Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My 0 seconds of fame on New York Public Radio: A Curious Tale of Deceptive Solicitation.

The blog that never was: I was looking forward to appearing on a radio show called Soundcheck that airs on New York public radio affiliate, WYNC, and then blogging about it. I thought they had me slated to participate in a discussion about big top music. The program is set to air this Friday.

Not sure that those of you who listen would have welcomed my presence. I know that for some people, my views can cause heartburn. It seemed to be shaping up to this: the windjammers versus me.

All the excitement started when, from the program’s associate producer, Katie Bishop, came an e-mail: “I just came across your new book [Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic's Guide] and your blog, and I’m wondering if you might be up for doing a segment on modern-day circus music with us.”

How flattering. New York Public Radio — nationwide, maybe! Well no, I would soon figure out. But we are talking Big Apple. The closest I ever got to Gotham was a quote about Charlie Bauman from my book, Behind the Big Top, in a New York Times obit about the tiger trainer; and a review of another book of mine, Big Top Boss, in the Village Voice, which faulted me for failing to explain why John Ringling North was attracted to beautiful woman. Please, do NOT go figure.

Putting my NPR ambivalence aside (where there is PR, there is hope, I, a one time circus flack, shamelessly confess) I answered Ms. Bishop in the affirmative, stating that the invitation sounded challenging and fun. And it did. I love doing radio, shun TV.

A day or so later, by phone we talked. Went well. Ms. Bishop tossed a few off-kilter questions my way, which can, to their credit, stimulate the creative mind. The most unexpected: “what do you expect to see at a circus?” Answered I, “I expect to see whatever they have to show me.” I’ve taught myself not to expect anything, but to be open to the artistry that fills a vacant ring. I hope to see a number of things, but hope is not expectation.

The end-off was affirmative. Ms. Bishop said she would have the windjammers on for the first half hour, and then me as a “critic” (she was obviously drawn to that word in the title of my book) for the second half, to address modern trends in circus music. I had given her a few examples of deft modern scoring, one being a lyrical trumpet solo played during a Ringling tiger act. (In hindsight, I wish I had linked it symbolically to post industrial asexual alienation -- doctoral enough, that?)

They planned to do the program fairly soon, she told me, which sounded like a week or two.

So far, so good. But in NPR land, I was destined to observe, conventional rules and ethics as applied in the private sector are evidently skirted or ignored -- or simply forgotten when inconvenient.

A week later, I followed up with another e-mail, asking Ms. Bishop if she might be able to give me an approximate date as I was planning to go down to L.A. for a few days. (Hmm, I wonder if she has issues with the Little Orange?)

Back she replied, four days later, in the most surprising fashion. Here in part is the gist of her sign off: “We’re only going to have time to talk to two guests: the editor of Spectacle Magazine ... and Janet Davis, a professor of American studies who specializes in the history of circus much.”

Followed, of course, by the usual vacuous thanks, etc.

Ooops, they do operate differently. Never has such a thing happened to me in the land of commercial radio and TV, where people make clear up front if they are considering you, careful not to lead you on. This would apply, from direct experience, to both NBC and The Learning Channel.

And I thought of Juan Williams, and of how he was treated by NPR after being fired, and of how after he told his side of the story to the press, an NPR executive stated, in apparent retaliation, that maybe Mr. Williams should see his “psychiatrist.”

I’m not sure if WYNC will, in reaction to this blog, recommend a head shrink for me. In fact I do not have a head shrink, never have and never intend to. I still old fashionably subscribe to such concepts as "objectivty" and a person's word being "good."

Enjoy the show this Friday. Sorry I won’t be there. It doesn’t sound like the windjammers will, either. But the academics will – to properly guide you.

End of the blog that wasn’t.

Maestro Evans! How many fanfares do I deserve for this one?

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