Jesse Thorn's blog

The American Song Poem


Loyal listeners who recall our Holiday show may remember Song Poems. They're kind of an amazing phenomenon. Here's the deal.

Hucksters placed ads in the back of general interest magazines (like Life) saying that major music publishers were looking for lyricists. You could send your sample lyrics to a certain address, and they would be evaluated by trained professionals to see if you had talent. Folks would do this, and of course, anyone who sent something was automatically deemed to "have talent." The people who placed the ads would write back, saying that if the consumer would pay for the cost of recording, they would have trained musicians write a song to the lyrics, record it, and distribute it to song publishers.

What's interesting about this scam was that the "record companies" would actually write and record the songs, and in many cases they were shockingly competent. The drug-addled folks behind the music would record dozens of songs a day. The combination of the bizarre amateur lyrics and compelling pop arrangements thereof is solid gold.

Right now, Everything's Surreal has the anthology pictured above up for download. You can also learn more about Song Poems from this wonderful This American Life story on the topic by the son of the greatest practitioner of the form, Rodd Keith (realaudio), or by checking out The American Song-Poem Archive.

How to Write Comedy


Well, not exactly, but David Cross sat down with Neal Brennan (Chappelle's Show) and David Wain & Michael Schowalter (Stella) to talk about writing comedy at a very expensive event last year in New York. Luckily, Wain is a nice fella, and he scanned the transcript/article that resulted for all of us to read.

Writing Comedy

Stella on The Sound of Young America (MP3 Link)

Thanks to Brian Palmer

Quality Entertainment


The Museum of Television and Radio is one of the world's greatest things, so why wouldn't they have a great blog?

Their "Blog Potato" only offers a couple posts a week, but they're almost always thought-provoking (though I must ask: whither radio?). Today, a thoughtful few paragraphs on the "New Quality Drama"... the 21st century's answer to Hill St. Blues and thirtysomething.

These programs are also distinguished by frequently top-notch writing, which sometimes attracts A-list movie actors and directors looking to make a “quick and dirty” artistic statement. Journalists love to write about these shows, as their preoccupation with the zeitgeist dovetails nicely with any state-of-the-culture pieces that have been assigned by features editors. Their demographics are to die for. They’re smart, stylish, relevant, and I watch them compulsively.

So why do they so often make me want to scream?


Keep It Up: Dick Van Dyke


Lovable wit, irrascible charmer: Dick Van Dyke. KEEP IT UP, DICK VAN DYKE!

Keep It Up: Carrot Juice


My girlfriend says it's good for me, but how is that possible when it is so delicious? And now I can get it at Costco? KEEP IT UP, CARROT JUICE: THE SODA OF HEALTHY DRINKS.

Lebowskifest: Austin


The good folks at Lebowskifest, the wonderful festival dedicated to "The Big Lebowski," have announced their first-ever Fest in Austin, Texas, which I understand is a very hip town. Tickets go on sale March 15th. They just finished their LA Fest, and the original Fest in Louisville is in September. Truly these are men who believe in something.

Hear the founders of LebowskiFest on The Sound of Young America

Indie Rockapella


Sound of Young America listener Nathan Smart wears a lot of hats, but one of the most, uhm, interesting is as the sole proprietor of an outfit called "Indie Rockapella."

Nathan, who has little discernable musical talent, plays MP3s of indie rock tunes into his headphones, then vocalizes each track, one by one. Bass... drums... lead vocals... and so on. At the end, he has a bizarre amalgam of hit indie rock tune and outsider art piece.

Nathan recorded a version of our theme song (MP3 Link), "Maximum Fun," (originally written by Dan Grayson and myself). It is ugly and beautiful at the same time.

If you visit the website of Indie Rockapella, you can hear him singing other tunes: Sufjan Stevens and so forth.

Kudos to Nathan, for following his dreams!

You can also listen to our original version of the theme, at it's full length, or read Nathan's interview with me about video games on his blog Ironic Gamer.

Shoelaces and The New Sincerity


Figuring out and cataloging 16 ways to tie shoelaces is very New Sincerity.

Randy Newman Live in 1977


Get it while it's hot, folks.

Watch for a Randy Newman appreciation post sometime soon.

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