Walter Kirn: Anthony Fauci is the Classic Film Noir Villain

David and Walter talk about the surveillance state, noir and the American hero, beauty and intuition in the artistic process, and pessimism as the illusion of high art.


My initial instinct, when starting this podcast, was to have good conversations with friends both new and old. Usually, walking around my living room or kitchen, staring out the window onto the beach and the ocean—and being as present as possible in an intimate moment of communication between two people. Introducing the element of video, it turns out, works against that intimacy. At least, it does for me. I’m thinking of being in the frame, if the picture comes out right—do I look washed out against the backdrop?—not to mention the restriction of being chained to my desk, staring in one direction. So I’m returning to a format that works better, I think. I hope the conversation will more than make up for the sound of the telephone.

I think this one did.

Episode 6: Walter Kirn

Walter Kirn is a novelist, essayist and literary critic. He’s written eight novels—Blood Will Out, Up in the Air, Thumbsucker, Mission to America, She Needed Me, My Hard Bargain, Lost in the Meritocracy, and The Unbinding—and two have been adapted into films. Subscribe to his Substack, Unbound.

I’d seen Up in the Air and have read Walter’s writing in places like the Atlantic, but we had our first conversation on an interesting Clubhouse with Amanda Milius and others. I couldn’t wait to do this chat. Our conversation lasted nearly 90 minutes, and went everywhere: we touched on the surveillance state; watching a famous actor recast his story in another light; an informal, graduate-level class in noir from his pal, writerJames Ellroy; Easy Rider, Thelonious Monk, Arthur Miller, and Minnesota writers; and much more.

Intro Music

“The Ruby and the Pearl” was the theme of the 1952 film, Thunder in the East, starring Alan Ladd and Deborah Kerr. It was a minor hit for Nat King Cole before it disappeared for nearly a decade—but reappeared as a suitably eastern-sounding vehicle for jazz. In 1960, both Wayne Shorter and Tina Brooks made recordings of the tune. Interestingly, neither recording appeared at the time. Shorter’s was kept on the shelf until he’d become a bigger star with Weather Report in 1974; Brooks’ album, on the other hand, had to wait until 1998. Both cuts are great, but I chose to open this podcast with Tina Brooks.