Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happy Bloomsday Lovers!

In case, I don't get a chance to write before tonite, the great day is here at last! Listen to us beginning at 7pm EST on WBAI 99.5FM in New York City or online at Los Angelinos can hear us at 7pm their time on KPFK 90.7FM. If you are in New York City, The Hudson Yards Cafe is hosting a listening party at their bar on 10th avenue and 35th Street. All are welcome. The cast members will be hanging out there after they perform and Molly will shuffle in around 3am. Don't be blue mouldy, come listen with us!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

One More Day til Bloomsday!

My bed is my office. I am still in my pajamas and my hair looks like a family of New York pigeons lives in it. Before I belt my jammies, thrown on a saucy pair of heels and run out the door to pick up my boy from preschool, I want to tell you how excited am I for the upcoming sonic explosion rushing our way. In addition to the incredible pre-records I have been mentioning all month, we have two dozen live performers throwing down throughout the broadcast.

Two fierce stage veterans Bernadette Quigley and Fiana Toibin open up our program by performing the first pages of the novel. Yes, a female Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan will hit the airways in just over 24 hours. Bernadette has performed the Molly Bloom monologue at Symphony Space and Fiana was recently on Broadway with Vanessa Redgrave in A Long Day's Journey into Night. Irish actor Lawrence Lowry will be reading from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Comedienne Fiona Walsh performs the poetry of Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill. Jim Fletcher, who recently played the title role in the Elevator Repair Service's production of Gatz, performs John Milton. Ludlow street veterans and New York superstars Eco-Trippin's Corey Carthew (pictured above in orange) Faux Real Theater's Mark Greenfield, and Laura Barnett, Todo con Nada's Aaron Beall, Melanie Martinez, Anna Goodman-Herrick, The Treehouse Shaker's Mara McEwin and more perform from the Wandering Rocks episode of the novel. Irish writer Frank Delaney, author of the fantastic podcast Re:Joyce, does a Bloom monologue. Other fantastic live performers include Laura Ross, Barry Foley, Jimmy Reardon, and Routh Chadwick! Tune in LIVE tomorrow Thursday night from 7pm to 2am on WBAI, 99.5FM in NYC and on KPFK in Los Angeles. We will be live blogging the show. Send us notes and emails to

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2 days til Bloomsday!

We are all running around like chickens with our heads cut off here at Radio Bloomsday Central with only 55 hours left until we go live in New York City (LA will hear us on a 2 hour time delay). Yesterday, the superlative Alec Baldwin recorded Tennyson's poem Ulysses which will be our invocation to the gods at the top of the show on Thursday night. It's incredible. We've also received an amazing batch of recordings from the students at Belvedere College in Dublin. Lead by their teacher Louise Curtin, they recorded the complete Nestor episode of the novel which includes the classroom scene as Stephen Dedalus attempts to teach his students the poem Lycidas. Text monster Jim Fletcher then performs that John Milton poem. Belvedere College (pictured above) is of course James Joyce's high school. I was a student at Muckross Park, myself back in 80s with my old friends Louise Butterly and Helen O'Connell.

Colin Middleton, Beau Carley, Cian Buckely rehearse The Nestor episode
at Belvedere College, Dublin for Radio Bloomsday.

Hudson Yards Cafe on 10th avenue and 35th Street in NYC will be broadcasting the entire show. KPFK in Los Angeles will devote 2 hours in the afternoon to our upcoming evening broadcast of Radio Bloomsday. I leave you now with a promo from Alec Baldwin.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Radio Bloomsday Cast List!

Over sixty performers have collaborated with us this year to create the most sonically satisfying Radio Bloomsday ever. Join us on Thursday, June 16th at 7pm to hear (listed in alphabetical order) :

Alec Baldwin, Laura Barnett, Aaron Beall, Shawnee Benton-Gibson, Marie-Louise Bowe, Cian Buckley, Charles Busch, Beau Carley, Corey Carthew, Routh Chadwick Janet Coleman, Art Coyne, Louise Curtin, Michael Corcoran, Naoise Dack, Frank Delaney, Paul Dooley, Roma Downey, David Dozer, Kate Ellis, Anne Enright, Jim Fletcher, Finbar “Barry” Foley, Lucas Grange, Leo Hanna, Ryan Hargadon, Robbie Harris, Anna Goodman-Herrick, Mark Greenfield, Larry Josephson, Garrison Keillor, Owen Killian, Sam Killian, John Lithgow, Lawrence Lowry, Marc Maron, Melanie Martinez, Emer Mayock, Nick McDonell, Michael-David McKernan, Mara McEwin, Colin Middleton, Paul Muldoon, Caraid O’Brien, John O’Callaghan, Jimmy Reardon, Laura Ross, Bob Odenkirk, Nick Roth, Conor Ryan, Wallace Shawn, Marc Singer, T. Ryder Smith, Jerry Stiller, Tarab, Bernadette Quigley, Fiana Toibin, Francesco Turrisi, Kate Valk, Fiona Walsh and Zeroboy!

And of course are amazing production staff and engineers including Nellie Gilles, Robert Auld, Mark Torres, Jon Almehleh, Reggie Johnson, Max Shawn Rhodes, Max Schmid and Daniel Dunne.

3 days until Bloomsday!

We are still working away here at Radio Bloomsday Central, touching up the final rundown for the big show this Thursday night June 16 from 7pm to 2am. Let us know if you are planning any Bloomsday Listening Parties and we will send people your way. The Hudson Yards on 10th Avenue and 35th Street has said they would tune in at the bar. The photo above is of Radio Foundation Producer Larry Josephson (working on his thirtieth Bloomsday), producing staff Nellie Gilles, director Caraid O'Brien and the wonderful actor Jerry Stiller.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Listen to the Radio B

Radio Bloomsday Preview Today at 11am!

Listen to a Radio Bloomsday preview hour today, Sunday, at 11am on WBAI 99.5FM or on Artistic Director Janet Coleman and Caraid O'Brien will discuss Ulysses during The Next Hour radio show. We will play some excerpts of the novel from previous Radio Bloomsday broadcasts including performances by Paul Dooley, Anne Meara, Aaron Beall, Nicole Wiesner, Tara Bahna James and more. We will also be playing some music by the wonderful new instrumental ensemble Tarab. If you miss the broadcast you can listen to it on the WBAI archive.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Radio Bloomsday Promo

Holles Street Maternity Hospital

Yesterday, T. Ryder Smith dashed over to The Radio Foundation in between performances for War Horse at Lincoln Center. He brilliantly performed an excerpt from the most difficult chapter of Ulysses, Oxen of the Sun. Stylistically, Joyce slaloms through the history of English literature in this episode and it is often the chapter where readers throw the novel against the wall in desperation. T Ryder Smith performed an excerpt written in the style of the seventeenth century poet John Milton as the drunken students chided Dedalus about his supposed sexual exploits.We were discussing how once you have the answer keys, the clues, to Joyce's references, stylistic choices, and plot points, the episode opens up like a beautiful flower and you breath it in. If you do the work to understand the text, and read it and then perform it, the experience is like having a conversation with a brilliant friend and finally understanding what he is saying. It's a rush of artistic and intellectual pleasure and understanding.
The episode takes place at Hollis Street Maternity Hospital where Bloom and Dedalus finally meet joining the drunken medical students as they all wait for the birth of Baby Purefoy. My first experience with Ulysses was a ten year old girl in Dublin waiting in the lobby of Hollis Street for my aunt to finish work. She was a matron at the hospital and would take me to see plays by my first literary heros Oscar Wilde and John B Keane starring those wonderful actors who shaped my theatrical consciousness like Robert O'Mahoney and Mick Lally. While waiting in the lobby, I would watch the tours of American tourists making their Bloomsday pilgrimage to the site of this most difficult episode as Joyce birthed his place into the consciousness of English literature alongside the long laboring Mrs. Purefoy.

On Monday, John Lithgow recorded another difficult excerpt from Oxen of the Sun, written in the style of Charles Lamb whose version of Ulysses, was Joyce's first experience with the Greek legend while a student at Belvedere College in Dublin. This year, several students at Belvedere are recording the Nestor episode of Ulysses as Stephen Dedalus tries to teach his students the John Milton poem Lycidas. Radio Bloomsday veteran Jim Fletcher, that fantastic performer of classic twentieth century literature, will be performing that Milton poem live from the WBAI studios on June 16.

The ethereal Kate Valk recorded the birth of Baby Purefoy for us a few years ago. This year, she reads an excerpt from Cyclops with Jim Fletcher and one of my favorite WB Yeats poem's The Stolen Child which had the whole studio in rapt attention as she performed it. Join us only six days away and listen in live to Radio Bloomsday on WBAI in New York City and KPFK in Los Angeles and on anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Another Day at Radio Bloomsday Central

The legendary Jerry Stiller stopped by the Radio Foundation to record a couple of Bloom monologues for Radio Bloomsday, which is just 8 days away! First, he recorded an excerpt from Lestrygonians as Bloom thinks about all things people like to eat that he finds disgusting: oysters, unsightly like a clot of phelgm, snails out of the ground, Chinese eggs fifty years old, tainted game, jugged hare.

And then Jerry performed an excerpt for Aeolus, as Bloom walks into the newspaper office, stares at the old man setting the type backwards and thinks of his father and his Hebrew books at Passover: "Poor papa with his hagadah book, reading backwards with his finger to me. Pessach. Next year in Jerusalem. Dear, O dear! All that long business about that brought us out of the land of Egypt and into the house of bondage alleluia. Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu. No, that's the other." He was brilliant, rattling off the Hebrew like no other in the middle of this Irish novel.

On Monday, the incredible John Lithgow recorded a dense excerpt from the Oxen of the Sun episode of Ulysses written in the style of Charles Lamb. This is definitely shaping up to be our most incredible Bloomsday celebration ever. In addition to Jerry and John, our cast list includes Alec Baldwin, Wallace Shawn, Kate Valk, Jim Fletcher, Zeroboy, Aaron Beall, Bob Odenkirk, Paul Dooley, Mara McEwin, Corey Carthew, Laura Barnett, Mark Greenfield, John O'Callaghan, Marc Singer, Roma Downey, Melanie Martinez, Laura Ross, Janet Coleman, David Dozer, the students of Belvedere College in Dublin, Fiona Walsh, Fiana Tobin, Bernadette Quigley, Laurence Lowry, Shawnee Benton-Gibson, Marie-Louise Bowe and many more! Director Caraid O'Brien pictured above with Jerry in a photo by Nellie Gilles will perform the complete Molly Bloom episode live beginning around 11.30pm. Don't forget to tune in on Thursday, June 16 at 7pm on WBAI in NYC and KPFK in Los Angeles and on anywhere in the world.

Bloomsday: A Very Brief History

Every year, we encourage our listeners to host their own Bloomsday listening party, at home, in a bar or wherever they like to celebrate. Tips and menu suggestions available here. One of our advisors here at Radio Bloomsday is Professor Michael Groden, the esteemed Joyce scholar. He is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of English at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. He is the author of Ulysses in Progress, general editor of the manuscript facsimile series The James Joyce Archive, and author, most recently, of Ulysses in Focus: Genetic, Textual, and Personal Views. Below, Professor Groden explains the history of the world's most famous literary holiday.

Bloomsday: A Very Brief History
June 16, 1904 – Bloomsday – is surely the most famous single day in literature, a day celebrated all over the world. As its 2004 centenary approached, a newspaper headline shouted, One Day Turns 100. Why the day is famous is clear: James Joyce set the events of Ulysses on that day. Why Joyce chose this particular day is less certain. He never said why, and we can only speculate. Not much happened in the world on that day – at least in the Western world – but newspapers did report big events from the days before, including a Russian retreat in the Russo-Japanese War and the sinking of the General Slocum excursion boat in New York’s East River, with the loss of over a thousand lives. According to Richard Ellmann’s biography, Joyce chose this date for a more personal reason, as a gift to his partner and eventual wife Nora to commemorate the day on which she first went out walking with him and changed his life.

Joyce’s first biographer, Herbert Gorman, who wrote with the novelist’s cooperation, claims that nothing unusual happened to Joyce on June 16th. Several scholars have pointed to the absence of letters or any other evidence to show that Joyce and Nora met on that specific day. Joyce might simply have settled on a day in mid-June around the time of his walk with Nora that met his main requirements: no major world events, no Saint’s Day in the Catholic Church. We can’t know. But Ulysses is a novel that tempers its sadness, satire, and irony with a hearty dose of sentiment, occasionally even with sentimentality. Ellmann’s sentimental explanation for the date remains powerful, the kind of story about a particular day that we’d like to believe is true.

Not long after Ulysses was published in 1922, June 16th began to be called Bloomsday. The Oxford English Dictionary added an entry on Bloomsday in 2005 and cites the word’s first appearance in a letter Joyce wrote in June 1924. The practice of gathering together on the day to celebrate started early on as well, in 1929, when Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier invited Joyce and thirty other guests to a luncheon at the LĂ©opold restaurant near Versailles to honor both the publication of the French translation of Ulysses and Bloomsday’s 25th anniversary. The lunch took place on June 27, eleven days after Bloomsday, but no one seemed to mind.

For many years Dublin had a vexed relationship with Joyce, but the first celebration of Bloomsday there took place 57 years ago, on June 16, 1954. Irish writers Flann O’Brien and John Ryan brought a small group together at the Martello Tower, the setting of Ulysses’ first episode, and from there they took a Hades-like carriage ride through Dublin. One of the men, Anthony Cronin, noted with fascination that in the 1954 Gold Cup race, a horse with the Homeric name of Elpenor won at 50 to 1 odds, even more an outsider than Throwaway was in 1904. Leopold Bloom faces problems when several Dubliners mistakenly think that he has inside knowledge about the Gold Cup and has won a huge pile of money when the 20-to-1 long shot Throwaway wins the race. Especially intriguing to Cronin was the fact that Joyce’s equivalent of Elpenor in The Odyssey is Paddy Dignam, the man whose funeral Bloom attends in the Hades episode.

On June 16, 1967 the first gathering of Joyce scholars took place in Dublin, with academic conferences continuing as annual Bloomsday events in various European and North American cities. Popular celebrations have sprung up not only in Dublin (which started embracing Joyce in 1982, the centenary of his birth) but also in such diverse cities as New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and Beijing. Many Dubliners now consider Bloomsday to be Ireland’s second most important holiday, and some even rank it above St. Patrick’s Day.

New York can lay claim to the longest continuous association of any city with Bloomsday. The James Joyce Society was founded at the late, lamented Gotham Book Mart in 1947. One of the Society’s meetings each year has usually been on Bloomsday. The annual readings at Symphony Space, broadcast on WBAI, began in 1981. This is Radio Bloomsday’s fourth annual reading devoted exclusively to radio performance and broadcast on the Pacifica Radio Network. So join us in celebrating Bloomsday’s 107th anniversary in the best way we can think of: listening to the people and the city of Dublin, and the day come alive in the words James Joyce gave us on the pages of Ulysses.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Endless Conversation

As Joyce moves through the history of English language literature in Ulysses while at the same time pushing it forward in his tale of a day in Dublin in 1904, he engages and comments upon the writers who went before him and lodges himself firmly in the (sub)consciousness of the writers who came after him. As we put together the seven hour radio show, thematically weaving together Joyce and Yeats and Milton and Callaghan, what emerges is an extension of Joyce's literary conversation with no end in site. Joyce himself correctly stated that his novel "was sure to keep scholars busy for centuries." And in fact, the business of Joyce scholarship is a cottage industry with thousands of books written on his works as well as a Joyce expert in the majority of universities worldwide.

Rehearsing and recording various excerpts from Ulysses, pairing scripts with fearless actors who love to bite down on a difficult, elusive or challenging text, is a thrilling experience. On Friday at KCRW in Santa Monica, we recorded two extraordinary international actors, Roma Downey and John O'Callaghan both of whom were born in Ireland. John has recorded for us many times and the sexual energy he brings to the character of Bloom is both titillating and thrilling. The beautiful Roma Downey recorded for us for the first time this year and she was was hilarious and moving portraying three characters - the narrator of Lotus Eaters, Bloom's penpal lover Martha and a dirty slut from the lane. The chemistry between these two deeply Irish performers brought out the pulsating humanity of the text, nevermind its sexiness, and will be yet another highlight of our broadcast this year.

Every year, I emerge out of Radio Bloomsday with a deeper understanding of the text, as more layers are revealed and the puzzle pieces in the more difficult passages start clicking together. Joyce is continually referencing himself, beginning conversations at 10am and continuing them in Molly's monologue after midnight. Not finishing them of course, Joyce never finishes a conversation. I love Bloom's endless flights of fancy as he imagines other lands and cities and women. In Calypso, read by Wallace Shawn and Anne Enright, he conjures up the "Orangegroves and immense melonfields north of Jaffa." In the Lotus Eaters excerpt read by Roma Downey and John O'Callaghan, he continues a fantasy of the Middle East: "The far east. Lovely spot it must be: the garden of the world, big lazy leaves to float about on, cactuses, flowery meads, snaky lianas they call them. Wonder is it like that. Those Cinghalese lobbing around in the sun, in dolce far niente, not doing a hand's turn all day. Sleep six months out of twelve. Too hot to quarrel. Influence of the climate. Lethargy. Flowers of idleness. The air feeds most. Azotes. Hothouse in Botanic gardens. Sensitive plants. Waterlilies. Petals too tired to. Sleeping sickness in the air. Walk on roseleaves. Imagine trying to eat tripe and cowheel. Where was the chap I saw in that picture somewhere? Ah yes, in the dead sea floating on his back, reading a book with a parasol open. Couldn't sink if you tried: so thick with salt."

Meanwhile, its hot as Hades in New York City, by 9am I am already shvitzing like a ferd (sweating like horse in Yiddish) as Bloom might have said but never did. After our late May monsoons, there is no more Irish rain here to set the scene and like Bloom I find myself lusting after the weather I cannot have. I am reminded of the beautiful Joyce poem "She weeps over Rahoon" which reminds me of sitting in my Granny's living room looking at the rainfall outside her window on Rahoon Road in Galway, the birthplace of Nora Barnacle, Joyce's wife and inspiration for Molly.

Rain on Rahoon falls softly,
softly falling where my dark lover lies
Sad is his voice that calls me
sadly calling at grey moonrise.

The wonderful musician Marie-Louise Bowe from Laois will be reading that poem and others on Thursday, June 16th. Join us on Radio Bloomsday from 7pm to 2am on WBAI in NYC and KPFK in Los Angeles and on from anywhere in the world.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Behind the Scenes in Berlin

Our artistic director for Radio Bloomsday, the arts director for WBAI, Janet Coleman, is on tour with a show in the weeks leading up to June 16th. In between performances, she has been coordinating actors and engineers from hotels, backstage and afterparties in Europe. The Life! She writes to us today from Germany:

I am in Berlin with the New York City Players, opening tonight at the Hau Zwei in Richard Maxwell's "Neutral Hero." We started this tour almost five weeks ago with a premiere in Brussels, then shows in Vienna and Hamburg. We are sort of the international contingent of Radio Bloomsday, with the playwright/director Richard Maxwell and two of the players, Rosie Goldensohn and me, veterans of the WBAI Joyce marathon. For our opening run, we were joined in Brussels by even more Bloomsday players: Kate Valk (arriving right after the Wooster Group's Antwerp run of "Vieux Carre", Jim Fletcher (a non-touring New York City Player, also Jay Gatsby in the Elevator Repair Service's great production of "Gatz"), and Tori Vasquez (Daisy in "Gatz," and also Mrs. Richard Maxwell.Delores Maxwell, their daughter, is four years old, a temporary restraint on her ability to read "Ulysses," not on her status as a world traveller and theater goer.)

Rich Maxwell once described the setting of "NH," which takes place in an unnamed but richly described small-town in America -- possibly in Minnesota --as his Dublin. Like "Ulysses," it's an exploration of the hero myth though told in the most American of authorial voices.

I salute the Los Angeles contingent of Radio Bloomsday and its brilliant recorded work at KPFK, WBAI's sister station. I am thrilled that two of my favorite Second City alums, Bob Odenkirk and Paul Dooley were able to play together this year, not just wave at each other on Cahuenga Blvd.

After Berlin, the NYC Players returns to NYC for one day, then on for a week in Montreal. After that, for me, it's all James Joyce and Caraid O'Brien all the time. It's quite stunning to be in my airborn Dublin, Geniusville.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pa is dead. Misery! Misery!

We often forget the main event of Bloom's day as we go through the many experiences that make up his world on June 16, 1904, his breakfast, his toilet, his errand running, his getting thrown out of a pub, his heavy lunch, his bath, his attendance at mass, his visit to the newspaper office and later to the seaside, his visit to the hospital to check on poor Mrs. Purefoy in yet another long labor, his carousing with Stephen Dedalus at the whore house, their drunken walk home, his lost key, his scrambling to get over the fence and sneak into his own house, his last act of kissing his wife goodnight on her bottom. There are also his many musings on food, life, wife, sex, her affair with Blazes Boylan, the time when he was courting Molly as a young man, his pen pal lover Martha, his own dead son, his own dead mother, his own dead father. What gets Bloom out of the house that morning, however, is the unexpected death and funeral of his friend, Patrick Dignam at 11am that morning. What keeps him from returning home, of course, is the knowledge that his wife is planning to consummate her affair with her lover.

The Calypso episode which Anne Enright and Wallace Shawn perform in its entirety begins with Molly asking about the funeral and ends with Bloom muttering aloud "Poor Dignam." He chats with his old girlfriend Josie Breen about the death explaining why he is wearing mourning clothes in Lestrygonians and we are there in the pub during the Cyclops episode when Alfie Bergan hears that his friend has died for the first time. One of the most poignant moments in the novel is Dignam's son little Patrick Aloysius doing an errand for his mother on the afternoon of the day his father is buried during The Wandering Rocks episode of Ulysses. Little Patrick is relieved to escape the weeping of his mother and her friends, proud to be in special clothes and missing school for the day. His attention is drawn by a photograph in a store window advertising a boxing match. He wonders if he will be able to sneak out to see it, before he realizes the date of the match has passed. And then the brutal suddenness of his father's quick death takes hold of him. In all his innocence he says of his father, a famous alcoholic, in that segment:

"The last night pa was boosed he was standing on the landing there bawling out for his boots to go out to Tunney's for to boose more and he looked butty and short in his shirt. Never see him again. Death, that is. Pa is dead. My father is dead. He told me to be a good son to ma. I couldn't hear the other things he said but I saw his tongue and his teeth trying to say it better. Poor pa. That was Mr Dignam, my father. I hope he is in purgatory now because he went to confession to Father Conroy on Saturday night. "

The legendary radio host and writer Garrison Keillor recorded the tale of Patrick Dignam with such sad beauty and compassion for us last week. Patrick's grief reminds me of the the title character in another great Irish novel, Roddy Doyle's Booker Prize Winner Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha.
The entire Wandering Rocks episode in Ulysses is a snapshot of Dublin during that one late spring afternoon in 1904, broken down into eighteen segments each one focusing on a different character or characters in the novel. We will be featuring several segments from Wandering Rocks, Joyce's micronovel set in the middle of his macronovel. In this chapter, Bloom buys a dirty book for his wife, in an excerpt that will be read by comedian Marc Maron. Blazes Boylan flirts with a shop girl and buys Molly, whom he refers to as an invalid, a gift which will be performed by Radio Bloomsday veteran Alec Baldwin. The brilliant young novelist Nick McDonell (below) performs Stephen Dedalus browsing in a bookstore where he chances upon his young, hungry sister. She is trying to buy a french primer to better herself, despite the fact that their mother has just died, their father is an alcoholic and they never have any food in the house. Stephen wants to save her but cannot, the tremendous weight of his artistic ambition propels him forward:

"She is drowning. Agenbite. Save her. Agenbite. All against us. She will drown me with her, eyes and hair. Lank coils of seaweed hair around me, my heart, my soul. Salt green death.


Agenbite of inwit. Inwit's agenbite.

Misery! Misery!"

Eighteen deeply human moments in dozens of people's lives, as moving today as they were when they were written. What we seek to highlight during our broadcast of Radio Bloomsday is the longing, the desperation, the pain, the beauty, the hope and the dreams behind the hundreds of Dubliner's who populate Joyce's mind, decades after he physically left that city forever and continued to write in Zurich, Pola and Paris. Please join us as we investigate the psyche of the human soul as seen through the mind of James Joyce on Thursday June 16, 2011 in WBAI 99.5FM in New York City, on KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles and on anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

30 years of Bloomsdays on the Radio

Dozens of actors, writers and engineers, from coast to coast, come together every year to create our seven hour broadcast of artists interpreting James Joyce's Ulysses, Radio Bloomsday. Last year, we interviewed our artistic director and the Director of Arts Programming at WBAI, Janet Coleman, who is working with us on Radio Bloomsday from her European tour of Neutral Hero, a new play by Richard Maxwell, another Radio Bloomsday performer. This year we turn our attention to our producer, Larry Josephson (pictured at left). Larry has been broadcasting Bloomsday on the radio for thirty years. A Peabody-Award-Winner he has spent 45 years in public radio as host, producer, manager and engineer. He started the nonprofit, The Radio Foundation in 1977 as a means to produce and distribute his work, and that of others.

Larry was the host of an infamous grumpy morning program on WBAI, New York (1966-72). A series of local and national programs followed: “MODERN TIMES,” “BRIDGES: A Liberal/Conservative Dialogue;” an 8-hour documentary, “ONLY IN AMERICA: The Story of American Jews;” and “What Is Judaism? Conversations with Rabbi Ismar Schorsch About Seven Jewish Holidays.”

Josephson is also responsible for the revival of Bob & Ray on public radio, CD and in Carnegie Hall, after they were no longer commercial. He holds a B.A. in Linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley, and has taught radio production at the New School and NYU.

Director Caraid O'Brien interviews Larry at his Upper West Side studio.

How long have you been producing Ulysses for the radio?

1981 was the first year I produced Bloomsday for radio. In the late 70s there was a Bloomsday marathon reading broadcast on WBAI from the Shakespeare & Company bookstore on 81st and Broadway, now a discount cosmetics outlet. When the store went out of business I went to Isaiah Sheffer and suggested we take over the tradition and broadcast a show live from Symphony Space, which we did for 27 years. In 2008, I decided to produce a Bloomsday exclusively for radio, broadcast live and on tape from the WBAI studios on Wall Street. The radio-only concept allows us to record actors who can’t come down to WBAI live—Alec Baldwin, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Wallace Shawn, Anne Enright, Paul Muldoon, Bob Odenkirk and many others. I invited Caraid O’Brien to direct and to perform Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. Janet Coleman, WBAI’s Arts Director, serves as Artistic Director of the project.

What was your first experience with Ulysses?

The first time I encountered the book was in 1978, hearing it read over WBAI from Shakespeare & Company. I loved it as sound art, to me it’s verbal music. I believe that it was written to be read aloud, to be declaimed, whatever Joyce’s intention. It’s a feast for the ear as much as for the eye.

Most educated people haven’t read the book. If I had nickel for every time someone confessed to me that they have never read Ulysses, or started and gave up, I’d be a wealthy man.

So your first encounter with Ulysses was when it was read aloud at a Bloomsday?


And since then you have devoted 30 years to performances of Ulysses on the radio?


Larry (with beard) in a 1969 photo by Richard Avedon for a piece on WBAI in New York Magazine.

What are your favorite parts of the book?

The opening of the book has a certain resonance, “Stately Plump Buck Mulligan…, and Molly, the end of Molly, starting from “the night we missed the boat at Algeciras” ... to the final “Yes.” It’s some kind of a miracle that a man could write Penelope. I can’t think of another man who could have gotten into a woman's mind like Joyce did. Caraid, I like your Molly best, it sparkles like champagne. Fionnula Flanagan's is completely different, like a full bodied wine. Both are amazing performances. The stamina, not to mention bladder control, required boggles the mind.

Ulysses is very funny. I love the jokes: Mr. Deasy’s line from the second chapter – “Why didn't they kick the Jews out of Ireland? Because they never let them in.” That’s funny and sad.

What else speaks to you about Ulysses?

I love the language. And the languages: English, Greek, Latin, Gaelic. That it’s about all of life and death, sex and food—and drink---compressed into one day. And how disrespectful and mocking it is to the church and the clergy. I like the fact that there is an incredible amount of scholarship about Joyce and Ulysses, Joyce and his relationship to his wife, Nora Barnacle, the letters and poems we read. And its publishing history, including the battle with censors. The fact that Bloomsday is celebrated all over the world on the same day is inspiring to me; it’s great to be a part of that.

I also like the sound of the character names: Blazes Boylan, Patty Dignam (R.I.P), Stephen Dedalus, Mr. Deasy, Corny Kelleher, Bella Cohen, Father Conmee, S.J, and, of course, Mr. Leopold Bloom.

You have produced a radio documentary on history of the Jews in America. Do you relate to Bloom’s Jewishness?

I don’t think of Bloom as a Jewish character (according to Jewish law he isn’t—his mother was a Christian, his father converted to Christianity), nothing he does is particularly Jewish. Only the drunken, anti-Semitic louts in Barney Kiernan’s pub define him as a Jew.

However, he is one of the few Jews in mainstream literature that isn’t a despised character like Fagan or Shylock. He is the outsider in his own (Irish) society.

Another association with Ulysses: my first wife and I had a baby who died at 18 months; the marriage broke up soon after. It is still very painful to this day, so I identify with Molly and Leopold that way.

(Bloom lost his newborn son Rudy 11 years before Ulysses takes place; he and Molly haven’t slept together since then.)

When did you first become involved with WBAI?

I was a computer program for IBM in Poughkeepsie, NY, a form of hell for a single man from LA who’d never seen snow. In 1965 I finally got a transfer to an IBM office in New York City. Since I knew no one in the city, I volunteered at WBAI as a recording engineer. Bob Fass, my radio mentor, got me a job as an announcer in 1966. Shortly after most of the staff, including AB Spellman, the morning host, walked out over a dispute on how to cover the Vietnam War. I auditioned, got the job and the rest is history. I broke all the rules of morning radio—eating my breakfast on the air and reviewing it at the same time. Occasionally, I was so depressed I couldn’t speak and just played music--one morning I played “Lady Madonna” over and over for two hours. Other mornings I showed up late or not at all.

I was called “the morning mayor of the revolution.” but I was skeptical of the sixties movements, especially the alleged transformative power of drugs and sex but I was against the Vietnam war and supportive of civil rights.

I don’t think human nature has changed much since we climbed out of the primordial slime. Rage and passion are just the same, one’s basic needs for security and love, to raise children, have always been there and will always be.

A four year old named Katie would call in every day and talk about her day. Lisa, a 14 year old student at the Nightingale School would call in with cynical tales out of school. WBAI never sent out a press release. I started out in March, 1966; in September I opened the
Times to find a review of my show by Jack Gould, their TV radio critic, who loved the show and gave me a great review. I did the morning show for 6 years. After the baby died, I couldn’t talk about it so went back to Berkeley to finish my degree. Two years later I returned to WBAI as station manager. As a station manager I made a good radio producer!

People think of me as a typical New York Jew but I was born a typical LA Jew, transformed into a New York Jew after living here for 50 years.

What is WBAI’s connection to literature on the radio?

WBAI became a Pacific station in 1960 after the eccentric philanthropist, Louis Schweitzer, donated the station to Pacifica. In the seventies WBAI did a marathon reading of “War and Peace,” mostly live, with William F Buckley, Morris Carnovsky and a cast of hundreds, using community members as well as professional actors. “The people” reading the people's novel. In the sixties and seventies, original and traditional radio drama, cultural criticism and reviews were an essential part of WBAI’s schedule, along with news and public affairs. The station became highly politicized in the seventies, divided against itself, driven by identity politics, so cultural programming with broad appeal started to fall away.

Radio Bloomsday’s artistic director, Janet Coleman, has done yeoman service in keeping literature and radio drama alive throughout her career at the station.

Who do you hope is listening in to Radio Bloomsday?

People who love
Ulysses or who will learn to love it after listening to Radio Bloomsday, because it’s a wonderful piece of literature read by great actors. Having a book read to you goes back to infancy, it is a primal experience. There is a long history at NPR, Pacifica and on the BBC reading books to listeners, just like mother.

Why do you produce Ulysses for the radio every year?

It is an activity that is something I am very proud to be part of. I enjoy it. I am very pleased that I have made Ulysses readings happen on the radio for 30 years. It has given me a lot of pleasure, a bit of prestige and it fulfills the motto of the Radio Foundation, “Devoted to the Art of Radio.”