On a road trip to a designer outlet I hooked my phone up to my girlfriend’s car stereo and sat back to enjoy a Reply All. It was about presidents replying to citizens on twitter. The content was okay (a bit less interesting than other Reply Alls and I felt like I’d heard it on another podcast recently) but have you ever tried listening to podcasts in a car? Jen was raging at their habit of talking without energy in their voices – the start of a sentence is fine, then it just sort of loses momentum and the end of the sentence is inaudible. I usually listen in perfect conditions (in my wintergarten, noise-canceling earphones, cup of tea), but when it was pointed out to me, their vocal fry-to-mumbly-inaudibleness became a source of irritation and I enjoyed the next few episodes less.
So when I saw a tweet from Alex Blumberg praising the latest edition of Reply All (#28 Shipped to Timbuktu) to high heaven I was skeptical – I do like the show, but it’s like a Girl Guide cookie; I’ll eat one and enjoy eating it but if there isn’t one around I won’t miss it.
And isn’t Alex Blumberg, like, the owner of Reply All? Got to take his praise with a pinch of entrepreneurially awkward salt. I was primed for an episode that was maybe slightly better than normal but not worth such extravagant praise.
It started even below expectations – ads, come and see our live show, now on with the episode (finally), some troll who replies to emails he gets by mistake, a really not very funny or interesting story about cookies, an author whose contribution to the story seems unnecessary, something incredibly depressing about Japanese brutality in WW2.
What. A. Mess.
And then – SLAP! That’s the sound of the listener being slapped in the eardrum by the most remarkable 82 year old woman. Her name is something like Mary Prevarty. She’s the link between cookies, the author, and WW2 – oh! That’s why we heard all that random stuff! – and she’s amazing. The institution she represents (can you guess it?) is easy to mock and yet in this story comes to represent all that is best about humanity. They weren’t spies, commandos, or resistance fighters, just normal people being normal in extraordinary conditions.
Mary is one of the most vivid people I’ve ever heard on a broadcast. We’re told that she broke into song seven times during the recording, and I can believe it. That’s what you do, isn’t it, when your heart can’t contain all your joy? She reminds me of those joyous old movies where people sing and tapdance with huge grins on their faces. The contrast between my numb, analytical pursuit of marginal efficiency gains and her clear-voiced, bright, podcast-chewing goodness is stark. I want to be more like her! Tell me how, producers of Reply All! That’s the most important bit! Also, take note of the energy in her voice. That’s a voice you can hear clearly in a moving automobile.
Cecile and the world, go and listen to her right away!