Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Foster Kamer
On NPR, The Odyssey, and Rome
Foster Kamer (FEK) is a longstanding pal from the days of knocking back drinks at Botanica as part of the media and creative gremlin class of mid-2000’s NYC. He’s since written about every conceivable topic, from culture to cuisine, to bare-knuckle NYC politics and more. For a taste of his stuff, read his recent piece on Bemelmans Bar, which was a bullseye. Whenever we meet up, I need to make sure we have enough time because the conversations are delightful and wide-ranging. Also, I am letting this interview be posted as-is and without a ton of editing because it gives an insight into what a rapid-fire devour-er of culture Foster is. And it is a pleasure to read. Have a great week. -Colin (CJN)
Tell us about yourself.
I'm a Virgo, just another terrible romantic who just wants nothing more than to see and be seen, you know? Colin, you better keep that in. But fine, here's the logline: I'm a writer-editor with twelve years in the media industry spread across various magazines, newspapers, blogs, and the occasional zine. Name a beat—odds are I've filed//edited on it (media, fashion, music, politics, nightlife, tech, real estate, gossip, etc). These days, I'm at Futurism during the day. I'm always moonlighting some freelance features (lately: NYT, Gossamer, NY Mag, Vox, etc).
But the headline right now is that I decided to start blogging again via a newsletter: FOSTERTALK. That's probably why I got the call on this, yeah? If you can't tell by the brain-cell-vaporizing-dumb knuckledragger of a name, I had no idea what I was doing when I started it. And I still don't, but I'm feeling it out with each installment. Some days it'll be about a single moment on an album that shocked me with a Proustian rush of a specific and profound radical empathy; other days it's talking to writers about race relations in newsrooms and throughout the writing process; other days it's pondering the idea of Dexter Filkins having to see Jeffrey Toobin's dick. It's a way for me to get my writing in front of people's faces, and workshop some bigger ideas for bigger projects, to force myself to do it more. And yes, it's a little bit of a homecoming to my media gossip days. The media gossip is the peanut butter around the pill — it's how I'm attempting to get people to bite on some of the things I truly care about. It's fun and also a massive headache. As one writer whose work I love, Jeremy Gordon, put it: "Every issue could either break [something] everyone in media knows about but isn’t willing to say out loud, or lead to Foster’s complete exit from polite society." Another told me it has a "pulse." If those are my magnetic poles, I'm okay with that.
Describe your media diet.
I try to get as much of my daily news from NPR as possible. It soundtracks my mornings. I love WNYC, but I also try to jump around to various local stations to get a taste of what's going on there — three favorites are Aspen Public Radio and Hawaii Public Radio, and my home station, Nevada Public Radio. Speaking of radical empathy: While NPR might not always have the blockbuster stories that, say, the Times does, the fact of audio reporting is that it succeeds at creating a connection between a news consumer and a story more than any other medium. It lacks the cinematics and shouty madness of cable news, or the hyper-crisp clippable packaging of network news. And it animates the stories in a way print simply can't, with the tone of people's voices, and the range of emotion they can convey: Sadness, desperation, elation, fear, hope. Over the course of a morning, they'll take you from a Syrian refugee camp to Lebanon in the shadow of the port explosion wreckage to a diner in Iowa as people are processing the election, and then they'll throw in some Story Corps — or the best interview you'll hear with Alex Trebek — for good measure. And you don't have visuals or flat text, but people's voices, and that's it. I've probably wept more times than I can count listening to NPR in the mornings. Elsewhere, where audio's concerned, I'm not a huge podcast or audiobook guy, but Reply All is obviously a must. Throwing Fits, because while James and Larry play Beavis and Butthead, the truth is, they're very well-rounded, smart guys, and have become very good interviews. And How Long Gone, because [hosts Chris Black and Jason Stewart] are (it pains me to say this) funny, but moreover, booking most of the people I know, possibly as a gaslighting campaign against me. My Mom's gonna end up on there talking about her kettlebell and edibles routine any day now, I know it.
Over the course of the day, it's: The New York Times via the app of course, which I really do believe is the greatest daily manifestation of collective human intellect in the world. I still type Pitchfork into the browser every morning to check out the reviews, because it's (still) the best music writing around. And then whatever's coming up on Twitter. I'll try not to read too much during the day, but I'll open a metric fuckton of tabs. At the end of the day, I use One Tab and start doing Tab Eugenics. If the story survives my cleansing, I'll read it before I close the laptop for the day.
While I'm making dinner, I'll watch NY1, the greatest local news station in the world. It's just astonishing, the quality of local reporting, the depth, especially in city politics. I'll also tune into NY1 in the mornings to catch Pat Kiernan do In The Papers. Oh, and Jeopardy, every night. My DVR is just the backlog of 100something episodes of Jeopardy I've missed over the last five years, and the last twelve episodes of Letterman. I can't bring myself to part with them.
Magazines: I get New York, the New Yorker, The Atlantic, and now (as a gift from my Dad) National Geographic in print — and it truly is a wonderful print product. In the beforetimes, I'd spend a lot more time visiting magazine stores and blowing money on fashion mags like Office. These days, not so much. Anyway, magazines after dinner. And then, books before bed. Also: I subscribe to Washington Post music critic Chris Richards' zine, DEBUSSY RINGTONE, and have those all at my bedside table. Can't recommend it enough.
Finally, more and more often, lately — yes — newsletters. I haven't figured out exactly how to fit them in yet. A few of them I open in batches, some of them I'll open as soon as they roll in. It's a whole thing.
What’s the last great book you read?
The book that's had more of an influence on me — not my writing, but as a human — is Emily Wilson's translation of The Odyssey. If you don't know, it's the first time it's been translated into English by a woman, and it's translated into iambic pentameter, which is a different meter than the one traditionally used. I've read it three times. It's just such a delight, is just so readable, and if you let it, it'll frame life for you in the epic, Homeric context we all deserve: The characters we meet, the wit and cunning we employ, the way we tell our own stories, the tasks we set out for ourselves, the things we search for, and so on.
What are you reading now?
I read...many things at once (can you tell?). Right now, I'm finishing Seeing Is Forgetting The Name Of The Thing One Sees, which I started a long time ago after Kyle gifted it to me as an apology for filling my apartment with feral cats as an experiment in performative maximalism while finishing his book. Anyway, I did that thing where I didn't want to finish it because it's just so good. It's a biography of the California Light and Space artist Robert Irwin. It's about the "irreducible mystery" of this utterly normal guy, who doesn't suffer for his art, but who shaped the course of modernism with utterly ethereal work, and the greatness of making something so ineffable and singular. It's inspiring? If nothing else, it has the single greatest blurb I've ever seen on the back of a book, which is that it's "convinced more young people to become artists than the Velvet Underground has created rockers." The other is a biography called Nileism, about The Blue Nile, this enigmatic, critically beloved, cult-favorite Glaswegian band who created these beautiful, minimalist pop soundscapes. But they only made four albums over two decades, and could never quite get it together for some absurd reasons, much of which has to do with hesitation and putting too much pressure on themselves. It's funny and sweet, and a real cautionary tale about getting in one's own way.
What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?
I know what I've saved for print (versus what I've read online) so I go in with a good idea of what I need to get done. In the past, I'd crush the back-of-book and front-of-book wells before hitting the feature well, but there's not a lot of great game in those areas lately. I still open the Approval Matrix first, though. Who among us, you know?
Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?
I've probably thought harder about this question than any other, but I want to shout out a few people: MJ Franklin at the New York Times is gonna be running that place in a few years. He just joined the books desk in June, I used to work with him, and: He's got so much pluck and energy and passion and such a feel for whatever moment we're in. He's also just an excellent human, and I root for excellent people. There are a lot of these people who aren't the stars you know, but who deserve so much shine. I can name so many of them, I just don't have space.
Also, I gotta shout out the team at Futurism, and especially managing editor Jon Christian. He's just so good, and funny, and has such a profoundly intuitive sensibility for what people should be reading, and what the correct tilt at a news item is (or is not), and Dan Robitzki, Vic Tangermann, two excellent writers as well. Those three are a murderer's row.
And finally, let's talk newsletters. I love the newsletter revolution. It's blogging all over again! Plurality is great, especially in the era of media consolidation. Magazines and newspapers are ultimately sanitized, monolithic products, created by committee, for mass consumption. Newsletters really let writers' ideas and personalities shine. Also, heh, it exposes their raw copy. The greatest secret in media is what your faves' raw copy looks like (hint: some of it is trizzash). But it's great to watch a writer who really does have the goods let loose. You love to see it. I'm effectively going around curating my own magazine:
- Delia Cai's DEEZ LINKS for media coverage.
- Alison Roman's A Newsletter for a cooking section and a Heartburn heir apparent.
- Edith Zimmerman's Drawing Links for insightful, lovely, funny cartooning that may make you misty.
- Jonah Weiner and Erin Wylie's Blackbird Spyplane for fashion and incredible celebrity 'get' interviews.
- Michael Williams' A Continuous Lean for old school menswear blogging.
- Air Gordon Pt. 2 for whatever Jeremy Gordon writes on culture when he deigns to.
- Same with Matt Zeitlinwhen he blesses us with the finance goods.
- Cat Marnell's BEAUTYSHAMBLES for, I don't know, Cat.
- Gossamer's newsletter for a kind of "things you need in your life" section.
- And finally, one you've definitely never heard of, Elliott Foos' STIR CRAZY, for his excellent taste in music.
Can I say one last thing that might drive a few people fucking nuts?
Great. So few ostensibly high-minded literary writers express their identities and employ voice in a bold way. Everyone writes like they're applying for a job at The New Yorker. It's the most boring shit ever. Off that, a fantastically funny, hilarious, wonderfully unique writer — maybe one of my favorites, really, in the last year? Kaitlin Phillips. Someone I know described her style as "Renata Adler on Vyvanse," which LOL. Maybe true. But: She has great ideas, style, and voice. I wouldn't want to use the word infectious, here, but I do hope she'll prove influential in getting people to take more risks on the page. Also, that she's wearing a mask.
What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone?
My Jeopardy! scorekeeping app, J! Tools. Also, the app that lets you pay (or dispute) an NYC parking ticket on your phone: NYC PAY OR DISPUTE. New York: Still got it!
Plane or train?
Goddamnit, Colin, who am I, Tyler Brule? Americans somehow write better songs about trains than anyone else, and yet, our trains mostly suck. I'd love a future where they didn't! But as it stands, and Northeast Corridor commuters notwithstanding, anybody who actively prefers trains over planes here has probably read Bukowski at a bar or, like, was inspired by Didion to move to LA. Likewise, for people who prefer planes in Europe or anywhere else trains are great and could use a little bit more of what O'Neill called a touch of the poet. They're more dead inside than they need to be. Eurostar: Magical! Italo: Beautiful! That said, I've got a special love of taking the subway or the LIRR to the JFK AirTrain.There's a certain ineffable magic to the trip's Dante-esque qualities. By the time you get out on either end, you may have a reasonable expectation of being greeted by the Goblin King, or Marty Markowitz. Side note: One of the most deranged things anyone's ever said to me was when [Wet Paint columnist and art world gossip] Nate Freeman once told me his favorite watering hole in the city is the bar inside the Jamaica AirTrain Station. I worry about him constantly. He'll also be my write-in for the next mayoral election.
What is one place everyone should visit?
Rome. They should go to the Pantheon and then get coffee at Sant'Eustachio and just watch the world go by. That, right there, is one of the single best hours you can spend on this planet. There's a Phoenix song called "Rome" with a line in it: A thousand years' remains in a trashcan. That's Rome. It'll never be "cool." It'll outlive you, just like it's outlived everyone else. It's humbling. It's a tourist trap. It's stylish. It's a gruff shithole. It's spiritual. It's crass. It's beautiful. It's one of the best places in the world to: Get drunk, temporarily take up smoking, be in love, be heartbroken, curate an intelligence asset, get some writing done, get nothing done, elect a new pope, get a cup of gelato, espresso, or a plate of pasta in the world. Nothing compares to Rome.
Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into.
I got a question about Francisco Franco wrong watching Jeopardy last week and spent two hours on Wikipedia repenting for not knowing enough about the Spanish Civil War. Also: This email.
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Foster (FEK)
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