Monday, May 18, 2015: The indie rock band Okkervil River has been a critical darling since the late 1990s. The group formed in Austin, Texas but the founding members first met at a New Hampshire boarding school years before. The parents of bandleader Will Sheff taught at Kimball Union Academy and despite his subsequent success and cross-country touring, Sheff’s thoughts often returned to his childhood spent in tiny Meriden, New Hampshire. The songs on Okkervil River’s latest album are autobiographical and set in that specific place during the year 1986. Bob talks with Sheff about his hometown, his songwriting process, the band’s unusual name and Okkervil River’s CD titled The Silver Gymnasium. Then, Buzzy Martin is a musician and guitar teacher who gave lessons in an unusual place to some very unorthodox students. Martin took the position of Guitar Teacher at San Quentin State Prison in California and wrote an account of his experiences changing lives through music. His book is titled Don’t Shoot, I’m the Guitar Man.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015: During the 2008 presidential campaign, Bill Ayers was dubbed a “domestic terrorist” and his relationship with candidate Barack Obama was extensively studied under the right-wing talk show microscope. In his memoir, the co-founder of the Weather Underground presents himself as an activist committed to social justice and education. His book is titled Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident. Then, in their book, Merchants of Doubt, historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway tell the story of how for more than four decades, a small group of pro-industry, politically-connected scientists carried out effective campaigns to mislead the public. Our guests argue that ideology and corporate interests, helped by a lazy media, have clouded public understanding of some of the most critical issues of our time.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015: When writer and Classics teacher Tom Payne noticed that his students were more interested in the current celebrity scandal then in Homer’s epic poetry, he started weaving in millennia old themes of Fame and Celebrity into his lectures. Are our celebrities today akin to the deity of ancient times? Payne examines the similarities in his book Fame: What the Classics Tell Us About our Cult of Celebrity. Then, Bob talks with author Jake Halpern about his book Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America’s Favorite Addiction. Halpern traveled the country to try and understand our addiction to fame and celebrities.
Thursday, May 21, 2015: When Barack Obama was campaigning for president, he pledged to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and to follow the rule of law in fighting terror groups. That was in 2008. Today, there are still prisoners at Gitmo, and covert drone air strikes, in which the U.S. military and the CIA act as judge, jury, and executioner, are at an all-time high. Daniel Klaidman, a reporter for Newsweek, examines Obama’s foreign policy decisions in the book, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency. Then, when the brother of Wafaa Bilal was killed at a U.S. checkpoint in 2005, the artist channeled the experience into a performance piece. For a month, Bilal lived alone in a prison cell-sized room in the line of fire of a remote-controlled paintball gun. A camera connected him to internet where people could watch him - and shoot at him - 24 hours a day. The piece was titled “Domestic Tension” and The Chicago Tribune called it “one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time.” In 1992, Bilal came to the US where he became a professor, artist and now author. His book is called Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun.
Friday, May 22, 2015: Garry Wills has written about Jack Ruby and John Wayne; Saint Augustine, Saint Paul and Jesus; James Madison and Abraham Lincoln. Now he writes about himself. His autobiography is titled Outside Looking In: Adventures of an Observer. The author, historian, classicist, theologian and journalist marks his 81st birthday today.