In praise of West Coast Live

By James Fallows

Three weeks of a dead computer, and those same weeks of nonstop book tour and related chores, can keep a man off the internet.

A note for further consideration: this morning in the San Francisco, as the very last stop in the United States before returning to Shanghai, I had the joy of appearing on Sedge Thomson's West Coast Live.

This is a public-radio program not as well known as it should be to the world at large. If Prairie Home Companion can spawn its own sub-industry, if Garrison Keillor can be a movie star, then Sedge Thomson and his efforts deserve to be at least celebrated enough so that if you heard the name "Sedge" in any context, you'd be able to fill in the references as you can now with "Garrison."

The show is like Prairie Home Companion in the sense that live music, and the host's personality, are two central elements of its appeal. It is different in that it simply seems cooler. (It is usually broadcast live from a louche place called the Empire Plush Room in San Francisco.) Instead of skits and monologues it has interviews conducted by Thomson -- and at the moment I can't think of anyone who is his equal at getting guests off their normal schtick and talking about something interesting and surprising. (Ie: the opposite of Larry King.) He does it without notes, but obviously with careful preparation and with enough time to get the guest away from anything like a canned theme. In my case, he figured out within 30 seconds that I was at the robo-answer stage when it came to anything involving the subject of my latest book. So pretty soon we were talking about .. well, much more interesting things. I have seen and heard him do this time and again. The gifted jazz pianist Mike Greensill is a standard feature of the show; today, they also had singers from the local production of Mother Courage.

More about West Coast Live here and here. The subject for later discussion: that the West Coast is, well, simply better than the East. Seattle, Los Angeles, the San Francisco area -- these are the magical cities of our country. (Yes, OK, I still love Duluth, where as it happens West Coast Live is broadcast.) This is my own particular drama, as someone originally from California who has not figured out how to make the West my professional base. A challenge to reflect upon in Shanghai.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2006/10/in-praise-of-west-coast-live/7455/