Listen to Bullseye
This post is menswear adjacent. As the title reads, the purpose of the post is to encourage everyone to listen to Bullseye with Jesse Thorn. It’s Jesse’s involvement that makes it menswear adjacent, as he is the central force behind the Put This On blog and the host of the Put This On video series, perhaps the best introduction to menswear for young men who are trying to figure it out, as I am (although at 35, I know I’m considered old by many on the Tumblrs).
But, the purpose of this post is not to extoll Put This On. It’s to extoll Bullseye and comment a bit on the shortcomings of podcasts relative to traditional radio.
Bullseye, formerly the Sound of Young America, is the flagship show of Jesse’s podcasting network Maximum Fun. Broadly, it could be described as a show about (almost) popular culture. The focus of each episode are the interviews conducted by Jesse with cultural creators of various sorts; from the worlds of writing, music, television, movies, comedy, even style/fashion. Many of the names would be widely recognized. Yet, the show operates just at the margins between mainstream and alternative cultures. It is this that, I believe, makes the show special. Jesse is not trying to position himself as an ahead-of-the-curve visionary, discovering greatness. He’s simply trying to draw the listener’s attention to art that he thinks is great.
This focus means the interviews are rarely with figures that one might consider cutting-edge, whatever that term even means. In fact, the show is often at its best when the guests are people many of us might consider gone, if not forgotten. Jesse is frequently reminding us that to overlook these people is to overlook greatness, impoverishing our own lives. For example, he recently interviewed Dolly Parton. For me, Dolly Parton was a bygone figure of the 80s, a punchline due to her exaggerated bosom and namesake amusement park. The interview showed me that she is, in fact, an extremely talented singer and songwriter who has - against the odds - endured for decades because of her talent and kind-heartedness.
Jesse is a skilled interviewer taking the subject to unexpected places, mostly because the emphasis is on the artwork and its creation rather than the personalities themselves. This is not to say he neglects the creators as people, but when he probes their lives, it’s inevitably to connect those lives to their creative output. For example, he asks Dolly Parton about her life growing up, but with a focus on how music figured into her life, or how her childhood factored into her song-writing. This sort of interviewing should seem obvious, but sadly isn’t in our celebrity obsessed mediascape.
I mentioned above that part of what I’m writing is to consider the differences between podcasts and radio. This came to mind because I frequently neglect Bullseye for extended periods. Although Bullseye is distributed on public radio stations in the US, I’m in Canada and can only listen to the podcast and when choosing a podcast I too often overlook Bullseye.
I’m a huge fan of podcasts. It is amazing to have total control of my listening content. However, this allows me to sort of enclave my listening, in the same way that the internet makes it easier to read content that affirms our worldview. When listening to the radio, we’re beholden to the broadcasting choices of the station and dj. This is not entirely a bad thing. Sometimes we’re not necessarily the best judge of what we want to hear or would benefit from hearing. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of not realizing how much we wanted to hear a particular song until it came on the radio. When it comes to podcasts, I have a tendency to focus on comedy podcasts. At other times I listen to news and social analysis shows. These listening habits mean Bullseye often falls through the cracks. Yet, when I put it on, I’m always pleased and wonder how I’ve come to neglect it. I too often jump on listening to it when Jesse is interviewing a culture creator that I know and am already interested in. Yet, that’s precisely the wrong way to go about it. I benefit much more from the interviews with the creators I don’t already know.
Along those lines, and to make this somewhat more menswear adjacent, a great recent interview was with fashion blogger phenomenon and now online magazine editor Tavi Gevinson. I was aware of her existence mostly due to The Sartorialist Scott Schuman saying some asshole things about her. But, I figured that a 14 year old girl writing about fashion likely had little of interest to say to me, so never bothered to see what the deal was. Then, I heard Jesse’s interview with her and was blown away. As Jesse himself said, she’s the real deal. Her insights into fashion and its relation to broader society, particularly the place of girls and young women, were impressive beyond the fact that she’s still just 16 years old. It gave me great hope for my daughters that their future doesn’t have to mean falling prey to drugs, cyber bullying, sexting and other ills that we’re constantly be warned teenagers are either perpetuating or the victims of. It also made me realize - at risk of seeming like a creep - that I had something to learn, style-wise, from her.
So, don’t make my mistake. Listen to Bullseye.