My favourite failed podcasts

27 March 2021

9:00 AM

27 March 2021

9:00 AM

Decomposed with Jade Simmons; Nice Try!; The Organist

Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other platforms

The promise of the internet was supposed to be thus: you could be your own bizarre, inappropriate self, and you would find a community of the likewise bizarre and inappropriate. You put yourself out there, and you will find what you consider unique or intolerable to be mundane and perfectly within the bounds of acceptable behaviour.

But look, some of us went online, we said our things, and the internet responded: what the hell is your problem, truly why would you say something like that?

There are a lot of reasons online projects fail, from lack of funds to real life intruding on your time to realising you just don’t care that much any more. But let’s not forget the power of realising you actually are a total weirdo in tracking the demise of creative endeavours. You start your podcast thinking the Patreon dollars will start rolling in, you’ll get to talk about your passions with other people and not just your dog for once, and then you are greeted with a total lack of interest and you discover that what you thought was a niche is just your own personal problem.

The podcast Decomposeddisappeared in 2019, although the first — and only — six episodes were very optimistically labelled ‘season one’. I started listening because my local public radio station began running the audio of TED Talks, which was causing me, and my whole city I dare say, to get substantially dumber, so I needed some culture.

Host Jade Simmons takes us through the scandalous world of classical music, talking about absurd behaviour and terrifying divas and swoony romances and all the rest of it. And I bet you are thinking: aren’t there a million podcasts like this? Haven’t I personally heard about two dozen other podcast episodes about Tchaikovsky getting a weird letter in the mail that sets him off on a grand mistake? Yes, you probably have; I certainly have. But I liked Simmons’s voice and her habit of not treating all the women like tragic nitwits.

Six episodes, and then done, with so many stories of drama, death, murder, suicide, madness, poverty, sex, castration and spectacular gowns from the music world yet to be told! Someone have Jade call me and growl morbid tales to me over the phone; I miss it.

Another podcast that could have gone on much longer was Nice Try!, which lasted for seven episodes before ending, also in 2019. I kept refreshing the feed, hoping for a season two magically to appear, but so far my podcast app just keeps trying to get me to listen to things about dead women and men discussing socialism. No thanks!

Nice Try! tells the stories of all the times — well, seven of the times — people tried to make the world good, perfect even, and did a bad job of it. It relays histories such as that of the Oneida commune, which failed to make free love a thing but did manage to make some nice silverware, the Indian utopia Chandigarh, one of the many times we thought that if we just got the best furniture and buildings all societal problems would disappear, and, of course, the Nazis.

The best episode, though, is ‘Herland’, about lesbian separatists. Faced with violence from men, from the state, from a capitalist society, some women would occasionally try to separate themselves out and make their own exclusive spaces where they could have control and safety. That these spaces fell apart because younger generations lost interest and because some of the women in their new positions of authority became bullies and started to discriminate against trans women should come as no surprise. Still, it gets you in the heart.

I had had a kind of love-hate thing with The Organist, a podcast co-produced by KCRW and McSweeney’s that is a sort of random generator of NPR-adjacent artiness and storytelling, including poetry and punk and theatre but also, tragically, Lena Dunham-related material. For every truly great episode — one about poet Franz Wright’s last years, another about tracking the origin of the ubiquitous and mysterious Angelyne billboards across LA — there were several that were too twee, too saccharine, too much about Twin Peaks. (I do not care about Twin Peaks; don’t try to make me care about Twin Peaks.) I would listen to the first five minutes of each new episode, grumble to myself about decrepit sentimentality, and then turn it off in exasperation.

But then they released their best episode yet: a very frank conversation with one of our greatest living poets, Bernadette Mayer, about money and why we let our true artists dwell in poverty. It included a recording of Alice Notley, another one of the real greats, reading her furious money poem ‘C. ’81’. I was rapt. It’s the start of something great, I thought. An Organist revival! It was the last episode they ever produced.

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