Five Podcasts that Will Make You Hipper, Happier, and Hoppier


I listen to podcasts on my iPhone or an old Galaxy Android or on an old Asus Windows phone or on my Amazon Echo.  I have an hour commute each way to my teaching gig so I have a lot of time to listen.  I, also, listen while I do repetitive work (dishes, laundry, walking my fields, feeing the sheep, etc.). I take time and I make time for podcasts. Why?

First, they are exciting.  Many smart folk are using podcasts as their creative medium of choice and that means there are some amazing sonic deeds being done. Second, I learn an astonishing amount from the whole process of finding, curating, and tracking down new stuff to explore especially if there are transcripts and show notes for those podcasts. Third, a good podcast can be inspiring.

Here are a few that are in heavy rotation on my app of choice, Pocket Casts.  Visit that link and get it in iOS or Android. It costs a little, but it really does the job.

Reply All

I turned on my notifications for Pocket Casts just to make sure I knew when the newest episode was coming out. That should tell you something because I hate notifications.  Informative, idiosyncratic, intriguing, all those ‘ins’ and more, Reply All is a real peak into current social trends and news.  Their early coverage of PizzaGate was spot on and very helpful for an un-hepcat like me.  They have show notes and transcripts. Boss podcast.


With only two episodes out of the starting gate, Intercepted is now a must listen political podcast for me.  This is the child of one of my favorite political news sources, The Intercept.  Jeremy Scahill, one its founders (along with Betsy Reed and Glenn Greenwald), hosts and uses his serious interview chops to fine effect especially in the inaugural podcast when he questions Seymour Hersch. The site is visually a winner, lots of white space and user friendly navigation and access to social media. It has show notes and transcripts as well.  I found the work of Immortal Technique here and was able to use it in talking about didactic poetry in my Intro to Lit class.

All in the Mind

A good podcast will take you many good and useful and surprising places. This Australian Broadcasting Corporation podcast has lots of traditional production values (something I don’t think is sufficient for a good podcast) and superior content and storytelling.  If you want a really excellent introduction to  what I am referring to, then listen to “The Ghost in My Brain”.  I think science podcasts like these really can change people’s lives.  In this case if you have ever had a concussion that was life changing, this one might give you hope for recovery.  Transcipts, links, and show notes.  Superior.

Chapo Trap House

Warning:  this may be an acquired taste, but if you like your podcasts with high Scoville counts, then have a listen.  Now, how to describe this.  Imagine, if you will, a group of young men and women who have played role playing games off and on since they were pre-teens. Imagine they stayed together as friends, and imagine they got together to ‘play’ at the political questions of our times…but with the same irreverence and low falutin’ humor of those role playing games.

I get more gut laughs listening to this and learning new derogatory terms for the political morons running our grand experiment into the swamp, than even from Monty Python. For example, “maga chuds”. (You gotta listen to learn what it means.)

My favorite episode so far (and they have quite a back catalog that I haven’t listened to yet) is the treatment they give to D’nesh D’Souza’s and his hideous scab of a movie about Hilary Clinton. The podcast reminds of how director John Landis had the boys trash the mall in one of the egregious chase scenes in  “The Blues Brothers.”.

No transcripts. I don’t even know how this rapid fire dialogue could be made into one without driving the transcriber mad. No show notes.  So this breaks the rules, but I think it is supposed to. Bon appetit.

Song Exploder

There are no bad episodes.  Even if I don’t like the songs being ‘exploded’, I end up appreciating them before host Hrishikesh Hirway finishes with them.  The high concept here that the more we know about a song from its creators, the more we appreciate its construction, the greater the song becomes for us.  I concur.

For example, I really do not like Carly Rae Jepson’s…pop stylings, but Hirway does great work in turning me 180 degrees about her song, “When I Needed You”. Made me realize how much she channels Cyndi Lauper…and that’s OK.

What Hirway does with the tUnE-yArDs‘ song “Water Fountain” is luminous.  I rarely re-listen to podcasts but this one and the one by The Lumineers’, “Ophelia”, I have listened to half a dozen times each.

I will leave you with “Ophelia”. Be inspired.

Head Down on the Rail, Eyes Closed

Responding to a Facebook post I got a vision:

I have my head down
listening on the rail,
listening for the train a-comin’,
but I have my eyes
It’s coming,
damnit it’s coming,
listen to the train,
listen to the track,
why won’t I



Here is the post, another version of that vision.

and my response:

History is perfect hindsight, but I guarantee you that
America’s Fascism, Inc. will look way different than the Third Reich’s did. It will come perhaps as a new version of the Civilian Conservation Corps, doing infrastructure work, providing a paycheck, getting folks thinking that maybe we Americans can at least do good and have a job and a purpose. Then we will start to sing songs together and then we wear uniforms as we sing our songs and then…well, like I said it will probably not be exactly that or even close to that, but we better damned well be watching with one eye cast out as we put an ear to the railroad tracks. There will be no blast of warning from that train that bears down upon us all.

And here are the two songs competing in my soul as I carry on down my blind road: Dylan’s “Slow Train Runnin'” and Warren Zevon’s “Nighttime in the Switchin’ Yard”.

Slow Train Coming – Bob Dylan from summer soul channel on Vimeo.



Listen to the train,

listen to the track,

Listen to the train,

listen to the track.

Listen to the train,

listen to the track.



Chain of Sorrow: a Life Rope not a Noose

Last night my family and I went to see John Prine at the Palace in Louisville. We got stuck back with the wheelchairs and the drunken nutjobs. Laughed my ass off all night long.  It is a given that live music is always better, but for Prine this is exponentially true.

I first saw him in Louisville on the U of Louisville campus in their funky little drunken brawl of a venue, The Red Barn, and he sang all the stuff that would become his debut album. He ran out of material and people wouldn’t let him leave the stage until he sang three encores. Then I saw him again at the Armory in Louisville about five years later when his partner in crime, Steve Goodman, was still living and rocked the damned house.  And then last night.  I done growed up with Prine.  He has been one of those creative rocks that has been an emotional anchor against the day by day horrors that elicit our barbaric yawps of anger like the recent shitstorm of an election.

Last night was no different.  One song, “Chain of Sorrow”,was a life rope. Surely it was intentional, an anodyne for the election.  He didn’t say so, but it was pretty obvious.  Here it is for you, too.  Listen to the song and sing the lyrics below and see if you don’t feel better afterwards.  The song arose from tragedy but asks us to grow stronger out and through the pain.

Chain of Sorrow

My heart’s in the ice house come hill or come valley
Like a long ago sunday when I walked through the alley
On a cold winter’s morning to a church house
Just to shovel some snow.

I heard sirens on the train track howl naked gettin’ nuder,
An altar boy’s been hit by a local commuter
Just from walking with his back turned
To the train that was coming so slow.

You can gaze out the window get mad and get madder,
Throw your hands in the air, say “what does it matter?”
But it don’t do no good to get angry,
So help me I know

For a heart strained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow.

I been brought down to zero, pulled out and put back there.
I sat on a park bench, kissed the girl with black hair
And my head shouted down to my heart
“You better look out below!”
Hey, it ain’t such a long drop don’t stammer don’t stutter
From the diamonds in the sidewalk to the dirt in the gutter
And you carry those bruises to remind you wherever you go.

You can gaze out the window get mad and get madder,
Throw your hands in the air, say “what does it matter?”
But it don’t do no good to get angry,
So help me I know

For a heart strained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow

Written by John Prine • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management US, LLC