Stories From the Everyperson

Occasionally, as a blogger, you find yourself strangely driven to post a piece on a particular subject, and no matter what you do to talk yourself out of it, it keeps coming back – so, I’m sorry, but I must do this.


I can’t remember when I first saw one of these, but I do remember thinking, “Oh wow, I love this!” I’m talking about the little video clips in the series, “Interviews 50 Cents” with NPR’s Alex Chadwick – immediately you think of Lucy van Pelt’s, “Psychiatric Help 5c”, and Chadwick readily admits that the inspiration for the card table, two chairs, and simple signage comes directly from Lucy’s famous stand.

peanuts-lucy-psychiatristSince 2002, Chadwick, and producers, Ray Farkas (until his recent death), and now Ethan Boehme, have been appearing at places where people gather, setting up their table and chairs, and the long view camera … and waiting. Currently, the project is still ongoing, with support from Slate V.

As you began watching, it only takes one or two before you realize the charm and magic these vignettes play – I love the ambiance that the simple ’30s tune sets at the onset – it’s perfect. And while everyone understands that it is they who are being interviewed, the classic question is, “Who pays 50 cents?” Chadwick’s answer is always the same; “That depends on how good your story is!”

It took me a little longer to catch why Chadwick allows such pregnant pauses to develop – at first, my response was to think, “OK, Alex, let’s keep this rolling here” – but then I remembered that every interviewer is taught that most normal folk can’t stand the silence which occurs when neither of two talkers is filling the air with noise – if you simply refuse to speak, very soon, the other person will speak – Chadwick is simply applying the skill of interviewing. And it works!

But one of the reasons why Interviews 50 Cents works is that this is America! Amazingly, crowds do not stop in wonder to view this strange happening – they simply walk on by as if they don’t even see the table and camera nearby. And that same “acceptance of whatever” is responsible, I’m sure, for the willingness of the interviewees to say almost anything – I’m quite sure that some of these little clips get cut for unacceptable content – but then, my opinion is only based on the risque quality of some clips that don’t get cut. But, through it all, Chadwick’s response and attitude never change – and again, the skill and practice of the professional shine.

One of my almost immediate impressions was just how concise and compact these clips are – given that not everyone will be willing to seat down and tell their story, it must be true that most who are willing also want a bit more than two minutes in which to do it! They’re not all two minutes, true, but I’m betting there’s a good deal of editing that goes into these.

If I came across Chadwick and Interviews 50 Cents, would I tell my story? You bet! I’d love the opportunity – but when it came time, and they told me I had to keep it to two or three minutes, then I may just change my mind – I’m just not a two minute kind of guy – Ha! One reason I blog, and I make no apologies, is because no one is here to tell me I have to keep this to 200 words, or one page, or whatever! How the hell am I going to get my dose of therapy if I have such constraints? I do this for me first, and then if anybody else wants to share, that’s fine with me.

Yes, I know all about the six word story, and all that goes with it. I can even intellectually agree that the finest story telling is done hand-in-hand with a minimalist approach – I’ve had those classes – I’ve labored on that front – and frankly, that’s primarily why I no longer wish to be constrained.

But none of that has a thing to do with these Stories From the Everyperson – I encourage you to check them out – the excellence of these bits of Americana makes them worthy to be seen and enjoyed.


About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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6 Responses to Stories From the Everyperson

  1. Melissa says:

    I’m looking forward to checking these out – sounds like a really interesting project! Did you ever hear any of the NPR Storycorps project recordings?

    I used to catch them from time to time during my interminable commute to or from school (40+ miles each way = lots of good listening time!) and they were often just amazing. The conceit is that the project has a van with sound equipment, they park somewhere prominent with a good deal of foot traffic (I saw them once parked at the Santa Monica 3rd St. Promenade). You go inside the van, just you and one other person – friend, family member, someone who knows you very well – they set you up to record and one of you interviews the other, prompting for a story the interviewer knows very well.

    They are often poignant, sometimes heartbreaking, but other times are really quite funny. One of the funniest ones I remember was these 2 old ladies and the one telling the story was recalling finding a stash of WWII era pornography in her dad’s closet and recalling how racy and exciting those images were and how often she returned to this secret stash…she was giggling and so excited recalling this story you couldn’t help but laugh and you totally got why her friend loved her and wanted to share this side of her with us.

    The submissions are being archived for the Library of Congress and being called an oral history of the US. It’s pretty awesome. I always meant to mention this to you, I think you’d get a kick out of them.

    Oh, and btw, my profession’s on to that little silence trick too. I use that one every day, just about, and wow, it really works. Luckily, human beings, and I think particularly Americans, seem to have almost no tolerance for silence. What comes out next is a real Rorschach test of what’s in their – very useful info!!

    Thanks for sharing about this project – I can’t wait to spend some time checking it out. And feel free to share your 2 minutes (or more!) any time – you already have an eager audience for that sort of thing, you know!!

  2. drfugawe says:

    Hi Melissa,
    Yeah, I’m sure Chadwick got more than a little of his inspiration from his NPR peers – sev of them were starting similar work at the time he was doing stuff for Morning Edition – so, … And then there’s the fact that Ray Farkas, (producer for Interviews 50 Cents) also did a doc film in the late 90s called “Long, Long Ago” about the history of film, as told through the many voices of 100 year old people. So, it’s all kind of incestuous.

    Thanks for that link – it added to the big picture.
    Enjoy the day!

  3. Alex Chadwick says:

    Dear Dr.,

    Thanks for the notice, and I hope I get to hear some stories from you one day. The real story of my connection to Story Corps is that Ray Farkas and I began doing this for an ABC news show back in the 90’s. Dave Issay (Story Corps founder) called me up one day to say he was going to try something similar, and did I mind? No, I didn’t.
    My wife says my real talent is in the kitchen…happy meals to you.


  4. drfugawe says:

    Oh wow, a visit from the artist himself! I’m honored.

    As a lifelong student of human nature, and an old psych major, there is a magical magnetism to your work – and you do a damn good job as well. I appreciate how you and your producer/crew don’t allow the work to drift into the arena of “mock”, which would be SO easy to do with human behavior – as in Errol Morris’s doc film, “Vernon, FL” – but then, having lived in Florida for 25 years, I realize he had difficulty avoiding the “character” – I’m quite sure you’ve seen that work, but if not … you must – regardless, it’s a great work.

    Love your work, Alex, and hope you continue with it – BTW, love your taste in cigars also!

  5. melanie says:

    you sent this to me a while ago in an email and i absolutely loved it– i remember checking it out right before bed and thinking “ok, just one more, then i’ll go to sleep” over and over…it was a driveway moment, only on the couch! terrific stuff.

  6. drfugawe says:

    Well, I kind’a knew that if i liked it, you’d like it too! Keep the light on in the front window.

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