This is another Friday listens as this title is only available in audio format. Published by Pushkin Audio (co-founded by Jacob Weisberg and Malcolm Gladwell) — “Pushkin audiobooks are not your typical author-in-front-of-a-microphone productions. They are immersive — you hear the actual voices of the people being interviewed, archival footage, and beautiful scoring.” I’ve been a Steve Martin fan since his white-suit and arrow-through-the-head days. His SNL skits from Dancing in the Dark with with Gilda Radner to the Festruck Brothers with Dan Ackroyd were legend. Years ago, he loaned a piece of art from his collection for an exhibit in the Sheldon Museum of Art and I often sat and watched it after my campus walks. The proximity was oddly thrilling.
This audio-biography is a series of conversations recorded over the course of a year between Steve and long-time friend Adam Gopnik. The two met in the fall of 1990 at a controversial exhibit Gopnik curated called High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture at the Museum of Modern Art. They shared many conversations since that time and decided to record Adam, asking questions about Steve’s evolution in both his personal and professional life. The topics cover Steve as magician, standup comic, actor, writer, playwright, musician, composer, and art collector. Hence the title, So Many Steves, that was inspired by a poem written by e.e. cummings, So Many Selves.
I saved this book to listen to on the morning of my birthday while I walked. I learned that Steve used Carl Reiner as a personality mentor watching and studying Carl’s ease with people in conversation employing deft humor. When Tommy Smothers said that “talking to Steve Martin is like sitting in a room alone” – you understand, Steve knew he needed help overcoming his off stage social ineptitude. The best takeaway was Steve reflecting on his life in the late 80s at a time when he began trusting his craft and wondering what was different. There was a Hungarian word for this, Pihentagyú, which means “a relaxed brain.” It describes a quick-witted person who can come up with sophisticated jokes or solutions because their mind is at rest. With a relaxed brain, it is easier to think quickly and clearly. I would credit this to both age and experience, so listening to this while marking another year was especially meaningful.
Of course, I understand the value of print, and I am a long time audio book listener, but these hybrid audio presentations are exactly what I want from an author and performer. A conversational narrative accompanied with a specific soundtrack relevant to the story. If this sounds like your kind of thing, check out Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon, a finalist for the 2023 audiobook of the year. Audible’s Words+Music recordings with over 35 notable musicians are also something to consider. There’s no shortage of ways to delight your aural senses.
Steve Martin and Adam Gopnik So Many Steves: Afternoons with Steve Martin. Pushkin Industries. 2023.