The Voices In My Head

Live from Sixth and I Synagogue, in Washington, D.C.!

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It’s weird to develop relationships with radio personalities. You get to know their voices intimately—inflection, tone, laugh, cough. You decide what they look like. You become terrified that their real faces won’t measure up, or will somehow change everything.

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I hate hearing recordings of my own voice. Fortunately, I avoid microphones and rarely call my own phone through to voicemail, so the audio is easy to avoid. When I do hear myself played back, I don’t like it. Is my voice always that deep, and vaguely androgynous? Why do I say some words with a British cadence, and why hasn’t anyone told me to stop? But most of all—my recorded voice doesn’t sound like me, as I imagine myself to be. It’s disconcerting.

A voice without a face is a strange thing. My favorite radio personalities and podcast hosts are in my head, but disembodied—not fully real. The voices of Ira Glass, John Hodgman and Audie Cornish are, in many ways, more the message they deliver than they are themselves. Depending on who’s speaking, I’m ready to listen quietly, or laugh along, or think very seriously about Syria.

I have spent hundreds of hours listening to NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour’s Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson and Glen Weldon speak, and their pop culture podcast is much more to me than just a group of people, talking about stuff. They are an authoritative bunch that has introduced me to some of my favorite books, movies and TV shows. Their voices—full of warmth and character—command respect, and not a little bit of devotion from the likes of Alison and me.

I attended the most recent live taping of Pop Culture Happy Hour at Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington, D.C. I wish Alison had been with me. I saw Linda, Stephen and Glen in action, and guess what? They have bodies, and very expressive faces, and are actually a little discomfited sitting before hundreds of plaid-and-glasses wearing NPR nerds. They are used to microphones and a studio. We are used to piping them into our brains through ear buds. It was strange for everyone.

Glen was my favorite panelist to observe. He played to us and with us, and made us promise to buy his book. He also spoke about this very phenomenon: the explosive popularity of podcasting in 2014, and the way that the relationship between “disembodied voice” and listener is evolving as a result.

Glen spoke about the intimacy of podcasting—it’s not straight-up news reporting, with all the journalistic rigor and formality that often requires. Podcasts showcase “the rough stuff,” very personal process stories, without time-stamps. Podcasts give the impression of being raw, immediate and unedited. In the moment.

PCHH is still an NPR program, so my feeling is that Linda’s podcast will never sound quite as informal or unfinished as, say, SERIAL. But being physically present with this group hammered home the fact that the voices in my head (the radio ones) aren’t godlike or all-knowing. They’re just people. Telling stories, or being goofy. Or being Sarah Koenig (whatever that means).

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That’s what Alison and I are doing—we’ve got stuff to say, and we’re finding a way to share, whatever that means for us. We’re nothing special—not yet. We expect to be very famous, quite soon.

–Elise

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WELCOME

Welcome to the inaugural post of Pop Cultured, a long-awaited (by us) blog covering books, movies, TV, podcasts – all the entertainment of your dreams! We’re Alison and Elise – friends, former roommates, California natives, lovers of pop culture and the people who drive it. See the About Us tab for carefully selected flattering photos.

We met as freshman at Northwestern University, and then lived together in Chicago for three years. In our Lakeview apartment, many a night was spent on the couch, drinking cheap wine and watching an episode or four of Damages or The West Wing. Sometimes, if Alison was watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or some other serious trash, Elise would bring her computer to the living room and watch something Important, like Deadwood, with her headphones in. It was a very special time. [NOTE: We also had a third roommate, Elizabeth. We thoughtfully edited out a snarky comment about how she’s married now and thus out of our lives, but it turns out she wants her fifteen minutes of fame. Hi Elizabeth!]

About a year and a half ago, Elise moved to San Francisco. Though historically inept at keeping in touch, we’ve maintained a steady stream of texts, gchats, emails (even phone calls!)–mostly about boys, tv, or some combination of the two.

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We both adore Logan Echolls, NPR’s Linda Holmes and the public library.  At one time, these shared passions guided us through the awkward, clumsy introductory phase of our friendship.  Now, critical conversation and spirited (but respectful) disagreements (The Help is unbearable, Top of the Lake is better than True Detective, The Wire is overrated [Note from Alison: I NEVER SAID THAT]) color almost everything we think and write. And, by happy accident, we still really like each other.

We watch a lot of TV and movies, we read a lot of books, and we have a lot of feelings about all of it. Now, it’s time to share.

So pour yourself a glass of Walgreens chardonnay, and stick around.