Duplex Planet Radio Hour

David Greenberger has been publishing his Duplex Planet magazine regularly since 1979. The publication has subsequently found larger audiences in other forms which are all derived fromthe original template. For the unfamiliar, David tells short stories by and about residents of the Duplex Nursing Home. Frequently humorous and always insightful, through Greenberger the stories reveal the elderly as individuals, exposing the myths of aging.

The Duplex Planet Radio Hour is actually comprised of two, one hour performances from a short series commissioned by and presented at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights, New York in 1994, and broadcast on WNYC, New York Public Radio. Longtime friend and collaborator Terry Adams of NRBQ composed original music and put together a stellar band including Tom Ardolino (NRBQ), Marshall Allen, Tyrone Hill and Dave Gordon (Sun Ra Arkestra), Greg Cohen (Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Elvis Costello, John Zorn’s Masada), Jake Jacobs (Magicians, Jake & the Family Jewels) and Karen Mantler (ECM solo artist). Also appearing are actors Lili Taylor and Tom Gilroy. This all sets the emotional backdrop for David’s telling of these stories. For this album, Terry and David went back to the original master tapes which were re-edited and remastered to their exacting standards for this release.

The first disc presents Music Brings Melody to the People and focuses on the Duplex residents’ thoughts, feelings and insights about music both past and present. The second disc, We Hate Each Other’s Parting, is a touching, philosophical and sometimes heart melting look at love and relationships in the lives of the residents. Both shows harken back to a time when radio touched people’s lives instead of acted as sonic wallpaper for the latest traffic jam.

From the liner notes by David Greenberger:

The Duplex Planet is an ongoing work designed to portray a wide variety of real characters who are old or in decline. In our culture, exposure to people at this point in their lives is generally limited to seeing family members age and, since that points directly to one’s own mortality, itís hard to glean much in the way of an objective example.

I started The Duplex Planet as a small, homemade magazine in 1979, which I still publish. After graduating from art school in Boston I found employment at a nursing home as the activities director. On the day that I first met the residents of the home, I abandoned painting. That is to say, I discarded the brushes and canvas, not the underlying desire to see something in the world around me and then communicate it to others. In this unexpected setting I found my medium. I wanted others to know these people as I did.

From the start, my mission has been to offer a range of characters who are already old, so that we can get to know them as they are in the present, without celebrating or mourning who they were before. Since the elderly are already thought of by what they have in common – that they’re all old – I try to recast them as individuals. I quote and write about them in order to address the larger world. The audience meets them and comes to feel the characters are familiar, people they might want to spend time with. The men and women whose individualities expose the myths of aging are not extraordinary. They are typical in their unique humanness.

Humor has always played a key role in my work, and this is for a most simple reason: humor is a step by which we get to know another person. Humor is the first socially acceptable level of emotional exchange. Assessing someone else’s sense of humor is a determining factor in whether or not a friendship is built. A great deal of information is being evaluated in those early stages of relating to another. Since my quest is to show the vast variety of people in decline, I also need to include those who have lost the ability to maintain linear thought and orderly discourse. They’re not going to return to reality, so I need to follow wherever they may go. We’re most afraid of losing the use and clarity of our minds. Confronting that which you fear allows insight.

With most every important transition in our lives we draw on our observations of others who have made similar changes. In the universal experience of aging we are desperately short of meaningful guidance. The Duplex Planet offers some lessons and examples.