Intro from Jay Allison: In the attempt to explore the nature of evil, the interview with the real Darth Vader Impersonator didn’t work out. So, producer Sean Cole had to go to the next level. This piece was made in Boston for Benjamin Walker’s strange and remarkable local program "Your Radio Nightlight." In the encounter with the Dark Lord, we must also come face to face with public radio’s sound and style, as faithfully rendered by one of its own.
Notes from Sean Cole
This piece was truly a collaboration, the sort I hadn’t been a part of before. Ben called me and said he was doing a show called “The Dark Side” in two weeks and would I want to write something with him. He had a sketch of an idea about a Darth Vader impersonator who was pathologically obsessed with the character, even after his obsession had alienated the people who allowed him to live his dream. He wanted to write it as a mock public radio news report which is also something I’d never done before. After a couple of phone conversations just brainstorming different plot twists and details, Ben hammered out a rough, partial outline and I e-mailed him back with the first few minutes of the story. Ben e-mailed me back with changes. I changed his changes and e-mailed back more script. It went on this way for a week until I was sitting on Ben’s couch reading the final script into his mini-disc recorder. (And even then we argued about the ending until we came up with some writing we both agreed on.) I recorded the “tracks” first, then me-as-interviewer asking “Darth” questions, then me-as-“Darth.”
I thought writing a made-up news report would be easy, even freeing. After all, the “facts” could be anything Ben and I wanted them to be, the “actualities” could say anything. But, for one thing, I hadn’t written fiction since 1995, and since then I had re-calibrated my brain to process and put together true stories. And even though I write a fair number of poems, I worried that my imagination wasn’t broad enough (certainly not as broad as Ben’s) to create a listenable, engaging story out of thin air. Then there was the fact of our doing it as an “ax and trax” public-radio-style profile. Throughout the writing, there was a little tiny nay-sayer in my skull that spoke up now and then, resisting the very concept of presenting fiction in a format normally reserved for truth: a kind of “this does not compute” voice. I never tried to reason with it. I just ignored it, occasionally reminding myself that some of my favorite short fiction is that of Donald Barthelme, who often threw off the bounds of the traditional short story format in favor of, for example, a list of numbered sentences, or a fictional travelogue about another Paraguay, one that is nowhere on any map.
I don’t know if Ben and I succeeded in writing a listenable, engaging story out of thin air. But it was fun flipping off my inner, uptight drip.
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Notes From Benjamen Walker
In my radio show ‘Your Radio Nightlight‘ I often have talk shows that are not real talk shows, news reports that are not real news reports and documentaries that are not real documentaries. For some reason people always assume that I am doing this in order to do satire or parody. Of course there is a little bit of this but in the end satire and parody only takes you so far – if you are truly serious about connecting with the listener you need to have stories.
That’s really all I’m doing – using familiar radio devices to make up stories. And it’s a lot of fun. especially when I get to work with my friend Sean Cole.
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