‘Sometimes I drive around the country and talk to people. There’s no law against it.’ And with that, Scott Carrier begins the first episode of his podcast Home of the Brave, an artful, meandering series which gives intimate glimpses into the lives of people you never thought existed.
Scott Carrier started producing stories for the radio in 1983, when he showed up at the National Public Radio (NPR) offices in Washington D.C., practically homeless, with a bag of tapes. At first, the NPR producers were skeptical, but Carrier was insistent and they gave him a shot. Carrier’s first story was an instant classic, and he was subsequently given book deals and asked to write stories for magazines like Harper’s and Esquire. Carrier’s idiosyncratic style has earned him a cult-like following.
After 33 years of producing stories for radio, he started a podcast in 2015. Home of the Brave is supported by its listeners, and Carrier has no team helping him out, allowing him greater flexibility and creative autonomy. This explains the show’s loose format: some episodes are thematically-driven; some are based on U.S. politics and some are collages of Carrier’s thoughts while alone. Even with such a wide-focus, Home of the Brave is rendered cohesive in Carrier’s distinctive style.
In the first episode, Carrier drives aimlessly around the U.S. southwest asking strangers, ‘Why is this the end of the world as we know it?’ This question at first seems bizarre. Is what the end of the world? Is the world ending? How? But the question’s brilliance lies in its open-ended gravity. On one level, its ambiguity, specifically what ‘this’ refers to, allows interviewees to answer in the way they think is most natural. Some respond by explaining how this place is the end of the world; that is, where they are is in some way the ‘end of the earth,’ as the expression goes. Others interpret the question’s ‘this’ temporally, usually leading to apocalyptic predictions. On another level, the question has a deeper ambiguity: in assuming that the world is ending, the question elicits people’s deepest anxieties and their wildest theories.
So, why is any of this important, or at least worth a listen? I think Carrier’s off-kilter style of questioning, and his acceptance of the most wide-ranging answers, both reveals the staggering plurality of perspectives and attests to the possibility of listening to such a plurality. More concretely, what seems like a natural direction to answer a given question varies across people, and rather than this diversity separating us, it can show our vast potential to at least understand each other – if we take the time to listen.
For example, one stranger who identifies himself as ‘Willy of Crestonia’ thinks that the end of the world as we know it is imminent, but that we shouldn’t worry, because that’s actually a great thing:
‘We’re not gonna have to live in houses or have jobs or wear clothing. There will be lots of ganja growing and we’ll get our nutrients from sniffing flowers…. It’s like getting a new cellphone with new apps; the super phone is coming; the super life is coming.’ And to this ecstatic outpouring of Willy’s utopic predictions, Carrier responds with an earnest ‘Really?’
Some might interpret Carrier’s openness as naiveté, but I think it is really a profound form of empathy, the ability to really hear what other people are saying—even if they seem to live in such different worlds. For this reason, Carrier finds himself often having strange conversations that I could never imagine. In ‘My First Radio Story’, Carrier sleeps on a mesa overlooking a trailer park, and in the morning, he realizes that someone else was sleeping nearby. This person begins telling Carrier that he just got out of jail and won’t leave town because the police have his shoes. ‘I ain’t gonna go until I get my tennis shoes back’ he exclaims with conviction.
Not only intriguing, Carrier’s podcast is downright hypnotic. The narratives are broad but controlled; they ease the listener along as if you were hitchhiking with no destination. Home of the Brave reminds us that we are all just along for the ride.
Photo by Peabody Awards