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Two podcasts look back at messy decades of America's counterculture: NPR

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home country radical Explore the history of the left-wing extremist group “Weather Underground”. i was never there tells the story of a local hippie folk hero who disappeared in the late 80’s.



Terry Gross, host:

This is fresh air. At the recent Tribeca Festival, two non-fiction podcasts were honored for looking back on the messy decades of the American counterculture. As podcast critic Nick Quah found, the similarities between these podcasts aren’t just in duration. Here is his review.

NICK QUAH, BYLINE: Earlier this summer, the Tribeca Festival, formerly known as the Tribeca Film Festival, presented their best narrative audio non-fiction award to many commoners until they began to recognize other media formats. I gave two podcasts with points. For one thing, his two shows, “Mother Country Radicals” and “I Was Never There,” are projects that take listeners back to the days of the American counterculture. Also, both shows deal with family issues. Winner of Best Audio Storytelling Nonfiction, “Mother Country Radicals” explores the history of the Weather Underground, a militant left-wing organization that opposed American imperialism through sometimes violent means throughout the 1970s. . The series tells the story inside out, as the podcast was created by his playwright Zayd Ayers Dohrn. Zayd Ayers Dohrn happens to be the son of his two former leaders in the group, Bernardine Dohrn and he’s Bill Ayers.

(Podcast Soundbite, “MOTHER COUNTRY RADICALS”)

ZAYD AYERS DOHRN: I knew from my first memory, when I was two or three years old, that the FBI was tracking us. But we never knew exactly what the FBI was, why they or it wanted to catch us, or what if they did. rice field. I knew it was just as bad as I knew it.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: Did you know there’s a secret you can’t tell? I don’t know what you knew, but we tried to make it fun for you.

QUAH: “Mother Country Radicals” is a remarkable document. It’s detailed and layered, and tricky at many turns. Place it carefully in context. He earnestly and sympathetically portrays young people participating in the movement as ordinary people who are unusually reactive to the political issues of the time. And he’s been wildly successful, thanks in no small part to the strength of his recorded interviews. Zaid is informed not only by his parents, but also by numerous conversations with living former members of the wider revolutionary network, including Angela Davis. They all have stories to tell. But in reality, 40 years after Weather Underground disbanded, they still have a few secrets to keep.

(Podcast Soundbite, “MOTHER COUNTRY RADICALS”)

AYERS DOHRN: And this is actually a difficult part of the story to write and study. People don’t want to talk about the most radical actions of the underground, such as who made the bombs and who planted them.

Cathy Wilkerson: That’s not what I really want to get into.

JEFF JONES: I’m going to let you down, Zayd. I really don’t want to.

LAURA WITEHORN: Oh no, I’m not going to talk about that. sorry.

Eleanor Stein: I don’t want to go there.

Jones: I don’t remember.

Ayers Doorn: That’s right. I remember others.

Jones: Well, shame on them.

(laughter)

QUAH: Meanwhile, “I Was Never There,” which won the Special Jury Prize in the same category, focuses more on family dynamics. The series follows mother-daughter duo Jamie and Karen Zellermeier in the late ’80s, a disappearing, West Virginia suburban and regional hippie her folk her hero Marsha her Ferber. We are working to reveal more information about. In many ways, “I Was Never There” is a classic true crime podcast, filled with the usual beats – cold cases, amateur investigations, more questions than answers. It’s personal to the Zellermeyer family. Her mother Karen was Marsha’s best friend when she was a returnee farmer to the land where Marsha lived in the same flat. As the Zelermyers delve further into her disappearance, the series becomes a portrait of her Virginia hippie subculture of her 70s and her 80s West, the many Americans who had internalized the politics of the time. is reflected locally.

(Podcast soundbite, “I WAS NEVER THERE”)

KAREN ZELERMYER: I have been a war activist for many years. I was starting to feel really pointless, as if all the actions I had taken hadn’t changed. A portion of the activist community was bent on taking up arms. And to me it felt really crazy. I began to feel more and more that the only solution was to withdraw. [expletive] Up. We were going to show the world that there is another way to live.

QUAH: The two podcasts, with their contrasting parts, make for a compelling double bill. The former keeps the narrative centered on political struggles. The latter, on the other hand, focuses on the home and frames the counterculture in personal terms. But it’s much more interesting as a sister project. Taken together, the podcast provides a vivid window into a historic moment when ordinary Americans turned to the intractable issues of the time and radically reimagined how things could be. Of course, their efforts were very imperfect. Many of these groups suffered from gender and racial inequalities. The extremism of some of their political actions gives a pause. And “I Was Never There” and “Mother Country Radicals” address this to an extent, as their storytelling often features older subjects reflecting on the choices they made as young activists.

It’s hard not to get upset when you hear these stories. Yes, they talk about moments that were volatile and sometimes dangerous – in some ways different from today. But it was also a time of deep political imagination. They were bold enough to dream of a world where Even more daring, they were the people who risked their lives to build it.

GROSS: Nick Quah is a podcast reviewer for New York Magazine and Vulture.

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