On Wednesday, June 27, our editor-in-chief Jo Walker is talking the art of conversation as part of the Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne (it’s free, Melburnians, go!). Inspired by this, team Smith put our heads together and came up with a list of some of the most memorable conversations we’ve ever heard on the old wireless. You know, the kinds of conversations that feel like gifts, discoveries, revelations. The ones that sink into your psyche and compel you to bore-to-tears your non-podcasty friends with refrains like - I listened to a podcast about that the other day...
Fellow poddy tragics, you're in good company with us. Here's some more fodder for your lugholes.
Random, surprising and fascinating conversations
You know those chats that make you turn your head and see a bit further beyond your peripheral vision? A kind of cerebral and emotional limbering-up. That’s what these are.
There’s 'The Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air' podcast, nominated by Jo Walker who admitted that although she’s “still mourning” the loss of Wilmore's Nightly Show, she’s been fanging into this podcast. She picked out this conversation with Bradley Whitford from The West Wing because “it's fun to hear 'Josh' talking about current politics”. Plus, it’s basically “two of the most intelligent guys in show biz” talking about what (accidentally or not) ends up being a run of pop culture that Bradley Whitford's been involved in. This convo touches on a lot of the issues of 2018: race, politics, the importance of journalism. And how good Meryl Streep is.
Then there are two from one of ABC’s best listener-journalists, Richard Fidler. In the first, he talks here to German New York Times-bestselling author, novelist and screenwriter Norman Ohler about how Hitler used to, you know, take heroin and methamphetamines to help him fuel the Third Reich. A chat that cracks open a whole new perspective on a historical topic we thought we already knew about.
Then there was the conversation between Fidler and American writer Andrew Solomon about growing up different, and about the people he met through researching his award-winning book Far From the Tree. It’s raw, honest, and makes you think about who we are, what we inherit, and how we make sense of identity, difference and the family ties that bind.
Desert Island Conversations
Talk about cutting to the chase. How better to understand someone from the inside out than through hearing the music that moves them most deeply? First broadcast in 1942, we decided BBC Radio’s iconic Desert Island Discs deserves a category all of its own. The story formula is simple: guests are asked what they’d take on a desert island if they could choose eight tracks, a book and a luxury. We loved the Bruce Springsteen convo, with his honest, unpretentious sharing of “the music that electrified me and galvanised me into changing my life in some way”.
Then there was the chat with acclaimed architect Dame Zaha Hadid who was a guest on the show just a few weeks before she passed away suddenly at the age of 65. "I don't really feel I'm part of the establishment," she said. "I'm not outside, I'm on the kind of edge, I'm dangling there. I quite like it."
Funny conversations – religion, sex and embarrassing habits
‘You Made it Weird’ podcaster Pete Holmes shares belly laughs with comedians, actors, scientists ‘and other weirdos’ for conversations about everything from current affairs to mental health. One of the highlights was his chinwag with actor/producer/writer Mark Duplass which he introduces retrospectively as: “You’re listening to us becoming friends”.
Then there’s ‘By the Way’ hosted by actor Jeff Garlin (known as playing the eternally flustered agent Jeff Greene on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm). One of our top picks was his hilarious interview with his best mate Larry David – it makes you feel a bit like a fly on the wall as they gaffaw, gnaw and chew the fat on a Saturday night.
Conversations that make you think about relationships, power, desire and love
You’ve probably heard about Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel whose relationship counselling podcast ('Where Should we Begin?') asks big questions and plunders taboo narrative territory. In doing that, Perel brings us into one of the most sensitive and vulnerable conversational spaces imaginable, where hard truths and serious insights live. Also – it’s cheaper than actual therapy.
From across the channel, British philosopher and writer Alain de Botton talks love, marriage and why our ideas about romance can seriously mess with us having real relationships.
Two conversations about survival, resilience and what it’s like to be raised by an insane person
Radio National's Lynne Malcolm talks with French psychotherapist Maude Julien who survived her megalomaniac father’s bizarre project: to raise her to be superhuman. It made us gasp and cry and wonder.
In a similar vein – but funnier – was the sparkling chat between Jeanette Winterson and ABC’s Anita Barraud on Winterson’s memoir Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? “I had to smuggle books in, and I hid them under my bed," she recalled of her childhood. "And if you’ve got a single bed, standard size, and a collection of paperbacks, standard size, you’ll know that you can fit 74 per layer under the mattress. So that’s what I did, but of course, my bed began to rise visibly – rather like the princess and the pea – so I was sleeping closer to the ceiling than to the floor.”
Keen to become a better conversationalist yourself? Head over to the State Library on Wednesday, June 27 at 12.30pm to hear our very own Jo Walker and SmartArts' Richard Watts at the Emerging Writers Festival 'Lunchtime Lit' session on 'The Art of Conversation'.
Image above: still from Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 film, The Conversation.