I have a lot of podcast fraaaaands that I listen to every day. They don't know me but they're my best buds. I have to know their take on the latest crazy thing because they help me make sense of the world - or nonsense of the parts of the world I thought made sense.
Being the lurker that I am, a consumer of politics, I never called in to The Majority Report. But I imagined that one day I would, and when I started speaking with Sam Seder, and he asked how I found MR, as he often does, I would say that I bet you never heard anyone answer with this: Jay Akroyd's podcast. I was still in the blog world, to the extent I was into politics online, when I came upon "Virtually Speaking", a running conversation among prominent members of the "liberal blogosphere", which I have enough self-awareness even as a left-wing-media junkie to recognize was a niche in a niche.
It was 2016, around the time of the The Clown Car Chronicles series of episodes, where people like Digby, David Dayen, R. J. Eskow, Marcey Wheeler, etc. from the newer-but-aging media of online amateur print publication would marvel at the increasingly crazy cavalcade of candidates in the Republican presidential primary. Ben Carson, lol. Chris Christie, hehe. Trump, again? Haha! Santorum, don't google it! Which one of the serious republicans would end up losing to the first woman president, Jeb Bush? Marco Rubio?
One of Jay Ackroyd's guests was a man I'd never heard of named Michael Brooks. It wasn't the ephemeral bit of audio consumption typical for me - after finishing the episode, I was compelled to look him up. I don't remember what topics were discussed in that episode. What I mainly remember is the way he spoke, his easy articulation, drawing on vast awareness of politics, history, and the world outside America, with such humour, insight, and fucking style. It was a revelation to me, because it flipped the polarity on the self-loathing and contempt I had for my whole generation, and the horror I had at the prospect of us inheriting this increasingly fucked planet. If we were all like me, God help us.
But here was someone of my age, even a little younger maybe, speaking with earned confidence, bold but measured, aspirational but realistic, broad knowledge, brilliance and wit. I'd never heard it before, all I'd heard from my peers, at least all that I could remember, was weak, non-committal, word-mashing crap filled with likes and whatevers. It made me perk up and realize that there could be people born in the eighties and after with the combination of intelligence and compassion that would be a requirement for any kind of hopeful future.
I do remember at the end he plugged his new project with Philip McKenzie, "2 Dope Boys and a Podcast", a show about trends, cultural insight, what's happening in the worlds of culture, business, technology, fashion, and sports. He also plugged The Majority Report, which brought me into the world of independent media. This was my second "turning on", my obsession with psychedelics long in the past. I'd felt as if I was at the end of my history at any rate, burned out, incurious, bereft of passion. But all of a sudden, I was finding my people online and listening to them every day, and they were inspiring me. As Kyle Kulinski said in his post today, "I saw myself in him". Well, the self I wanted to be, anyway. Maybe all this media has pickled me into a too-far-gone leftist ideologue, I don't know, but it feels right to finally have the courage of my convictions.
Later in 2016, the last episode of Virtually Speaking I listened to, Jay said he was hanging up his microphone as he was too depressed to keep podcasting.
I feel like I got to know Michael well as I listened to him shoot the shit with his friends every day for several years, through the awful political slog we've all been struggling through. And me, a Canadian, but he was the kind of guy who looked outward as much as inward. And the complacency in my country makes for boring politics. In following the news from the US, there's the excitement of being on the cutting edge of anti-fascism. Although I'm sure Michael would tell me the cutting edge of anti-fascism is actually in Brazil, or India, or some other country.
I've become obsessed with many of his obsessions. I've learned so much, and honed my ideas. Most of all, I've laughed and laughed and laughed, and laughed at his beautiful eviscerating laugh. Damn I'm going to miss that. I don't know how to process this, all I can do is keep scrolling though comment threads and commiserate. It's been said by many of those posters, I've never felt such a loss for a person I didn't know personally. But I knew what a good person he was.
I don't know what to say about his death. It was a shock. I knew it had to happen sometime, was probably overdue, that one of my podcasting friends would die. It had to be my favourite one though... Fuck. It feels like this whole era feels: Gut-wrenching, but then instantly compartmentalized. I'm in tears one moment, then on some mundane bullshit the next. The unimaginable, before I even notice, becomes the new normal and things rage on. Somehow, I integrate that shit.
The opportunity here, I suppose, is to treasure the ones I'm with here and now.