Back when people used telephones for talking, friends had rambling conversations that could last for hours. Today, communications between friends are often condensed to 140 characters or less. Leave it to San Franciscan tech guru, Merlin Mann, to use the creation of a podcast as a pretext for maintaining a modern friendship with Seattle-based musician, John Roderick. Together these Gen-Xers resurrect the lost art of phone banter each week with a recorded Skype call, which through the magic of computers and the Internet becomes the podcast, Roderick on the Line.
If you've ever had a "frank and candid" conversation so enjoyable, you wish it had been recorded so you could relive it later, then you will understand the appeal of this podcast. After listening to a few episodes of Roderick on the Line you may even consider memorializing each of your own friendships in shareable audio files, but not everyone can be a Mann or a Roderick.
Whether you know Mann as inventor of the "43 Folders" productivity system or Roderick as the lead singer of The Long Winters, neither of these qualifications inherently lend themselves to podcasting. However, Mann's technical ability and Roderick's charisma make each conversation podcast-ready.
Roderick is the titular star of the podcast but Mann is the meticulous producer who lets the talent shine. He keeps a running record of talking points on his signature stack of notecards and asks the right questions to get Roderick on a roll.
Roderick rollicks through tall tales of his roguish youth and world travels hiking from Amsterdam to Istanbul with a faulty North Face pack: encountering campfire spaghetti parties in the Czech Republic featuring ketchup instead of tomato sauce. Along with remembering the good ole days, there's also a healthy dose of despairing about the present and planning for the future.
As self-deprecating megalomaniacs, Roderick and Merlin at once assume that no one and everyone is listening. In "Supertrain" (Episode 25), they brazenly outline their plans for world domination, which has developed over time to include intergalactic diplomacy or at the very least a bed and breakfast for snipers. If Roderick is a modern Machiavelli, Mann is his enabling Prince who publishes the podcast by way of making Roderick's advice available to "help" the rest of us.
Roderick's cultivated delusions of grandeur and Mann's neurotic asides ("Here's the thing..." "Turns out..." "...as you do,") result in an endless feedback loop of banter. Their freewheeling hyperbole is grounded by frank discussions of their foibles as fathers, professionals and aging men. "I'm starting to feel like a sitcom father," Roderick said in "Pedagogical Sex Father" (Episode 84), "I used to talk about so many things: world domination, striking fear into the hearts of villagers, and now I'm just like, 'QUINOA!'"
And like most middle-aged men WWII inevitably comes up along with more than enough information about the Holocaust to warrant the formation of a new podcast tentatively called, Hitler 'n Stuff. Which probably makes you wonder how politically correct this podcast is. Not very. Made obvious by episode titles such as "The Viet Cong Can Smell the Soap," and "Dead Rubber Girl in my Closet."
While it may be a bit rough around the edges for listeners with delicate constitutions, the charm of the bromance builds as you listen and familiarize yourself with the quirks of the two men and the self-referentiality of their humor. And although this is not the kind of podcast you have to start from the very beginning to enjoy, your experience will be all the richer for it and truth be told, you probably won't be able to wait for the next episode.
According to the podcast's Facebook page, "While these sorts of calls have been conducted privately on a regular basis since something like 2003, they are now being made available to the public as an audio podcast," and Roderick on the Line fans couldn't be happier. We can reap the rewards of a decade-long friendship without exerting any effort whatsoever.
In "Suit of Vomit," the first episode, Mann and Roderick discuss the structure of their nascent podcast. Roderick said, "You know what I need in my life? I need structure, I need a pattern. I need one thing that happens every week. Will that be you Merlin Mann?" Even if you don't have a friend to call every week, at least you can listen to Roderick on the Line while clinging to the hope that someday you may find one worthy of an hour-long phone conversation.
For more episodes of Roderick on the Line visit merlinmann.com.