Episode 125: Michelle Williams, Inspired Vodka, and GZA the Genius

This week: Actress Michelle Williams channels Marilyn… GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan proves his Genius… New Yorker critic Alex Ross shares the best of his “Best Of”… child star Barry Livingston picks his favorite characters… Gossip and Etiquette collide… Rico inhales some world-class vodka… and 7 ways to read a sandwich.

Icebreaker: Miranda July
Artist/filmmaker Miranda July strings us along, then delivers an epic pun-chline. Miranda just released the book It Chooses You.

Small Talk: Jessica Coen
Jessica Coen, Editrix-in-chief of the women’s culture site Jezebel, tries to work out what ABC was thinking when it greenlit Work It, aka “Bosom Buddies II.”

A History Lesson With Booze: Pong and “The Pong Pong
This week in 1972, a fledgling company called Atari unveiled its first-ever video game. Hear the story of how the simplest game ever launched a $60-billion-dollar industry… then bounce this custom cocktail down your gullet:

“The Pong Pong,” as engineered by Jonny Raglin, bartender at Comstock Saloon in San Francisco, CA.

In a shaker over ice, add:

  • 1.5 oz. Plymouth sloe gin
  • 1 oz. Drambuie
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice

Shake with ice – back and forth, back and forth – and strain into a cocktail glass. Add a lemon peel garnish, and drink until you get a high. Score.

Guest List: Barry Livingston on Character Actors

As kid-next-door Ernie on the beloved 60s sitcom My Three Sons, Barry Livingston hit the big time before he was old enough to drive. His new autobiography, The Importance of Being Ernie, covers his exploits as a child star (including an encounter with Elvis)…and his grown-up career playing small, colorful roles. He joins us to list his favorite actors who did the same.

Guest of Honor: Michelle Williams

Actress Michelle Williams won Oscar nominations for her performances in Brokeback Mountain and last year’s Blue Valentine. In her new film, My Week With Marilyn, she brings to life one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century, in a performance that has critics aflutter. And to think: She originally hailed from the little town of Dawson’s Creek. Michelle tells Brendan all about Miss Norma Jeane Baker, then gives him a reality check, a vocabulary lesson, and her porn star name.

Eavesdropping: Cirocco Dunlap

This week we overhear actress/writer Cirocco Dunlap eat a sandwich and then look out a window… in seven different genres. Her piece Literary Genre Translations was published this week by McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and contains many more genres in which one should be conversant.

Main Course: Boyd and Blair

While the rest of the world slept, a distiller in Pittsburgh began making one of the best vodkas in the world. Seriously: the Spirit Journal – the Consumer Reports of booze – listed Pittsburgh-made brand “Boyd & Blair” as the highest-ranking vodka on their list of the top 5-star spirits on Earth. Rico asks owner/distiller Barry Young and business partner Prentiss Orr about their concoctions, then gets into the spirit. Really.

Etiquette: Joseph Epstein

Distinguished scholar and essayist Joseph Epstein knows a thing or two about sticky social dynamics. He’s written books with titles like Ambition, Friendship, Snobbery, Envy. His latest (out this Tuesday) is Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit, which profiles humanity’s chatty (sometimes catty) pastime and its most notorious practitioners. Since a dinner party is a perfect petri dish for gossip, we asked him to grace our table, and give us juicy answers to a few etiquette questions.

Chattering Class: Alex Ross

Between the internet, magazines and cereal boxes, there’s too much written material out there. That’s why Da Capo Press’ “Best Of” series is supervaluable; it’s like having an article sommelier. Alex Ross, award-winning music critic for The New Yorker, guest-edited their latest collection “Best Music Writing 2011,” just released this week. He talks to Brendan about the best parts of the Best Of.

Soundtrack with Science: GZA the Genius

GZA aka “the Genius,” the rapper and wordsmith at the core of the Wu Tang Clan, has a new title: lecturer. This week spoke at Harvard about (predictably) music and creativity but also (less predictably) science. Turns out, he’s an avid physics student and while at Cambridge he toured Harvard’s Broad Science Institute and MIT. Brendan caught up with GZA to learn about the stardust we’re made of and the emptiness of the universe.

Other Music in this week’s show:

The Sea & Cake – “The Argument”

Aphex Twin – “Boy/Girl Song”

Tipsy – “Liquordelic”

Hot Butter – “Popcorn”

The Pretenders – “Space Invader”

Flamin’ Groovies – “Slow Death”

Max Steiner – Theme from “Casablanca”

Theme from “The Lady Eve”

Coastal Cities – “No Room For Heroes”

The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Just Like Honey”

Crystal Castles – “Magic Spells”

Jon Brion – “Healthy Choice” (from “Punch Drunk Love”)

Judy Caplan Ginsburgh – “Manners”

Ludwig Van Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 1

GZA – “Legend of the Liquid Swords”