Each episode of the National Podcast of Texas focuses on a longform interview with a Texas newsmaker, legend, or rising star. The third season will start January 13 with a show featuring Donny Cates—a rising star in the Marvel Comics universe. In the meantime, catch up on highlights from our second season, in which Texans offer personal perspectives on what’s in the news, how they got where they are, and what keeps them up at night.
In August, Tanya Tucker appeared on the show just a week after releasing her first album of new material in seventeen years, While I’m Livin’. A few months later, the record was recognized with four Grammy nominations, including Best Country Album and Song of the Year for “Bring My Flowers Now.” In a freewheeling conversation with the West Texas-raised legend, we spoke with Tucker about how quickly the album had begun changing people’s long-held impressions, her consistent (and dangerous) desire to be loved, and the ways While I’m Livin’ may be her most Texas-centric record yet.
Tucker on how her reputation as an “outlaw”—or, less charitably put, as “difficult”—stems from a double standard: “When a girl is late for a gig, promoters are calling each other, and it’s part of your reputation. But then Hank Jr. does it, and nobody cares. He’s an hour late, and they say, ‘Okay, good. Thank God you’re here.’ It’s a totally different thing. And I just try not to let it affect me as much as it used to. There have been a lot of things that had been said about me that I think were overstated. And I see what male performers get away with. It’s a double standard, but this is the way it is, and it’s going to be that way for a while. Don’t mean I have to like it.”
In March, Brooklyn Decker accepted the Austin Film Society’s Rising Star award at its annual Texas Film Awards. The montage of clips that preceded its presentation featured bits of her screen debut, a supporting role in the Adam Sandler comedy Just Go With It, and pieces from her work in Peter Berg’s Battleship and the 2012 romantic comedy What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Decker also costars in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, alongside Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston. Decker, who has lived in Austin since 2009 and is married to retired tennis champion Andy Roddick, splits her time between Texas and North Carolina these days and also helps run Finery—an app she cofounded with television news veteran Whitney Casey that serves as a“Wardrobe Operating System” and tracks clothing purchases and suggests outfits. On the National Podcast of Texas, Decker discussed her proudly warts-and-all approach to social media, and considered the impact of #MeToo on Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the modeling industry.
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Decker on her unconventional approach to social media: “I have no strategy when it comes to my social media. It’s the only way I know how to be. I’m just a pretty raw person. And if it’s humiliating and funny, I think that’s better. I find that more interesting. I get a lot of feedback about my social media when I’m out and about. I feel like people talk about that more than they talk about anything else that I do. But I think most people in my position, most people who have a show to promote or who are an “influencer,” whatever that is, post more regularly [than I do]. I actually am breaking all the rules not posting regularly. I can go a month without doing it. I tend to post when I’m not with my kids, and you can tell when I’m really bored and lonely because I’m posting a lot. But there’s no strategy. When I feel like saying something, I say something.”
Since nobody else waited for 2020 to talk 2020 politics, we spoke to Hegar—one of twelve Democrats vying for the chance to face incumbent John Cornyn in the 2020 U.S. Senate election—about the lessons of 2018’s Beto O’Rourke/Ted Cruz matchup, America’s gun culture, and how national politics might play into the Texas Senate race.
Hegar on economic inequality: “There’s more that separates the top from the bottom than there is the left from the right.”
Two years ago, after serving eighteen years in an Arkansas prison, Jason Baldwin moved from Seattle to Austin to cofound Proclaim Justice—a nonprofit dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions. Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were Arkansas teenagers when they were convicted of the grisly 1993 murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. They came to be known as the West Memphis Three, and their story was documented in a trio of HBO documentaries that began with 1996’s Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. Elements of the West Memphis Three’s case are at the heart of Baldwin’s appearance on the National Podcast of Texas, though we also discuss the work Proclaim Justice has done in helping secure freedom for the “hopelessly innocent.” The organization’s highest profile fundraising event yet will be a February 6 benefit concert at Austin’s ACL Live at the Moody Theater that features headliner Gary Clark Jr. and a special appearance by the Dixie Chicks. Tickets and more information are available at acl-live.com.
Baldwin on the value of righteous anger: “To be righteously angry at the system when it is not doing what we know it should be doing is healthy. So you channel that in positive manners that you hope will enact change in a better way that makes the system better for not just you, but for everybody. We’re all in this together. If we’re making it bad for somebody, we’re making it bad for us too. If we’re making life unbearable for a certain class of people, we’re creating misery in this world. So we need to make it better for everyone—all classes, all religions, all races, all countries … And hope is action. Hope is looking at the world the way it is with open eyes and recognizing what you’re dealing with but saying, ‘I’m not gonna let it beat me. I’m not gonna let it destroy me. And, a matter of fact, I’m going to help it make things better for everyone.’ Hope empowers me.”
In July, we reeled in the big get: a special live podcast with Willie Nelson & Friends, recorded from the porch of Willie’s Luck, Texas, headquarters. The conversation followed a screening of the first-ever digital presentation of 1986’s Red Headed Stranger, an Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow and Luck Reunion coproduction that allowed four hundred fans to watch the movie on the very property where it was filmed.
On the Nelson family’s three-pronged Golden Rule: “Don’t be asshole. Don’t be an asshole. Don’t be a goddamn asshole.”
Best known for playing Tyra Collette in the first three seasons of NBC’s Friday Night Lights, Palicki currently stars in Fox’s The Orville—a sci-fi dramedy from Seth MacFarlane that is headed into its third season. Palicki lives in Austin when she’s not filming The Orville, and in our conversation she discusses the Friday Night Lights revival she expects might never come to pass, her new marriage to Orville costar Scott Grimes, #metoo, and the roles that got away.
Palicki on her not-likely-to-happen fan-fiction treatment for Friday Night Lights: The Next Generation: “Taylor Kitsch’s character, Riggins, is still in Dillon, Texas, and married to Tyra. They’re a messed-up version of Coach and Tammy, ’cause he’s still Riggs. But he’s coaching, and she’s now the counselor. She came back from the University of Texas. Could you imagine? That’d be so fun. You’d have Billy Riggins, and you’d still have Mindy. You’d still have a bunch of the characters, even probably Buddy Garrity still there running Buddy’s. It’s the next evolution.”
At the start of the last decade, Ryan Bingham earned an Oscar and a Grammy for “The Weary Kind”—the lead song from the soundtrack to the acclaimed film Crazy Heart. But the album he released last February—American Love Song—has been widely regarded as his best full-length effort yet. It lays out Bingham’s hardscrabble backstory: an itinerant youth spent in New Mexico, Texas, and California; time riding on the rodeo circuit; and the untimely deaths of his mother, an alcoholic, and his father, who took his own life. On the podcast, Bingham discussed how American Love Song is really a Texas love letter, his battle with depression, and how therapy and music changed his outlook.
Bingham on the power of protest music and why he won’t just “shut up and sing”: “The single biggest inspiration I have was Bob Dylan. My uncle had all these old records from this bar that they owned in the sixties and seventies out there in New Mexico, and I started listening to these records—stuff they didn’t play on the radio. Bob Dylan led me to Woody Guthrie and learning more about the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr., which opened my mind up to the world in different ways. Being a kid from a small town, from New Mexico and West Texas, nobody else was really talking about that kind of stuff, so I very much saw this door open to almost another universe. I went through it and I never came back.
In September, in the waning days of a month-long congressional recess, Senator Ted Cruz visited with Midland-Odessa city and law enforcement leaders after a mass shooting there left seven dead and 25 injured. The next afternoon, the debate over access to guns was a major focus of our hour-long conversation on the National Podcast of Texas, recorded in his Houston office. The conversation also covered the state of civility, tax reform, why he believes President Trump has been good for Texas, and Alex Jones.
Cruz on the backlash to post-tragedy tweets from politicians offering “thoughts and prayers”: “One of the things about the left that I find odd is the rage at the concept of prayers. When we have a disaster—whether it is a horrific crime, a natural disaster like it was Hurricane Harvey, tornadoes, or the explosion in West Texas—I will lift up in prayer for anyone who is suffering in the face of tragedy, and I’m not going apologize for that. That’s not the only solution, but particularly online, there is this rage where thoughts and prayers has become this sort of smarmy ‘Ha ha! Prayer doesn’t work,’ kind of thing. One is entitled to believe that if one chooses. I disagree. I believe in the power of prayer that millions of Texans and millions of Americans do as well. And so when people are hurting and suffering, I will certainly lift them up in prayer. And along with the jab at thoughts and prayers is the implication that you’re not doing anything else when it comes to stopping violent crime. I have fought vigorously to pass legislation that would prevent violent crime.”
In November, author and strategist Ryan Holiday became the National Podcast of Texas’ first-ever repeat guest. His latest best-seller—Stillness Is the Key—invites readers to “unlock the potential (and the peace) that you know is within you” and relies heavily on the Hellenistic philosophy of Stoicism. As with his previous best-sellers, The Obstacle Is the Way and Ego Is the Enemy—both of which also tap into tentpole concepts of Stoicism—Holiday’s guide to reaching stillness relies heavily on stories and anecdotes from high achievers across history that connect the dots between philosophy, history, marketing, culture, and, ultimately, self-improvement. On his episode, we covered how stillness applies to a wide swath of modern culture: from Trump to Kanye, from U.S. Marines to NBA legend Michael Jordan.
Holiday on detoxing from social media: “I don’t have Instagram or Twitter on my phone, and I quit Facebook. I think using these things as little as possible is very important—the more you can minimize your exposure to them, probably the better. My wife and I go on a walk every morning and she was telling me something about someone that we knew and I had totally missed it because I haven’t been on Facebook in a year. But that minor miss is way outweighed by the lack of jealousy, envy, and status anxiety that I don’t have because I don’t see what everyone else is bragging about or talking about.”
In 2019, ZZ Top celebrated their 50th anniversary—a half-century that Billy F. Gibbons describes as the “same three guys, same three chords.” On the National Podcast of Texas, Gibbons describes what it’s like to learn at the feet of the blues icon Lightnin’ Hopkins, details ZZ Top’s transition from the seventies blues act that tore up the University of Texas’s Memorial Stadium at its Rompin’ Stompin’ Barn Dance and Bar B.Q. to glitzy darlings of early MTV, and their roles as worldwide ambassadors of all things Texana.
Gibbons on keeping ZZ Top interesting: “We’ve played some of these songs now going on five decades, and at the same time, the inside joke is always who’s going to make the first mistake. And if it happens, we call it “Going to the Bahamas.” You can get there—it’s getting back that’s problematic. So it’s not all muscle memory. There’s something to be said about getting comfortable within a composition and being able to predict where you want it to go. But it doesn’t always happen that way. But the challenge of keeping it fresh and alive allows for some great improvisation. I don’t think we play the same song the same way every night. There’s always some twist that keeps it fresh.”
Royce Brooks is the executive director of Annie’s List—the sixteen-year-old organization that recruits, trains, and supports progressive women seeking office at both the state and local levels. The Fort Worth native and Rice graduate came to the job after serving as Atlanta’s first-ever chief equity officer and was previously policy director for Sylvester Turner’s campaign for mayor of Houston. She was also statewide policy director for Wendy Davis’s 2014 campaign for Texas governor. Under Brooks’s direction, Annie’s List is recruiting candidates to run for the seventeen Texas House seats their research suggests are vulnerable in 2020, ahead of the legislature’s redistricting-focused session in 2021.
Brooks on why she believes progressives need to work better together instead of arguing about who’s more progressive: “I hope that we can get to a point of understanding as a movement that there is space for both and sundry. We are, in fact, part of the same system. It’s not two teams. It’s not the Twitter progressives versus the electeds. That’s all one team. And I think that’s something that our opponents on the other side of the aisle have long since figured out how to navigate in a better way than we have.”
Nolan Ryan is Major League Baseball’s all-time strikeout leader and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 in his first year of eligibility with 98.8 percent of the votes. He also served as the Texas Rangers’ CEO from 2010 to 2013, is a principal owner of the Houston Astro’s Triple A affiliate—the Round Rock Express—and helps run the Nolan Ryan Foundation, which provides resources for youth, education, and community development. Ahead of the 2019 baseball season, Ryan and his son Reid (the Houston Astros president of baseball operations) joined the podcast at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond to discuss how payroll affects who wins and loses, the possibility of an MLB team in San Antonio, and how the game has (and hasn’t) changed since Ryan left it behind.
Ryan on fear: “I think very early on in your career, you have fear because you come to a major league game and you don’t know if you belong there. You don’t know what it takes to be successful, because you haven’t been there before. You’re trying to deal with that and also throw strikes and have some idea how you’re going to approach a hitter, so there are times when your confidence level is very low. I remember standing on the mound and struggling with my control when the game is on the line—you learn to deal with that. Experience becomes a great teacher and develops your confidence in your ability. It’s about knowing when you have to focus, what you have to do, and how you have to execute to get out of a situation like that. Some people aren’t able to develop that and other people are. You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t, you have problems.”