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From WBEZ Chicago, it's this American Life, I'm Ira Glass, and each week on our program, we choose a theme and invite various writers and performers to do stories on that theme. And usually somewhere near the top of the show, I actually tell you what the theme is and give you a little roadmap of what's coming up. But I think this week it's going to be more interesting if I just start in on the first act and let things unfold for a while before I tell you the overall plan and give things a name. This first story is by Dael Orlandersmith, and it's originally from her Obie award winning show Beauty's Daughters, that was recorded live at a variety show here in Chicago called Milly's Orchid Show. And before we start this piece, just two quick caveats. One, some of the language might not be suitable for younger listeners. We've beeped out all the nastiest words, but you decide. And if you stay with the piece, I think you'll understand why we thought that this is exactly the kind of story that should be on the radio, on public radio. It is a complicated little portrait they'll create. And the second thing I wanted to say, and usually I wouldn't point something like this
out, I said I wanted you to know that Dael is a woman, an African-American woman. And I pointed this out, because if I didn't, you wouldn't actually get to enjoy what the audience in the theater with her gets to enjoy. And that is her complete transformation into this big mouth white guy. Also, some of the things she says come off a little differently, if you know that it's a Black woman saying them as a white man. Anyway, here's Dael Orlandersmith. Hey, Jerry, how you doing, buddy? I don't, Larry. You looking good on you. Look at your Lenny as you've gone. All right. Johnny Black Nektar with a guy. Oh, man. A guy you line today. Yeah. Yeah, I know every day that I was really, you know, so busy. Everybody, I worked in the fish market.
Right, because my clothes again. Good morning, everybody. I never worked in the fish market the close. And I tell you, man, I can't stand the thought of going home. And I just can't resist getting fatter and fatter because she's pregnant, because I don't touch this bitch walk. What I'm saying, why am I running? Let me explain something. No, please, please, please. Listen, when I'm 31 years old, I'm married 12 years. I got seven kids. I'm a young man. I'm contract A, Tiki's the laziest bit, you know. Well, no, hear me out. I'm out here she is. Twenty eight years old, looking fifty. The problem is the problem is I married too quick. My cousin Jimmy shows to me don't get married so quick. Used to go out, get late. I have a picture but of course I only see it right. I only see this is where I am. Did it come imitation. Come here. Come here.
Come on. I met this chick and my friend man was wearing a black shirt. You're right. Every man calls all right. She can get from red. All right. Same guy. He's been in here with me a few times, but he lives on 36 Avenue in Bensonhurst. Right? She is the same guy. Yeah. Yeah. It's just you say. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Same guy. Sure. Anyway, you know, where's the reception. Right at T-shirt talking, you know, Temenos white girl with the racial equation. That's right. They shouldn't. They're talking to a man. His wife Gail is no prize either way. She sure. Anyway, right. This black chick, Diane and then. Right. Sitting over to the side. Right. So I look overall smile. She smiles. Back then I noticed that she's big enough that big in proportion, the way it used to
be. Right. So I go over it all and I say, you know, I really think you're good looking and they really need to get rid of words like [Unrecognized] and guinea. You know what? Because I don't want to put my tongue in your mouth. She gets mad. She says, let me tell you something. The only reason why you came over here is because I'm the only black person at this wedding. Well, guess what? I don't have a problem with that. You do. So do yourself a favor. Get out of my face before I hurt you. Now I'm standing there and slammed. Right, say Singlish. We should come. I don't care how big you are, women and not you hit me. You're dead. Right. She says, first of all, my being a woman is not the issue because I'm more man than you'll ever be a
more woman than you'll ever know in. Technically, I know I can't whip you because you're still a man, but if you lay one finger on me, I'll give you such a fight. You wish to God you stayed home today and all the words, my name is pain I will inflict. Now, do you really want to put me? Schneider, you know, right, like, I'm quite right, am I I'm also scared out of my mom now, like part of me wants to give a smack in. Another part of me is in love. All right. So I say, hey, I'm sorry, baby. I apologize. Call me to the bar to get a drink. Right. So we go to a bar. We go to a bar. So I say they let me order you a rum and coke because I know that blacks and vehicles like that.
Right. She gets mad, right. She says, order me Stoli rocks, line garnish and stop being an asshole. So, like, now I know I'm in love. Right? Right. So we're hanging out, we talk and yada, yada, yada. And the B.J. starts playing. I give you one can give me one. Yes. There you go, baby. Sinatra Joey. I swear my mother every Guinea wedding. Sinatra, Jerry. There it finishes all of and authorities that they just started playing disco because, you know, that's what we danced when we were kids. And I asked Diane, was she like to dance? And she says, no, she hates disco, likes rock old be Ingeus. So, look, I see what you like, Jase. So she said you, Lenny, I swim for the next three hours. We talk and Jase, you see, I don't know what you notice. Right. But like I was a major jazz fan, man.
I used to play used to play when I was playing both sax and trumpet and my record collection, I had Cannonball Adderley had miles and press, you know, sea jazz at that time. I was like, so a part of me, you know, but like. I can't watch it anymore, I'm. So, you know, Diane is a poet, you know, and I never know a poet before. And, you know, she was talking about maybe, you know, that I could pick up my horn again and, you know, maybe she could write lyrics and go, I swear to God, Lenny, this woman is so beautiful to me now. Right. And I'm thinking, well, yeah, maybe. Yeah, you know, I could pick up on again and, you know, and she's just talking and talking. And I swear, you know, she's the most beautiful thing I ever seen. I and she tells me, she says, I'm going to say right. But she says, Anthony, when you talk about
music, your face becomes beautiful. Yeah. She said that to me, Lenny. She also called me a pain in the ass. But she said when I talk music, I become beautiful. So all of a sudden, wait a minute, I don't wake nobody is right. All of a sudden, Lenny, sit there talking about all these people that are like the jazz, you know. I feel like crying because I'm not going to be able to touch it again and nobody ever saw that in me before, you know, nobody anyway. You know, we're talking it's really hot, you know, and I'm like, want to get outside, you know, because I was dying for fun. Right. Seconds later, Peepee Workshop with the kids.
And today, many kids are ready to go home. Now, Berhane looks to me like a great piece. And you're looking like a good we're going to go back to do something which balances. Pleased to meet you. Imatinib born Ashlie. When I take people home, right, I go down my basement, right? I feel like the first time in like five years I pick up my shit and it feels so good to hold, you know, then I put it to my mom and whatever, you know, I can taste, feel. They see she's all over this, you know.
And I put the facts down, open my eyes, and it dawns on me I ain't going nowhere and going nowhere, but I could always do another shot of Johnny Black. Baby, why worry about me? I won't get drunk again. I got to go to work tomorrow. But, you know, this is my time. Not just let me sit for a few minutes. All right? I tell you one. I'll go in a little one little. Mm hmm.
And. Conveying the mark on the sax, the story was by Dael Orlandersmith, who is now looking for a theater to produce a new show she's working on called Monster. And this brings us to today's theme, which is people who come alive for music, people who live for music, even though for most of them they never get very far with music. Our stories today in today's show are people about whom you could say when you talk about music, your face becomes beautiful.
That's right. In our program today, Act two, we just heard Act one. Act two will be a brother struggles to be a star at three, choosing a random act for a life in music without fame of fortune. So we are now at Act two. For those of you who are keeping careful, careful score, I know there are so many of you who are active is a story about somebody who decided to follow his dream about being a musician. And, you know, usually when you hear stories about somebody chasing a dream like this story is about rock stars or Olympic athletes or writers or painters or basically anybody who had to get out there, you know, and follow that follow that star, you know, follow that dream. We don't hear how crushingly hard it is for the overwhelming majority of them. And in the middle of the story, usually you don't wonder, is this worth it? Or the story you're about to hear does not have that that shortcoming. You definitely wonder. The story you're about to hear was produced by Jay Allison with Dan Gediman.
Dan is the one who narrates the story. That's not Tom Jones, it's my brother Alex Jones, and that's not his real name, his real name is Mark Gadamer. Not my real last name is Ketterman G. D and David. I am. And, you know, I'm proud of the name, but as far as show biz is concerned, it can't be spelled. My brother's middle name is Alex. He bumped it up to the front. I like Alex. Alex has worked too many Alex's
stories, so I'm sticking with that name. Very catchy. Just people always remember Alex. And for a while when he was in this rock band in the late 70s, he called himself Alex Space, but that's another story. For the past five years, it's been Jones, Alex Jones. I had a Jones for saying I had an addiction. That's pretty much the truth, my brother has had a Jones for singing for just about as long as he's been alive, all he ever wanted to do is make music to sing for people. The Cornish group, the Knights of Columbus, the Lions Club, the Elks, the Sons of Italy, you name it. If there's one of those I've been there. My brother sang constantly in our house when we were growing up. He always wanted to be a rock star or the next great soul singer. There is benefit once he was out on his own, but he sang everywhere he could and he still
does terrible anywhere he can find an audience to appreciate him. Jerry Lewis telethon. I've done schools and colleges have done art exhibition and whatever. They also have cows and things like that. You know, one of those basically anybody that'll have me, you know. Uh, yeah, Tom gets around. My brother's been in countless rock, blues and RB bands over the years, but these days he's mostly hired as a Tom Jones impersonator. He does that by night, though. During the day he holds down a straight job. And it's tough to tell people, your coworkers, I'm going to be Tom Jones, particularly when I've been trying for the last few years to develop an image of this. I've been working as a computer analyst and developing this image is just kind of kind of conservative nerd type. And I've totally, totally blown it. Oh.
Oh. Never gonna fall in, oh, my brother performs with the Review Hall of Fame superstars Patsy Cline, John Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and then my brother closes the show as Tom Jones. Oh, yea. Singers Tom Jones is very similar to the way that I naturally sing, we have a lot in common, but I've gotten to the point where I'm I'm hitting notes and doing things that are beyond the scope of what what he did. My brother is nothing if not confident, at least on the surface. He thinks positive and has an uncanny, almost overconfidence. It's an amazing quality, really even unsettling.
My brother's 43, not married, doesn't have kids, he's had a lot of girlfriends, but he doesn't have a steady one now these days he's living at home with my parents in Massachusetts. Um, why don't we go into the music room, all right. You know, a little bit and get out of the way. And growing up, we had a room in the house. We called the music room. Now it looks a whole lot different. That's when my brother and I talked. The last time I was home visiting, there was a Skype amplifier right in the corner here. Yeah. And in the corner here was a very large professional turntable which had come right from a radio station. And I forget what the brand of that record record. But it was a, you know, top of the line. Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, this is a this is a great, great, great atmosphere. And you kind of walked in this room and there were little musical notes bouncing all around it. And it was a place we could just kind of go in and play around and make believe you're
the star. Oh, man. All that little man. Nothing she can do to make that move. And this is a tape of my brother pretending to be a star recorded on my family's old Grundig tape recorder back around 1966. My parents put a lot of insulation in the walls of the music room so my brother could really your mother out. The entertainers have really a memorable and have, you know, stand the test of time. A great deal of them have tremendous screens. So I've always thought that screaming was essential to someone who, you know, not necessarily in the popular music idiom, but in the anything that had any kind of edge or soul to it. There's got to be a scream there somewhere. And in the whole reason is the same reason. It's a expression of the most inner primal,
um, feelings. Hey, oh, this is the room where my brother began studying the great rhythm and blues singers, people like Al Green, Little Richard, Otis Redding, James Brown and Tom Jones, who my brother thinks brings them all together just at the beginning of What's New Pussycat, what's right now that you're getting now right there with the what you got James Brown, you know, and then you got Wilson Pickett and then you got Ray Charles. Oh, and then you got you know, you're all like, what's this? All that's so that's there. You know, I remember the first time I ever saw my brother perform. My parents took me to see him at a high school variety show when I was still in elementary school and nobody knew that I could sing.
But there was a song that I there was a band, The Blood, Sweat and Tears, and the first version of them without Cooper. And there was a song on the girl, I love you more than you'll ever know. It's a real bluesy ballad. And I used to sing that over and over and over again in this music room. So I ended up singing it. And it was a real, uh, it was my first real performance in as me in front of a stage, you know, kind of being the, you know, the performer like the Elvis or something. And I remember having this, uh, kind of silky shirt on and I probably had my ID bracelet hanging and open up my collar a little. And, uh, it was quite an experience, as I recall. And I think I did I did fairly well. But as usual, I still do. I really sold it out, you know, really started screaming there at the end.
I remember by the end of the number, your shirt was virtually half off or something. That was my recollection. I was very impressed. I'm sure it was the first time I ever saw you perform. I don't remember that you were there. I was absolutely there. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely there. And I remember that very well. But and mostly because I remember you, I have a vivid memory of being on the playground behind my elementary school, um, trying to explain to the other kids that the night before my brother was this, you know, big star. And I imitated you singing the same song, which, of course, I had heard endlessly with you rehearsing it. And I still know the song. And I went out and bought the record, by the way, about five years ago. And I have it. And I and the only reason I know that album is because of you. But I remember I was imitating you complete with undoing my shirt. I felt like I felt like a celebrity even on the other kids didn't know it because like my brother, you know, he just did this thing. So I was pretty I was pretty impressed. If it's not clear by now, I idolized my brother.
I used to sneak into his room when he wasn't home and look through his things, put on his clothes. Smell is cologne. It's a matter of fact, I still have a YMCA T-shirt that he used to wear when he was a counselor at Camp Beaver. It's full of holes, almost a rag, but I'd never let it go. And I've always followed his career in music because I was sure, especially after high school, that he was going to make the big time and he almost did his close calls with fame were many. They proceeded to tell us that they were going to put something like a half a million dollars behind the supergroup and we were going to be the next Beatles and Monkeys. And I think at the time I was twenty one. And I'm just sitting there going, wow, I made the big time. And he actually said to me, I think you're the next Bruce Springsteen. He at the time was in and I represented for Atlantic joining this band called Easy Action. They said, listen, we want 50 percent of you. And I said, forget it. I started a band right after I called Alec Station, or we're going to take it
to the top, move to another band called Fly. And we had a band called Future Cities. That band was called called Zipper's Polite and the ambassadors of the. Everybody's got to have some fun, too. Most impressive man, everyone, let's meet tomorrow and forget about the tonight. It came to the point where every record company thought that the other record company was going to sign me and in effect, I was going to be the next big thing I would have. There were articles written saying that I was going to be the next kiss and this and that. And Warner Brothers is going to have cartoons. Talking about designing some sort of a video pinball game, real total marketing thing, and I was so excited and we were a couple of weeks away from signing the contract. And when the OPEC oil embargo, 1979, the price of plastic
went up 400 percent. And that was the end of my my shot right there. Just just just vanished before my eyes. I can't tell you I'm ready to make up my part. We ended up getting them to sign up for a book contract, and then one night they came up to us. Neither of these guys direct. They had ulcers and they both walked around drinking a glass of milk. I remember one day they both walked up to me with a glass of milk and they said, would you mind wearing an Elvis mask? We could be make a long story short, this thing really kind of fell apart at this point, I really get totally discouraged with the whole thing. In fact, I remember just feeling like that what I really had inside of me wasn't
coming out. And I took this microphone. I still have it to this day. And I threw it up against the wall and it's all smashed. And I just left and never went back with everything I had that was related to music in that room and just basically quit. My brother left music completely for many years after this time around 1984, for a while, he dabbled with a little home recording, set up, trying to write some songs, but his heart wasn't in it. He stopped going out to clubs, lost touch with most of his musician friends, didn't play, didn't perform, just left. Then in 1991, seven years later, he discovered karaoke. I was sitting, having dinner and I heard this music in the lounge and the chorus of women singing was beautiful. So I have to go in and hear this group. And I went in there and there's no group there's a guy looks like he's sitting behind a
keyboard and he's got this big thing saying you are the star, you know, sing the hits or something like that. I'm looking up in this video playing of, like, kind of follow the bouncing ball. I didn't know anything about karaoke and it just sounds fantastic. And I'm saying she's all these years I've been sitting around, like, trying to, like, wait for this the drummer to show up or the, you know, the bass players having a nervous breakdown. And here, you know, there's no band. You just have these laserdiscs. They play the music and you just go up and sing then that you don't even have to remember the words because they're showing you the words. They had a little monitor that faces up to I mean, this was a singer's delight is heaven. After that, he was hooked at the height of my interest in karaoke easily. I was going all seven nights. People loved him. He'd steal the show, knocking out the audience at bars all over the Boston area, and he began winning contests.
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This American Life
When You Talk About Music...
Part 1
Producing Organization
WBEZ (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
Contributing Organization
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
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Episode Description
This is "When we talk music" as described above.
Series Description
"Every week, This American Life features an hour of stories documenting everyday life in these United States. Some of the stories are traditional radio documentaries, where a reporter has spent days or weeks recording the lives of his or her subjects. But the program also features stage performances, original radio monologues, original fiction, 'found recordings' and occasional radio drama. It's a program that combines fiction and non-fiction in an innovative way, with funny, emotional stories from around the country, presented in a friendly, lively format. Each week the producers choose a theme and invite a variety of writers, performers and documentary producers to take a whack at the theme. "We've submitted x programs to show the innovation, variety and excellence we strive for each week. 1) Cruelty of Children - This show includes a funny live performance by writer David Sedaris, an eerie and disturbing piece of fiction by Ira Sher, and a short documentary report by This American Life host Ira Glass. 2) When We Talk Music - This show includes a funny and moving story by New York performance artist Dael Orlandersmith, Dan Gediman's affectionate documentary about his brother who is a Tom Jones Impersonator, Sarah Vowell's story on the world's biggest fan, and host Ira Glass with an accordion teacher. 3) From a Distance - Stories about worshipping someone from afar and trying to get closer. A documentary about a woman who becomes obsessed with a 1970's era Dutch artist, a story about worshipping Miles Davis, a Mexican teenager who idolizes Selena tries to become her, and Snuggles the Fabric Softener bear. "This American Life is heard on 65 public radio stations across the country each week."--1996 Peabody Awards entry form.
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Producing Organization: WBEZ (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
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The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia
Identifier: cpb-aacip-9e7f7ca992a (Filename)
Format: 1/4 inch audio cassette
Duration: 0:59:00
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Chicago: “This American Life; When You Talk About Music...; Part 1,” 1996-08-02, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 26, 2022,
MLA: “This American Life; When You Talk About Music...; Part 1.” 1996-08-02. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 26, 2022. <>.
APA: This American Life; When You Talk About Music...; Part 1. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from