Welcome, welcome, welcome to a bonus episode of armchair expert, I'm joined by Monica Padman.
I always hi, we have Malcolm Gladwell here or so lucky and the only reason we have them here is to help him promote his podcast, Revisionist History Season five. Now, we don't benefit in any way from this. No, no. We have no professional ties to Malcolm.
We wish we did. We wish we did.
We just love him and we love his podcast. So we said, yeah, well, why don't you come on and tell us about what Season five has to offer.
But of course, it spins into other topics. As is prone to happen with Malcolm. There are ten new episodes dropping every Thursday starting June 18th. So please enjoy this bonus exchange with Monica, Malcolm and I.
He's in our chat. So, Malcolm, this is the first we've ever done this, in fact, I was trying this idea, I was thinking of an analogy and it would be kind of like if we put the Ford Mustang on display at GM's big auto show.
I mean, we've never promoted a competitor, but some for some reason, we're really excited to do that.
Starting off strong on car.
I want to prime the pump with a little automotive.
We can hardly call your competitor your way of not even though we're we're not we're colleagues.
Our competitors are lesser media forms like, you know, television, reading books, these kinds of things.
So I'm going to be able to refer to you as one of my peers. Oh, my.
Yeah, you just gave me carte blanche to talk about my peer, Malcolm, but you have a new season of revisionist history coming out.
What number is this season? Five, Monica, I know some of the answers to these questions. I'm just trying to get the ball rolling. Did you hear over there? Five, dipshit.
You like the show? I was like, I should have done a little research before we talk about just the tiniest bit.
And I got to say, this is a great thing for me to do because I'm not obliged to actually know anything, because only you know what the new season is.
And your producers. Yes. Although with that said, I did listen to episodes one and two last night, which, of course, I fucking loved. Your show is so.
So it's the Big Mac man. It is. I know what I'm going to get. I get it every time and I love it.
It's the original McDonnel French fry. Yes. That's called Back to your way.
My mind is is just reeling with the Big Mac. I've never been called the Big Mac before.
This is fantastic. This is like the highest paid you've ever heard.
Now, you know me. I like to let people behind the curtain. So after I interviewed you, we discovered that we both have the mutual friend of Lake Bell. And then so I started kind of sending her texts about you. I hope it got back to you. All of mine focused on how mischievous your eyes are. And I feel a little robbed in the zoom to the experience that I'm not getting the full, provocative, mysterious, dangerous eyes.
Well, no, dangerous.
Dangerous seems like a stretch. I was thinking myself is fundamentally harmless, which is why the more homeless you are, the more you can get away with. I'm Canadian.
My father in law sent me a text yesterday. It said, Do you think that it's just occurred to Canada that they rented an apartment above a meth lab?
Yeah, well, this season is where you listen to the two shows about hoarding.
Yes. Yes. And about art museums. As much as they'll say no, it's not because of weird, wacky moments.
One of my favorite shows is where I went back and I interviewed all of my past assistants. Oh, boy. Oh.
Because I wanted to know how did I hire them? Because I had no memory. How did I hire them? Why did I hire them? Did it turn out? And it's a rare case of me engaging in some self-examination. And what I discovered is that my hiring practices are ludicrous. I mean, it's the worst. I barely interviewed them. Ask stupid questions. The whole point is I'm defending my approach. Tiring, of course you are. What I refer to as the nihilist position on hiring, which is we're fooling ourselves if we think we can make good predictions about whether someone's going to work out by on the basis of like a forty five or an hour and a half.
So why bother? Just like I hire the first person who walks in the door, which is essentially what I've done, and it's almost always worked out OK.
So no other pattern emerged like were they all inordinately tall or short or. No, no pattern.
It's funny. Initially I was going to do a different episode. I was going to talk about how I am obsessed with voices. And if someone has a good voice, I'm a sucker. It doesn't matter. I don't care what else is the case if I hear a really great voice. I was realizing when I went back and interviewed all my old assistants is that they all do have fantastic voices. In fact, all two of them who I interview a lot on the show, one is Jewish group in South Africa, moved to Sydney and then America.
Oh, wow. And then on.
The other woman was also Jewish from North London, the two of them, their voices, and also they express themselves in this really fantastic way.
Is there any childhood comfort in the fact that your dad had an English accent?
I don't know. I've always been you know, you mentioned Lake Bell. Yeah. Lake has got an eight plus voice.
Oh, she just saw everyone I'm so self-conscious about now. Yours is thriving. We have metrics. You had your own show and it was you, I think. And despite of you know, I am curious about the criteria of Monaco.
I'm going to say you have a great voice. You're not now you're not. I'm going to say Bel Lake's in a category by yourself.
OK, well, she's employed as a voice actor regularly, so.
Yeah, makes sense. Yeah. But I don't go into this in the episode, but I was thinking about this as a side thing.
It's so weird.
The your voice is literally something you have almost no control over. You have control over the word choice you use and you can try and clean up your voice. But fundamentally the tone of your voice is something that it's pure God given.
It is. But I would say the the cadences, the fingerprint. Right. That's why I'm so drawn to your speech. It's not the tenor of your voice. It's your unique rhythm, your musicality.
That is that it is very specific.
No, Monica, it is. We just concluded it's a fact two to one. But that's actually not what the episode is about, is my case for nihilism, and it's called Hamlet was Wrong after one of my favorite brilliant intellectual, Carl Albert Hirschman, who was this incredible figure, he escaped the Nazis in World War Two. And then he goes back and he rescues all these Jews. He's had one of those magical James Bond lives. And he also happens to be this towering intellectual who was Freud's cousin.
And he had this saying that Hamlet was wrong, meaning Hamlet couldn't make up his mind. You know, to be or not to be is like, what could I do? OK, and Hirschmann Point was not knowing what's happening shouldn't freeze you. It should do the opposite. It should free you. Because once you realize you have no understanding of what happens next, you're not in control of your own future, then you can do whatever you want.
Hirschmann was always doing these crazy things like at one point in the fifties, he takes his family and they they just all move, I think, to Bolivia or the wilds of somewhere in South America.
And he was like, why not? Why wouldn't I take my two year old to some tiny town? Because I don't know what's going to happen. That frees me up to do crazy things.
It makes you not culpable in any decision, basically. Right. Like if you make a right turn, you didn't know there was a cliff on the other side. There's nothing really feel guilty about. There's some liberation in your ignorance.
There's that. But you're phrasing it in a kind of negative way. I was raised in a positive way, which is every option is open to you once you realize you can't predict the future. And it's only our desire to try and predict the future that ends up limiting our choices. Like think about you've just graduated from college and you're deciding where should I move to?
Well, most of us make very, very safe choices because if we say, well, I wouldn't want to move to Tokyo because I don't know anyone in Tokyo and I'm predicting I'm going to be miserable and sit in my apartment. On what basis do you make that prediction, Drew? It's nonsense. You've no idea what's going to happen if you move to Tokyo. So why not just move to Tokyo?
Because there's a good chance you're right and you'll be answerable. No, no.
Now, so back to back episodes, one in to about are ostensibly. And are there more about art in this next block? No. You and I seem to have a similar relationship with our equally impressed and perplexed by the market. Yeah, yeah.
Like I can recognize some genius, but on another hand, I don't know. Some of the other stuff isn't so obvious to me. And maybe the whole thing, the stock market, we all agree that these have value. You know, I'm very cynical of it. And yet I'm also very intrigued by it.
Not only that, I also don't understand museums because it strikes me this is the thing I was trying to explore in those two pieces. I'm making these pieces sound really boring.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. But but the minute you mentioned the word art museum, people fall asleep or but I was interested in this weird fact that they have so much stuff and they won't get rid of it.
You know, the worst kind of hoarder once you realize that. Ninety five percent of the art that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has is in storage in New Jersey and will never see the light of day. Ninety five percent.
It's weird. I would have thought the function of a museum was to show up to the world. But in fact that's not their function. Their function is they're like those self-storage units that you drive by on the highway only like high end. Yeah, millions of dollars at stake. And that's what they're spending an enormous amount of the resources on is simply storing all the stuff which they'll never show to anybody. And they keep acquiring more and more and more.
They are classic hoarders.
Yes. And so I was shocked in that episode to hear your take and someone else's that hoarding. I would have thought it was connected OCD. I would have thought it was an attempt to. Control and and satiate your anxiety by, you know, finding that and keeping it safe, but your explanation of it or I guess your guess explanation of it was so much more positive.
It was like someone with touching actually the way you shouldn't give it away. Right. That's a big part of the episode, the take away of why people hoard. But it was very beautiful, I thought.
But this notion that I think I can say that some people enjoy an object more than other people, that I guess that hadn't crossed my mind, even though, of course, I enjoy cars in a way that is clear. Other people don't. That somehow, yeah, they get a real time enjoyment out of them, just looking at them and being with them.
Well, this is the thing. Is this guy ready for us? I don't want to give it all away. But he did say this one thing. You're absolutely right. He's someone who spent his entire life working with hoarders. And I kept asking him for his attitude towards the people he was working with. And it was a genuine affection. And he said, I have come to love them. And what he loves is their ability to see beauty in the ordinary.
The most interesting thing he says, though, is it's all about memory, that you and I would have a there's a handful of objects which like a photo of, you know, I have a photo of me and my dad when I was very young, which when I look at it, all these memories flood back about my dad. There are a limited number of objects, though, in my life that have that kind of power. And his point about a hoarder is that every object in their life has that power.
He told me the story about, and I tell it in the show about working with this woman and she won't throw out an ATM received from six years ago because it conjures up that day. And that was a lovely day in her life. And she thinks if she loses the ATM receipt, she loses the memory. So her memory is encased in objects. And that's weird and interesting and it's not bad also. It's not a pathology. It's just a different way.
The brain is wired. Yeah. Yeah.
It doesn't seem to be a pathology until like the show that I've watched where you can't walk in the house and it's a fire hazard. I mean, I wonder if that veers into.
Yeah, it makes your life unmanageable. But at its core, it's something quite beautiful that has the potential to screw up your life because it gets out of control.
Yeah. And so one of the interesting things is it starts with just the revelation that their assets aren't really listed on their financials. And then you actually kind of talk about what the theoretical value would be of the Metropolitan Museum in the billions. Right.
I mean, billions of dollars in the hundreds of billions. Yeah, it begs the question when I heard that, then how do they ensure that? Is that stuff insured or they can insure it? Right.
Such a great question. You, you and I, our brains are wired in similar ways. I started talking to people about the fact that museums don't, on their balance sheet list their collection as assets. They don't enumerate what they have. And my first question was exactly that was like, how on earth do you ensure it? So I started calling all these this in the show, but I started calling all these insurance guys and saying, if I'm the Met and I have one hundred billion dollars roughly of art and I refuse to put it on my balance sheet, so I refused to value it, who insures it and how?
And the answer is they don't really insure they buy a blanket coverage. If you think about it's a great dereliction of responsibility. If the net burns down tomorrow, no one's mailing you a check for 50 billion dollars the next day.
And then the other question it led to for me is, could a collection like this ever be assembled again? Is this almost a thing from the past, like when you think of the value of those and what the income of a museum is through grants and everything else? I mean, could anyone build the collection like that in the future?
I mean, how do you see it in L.A.? You have Eli Broad, super rich guy, devotes 30 years of his life in huge amounts of money to more than 50 years of his life to buying art opens his own art museum. So it can happen. But you're right, it gets harder and harder and harder as time goes on it. What happens is the existing institutions get all the good stuff. When people die, they donate it, which is weird because typically, if I'm a rich guy and I have 50 diable paintings that I die and I will them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lachmann, L.A., most of that stuff's going to go straight into storage.
So it's like it's weird. It's like, why did rich people give art to museums if the museums are just going to stick them in storage facilities in New Jersey? I mean, the whole thing makes no sense to me whatsoever.
They should give.
I was talking to one guy who said, you know, when you realize that most art is in storage, you begin to wonder, so why don't museums take the stuff that's in storage and put it on the walls of schools? Sure. He said there should be no city hall in the country that doesn't have a bunch of nice paintings on the wall. Now, are those at risk for being damaged or stolen? Sure.
But like, you can't let that stires. Who cares? Like, the whole point of art is, I was talking to this friend of mine who's our photographer who works sell for a lot of money. And I was asking him how much of the stuff that you have sold over the course of your long career is publicly available to be seen? It's like a tiny almost all of it is locked away.
It's like, what's the point? Yeah, what's the point? I just are holding on the secret of some sort. Like, it's almost like the exclusivity of it.
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Well, I just learned of an underbelly in the art world, you're probably already familiar with it, but I guess some criminals in Europe steal these really famous paintings not to sell because they're they're almost valueless like five cents on the dollar. You can sell them to another criminal empire. But in general, they do it as an insurance policy that if they need leverage in negotiating some kind of conviction, that that a lot of criminals keep these as leverage. And I was like, what a fascinating.
Oh, you mean if I'm arrested? I say, I know where the Van Gogh is. Exactly. You give me a reduced sentence. Exactly where are we doing that?
Well, it crossed my mind. I'm like, I need some leverage, just some real general cultural leverage in case I find myself in a pickle.
This is open up a whole new I had not thought about.
This is such an interesting idea. Yeah, you could do the same thing with gossip. Oh, sure. Like in a blackmail sense. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Did you watch the Eppstein documentary. I have not watched that you haven't.
I have a whole series of things. I've been working my way through the summer. I just haven't got there yet.
You're behind on a few of the pedophile docs behind.
But I've been, I've been watching the staircase that classical. Oh true crime. Oh good. It's so good. By the way, from day one, I've been convinced that guy is one hundred percent innocent.
OK, how far are you. I'm really far. I got like two left. OK, ok. This is exciting. I feel like maybe don't ruin it for me. No, no, no, no.
OK, I'm going to, I'm going to clutch at a parallel here and hopefully it's Dez. Did you watch The Jinx and did you find yourself kind of wanting to give Robert Durst a hug, you know, recognizing still that he's a criminal and he should be in jail? I found myself wanting to protect him and take care of him. Really?
Yeah, I didn't I felt this deep affinity for him for some bizarre reason. I said to Kristen, I don't know, man. I think I'd let him sleep in our house still. I really I think I'd have him over for dinner.
I knew weirdly way back in the day. So he comes from his famous real estate family. And one of the founders of it was I believe his uncle is his dad and his brother were.
Yes, Demona Seymour is the patriarch. And I went to interview Seymour in the God in the nineties.
And he was this that was used to be something called the debt clock in Times Square.
He was a running total of the country. That was Seymour. And then way back in the day on the front page of The New York Times, you could buy ad space on the bottom of the front page. Seymour would buy it all the time just to, like, hold forth on how much he hated somebody or and he had the largest the largest private libraries in America.
And I went to his townhouse in Placide.
He was one of these completely fascinating, self-made, brilliant. And he was what is rich people who wanted to do really interesting things with his money, like the debt clock or like buying these little things in the bottom of or buying like weird books. So when I watched the first thing I just remembered this afternoon, I once spent with Seymour.
Yeah. Wow, that's fascinating. OK, so drowned out. My last question about your phenomenal show. How do you come upon a theme for a season?
Oh, let me just first say I said it to your producers, Lea and Heather, but, you know, when we listen to your show, we're just we're so blown away with the production value.
I mean, it's like watching The Jinx.
It's like a very, very well produced. It's so perfect.
And we are abundantly aware of the amount of time that is for you and your team. It's incredibly impressive. And it seems unless I'm wrong, is that interest you more?
Are you very more and more like that's obviously valuable time you could spend researching a book or writing. And I know you were really pleased with the audio book version of talking to strangers. So I just wonder is is increasingly where you want your energy to go?
Totally. In fact, this week I'm taking more and more about long form podcasts that are really audio books. And I just spent the whole week, me and my friend Bruce, with Paul Simon. Are we doing an audio biography, music biography of Paul Simon? Wow.
So one of the things we were doing the last couple days was he would play a song and we would all be listening to all his songs and then he would annotate over the audio.
So he would say, OK, listen to that guitar sound, and he would tell you the style of the guitar playing the person who was playing the reason he explained that way, you know, he would say, that guy's from La Soto. He's playing a, you know, a South African interpretation of American country guitar from the 60s because he heard that on the radio when he was and I heard that. And I said, I want. That came in he that on Graceland.
Is that kind of thing? Yeah, I've never understood why anyone would want to do a book about a musician. First of all, it's crazy.
You want to hear the musician. So let's do a book where you hear everything. And the minute you hear it, it just makes so much more sense. We're going to have a chapter called How to Listen to a Paul Simon song, which is because of these depths of complexity that now we can describe because he can play everything for you.
My favorite example is, do you remember the song, Come and Take Me to the Mardi Gras by him.
See old song from the 70s.
I bet if you sang it, I'd, I'd recognize it. Are you trying to make me sing? I'm not judging Monica. OK, you're going have to do it.
And we do owe the an exclusive exclusive. Here's the chorus. I'm a terrible singer.
The chorus is come and take me to the Mardi Gras, not@@@@@. Yes, that song that I know.
OK, so that song is a big falsetto part, which is done by a guy named Reverend Jeter, who is a black minister in Harlem, who sang in a famous gospel quartet.
They go to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which is the famous R and B recording studio to record that song. He brings Jeter with him. He ships up from New Orleans, a brass band, The Onward Marching Band from New Orleans. And the song itself is a calypso tune. So we have a. White Jewish guy from Queens, New York, teams up with a gospel preacher from Harlem with a New Orleans brass band to go to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to do a calypso song when he describes how all those pieces come together.
It's just like magic. You're like, oh, my God, what a genius.
Yeah, I was sat there at all yesterday. Weirdly enough, I was just listening to Paul Simon a couple of weeks ago in the car, and I actually had the thought maybe you don't even want to go near this thought.
But I was like, if he was coming on to the scene today doing virtually the exact same thing he had done, would he now be accused of cultural appropriation?
Absolutely, I think you would, right, and I was like, huh? There's some clear intention behind what he's done, but it did cross my mind that I don't know that would be viewed the same way today.
You have this big theme of this book writing. And what I want to argue about is I think what he's doing is a very important part of creativity. As long as it's entered. He's not stealing people's traditions. He is discovering them and reinterpreting them. And I think that's the key. When you traffic in another culture tradition, your intentions really matter.
Yeah. And what are you doing and why are you doing it? And in his case, I think his intentions are. I want to make something magical and new out of all these pieces. And and I want to celebrate the stuff that I'm investigating. And also his New York he grew up in New York in the 50s and 60s. That's what New York was.
It was in Queens in nineteen fifty five. When he's a teenager, there's 20 different cultures all going on the same time. So that's his world. It's not it's incredibly authentic to who he is.
It's the only story he could have told. Yeah. Yeah. That's what he grew up with. It's not. He's not Dylan from Hibbing, Minnesota. Right.
I also think it's only appropriation if it's him and 10 other white guys doing a replication, if it's this black gospel preacher. And I mean, it's like that's just bringing sounds together. That's not like I'm going to pretend to be this.
Unless Chevy Chase plays the black reverend in that video, then that's a project.
I got some problems. We have some problems. Did you inquire about his friendship with Chevy Chase? I'd be curious. I didn't know that. Oh, will you remember that Chevy Chase was in that video?
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo. You can call me Betty Mary when you come. You know, now we've both sang so much.
Your voice is better than mine. No, no, no, no, no, no. It's only compounded by the fact that I live with a bona fide great singer.
So however bad I thought I was Hucker Monaca, as in some never. She's a really good singer. This is a big point of frustration between her and I. I'll catch her in the back seat occasionally. I'm like, why aren't you doing that more often and loudly?
Why aren't you singing? Why don't you you're trained actress. What's what's the issue here?
I'm just self-conscious about it. But there's something about singing that's so vulnerable. Oh think I guess maybe you don't think. Oh I do.
Because you're doing it is it is the the instrument they say is some representation of their insides.
I think it circles back to what we talked about at the beginning about you being infatuated with voices like you can't really fix your singing voice like it is what it is. And I like to present things that I can fix. Like if it's wrong, I can be better at it, but I can't be better or worse at whatever I have going on with my vocal cords. So no one gets to hear it.
Unless you want to ride in the front seat cage, you'll have to ride for a long, long time because in seven years I've heard her sing like five times. But if you're up for that commitment, I've got a passenger seat.
What was she singing? She was singing whiplashed by Metallica.
How great would that be, by the way? Talk about it. That's like an unexpected turn if suddenly Monica turns out to be a Metallica van.
Oh, I've been urging my wife to do an entire cover of Kill Them All by Metallica. I'm like, that would be the greatest. Your sweet voice with that music.
It could be something it could be a Paul Simon synthesis are the 10 episodes.
Ten episodes. I've got four episodes about this Air Force general in the segment called Curtis LeMay, who is responsible for one of the most consequential and controversial acts of the war.
It starts out with an investigation of him. And he's someone who's in love with airplanes, obviously. And it's all about what happens when your kind of infatuation with technology and machines starts to cloud your judgment.
But that's the heart of the season. It's really those four episodes. And then I have one about this guy who was convinced that we elect student councils the wrong way.
That and it's my favorite one of the whole season. He goes to Bolivia and he starts to go to high school. I don't know why he's in Bolivia is a separate, long story. He starts to go to high school. It seems like you guys are choosing your student council president all wrong.
You should use a lottery anyway. That's all I'm going to say.
OK, so similar to your hiring practices. Yes, those are twin those two episodes of Twin. Oh, OK.
I have to imagine it varies greatly, but if you had to come up with the mean average of how long it takes you to record an episode, what do you think that would be?
You mean report, write and record or. Yeah, from your idea, if you listen, you're like, great job, gang. Sounds wonderful.
Well, I'm doing multiple one. That once, but it's you know, it's probably part time a month, an episode, but I mean, I'm doing three at three at a time, so the whole thing takes six months to do 10 episodes, basically.
Oh, wow. Oh, wow. OK, yeah.
So I started in December. Wow. And then there's always a moment of panic when I don't have enough and I, I despair. I go for long walks, I think about, you know, switching professions and then I come up with my final ideas.
Now the current two topics of the day when we're in such unique times, do you start up the engine of like, wow, how am I going to put this through Malcolm's eyes and tie it to something else? Are you interested in doing that? Do you feel like you can't wait to be a part of that exploration?
Well, I've written so much about police violence since it's been a big theme of three of my books. So I feel like I've said, you know, there's been such an outpouring of extraordinary new voices on this issue. And I think I've said my piece, it's available. If those who want to read it and I don't I don't feel I need to wade in and I'd rather hear from others at this point, you know. Yeah, I've been writing about this for 15 years, and I do have an episode of this show that touches on this question of on the other big issue today on covid.
It's the last episode which is always supposed to be the one that's the most meaningful. And it's it's all about how we choose to remember people who would otherwise be forgotten. I did it before covid. I went to Jacksonville and I spent a lot of time talking to people who deal with the homeless in Jacksonville. And the whole point of dealing with the homeless is you're trying to make people visible who would otherwise be invisible and remembered who would otherwise be forgotten.
And then I wrote the episode after the covid thing, and there were all kinds of parallels that I was able to draw about because this is turning into an epidemic because of the invisible and the forgotten.
By the way, I was curious if you'd seen the Eppstein doc, because through my lens, it's not even a story of pedophilia. It's the ultimate story of income inequality. If you don't have desperation, you can't have an Eppstein.
Yeah, and I do think that more and more, as these big, big issues are bubbling to the top, we're starting to see a little connective tissue right now. We're starting to see some of the same root causes. And I feel like we're finally starting to glance a little further upriver, which I'm so excited about.
Well, we're very excited to have ten more episodes of your show, revisionist history. That is not on our network and we do not profit from whatsoever.
And in fact, we will lose many listeners to your fantastic show. So we wish you well. Mr. Gladwell.
Thank you so much, you guys. Yeah. All right. Great seeing you.
I can't wait for this is over because we must drive something together. I know. I know. We will. We will. I've been I've been zipping around in my my box here. It's been very good.
Course you have. I got you and some American muscle guys back. I have a.