Next Avenue Logo

70 Over 70: A Different Kind of Conversation

Max Linsky wants the guests on his podcast to look to the future, not the past

By Emily Wilson

What is Max Linsky looking for in a guest on his new podcast, "70 Over 70?" Well, besides the obvious of being more than 70 years old, he wants someone willing to have a different kind of conversation.

The host of 70 over 70 podcast sitting on a bench. Next Avenue, 70 Over 70
Max Linsky, host of the "70 Over 70" podcast  |  Credit: Kyna Marie

"We're looking for people who are game to think out loud and who don't have prepared material that they sort of offer all the time, but are willing to engage with my kind of sappy, existential questions," said Linsky, who, in addition to "70 Over 70," also co- hosts "Longform," a podcast where he interviews nonfiction writers. "Part of the goal of the show is to have a conversation with someone that will feel different from what you've heard before."

That's why when he talked with Alice Waters, who started the famed Berkeley, Calif. restaurant Chez Panisse and has been a leader in the slow-food movement, Linsky did not go over her formative time in Paris – something she's talked about quite a bit.

Instead, he asked about a story a friend of hers had told him – an experience Waters had while camping in Turkey near a gas station, leading to a bowl of warm goat milk pushed under the flap of her tent, and the importance of being open and trusting of people you don't know.  

"Part of the goal of the show is to have a conversation with someone that will feel different from what you've heard before."

Other guests on "70 Over 70" have included TV producer and writer Norman Lear, Sister Helen Prejean, who is an advocate against the death penalty and author of "Dead Man Walking" and former Secretary of State and pin aficionada, Madeleine Albright. 

Writer and illustrator Maira Kalman, who created the show's cover art, was a recent guest. Producer Jess Hackel and Linsky called Kalman and asked her to pick an unusual location for them to meet. Kalman chose a supermarket, which she loves due to the many fascinating labels and products that engage her illustrator's soul.

Kalman said they bonded over red rubber balls she bought for Linsky's kids, as well as for herself. Afterwards, Linsky and Hackel asked her to do the artwork for the show, and Kalman sent some sketches. She wanted a bold, graphic look, that "looked like it was made by a human as opposed to a machine." 

'Real Answers About Life'

Kalman doesn't listen to podcasts, so she couldn't speak to how "70 Over 70" differs from others, but said the conversation covered the wisdom of age and her work in the present as well as the future.

"I think Max was very philosophical and wanted real answers about life," she said. "He was looking for answers from what my perspective would be about how to live. In that sense, it was unique and enjoyable. He's lovely and so's Jess."

Linsky and Hackel say it's important to them to ask, as they did with Kalman, about more than the past.

"It's not, 'Walk us down memory lane,' but 'What do you want this time of your life to look like and how are you thinking about whatever comes after this moment?'" Hackel said. "I think that's in the spirit of this is not going to be the conversation you always hear from the person. It's also just way more interesting."


To get as many different perspectives as possible, the podcast starts with a person who's over 70 and not a household name – such as a woman who took up the trapeze at 78 and a London taxi driver who's been driving more than 40 years and has no plans to retire.

Inspired to Interview His Father

Linsky has been thinking about doing this show for a while, and one thing that spurred him on was wanting to interview his 80-year-old father, Marty, with whom he's always been close.

Marty, a former professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who has run multiple marathons, got more taciturn after falling and breaking a leg. But Linsky had seen in his podcasting career how people could open up in front of a microphone, so he interviewed his dad.

Linsky said his father, who talked on the show about how he nearly always gets 20,000 steps a day and does many, many pushups, was more than willing to be on the show. But he didn't expect what came next. 

"My whole feeling about interviewing is really it's less about what you think of beforehand and more about really listening and following your curiosity in the moment."

"I think he never engaged with the idea that anyone would listen to it, or he would have been a lot more trepidatious," Linsky said. "He's enjoyed it. He's heard from all these people in his past, and virtually everyone who has reached out to him have referenced his hundred push-ups a day. And there's just nothing more gratifying to him than being able to check his email every morning and have someone else talk to him about the fact that he does a hundred push-ups." 

Linsky doesn't go into the interviews with a lot of prepared questions, but rather some idea of what the hosts want to know about the person's experience. With Bob Iger, the chairman of Disney's board who's about to retire, for example, he and Hackel wanted to find out what the weight of that job felt like and how it would be to shed that weight.

So, although there's a framework, Linsky said he has to be willing to think out loud since that's what he's asking his guests to do.

"My whole feeling about interviewing is really it's less about what you can think of beforehand and more about really listening and following your curiosity in the moment," Linsky said. "Sometimes I will drive sixty miles an hour down a cul-de-sac and have to slowly and embarrassingly reverse, but sometimes it's a whole other way to go."

One consistent thing Linsky has found about his guests is they all seem to have some way to talk about the importance of staying present. Another thing his guests share that surprises him is how at peace they seem to be with their lives ending.

"Norman Lear had this great line about how 'No one has come back and given me a bad review,'" Linsky said. "I expected a lot more wrestling with that question then we've gotten. I think that might be the most significant thing I've been able to take away from these conversations. I find it quite inspiring to hear people at that kind of peace with it. I'm pretty sure I'm terrified of dying, so it's nice to have a lot of models for how not to feel that way."

Emily Wilson lives in San Francisco. She writes for a number of outlets including Smithsonian.comDaily Beast48 HillsHyperallergicLatino USAWomen’s Media CenterCalifornia Magazine, and San Francisco Classical Voice. For years she taught adults getting their high school diplomas at City College of San Francisco. Read More
Next Avenue LogoMeeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans through media
©2024 Next AvenuePrivacy PolicyTerms of Use
A nonprofit journalism website produced by:
TPT Logo