Cover image of Open Source with Christopher Lydon
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Arts

Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Updated 12 days ago

Arts
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Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics

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Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics

iTunes Ratings

836 Ratings
Average Ratings
488
322
10
4
12

The best radio/podcast

By goodems - Jun 23 2018
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Christopher Lydon is keeping me sane.

Simply the best interviewer in America

By ahab's ghost - Jun 13 2017
Read more
Chris Lydon is a national treasure. Nuf said.

iTunes Ratings

836 Ratings
Average Ratings
488
322
10
4
12

The best radio/podcast

By goodems - Jun 23 2018
Read more
Christopher Lydon is keeping me sane.

Simply the best interviewer in America

By ahab's ghost - Jun 13 2017
Read more
Chris Lydon is a national treasure. Nuf said.
Cover image of Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Updated 12 days ago

Read more

Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics

Tom Reney’s Discs for a Desert Island

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The jazz DJ Tom Reney has been telling people for 40 years about the true American art form. This hour he’s telling people about himself for a change: the inner life of a taste-maker, in the fool-proof form of the BBC’s longest-running radio innovation, Desert Island Discs. The premise is simple enough: that the music you can’t live without is a sort of truth serum: talk about eight tracks of songs or symphonies you’d take to your desert island if you weren’t coming back, and you’ll have told us who you are. Tom Reney, it turns out, is an evangelist on the theme that the vast variety of black music, blues music, out of jazz joints and church is the bright spiritual, awe-inspired thread through his own American life.

Tom Reney, off to his desert island, with Chris.

Tom Reney was supposed to inherit the family civil engineering business, until he found his life in the basement joints of Worcester, Massachusetts, and in blues music at large. The sounds that unlock Tom Reney had hometown names like Boots Mussuli and Jacki Byard, then Muddy Waters and Aretha Franklin. When Duke Ellington, the great orchestrator of the blues, stepped in, playing at a hospital fundraiser near Worcester, there was no going back.

Here’s the full list of Tom Reney’s eight essential discs:

  1. Duke Ellington: Jeep’s Blues

2) Louis Armstrong: Stardust

3) Muddy Waters: Long Distance Call

4) Aretha Franklin: Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)

5) J.S. Bach: Italian Concerto (the link below is just to the third movement)

6) Charles Mingus: Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

7) Dennis Brennan: Feel Like Going Home

8) John Coltrane: Impressions

The post Tom Reney’s Discs for a Desert Island appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Aug 23 2019
49 mins
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Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity!

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Herman Melville, at his 200th birthday, is the American Shakespeare if only for his epic prose poem Moby Dick, or The Whale. That’s Maximum Melville; we’re celebrating, instead, his short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” It’s the perfect miniature of the same genius: the story of a rebel clerk on Wall Street. It opens with hints of comedy; it ends in tragedy and still today, it’s a mystery. “I would prefer not to” is Bartleby’s signature line, turning down office assignments. It’s almost all he can say, but where are those five words of refusal coming from? And for whom is this Bartleby speaking?

Herman Melville.

“I would prefer not to” is Bartleby’s slogan—as familiar on Herman Melville T-shirts as the words that open Melville’s Moby-Dick: “Call me Ishmael.” But how different is the short story, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” from the great American novel—except that they’re both perfect Melville, in his 200th-birthday season. Bartleby appeared two years after Moby-Dick, in 1853, from Melville, who was still young at 34. It’s 30 pages instead of 600, far removed from the high seas, and more nearly manageable in one radio hour. Bartleby is a cadaverous and solitary young copyist (pre-Xerox machines) in a claustrophobic Wall Street law office. He’s the white-collar drone who opts out, refusing orders. Meaning what? Do we take him as a victim of class oppression, or a figure of extreme and individual depression? We’re open to the argument this hour that Bartleby stands for black America in the nineteenth century, and also he’s modeling a way out of social media and the commercial capture of our attention, and also that he spoke for Melville himself, a prophetic artist facing the futility of his writing vocation which would bring him almost nothing in the way of money, praise, or readership in his lifetime.

The post Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity! appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Aug 16 2019
50 mins
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Tarantino’s 9th

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Spoiler alert! (Really.) The big movie to reckon with this summer may be as much about the mood of 2019 as about the Helter-Skelter 1960s. It’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s ninth big film, with a surprise streak of fantasy and mercy in it. He’s revising the course of events of 50 summers ago, when a revolutionary tension in the Los Angeles dream factory broke, or got broken into, by the murderous Manson family, when the beautiful and pregnant Sharon Tate and four more got slaughtered. Joan Didion in a famous essay at the time marked it the end of the Sixties, the crash of peace and love. Tarantino’s had time to re-imagine it as an actor’s story—many shades of manhood and morality in an air of everyday madness.

Quentin Tarantino.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is many things, but let’s start with two. First, it’s a meticulous reconstruction of Los Angeles in the 1960s—sunlight angling through smog, the game faces of white guys, their lingo, their cars, and car radios, their hair, their self-pity—all at the moment of the Manson murders in Benedict Canyon: August 9, 1969. At the same time the movie’s a flight of fancy into an alternative ending for a horror story, yet another take on violence from the bloody-minded moralist Tarantino. Back in 1969, a “demented and seductive vortex of tension was building” in Hollywood, Didion wrote: “the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full.” And when the shocking news of midnight murder in the hills was confirmed, what she remembered—and wished she didn’t—was that “no one was surprised.” There’s the context of 1969 in which Quentin Tarantino has placed his own invention, a buddy flick with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt cast as a downwardly mobile actor and his stunt-man sidekick. There’s propulsive energy and fun in this movie, and a strange beauty, too.

The post Tarantino’s 9th appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Aug 09 2019
50 mins
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A Politics of Love

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It’s been Marianne Williamson’s week in the presidential campaign, by the new metrics of Tweets (running less and less snarky), and Google searches asking who is this ageless New Ager, this fount of love and toughness, with the fey voice that can whisper and roar about reparations for slavery, for instance, and about the “insane” (her word) talk of war with Iran. Who she is, not least, is a cultural wave splashing down on parched political ground: an All-American mix of un-churched religion, self-help for healing, mind-over-matter spirituality, the cadences of afternoon television, and especially Oprah Winfrey’s soulful conversations that made Williamson a best-seller 25 years ago. 

Marianne Williamson, on the Colbert late-night comedy show, went dead-serious at the professional Democrats who take her for an amateur at what they do. “I’m sorry, Stephen,” she said. “They’re an amateur at what I can do.” Which is to say: to speak plain and eloquent American language about the miserable public mood we’re all in.

The post A Politics of Love appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Aug 02 2019
50 mins
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Fuhgedaboutit

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“You must remember this,” the songwriter said, but is it ever that simple? Same for all the admonitions: never to forget. Really, never? Lewis Hyde is back, the wisdom-writer and provocateur, to wonder if we’ve missed the point about memory and forgetting. They’re not opposites, after all, but powers of mind that work in combination, around Civil War history or a failed marriage. Peace of mind comes when people remember the past so carefully they can forget about it. “Unforgotten,” often as not, describes wounds, unpaid bills, grievances crying out to be squared, then let go. “Getting past the past,” Lewis Hyde says, begins with Truth: knowing what happened. Then Justice, meaning right punishment—reparations, if possible. Then Apology, and Forgiveness.

A Brewer, Maine, monument to Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Union officer in the Civil War and a governor of Maine).

Irish Alzheimer’s, in the old joke, is ascribed to people who can’t remember anything but their grudges. It’s a sort of kernel of Lewis Hyde’s new and ecstatic survey of our ancient fascination with memory and forgetting. The new book from this prized writer is A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past. Memory and Forgetting are a fluid pair, it turns out, twin capacities, not opposites, and usually not a contradiction. [The aphorism that leads Lewis Hyde’s long list is this: “Every act of memory is an act of forgetting.”] The issue between the two is when to let go. Some parts of our past—individual and communal—need to be remembered so they can be forgotten. Others need to be forgotten so they can reappear, unbidden, whole and possibly healed. This bears on the scars of childhood trauma and on what to do with all those statues of Confederate generals standing tall across the American South. Lewis Hyde composed this book from years of notes, as a thought experiment. He wanted to nominate places where forgetting is better than remembering.

The post Fuhgedaboutit appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jul 26 2019
50 mins
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Middlemarch at the Beach

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Middlemarch, a novel by the woman who gave herself a man’s by-line, “George Eliot,” may be the most honored masterpiece you’ve been avoiding all your life. Here’s the point: read it this summer. You’re ready to love Middlemarch if you second-guess marriages, like your own; second-marriages, too. You’re ready to read Middlemarch if you want to feel epic striving in a heroine, yearning for nobility of spirit in a pretty ordinary province of England around 1830. You’re ready to read Middlemarch if you want to feel force and beauty in an artist’s process in fiction, step by step, as she writes it. You’re ready to read Middlemarch if you want to test Henry James’s famous premise that the art of the best fiction “makes life, makes interest, makes importance.”

George Eliot.

For high beach-reading season, here’s the one-hour case for Middlemarch – some say the best of all English novels, the furthest from Twitter-speak: as invented a universe as Star Wars, inside a Jane Austen period piece. But Middlemarch becomes a pulsing, bickering, blooming world, and you’ll swear you’re inside it, in real time. It’s an animated tapestry of a smallish English city around 1830; a living web of human foibles, temperaments, longings, and lapses, two strikingly bad marriages before our eyes, and two great ones. Middlemarch is the rare instance of fiction that could improve your life and could frame your own lifetime as a novel. 

The post Middlemarch at the Beach appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jul 19 2019
50 mins
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Casino Capital

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Casino gambling makes an odd fit with old bean-and-codfish Boston, even with Boston today: the best big college town in the country, the leading edge of genomic medicine, the home address of sports champions and Red Sox Nation. And now it’s the home of Encore Boston Harbor, in the Steve Wynn chain of casino resorts. It’s an odd fit with the whole country, when you think about it: the licensed elevation of what used to be forbidden, isolated, mob-ridden.

We talked to the novelist Joshua Cohen to try to get a handle on all this. Cohen is from Atlantic City, and he spoke to us from that industry town about growing up among the casinos. He’s full of startling, tragic, funny insights into the casino business, an industry that’s increasingly moving into American cities beyond Vegas and Cohen’s hometown.

Joshua Cohen. Credit: Marion Ettlinger.

The first full-service gambling palace has been built in Boston, that old American cultural capital. It’s a giant leap for the very idea of gambling, where, as George Bernard Shaw said, “the many must lose in order that the few may win.” It’s not just a casino but a “world above,” it advertises: 600 5-star hotel rooms over thousands of card games and slot machines.  It’s the biggest single private development in 400 years of Massachusetts; with $77 million tossed in to clean up a stinking old Monsanto chemical dump. This hour we’re sharing the welcome we got at Encore Boston Harbor, and then the puzzlement about where it leads.  

The post Casino Capital appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jul 12 2019
50 mins
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Adventures in D Flat

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Composer Matt Aucoin stands for the proposition that the kid playing baseball next door in Medfield, Massachusetts, can grow up to be all music, all the time: mind, heart, spirit, to his fingertips. He remembers finding himself at a crossroads at age 6. Already he was shockingly good at playing the Bach and Mozart piano pieces, but so what? The point, for him, was not to master the instrument, but rather “to make stuff up.” He’s done both, in fact, but the legend of Matt Aucoin is built around the range and depth of that stuff he’s inventing (like the grand opera underway for the Metropolitan Opera, no less). And he can tell you how he does it.

Ask him where his music comes from, and Matt Aucoin might say it’s a version of space exploration. In the next breath it’s hide-and-seek among invisible sub-particles of music. Or he’ll say: making music has always been a game of “if – then.” Pick one note; that’s your “if,” now find its “then” and make it your new “if.” Let the energy inside musical elements take you where you’re going. Matt Aucoin, still in his 20s, has been anointed for the range of his output; for re-voicing Walt Whitman in the hellish field hospitals of our Civil War; for another opera-in-progress on Eurydice in the underworld of Greek mythology; for acing a MacArthur genius grant last year; also, for his chamber and piano pieces; for his conducting, too, and his poetry.  And then there’s his gift for gab. He’s playing and talking his way this hour through a new piece for piano and violin, before a full house in the CitySpace event room at WBUR.

The post Adventures in D Flat appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jul 04 2019
50 mins
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Africa, Maine

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Migrants from the Congo and Angola, by way of Texas, stepping off buses in Portland, Maine, by the hundreds, taking shelter and sleeping on cots on a hardwood floor built for professional basketball? You’ve seen or heard the news, and you’ve felt the reflexes that come with it. On Fox News, Africans coming to Maine can sound like an invasion; on public radio, people say, it can sound like a sob story. Is this immigration politics at play: somebody in Washington taking revenge on refugees and the shelter cities that would embrace them? For sure it’s a preview of the mobile twenty-first century: a global flow of humanity driven north to green trees and high ground by heat, drought, war, and poverty.

You don’t see what you hear, as the lady told us. We went to Portland, Maine, this week to meet newcomers from Central Africa, Angolans and Congolese asking for U.S. asylum. Fox News hit the panic button two weeks ago: their line was that Maine is being overrun, inundated by African migrants. On a long day in Portland, however, we found nobody sounding scared. Around the pro basketball arena where the asylum seekers are quartered, the air is one of quiet elation.

The post Africa, Maine appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jun 28 2019
50 mins
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23 and You

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The Democratic debates are going to feel like a long weekend with the whole extended family: grandfather figures banging the table, no-nonsense women in the clan taking the old guys to task; up-start kids you never met before demanding respect for their issues, too. The crowded format matches the lightning strikes in the age of social media: each of 20 candidates will hope to get ten minutes of talk and face time in these 2-hour bouts. But it begins to look less like a demolition derby than a board meeting, spanning Vermont to Hawaii, in search of a new center of gravity for a party that’s got to get it right this time—on climate, for example, and inequality, and the forever war.

In the Democratic debates starting Tuesday, we’ll be looking at a wide-angle portrait of a political class in recovery. It’s an astonishingly big field of 20-plus candidates—23 and you, we’re calling them. 23 varieties of the how-I-got-here immigrant story, from 14 states of the union. Seven candidates have served in the U.S. Senate; one in the Vice President’s office; six are women. The 58-year-old mayor of New York City is trailing the 38-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Before these Democrats debate, our guests this hour are speaking to all of them.

The post 23 and You appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jun 21 2019
49 mins
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