While most of us enjoy the good pendulum music Malcolm Gladwell, the longtime New York Personal Writer and The New York Times bestselling author of works such as ] The Tipping Point and Outliers, asks something else in his music: bring me to tears. Gladwell's latest podcast series, Broken Record explores the emotional power of the earwig, using the curious curiosity he became famous for – his details of the unexpected influence of minutiae (exceptions, anomalies, buried news, unsung features of the genius or the observation bites) – this time with a view to the history of music.
We've teamed up with Gladwell to discuss his new project, his long-standing obsession with the country, the challenges of hip-hop, and why crying causes laughter.
MH: Over the years you've picked up on a number of different topics, and from the outside, it seems that Broken Record is one of your more recent projects. What about music that you think you need a series to explore?
Malcolm Gladwell: I grew up listening to music, but it was college when I really jumped seriously into music (pop music). We sat around and played music and talked about it, and the conversation was as important as listening. The idea that music is best heard when it is played and spoken remains with me. What we love (Bruce [Headlam] Rick [Rubin] and me) is the idea that you can sit down with someone and play a bit of something, and then they can explain it or make a riff, react and play on it You then a little bit more. That was the most natural way to familiarize people with music. So the idea for the show really comes.
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] What makes music so sad? What about this medium?
I tried it in this episode of Revisionist History titled "The King of Tears" – I tried to answer that question I know if I have responded satisfactorily, but I put it first the question of why country music makes you cry especially well, and I said it was because of its peculiarity. For crying you need an emotional theme, but you too I need details, you have to hang experience on certain details when you're moved to tears, and that's quite natural for country musicians.
You might normally think o f country music (at least that cowboy hat country music) rather than hyper-masculine. And yet, with the songs you have made, we see that country music has a rich history in which you should actually cry or at least show people in pain.
We've made an episode [of Broken Record ] with these three great Nashville songwriters [Bobby Braddock, Don Schlitz, and Don Henry]. They were truly part of that revolution in Nashville in the 1970s, when they made a more complete picture of human emotions and human experience in music. And they started telling a different kind of story, a more emotionally complex story. And I think you see it in country music now. It went beyond pick-ups. It's not the same country music of the 50s and 60s. You know, one of my favorite songs is Mary Gauthier's "Drag Queens and Limousines". It is incredibly refined. She talks about growing up and all the emotional and personal compromises you have to make if you want to assert your identity. It's a super super complicated, sophisticated song. This is not the country music they wrote in 1965. This new, richer music really appeals to me, and I think it's so irresistible.
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Have Did you learn about creativity when interviewing singer-songwriters? Does creativity flourish there differently?
Huh. I dont know! I mean, the most interesting thing for me on land is, for example, that there is a system. In Nashville, there is a world of songwriters who know each other, work together, come together, all living within a 20-minute drive of each other, hanging out in the same bars; There is a place where it happens . It's like writing code in Silicon Valley. And I think that's really fascinating. However, if you are (and I might be wrong) in the rock & roll world (and you are probably in Los Angeles), there is not the same concentration or cultural structure that will help you craft. And I think that structure makes a big difference. If this structure exists, it is much easier for people to create and be rewarded for their creations – and to be recognized. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling for Nashville: If you write a great record, somebody will do it; If you write a really good song, somebody makes a record or sings it in a public forum. […]