Fall is here. And even as we think back to the warm, carefree months of summer, shorter days and brisk mornings pull us back to reality. So for this month’s PRX Remix picks, I’ve got nostalgia in wavelength form: stories about summer as a kid, the closing of an iconic New York City studio, and fantasy adventures as told through maps.
“The Neighborhood” from Rumble Strip Vermont
Three purple houses. A shortcut through the woods to Dunkin’ Donuts. Three graveyards, only one of which is known as The Graveyard. These are the defining features of Hospital Hill, a neighborhood in Randolph, Vermont. At least for the kids featured in this 10-minute audio postcard from producer Erica Heilman’s Rumble Strip Vermont podcast.
The piece makes it fun to learn about the intricacies of a game of tag: “When you don’t know where they are, you wanna act like you do and say things that make them think you’re close to them.” It’s also funny and heartbreaking to learn about the social dynamics of children: “I’m friends with Elliott, but we’re always friends…I was friends with Abby and Riley last Monday. But I wouldn’t say we’re that great friends right now.” The real trick of this story though is that the kids’ insights into their world, while cute, are often deeply relevant for us adults. “You need to know where your good places are and your bad places are,” one boy says, while describing the territory in which his friend group roams free.
As much as this piece is a vehicle for us to feel nostalgic about “a place we remember but can’t go anymore,” Heilman’s apt description of childhood, it also serves as a reminder of the immense capacity for humanity kids possess and the true complexity of their lives. It’s easy to hear the soft timbre of their voices and the happy sounds of a game of tag and conjure up an idealized version of childhood. But “The Neighborhood” digs deeper and portrays the kids as individuals with real struggles, relationships, and opinions that matter. Take the closing conversation, where Heilman asks one of the kids about growing up.
“Do you think you’re gonna grow out of the neighborhood?” asks Heilman.
“No.” says the kid.
“I mean eventually you’re gonna grow up,” Heilman pushes further.
“I mean I’m probably gonna come back and see what it looks like in 20 or 30 years and see how much it has changed.”
The boy acknowledges he will grow up, but not grow out of his neighborhood. The implication is that childhood, represented here by this neighborhood, is not something one grows out of. It’s not separate from the rest of life. The three purple houses of Hospital Hill and the fact that tag is called manhunt when it’s dark outside are defining features, rather than trivial details, in the lives of these young people. Thanks to Erica Heilman for introducing us to these kids with sensitivity and respect.
“A Magic Door” from Gianluca Tramontana
A half-hour audio documentary doesn’t have an obvious place in PRX Remix, which is mostly filled with short-form stories, but I couldn’t pass up this engrossing look from producer Gianluca Tramontana at the closing of one of New York City’s last iconic recording studios: The Magic Shop. You’ll find it in Remix broken into two stand-alone segments.
Lou Reed, Norah Jones, The Ramones, The Foo Fighters, Arcade Fire and, yes, David Bowie, are some of the recording artists that used the studio, which achieved legendary status due to its vintage recording gear: the crème-de-la-crème of vintage recording consoles, custom built in the ‘70s for the BBC. Tramontana explains how the console isn’t flat. Instead, it wraps around the producer “like a half-moon” and has buttons and knobs that click and turn, instead of a shiny digital interface. It has clocked in over tens of thousands of recording hours and feels “like a broken-in leather jacket.” That broken-in feel is the real magic of the studio. It’s dark and moody, warm and intimate—it feels like a place you’d want to hang out, like a living room. The vibe is a far cry from the glossy, sterile studios that dominate the modern recording landscape.
Rising SoHo rents over the past three decades left studio owner Steve Rosenthal with no choice but to close up shop. Lucky for us, Rosenthal gave Tramontana full access to the studio during the final 48 hours of its existence. The result is a must-hear story about a symbol of a bygone era and what it means to say goodbye.
“Fantasy Maps” from Imaginary Worlds
Like a lot of great audio stories, this is a piece about a niche topic with broad appeal. You don’t have to be a Lord of the Rings fanatic or a fantasy cartographer to appreciate producer Eric Molinsky’s foray into the philosophical implications of fantasy mapmaking on his podcast, Imaginary Worlds. Molinsky starts by establishing why J. R. R. Tolkein did what no other fantasy mapmaker had done before him—map a world from scratch. Gulliver’s Travels belongs to a recognizable Europe and The Wizard of Oz starts in Kansas. Tolkein, on the other hand, had to name and place everything. His maps were more serious, intricate, and artistic than previous fantasy maps had been. They also reflected the psychology of the characters of the story they accompanied, in this case the hobbits traveling from the Shire out into the rest of Middle Earth. In other words, Tolkein’s maps told a story.
Molinsky continues to trace the history of fantasy maps and the craft of fantasy mapmaking up to present day. It’s all interesting on the surface but it isn’t until the last two minutes that we learn why any of it matters. Regardless of whether a map depicts a fantasy world or the real world, all maps are acts of creation. All maps tell a particular story. So even the most accurate map, like Google’s, reveals biases if you pay close attention.
How To Listen to PRX Remix:
Download the PRX Remix app or go to prx.mx and press ‘play’. If you’re a satellite radio kind of person, check out channel 123 on Sirius XM or XM radio. If you’re a traditionalist and stick to the radio dial, check these listings to find Remix on a station near you.
Attend ‘Remix Live,’ a listening event at PRX’s Podcast Garage in Boston on October 27th. Details here.
Josh Swartz is the curator of PRX Remix. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions and suggestions.