Monday, July 6, 2009

Former WKCR DJ Publishes Second Book on the Brain

Amazing Grace, the program that precedes The Moonshine Show on WKCR, has seen a string of unlikely DJs over the years -- including me. The show is devoted to playing African-American gospel and particularly classic quartet-style gospel from the 1940s and 1950s. Needless to say, there are not a whole lot of 18- to 21-year-old Columbia undergraduates who show up at WKCR saying they want to program music like that.

So various DJs get thrown into the role of hosting the show, and many of them become completely hooked on it. Andy Bean from The Two Man Gentlemen Band was the host for several years in the late 90s/early 00s. Dan Lewis, who had been a jazz DJ and now is a Harvard-trained lawyer, hosted the show in the early 00s. And Glover Wright, who started his WKCR career as a country DJ has hosted the program for the past several years.

Shortly after Andy Bean -- Andrew Rudman as he was named at the time -- and before Dan Lewis, there was a Columbia College freshman named Jonah Lehrer who hosted Amazing Grace. Jonah was a terrific host. He really embraced the music, reading up on the performers and relaying his enthusiasm for their stories and their music over the air to the listeners. He did exactly what a WKCR DJ was supposed to do: present the music in a knowledgeable and informative fashion that justified why it was relevant for us to dedicate two hours of programming time each week to 1940s/50s gospel music.

Jonah unfortunately stopped hosting the show after September 11th. The station was off the air for a while, and Jonah drifted on to other activities. I would sometimes see him around campus, but he never came back to host the show.

It seems that he concentrated his energies elsewhere, as he now has published two books on the brain. The first, which came out in September of last year, is called Proust was a Neuroscientist, and it explores the way in which literary talents have presaged scientific discoveries about the brain. As Publishers Weekly writes, "The 25-year-old Columbia graduate draws from his diverse background in lab work, science writing and fine cuisine to explain how C├ęzanne anticipated breakthroughs in the understanding of human sight, how Walt Whitman intuited the biological basis of thoughts and, in the title essay, how Proust penetrated the mysteries of memory by immersing himself in childhood recollections."

His new book is called How We Decide, and it brings together various findings from behavioral psychology, interacting with some of Malcom Gladwell's books and similar material.

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