The Memory Palace

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Episode 36:
six scenes from the life of william james sidis, wonderful boy

Jan 07, 2011

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Music, Footnotes & Ephemera

The Music: Scene 1: First song is “Brand New Day” by Worm is Green. Then a little bit of Gary Numan doing “Trois Gymnopedies,” then the “Second Gymnopedie” (lost the name of the pianist). Scene 2: is a small piece from the score to Please Give, the (quite good) Nicole Holofcener movie. Scene 3 uses a piece from the soundtrack to Une Parisienne, the Bridgette Bardot movie and then goes back to Gymnopedie 2. Scene 4 starts with an excerpt of “My Wave, Your Shore” from an Angel Olsen EP (which you should own, by the way). That’s followed by “Drop” by Akira Kosemura and something from the 500 Days of Summer score, kind of smushed together. Scene 5 uses a piece of Michael Andrews’ score to the still-excellent You Me and Everyone We Know, and then back to the Kosemura. Scene 6: back to the Satie and then finishing on “Nag Champa” by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Carlos Nino.

The Footnotes: Since this episode was a total bear, I read a lot about and by Sidis while trying to wrestle it into submission. There’s a perfectly readable, proper biography called The Prodigy that’s out of print but probably at your local library. Turns out the Sidis fanatics (and they are legion) think the author is pretty harsh on W.J., but, you know, sure. To dive right into the deep end: run, don’t walk, to, a lovingly curated compendium of most things Sidis. Scans of many of his books and articles. Links to outside articles. It’s not one stop shopping, but it’s like the directory at the mall. Don’t be scared off by the fact that the web-design looks like someone clicked on the “Crazy Conspiracy Theory” template. It’s really well put together.

The Ephemera: If you do read some of his actual writings, Sidis comes off rather well. However singular and odd his interests and, I suppose, obsessions, are he writes clearly (he’s not raving) and he’s often kind of funny in a super-dorky way. “Notes on the Collection of Transfers” is unreadable. But that’s only because no one can care about transfers as much as the author does. I defy you to. But, that said, Sidis comes off like a genial, almost charming tour guide to the world’s most boring museum. It’s hard not to like the guy.

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18 Comments | Leave a Comment

18 Comments on six scenes from the life of william james sidis, wonderful boy

  1. Jaymes says:

    I thought, “well this is going to be disappointing” with all the staunchness that any American can have in light of free things that one feels owed. “Disappointing” in that I waited for this and there is no way it could deliver.

    IT DELIVERED! Genius on the order of Sidis. Bravo! A million props… genuinely this is a beautiful art!

  2. admin says:

    Capital letters delivered, no less. Thanks.

  3. jordan says:

    You did such a great job with this Nate! I think this might be my favorite after The Brothers Booth. Hope there will be many more to come this year!

  4. Rich Sagall says:

    A very nice play. I have been looking into WJS’s life. He’s a distant relative of mine although I wasn’t born until after he died. I have a collection of his items that have been passed down in my family. It includes many of his transfers.

    Too often he is depicted as a “burnout.” That was the family lore I was told. In reality, his interests shifted to social issues. He developed a number of ideas and plans which, unfortunately, never materialized.

  5. Tony says:

    You have a really good voice for broadcast, Nate, and fine enunciation.

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  7. lowman says:

    oh nate. this is beautiful, and so lovingly rendered. it is, as jaymes said, art unto itself. bravo. and the music. who are you?

  8. Amanda says:

    This podcast is consistently one of the most beautiful things in my life.

  9. Troy Crockett says:

    Thank you. I just finished listening and I wonder at this life we live. So wonderful and yet so tragic. My adopted sister is like James. I on the other hand am happily plain. All my life I was jeolous of her. Now. Maybe not so much.

  10. Angel says:

    A friend of mine showed this to me,
    I really enjoyed this podcast, you have a strong voice.

    The song that you used is actually called “my wave, your shore”

    but it makes no difference, I’m complimented that you used it.


  11. admin says:

    Hey–you’re right! (Which, you know, you’d know). Will change it. And thanks, Angel. Really love the tape.

  12. icefishcat says:

    Every one is better that the last, except for the Sisters Fox, which is the best of all. I always feel compelled to seek out more information about these characters I may never have heard of otherwise. Thanks Nate. Keep it up!

  13. PQ Ribber says:

    One of the best tellings of the Sidis story, which is a favorite! Well done!

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  16. Alison says:

    We don’t have streetcars here in Victoria B.C. but we do have a man that could be the modern-day Sidis of public transit:

    Although he comes off as raving a bit in the news clip, I’ve actually spoken to him on the bus and his systems, though fantastically named (Santa’s reindeer, the Guardian Phoenix), actually make a lot of sense.

    He knows each bus personally, can reel off the stats at a moment’s notice, and meticulously tracks the comings and goings of each bus throughout the day.

    Honestly, I wish I was as devoted to my passions.

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