says:
    how many mics?

    Hi Jonathan,

    I have a technical question about your Columbia phone message piece. When you were interviewing Josh, did you just move a microphone back and forth between you? Or did you have some kind of stereo mic? You both sound so clear, but the conversation also sounds completely spontaneous. How’d you do it?


  • Sean Cole says:
    Any mics at all?

    Speaking of how you recorded things, I’ve been wondering about your shvitz piece… if you actually brought a kit with you into the steam room but then realized it wasn’t working so decided to do the story as a "read piece" … or if you figured ahead of time that the shvitz would be too hot to use a kit and just left it at work. I ask because I imagine you there, with a tape recorder, wearing headphones, and a sheet, holding a microphone, interviewing people and then looking down at some point and cursing because you realize none of the tape came out. But then having the temerity to keep reporting. I think in the end it worked out better as a straight read, the writing is so good, and the scenes and characters you recreate so complete, that I can’t imagine the story with tape. I also think a lot of reporters, upon discovering their equipment wasn’t working because of the environment, might write off the day as a total loss. But then not every show provides the option of doing straight reads.

    – Sean.

  • Julia Barton says:
    CBC land

    Jonathan, can you talk about any differences you feel between Canadian public radio and that in the United States? Every time I’ve been up to or near Canada, I haven’t wanted to turn off the radio, it’s just so…funky. Also more filled with hosts who have personalities, albeit similarly wry-humorous ones. It feels like a whole different world up there.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    >no one has discussed the depth of the Columbia mother’s ultimate response. Was it you and Thumbelina?

    It was only Thumbelina. From the very beginning. Tiny little thing. Are we talking spy talk here?

    >Do you regret that you had to wear a cloak named named Stewart?

    Again, I’m not sure what you mean. If you’re asking if I regret having the middle name Stuart, I don’t know if I can say yes to that without implying that I regret being born; but when I was a kid and someone called me "Stuey," I suppose that was the case.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    re: beginnings

    The one about my parents was my first reported piece. Before that I had done some radio essays. I hadn’t really decided to do radio at all. I used to just read my stuff at events in Montreal and it sort of lead into radio. I did my first essay for this CBC show called Brave New Waves. I don’t remember what exactly the whole essay was about, but there was this one part where I talked about my friend Howard and how when he’d get stoned and would make himself corn flakes, he would always hide a potato latke at the bottom of the bowl. When I asked him why he did this he said, “To surprise myself.” I think that might be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. It’s something I think about all the time.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    re: how many mics

    I would often call Josh up and we would just have conversations with the hope that something interesting would arise. We would usually just argue and insult each other. I would tape our calls as phoners. On that particular occasion, when he told me about the little mermaid message, I had had him go into a studio so we could talk over an ISDN line. He was in Montreal and I was in Chicago.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    re: any mics

    Hi Sean, Initially I had gone to the bath-house with the intention of taping people upstairs from the shvitz, where they all ate and watched tv; but the tape that I got wasn’t the greatest. It was Ira Glass who suggested I simply do it as a read piece.

  • Bridget Deenihan says:
    The Proverbial Back Pat

    I apologize if this forum is inappropriate for shameless, unprotected, multiple partner (wait, uh) praise.

    The strewn remnants of my own battle with rampant connectivity. I cannot win.

    My attempt to give back some of that said ‘intimacy.’

    I was driving down State road 436 in Orlando, FL listening to the radio, and there you were riding sonic shotgun, verbally dissecting love. I think my mouth was poised, open with anticipation and my eyebrows bent upward in a facial high-five with every precious word. So we rode together, in La Toyota Une Japonaise, all the way to my local grocer, which had, at the time of my arrival, served as a backdrop for a wailing ambulance. I emerged from my vehicle and stood there, watching to see if other people were still entering the building. Not knowing what tragic scene lay inside, for some reason I thought it best to simply do what every one else was doing. They were going in and so was I. I remember saying aloud to myself, “cog in the machine” while reluctantly trekking towards the whirring automatic doors. Just past the potato chip isle I was met by a distraught woman being comforted by a store employee. Stomach-a-go-go due to my own welling eyes, I made my way to the furthest corner, for eggs, and once there was met with the cause of all the commotion. There he lay bare chested and sprawled on the tiles, while not one, but two curious onlookers propped themselves against the milk case to watch the display. These people, I wanted to kick in the teeth. Even the most insatiably curious humans should be mindful of sensitive environments. This is why I too, am always polite to telemarketers. I am by no means attempting to literarily dance around naked, slapping my own ass, while telling everyone how fabulous I am. I just wanted you to know I heard that piece of yours, and was truly, immeasurably moved by it. It made magnificent sense. In addition, it made me feel warm and fuzzy which was a welcome contrast to the moments that followed. That is why I sat in that parking lot, engine off, listening to it in its entirety before I got out of my car. That is why I wrote your name on some random remnant of my spending and sat in another parking lot a few weeks later rambling to a friend about, “I heard this guy talking about love on the radio the other day…it was beautiful…” And here I am surfing the Internet during my nine to five, and I decide to go looking for you. This, is the first site I found. Seriously, the Internet? Fucking amazing. I just wanted to say thanks and to let you know that I appreciate your work. Big fan.

    Sidebar: I’ve often thought that it would be both wretched and delightful to a hear someone say, “Excuse, I must be off to the Ladies’ room” during a soap opera (not that I have ever watched one…) or at the very least have someone sneeze or cough. Bless you, for being an advocate of the human element. Create that intimacy, you Beast, rebel against the ordinary.


  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    Miss Hoover, my dog ate my radio

    >Jonathan, can you talk about any differences you feel between Canadian public radio and that in the United States?

    I know it would seem like I’d be the guy to ask this to, but I really don’t know what to say. I’m always meaning to listen to more of the CBC, but I don’t drive, and when I’m at home and working, I’m more inclined to keep the tv going in the other room as a comfort thing. Most of the radio I’ve been listening to these days has been on the internet. That’s when I sit down on the couch and say, "now I’m going to listen to the radio." The only CBC show I’ve really been hearing as of late is this new morning show called "Sounds like Canada" which makes me think– going back to Amy O’Leary’s question about whether "American" and "North American," ie. Canadian, can be used interchangeably– that this is another one of those instances when you just know that they can’t be. If there was a show in the U.S. called "Sounds like America" you’d be thinking: all-star extravaganza… Rip Taylor… Liza Minelli… a guest appearance from Big Bird, etc. Sounds like Canada makes you think more of blowing wheat and bag pipes. Those are good things, too. They’re just different.

  • Jake Warga says:
    Corporeal sluffing

    I’m still in awe with your intro about the ‘radio voice’ the idea of detatchment from body and the spititual significance of reaching people so easily and intimately. The voice of someone we can’t really prove exists, we allow to enter into our heads, to become our thougts, especially if wearing headsets. I can stare at a speaker, but look away from the TV. Would you ever sell your soul and be on TV? Mullet and all? Would there be a shift of spiritualism?

  • Starlee Kine says:
    You really are, sir.

    I think I read somewhere once that the best tact to take when you are interviewing someone who is in a rush is to say "Don’t worry. I…will…not…take up…anymore…of your time."

    Have you found this to be true in your experience?

  • manuel de la rosa says:
    starlee! jonathan! my friends!

    hello jonathan! my professor! I hope canada is a-ok! starlee! hello! thank you always for the plates of food from the big happy room that I am not allowed to enter. I must go now and pray for both of your health.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    for Starlee Kine

    >Have you found this to be true in your experience?

    No. I have not.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    >I’ve often thought that it would be both wretched and delightful to a hear someone say, “Excuse, I must be off to the Ladies’ room” during a soap opera

    That’s funny. I remember seeing this foreign film where, right in the middle of the action, the characters stopped and made themselves something to eat. The whole thing took about ten minutes. It wasn’t exactly a car chase scene, but it did make you realize that certain mundane experiences, when you see them represented in film, radio,etc. can be jarring. They have the effect of waking you up to the world around you– your own world– which is sort of what poetry is supposed to do.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    a question

    >Would you ever sell your soul and be on TV?

    I don’t know if anyone’s putting me on tv so fast; however I would sell my soul for a chocolate bar. I’m very hungry right now and all the stores in my area are closed. But on the subject of tv, I’ve got a question: What was it like to see on tv people you’ve only heard on the radio? Was it weird? Was there a feeling of being alienated from someone you felt was "all yours" on the radio? Was it surprising how little the visuals did for you? Or was it just really cool?

  • cw says:

    what’s the relationship between your fiction writing and your radio writing, if any?

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    to cw

    I’ve done some fiction on the radio, too. In fact I’ve got a short story on TAL this weekend. It’s a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve, if that could be called fiction… but do you mean the connection between, say, writing done for a novel and writing for the radio?

  • cw says:

    whichever you feel like talking about– though now that you mention your upcoming short story on TAL, i’ll also ask about that. did you write it to spec lengthwise? if so, how did that feel? if not, how did you trim it down to radio length? sometimes it seems that a pre-existing, longer piece of short fiction could be whittled down to radio tolerable length and still be a decent haiku of what it once was/other times it seems questionable. how do you negotiate this? any thoughts you have on the connection btwn radio writing and fiction writing would also be interesting. thanks.

  • Jake Warga says:
    Seeing is Believing

    I saw the "Car Talk" guys on the TV last night. Weird, in so many ways. I can never prove anyone on the radio exists, and seeing them removed the last hope that they were not real. "They’re posessed!" I tried yelling to the TV, pointing to the quite normal-looking guys on it. I actually fear the day I see a Simpsons actor speaking. But it’s tempting to want to see that, but I can hear the shattering of disbelief already, no longer suspended.

    I hope it’s anyone with an imagination that gets disappointed when they meet the body that hosts the voice. Creative listeners try and make a face for the voice from the speaker box, this is our talent. Peaking behind the curtain is our temptation–similar to what drove Pandora to open her radio box. At the Seattle station there are b/w photos of all the public radio celebs on a hallway wall, I divert my eyes when I pass, less I look into the wrong eyes and turn into stone (no specific names, sorry). Is this just a manifestation of the inherent battle between fantasy and reality? Will the two never meet? (Scott Carrier with dusty hat a healthy exception.)

  • Jay Allison says:
    another match

    Joe Frank’s face works fine for me. I accept it.

  • bw says:
    in person

    Jay Allison looks as good as he sounds on the air as well.

  • bw says:
    oh canada


    I caught two of your road dot trip shows whileI was traveling through canada myself. Was it difficult for you to get the CBC to trust you on this and do you think you will be doing more for the CBC soon?

    If you had to compare the Canadian public radio audience to the american public radio audience what would you say?

    I was listening to one of your shows on a bus outside of toronto – it was the one where you were live on the nude beach – my laughter seriously offended my fellow bus riders so I pointed to my headphones and said – "hey – its CANADIAN RADIO"

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    to cw

    I do write stories with a length in mind. I don’t mind doing that. It’s like painting on a canvas of a certain size, if that makes sense. In the case of this recent Adam and Eve story, it was drawn from a larger work in progress. I started with about seven thousand words, and played around with it until it was 2500 words, and of those words, after all the editing and revising, most of them ended up just being replaced with new stuff. I wonder if it’ll be difficult to get back to the original story I had started. I had all this writing about the snake bragging to Adam about how he’s able to have sex with all these bigger animals in the garden by stiffening himself and using his entire body as a phallus. There’s this long description the snake gives of pleasuring a zebra for three hours straight while the zebra gallops all across the land in a state of ecstatic insanity. It was all stuff that would not work on the radio. TAL recently aired a long short story of Russell Banks’s, and stuff had to be cut out of it, just to help it move along on the radio and Banks said that he really liked the cuts, that he had found that when he read the story in live performances, the story, to his own ears, dragged a bit. Cutting a story well for the radio can be sort of like trimming a bonsai.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    and he looks like as nice a guy as he sounds like… which is very nice.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    to jake

    I once saw Dan Castellaneta on Conan, and he did some Homer, and I’ve never seen an audience react like that in my life. There was this collective gasp. There he was at first, talking to Conan, looking like a regular guy, and then all in a sudden, when he started to do Homer, it was like we were looking into the face of God. Have you ever seen David Sedaris on Letterman?

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    to bw

    >Was it difficult for you to get the CBC to trust you on this

    Oddly not. They loaded me up with all kinds of equipment and sent me off on the road. I guess they had insurance.

    >and do you think you will be doing more for the CBC soon?

    I might be doing some stuff for CBC, but right now it’s just talk.

    >If you had to compare the Canadian public radio audience to the american public radio audience what would you say?

    I’m trying to think of an eloquent way to say “I don’t know.” Like I said in post #32, I really don’t know much about that.

  • Jake Warga says:
    Face of God

    I’d be tempted to turn off the TV, but the naughty urge to see the face of a voice, like looking at a God, might slow my reach to the channel clicker. I saw Sedaris sadly reading from his book here in Seattle, with S. Vowell reading from hers. Why did I go? But from this little man came a voice I’d heard on the radio, and like ‘Singin in the Rain’ I wanted to pull open the back curtain to reveal the real person, but the same restraint might have prevented me. He’s not too far off from imagination, but for the only-child who likes to read, the imagination is frequently preferable and unlikely to be matched. Ms. Vowell was closer to expectation, and even more snarky than imagined.

    If invited to speak on TV, would you wear make-up? It’s clear you don’t have the dime store-reflex of smiling when you see a lens. What responsibility to representation does the artist have of themselves? How has the public gaze been treating you? Boxers or briefs?

  • lila wright says:

    where can I find a copy of your creation story that was read onn wbur radio?

  • cw says:
    working in miniature

    the bonsai analogy seems like a sound one for this process. i wonder if you’ll be able to get back to yr longer creation story too. prob. if you want to. it can take the wind out of my old sails when i see that something i was working on can be done with 1/4 the hot air i had originally invested. not that yr zebra ecstasy was all hot air…

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    to lila

    It’ll probably be posted at in a couple of days.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    to jake

    >If invited to speak on TV, would you wear make-up?

    If I were on a tele-evangelical show, yes.

    >What responsibility to representation does the artist have of themselves?

    I think you’re going to have to dumb that one down a shade.

    >How has the public gaze been treating you?

    There’s a public gaze?

    >Boxers or briefs?

    Are Depends a boxer or a brief?

    Jake, in your story about your friend Brian, when he yells during the train chase, it’s one of the most strangely moving things I’ve ever heard on the radio. It gives me goose bumps, and I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe because it sounds so, so alive. When I brought up your story to my girlfriend, she said, "you mean the one where the guy yells?" And she had heard the story over a year ago. Have other people had a similar reaction to that moment? It isn’t your obligation to answer this next question, but I’ll ask it anyway: why do you think it has such power?

  • Amy O'Leary says:
    "I made it… for the Lord" — Fiction’s holding power on radio.


    I really enjoyed your piece yesterday. The fiction pieces on TAL don’t always work as well for me as reported or first-person pieces, but this one did. I tried to figure out why this is.

    Most of the fiction on TAL is usually quite good, and almost always something I would find delightful to read. But my attention seems to drift more when I know it’s a fiction piece. For example, if I’m doing my laundry and listening to TAL, it’s usually during a fiction piece that I’ll run downstairs to the basement and changeover the loads.

    I feel fiction has to be ten times as "good" as a reported piece to keep me glued to my radio. Why is that? Why is it that "true" stories suck us in so effectively, in a way that fiction can only sometimes do? Why does reportage (esp. first-person) intrinsically win our curiosity over more readily than even really good fiction?

    Maybe your creation story worked well for me because I knew the rough schema for where it was going. Apple. Shame. Expulsion. And with that schema there was kind of an intrinsic dramatic tension that I was eager to hear you resolve. How Apple? How much Shame? How exactly Expulsion?

    They were questions I wanted to stick around to hear the answer for.

    I guess a lot of fiction never sets those questions up quickly enough for me — and I am left feeling as though I just have to "trust" the author is going to take me somewhere interesting — and sometimes I bail out before the author gets there.

    Is this just me? Does my attention span need more stamina?


  • LeighAnn Daugherty says:
    Adam & Eve

    Dear Johnathon.

    I heard your broadcast of Adam & Eve on Nashville Public Radio. I really loved it and I would very much love to send it to my friend Veronika in Germany. Is it published somewhere? You have great style. Thanks so much.


  • Jake Warga says:
    Slap in the face

    ‘Depends’ don’t count, they’re disposable.
    As far as the representation question goes, sorry, babble left-over from grad school, how about: Because you’re in the public’s eye (ears), are you different than the Jonathan who sits around the house apparently peeing himself?

    Along the same lines, when you write, what audience do you have in mind? I mean, for radio. Does your style differ. Are sentences shorter. Do you use more physically descriptive words, crisp, emotional. words. When you write stories for print, do you use longer sentences for example, enjoying a run-on, making more connections, does the face of the audience change with the medium?

    Thank you for your comments on “Brian’s Story” and your girlfriend’s recollection–if the story lives on in people’s minds, than so does Brian.
    I suppose I ought to start exercising replies as it’s threatening to air this weekend on TAL. The scream scene is my favorite as well, for many reasons. Mainly, it’s a SLAP IN THE FACE. It’s not just him and I on a bench talking the whole time, I didn’t want anyone to get comfortable sitting there with us. We’re talking about heavy stuff, to a threatening point of banality. I was angry, filled with a rage of confusion and helplessness and wanted to get in a fight and loose. So I slap the listener instead and say, "we’re not just talking here! Brian can jump in front of a train (figuratively) anytime he wants, I don’t want anyone to forget that. How about a song?" I wanted to linger after the scream long enough for people’s ears to ring, it still does in some.
    His scream is the shot that rang out, and we knew where it came from. It’s a sound everyone knows on some primal level, it activates bumps on your skin, and your soul. I hope I never make it.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    >Why is it that "true" stories suck us in so effectively, in a way that fiction can only sometimes do? Why does reportage (esp. first-person) intrinsically win our curiosity over more readily than even really good fiction?

    I guess that’s kind of true… even with tv. It seems like a reality show doesn’t have to be as well done as a scripted tv show to keep you intruiged. It demands a more immediate response because it inhabits our universe, rather than merely approximating it. It’s almost like we relate to it using a different part of our brain. Fiction has to work harder because it wears it’s make-believeness on it sleeve. But I guess it depends though… documentary films usually aren’t as popular as movies, although "based on a true story" at the beginning still carries weight.

    Anyway, most of the stories on TAL, fiction or non, are structured like short stories– there are characters and a stroy arc, etc, and the writers and producers have to work just as hard as a writer of fiction would to make the characters relatable, their conflicts affecting, and the resolutions satisfying.

    Wasn’t it Picasso who said that art is a lie that allows you to access a greater truth?

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    To LeighAnn

    Thank you. The Adam and Eve story isn’t out in print, but it should be available in Real Audio at the TAL web site any day.

  • Destiny says:

    I heard the "little mermaid show". It was the first time I had this panicky feeling while listening to the radio. Usually I listen to TAL by myself and revel in whatever emotions are evoked in me…but man, when I heard the Little Mermaid show I was over come with a panicked feeling that this story was so funny that to get the full effect I needed to share it with someone. Unfortunately no one was around at the time except the cat, and he was busy cleaning himself (I thought it would be rude to interupt him). So I resorted to the profane act of trying to repeat the story to my friend when she came over later. I must apologize when I tell you that I completely butchered the whole thing. She just kind of had this blank stare the whole time I was forcefully trying to get through her thick skull what a masterpiece the Mermaid story was.

    I never feel like anything’s missed if I do not see a certain show on TV, but with radio I think its always a shame if no one else hears a broadcast that has impacted me in some way.

    Have you ever thought of a good acronym for your initials JSG?


  • Paloma says:

    In my own humble efforts to pursue some story ideas, can you describe how the process usually works for you? How many ideas do you have at one time? Do they mostly come from your head? Things your hear? Things you read? What do you do to see if they’ll work? I have very broad ideas, but without someone saying, "look into this aspect, describe this for me…" I get overwhelmed. Embarrased I still don’t get it, but seeking any thoughts…

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    to destiny

    javelins stabbed gut
    Jesus sued God
    junipers still grow

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    to Jake:.. wanted to get in a fight and loose

    You know Harmony Korine wanted to do a whole movie of himself getting into fights and losing until he realized how little time it took to lose a fight. He had two fights under his belt and fifteen seconds of film.

    Yeah, I love the way you go into that song right after the yell, too.

    >Because you’re in the public’s eye (ears), are you different than the Jonathan who sits around the house

    Yes, I am absolutely different than that Jonathan. Although those close to me like that Jonathan, there is not a very big demand for him on the public airwaves. Radio Jonathan is always quick with a jest… friend to man and beast alike. The at-home Jonathan wears a beltless woman’s bathrobe and can spend an hour straight looking at a caged hamster on a treadmill (true story). All the hours of lying in bed staring at the ceiling end up on the cutting room floor in the interest of other things. You edit your life, and a certain picture emerges. You create a portrait of who you are, but it’s not the whole person. That’s art I guess.

  • Jake Warga says:
    What do you do?

    what do you say when people ask you: "What do you do for a living?"
    How does that compare with long ago when your father’s friend asked you: "What are you going to be when you grow up?" Watching hamsters in a woman’s bathrobe don’t count (they don’t make them for hamsters).

  • Celine says:
    Faces of Radio Personalities

    I almost have the same response when I see the faces of authors on the back flap of the book cover. Many a time I have read the synopsis and first page of a book and thought "this sounds really cool", only to accidently see the publicity photo of the author and feel so alienated that I can no way consider reading the thing. I know I am being prejudiced, but once an image is introduced into your mind it can be impossible to ignore it. Someone once said…the human mind once expanded with new ideas can never shrink back to its original dimensions. (a rough quote.) But it’s true. and this effect can be quite a stumbling block.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    to paloma

    >story ideas, can you describe how the process usually works for you?

    If you’re talking about stories about myself, I will usually lean towards the ones that get a good response when I tell them to people socially. I’ve got a story that I think is going to be posted on Tuesday at and it’s one that I’ve always enjoyed telling and that I think people enjoy hearing, so that one seemed like a good story to write. A lot of times, it’s just the stories I remember that I end up writing about. For good or for bad, the memory– or at least a poor memory like mine– has a way of acting as a natural editor, retaining the more interesting stuff.

    >How many ideas do you have at one time?

    I have a great many ideas; unfortunately most of them are not that good. I write a lot of them down in my notebook and then in a week or two, when I am sober, I look at them again and if I still like them, then I think I might have something there.

    >Things your hear? Things you read?

    Yeah, if it’s a reporter story, not if it’s a piece of fiction. Little articles from the paper might sometimes offer you an entry point into something larger, like I was just reading a little jokey article in a Canadian paper about a cat that went crazy and kept its owner cowering for hours in a locked bathroom, afraid for his life. What made the scenario interesting was that the cat was only out for him. His wife stood watching, afraid to get in the middle. Finally the RCMP had to be called in to capture the cat. So it was this "wacky" news item, but it made me wonder what that guy in the bathroom felt like just then, singled out for aggression by this cat that he had fed, taken care of, etc– and it was out for his blood. Did he feel like the cat saw through to the real him and hated what it saw? Did what happened change the guy in any way? Does the wife ever say during fights with him, "You see? Even the cat hates you"? Perhaps none of these questions are relevant… but it might be worth a phone call. Maybe it could just make for a nice image that leads into something bigger.

    >What do you do to see if they’ll work?

    Get a place to pitch your ideas to. In going public with your ideas you keep things "real."

    >I have very broad ideas…

    Decide who your characters are. What are the moments that you find the most intriguing? What are some of the specific scenes? You have to go into the specificities that you are the most passionate about.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    >what do you say when people ask you: "What do you do for a living?"

    I say I’m a writer. As I get older I get a bit more comfortable saying that, because it used to make me feel like I was saying "I wake up at noon," or "I break my mother’s heart, or "I am a telemarketer." I’m getting better at it.

  • Susan Aposhyan says:
    Adam and Eve

    I adored your Genesis story. How can I get a transcript or a tape or both?

  • Susan Aposhyan says:
    Jonathan Goldstein’s Adam and Eve

    I adored J. Goldstein’s Adam and Eve. Does anyone know where I can get a transcript?

  • Jay Allison says:
    probing questions

    Jonathan, your first version of the manifesto ended with Discussion Questions. Please feel free to dole those out to us as you see fit.

  • Jake Warga says:
    Thanks for the company

    Thanks for the TAL company this weekend, a nice balance if people didn’t turn off the radio after "Brian" and stare at a blank wall for an hour which seems to be the main reaction I’m getting. Very in the style of that public radio reflection prose on the painfully normal things in life being attributed much greater significances. Do you think there’s a future in that style? I mean, just writing about the normal things in life and instilling them with a greater picture. Or, looking at the tree in order to describe the forest. And unless professionally established, how can you share the little things with people?

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    dropping discussion questions like Maestro Fresh Wes drops the needle

    Hi, here are some things I’ve been thinking about:

    1. I had this tape of myself, at the age of eighteen, interviewing my friend Howard* who was on nine and a half hits of acid and at one point he became convinced I was a robot and he tried to short circuit me by repeating to me over and over, “You know what you’re doing” to “which I would respond, “doing what.” We went back and forth on this for forty-five minutes. Boy, do I wish I still had that tape. What tape do you feel the worst about having lost? Do you think you’ve turned it in to something better than it really was?

    **I’ve written about another one of Howard’s most famous stories at:

    2. I think it’s a big radio commandment: never chew gum on the radio. But have you ever done it? Isn’t it great? It makes you feel like Norm MacDonald. Discuss.

  • Rolf Siverson says:
    Litany For Lost Tapes

    When I was in elementary school, my sister, cousins and I had our own imaginary radio station affectionately known as "KFRT" or "K-Fart". We recorded all our own shows, each one filled with children’s bathroom humor. We had characters with names like "Farty Fox," "Burppy Bear," "Poopy Pig," and the infamous "Jack-the-stripper"(my sister had to explain what a stripper was to me when we created him). Then there was this game show we had called "Goul-er-dy," all the questions were about ghost stories. We even had our own commercials. It was all silly kid’s stuff, but I remember having so much fun doing them. If we had been on the air, I bet we would have been real competetion for Howard Stern too.

    Anyway, the tapes, we must have had at least ten of them, are nowhere to be found. Some of them probably got taped over. The rest dissapeared when my sister and I ceded our rooms back to our parents. I really wish I still had those tapes. It was so much easier to be funny when all you had to say was "fart" or "poo." Am I making too much of ten hours of "potty mouth" humor? Probably. But its so easy to romanticize the past, and what you no longer have.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    I had a box of stuff like that– radio plays I made aboout my family form when I was nine or ten. They were mostly these "It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"-style chases and I would do all the voices, and you could hear my sister laughing at me in the background. I put all the tapes together in a shoe box, and then lost it. I think about them all the time. They’re like the lost Hemingway manuscripts to me– except with more fart jokes.

  • Cari Gervin says:
    lost tape

    A few years after my father died I found an answering machine tape in a box of his stuff in the attic. I think it might have been from the dictaphone at his office, because it didn’t fit our answering machine. I have a micro-cassette recorder, but the tape was too big for it. I could never find the right size recorder, but I knew that someday I would find one, and then I would have this amazing recording of my father’s voice, probably transcribing legal dictation. And then somewhere between moving from Connecticut to Georgia to elsewhere in Georgia the tape disappeared.

    The thing is, I never knew if my dad’s voice was actually on the tape–it could have been a blank tape, or his secretary, or something else entirely. So in some ways I’m almost glad I lost the tape, because then I can never be disappointed by it not having my father’s voice on it. And lost things have a way of becoming found, so I still have that hope that someday I’ll go through something in my mother’s house, and that tape will be there, and I can hear my dad again.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    re: thanks for the company

    Hey, just doing what I can. It was good hearing your story again.

    >…very in the style of that public radio reflection prose on the painfully normal things in life being attributed much greater significances. Do you think there’s a future in that style?

    I don’t think it’s only the domain of public radio… So much depends on a red wheelbarrow… The apparition of these faces in the crowd: Petals on a wet, black bough… Raymond Carver, Basho, Andrew Wyeth, Jerry Seinfeld…not all of life lends itself to an epic. You do the best with what you have.

    What’s so beautiful about Brian’s story is the way you took his story, which is so tragic, and never made it feel like you were trying too hard to attribute anything, or make it representative of some bigger picture. You were just telling the story of someone you loved and in the sincerity and honesty of that sentiment, all of the big things just came through, and came through with dignity.

  • Sasha Khokha says:


    Can you talk a little bit about delivery? How do you practice before you record? How do you think your delivery style has changed over the course of your stories? Did you develop a style when you were telemarketing?

    We’ll be talking about your work, and more, with Jay Allison and the Kitchen Sisters at a class at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism tomorrow.

    Sasha Khokha

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    re: delivery

    In terms of any connection between telemarketing and radio delivery, I can say that, with both, there are some days when you’re more "on" then others. It isn’t the amount of coffee or the loudness… there’s just something indefinable in your voice that makes people want to hear you. You aren’t overselling or underselling– you’ve just hit the exact right balance for you… you are "being yourself." It sounds very simple, but it is also quite deep, and on some days it can be elusive– in recording one’s voice tracks, as well as trying to sell a product over the telephone, or for that matter just existing.

    As far as my delivery changing, I’m always trying to get more conversational as I go. I try to talk more and more the way that I would to my friends. I tend to lean more towards a flatter, emphatic delivery with the thought that less is more.

    At TAL, when recordig voice tracks, we get many takes so that in production, there are always choices. Editing voice tracks can sometimes be arduous and time-consuming work. You end up inserting pauses, replacing pauses with breaths and actually cutting the hard consonant of one word right into another, superior take. It can be very intimate, almost like crawling into someone’s mouth where you can hear the sound of lips separating. What’s weird is how normal editing your own voice can become.

    Please post and include us in on what goes on at your conference. I’m curious to hear who are some of the favourite readers. Certain voices hold this odd pull on our heartstrings. They are like sad oboes or something, something that makes you want to throw all your money at the radio while yelling, “I love you.” I don’t know what it is.

  • Judson True says:
    Lost tape

    Mm…reminds me of the radio show my sister and I made when we were about seven and nine. I would pay dozens of dollars to still have the tape. Lost, now, to the world is our sad, sad story of the goldfish, which I remember only as terribly moving. Fortunately, we can both still sing all the lyrics to the song we wrote, "Before We Will Wed We Will Woo" (first line: "I know a girl with hair like wheat"), although we’ve misplaced the white, foot-long casio keyboard on which we accompanied ourselves…

    Jonathan: I’m in a class being taught by the Kitchen Sisters at UC Berkeley and the whole class (myself included) is always fighting the urge to do pieces on our families. Should we just accept that our own families are the most fascinating subjects in the world and DO those stories, or are radio listeners going to get fed up and demand a little distance?

    I’m off to edit an interview of my sister…

  • Hannah Schardt says:
    Darn it.

    Um…that last message about sister, goldfish, etc. was posted by me, not Judson. Somehow when I opened the site it thought I was Mr. True.
    I love public mistakes. Build character.

  • Judson True says:
    Meaning without story?

    This is the real Judson True–not one of his doubles. I’m also a member of the educational nirvanna that is the Kitchen Sisters’ class at Berkeley.

    Like my impersonator, Hannah Schardt, I’m doing a piece on family. More precisely, my piece is about an old country record by Hank Williams, Jr., bought by my parents as a bootleg in Taiwan in the the early ’70s. The record’s had an outsized influence on my relationship with my brother. I’ve developed the silly idea that if it wasn’t for this record, my brother and I would still be punching each other and getting red-faced after 10 minutes together. Instead, we now manage to go hang out quite amicably–escpecially when we listen to old-style country music together.

    So, Jonathan, my question is this: How do you take a meaning, a point, and get a narrative out of it? I know your work is the best answer to my question, but I wonder how you think about this dilemma in the beginning of the process.

    Oh, I’m trying to do a phoner with Hank Jr. to give my piece a little bit of a surprise element. No luck so far. Know anyone in Nashville?


  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    >Should we just accept that our own families are the most fascinating subjects…

    I think it’s the same as with any other medium. Maybe Whistler sat around and thought, "Who the hell’s going to pay money to buy a picture of my mother?" I guess it depends how you do it. Like anything else, it could be great or terrible; but I figure every family has one or two stories that are really unique and great. You just have to find the right one. Speak with friends, editors, whose taste and judgement you can trust. Ask them if they think you’re wasting your time. Some of my favorite radio stories are about family… Scott Carrier’s story about his kids’s swimming lessons is so beautiful.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    >How do you take a meaning, a point, and get a narrative out of it?

    Hi Judson True. You have the kind of name that must instill fear in your nemeses.

    I guess I don’t think of the story and the meaning as two separate entities. If I feel compelled to write about something, I just do, and assume that a meaning– in the high school textbook discussion question sense of the word– will make it’s self known. After all, I have to believe that I wouldn’t have felt the need to write about it if there wasn’t something deeper at stake. I would say the challenge is communicating that personal passion for something to an audience– to make it translate. And at the same time, we know the story to be bigger than any one meaning– it encompasses a meaning, but it isn’t limited by it. If it is deep, the story is the meaning. I’m definitely wrong a lot of the time about the subjects I pick up– or at least not good enough to make them work, and I end up chucking a lot of stuff. Anyway, I do think that a meaning emerges out of the story, no?

  • Sean Cole says:
    Lost tapes

    > Mm…reminds me of the radio show my sister and I made when we were about seven and nine.

    I made tapes like that with my sister too. Often roping one of my best friends into the act. It was one of the many games we played back then that had very creative names. The game of moving the Fisher Price people around on the cartoon town she drew on an old door was called "Peoples." My friend Chris and I played a Reader’s Digest version of soccer called "Kick the ball to each other." And, yes, now and then we would look at each other and say "Wanna play ‘make your own tape?’" But ‘make your own tape’ was infinitely more fascinating than any of the other games. For one thing, after you recorded the skit or joke-newscast or whatever it was, you had to play it back. So play-time was automatically doubled. Then you got to listen to the tapes when you were by yourself and realize what dorks your friends were and how angry they made you. One time my sister and my friend Paul and I were playing a round of "make your own tape" while enjoying glasses of orange juice and we decided to record an orange juice commercial. I remember my sister yelling "Orange juice: it’s not just for breakfast anymore!" and Paul saying "It’s not just for DRINKING anymore!" and then pouring his juice directly onto the machine. I’ll never forget the sound that made, a kind of quiet, hissing, crackling, wrong sound like someone saying "shhhh" after undergoing a dental proceedure. Paul was a little ahead of his time. I think he genuinely didn’t know why I was so upset. I would kill to have that tape now. That one and the one of my interview with my sister’s Spanish-speaking character who didn’t know the Spanish word for "husband." So she just said "husband" with a Spanish accent. "Ooos-BAHND!"

  • Jeanne says:
    Lost tapes

    When I was about 8 I got a tape recorder for my birthday and alone in my closet I would tape my own talk show using topics I ripped out of my mom’s magazines. I played the parts of host and guest because my sister wouldn’t play along. My host name was Koko Konnell. Years later, I would go on to be a producer for Talk of the Nation, and Neal Conan was the first person I ever told my host name to.

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    has anyone read about this?

    I read something a few months ago, perhaps in the New Yorker, about a study that was done where people were asked to assess whether someone was lying in print, on TV and on the radio. People were able to tell most easily when the liar was lying on the radio. Does anyone know anything about this study? If you have, please tell us about it, or supply a link to an article about it.

  • Joel Wiborg says:
    Live for yourself.

    If people on radio cared about the condition of their voice, all would be without words. Speaking your mind is no longer a way to tell of your feelings, it is a battle. Some one in the world has the same end point, but he/she has a different road to engage the same view. If radio is bogged down in the particulars, no one learns. The beauty of radio is that, when you speak you mind, your face is unattached to the issue. The market place of ideas is able to grow, and listeners are able to make their own conclusions. T. V. has given us stupidity; video has given us taped stupidity, but radio has driven the word and thoughts of the masses to the masses.

  • Cari Gervin says:

    was that study maybe mentioned in the malcolm gladwell article about the science of reading faces?

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:

    No… I think it might have been in an earlier New Yorker… maybe a review of a book?

  • Su Ciampa says:
    lost tapes

    There was a guy named Premio who keep leaving messages on my friend Aileen’s machine. She clearly says her name and number on the out-going message but nonetheless Premio would leave these long messages for his friend including three or four numbers where he could be reached. He’d never get emphatic, it was more like disbelief that his friend wasn’t calling back, like maybe he was giving the machine the benefit of the doubt. One time after leaving his various cell phone and pager and home and work numbers Premio just kept saying







    Holler back, yo.

    And that probably doesn’t translate in text at all but Aileen and I were listening to it laughing so hard we weren’t actually making any noise and her dog got really freaked out. I asked if she’d ever called him to say, you know, your friend doesn’t live here anymore. But she said she didn’t want to, because then maybe he wouldn’t leave the messages anymore and she kind of like the consistency. I guess he was leaving her a couple a week from the time she’d moved in. I suspect it was also kind of like the thing of not wanting to prove the Premio didn’t exist.

    A couple days after listening to the “yo” message, I asked her if I could copy the tapes, just to have a record of how undaunted Premio was. I just assumed Aileen was saving them. But she wasn’t. I made her promise to keep the tapes going forward—-that I would do whatever was necessary to supply additional tapes. Maybe my offer jinxed it, because Premio hasn’t called since. And I don’t think I’ll ever really get over that.

  • Victoria Blake says:
    New Yorker detects lying on the radio

    I think that bit of info (people can detect lies more easily on radio than in print or video) came in the talk of the town section, in an issue back when the weather was warm.

  • reuben cannon says:
    adam and eve

    Where can i get a copy of the ‘Adam and Eve’ story i heard on This American Life several weeks ago?

  • Jesse Dukes says:
    Riding High in April


    I would have asked earlier but I just happened onto this discussion. First, thanks for saying the thing about music and love without quotes.

    Second, I was very struck by the thought you introduced with Sinatra:

    "Recording life, out there with a mike and goofy head phones, is like trying to love life back a little—by noticing it, by slowing it down, by performing the absurd act of presenting your favorite parts of it to the world, to simply share it with people the way you would a meal—a meal you have chewed up like an Eskimo mother for her papoose"

    I guess I love just that about TAL and radio in general but it also troubles me. Don’t we also speed life at the same time by thinking about how good this conversation would sound on the radio, or how this moment would work in our book? Don’t we miss too many sunsets running back to our car to get our camera? Or miss out on watching the talent show or piano recital or whatever by videoing the whole damn thing? The latter two examples are metaphoric, mostly because I have yet to produce anything for radio and these seem like more universal cases. I feel like maybe I’ve been drawn to radio and this site of late because of an almost manic drive to record moments and capture them forever. To slow them down and to create narratives out of everyday things. But I know that this has disrupted my experience sometimes, this mania to record. And I know that I, personally need to find a balance. Do you struggle with this too? Have you found a way to balance living life against recording life and narrating life? Or has it just never been an issue for you?

  • Jonathan Goldstein says:
    to jesse

    I guess for me, it helps me to become more engaged with things… especially turning experiences into stories. Isn’t that the aim of psycho-therapy– to make a coherant narrative out of your life.

    More and more, though– because I have such a poor memory– I’m finding myself getting a little obsessed with the idea that everything that I don’t record gets lost– that I’m losing life. That’s something I struggle with.

  • gretel says:

    I had a similar feeling of dread about forgetting life when I glanced at my journal from a few years ago. I read about my feelings on that day, what I did, who I hung out with…I remembered none of it. None. It was like reading about someone else; someone almost me but not quite.

    I think that escaping that forgetfulness is one of the best things about vacations. If you are having a nice a drink in Rio with friends, you remember having the nice drink in Rio with friends. If you do it in your own backyard, it gets lost among the cosmos. Vacation, for me, doesn’t only bring me new, exciting experiences – it makes the humdrum events stand out, too.

    In short, there is nothing wrong with recording life. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with grabbing a drink in Rio.

  • Joe Richman says:

    I just read over this entire topic. It’s so damn good.
    Jonathan: I don’t have anything to add. Or ask.
    But, can you just keep talking?
    You know…. say stuff?

    If you really need questions I’ll try to think of some.

  • Anaheed Alani says:

    I have a question.

    What is that nice yellow room that you are standing in in that picture?

    And: What is that thing hanging in front of the window?

  • Victoria Blake says:
    Loosing Life


    Don’t you find, though, that you do end up using everything? So that a coversation you had two yeas ago with your dad (and have all but forgotten) turns into a bit of information overheard at a caffeteria which would have otherwise gone unnoticed, turns into an idea for a story, turns into a story about your dad? Like finally figuring out how to connect the loose bits of string together in a ball…

    But, I don’t know, the question I suppose is, do you really feel like you’re loosing life? As opposed to sublimating (perhaps repressing) the important things, letting them change themselves into metaphor and coming back up to the surface? "In the great percolator of the soul?"

    And the neccesary faith in metaphor, which the more I think about it, the more I think is the reason we have art at all.


  • Jesse Dukes says:
    Diaries are good; Recording is Good

    I never wanted to suggest that recording was bad. Only that there was a trade off: We lose a little bit of our experiences if we are always thinking how they would fit into some form of art. Having the drink in Rio may help us to remember the nice event with our nice friends. But that doesn’t mean that the drinks in our backyard did not happen and were not fun and good (or no fun and bad). And perhaps, its good to have some backyard drinks that you never tried to remember or record but just enjoyed and that the conscious act of creating memories or narrative can distance us from events just as it brings us closer.

    I think Jonathan and Gretel both illustrate the other side well: That there is a trade off in not remembering and not recording. Not only do we lose our memories which is a small death but also, the act of recording is in itself its own event and not to be missed.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  • gretel says:
    Lost Tapes

    I had a tape of an 18 year-old felon describing being shot. He (I’ll call him Sylvester) believes that young men he knows (gang members) actually like being shot at because you never feel quite as alive as when you realize that a bullet just whizzed by you. Granted, as Sylvester admitted, he could probably romanticize the event since he had only ever been shot in the arm.

    Lost! Where is that tape? Sylvester, man, where have you gone?

    On a lighter note, I can’t find the tapes of my (obviously fake) radio show from first grade. It was a commercial station, as I had not learned the glories of underwriting and pledge drives, and featured ads (sung by me) for elmer’s glue and "Happy Days"

    Jonathan, what makes for bad radio (barring pledging)?

  • Jay Allison says:

    This is one of your hosts, popping his head through the curtain just to say… don’t stop talking; even though we’re about to bring some new guests on another stage, we hope Jonathan will feel free to inhabit this space as long as he wants. It has been a wonderful topic, full of wisdom disguised as cleverness. I look forward to printing it out when after we make the Transom Review and living with it in my bathroom for a while. Don’t stop talking.

  • Sean Cole says:
    Re: Lost Tapes

    Gretel — Why "Sylvester?"

  • ani says:
    Hi Jonathan it’s Ani from Montreal in Vancouver

    I don’t think your old email still works. I’d like to keep in touch.

  • Andy Knight says:

    Loved your story at the Chicago show. It was, like many of your other stories, very introspective. When displaying your memories for all to see, do you ever feel that you may run the well dry? Are you tempted to manufacture a past? Have you?

  • deni says:
    story of adam and eve

    i thought i heard your story on npr

    could you let me know if you wrote the story of adam and eve
    i enjoyed it very much

    thank you

  • Andy Knight says:

    deni, you heard it on This American Life. Yes, Jonathan wrote it (er, or adapted it… whatever) and is supposively working on more Bible re-writes for a book.

  • Michael Gelbart says:
    Jonathan Goldstein

    Im pretty sure that I was friends with this Jonathan Goldstein when I was a kid. If, so tell him I stumbled across his work and really liked it. If it’s not the same Jonathan Goldstein, please forget I said anything.

    Michael Gelbart
    Los Angeles, CA

  • gord sellar says:
    back in 1998…

    … I met Jonathan in a class in grad school in Montreal. what was really genuinely rock&roll about him was that he was older, didn’t hang out with the wannabes and the putdowners, he just did his own thing. I remember this haiku-fiction theory of his, his (surprising and pleasing) respect for Olaf Stapledon, and I remember the thing he wrote about one of his characters staring one night down into the strange sight of his leg hair illuminated by the light inside the fridge. it was just, well, real.

    I wonder what he’s up to… Jonathan? Your shit’s still funny, and what’s more it’s *good*. But more laser guns. More laser guns. Please!

  • henry oz=77 says:
    negative family values

    if this be the Jonathan Goldstein, son of Margarit
    and Stanley, especially interesting for i be the
    ex-C.P.A. who handled Larry Gelbart who had so
    many kids, maybe correspondent Michael was one.
    Also did tax work for Stanley, and helped grandpa
    if so, it might be more important for Jonathan to give a look at, since he’s into production and communication, and he may be interested in spending the rest of his life on the
    subject matter.

  • Carl Broman says:
    The Goldstein Bible

    I heard Jonathan on "This American Life" several months ago and after his story about the serpent and Eve, Ira said Jonathan was "writing his own version of the Bible". I’ve been waiting expectantly… when can I rush out to Books R Us and get a copy?

  • maxg says:
    The Books

    The Books, if you’ve never heard them, are a group that utilize a lot of sampled voices in their songs. I just got their most recent album, "Lost and Safe", today and was listening to it when I was treated to something of a surprise.

    Track 9, "If Not Now, Whenever", samples Jonathan Goldstein’s story about Columbia’s "Little Mermaid" voicemail event.

    3 minutes and five seconds into the song, you hear "I can’t find the books, they must be in la jolla."

    Check it out. It’s neat. I wonder if Mr. Goldstein knows, though.

  • Elena says:
    yes please

    I just wanted to chime in on Mr. Broman’s comment. I suppose rewriting the bible is something that one doesn’t want to rush— but just wanted to let you know we are waiting—eagerly even— and hope you don’t shunt the project aside.

  • debra says:
    Rosh Hashanah

    Just heard the tape of Rosh Hashanah, which was more meaningful to me perhaps because my mother died 2 months ago and I am flooded with memories of this woman including many Rosh Hashanahs, Yom Kippurs, and Pesachs at my home and at the homes of my mother’s circle of friends. I relate to the feeling that I was dropped from the sky and into this family and the fear and knowledge that yes, I am so much like my mother, taking so many mannerisms and now, passing them onto my husband.

  • Robert Wright says:
    astounding radio

    Good gosh. This radio piece is a work of excellence.

  • Mary P. says:

    I was also listening to this song today at work, and heard that sentence. It stuck me as really funny, but familiar. It took me about two seconds to place it, considering I listen to his pieces over and over again. Jonathan Goldstein is midas with radio.

  • Mary P. says:

    And by "song" I mean it in reply to Maxg’s comment, citing "If not now, whenever" by The Books.