SongWriter is a podcast that turns stories into songs, featuring Questlove, David Gilmour, Joyce Carol Oates, Steve Earle, Amanda Shires, Susan Orlean, and Neil Gaiman. You can hear an exclusive preview of next week’s episode featuring Kevin Allison and Carolyn Kendrick only at Paste.
Kevin Allison was at a loss. After the implosion of the popular sketch comedy group he helped found, The State, he struggled to figure out what was next. Happily, some advice from his friend, Michael Ian Black, helped Kevin connect with his future.
“‘Man, I wish you would just drop the act,’” Kevin recalls Michael saying. “‘I felt like the audience would have responded much better if you had just come out as yourself, just sharing your own stories.”
At a friend’s storytelling night a few weeks later, Kevin did just that, and was amazed at the reaction. The more vulnerable and open Kevin was – about parts of his life that made him feel uncomfortable and even ashamed – the more the audience connected with his story. Stunned and thrilled, Kevin came up with the plan for his wildly popular podcast, RISK! as he walked home that night.
Millions of downloads later, Kevin tells a story he originally wrote for RISK! for the upcoming episode of SongWriter. In it, Kevin recounts how he met his future husband in the haunting and strangely beautiful days after 9/11. Kevin also describes how late in his life he came to dating and self-acceptance, and how he has been wrestling with a recently broken heart.
“If you have a broken heart, then you have an open heart,” Kevin says, paraphrasing a recent favorite quotation. “If you are feeling that much pain, then you can feel that much love.”
Songwriter Carolyn Kendrick is also a central figure in the podcast world, as she produces the popular podcasts “You’re Wrong About” and “You Are Good.” In fact, it was during a live podcast show in New York that Carolyn first met Kevin. One of the elements that stood out to Carolyn about Kevin’s story was its subtle-yet-central connection to 9/11. She was a child in 2001, but remembers her specific reaction well.
“When you’re in second grade, you’re very tooth-focussed because everyone is losing teeth,” Carolyn remembers. “I remember seeing the pictures of the skyline before and after, and I remember being like, it looks like someone knocked their tooth out.”
The song that Carolyn wrote in response to Kevin’s story, “What If,” is a gentle ballad about self-acceptance, longing, and the crippling uncertainty of young relationships. In the episode Carolyn describes meeting her own husband, and how starting that relationship was an act of faith and trust for both of them.
“I’m at the point in my life where I’m like, ‘Oh, what I want is actually what I need,’ so I can just listen to that,” Carolyn says. “Instead of denying myself in some way.”
Ben Arthur (@MyHeart on Twitter) is the creator and host of SongWriter. His latest song is “Show a Little Skin.”