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Remembering 'Jesus' Son,' From Denis Johnson

May 26, 2017

Award-winning writer Denis Johnson died Thursday at 67, according to his publisher, Farrar Straus and Giroux. The prolific writer explored many forms during his career, and in 2007, novelist Nathan Englander wrote about Johnson's short story collection Jesus' Son for NPR.

Ever since the twin surprises of Brexit and Donald Trump's political rise, Western media has been obsessed with what's going on in the minds of rural and working-class people. In America, this helped make a star of J.D.

When the Texas band Bedhead got the box-set treatment in 2014, the reissue provided an excellent chance to revisit the recorded legacy of Matt and Bubba Kadane, who've spent the last quarter-century experimenting within a precise, deliberately paced sound.

Afghanistan has been dubbed the "graveyard of empires" for punishing the hubris of powerful invaders, but eight years after the 9/11 attacks lured American forces to Afghanistan, it had become more like a purgatory. With anything like a clear-cut victory long off the table and the "coalition of the willing" whittled down to half-hearted, qualified commitments from U.S. partners abroad, the mission had lapsed into dangerous inertia. The new President, Barack Obama, was looking to draw down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but ending the war completely was never a viable option.

Beijing's 1989 Tiananmen Square protests ended with a military massacre that left hundreds dead. Hong Kong's 2014 Occupy Central movement ended with a pizza party. Talk about one country, two systems.

That's too flippant, of course. As depicted in the friskily titled Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, the Hong Kong protests do appear something of a lark. But the Occupy Central protesters were attacked with batons, tear gas, and flash grenades, and the encampments were eventually destroyed. Unruly-haired Joshua Wong, now 20, was one serious teenager.

Updated at 3:12 p.m. ET

Denis Johnson, the author behind the seminal collection Jesus' Son, has died at the age of 67. A protean stylist who made a career of defying readers' expectations, he crafted fiction, poetry and reportage that was often as unsparing as it was unconventional.

Because of a scheduling snafu this week, it's just me and Stephen Thompson sitting down with our sci-fi buddy Chris Klimek to talk about Alien: Covenant, the film that dares to ask: "Is it okay if I put this little thing in your ear? I promise it won't grow into something that will burst out of your chest."

Then, we move on to a visit with Selina Meyer and friends as another season of Veep finds the group out of office and loving it. Or ... not really loving it, more like tooth-grittingly enduring it until something else can be arranged.

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode Wired For Altruism.

About Peter Singer's TED Talk

Philosopher Peter Singer's work focuses on "effective altruism" — how to do the most good to make the world a better place. He argues effective giving involves balancing empathy with reason.

About Peter Singer

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode Wired For Altruism.

About Larissa MacFarquhar's TED Talk

Larissa MacFarquhar writes about extreme altruists, people who make great sacrifices to help others. She says most of us aren't prepared or willing to do that — which is why we don't give more.

About Larissa MacFarquhar

Carly Rae Jepsen, the pop star of our hearts, voices Odette in the animated film Leap!, which will see U.S. distribution in September. Her character is a caretaker who coaches a young girl (voiced by Elle Fanning) to become a ballerina in Paris. I sense whimsy and heartfelt speeches are in my future.

Thirty-nine real-life years passed between Rocky and Creed, a film about the scion of Rocky Balboa's rival-turned-friend. The span dividing the original Pirates of the Caribbean from its latest sequel, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is about a third of that. But life moves faster at sea, apparently, because the ersatz, angular hero of this fifth Pirates cruise — 27-year-old Brenton Thwaites — is playing the adult offspring of lovers Keira Knightley (current age 32) and Orlando Bloom (40) from the initial trio of Pirates pictures.

I was, admittedly, thrown for a loop when Gabriel Garzón-Montano told me that he wanted to perform unaccompanied, just him and a piano. The meticulousness of his work is clear on his debut album, Jardin, a three-year creative process in which Gabriel plays most of the instruments, tracking them to two-inch tape, layering its overall sound. Jardin takes its title as an umbrella; fruits, bugs and other plants are the driving metaphors tying together this dense work, which blooms over successive listens.

The time was right to revisit the Buena Vista Social Club. The blockbuster 1997 album and 1999 documentary, chronicling the recording sessions of an ad-hoc group of remarkable Cuban musicians, set off a global wave of appreciation for Son cubano music in the late '90s. The principal players, many of whom had begun their musical careers before the Communist revolution and had been retired for years before making the album, became overnight celebrities.

Two decades after his death, Tupac Shakur is still the headline-generating, record-selling, contentious figure that he was in life. From DJ Funkmaster Flex's recent tearful Tupac rant to the fresh diss tracks it generated in response, our obsession with the legend continues to grow. And it's bigger than hip-hop.

A year ago today, Gucci Mane emerged from an Indiana federal penitentiary a slimmer, sober, reformed version of his old self. Though still confined to house arrest, the Atlanta rapper quickly began picking up the pieces of a career left in limbo when he received a 39-month sentence on gun and drug charges in 2014.

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When you think about the 16 years America has been fighting in Afghanistan, "funny" probably isn't a word that comes to mind. So, at first blush, the new dark comedy War Machine feels a bit risky. It stars Brad Pitt as a revered but semi-clueless four-star general who's appointed to oversee the entire war effort in Afghanistan.

Tennis queen Serena Williams is serious about trying new things this year. In addition to becoming engaged and being pregnant, La Serena has taken on the challenge of helping to diversify Silicon Valley — a task that might be hardest of all. Williams has joined the board of SurveyMonkey.

A Manchester crowd's impromptu rendition of "Don't Look Back in Anger," by hometown band Oasis, emerged as an uplifting emblem of resilience after Monday's deadly bombing there.

When Ahmed Badr was 8 years old, his family's home in Baghdad was bombed in the midst of the Iraq War. The family was uninjured. They moved to Syria, which was peaceful then, and in 2008, they came to the U.S. as refugees.

Writing helps Badr deal with what he's been through, and he wants to give other young people the same outlet. Now a student at Wesleyan University, Badr founded the website Narratio to empower others to tell their stories.

Singer and multi-instrumentalist Krystle Warren has been compared to artists like Tracy Chapman and Nina Simone. The latter comparison is particularly intriguing: Not only does Warren share that icon's talent for evocative storytelling, but she also lives in France, as Simone once did.

By night, they play gigs. By day, they sample ramen in cities across America.

The title of Cate Shortland's new film, Berlin Syndrome, is a sly riff on "Stockholm syndrome," that condition in which a hostage begins to feel sympathy for her captor. It's never clear what sets the Berlin version apart, and in some ways Shortland and the screenwriter, Shaun Grant, seem to be figuring it out as they go along.

Four decades ago Friday, The Dallas Morning News committed an error so grave, so egregious, that it long remained shrouded in silence — out of a deep sense of shame and self-recrimination that one can only imagine.

The paper called Chewbacca a "Wookie."

Listening to Pinegrove's music gives you that warm feeling of spending time with old friends — familiar, nostalgic and endearingly rough around the edges. And although its 2016 album Cardinal got a lot of love from critics, Pinegrove is a young band that still practices in the basement of one member's parents' house in Montclair, N.J.

How is this for a first day on the job: Maurice Murphy, the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO)'s late principal trumpet player, spent his very first day with the orchestra recording Star Wars' iconic opening theme, with its incredible brass fanfare — and Murphy leading the trumpets.

Confronting the Legacy of Racism in America

May 25, 2017

“Lynching is back in America’s headlines.” That’s how a recent op-ed in The Guardian put it, alluding to the killing of Richard Collins III, a black college student and newly commissioned Army lieutenant who was stabbed to death last week on the campus of the University of Maryland.

Singer José James has been best known as a modern-day jazz singer, but his latest album, Love In A Time Of Madness, sets him on the path to become a powerful force in contemporary R&B. "Closer" is a perfect example of his new direction.

Set List

  • "Closer"

Photo: Davis Bell/KCRW.

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