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Society & Culture

The Organist

Updated 3 days ago

Society & Culture
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Take a weird, thoughtful and pleasurable journey into literature, music, art, philosophy, the internet, language, and history with McSweeney's and KCRW. This unconventional arts-and-culture magazine features contributors and guests like Miranda...

Read more

Take a weird, thoughtful and pleasurable journey into literature, music, art, philosophy, the internet, language, and history with McSweeney's and KCRW. This unconventional arts-and-culture magazine features contributors and guests like Miranda...

iTunes Ratings

340 Ratings
Average Ratings
306
19
7
2
6

don’t miss it

By ♫♩ - Aug 28 2018
Read more
this is almost certainly one of the best podcasts in the entire world.

Life is short, but we have this podcast

By Nonicknamesleft123456789 - Jul 16 2018
Read more
Because life is short, too short, I recommend listening to this podcast.

iTunes Ratings

340 Ratings
Average Ratings
306
19
7
2
6

don’t miss it

By ♫♩ - Aug 28 2018
Read more
this is almost certainly one of the best podcasts in the entire world.

Life is short, but we have this podcast

By Nonicknamesleft123456789 - Jul 16 2018
Read more
Because life is short, too short, I recommend listening to this podcast.
Cover image of The Organist

The Organist

Updated 3 days ago

Read more

Take a weird, thoughtful and pleasurable journey into literature, music, art, philosophy, the internet, language, and history with McSweeney's and KCRW. This unconventional arts-and-culture magazine features contributors and guests like Miranda...

Rank #1: Episode 71: Everybody Loves a Winner

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William Bell never became a household name. His debut single, the one he wrote and recorded the year that Satellite Records changed their name to Stax, barely cracked the Top 100 chart. That song, "You Don't Miss Your Water," worked out a bit better for Bell's friend Otis Redding, and for a band called The Byrds. That's more or less the same story as "Born Under a Bad Sign," the song he cowrote with Booker T. Jones, which got covered by Cream and pretty much every blues rock band since 1968. Bell might have had a better chance at stardom if he hadn't got drafted to serve in the U.S. Army in the middle of the sixties, right when Stax was taking off. 

After Stax dissolved in 1975, Bell tried to reinvent himself. He had a top forty hit for Mercury, an easy-listening number with a funk beat called "Trying to Love Two." He moved to Atlanta, put out a few self-released albums, ran a business, and did well with songwriting royalties. He didn't lose himself in God or women or indulgence after the peak of his career, like some of the other stories we've heard before. He kept his voice and lived a comfortable life. You might say he was hiding in plain sight.

This summer, Stax released Bell's first album for the label in forty years, in what may be the best album of his life. For the Organist, the writer Wyatt Williams drove around Georgia with Bell to bring us this story.

Produced by Wyatt Williams and Jenny Ament 

Aug 19 2016
1 hour
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Rank #2: Episode 26: You're the Man

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Neko Case, whose musical career spans over two decades, brings the listener on a journey of the music that has shaped her, from the time she was a child listening to "Taking Care of Business" by Bachman Turner Overdrive until now, listening to "People Have the Power" by Patti Smith. Over the years she's listened to 80s hardcore, country, gospel, and punk, all of which have contributed to her unique sound. CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE.

CREDITS Produced by Jenna Weiss-Berman, Ross Simonini and Andrew Leland. Thanks to Gary Scott, Jenny Radelet, Melissa Morton, Mario Diaz and Monika Scott.

Pre-order the latest album from Neko's side project, the New Pornographers, out August 25th.

Aug 12 2014
1 hour
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Rank #3: Episode 20: Enter the Optigan

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This week's show features documentary filmmaker Rodney Ascher (Room 237) presenting an excerpt of an unreleased early film, called The Collectors. The excerpt centers on Pea Hicks, a collector of an obscure electronic instrument called the Optigan (and member of the great Optigan-driven band Optiganally Yours).

Produced by Rodney Ascher and Ross Simonini, with Jenna Weiss-Berman and Andrew Leland.

Jun 10 2014
1 hour
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Rank #4: Episode 3: Tween Anxiety

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Conan O'Brien in conversation with Jack White, Sarah Silverman on her virtual pet owl, Shane Carruth's first film in ten years, plus Rachel Kushner, a hunt for priceless vinyl in Louisville's dumpsters, The Blob, and more.

Host: Andrew Leland
Executive Producer: Ross Simonini
Associate Producer: Jenna Weiss-Berman
Engineering: Ray Guarna
Writer: Matthew Derby
Thanks, too, to everyone at the Believer, McSweeney's, KBIA, and KCRW.

Banner image: The Blob, Paramount Pictures

Apr 09 2013
56 mins
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Rank #5: Episode 68: The Metaphysics of Dub

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Louis Chude-Sokei is a Nigerian-Jamaican- American writer and scholar at the University of Seattle, Washington. In this episode, he discusses the music culture surrounding Nigeria’s internet scammers (known as “Yahoozees”), his own experience as a black immigrant in Los Angeles’ Inglewood neighborhood during the era of NWA, and the way blackface performance is perceived outside the U.S. He’s the author of The Last Darky: Bert Williams, Black-on- Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (Duke University, 2006), which examines the life of Bert Williams, a top vaudeville performer-- a black blackface performer-- and one of the most famous entertainers of his era.

His new book, The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics (Wesleyan, 2015), tackles the complex relationships between blackness, robotics, and technology. In this way, the book is in conversation with Afrofuturism. First coined by the cultural critic Mark Dery, Afrofuturism is a growing field of art, music, and academic scholarship which finds its roots in sci-fi imagery in black culture: Sun Ra, George Clinton, Octavia Butler, and Samuel R. Delaney. Afrofuturism seeks to find alternates to the current sometimes harrowing circumstances of contemporary black life through imagined futures and emergent possibilities. Its expression is visible in the work of Janelle Monae, producer Flying Lotus, and rap duo Shabazz Palaces.

In his conversation with Ben Bush for the Organist, Chude-Sokei emphasizes the emerging field’s pre-20th century roots as well as non-US aspects that have until now fallen outside the critical paradigm related to Afrofuturism—from PT Barnum’s black cyborg to the metaphysical echo of instrumental dub reggae.  

Links:
A playlist based on songs discussed in this episode (and in The Sound of Culture) 

Louis Chude-Sokei on Joice Heth, PT Barnum’s black cyborg

Bina48 on the Organist

Video trailer


Credits:
Interview by Ben Bush.
Produced by Mickey Capper.

Jul 08 2016
1 hour
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Rank #6: Episode 51: Orson on Wonderland

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Robert Kensinger moved to L.A. in the late 70's. He was hoping to make it as a film director after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. He stumbled into a job as a personal assistant to the legendary actor, writer, and director Orson Welles. Kensinger worked for Welles off and on for several years before he left to write scripts for indie producer Roger Corman. Then he carved out a long career as a set decorator on many studio films.

People tend to think of Orson Welles as inactive or diminished during those final years – living off Laurel Canyon on Wonderland Avenue, earning a living starring in wine commercials and making the rounds of TV talk shows. But Kensinger remembers the director of Citizen Kane as vital and alive, working hard as ever on projects including his last film, The Other Side of the Wind. It remains unfinished to this day.

Today's Organist features Bob Kensinger, remembering Orson on Wonderland.

Produced by Gideon Brower and Kristine McKenna. Edited by Nick White. Mixing assistance by Mario Diaz.


Still from a TV magic show pilot Welles shot,
in which Bob Kensinger appears as a waiter.


Documents from Bob Kensinger's tenure as Welles's assistant,
including shopping lists and a personal note.
Originally appeared in Grand Street.


Screen grab from Orson Welles's appearances in
Paul Masson Wine TV spots from the early 80's


Screen grab from Orson Welles's appearances in
Paul Masson Wine TV spots from the early 80's

Sep 25 2015
1 hour
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Rank #7: Episode 67: The Scientific Method of the Ramones

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Adam Colman examines the brutalist yearning of legendary punk band the Ramones and uncovers the rigorous curiosity that serves as the guiding principle for the scientific method. Then, Ross Simonini talks to musician and writer Sonny Smith (Sonny and the Sunsets) about his new album, "Moods Baby Moods." Smith performs two songs from the album, describes how he is able to use drawings and comics to write songs (and vice versa), and laments the modern age.

Photo credit: Flashback 

Jun 17 2016
1 hour
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Rank #8: Episode 45: An Interview with Miranda July

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The wildly, diversely prolific artist Miranda July discusses her earliest, rarely seen punk plays, her radio work in the 90s, and her brand-new novel. CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE.

Banner Image Credit: Miranda July

Feb 03 2015
1 hour
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Rank #9: Episode 23: The Glottal Break

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This week's show features an interview with composer and singer, Meredith Monk, who holds the 2014-2015 Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall. For 50 years, Monk has created music that bends the limits of the human voice, much of it connected to her own films, dance, opera, and site-specific performances. The Organist's executive producer, Ross Simonini interviews her about Buddhism, her early days in New York, and her wide array of curious vocal techniques.

CREDITS This week's show was produced by Ross Simonini, with Jenna Weiss-Berman, and Andrew Leland. Banner Image: Meredith Monk

Jul 15 2014
1 hour
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Rank #10: Episode 72: Baptism of Solitude: Paul Bowles's Morocco Tapes

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The novelist and countercultural icon Paul Bowles -- author of The Sheltering Sky, friend to William Burroughs, Gertrude Stein, and Tennessee Williams, and husband of the brilliant writer Jane Bowles -- lived in Tangier from 1947 until his death fifty-two years later. In 1959, he received a grant from the Library of Congress to “preserve” the music of Morocco. He set off in a VW bug (with his two driving companions, a Moroccan and a Canadian), laden with a massive Ampex tape recorder, bottles of hot Pepsi, and a pound of hashish. These remarkable recordings have long been unavailable, but last year, the label Dust-to-Digital released them as a deluxe box set. The Organist asked the writer Brian Edwards to listen to the tapes, and to tell Bowles’s remarkable story. Brian went through hours of recordings dozens of times, and sent back this report, which raises important questions about the problems— artistic, technical, and of course ethical — of recording a music you love in a country that’s not your own.

Produced by Myke Dodge Weiskopf
Written by Brian T. Edwards


Bowles Marakesh — Credit: Courtesy Allen Ginsberg Estate / Dust-to-Digital


Bowles-older — Credit: Courtesy Irene Herrmann / Dust-to-Digital


Paul Bowles on street-Tangier, June 1955 — Credit: Courtesy Dust-to-Digital


Line of singers w Qraqab cymbals 1 drum — Credit: Courtesy Dust-to-Digital / Library of Congress


Double horn group by building — Credit: Courtesy Dust-to-Digital / Library of Congress


Musicians in front-men with guns behind — Credit: Courtesy Dust-to-Digital / Library of Congress


Foothills-figure by fortress — Credit: Courtesy Dust-to-Digital / Library of Congress


VW bug along mtn road with small group — Credit: Courtesy Dust-to-Digital / Library of Congress


Bowles squatting by wall


Loc-Map — hand-drawn map by Paul Bowles, showing his itinerary through Morocco in 1959, aboard a VW Beetle, filled with recording equipment, supplies, and recording team — Credit: Courtesy Dust-to-Digital / Library of Congress


Bowles against tapestry — Credit: Courtesy Dust-to-Digital


Tangier Group (burroughs, bowles, ginsberg) — Credit: Courtesy Allen Ginsberg Estate / Dust-to-Digital


Sand village and palm trees — Credit: Courtesy Dust-to-Digital


Music in this episode is from Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959.

The Organist’s theme music is by Barry London of Oneida.

Feb 09 2017
29 mins
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Rank #11: Episode 66: Toward an Architectural Theory of Hugs

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Craig Dykers is a founding partner of Snøhetta, whose projects include the expansion of San Francisco’s Modern Art museum, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, and the redesign of Times Square. In these projects and others, Dykers and his team contend with an invisible challenge all architects must face: acoustics. In his conversation with the Organist, Dykers argues that proper acoustics can lower your blood pressure, speed up or slow down your movement through a space, and even encourage gentle smooching.

Jun 03 2016
1 hour
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Rank #12: Episode 31: Thundershirt

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To celebrate the release of Lena Dunham's new book Not That Kind of Girl, out this week, we're re-airing a conversation recorded last year between Lena and Judy Blume.

To order Lena's book, go here: http://lenadunham.com/

Banner Image: Lena Dunham & Judy Blume. Photo by Jenna Weiss-Berman.

CREDITS Produced by Jenna Weiss-Berman, Ross Simonini and Andrew Leland. Thanks to Gary Scott, Jenny Radelet, Melissa Morton, Mario Diaz and Monika Scott.

Sep 30 2014
1 hour
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Rank #13: Episode 36: Aural Fixation

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Ilse Blansert (aka The Waterwhispers on YouTube) discusses her experiences with ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, a curious, little understood physiological reaction to gentle sounds or "triggers" that provide relief from stress and insomnia. The videos of Blansert and her peers are hugely popular on YouTube and have helped to create a wide, digital community who can now sleep soundly as tingles dance up their spines.

Nov 25 2014
1 hour
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Rank #14: Episode 56: Pop Philosophy

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After more than two dozen books ranging from the history of philosophy to David Bowie, Simon Critchley has written his first novel, which connects the Renaissance mnemonic device called memory palace to, among other things, pop songs. For The Organist, Critchley provides a guided tour through the pop music that constructs his life’s memories, offering reflections on Nietzsche, krautrock, Obama, and Swedish synth-pop along the way.

Dec 11 2015
1 hour
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Rank #15: Episode 4: Richard, the Angel of Death

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Episode Four of the Organist features James Franco performing a new radio drama by the playwright Will Eno; plus, Jonathan Coulton v. Glee; Tao Lin; a (Tao-Lin-related) rap battle between Kitty and Kool A.D.; Nick Cave's horsey soundsuits; vegetarian psych cults from the 70's; more!

Host: Andrew Leland
Executive Producer: Ross Simonini
Associate Producer: Jenna Weiss-Berman
Engineering: Mario Diaz
Writer: Matthew Derby
Thanks, too, to everyone at the Believer, McSweeney's, and KCRW.

May 03 2013
57 mins
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Rank #16: The Voice is a Thief

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Will Marlon Brando’s anguished shout from A Streetcar Named Desire survive as a cultural meme long after Brando himself is forgotten? Will the Stella scream become an enduring cultural reference in the vein of Shakespeare’s quotations? In 2011, essayist Elena Passarello won New Orleans’ annual Stella scream competition by channelling Brando’s abject bawling. This week we speak with her about screams, cries, and the full range of the human voice. How does the body play into the sound of our voice? Is it possible to hear a broken foot bone when a performer speaks or sings? As interviewer Niela Orr puts it, “Passarello’s essays are what would happen if Joan Didion wrote captions for VH1's Pop-Up Video.” Passarello’s work explores the physical and cultural aspects of the human voice and how they might be connected. Our discussion encompasses vocality from opera, Flavor Flav, and James Brown, as well as automated voices, such as the classic Bell telephone operator, the voice of the Moviefone hotline, and contemporary AI, including Alexa and Siri—and how these automated voices mimic accents and human confusion. You’ll also hear Passarello’s rendition of how Koko, the gorilla with a lexicon of 1000 signs, tells the legendarily dirty vaudeville joke “The Aristocrats.”

You’ll also hear fiction from Chelsea Martin on attempts to woo an estranged ex—written in the form of a review of The Organist podcast itself.

Special thanks to Mickey Capper and Sidewalks podcast for the use of “Someone like Baby.”

Produced by Jenny Ament and Niela Orr.

Jun 08 2017
29 mins
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Rank #17: Episode 73: What We Talk about When We Talk about Two Bears High-Fiving

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In 1921, the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach, after years of experimenting with different ways to use his artistic interests to expand the potential of psychoanalysis, created a series of inkblot drawings that reveal the unconscious mechanisms of a patient’s brain. Six months later, he died, just before the inkblot test became an international phenomenon. Since then, Rorschach’s inkblot test has become pop-cultural shorthand for both Freudian psychology and the depths of the human mind. It has become an inescapable reference in art, film and journalism. Damion Searls, author of the first-ever biography of Rorschach, explains how our application and understanding of the test diverge from Rorschach’s intentions.

In this episode, you’ll also find Organist fan fiction from author Elizabeth McKenzie, a “verbal selfie” from Casey Jane Ellison, and the winner of the Sarah Awards’ Very Very Short Short Audio Fiction contest.


Hermann holding daughter Lisa, 1918.


Hermann in his office in the Herisau apartment, cigarette in hand, 1920.


Hermann, Lisa, Wadim, summer 1921.


Rorschach age 6, in Swiss folk costume, 1819.


Rorschach early inkblot.


Rorschach notes on printers proof.


Rorschach on a hiking trip in the Santis, September 1918.


Rorschach rowing on Lake Constance, CA. 1920.


Roschach dressed in wizard costume.


Soldiers looking at inkblot.


Wedding Photo, May 1, 1910.

Pictures credit: Archiv und Sammlung Hermann Rorschach, University Library of Bern.

Feb 23 2017
27 mins
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Rank #18: Episode 5: Tempest Storm and Andy Kaufman

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The July episode of the Organist features Jack White in conversation with the oldest working burlesque dancer in the world, Tempest Storm. It's part of Third Man Record's Green Series

Also, never-released cassette recordings by comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufman. Drag City is releasing the recordings as an LP/CD called "Andy and his Grandmother."

Plus, Harmony Korine, a skit from the comedy troupe Sunset Television, sonic warfare against beetles, and more.

Jul 05 2013
46 mins
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Rank #19: The Mother Road

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Note: this episode contains salty and/or strong language. Listener discretion is advised.

Anne Thompson rented a billboard along Interstate 70 in Missouri to put up an artwork that says “Keep Abortion Legal.” Anne runs the I-70 Sign Show, a project that, since 2014, has displayed the work of artists including Ed Ruscha, Marilyn Minter, and Mickalene Thomas along a stretch of highway that runs across the state of Missouri. Though Anne wasn’t initially interested in addressing politics through the project, all of that changed after the election. The I-70 Sign Show’s billboards often collide with their setting in unexpected ways, and it’s not uncommon for billboards to be defaced. Will the “Keep Abortion Legal” billboard, originally designed by artist Aleksandra Mir, be riddled with bullets by the time it’s replaced by a discount boots sign?

Also, we occasionally get some complaints about our show, like this one which was recently posted on our Apple Podcasts page from J. Robert Lennon. Lennon is the author of two story collections and eight novels, including Mailman, Familiar, and Broken River. On this episode, he reads his review.

Below you’ll find a slideshow of billboards from Anne Thompson’s I-70 Sign Show project. We’ve also included a bunch of other non-art billboards, Anne Thompson’s favorites from along I-70.

Produced by Bram Sable-Smith.


Aleksandra Mir, "Keep Abortion Legal," 
June-July 2017 View of installation at I-70 West mile 101, 
near Boonville (Credit: Matt Rahner for the I-70 Sign Show)


Commercial billboard, I-70, Missouri.


Jeff Gibson, "Armagarden," 
2015  On main billboard, in Hatton, Missouri, 
December 2015–February 2016 (courtesy of Anne Thompson / I-70 Sign Show)


Commercial billboard, I-70, Missouri.


Karl Haendel, "Plow Pose," 2015
On main billboard March–May 2015 
(courtesy of Anne Thompson / I-70 Sign Show)


Commercial billboard, I-70, Missouri.

Visit I-70 Sign Show’s website to see art billboards from Marilyn Minter, Ed Ruscha, Ryan McGinness, and others.

Jul 27 2017
25 mins
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Rank #20: The Dogfather

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This week we bring you dogs, many of them. So many dogs that you can’t possibly scratch the soft fur behind all of their ears or gently caress the scruff of all of their necks or pat all of their bellies when they climb onto your lap and roll over prone for your affection. To investigate the connection between humans and canis familiaris, we talk with acclaimed character actor Bob Balaban, who you’ve seen in dozens of movies and TV shows including Best in Show, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Midnight Cowboy, Seinfeld, Waiting for Guffman, Capote, and Moonrise Kingdom. You also might have heard him as the voice of King in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. When he’s not acting in dog-related films, Balaban is also the author of a series of children’s books about McGrowl, a courageous, bionic dog.

We also talk with André Alexis, author of the novel Fifteen Dogs. Alexis got his start as a novelist while dog-sitting eleven huskies in rural Canada. As he sat at his desk trying to write, Alexis also tried to learn the dogs’ language. Could he howl so that they believed he was one of them? And what would the moral consequences of that howling be?

This episode also features a short, absurdist radio fiction by Graham Mason in which you, the listener, encounter a highly skilled dog masseuse whose dog-petting prowess will drive a wedge between you and your dog forever.

Jan 10 2019
23 mins
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