Transcript / LoLT: The Magic of Music Discovery and Two New Books — 26 April 2024

Transcript / LoLT: The Magic of Music Discovery and Two New Books — 26 April 2024

Friday, 26 April, 2024

This is a transcription of ‘LoLT: The Magic of Music Discovery and Two New Books — 26 April 2024’

[cheerful music]

Melissa: Coming up, an unusual celebrity memoir.

David: A favorite author looks at the parallels between now and five months in 1860.

Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.

David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.

Melissa: I’m not usually big on reading celebrity memoirs, but I’m loving the new book ‘Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent.’ It’s a mashup of personal stories from Dam Judi Dench blended with her insights from embodying iconic Shakespeare roles as an actress.

Melissa: The actor Brendan O’Hea conducted interviews with Dame Judi over the course of four years. They didn’t set out to make a book. The plan was to record Dame Judi talking about her Shakespeare roles, then put the tapes in the Globe Theatre archive. But they realized her wisdom, humor, and passion for the bard was too much to keep in a box, and they made this book.

Melissa: It’s called ‘The Man Who Pays the Rent’ because that’s how Dame Judi and her husband referred to Shakespeare in the 1970s when they did play after play for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Melissa: The structure of the book is great! Each chapter is her recollections about one play, so you’ve got Macbeth, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and more. She reflects on 20 plays and actorly things like rehearsals, audiences, Stratford-on-Avon. And it’s presented in a Q&A format that makes it easy to dip in and out of the book. Reading it feels like sitting in a pub with Dame Judi holding court over a pint and telling stories.

Melissa: The first chapter is about playing Lady Macbeth with a theater company that traveled to West Africa in 1963. I’m going to read a little bit. If you know Judi Dench’s voice and accent, you can hear her saying these words. It’s a DELIGHT.

Here we go:

‘… We took the production to Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. Peter Brook maintained that his was the first company to tour West Africa, but in actual fact it was ours. The audiences were wonderful — very vociferous. In the sleep-walking scene a woman shouted out, ‘Oh my God, she’s washing her hands, and there’s no basin. And they loved the rhymes, they found them hilarious. ‘The thane of Fife had a wife’ got a belter. They’d yell, ‘Say that bit again.’

Melissa: But it’s not all laughs. She also shares her deep understanding of Shakespeare. In another bit she explains the scene in which Lady Macbeth reads a letter she’s received from her husband. She says, ‘What’s important is that you establish the couple’s passion for each other… A key line is when Macbeth refers to his wife as ‘my dearest partner of greatness.’ At a time when women were perhaps not considered so equal…, that’s a real clue to their relationship.’

Melissa: This book is an irresistible combo of dishy behind-the-scenes stories from a grand dame of the theater mixed with insights that make Shakespeare accessible. It’s what I wish classes on the bard could be: fun, fast, incisive, and very human. It’s ‘Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent’ by Judi Dench and Brendan O’Hea.

David: Erik Larson is one of my favorite writers. He’s the author of ‘The Devil in the White City,’ about the darkness and light of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. He also wrote ‘The Splendid and the Vile’ about Winston Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister of Britain and the bombing of London.

David: Larson has an almost shocking ability to take primary research and turn it into smooth dialog and narrative. It is a magic trick. He is maybe the history teacher I wish I’d had, the one who points out that history is 100% about people and all their strengths and imperfections.

David: His new book comes out on Tuesday. It’s called ‘The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War.’

David: Once again, he’s telling a big story by focusing on a few specific people and a tight time frame. This time, it’s Abraham Lincoln and the five months between when he was elected President, and the beginning of the Civil War.

David: Larson is telling the story of a nation tearing itself in two. Lincoln wrote that the trials of those five months, quote, were ‘so great that, could I have anticipated them, I would not have believed it possible to survive them.’ It was an incredibly dynamic and complex time in the US, and not a little like our own.

David: Larson starts his new book by writing, ‘I was well into my research on the saga of Fort Sumter and the advent of the American Civil War when the events of January 6, 2021, took place.’

David: I’m always interested in what he has to say. This seems like a good time to hear this story. The book is called ‘The Demon of Unrest.’ And it’s out on Tuesday.

David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]

David: I have a complicated relationship with Spotify. On the one hand, I am very grateful to have access to almost all the music I have ever heard. That’s a fantastic trick. Literally, awesome. Every time I want to listen to some song I haven’t thought about in a while, it’s there. If I want to explore a new artist, here’s their catalog. I can – and have – entertained myself for hours by listening to different artists perform one of the classics. Lenny Welch still does the best version of ‘Since I Fell for You.’ But also Mavis Staples. Or maybe Fontella Bass.

David: I don’t love the stories about musicians getting 6 tenths of a cent per play. Or less. Or sometimes nothing at all. That doesn’t feel great. And also, I feel that Spotify sometimes rude to me. In two different ways.

David: First, Spotify is on to me being old. Its algorithm has decided that I’m in my fifties, so I don’t want to hear any music produced after about 1987. Left to its own, Spotify wants me to listen to artists like Dire Straits and Elvis Costello and Tom Petty, and that’s it. And, while I do like that music, I am more complex than that, Spotify.

David: I like music from the ’90s and sometimes even this century, and occasionally, I like songs I haven’t heard before.

David: And secondly. There’s the playlist called, ‘Discover Weekly’ that Spotify generates, ‘just for me.’ It says. From the sound of it, it’s supposed to be Spotify’s way of getting new music into my ears. Discover this! But every time I go look at that list, it feels like Spotify is saying, ‘Hey, have you ever heard this song ‘Footloose?’… Footloose? Yes, Spotify. I have heard ‘Footloose.’ I am a human on earth, and I have heard Footloose. And then Spotify says, ‘Oh. Well, how about this country love song, ‘Achy Breaky Heart’… Oh my God, Spotify. Which is it? – That you don’t think I’ve heard ‘Achy Breaky Heart,’ or that I would like ‘Achy Breaky Heart?’ Because both are hurtful.’

David: Yes, Spotify, I’m familiar with the hits of both Kenny Loggins and Billy Ray Cyrus. There’s a reason I don’t play their songs, but the reason is not ignorance. And when you do that, Spotify, it makes me feel like one of us needs to pay a little more attention to our relationship. You’re doing fine. I’m doing fine. I just don’t know about us.

David: So, I found a new place to look for new music, and I couldn’t be happier about that. It’s called You go to that URL, drop in a song you like, and it comes back with about 50 songs that it thinks are similar. It shows you the cover art, and there’s a button for sampling the song and another that links to Spotify. The suggestions are pretty good, and there are a lot of them.

David: For me, it works better for artists I don’t know that well. For instance, I like the songs I’ve heard from Sia, but I’m not deep in her catalog or anything. I put in ‘Chandelier,’ and now I’m looking at a couple dozen artists with songs that have a similar uptempo, poppy vibe. Adele and Bruno Mars come up, but so do Tate Mc Rae and Twenty-One Pilots.

David: I tried it with Frank Turner. He’s an artist who’s somewhere in the earnest punk songwriter world, and now I’ve got a dozen bands that might share the stage with him. I tried it with Nat King Cole, and it pointed to Dionne Warwick and Jackie Wilson, but it also grabbed Pink Martini and Jason Mraz, all of whom would make solid additions to a Sunday morning playlist.

David: Plus, it’s just fun. Pop in a song you like, flip some buttons and see what comes out the other side. I’ve spent too much time with it already, and I look forward to playing with it more. It’s free, and, at the moment, ad-free.

David: If you’re looking for new music, check it out. It’s

Melissa: Visit for more on the books we talked about today and links to more about Similar Songs Finder.

David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.

Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.

[cheerful music]


Top image courtesy of Jamakassi/Unsplash.

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