JOHN WESLEY HARDING, HOST:
Welcome to the CABINET OF WONDERS from NPR. We're recording from Manhattan's City Winery. The drinks are low, the lights are flowing. The audience is muddled. And why not? With us tonight, from "The Daily Show" and "Battlestar Galatica," John Hodgman. Also Norway's gift to indie rock, the difficult to pronounce, Sondre Lerche. Essayist Sloane Crosley, author of "I Was Told There'd Be Cake," then so nice his parent's named him twice, Bhi Bhiman.
From the ethereal band Espers, Meg Baird. And you may know him as a scud mountain boy, or a Pernice brother, he's Joe Pernice. And we are always grateful for the CABINET'S steadfast friend, Eugene Mirman. Stick around, I'm John Wesley Harding, and I've got the key. The CABINET OF WONDERS is open.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HARDING: Welcome back to the CABINET OF WONDERS on NPR. Because the time is right for a little variety.
HARDING: When the children have been good, that is, be it understood, good at meal time, good at play, good all night and good all day, they shall have the pretty things this CABINET OF WONDERS brings. But, naughty romping girls and boys, who tear their clothes and make a noise, spoil their pinafores and sheets, and deserve no special treats: such as these, shall never yet enjoy this pretty CABINET. The door is locked, your money is spent. May I present The CABINET, its contents and its dis-contents?
HARDING: John Hodgman, Sloane Crosley, Meg Baird, Sondre Lerche, Bhi Bhiman, Eugene Mirman and Joe Pernice. A beautiful sight. They'll all be back.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HARDING: It's got quite Jewish.
HARDING: Hey, Eugene and I, we've taken this show on the road a little bit.
EUGENE MIRMAN: Yeah. Wes and I tour a lot together. And we - you know, and comedians, musicians, you need different stuff. And we both had rider. And then eventually we just decided for the simplicity of touring that we'd just put our rider into one document so that every venue knew what we needed. And had all our stuff for us.
And we thought tonight would be a fun time to share with you. So one of the things on my rider, one of the things I need, is actually a stool and a music stand. To put some stuff on. And put a little drink on.
HARDING: Yeah, I'm a guitar player so I always require two 9 volt batteries. Makes the show happen. If you run out.
MIRMAN: And then for me, I also require a - and they're contractually obligated to provide, a punch bowl full of single malt Scotch.
HARDING: And I like always, in every dressing room, always a warm fire.
I also need, and this is to kind of get into the right headspace, 3-pounds of crumbled gorgonzola, and a Slingshot.
HARDING: And I need a predatory bird.
MIRMAN: Book in an owl or a hawk or something. What else?
HARDING: Well, when we're in rural areas...
HARDING: ... I like a curious farmer's daughter.
MIRMAN: Yes. Well I require a book of poems about divorce.
HARDING: And - and actually this is something that we don't always ask for, this next one. But we do always get. Which is an old man who asks us how we got started in the business.
HARDING: That's our rider, ladies and gentlemen.
MIRMAN: Thank you.
HARDING: Eugene Mirman. He'll be back throughout the evening.
HARDING: I'd like to start off - because it's my show, and I can. This one's called "I Should Have Stopped," from my most recent album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "I SHOULD HAVE STOPPED")
HARDING: One, two, three, four...
HARDING: (Singing) I remember you when we were both at school. For one short week we shared the same carpool. Hey. Hey. Then I saw you today. Well you're looking pretty special in your disco hat. As you do your dirty laundry in the Laundromat.
(Singing) Oh well life has intervened, but nothing's changed. Your eyes, they're kind of tired, but you basically look the same. The same.
(Singing) You were never really that good at sports. But you kissed me on a day behind the tennis courts, hey, hey. Well, you'd been all the way. And I always was afraid of you fearsome friends. You used to disappear with them for long weekends. One day, you left. Monday never came.
(Singing) And there you are sitting in the washing foam again. I should have stopped. And said hello. But I didn't. I'd go back to the mess at home. I should have stopped. And said let's go. But I couldn't. I leave my memories alone. Yeah.
(Singing) We were very nearly in the same school play. But it ended up as prompt to fill a matinee. Hey, hey. Oh well you played Salome. But I saw you in your bra in the costume tent. I run across the stage in embarrassment. Even now it's hard enough to stare. While you're sorting out the whites from the colors in your underwear.
(Singing) I should have stopped and said hello. But I didn't. I'd go back to the mess at home. I should have stopped and said let's go. But I couldn't. I'd leave my memories alone.
(Singing) Because it's ancient history. And we are not the same. And we will never know the mystery again. I should have stopped. And said hello. But I didn't. I go back to the mess at home. I should have stopped. And said let's go. But I couldn't. I'd leave my memories alone. I'd leave my memories alone. Yeah. Yeah.
HARDING: The English UK. They'll be back! Ah, well, what a lovely evening. Thank you so much for coming this evening. Here's a poem, about our next artiste. Oh the areas of his expertise. He's America's major supplier of spurious facts and intelligence; in fact, a pathological liar. Though how he got that way, may be more information than you require. Your own, your very own, Mr. John Hodgman.
JOHN HODGMAN: Good evening.
UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: Good evening.
HODGMAN: Have you ever been in your house and seen a book just fall off the shelf? Unprompted? Do you have shelves? You might check. Have you ever left the room, for just a minute and then came back to discover that all the furniture was in the exact same place it had been?
HODGMAN: But suddenly you hated it. And yourself.
HODGMAN: If so, then you probably have a poltergeist. Oh, do not be alarmed. And especially, do not go crazy and kill your whole family. This is not a big deal. A poltergeist is just a little ghost. Polter-geist means noisy geist, in ghost language. It's just mischievous. Indeed, there are many other kinds of geists out there in the spirit world. Some of which can be quite menacing. And I have here in my hand, radio listeners, a catalogue of geists that are not polter.
HODGMAN: Have you heard of the Atman-geist? By the way, all of the German in this piece is provided by BabelFish.
HODGMAN: So please don't complain to me.
The Atman-geist, is the type of ghost that curls up in bed with you like a lover. And then breathes in your face all night long. And then farts before dawn. The Casper-geist takes the form of Casper the Ghost. It's a very cute geist. It needs to be, for how else will it lure your children into the crawl space?
HODGMAN: The Inter-geist uses your computer while you are sleeping. It browses racist websites.
HODGMAN: And downloads very illegal pornography. And then sends it to all of your friends. Using your email account. Now there's an also, a different kind of spirit, called a doppelganger. Do you know what a doppelganger is? It's a ghostly image of yourself. And it's said that if you see your doppelganger you're probably going to die. And then when you do, the doppelganger takes over your life.
But in an awkward way because it can't touch anything and look spooky. But there's a - also a triple-ganger. Did you know that?
HODGMAN: The triple-ganger is a ghostly image of yourself drinking Belgian beer.
HODGMAN: Except this thing likes it.
HODGMAN: And then of course there's the teener-ganger. This is a ghostly image of yourself exactly as you were when you were a teenager. And you see it having lunch with other teenagers. And when you see this ghost you usually quickly cringe to death.
HODGMAN: And then finally, there's the Hodgmanner-ganger. This is a ghostly image of me that follows you around. I cannot explain this phenomenon. I can only say that if you ever see me in an airport and I am rude to you, or simply don't make eye-contact, that is actually me.
HODGMAN: The Hodgmanner-ganger on the other hand will be very friendly. And - and allow himself to be photographed with you. And tell you all sorts of funny stories about those Apple Ads. He will come over for dinner, if you invite him. Which one am I right now?
HODGMAN: Meet me at the bar later and you might find out. Thank you very much for your kind attention.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HARDING: John Hodgman. John Hodgman. What a lineup tonight. Insane really.
Here's a poem about our next performer. We did a gig at the ethical society, I listened to her sing in awe. With something approaching piety. But then I got anxiety. Because my music's a bit too noisy and hers is very quiet-y. From Espers, will you please welcome, the beautiful voice of Meg Baird. Meg Baird.
MEG BAIRD: Mmm.
HARDING: You're going to do a cover version and it is by?
BAIRD: Michael Chapman.
HARDING: Michael Chapman. Anybody know Michael Chapman?
UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: Yeah.
HARDING: All right. No. Did somebody say no? Well, he was in the Monkees.
HARDING: I saw him doing an amazing gig at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco to about 11 people. It was a magical, magical evening. For me and 10 of my close friends.
HARDING: And it's got a bit in the middle that is very Joni Mitchell, isn't it. There's one little vocal lead - anyway, everybody ready? I'm just really chatting. Singing a Michael Chapman song, Meg Baird.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "NO SONG TO SING")
BAIRD: (Singing) Sunshine was the name that I gave her. And she turned my winter into spring. She turned my summer into autumn. And left me with no song to sing. She's taken all the laughter and the music. And left me with no song to sing.
(Singing) Lying in some strange and foreign household. Sleeping as the dawn begins to rise. Saying goodbye on the highway, trying to hide what's going on behind my eyes. And smiling as I light just one more cigarette. Trying to hide what's going on behind my eyes.
(Singing) In the quiet of the evening time I miss her. Remembering the sounds she used to make. Remembering the smell of her perfume. Floating flowers across the lake. And waiting for the time to start a new day. Floating flowers across the lake.
HARDING: Meg Baird.
Let those notes linger, but don't look back. More WONDERS lie ahead with Bhi Bhiman and Joe Pernice. This is - after all - the CABINET OF WONDERS on NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HARDING: Welcome back. I'm John Wesley Harding. And this is the CABINET OF WONDERS on NPR. A little vaudeville, a little variety and a little vino here at New York's City winery.
HARDING: A. A. Milne. B. B. King. CeCe Winans. This is the thing. Dee Dee Ramone. E. E Cummings. F. F. That's where it stops. I couldn't do anymore. I was going to do the whole alphabet and I ran out at F. F. So much for my scheming, which there's no redeeming. His initials are B. B. His name is Bhi Bhiman. Bhi Bhiman.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HARDING: I love the way everybody's clapping along like it's a wedding. It's fantastic. No one's ever done it before.
Bhi, welcome to the stage.
BHI BHIMAN: Thank you. This is a song I wrote called "Kimchee Line."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "KIMCHEE LINE")
BHIMAN: (Singing) I'm on the kimchee line. I'm on the kimchee line. I'm on the kimchee line and it's cabbage time. Well I went up on the mountain to see if I could fly. Went down to the sea, lord, and the sea was dry. So I picked a pickled pepper from the leader's tree. Got some prawn and oyster for the vitamin E. I'm on the kimchee line. I'm on the kimchee line. I'm on the kimchee line and it's radish time.
(Singing) Well, there ain't no use, boy, in trying to jump that fence. They got guns on the green side, you ain't making no sense. So I climbed up on a ladder to see what I could see. While the leader's getting fatter, I feel my stomach bleed. I'm on the kimchee line. I'm on the kimchee line. I'm on the kimchee line and it's scallion time.
(Singing) Well, I gave up all my hopes of ever breaking these ropes, to the leader's jubilation. I still love my mighty nation. Before I tell you where I sit, ma'am, I'd like to tell you where I stand. I got a niece and daughter in a freer land. I'm on the kimchee line. I'm on the kimchee line. I'm on the kimchee line. It's cucumber time.
BHIMAN: Thank you so much.
HARDING: Bhi Bhiman. That's beautiful, man. Beautiful. Let's get the English UK back on here.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "TAKE WHAT I'M GIVEN")
BHIMAN: (Singing) I think that I'd like to go live on a farm and live out my days like a loose ball of yarn. Sit 'neath the oak tree my sweetheart and me, and carve out my name and my own destiny. Yes, I'll take what I'm given. Yes, I'll take what I'm given. I'll buy me a hog and some acres of land and dig through the soil with the strength of my hand. Pray for the rain to come nourish my crop and love that old 'til the day that I drop. Yes, I'll take what I'm given. Yes, I'll take what I'm given.
(Singing) I've lived in the city and seen all its charm, and know what it feels like to be in her arm. But all this technology's wearing me down, it lifts us all up then we're slammed to the ground. There's too many egos in fast moving cars, thinking that their lives are worth more than ours. I'd love to live life like a lazy old hound. Man wasn't made to be this tightly wound. So I'll take what I'm given. Yes, I'll take what I'm given.
HARDING: I think that's one of the best things that one of the artists has ever said to me on the stage. He looked at me and did you hear him? He looked at me and went verse or does it end there? I was like, it ends there.
BHIMAN: I only wrote it. I don't need to know.
HARDING: Please, and a round of applause for the very wonderful, the very beautiful, Bhi Bhiman.
BHIMAN: Thanks so much. Thank you.
HARDING: What a gentleman. Dothing his cap to me as he left the stage. Townsmen, cast your eyes on Mirman. No Australian Bruce or warlike German of Russian stock this comic, sir, like Yakov Smirnoff, only funny-yer. Eugene Mirman.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MIRMAN: I just saw a documentary on FDR and did you know that the reason FDR said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, is because he didn't know about snakes. I saw this, I guess, this banner ad. I think - I forget it was maybe on The New York Times or some website and it was a little ad for some other website about news, and this is the ad. Does Rick Santorum hate Ricky Martin?
I was like, oh, have I not been paying attention? Did Rick Santorum make a long, weird speech about "Livin' La Vida Loca"? And how that was not moral? And so I clicked on this and it took me to this website which is Latin in America, and I did not find the story I was looking for. All I found was this story: Fugitive Cannibal Accused of Eating Brain Caught in Florida.
Just to be clear, there is a comma missing. The brain was not caught in Florida;, the cannibal was. Well, I was like, wait, why don't you have this story? You advertised it, I'm curious, and I can't find it. So I put the whole phrase into Google, and I found the whole article he wrote. I just want to read you an excerpt from this article.
Letting a gay couple raise children, Santorum went on to say, is, quote, "robbing children of something they need, they deserve, they have a right to. You may rationalize that that isn't true, but in your own life and in your own heart, you know it's true." OK, next sentence. "Which raises the question, does he hate Ricky Martin?" No, it doesn't. I took a class in raising questions.
That is literally not - There's like 50 questions that you would think of before you were like, sounds like this guy hates Ricky Martin. It goes on to say, towards the end, "So, no, Rick Santorum may not hate Ricky Martin, no more than he hates other gay people." I don't know a lot about journalism, but I don't believe you're allowed to just make a - write an article that's like, did George W. Bush eat babies? And then you explore it and you're like, no, but he didn't not eat babies anymore than he did not eat any size person.
Thank you all very, very much. Bye, bye, good night.
HARDING: Throw it down for Eugene Mirman. Everyone, it's tea time, proper steeping time is three minutes. We'll be back in just one, with Sloane Crosley and Sondre Lerche. You're listening to NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HARDING: You're still here. Lovely. I'm John Wesley Harding and this is the CABINET OF WONDERS on NPR.
HARDING: Can I tell you a story about my daughter? Her favorite band is the B-52's. She loves the B-52's and on her first day at school, everybody was asked to sing a song. And I'm - picked her up at school and she said, we sang a song. We sang a song. And the teacher - And I said to the teacher, how did it go? And she said, actually it was quite interesting. And I said, why was that?
And she said, well, you know, Tyree sang "Old Macdonald Has a Farm". Cynthia sang "B-I-N-G-O Is A Dog", and Tilda sang "Wanna Make Love To You Under The Strobe Light". Good parenting or barmy old cack?
There once was a man called Pernice, according to his press release, Joe is an American indie rock musician and writer who's fronted several bands including the Scud Mountain Boy. Sorry, I appear to have lost the limerick form a little, call the limerick police. Ladies and gentlemen, Joe Pernice.
JOE PERNICE: That was very nice, Wesley, I appreciate that. Thank you.
HARDING: We're going to do a song. Who's it by?
PERNICE: It's by the great Del Shannon.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "I GO TO PIECES")
: One, two, three, four.
PERNICE: (Singing) When I see her coming down the street, I get so shaky and I feel so weak. I tell my eyes, look the other way, but they don't seem to hear a word I say. And I go to pieces and I want to hide. I go to pieces and I almost die every time my baby passes by. I tell my arms to hold someone new, another love that will be true. But they don't listen, they don't seem to care, they reach for her but she's not there. And I go to pieces and I want to hide. Go to pieces and I almost die every time my baby passes by.
(Singing) I remember what she said when she said goodbye, baby. We'll meet again soon maybe. But until we do, all my best to you. I'm so lonely, I think about her only. Go to places where we used to know, but I know she'll never show. She hurt me so much inside, now I hope she's satisfied. And I go to pieces and I want to hide. Go to pieces and I almost die every time my baby passes by. Go to pieces and I hide. Every time my baby passes by. Go to pieces and I hide. Every time my baby passes by.
HARDING: Joe Pernice.
And the English UK. All right.
For this next writer's essays, I could get all apostley. And when I first met her in Brooklyn, I liked her colossally. Even when I asked her last name and she answered Crosley. That is her last name, author "I Was Told There'd Be Cake," Sloane Crosley.
With a vignette, or extract, from a recent essay that was...
SLOANE CROSLEY: Yes. About taking a trip to Ecuador and going to try to climb a very tall, active volcano. But this is before that, and I have a guide who, it turns out, does not really speak English. His name is Edgardo. And we're in the car. I think that's all you need to know.
HARDING: Sloane Crosley.
CROSLEY: (Reading) About an hour outside Quito, Edgardo pulls off the highway without warning and runs away on foot. Maybe Americans are just unnecessarily diligent about telling each other where they're going all the time. If I hear a funny noise in the engine, I say do you hear that? I don't just stop the car, get out and leave everyone else inside thinking I've embarked on a one-man game of Chinese fire drill.
(Reading) Or say you and I are having a discussion at a party and I have to go to the bathroom. I excuse myself. I don't simply turn around and run like a startled horse. I'm not the kind of person who's going to pull over unannounced and go on a search for pot for 30 minutes in a random village, while an overly inquisitive but otherwise tolerable American tourist waits in my car.
(Reading) The landscape outside features chickens, torn advertisements for soda and shirtless children. There is also a soldier with a large gun strapped to his back. I push down the lock on the jeep and then I pull it up again. I shut my eyes. When I was 4-years-old, I came down with pneumonia and I hallucinated that the air in my room was packed with bees. To avoid getting stung I took refuge in the safest place in the world, under the covers, but of course there were bees there as well.
(Reading) Being inside or outside of this jeep feels like the same kind of choice. I open the glove compartment and find a series of unmarked CDs, ratty gloves and some travel-size spray cologne. I pick up the cologne. It has a silhouette of a boob on it and rust on the bottom, and I'm not even tempted to remove the cap. I get out of the car and lean on it, which makes me feel like a prostitute, but I don't mind.
(Reading) I reason that prostitutes seem more fearless and harder to kill than already kidnapped women locked in a car. A chicken runs by with a couple of kids following behind. Easily distracted from its own survival, the chicken stops to peck at a half-eaten paper plate of food. When Edgardo finally returns, he barks at me to get back in the car and tosses a large bottle of water in my lap.
(Reading) Quito was not Tokyo, no, but it's not Khartoum either. There is absolutely no way it takes this long to locate a bottle of water. I raise one eyebrow at him. If drugs have been introduced to this vehicle I think I've earned some. Drink, he says, adding, you will need it on the mountain. I pull the bottle from my lips like it's poison. Do I drink the water now, or do I not drink the water now?
(Reading) Now, drink, he says, starting the car. I unscrew the cap again. Drink it on the mountain, he adds. I have seen many films with scenes like this and I don't need to be part of one myself. If "127 Hours" alive and "Touching The Void" or "Panic Room" have taught us anything, it's that you should never leave home without a lighter, a bottle of Gatorade and a Swiss army knife.
(Reading) At this point, the abandonment, confinement genre of film is so established in our culture that people who do leave the house without these things basically deserve what's coming to them. But the survival stuff is never the worst part of those films. The worst part is those innocuous scenes before the epic journey. The ones that appear to have nothing to do with anything. Chop off my arm, lock me in a room with Jody Foster, these moments will never be the ones that move me as a viewer.
(Reading) It's when the trapped hero or heroine thinks longingly of some basic household staple, or some nonsensical conversation, that my stomach lurches. I am careful to drain the bottle down to the plastic rib, exactly equidistant between the top and the bottom. Nothing is so gruesome to the human imagination as regret.
CROSLEY: Thank you.
HARDING: Sloane Crosley. How lucky are you? And for our ultimate musical guest. I like to treat guests well all night. Which includes me pronouncing their names right. So after considerable research I can say it's not lurch and I'd be a jerk, eh, to keep calling him Lerche. His magic is a marker and his name is Sondre Lerche.
SONDRE LERCHE: Well hello, City Winery. I stand before you at my most manly. I have lost the upper range of my voice, which leaves a deeper and more lived in voice than I've ever, ever experienced before. And I don't even know if this is going to work. You guys can handle a love song, right? This one is drunken, confused, possibly delusional and very, very, very, very much in love.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "COLISEUM TOWN")
LERCHE: (Singing) Coliseum town, not a living soul around, I go stumbling cobble streets with a map you drew on me. And I can't decide, did you leave or even arrive? I've been known to make things up, now I'm talking to my cup. What's the chance of you returning? Coliseum town. Should I wait around? Maybe I'm mistaken. This dream's taken. Who put these thoughts in my head? I'd better put it to bed. When I wake from dream inside a dream.
(Singing) To divert my mind, I try to make another love song rhyme. But it's harder than it seemed to describe what I just dreamed. Coliseum town. Tell me if I'm out of line. I may just have had too much, or just never quite enough. Now the cobblestones are spinning. Am I singing? Coliseum town. Should I wait around? Maybe I'm mistaken. This dream's taken. The bartender showed me the door.
(Singing) I feel asleep on your floor. In another dream inside a dream. Dream inside a dream.
LERCHE: Thank you. Thank you so much everybody. We're going to do a song by Orange Juice and it is - it's a song of vengeance, called "Poor Old Soul".
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "POOR OLD SOUL")
: One, two, three, four.
LERCHE: (Singing) Back with a vengeance much in vogue. My friend the harlequin, the rogue, befriending the meek, his tongue tucked firmly in his cheek. You'd better come clean. How can anybody be so mean? You'd better come clean. I will not be a party to your scheme.
(Singing) Admit that I was misinformed. To whit, I'm lost and all forlorn. I'm tattered and torn, too tired to see how sick you've grown. You'd better come clean. How can anybody be so mean? You'd better come clean. I will not be a party to your scheme.
(Singing) Poor old soul. Poor old soul.
(Singing) You'd better come clean. How can anybody be so mean? You'd better come clean. I will not be a party to your scheme. Come clean, come clean, come clean. I mean the things you do just make me want to scream.
HARDING: Let's get back on the stage now, Joe Pernice, Bhi Bhiman, Meg Baird. We always like to finish the song - this - the show with this song. And before I do so, here's a little poem of goodbye. Our CABINET is now ended. These are actors as I foretold you, we're all spirits and are melted into air, thin air. I sound like Katharine Hepburn.
And like the baseless fabric of this Vivienne Westwood suit, the brilliant songs, the thought-provoking readings, the surly comics, the great City Winery itself, yay, all which it inherit shall dissolve and like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a guitar pick behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep. Ladies and gentlemen, the CABINET is closed.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SINGING A SONG IN THE MORNING")
HARDING: (Singing) Singing a song in the morning, singing it again at night. I don't even know what I'm singing about, but it makes me feel I feel all right. Yeah, yeah. It makes me feel I feel all right. Singing a song in the morning...
LERCHE: (Singing) ... singing it again at night. I don't even know what I'm singing about, but it makes me feel I feel all right. Oh yeah. It makes me feel I feel all right.
HARDING: Here we go now.
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