We have one cardinal rule on 99% Invisible: No cardinals. Meaning, we deal with the built world, not the natural world.
So, when I read Jon Mooallem’s brilliant book, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, I didn’t think we’d ever do an episode of 99% Invisible about it. I just read it for fun.
But then I saw Jon perform stories from the book live with musical accompaniment from the band Black Prairie. And that changed everything. I accosted Jon and the band in the dressing room and told them they had to let me share it with the 99% Invisible audience.
What you need to know about Wild Ones is that it’s not a book about nature. It’s a book about how we value nature and try fit it into our modern lives. Wild Ones is about the cutesy stuffed animals, the eco-tours, and the byzantine methods of conservation that evolve when our experience with wild life goes from something natural to something designed. Human-animal interaction has become a designed experience and the story of that transition, as the title of the book suggests, is sometimes dismaying and weirdly reassuring.
Jon Mooallem is friends with the band Black Prairie, and as he was writing the book, they concocted this idea of the band creating a “soundtrack to the book” and the result was an Extended EP called Wild Ones: A Musical Score for the Things You Might See in Your Head When You Reflect on Certain Characters and Incidents That You Read in the Book. The CD case is furry.
Jon and the band then went on a short tour with the song and story extravaganza. When I saw them perform this live in San Francisco, I freaked out, it was so good. Now you can freak out about how good it is, too. This week’s episode is their performance at the U Street Music Hall in Washington, DC.
Wild Ones: A sometimes dismaying, weirdly reassuring story about looking at people looking at animals in America by Jon Mooallem is available in all the usual places. You should get it. And then when you reach that moment where the book is over but you still want more, go check out Jon’s scrapbook of photos and ephemera he collected while conducting research.
Black Prairie is Jenny Conlee-Drizos (Accordion, Vocals), Chris Funk (Banjo, Dobro, Autoharp, Vocals), John Moen (Drums, Vocals), Jon Neufeld (Guitar, Vocals), Nate Query (Bass), and Annalisa Tornfelt (Fiddle, Vocals). Rich Hipp is the Black Prairie traveling sound man and he recorded the show for us.
Special thanks to Jon Cohrs and Dirk Walker for audio help this week.