What we're listening to: Joanna Connor and 'Hilarious World of Depression'

Killer guitar licks and an eye-opening podcast.

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James Fraher via Getty Images
James Fraher via Getty Images

In this month's installment of our audio IRL, we discover an amazingly talented guitar player from Chicago and a podcast where comedians, musicians and more open up about struggles with depression.

Joanna Connor

Andrew Tarantola

Andrew Tarantola
Senior Editor

Robert plant was talking out the wrong side of his head when he proclaimed that "big leg woman ain't got no soul" in Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog." Joanna Connor is living proof of that. She may look like your average suburban mom, but this guitar virtuoso will melt your friggin face off with her six-string shredding.

Born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, Connor moved to Chicago in '84 where she has become a fixture of the Second City's vibrant blues scene. The 56-year-old mother of two still regularly plays three shows a weekend (some sessions lasting five hours or more) at the venerated Kingston Mines club, where she made her debut in the late '80s -- at least when she isn't touring the US and abroad. She's credited with a dozen live and studio albums spanning her 30-plus year career and has shared the stage with blues royalty including James Cotton, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, and A.C. Reed.

"An audience wants to be taken on a journey, I have a pretty big catalogue of songs and you can read the crowd for what it wants to hear," Connor states on her site bio, "It's all part of the palette of what I do, and it's always gone all over the map." Indeed, her catalogue is enormous. She's equally adept at sliding through originals like "Big Girl Blues" or "Young Woman Blues" (written to her then-teenage daughter after a pre-prom breakup) as she is covering classics like Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." So listen to Joanna Connor and weep, mere mortals, knowing that you'll never be half as good at anything as she is at shredding that guitar.

The Hilarious World of Depression

Christopher Schodt

Christopher Schodt
Video Producer

It's become almost trite to say that comedy and depression go hand in hand, but to John Moe it's a serious topic. And also kind of a joke. That's the running theme through Moe's The Hilarious World of Depression, a podcast from American Public Media that opens every episode by asking "Is depression funny?" And it is. Sometimes.

Moe interviews comedians and creatives from a range of professions about their struggles with mental illness in conversations that can veer from hilarious to tragic. While comedians make up the bulk of the episodes, Youtube star Hannah Hart, musicians like Neko Case and Open Mike Eagle, lawyer/podcaster Reggie Osse, and other public radio personalities were also past guests. In that last category, host of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me Peter Sagal started the first episode with a remarkably frank conversation about his life with depression -- a topic he's never really discussed previously -- that set the tone for the rest of the series.

Moe is a talented interviewer, and his openness around his own depression seems to spur surprising honestly from his guests. Now over fifty episodes in, the show hasn't gotten stale. Despite focusing on a pretty specific theme, one thing Hilarious World (or THWOD as Moe refers to it) shows is how unique everyone's individual struggles can be. And it is a struggle, this isn't a show that's going to tell you everything is going to be alright and presents every guest as a success story. To the contrary, THWOD frequently reminds you that there's no easy fixes in mental health and that life may be hard and may stay that way for a long time.

Even for someone who hasn't had particular challenges with depression, it's still fascinating to hear these guests open up about their lives, and little reassuring to know that professional success doesn't magically fix everything. Life will be be hard, and that's okay. Plus, sometimes it's hilarious.

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