Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson is an editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he writes the advice column The Good Listener, fusses over the placement of commas and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the weekly NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk.

In 1993, Thompson founded The Onion's entertainment section, The A.V. Club, which he edited until December 2004. In the years since, he has provided music-themed commentaries for the NPR programs Weekend Edition Sunday, All Things Considered and Morning Edition, on which he earned the distinction of becoming the first member of the NPR Music staff ever to sing on an NPR newsmagazine. (Later, the magic of AutoTune transformed him from a 12th-rate David Archuleta into a fourth-rate Cher.) Thompson's entertainment writing has also run in Paste magazine, The Washington Post and The London Guardian.

During his tenure at The Onion, Thompson edited the 2002 book The Tenacity Of The Cockroach: Conversations With Entertainment's Most Enduring Outsiders (Crown) and copy-edited six best-selling comedy books. While there, he also coached The Onion's softball team to a sizzling 21-42 record, and was once outscored 72-0 in a span of 10 innings. Later in life, Thompson redeemed himself by teaming up with the small gaggle of fleet-footed twentysomethings who won the 2008 NPR Relay Race, a triumph he documents in a hard-hitting essay for the book This Is NPR: The First Forty Years (Chronicle).

A 1994 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Thompson now lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his two children, his girlfriend, their four cats and a room full of vintage arcade machines. His hobbies include watching reality television without shame, eating Pringles until his hand has involuntarily twisted itself into a gnarled claw, using the size of his Twitter following to assess his self-worth, touting the immutable moral superiority of the Green Bay Packers and maintaining a fierce rivalry with all Midwestern states other than Wisconsin.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid a deluxe version of the Ashley Monroe record in which "deluxe" means "packed in a 10-pound wooden crate" is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how and whether to enjoy music by folks whose real-life actions offend us.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At NPR Music, they're wrapping up the year the best way they know how, with their hotly contested list of their 50 favorite albums of 2013. Now, all this week, we'll get a peak of that list from our in-house experts, including NPR Music writer and editor Stephen Thompson, whose beat is the ever amorphous indie pop, which - Stephen, what exactly is that these days?

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: I have absolutely no idea. It used to mean accessible but unpopular.

CORNISH: OK. So...

(LAUGHTER)

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the holiday gift baskets from which our interns will receive their only sustenance is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how to meet your favorite musicians without feeling like a complete stooge.

Helen Okolicsanyi writes via Facebook: "How can you not be awkward when you get a chance to meet your favorite musician in person? I never know what to say besides 'Love your music' without sounding like a fangirl."

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the whale-sedatives we ordered to help us endure the Green Bay Packers' losing streak is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how to handle the desire to take a break from music.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the 500 pounds of generic Circus Peanuts we intend to melt down for home insulation is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a request for a unifying theory of concert length.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the new Pokemon 3DS games that have zombified our once-expressive children is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, tips on how to name one's band.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the packages our kids discard in disgust for not including the new Pokemon 3DS games is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, tips on inter-generational bonding over music.

Jake Ibey writes via Facebook: "How do you introduce new music to a parent (mid-50s) who is stuck in late-'70s rock mode?"

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the flyers urging us to replace our nonexistent maid service is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a pair of queries about the importance of loving the right music.

Jennifer Yousfi writes via Facebook: "I have horrible taste in music. How do I fix this?"

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the online pharmacy's monthly supply of the pills that allow us to trudge productively through this waking life is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, an ethical query about online streaming services.

Andrea Sauceda writes via Facebook: "Does using Spotify (and/or other streaming services) make you a bad person?"

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the gigantic packets of 401(k) information we chuck directly into the fireplace is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a request from a reader who seeks cheerful music for the mopey, beardy indie-rock soul.

Lots of bands play bright, winsome folk-pop, but only one has the bold, sure drumming of The Dodos' Logan Kroeber; he infuses the duo's prettily propulsive songs with momentum and force. Four albums into The Dodos' career, the group is still making terrific records like the new Carrier — a tremendous sleeper for those who've been seeking a Blind Pilot-style left-field gem in 2013.

With intrepid host Linda Holmes trapped in the air-conditioned movie theaters of Toronto, the Pop Culture Happy Hour gang was forced to reconstitute itself yet again for this week's episode — this time with our old pal Tanya Ballard Brown, who returns via the power of popular demand. You talk, we listen, people.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and along with the quilt my kind sister couldn't possibly have made me herself came a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a request for ideas on music awards that double as useful buyer's guides.

As summer was giving way to fall, preseason football was giving way to actual football, and Linda Holmes' week was giving way to the Toronto International Film Festival, the Pop Culture Happy Hour gang managed to gather just long enough to look back on a divisive summer full of big, loud, robot-on-robot movies. Our own postmortem can't help but skim past other postmortems — was Man of Steel a hit or a flop?

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the helpful slips from FedEx reminding us that we have to be at home to receive their package even though most people work during the day, for pete's sake is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a request for ideas for how to play music in the office without irritating people.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid our next-door neighbor's copy of Soldier of Fortune is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, multiple requests for help deciding when it's time to bail on an outdated music format.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the monthly bale of sunflower seeds we've decided to order from Amazon Prime via subscription is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a request for advice on when and where it's courteous to wear headphones in public.

Brian Bowen writes via Facebook: "When is it OK to wear headphones in public — in transit, at work, during events large or small, standing in line at the post office, etc.?"

For one more week, our host and pal Linda Holmes has been roaming the desolate plains of Los Angeles at the Television Critics Association press tour, with only catered lunches and lavishly appointed meet-and-greets to provide sustenance.

So the rest of the Pop Culture Happy Hour gang must soldier on in her absence, with the aid of a scrappy young newcomer who'd been waiting for her big break in front of a microphone: All Things Considered co-host Audie Cornish. We predict big things for Audie at NPR!

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the heavily taped packages that can't be opened without the aid of a utility knife and a blowtorch is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: an array of tips for anyone hoping to launch and sustain a career in music journalism.

It hasn't even been 11 full months since The Avett Brothers released The Carpenter, the North Carolina band's most recent collection of poignant and infectious, bluegrass-inflected folk-rock.

The Montreal pop band Stars wears many faces, literally and figuratively: Singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell swap lead vocals in songs that range from effervescent pop-rock to grandiose dance music to melancholy, string-enhanced dirges. With so much to choose from in the group's toolbox, a few gems are bound to get left off its records — a wrong Stars will help right with a new single next month.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the helpful $40-a-pop reminders not to speed on North Capitol Street is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: a discussion of cellphone recordings at concerts.

We recorded this week's episode during the brief interregnum between the end of Glen Weldon's trip to the San Diego Comic Con and the beginning of Linda Holmes' two weeks at the Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles. So it seemed a perfect time to mine the two events for inspiration.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the jury summons disguised as refund checks is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a search for entry points to country-music fandom.

Emily Carol Schmidt writes via Facebook: "I'm not super into country, but I now live in a place with 50+ country stations, so I'm giving it a second chance. But how? Do you just listen to it for a couple hours? Get recommendations? Go to a concert?"

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