This week: a murder near Malibu, tarot cards, and character actor Stephen Tobolowsky.
It’s kind of the story that magazine features and true-crime podcasts are made of — equal parts mystery, tragedy, and dysfunction — which presumably makes it all the more efficient that this story about a series of shootings near Malibu gets told twice in both those formats by the same journalist at almost the same time.
In Malibu Creek State Park, a 35-year-old research scientist named Tristan Beaudette was shot and killed inside a tent with his children, who were unharmed. Beaudette’s killing took place in June 2018, the deadliest incident in a string of unexplained shootings that took place in the Malibu area over a two-year period. These were many “near miss” incidents — the kind where someone is driving along a road when they hear a strange sound, only to discover later that there are bullet holes on the side of their car. There had been at least one incident with actual bodily harm before, but Beaudette was the most tragic outcome. Months later, the police would arrest and charge a suspect for the killing: 42-year-old Anthony Rauda, a drifter who lived in the woods. Whether or not Rauda is guilty is the question at the heart of the mystery (signs of police mismanagement and conspiracy theories abound). Rauda continues to await trial to this day.
That’s the broad shape of the story told in Lost Hills, a new series from Pushkin Industries and Western Sound by New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear, who also wrote a feature on Beaudette’s killing for the magazine that came out earlier this month.
There’s quite a bit of overlap between what’s in the New Yorker piece and what’s in Lost Hills, but the differences are intriguing. In the article, the Malibu shootings are told as a kind of procedural ghost story, a ghastly postcard stitching together the unsettling constellation of events leading up to Beaudette’s killing. In the podcast, though, Goodyear is given greater space and time to linger. Consequently, what you get with the podcast series is a little more sociological, something that spends more time situating the mysterious shootings within the context of the Malibu area, with all its undercurrents of class, affluence, and Southern California mythos.
There’s some amount of Inherent Vice energy running through Lost Hills. It oscillates between the dark gravity of Beaudette’s killing and the goofiness of the Malibu setting, cutting what could be a straightforwardly told story with a slightly ironic eye. Consider it a side-effect of an outsider — in this case, Goodyear — balancing her attempts to figure out the shootings while at the same time having to interpret the woo-woo “I’d like to speak with your manager” electricity that courses through Malibu’s veins. The combination is captivating.
It has been reported elsewhere that interest in “spiritualist practices” like astrology, tarot cards, and seances has risen over the course of the pandemic. The explanation often cited for this trend is that, in a moment defined by uncertainty and powerlessness, people have an increased emotional need for a sense of certainty and control.
This is somewhat true for me, though not completely. I happen to be one of the many people who picked up a deck of tarot cards over the past year — a Rider Waite, for anyone wondering — and started noodling around with readings, but it was partly because I have more time for such things now that I’m confined to the house and partly because I was already the sort of person who fervently believed in the existence of ghosts, aliens, and other sorts of otherworldly things (despite generally claiming to be a rational, analytical thinker).
Anyway, the point is that I picked up a deck and ordered a book to help get situated with the practice: Michelle Tea’s Modern Tarot. This was my first introduction to Tea, who has carved out a sprawling and fascinating body of work over the past few decades. In addition to writing on spiritual matters, Tea is also a memoirist, poet, and writer of queer fiction; she has worked on films and managed literary non-profits. She seems to be curious and knowledgeable about a wide variety of subjects, which makes her interesting by definition.
Nowadays, of course, she also has a podcast, Your Magic. In some ways, it’s a conventionally structured interview show anchored by an individual who governs a niche. In this case, Tea speaks with celebrity guests — early entries include Brittany Howard, Roxane Gay, and Alexander Chee — on matters of spiritual beliefs, mysticism, and so on. But the episodes also come coupled with tarot readings of the guests themselves, which adds a fun twist to the general proceedings. That feature is kinda what makes the show for me; I might not be terribly interested in a particular guest, but the reading sessions do provide a good sense of what this tarot and spiritualism thing is all about, and there’s something about hearing the practice played out that’s really entertaining — and that draws a fresh new layer out from the standard interview format.
➽ This week, Slate is launching a new internet-culture podcast hosted by Madison Malone Kircher and Rachelle Hampton. It’s called ICYMI, and features some of that potent clip-art aesthetic.
➽ Rebecca Traister wrote a deep, deep report on the workplace dysfunctions in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office earlier this month, and she expanded upon what these dysfunctions and Governor Cuomo’s illustrates about what we tend to talk about when we talk about power on an excellent recent episode of The Ezra Klein Show.
➽ In honor of Vulture’s big package on character actors, a quick shout-out to The Tobolowsky Files, which features Stephen Tobolowsky (in collaboration with the prolific podcaster David Chen) telling stories from his life. It’s often quite lovely.
And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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