Today is Monday, November 29. There are 190 days until I go on my next Disney cruise. In case you don’t have time to read the whole newsletter: I can’t believe this exists, this made me cry, and I listened to this entire show in one weekend.
This week we’re getting to peek into the listening life of Levi Sharpe, the senior podcast producer at DEV, currently producing, editing, and mixing their CodeNewbie, DevNews, and DevDiscuss podcasts.
Before DEV, he was the lead podcast producer at Gizmodo Media Group, where he helped launch their podcast unit, producing and editing Lifehacker’s Webby-nominated podcast, The Upgrade, as well as Jezebel's pop culture podcast DirtCast and their politics show Big Time Dicks.
The app I use: Spotify, Podcruncher
Listening time per week: I used to listen to a lot more podcasts pre-pandemic, but I currently listen to about maybe 4 to 6 hours/week.
My recommendations: The Daily, Mission to Zyxx, Gay Future, Wolverine: The Lost Trail, Archive 81, Song Exploder, Heavyweight, In the Dark (season 1,) Death, Sex, & Money, Reply All, Another Round (RIP.)
When I listen: In the mornings during the week, and sometimes afternoons on the weekends.
How I discover: Word of mouth, mostly.
Anything else? I give Pro Tools lessons, in person (with proof of vaccination) and remotely, if anyone is interested.
ps If you are pleased with Podcast The Newsletter, please spread the word.
👋q & a & q & a & q & a👋
Were there any shows that inspired you when it came to style, tone, etc?
This American Life, of course, as the granddaddy of narrative audio was a source of inspiration. Also certain episodes of Heavyweight, and the overall ethos of both The Heart and Appearances. Our trailer was partly inspired by the trailers for This Is Love and Floodlines. And then I pulled inspiration from non-audio sources as well -- the Javanese puppet scenes from the short animated film Sita Sings The Blues was one, for how cleverly they pull off a contemporary narration of ancient stories while bringing out a sense of personality in the narrators.
What did making the show teach you about the world? Yourself?
I suppose it did what I selfishly hoped it would do when I conceived of the shape of it. It broke me out of the very online, abstract bubble I’ve lived in for awhile, as a writer based in Brooklyn who writes about a certain cast of idea. I talked to a lot of people -- scientists working quietly on some strange riddle no one cares about nearly as much as them; people with families, who don’t listen to podcasts; my own family members and friends. And I had the realization that I love to have, and that does come with reporting, with reading, with connection to outside sources of information and emotion. Basically I remembered how big and mysterious the world is, but also how small. It’s like everyone is this deep well of data. You can look at a person -- or idea -- on the surface and it looks small in area, but as you talk to people so much appears.
So, as for what I learned about myself, it’s that I really love the ambiguity and infinitude of life. I’m less interested in solving problems as I am in opening up the complexity of things so this problems seem unanswerable. For instance, in regards to these seemingly simple questions of how much sleep we should all be getting, what it does for us, etc… well, of course it turns out the answers are nuanced and specific to individuals. There aren’t hard and fast rules in this realm just as in any other. And as tempting as it can be to want clear answers about subjects that affect us on a daily basis -- diet, exercise, work, family, all those big topics -- the fact is we all just sort of have to figure things out ourselves and share information and develop wisdom, rather than tricks. And that comes with time and mistakes, and deep thought.
You wrote an article in The Atlantic about why we should all sleep alone. There was a great episode of HiberNation about some of its benefits, including a story about a widow who struggled with sleeping alone again. Did making that episode change your mind?
I actually conceived of that episode as a way to counter my essay. I’d had misgivings even as I wrote it -- and the essay itself, the conclusion, isn’t nearly as emphatic as the headline might make me seem. I actually felt by the end that there was something so compelling about the act of sleeping with another person, that some of the couples I spoke with for that essay who ostensibly went against the lesson of my own life-story, well, they understood something I didn’t. So instead of starting the season with an argument in favor of solitary sleep, we decided to make it about my own curiosity about love and intimacy, and my sort of fascination with these people who are able to share spaces and lives with what looks like pleasure.
Were there any stories you wanted to tell that didn’t make the cut for the first season?
I got pretty interested in the work of two scientists at the University of Virginia, Jim Tucker and Bruce Greyson. They’ve respectively been studying past-life dreams and near-death experiences. They’re pretty much the only people studying these fields with the level and type of rigor that falls in line with American university requirements. And so they’re working in this beautiful middle space where the provable meets the unknowable. They are essentially trying to catalog what might be thought of as uncategorizable phenomena, such as what it feels like when you come right up against the border of death, or how a child might access a vision of a past life in a dream. I’d love to look at stories that are rooted in both these realms.
Why are you the perfect host for HiberNation?
I don’t know that I’d call myself that (thank you), but I do think that I bring a natural curiosity that serves an exploratory podcast well, a kind of spaciness that finally comes in handy when the subject is so abstract, and a pathological interest in returning to a childhood state where everything in life is best organized as a story.
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
Osiris’ My Own Worst Enemy is completely dedicated to Lit’s 1999 song that took over radio stations and defined a generation of pop-punk lovers all over the world who were rebelling against conservatism with everything from the things they listened to to the things they wore. It all started in Orange County, and rewinding back to 1999, we get the story of the song, the band, and the culture that surrounded it. You have to be able to stomach listening to “My Own Worst Enemy” more than you ever though you would, in more iterations than you ever thought possible. But if you can, I think you are in for a treat. Not just exploring the layers of pop-punk but also the dreamy story of Lit, who went from broke to superstars backed by a manager who refused to spending money on payola. I was listening to this thinking “Oh my god, this song and the story behind it defines who I was when I was 15.” It kind of explains things. If you liked the song or are curious about pop-punk, the birth of subcultures, or the music industry in the late 1990/early 200s, it’s for you.
I’m a huge fan of stem cell research. I don’t just support it, I want to do it in my spare time. That’s been hard in the past—I’m not a professional scientist! That’s why I was so excited to see there’s a new service called Daily Harvest. Daily Harvest goes to hospitals every day and collects all the scraps of harvested cells. Then they’ll deliver them to your home in a FREEZER box so that you can harvest your own organs. If you love Dr. Dreadful’s Lab and also hate waste, this product is definitely for you.
Have you destroyed your liver by being an alcoholic? Cook up a new one! Want a new kidney ?That is one of the funnest ones to make. Lack of testes? Finally, a solution! You can even make skin, hearts, and brains. You’ll feel like a totally new person!
Daily Harvest sends you just what you need to make the perfect organs. Nothing more, nothing less. They measure out everything for you, so throw away those measuring spoons! Go to DailyHarvest.com, choose the organs you want to harvest, and choose your delivery window and Daily Harvest will deliver your supplies to your house. Enter discount code podcastthenewsletter and you’ll receive a free box-o-blastocysts. I don’t know what those are, but now that you mention them, I definitely want some. Thanks, Daily Harvest!
🎙️I bet at least half of you have already listened to the You’re Wrong About episode of Koko the Gorilla. Former zoologist Arielle Duhaime-Ross is expanding the investigation with a new show from VICE about animals called A Show About Animals. She’s talking to everyone who was in Koko’s orbit, everyone from Koko’s trainer and sign-language teacher Penny Patterson, to the people who are skeptical that Koko was really signing. That’s the question the podcast seems to be asking but there are funny, soul-stirring, and devastatingly sad backroads we must take to form our own opinions.
🎙️Crime Show is an episodic podcast where true crimes are explored with the people who experienced them. There is certainly darkness—rape, murder, cyber crimes—but somehow the show feels light. There isn’t focus on the gore, there’s focus on the story—the strangeness, mystery, twists and turns. I gobbled them all up in one weekend. They’re catchy, listenable, and kind of addictive. It’s not “this guy was murdered,” it’s “this guy was murdered but here’s how an innocent man’s DNA ended up on the body.” A favorite episode is A Man With No Name, about a suspicious man who claims to have lost his memory but then is tied to a serious crime. Is he lying about his amnesia? On The MySpace Misdemeanor, a 14-year-old named Hillary Transue gets thrown in jail for creating a MySpace page for her vice principal Mrs. Gregory, and the story is about the long line of teenagers with seriously silly crimes (like cursing, trespassing, or hitting your mom with a pillow) who also got the book thrown at them by the same judge, Mark Ciavarella. (You really want to stick a photo of this guy on to a dartboard.)
🎙️Scarrafoni in cucina, or The Ugly Duckling in Italian Cuisine, is a new podcast (available in English and Italian) from SBS about Italian foods that are regional favorites, but are lesser known because they a) don’t look good on Instagram or b) sound absolutely disgusting or c) are actually illegal. No matter the reasons, these dishes, like Sardinia’s casu martzu or Piemont’s bagna cauda, are beloved by people in certain Italian regions, and are mostly misunderstood, or at least untasted, by everyone else. The Ugly Duckling takes its time to describe where these dishes came from, how they are prepared, and how they have been adapted to appease international palates. But this show gets at the heart of something so Italian, the food, and why how it’s not so much what these people are eating, but how.
🎙️How to Do the Pot is such a smart, beautiful look into cannabis use, particularly for women, but it’s really for everyone. Ellen Scanlon is taking us back to the basics. This isn’t a show that’s like “haha getting stoned is hilarious.” Ellen is presenting us with the facts—what does weed do to our brains and what does it look like if we start folding it into our lives? Ellen is producing a series called “Weed Words,” where she is unlocking some of the terms we associate with cannabis, and cutting through all the lore to get to the heart of what these words mean. A recent episode covers munchies. Are they real? Why does food taste better when you’re smoking weed? Do potheads gain weight because of munchies? This isn’t just a great podcast if you are curious about weed, it’s a great podcast that happens to talk about weed.
🎙️When Pee Wee Herman tweets that he wants to be a radio disc jockey, the world listens. With the help of Jesse Thorn, KCRW released The Pee Wee Herman Radio Hour, which will be available to listen to for the rest of the week. (So listen now.) It’s a really nice listen, with music and Pee Wee’s friends as guests.
🎙️On Mortified, people read (the most embarrassing parts of) their teen and childhood journals in front of a live audience. The things teenagers write are so DUMB and smart and specific and heartbreaking and relatable, these readings are sweet and hilarious. Two stories in this week’s episode are from girls who had crushes on their same-sex friends. These stories force us to think about who we truly are. What have we written down when we were trying to figure out the world and how we want to exist in it? When we weren’t sure anyone was listening or reading? What did we want people to know? Mortified is hilarious but actually a fascinating examination of the human condition.
🎙️The B-Sides reminds me of another woman-led show I love, Burn It All Down. Both tackle huge topics (with the B-Sides, it’s pop music; with Burn It All Down, it’s sports) that don’t tend to get serious treatment, particularly from women. Each show hosts a panel of people who think a level beyond what you’d expect, they aren’t just scratching the surface. It’s a panel of people who both love what they are talking about, but know that it needs to be better. A recent episode of The B-Sides digs into the way Christians have seeped their way into so much pop music, with both blatant and subtle references to Jesus and redemption. Is it okay to like Christian rock if you’re not a Christian? What unites these groups when it comes to message and sound? I was surprised more than once to find out that music I had been rocking out to in my pop punk phase in the last 1990s/early 2000s was subversively implanting my brain with Biblical teachings. Following Christians in pop music is a topic that could be the focus on an entire podcast, and I sort of wish it was. If you liked this conversation, look up Good Christian Fun, which covers Christianity in pop culture and has many episodes about Christian music making the mainstream.
🎙️Caper, a new show from Ochenta about famous (and not so famous) art heists, has dropped its first episode about the robbery of a postal train in Ledburn, UK. This is a show so centered around place—each episode whisks you off to a different spot on the globe—and it does a great job transporting you with rich storytelling and sound. It’s true crime for people who don’t like gore or anything too tough to listen to. In the world of true-crime, these stories are relatively low-stakes. Just fun stops around the world, centering around a heist that made that place more than just a spot on the map. The episodes are the perfect length—all less than 15 minutes.
🎙️Listen to Arielle Nissenblatt’s Earfluence episode about how to make your podcast profitable even if you’re just getting started. (And again, whether or not you should.) It’s a conversation that will inspire you to think far outside the box and try cool, new stuff.
🎙️Sex Robots are something people have been worried about for awhile. The crux of the worry seems to be: will sex robots make sex so easy that we will default to them, because intimate relationships are so much more work? And will that destroy our ability to have real relationships with others? On Build for Tomorrow, Jason Feifer explains how ridiculous this worry is, and how it points to our worries about so many types of new technology. Will new technology (about sex and not) allow us to always opt for the easy thing if it’s more efficient? But Jason brings up the efficiency paradox, which means that efficiency in the short term often does not mean efficiency in the long term, and in fact can hinder innovation, something we are driven to pursue. There will always be someone testing the inefficient, it is how innovation is born. So we are unlikely to enter a world where sex robots are the only way we have sex. This episode is about sex robots, but the efficiency paradox applies to so many things and points out why we can stop worrying about humans always opting to the most efficient thing.
🎙️Has a podcast made you cry yet today? Today at 6am I found myself with tears in my eyes listening to the polar bear episode of Life Sentence, an immersive, rather funny, and a direct response to global warming. Life Sentence is narrated by Mo, “the one who set the wheels of time in motion,” one who stepped away to let humans rule the earth, but now is back to check in, and they aren’t exactly happy with how we’ve been running thing in their absence. On Life Sentence, we’re on a tour with Mo as they checks in with the rainforest and the coral reefs, to hear we’ve been handling our environment. The soundscape is beautiful and the conversation isn’t taking itself too seriously, even though the content is serious. So what can we learn from our environment about how to save it? The Rainforest episode is 78 minutes long in total, representing the 78 years the Amazon rainforest will survive, if we continue on the path we’re on. Only 20 minutes are dedicated to the actual story, the remaining time is dedicated to the sound of rainforest soundscape.
🎙️Throughline offered an episode of Fireline, a show that explores what wildfire means for the west, our planet and our way of life. It’s all about how we have become so out of touch with fire that our relationship with it is bad for the earth. Fireline explains why better understanding wildfires and learning to work with them instead of against them can be a huge step toward helping the environment be a more hospitable place to the future of humanity.
🎙️I love Marketplace’s series on sleep, and their podcast How We Survive is an equally well-plotted narrative that combines of business and tech and climate solutions. Molly Wood presents the creative solutions, the people behind the creative solutions, and the problem with the creative solutions, with investigative skills and a sense of humor, too. Ep. 1 starts us on a journey so seemingly boring that Molly admits she had a hard time getting people on board: a series about batteries and lithium. It’s more exciting than you think. And more important than you probably knew.
🎙️Zachary Davis’ Writ Large recently turned 100 (episodes,) which means it has shared 100 books that have changed the world, using interviews with 100 professors to back up that claim. The 100th is dedicated to Hamlet and features Michael Dobson, who describes what makes Hamlet a modern character, and what keeps the play alive today. Happy 100!
🎙️I love you!