SANYA DOSANI: This episode brought to you by the number seven, which tastes like the color yellow, which is the same as the smell of sending a risky text to your crush, which sounds kind of like finding out your great grandfather was a pirate who murdered a prince and blames it on another prince, which disrupted a long-standing alliance between two nations, sending the price of cotton candy through the roof, children writhing in the streets, destruction, violence, cha-[text alert chime] oh my god, he texted me back. Uh, here’s some more ads.
EMMANUEL DZOTSI: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m Emmanuel Dzotsi.
So roughly every other morning, I wake up and I go for a run in the park.
NIKE APP: Beginning workout…
I love running…I also hate running. But for years, I've done it because when I’m in the middle of it, when I’m feeling exhausted, I can say to myself, “This is the hardest thing we are going to do all day, Emmanuel.” And it feels true.
The park I run around, Prospect Park, has this big roughly three and a half mile loop. And the toughest point of my run comes right near the end - it’s this infamous, windy, massive hill, and scaling that fucker every time I run gives me such a big feeling of satisfaction for having done the hard thing.
But in the last two months or so, something’s been really bugging me on my runs.
It’s a guy. Another runner I see in the park. [MUSIC] You see, me and this guy, we have beef.
And we have beef because as this guy runs around the park he lets person after person, runner after runner pass him. Except for me.
I seem to always come up behind him right before the big hill. He’s never running that fast when I see him; he just sort of glides along, and he has this weird gait where he leans to one side and kicks his left leg out.
But somehow it works for him. And when I see him, sometimes I swear I catch him looking at me over his shoulder, and then he just zooms away from me up the hill and eventually out of the park.
I do not understand what it is about me, and as somebody who’s run for a long time, it feels straight up disrespectful. It feels personal.
Why won’t he let me pass him? What is it about me?
I’ve tried beating him. Tried pacing myself just to beat him. It’s no use. When we get to that hill and I come up behind him, something just changes in the dude’s body language. I get a couple glimpses of his calves bulging and then he’s away. The way he moves it’s- it’s elite.
So recently I decided I need to find this guy - and just figure out what the hell is happening here?
EMMANUEL: Okay…ooh, these hammies are tight today. Okay.
But first I had to catch him. Which was difficult because here’s what I knew about this guy. I saw him normally 2-3 times a week at roughly 8:30 in the morning. I didn’t have his name or any other info.
So I just made a plan to go at that time and see if I could intercept him.
The trouble was I didn’t remember exactly which days of the week I saw him, so I had no choice but to go running every damn day looking for this dude.
I’d go to the park…
EMMANUEL: Where are you? Where are you?
…run my normal three and a half miles around, keeping my eyes peeled for him…
The first day I ran, a Monday, I ran around the park and didn’t see him, and I thought, “Okay, I’ll catch him tomorrow.” The second day I didn't see him. Third day, didn’t see him. It was like, this dude was annoying me even in his absence.
NIKE APP: Workout completed.
EMMANUEL: Oy, oy. What a shitty run. So hot.
But then day four I’m running and I’ve gotten about two miles into my run…
…and there he is.
EMMANUEL: Okay, I’m behind him. Got ya.
I pick up my pace, try to keep up with him as best as I could. I’ve been running at this point for a while before I see him so my legs are screaming by the time I follow him up the massive hill, but I tell myself, “It’s okay, Emmanuel, don’t worry, he’s gonna stop running soon, like, he normally ends his run up here.”
But he doesn’t end his run - instead, he keeps running with me just behind him, absolutely melting in the hot, humid June sun.
We do a lap around the park, which, again, is my normal workout, about three and a half miles. But then, we do another lap; the dude just keeps on chugging like the Energizer bunny for 40 freaking minutes, and well, I am not the Energizer bunny…I am dead.
I could’ve just yelled out at him to stop, but I didn’t do that. Because you know, you never interrupt somebody’s workout.
Finally, after I had run a grand total of nine miles, the guy showed some mercy…slowed down…
I saw my chance.
EMMANUEL: Hey, my guy. So this is a weird thing, but I’m a journalist and I host a podcast called Reply All, and uh, it’s a show about like, the internet and our lives off of it. And, I dunno, I'm a runner, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the people I see around here every day, and I realize I’ve seen you a lot.
EMMANUEL: What's your name?
EMMANUEL: Michael? Emmanuel. Nice to meet you.
MICHAEL: Emmanuel. Nice to meet you.
I asked if he could talk for a minute.
EMMANUEL: So I’m just gonna get into this- my phone…
MICHAEL: We can take a break.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, yeah. Let’s do that. That would be smart. [laughs]
Unlike me, Michael was not panting at all. He’s about my height, black, had an annoyingly good hairline, was wearing sunglasses. And now that I was finally face-to-face with my nemesis, all I could do was be polite.
EMMANUEL: I dunno how else to say this, and maybe this all in my head. I feel like what tends to happen is I normally get within 10-15 feet of you, [MICHAEL: Yeah.] and then you kinda pick up the pace a bit.
MICHAEL: Oh well you know what’s funny so…I’m not clocking it…it is a little awkward when- when- when- when you’re with a stranger and you’re both running at the same time. I mean it’s weird, I think at a certain point, I think once I move past like all the- the- the overthinking about it, I just like, go and if- and just kind of go with it, you know? So I don’t know how other people…
As I talked to Michael, it became obvious to me that a) he's a lovely person, and b) he had no fucking idea who I was - at all. He’d never noticed me. He told me he doesn’t wear glasses when he runs. He couldn’t even pick me out of a crowd if he wanted to.
I just felt so silly.
What can I say, it’s been a weird couple of months in my head.
Sometimes when you’re in the muck of figuring a lot of stuff out about your future, it can seem like a lot of things are about you when they’re not at all. Like some obstacles are intentional when they’re not.
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that your rivals - real or imagined - are really just people you could and should be learning something from.
Like how there’s a way to run where you keep track of the number of your breaths to each stride…
MICHAEL: Like when I got to the hill, I switched my rhythm to 2-1, because I need to take in more air going up the hill…don’t need to take in as much air, that’s why I do the 3- the 3- the 3-2.
MICHAEL: Yeah. And it makes it seem like you’re going faster but I'm not.
…how to let go of all distractions…
MICHAEL: No phone, no wallet, no nothing; I’m a minimalist runner.
…and how to run your own race without thinking about other runners you’ll never catch.
Talking to Mike was helpful to me in another way too, because for the last few weeks, we’ve been trying to figure out how to make this episode; how to make a finale to seven, eight years of this show.
And if anything feels like chasing after something you can’t catch, it's that – capturing all of our many feelings about Reply All in this last episode.
I know it’s something that Alex feels really deeply. I talked to him about it the other day.
ALEX GOLDMAN: I have absolutely been paralyzed about making this last episode. Like I had- I’ve been thinking a lot about what I could possibly do that would feel satisfying [EMMANUEL: Mmhmm.], and the answer is like, there’s nothing I can do. There’s like no way I can encompass the panoply of feelings I have about the show, you know?
And so in the last couple weeks we decided you know what? Let’s just do our thing with it. Say our goodbyes in our own ways and go.
That’s what we’re going to do today. We’re gonna dip into some of the lingering feelings we have about the show and try to answer a few nagging questions before we turn the lights off.
And first up is Alex Goldman.
ALEX: So my first gig in radio was an unpaid internship at the public radio station WNYC. Well, it wasn’t totally unpaid - they gave you $10 a day, so like, it was enough for me to buy a burrito from Chipotle at lunch every day.
But you know when I was deciding whether or not to take this basically unpaid internship – and longtime listeners might remember this – I called my dad and I asked him for advice.
And he was like, “Do not take this job. It is not worth it. You have a safe job in tech support. You are 30 years old, it is the middle of the housing crisis. You are making a terrible mistake.”
And obviously, he was wrong and that was very satisfying. But, you know, I’m leaving Reply All now, and I have some decisions to make. So I decided to call him again to see what he thought.
ANNA FOLEY: You’re gonna let your dad in? [Google Meets noise chime]
ALEX: All right. Are you there? Are you, are you there? God, is it—you’re—the reception in your house is so fucking bad. Can you say something?
JUDGE GOLDMAN: I know. What can I say? Yeah, can you hear me?
ALEX: Yes. Please turn off your video, ‘cause otherwise, I’m never gonna—we’re—it’s not—the bandwidth is gonna be too heavily consumed.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: All right. Let me see how to do this. All right. Here we go. There, I’m off.
ALEX: All right. Okay. I’m sorry that I immediately get frustrated. Like, maybe that’s not the best way to start the conversation.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: [laughs] Go ahead. I’m ready.
ALEX: Anna’s asking me—Anna’s saying that the sound still sucks. Uh, I don’t know, Anna.
ANNA: Don’t, don’t blame it on me, Alex. Uh…
ALEX: Anna’s saying that it’s your fault, Dad, that the sound still sucks.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: I don’t think so. [laughs]
ALEX: Oh, it sounds better now.
ANNA: It sounds great now. It sounds wonderful.
ALEX: Can you manage to stay perfectly still?
JUDGE GOLDMAN: I am. That’s what I’m gonna do.
ALEX: All right.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Just so, just so you won’t yell at Anna anymore, I’m gonna just stay perfectly still.
ANNA: Thank you, Judge Goldman.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: You’re welcome.
ANNA: Thank you. [laughs]
ALEX: Uh, so, Dad, I’m, I’m calling you, um, because I, I’m about to quit my job. [laughs]
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Yeah, I’ve heard that.
ALEX: I guess my question to you now is like, what should I do next? I don’t know what to do next. I am really like—got some time to work it out.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Uh-huh.
ALEX: But I am like—like, I don’t know what’s coming next. And it’s very scary to me.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: And it should be. Um, I still think you have a passion, um, for journalism and for performance. Uh, my guess—
ALEX: I gotta tell you something.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Yeah?
ALEX: I, I would be so happy never to report another story in my life. [laughs]
JUDGE GOLDMAN: So, so you remember, do you remember after I retired, and I was retired for four or five years, and I got—you know, I was doing this and that. And then, you know, like, I was really, really bored.
ALEX: I mean—
JUDGE GOLDMAN: And then I went back to being—I went back to be a judge again for four months or so. Um, you know, I kinda liked it. It was good. It, it was, you know, refreshing. But, uh—
ALEX: Basically, since you retired, all I remember you talking about is how you get to take a nap every afternoon. That’s all—that’s like—
JUDGE GOLDMAN: [laughs] The afternoon, the afternoons that I’m home, I take a nap. And I’m probably gonna take a nap after this conversation.
ALEX: What, what did—
JUDGE GOLDMAN: But I’m work- I’m working three days a week now. I work three days a week.
ALEX: Doing what?
JUDGE GOLDMAN: I, I work in a winery. I work in a tasting room in a winery.
ALEX: Tell me exactly what you do.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: So, you know, I like to consider myself a wine educator. [laughs]
ALEX: So lame. That’s so lame.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: I’ve been wanting to say that to you. I’ve been wanting—I’ve been wanting to say that to you for like a year, you know. So, so, you know, I work in hospitality, you know? People come in, they stay for an hour, hour and a half. I get to spend time with them, talk with them. We don’t just talk about wine, you know. We talk about themselves, or talk about me, or talk about, you know, life or politics or whatever, and, uh, it’s a fun way. And then the next person comes in. So, you know, I have these best friends for like an hour to an hour and a half. I could’ve never made a career of it, but, you know, it’s fun to do two or three days as a retired person.
But the point I was trying to make before you, you know, brought out my new career in the hospitality industry, was, uh, you know, I sense that, even though you need a break, and you need to get out of there, and you need to try something new, that, uh, uh, you’ve, you’ve picked something that really fits your interests and personality.
So, you know, I don’t know if you’ll do that or not. Um, what else do you think—have you any thoughts about what other types of work you would like to do?
ALEX: Have I told you about the, uh, TV show that I want to write?
JUDGE GOLDMAN: No.
ALEX: So, you remember Tales From the Crypt, that TV show?
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Uh huh.
ALEX: So it was like a horror anthology series, it was on HBO, it came out in like, the late eighties so I was like eight or nine when it started. So like, I loved Tales from the Crypt. It freaked me out so bad, it was totally foundational for me as like a huge horror fan.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Uh huh.
ALEX: And it was hosted by this- it was like an animatronic puppet called the Crypt Keeper.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Alright.
ALEX: And he was like, this desiccated corpse, but his eyes hadn’t rotted away, so he had like, big, weird normal eyes. [JUDGE GOLDMAN: Right] Um, his nose was like, totally missing, and he had like, this crooked-toothed slimy grin.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Right.
ALEX: And he would make like, weird puns. He’d be like, “Ah, this tale is a ghoulish episode about a man who would kill for a break in show business.”
CRYPT KEEPER: There you are, sports fiends. You know, dead people like me make excellent point guards. When we can’t get off a shot, we simply pass…away that is. [laughs]
ALEX: So, I have this idea for a show which is about the Crypt Keeper, the puppet. And, and it’s his life after Tales From the Crypt gets canceled, and like, he can’t get a new job in Hollywood, so he has to like, take much less glamorous jobs.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Uh-huh.
ALEX: And he’s a single, he’s a single parent of a normal human, not like, another dead creature.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Uh-huh.
ALEX: And he has to go like—and it’s about—it’s like, a drama about the Crypt Keeper trying to make ends meet. But he’s still like, a puppet, and he still makes puns all the time.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Okay. Well. [laughs]
ALEX: [laughs] Your reaction is so lackluster! You hate it! [laughs]
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Well, you know, it’s interesting. [laughs] You know? If I’m a, a producer and listening to the pitch, I’m gonna go, “Uh-huh.” [laughs]
ALEX: Well, uh—
JUDGE GOLDMAN: I don’t—you know. I, I, I’m gonna try to be—I’m gonna be supportive of you, unlike I was the last time.
ALEX: Well, a producer isn’t—you’re—‘cause you’re my dad, you’re gonna be supportive of me.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: No. No.
ALEX: Like, a producer’s not going to be.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: No. [laughs] Absolutely, absolutely not.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: But it’s, it’s entertaining.
ALEX: Well, that’s my plan for after this, so.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Okay. Well. [MUSIC] You know, it’s a big house. We’ve got a lot of spare rooms. [laughs]
[Google Meets call sound]
ALEX: Hey, Dad.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Hey.
ALEX: All right. Well, okay. So, I wanted to, to contact you briefly—
JUDGE GOLDMAN: All right.
ALEX: … because I did get—I did… [Yawns] Oh, boy. Oh, I’m a great interviewer.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Am I boring you? [laughs]
ALEX: [Yawns] Um, I'm calling you because I wanted to tell you that I managed to track down and talk to someone very exciting.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: All right.
ALEX: Can, can you do me a favor and, uh, just tell me however you would want to be identified?
JOHN KASSIR: Hi, this is John Kassir, the voice of the Crypt Keeper, you know, I mean, from, uh, all my years of on camera and voice-over work.
ALEX: Um, I have to say, like, I’m not really a person who gets super starstruck, but I’m a little starstruck. [laughs]
JOHN: Aww. Dude, thanks.
ALEX: So, so can you tell me a little about—
JOHN: [Laughs like the Crypt Keeper]
ALEX: Oh, oh my God!
JOHN: Sorry, had to go there.
ALEX: I understand.
ALEX: What I didn’t realize was like, how much of the character of the Crypt Keeper that I love, John Kassir just sort of made up whole cloth.
JOHN: They had called me to go down to Kevin Yagher’s studio. And Kevin was, you know, of course creating a puppet version of this guy.
JOHN: And, um, he was sitting there, and he had a boombox with a little microphone, and he was recording me. And I started doing that voice for him. And he goes, you know. ‘Cause I got to see the puppet he was working on, and how it had rotten teeth and holes in his throat.
ALEX: Was the voice like a spur of the moment decision, or was it something that you had thought about beforehand?
JOHN: I looked at the puppet, and I, you know, tried to organically create what it—what I thought he would sound like. [ALEX: Wow.]
And, you know, I figured I’d throw in a little bit of the Margaret Hamilton ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ laugh and, uh, you know, you know, the fun with the puns that, that Alfred Hitchcock had when he used to host Hitchcock Presents and that kind of thing. And I put all those elements together, and I started doing it for him. And he was like, “Oh, oh.” You know, like, “That’s it! That’s it!” You know. And he started laughing, and I started laughing, which, you know, as the Crypt Keeper, which kind of stuck.
ALEX: I did eventually get down to business, though, and pitch him my idea.
ALEX: …sort of trying to make it in Hollywood as an actor, but obviously there aren’t that many roles for crypt keepers. And he’s like- he’s like a single dad. But he’s still the Crypt Keeper, he’s still making puns, he’s still the character we know. But- he- it’s the Crypt Keeper in, in his life after Tales From the Crypt.
JOHN: [laughs] Oh yeah, that’d be great. He could have like a, you know, he could have his own, um, uh, you know, group session with, uh, you know, with, uh, Freddy and, um, [ALEX laughs] you know, Chucky walks in every once in a while, and they’re like, “Get outta here!” [laughs] You know, but, uh, you know, it’s a, it’s a funny idea.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: [laughs] So, are you gonna do it?
ALEX: Well, I mean, that’s a—can you at least acknowledge that’s a better reception than I got from you? The voice of the Crypt Keeper, someone who might have like, a little more insight?
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Yes. So, so what do you do from here? What are you gonna do with it?
ALEX: So, I mean, there is a problem, [laughs] which is that the IP rights around the Crypt Keeper are just like, a total mess. So, the, the deal is like, first you have the people who made the TV show. Like, John and the people at the production company.
JOHN: We own the rights to the episodes that exist and the Crypt Keeper that we—you know, that was created for our show. Um, Tales From the Crypt has obviously been around since the 1950s in comic book form.
JOHN: But, um, there are no new episodes because we don’t own the rights anymore. EC Comics owns the rights.
ALEX: So, it’s all pretty confusing. [JUDGE GOLDMAN: Yeah.] But I mean, the long and short of it is, if I wanted to make my show with the Crypt Keeper puppet and the names Tales from the Crypt and Crypt Keeper, I would have to buy rights from more than one company. And like, John says that’s like, next to impossible. I mean, even if I could get the rights to the puppet, I'd still have to call him like, ‘Spooky Undead Steve’ or something like that.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Well, it sounds to me like you need a good lawyer.
ALEX: Well, that’s, that’s part of the reason I was call—I was calling you.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: You called the wrong number. [laughs] I, I—
ALEX: Aren’t you licensed to practice law in California?
JUDGE GOLDMAN: I’m not licensed to practice law in California. I’m only, I’m only licensed to practice in Michigan. I guess I could call them from Michigan.
ALEX: [laughs] Okay. When we are visiting Michigan in a couple weeks, let’s call HBO and see what we can do.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Right. We can call them from there. I can practice in Michigan.
ALEX: What do you think that my, uh, my chances are on this? Like, if you were to give it a percentage shot? Let’s say that I get a production company who’s interested in this idea. Let’s say they’re willing to spend half a million dollars. What percentage shot do I have?
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Okay. Eh, 5%. [laughs]
ALEX: Why can’t you let me just dream big, Dad?
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Dream—you know, go ahead. You can dream all you want. [laughs]
ALEX: [laughs] Fuck you.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: [laughs] I’m not stopping your dreams.
Um, you’ve had lots of ups and downs. And you’ve always landed on your feet. And I don’t see any reason why you won’t this time, you know? But I think you need to get away from where you are right now, think about it a little bit, and come up with some ideas.
ALEX: I already have an idea. The fucking Crypt Keeper show.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Yeah. That’s bullshit. That’s a terrible idea. [laughs]
ALEX: Okay. Anna, do you have anything else for me to ask him?
ANNA: You know, like one last thing to wrap things up. Do you have any super tech support issues that Alex could help you with?
JUDGE GOLDMAN: Nah, every time he touches my, uh, tech equipment, it gets screwed up, so. [laughs]
ALEX: You know what he’s—you know what’s he talking about when he says that I screw up his tech equipment? He’s talking about how I beat his fucking high score in Sub Hunter and he’s still mad about it like 15 years later.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: [laughs] It’s true.
ALEX: Demoralized him so bad that he never played again.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: I, I, uh, I deleted I from my computer.
JUDGE GOLDMAN: No, I’m, I’m, I’m good on tech right now. Yeah, you know, he already, he already taught me to plug, unplug it and plug it, you know. That’s all that you need to know in order to get everything working.
ALEX: John Kassir will be coming to a comic con or horror con near you in the near future.
After the break: a trip to space.
TIM HOWARD: Hi, this is Tim — welcome back to the show.
A couple days ago, Phia Bennin of Reply All fame and myself, we got on a call to do an interview with someone who we were really excited to talk to for the last episode of the show.
BREAKMASTER CYLINDER: Uh oh!
TIM: I see the top of a head.
BREAKMASTER: [keyboard sounds] Oh god!
TIM: Full confirmation of top of head.
BREAKMASTER: [keyboard sounds]
PHIA BENNIN: What- how do you keep making noises? It’s like your body has little synthesizers on it. Yeah.
BREAKMASTER: I’m such a twitchy fucker its gone audio. Um, I have a keyboard here, this is where you’re resting.
PHIA: Oh, okay.
TIM: Okay. Let’s start here. Can you- do you mind just introducing yourself for us?
BREAKMASTER: My name is Breakmaster Cylinder.
TIM: Breakmaster Cylinder, this is the mysterious anonymous musician who allegedly traverses the universe in his spaceship. You'd definitely know their music if you've listened to the show before.
And if this is the first time you've listened to the show, you’ve really picked a weird episode.
Our interview with Breakmaster came with only one condition, and it’s that I tell you this:
I can not confirm or deny that you will be hearing Breakmaster's real voice.
But you will.
Or you won't.
TIM: So you’ve been like writing songs, not only for us but for us, for like seven, seven, eight years now.
BREAKMASTER: So many years now.
I started working on Reply All in 2015, it was episode 16. And at the time, our music library was tiny. It was maybe 25 songs? Almost all of them by Breakmaster Cylinder. I didn't know who Breakmaster was — I just knew that Alex had come across this really bizarre video one day that Breakmaster had made — it was essentially a remix of ‘Mr. Sandman’ but played over horror movie clips.
Alex naturally loved it; he got in touch. Breakmaster started collaborating with the show.
And for me it was such a blast to work through this library of Breakmaster Cylinder’s music. Every song had so much of it’s own personality.
Like this one, ‘Warning Signs.’
Or this one, ‘Beef Strokinoff.’
But I quickly discovered that it was really hard to score all of the different moods that we wanted to hit in our stories with just a few really high energy, high personality songs. So, in a Slack channel, I started writing with Breakmaster Cylinder – this was the only place we would communicate – and I would ask for new songs. Like, “Hey, in this moment in this story, we need like an ‘evil, ragtime you're-dying-kind of feeling,’” or, “Could you make something that feels like ‘you’re having a panic attack and your heart is in your head.’” Breakmaster was always game for these conversations, like no matter how weird the note was.
BMC: You asked me for like, ‘tortoise music’ and you’re obsessed with long swaths of tension and texture and minimal notes that are spaced out [TIM laughs] which is great. Uh, yeah.
TIM: Wait – tortoise music. That was for Damiano’s story where he’s like looking for a missing turtle, right?
BREAKMASTER: Yeah, it was specifically like I think he described the turtle and possibly its personality.
Over the years, our library grew to hundreds of songs, most of them written by Breakmaster Cylinder. Their music has just become such a huge part of how we tell stories. So Phia and I, we wanted to talk with Breakmaster about some of our favorite songs.
TIM: Alright, so I want to start with the very first song that I remember hearing, and really loving, in the music library. Here it is.
BREAKMASTER: Drumcore core!
TIM: Yeah! ‘Drumcore beats.’
BREAKMASTER: It is- it’s the instrumental to a Britney Spears remix. For a contest.
TIM: Sorry wait, it’s the what? It’s the instrumental to what?
BREAKMASTER: Yeah, it’s a Britney Spears remix. You can put the acappella for ‘Toxic’ over it.
BREAKMASTER: I did weekly beat battles, that’s how I actually also wrote a third of the library.
TIM: Really? Okay–
BREAKMASTER: [crosstalk] yeah ‘cos the instrumentals, after I was done with them, I’d take out all the samples I couldn’t use.
PHIA: So, I’m picturing you writing these things like in the middle of the night. Where- where are you actually when you’re making this music?
BREAKMASTER: I’d say almost everything in the library was written pulled over on the side of the road. I can actually almost remember every street corner if I hear a song.
TIM: Are you- wait, are you serious? They’re all written in your car?
BREAKMASTER: Uh, ship. Yeah.
TIM: I mean, sorry, in your ship, sorry. [laughs]
BREAKMASTER: I had contract work to do and I was out a lot and I can’t not be making music. So…
TIM: Wow. Okay. [PHIA laughs]
Okay here's another – this is a really good one for like, ‘the villain enters the story.’
TIM: This is a song that we used so much early on – do you know the name?
BREAKMASTER: Oh uh, ‘8 Bit Breakdown’? No, it’s uh, ‘8 Bit Adventure Time.’
TIM: Yeah. Yeah. Do you remember writing this one?
BREAKMASTER: Yes – I was in a Starbucks. [TIM laughs] And I remember smelling a lot of espresso.
Those shakers are a collection of shells on a little fishing line that I have had since 2006.
PHIA: What does it mean that you’re writing the song in the Starbucks? Is it, like, are you- are you recording something into a voice memo? Are you–
BREAKMASTER: No, just sitting there with a laptop.
TIM: Ahhh okay.
BREAKMASTER: Yeah, I’m just laptop and headphones and then like, sit in the bathtub like it doesn’t matter, really.
You can go anywhere. Have-…beep boop. Will travel.
PHIA: Beep boop, will travel.
TIM: This one is ‘Jupiter’ — which is fitting, because we would always use pieces of it just to score, like, other-worldly moments in stories.
BREAKMASTER: I was sitting outside of Bed Bath and Beyond.
TIM: It has that feeling.
BREAKMASTER: [laughs] That’s right, this is the ‘beyond.’ I was only there for bed and bath, so I had to fucking round it out somehow.
TIM: This one’s called ‘Beaming.’
BREAKMASTER: It was one of the first ones I ever, ever wrote for the purposes of making a scoring library. I basically started this with you. Y'all are the entire reason I'm here, really.
TIM: Wow. Breakmaster, I'm curious, are there things that come to mind for you?
BREAKMASTER: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I started looking through lists of everything that I ever wrote for you and the stuff that I actually wanted to listen to was repiecing the episodes at the end of the episodes.
PHIA: Yeah. There was a period on the show where we had to have something after the credits so that there could be an ad and then more Reply All. And so we asked you to make the more Reply All after the ad after the credits.
BREAKMASTER: Like making new Reply All episodes out of pieces of previous ones and that made me happy listening to it again.
TIM: Oh, well do you want to play us one of those? How do we do that–
BREAKMASTER: Hell yes!
TIM: Alright, here we go, this is called ‘Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes no.’
PHIA: I wanted to ask, I mean I think there is a thing where like, listeners are very curious about you. Uh, you are a mystery that has been on our show for eight years or whatever. One theory about- that people have is that you are Alex Goldman.
BREAKMASTER: Can we use his voice to be me?
PHIA: [laughs] No!
BREAKMASTER: Okay. No, I’m not Alex Goldman.
PHIA: The other thing that I was thinking about is are there major life events that you feel comfortable sharing that have happened to you in the last seven, eight years?
BREAKMASTER: I mean, family changes? Spaceship changes. Uh…[TIM laughs]
PHIA: Are you comfortable saying what decade of life you’re in?
BREAKMASTER: About early mid.
PHIA: Early mid life?
BREAKMASTER: [laughing] Yeah.
PHIA: [laughs] Have you lived in the same section of the country always?
PHIA: How many sections of the country have you lived in?
PHIA: How many sections of the country would you define it as having? [laughs]
PHIA. Five? Have you ever had a job that is distinctly not in music?
BREAKMASTER: Oh yeah. I’ve delivered every kind of food imaginable. I drove around listening to MF Doom on a cassette deck in a sweet, sweet Oldsmobile that only existed for a short amount of time.
PHIA: Are you comfortable saying, uh, your astrological sign?
BREAKMASTER: Yeah, I guess, ‘cos who gives a shit? Uhhh Taurus.
PHIA: Oh! Happy birthday!
BREAKMASTER: Oh thanks!
PHIA: Did you have braces as a child?
BREAKMASTER: I can’t really reveal whether I have a face or not.
PHIA: Oh. Um, what’s the first instrument you ever played?
PHIA: Piano. Do you actually ride a motorcycle or just own a motorcycle helmet?
BREAKMASTER: [laughs] There are no motorcycles in space.
PHIA: Um, I want to play one more song that's really important to me.
So normally at the end of the episodes we play this song called ‘Westwood’ [MUSIC] which sounds like this.
But there’s this other version called ‘Westwood Bonghit Dream Version.’
BREAKMASTER: On a couch, facing upward. This was like, 5 a.m. in a darkened room, knowing that I was about to be interrupted at any moment, staring at the ceiling. Not high.
PHIA: [laughs] Interrupted by the start of the day?
BREAKMASTER: No. Something was going to succinctly come in and end it. Not badly, though.
TIM: So, for context, we did this one because we were making this episode in 2015 in the summer in August, which originally we were going to call ‘What Do You Expect, It’s August’ [PHIA: Mmhmm] ‘cos the whole idea was we were so burnt out and I was so mad that we had to work in August because I had a friend in France who I’d always talk to and he’d tell me about what his family would do in August. And then, so we were like, well goddamnit the last episode at the end of August needs to capture how ridiculous it is that anybody is working in August, which, it continues to be ridiculous that anybody’s working in August. But–
BREAKMASTER: I’ve never even heard anyone suggest that about August. I’ve never heard anyone worked up- worked up about August in any way.
PHIA: I- you need to spend more time with Tim.
BREAKMASTER: Okay, let’s do it.
TIM: Anyway, we came up with ‘Today’s the Day’ — to do like an episode where PJ and Alex just go outside and explore New York City for a day. And while we were making that episode I was just kind of feeling like it’s- it’s supposed to feel like a departure from a normal story so it felt like something else about it should have a more, like, I don’t know, like freeing feeling to it.
Do you remember like, do you remember what it was, like did I just say, “Can you just do a like bong hit version of ‘Westwood’?” Was that all it was?
BREAKMASTER: That’s literally, I think, the sentence. [TIM laughs] And then I wrote that- that was one of the shortest it’s ever taken me to write a song and I don’t know why the short ones are the ones people like.
TIM: I just think that song is so beautiful and, you know what? Let’s just listen to more of the song.
BREAKMASTER: That is just a rolling foggiest music.
PHIA: It’s- see, that’s the thing, this is the stuff that it’s like, don’t you want to be able to just like, throw on this like, album in a year, Tim? Like don’t you want to be able to listen to all this shit anytime?
BREAKMASTER: Give me your address that isn’t Gimlet right now and you’ll be in there in what, 30 seconds?
PHIA: That makes me very, very happy.
TIM: Hey Breakmaster, what is the best way that we should help people get their hands on your music?
BREAKMASTER: Um, Bandcamp. Bandcamp has every album, it’s something like 23 by now, I think. Bandcamp is always the best place, I think, to get any artist’s music.
Thanks so much for chatting with us. I can’t express what a pleasure it is and also just what a crazy pleasure it is to use your music ‘cos it’s so, so fucking good.
BREAKMASTER: Thanks. It’s really nice to talk to you all. Same time tomorrow.
PHIA: Great [laughing]. Perfect.
TIM: you can find Breakmaster Cylinder's music including the 31-part ‘BMC and Dog in Space’ drama that they made for the show all at breakmastercylinder.bandcamp.com.
TIM: And up next, Emmanuel Dzotsi.
EMMANUEL: So, I know it’s a little strange, but in these last few weeks of making the show, I’ve been thinking a lot about my high school marching band. My sophomore year, our band was…okay. Like we really tried our best, but at the end of the day, we were a very nerdy, pretty average marching band.
When we performed at football games, it always felt like the people in the crowd watching the game merely tolerated us. Like, I even remember an occasion where the person running the sound system just forgot we were supposed to play and started blasting ‘Let’s Get it Started’ by the Black Eyed Peas instead.
Marching band is hard.
To put on a really great show, a lot of things have to come together. Somehow, as many as 250 people have to figure out how to run around a field with their feet marching in time with each other - at the same time as they’re making a bunch of complicated shapes and formations - all while playing their instrument, or dancing, or throwing batons and flags into the air.
And when shit goes left, it goes really left. Like sometimes all it takes is for one person to mess up, one domino falling out of place, and the entire show can collapse. If you don’t believe me, just Google ‘seven tuba pileup.’
One of the worst things that can happen is this thing we call a tear, where whole sections of the band get completely out of sync with each other, causing chaos.
Occasionally things with my marching band would get so bad that we’d tear and it’d be awful. We’d get really frustrated with each other as a result. I kinda wanted to quit.
But then I changed my mind. It was a YouTube video that did it. A YouTube video that turned 14-year-old me into a down bad, whole-ass marching band nerd.
[sound of a crowd in video]
It’s a pretty grainy video. It looks like it’s shot on a flip phone. Whoever is filming is looking across a football field at a college marching band, which is standing in the bleachers in this sort of half-empty stadium. Everybody in this place is just looking at this band, waiting for what’s about to happen.
And then it begins.
That band I was watching at the computer in my parents living room - The Southern University Human Jukebox - was not like my high school marching band. This was a rude, loud, beautiful, black band.
To the people watching and screaming their heads off in this video, in that moment, it wasn’t about the football game. It was all about the band. All about trumpets who were playing notes so high I only knew about them in theory; all about dancers that could’ve come straight out of Beyonce's Coachella set.
It was impossible to ignore how good they were.
Every part of their performance - the passion, the flair of it - told me that every single person in that band was giving everything and totally, completely locked in. It made me wonder, what would it be like to be a part of something, anything like that, with so many amazing people pulling along with you all in sync? What did that feel like?
That video so inspired me that I went from wanting to quit band my sophomore year to being the drum major of it my junior year.
And I started sending that video and others around to a ton of people in band, saying, “See this! Let’s be like that!”
That year, we worked really hard to improve. We got better at marching, played more popular music that the student section was into – you know, like ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ by the Black Eyed Peas.
We still messed up. We’d tear from time to time.
But every now and then there were these moments where every single kid would do exactly what they were supposed to do at the exact moment they were supposed to do it. The snare line feature would be clean, the color guard would catch all their flag tosses, the brass would nail a beautiful chord, all at the same time to create this incredible moment. And I’d leave the field after a performance thinking, “Damn, we really kicked the living shit out of that.”
Ever since then, since high school, I’ve been chasing that feeling of being locked in. I’ll stay up late at night watching marching band videos, discovering new performances that inspire me.
Like Fairfield Central High School’s band — with William Bilal on trombone.
An honest to god classic.
But I also spend a lot of time chasing that feeling in my work. Without question, there have been so many times on this show where I’ve listened to something me and my colleagues have just made, and heard the fingerprints of every single person involved giving absolutely everything of themselves, doing exactly what was asked of them in a way that would keep teenage me up all night with excitement. It’s made working on this show so incredibly addictive to me.
I’ve never really spent any time listening back to our old stories though. Because even when it’s felt really hard on this show, I’ve had faith that my craving for that feeling of being locked in, for excellence, will be satisfied once more. I’ve always believed in the ability of my coworkers to amaze me again. And they have.
But now of course, we’re leaving the so-called field for the last time. There will be no new performances. Very soon, this show will be a place I used to work.
And I think then I’ll listen back to what we’ve done here – listen back to the times we tore apart, listen back to the times we were locked in.
And feel like I’m back here again with the many people who have shared so many weird and wonderful moments with me.
I’m so grateful. Thank you so much for listening.
Reply All is produced by Phia Bennin, Anna Foley, Lisa Wang, Sanya Dosani, Bethel Habte, and Kim Nederveen-Pieterse. It’s edited by Tim Howard, Damiano Marchetti, and Aaron Edwards.
The show is hosted by Emmanuel Dzotsi and me, Alex Goldman.
Our intern is Sam Gebauer. They have been such a great help these past couple months, in addition to just being very pleasant to work with, and they’re looking for their next gig. Hire them!
This episode was mixed by Rick Kwan, with fact-checking by Isabel Cristo, and music and sound design by Luke Williams. You can find more of his music at lukewilliamsmusic.com.
Additional music by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder, Tim Howard, and Mariana Romano. You can find more of her music at Mariromano.com.br.
Special thanks to Matt Dobbin, Brooke Watkins, John, Julie, and Emily Foley, Wisdom Dzotsi, Hymer Powell-Dzotsi, Emmad, Julia, Harvey and Polly Goldman, Zardulu
…and everyone who’s worked or appeared on this show in the last seven plus years.
And a huge thank you to everyone who’s listened. I’m going to miss it, and I think the rest of us are too.