Monthly Archives: October 2013

On The Devil’s Promenade, Searching For The Spook Light



Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal

From the series "Devil's Promenade"

In a certain region of the Missouri Ozarks called Devil’s Promenade, there are tales of a “spook light.” According to local accounts, it’s a mysterious orb-like light that appears in the woods — but only on chance nights. And, as many local legends are, this one is shrouded in mystery: Is the spook light real? What is it? Is it evil? Is it good?

Photographer Lara Shipley says there’s no consensus — and that’s what drew her to the spook light. She and her collaborator, Antone Dolezal, have been to the region — right where Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas meet — twice. Their photos don’t literally show the light (which, Shipley says, they may or may not have seen at one point), but they convey “a feeling of what this place is like.”

  • Photos from the series "Devil's Promenade"

  • Photos from the series "Devil's Promenade"

  • Photos from the series "Devil's Promenade"

  • Photos from the series "Devil's Promenade"

  • Photos from the series "Devil's Promenade"

  • Photos from the series "Devil's Promenade"

  • Photos from the series "Devil's Promenade"

  • Photos from the series "Devil's Promenade"

  • Photos from the series "Devil's Promenade"

  • Photos from the series "Devil's Promenade"

Shipley, now a lecturer at the University of Kansas, is originally from the Ozarks and describes it as “a place that’s hidden — and a place where people like to be hidden.”

That makes looking for the spook light even more intriguing — but “not in a ghost-hunter kind of way,” she says.

“We don’t want any kind of explanation. We like that there’s stuff out there that people believe in. And I think photography is a really good excuse to get immersed in other worlds — other ways of thinking.”

Attention, Neighborhood Children! A Halloween Invitation


These aren’t my actual neighborhood children. These are just examples of how happy my neighborhood children could be.


iStockphoto.com

These aren't my actual neighborhood children. These are just examples of how happy my neighborhood children could be.

These aren’t my actual neighborhood children. These are just examples of how happy my neighborhood children could be.

iStockphoto.com

Welcome, all you ghosts and goblins! Welcome, all you cats and princesses! Welcome, Iron Man Under That Down Jacket! Welcome, Werewolf Whose Mom Is On The Phone!

I am pleased to see you at my door. I welcome always the young people in whose vicinity I reside, provided they are not so old that they pause before picking up their candy to put down a lit cigarette, which really happened to my parents once. (I will be using that anecdote in my upcoming book, Signs That You Have Outgrown Trick-Or-Treating.)

I know you expect every opened door to reveal a bag of Snickers bars or a plastic pumpkin filled with wee bags of M&Ms that you can later spread out on your bed, sort, argue over, try in vain to keep your parents from stealing after you fall asleep, and eventually allow to grow stale in the bottom of a Target bag.

But this is not that house. This is not that Halloween. Because I care. I care too much for Snickers bars. I care too much for Sweet Tarts. I care too much for Nerds. (I do actually care too much for nerds; my therapist would tell you that. Hiyo! But anyway, back to Halloween.) I care so much that I want to give of myself. I want to give of my possessions. I want to give, give, give.

I know you are accustomed to people who don’t provide candy giving you something dull and unamusing, like pennies. Pennies! Of what use are pennies to an imaginative elf such as you? They are of no use at all. You need adventure. You need excitement.

You need Canadian change.

As it happens, I was recently in Toronto, a fine city in which Canadian money is surprisingly common. I returned home with previous souvenirs that say things like “ONE DOLLAR” and “TEN CENTS” on them. Into each of your bags will go a special treat that will remind you of our neighbor to the north. Your imagination will open to William Shatner and the CBC; to hockey and poutine.

You may also fear that I will make the worst possible feint in the direction of health by giving you the dreaded tiny box of raisins. Lamentable tiny box of raisins! It is always dried out and miserable; you always wind up scraping dried stems from under your fingernails.

I will not give you the tiny box of raisins. Oh, no. I will give you a handful of loose raisins from my personal supply! These are the same raisins I enjoy myself! They are very good raisins! I have about half a box!

If you are not fond of raisins, perhaps you are a scientist. Perhaps you like adventure! Perhaps you enjoy, as they say, “tinkering” with “gizmos”! As it happens, I have a large supply of batteries with the much envied “AA” rating. Don’t worry! I’ve emptied them of any dangerous charge they might have contained, making them perfectly safe for classic kids’ games like What’s Wrong With The Remote? and What The Radio Says In My Imagination.

Maybe you’re one of the “tweens” who’s discovered the super-hot fad of safety-pin collecting! If so, you have come to the right house. Not only do I have a small box of safety pins that I am entirely willing to give you, but it often feels as if every box in my home has a safety pin or two rattling around in the bottom. Collector’s items, every one. And in mint condition! Barely used!

Neighborhood children, I feel that we are off to an excellent start. I look forward to hearing your peals of laughter and your shouts of joy. I promise to ooh and aah over your costumes. I wish you a festive and profitable Halloween.

You’re welcome.

Such Characters


Contestants gather for the final round.


Steve Petrucelli

Contestants gather for the final round.

Contestants gather for the final round.

Steve Petrucelli

In this final round, led by puzzle guru Art Chung, contestants are given the names of two actors who have played the same role in different movies, and they must name the character. For example, Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro both played Vito Corleone from The Godfather trilogy. Who was a more convincing mob boss? We’ll let you figure that out on your own.

Ian MacKaye: Un-Punk’d


What a pair!


Becky Harlan/NPR

What a pair!

What a pair!

Becky Harlan/NPR

More From This Episode

Strong reactions to house musician Jonathan Coulton singing the Sex Pistols lyrics “I am an Antichrist / I am an anarchist!”


Becky Harlan/NPR

Strong reactions to house musician Jonathan Coulton singing the Sex Pistols lyrics "I am an Antichrist / I am an anarchist!"

Strong reactions to house musician Jonathan Coulton singing the Sex Pistols lyrics “I am an Antichrist / I am an anarchist!”

Becky Harlan/NPR

Throughout his career as a musician, Ian MacKaye has played, listened to and analyzed countless hours of music. But how will he fare in our version of “Name That Tune”? In this Ask Me Another Challenge, MacKaye teams up with Stephen Thompson, NPR Music Editor and co-host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, to identify punk songs performed acoustically by house musician Jonathan Coulton. The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” never sounded so calm.

Plus, Coulton finishes the game with a cover of “Skyway” by The Replacements.

The Urge To Merge


In this game led by host Ophira Eisenberg, you get to become a corporate executive. Trust us, it’s way more fun than board meetings and conference calls. We merge two well-known businesses, and it’s up to you to create the new company’s name. For example, if the company that prepares one in every six U.S. tax returns merged with a struggling video rental company, they would form H&R Blockbuster, which is a combination of H&R Block and Blockbuster

National Treasures


Contestants Gautam Hans (left) and Sharyn Horowitz give their best Nicolas Cage impressions for “National Treasures.”


Steve Petrucelli

Contestants Gautam Hans (left) and Sharyn Horowitz give their best Nicolas Cage impressions for "National Treasures."

Contestants Gautam Hans (left) and Sharyn Horowitz give their best Nicolas Cage impressions for “National Treasures.”

Steve Petrucelli

We hope you’ve been practicing your Nicolas Cage impression, or have seen his 2004 action thriller National Treasure. In this game, you must name famous items found in the Smithsonian Museum’s collection, as described by house musician Jonathan Coulton. We encourage you to answer in the style of Cage’s immortal line, “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence.”

Random Questions With: Ian MacKaye


Ian MacKaye made his mark on the D.C. punk scene with Minor Threat and Fugazi.


Becky Harlan/NPR

Ian MacKaye made his mark on the D.C. punk scene with Minor Threat and Fugazi.

Ian MacKaye made his mark on the D.C. punk scene with Minor Threat and Fugazi.

Becky Harlan/NPR

MacKaye (left) and contestant Andrew Howard play a game wherein we ask random questions about MacKaye’s interests.


Becky Harlan/NPR

MacKaye (left) and contestant Andrew Howard play a game wherein we ask random questions about MacKaye's interests.

MacKaye (left) and contestant Andrew Howard play a game wherein we ask random questions about MacKaye’s interests.

Becky Harlan/NPR

More From This Episode

Thirty years after launching his music career, what does it mean for Ian MacKaye to be a punk rocker? In the 1980s, MacKaye rebelled against popular culture as the front man of the influential D.C. punk bands Minor Threat and Fugazi, and founded his own label, Dischord Records. These days, he maintains the label and plays in a more stripped-down outfit, The Evens, with his wife, Amy Farina.

MacKaye may have changed stylistically, but his core values have stayed the same. He leads a clean and sober (“straight-edge”) life, has stayed true to the DIY (“do-it-yourself”) punk ethic, and keeps his shows affordable and open to people of all ages by performing in nontraditional spaces, like barns and art galleries.

At NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., MacKaye chatted with Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg about why he likes performing for audiences with the lights on. His reason is simple: He wants to know who he’s talking to. MacKaye also shared why he encourages people to not fight at his shows. “It would be if like I was having you over for dinner and someone started stabbing you with a butter knife,” he said. “I would encourage that person to stop. It just seems obvious.”

After an enlightening interview, we put one of MacKaye’s fans to the test about the punk rocker’s personal tastes. Does he use an electric or manual toothbrush? Which old school media format does he prefer: vinyl or tape cassette? Get ready to discover some things about MacKaye that you never thought you’d know.

Don’t miss MacKaye’s Ask Me Another V.I.P. Challenge, wherein he teamed up with NPR’s Stephen Thompson for a game about classic punk songs. And listen to MacKaye’s story about his impromptu 1981 Saturday Night Live adventure, in the Web extra on this page.

Recurring Dream: Morpheus Returns In Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ Prequel


Sandman: Overture 1

Neil Gaiman started writing the Sandman comic books 25 years ago. Since then, he’s written acclaimed fantasy novels, children’s books and screenplays — but the pale, star-eyed Lord of Dreams remains one of his most beloved characters. Over the course of 75 issues, the series captivated fans and critics alike.

The eponymous Sandman, whose many names also include Morpheus and Dream, is one of a family of seven called the Endless. They’ve existed since the universe began: Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium and Destruction. As Gaiman explains to NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Morpheus and his siblings aren’t exactly gods. “In the Sandman universe, gods lose power when people stop worshipping them and forget about them,” Gaiman says. “But the Endless don’t want to be worshipped. They don’t care, they just — they’re doing a job.”

The last issue of The Sandman came out a decade ago. Now, Gaiman is returning with a prequel series, called The Sandman: Overture. He tells Inskeep about how he got bored with horror, why Death is nicer than Dream, and why comic scripts are so complicated.

Interview Highlights

On the ambitiousness of the Sandman series

Neil Gaiman has written adult fantasy novels, children’s books, screenplays and graphic novels.


Seth Kushner/Courtesy of DC Entertainment

Neil Gaiman has written adult fantasy novels, children's books, screenplays and graphic novels.

Neil Gaiman has written adult fantasy novels, children’s books, screenplays and graphic novels.

Seth Kushner/Courtesy of DC Entertainment

Well, the glory of Sandman, at [the beginning], was nobody had ever done anything like this before. So nothing could possibly go wrong, because nobody knew what to expect, which was wonderful. There weren’t any rules that said I couldn’t go off and do complex historical stories, or that I couldn’t do a retelling of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream on the first-ever performance before an invited audience of all of the fairies and the characters from Midsummer Night’s Dream, because nobody had ever done something like that to make a rule that you couldn’t. …

It starts out almost a horror comic. And then I start getting bored with horror, so it becomes a comic about other things. It becomes about history; it becomes about the responsibilities of leaders and kings; it becomes about whether we need gods, and if we do, why we need gods.

On the Sandman’s role in people’s dreams

Essentially he is the lord of dreams. The idea is that when you dream, we go into a sort of communal undermind. While he may be bringing out nightmares, he would be dealing with things that would be fundamentally too dangerous for us. …

He’s not terribly interested in people individually. He’s not interested in our redemption, he’s just interested in running his world. His sister Death is much, much nicer than he is, because she’s actually interested in people. She has to get down individually and meet every single person … she has to be the one who turns to you and says, “You know, you really should have looked both ways before crossing that street,” and she’s nice.

Dave McKean’s variant cover for Sandman: Overture 1 presents a new vision of the Sandman.


Courtesy of DC Entertainment

Dave McKean's variant cover for Sandman: Overture 1 presents a new vision of the Sandman.

Dave McKean’s variant cover for Sandman: Overture 1 presents a new vision of the Sandman.

Courtesy of DC Entertainment

On the process of creating a comic, as a writer working with an illustrator

I write a script, and it’s kind of like a film script, only a lot more complicated. In a comic, it’s Page 1, Panel 1, and you have to decide what you’re showing. Page 1, Panel 1 could be a finger on a doorbell.

The fun thing for Sandman: Overture is on Page 2, I did one of those things you do as a writer to try and put, you know, these upstart artists you’re working with in their place. I thought, well, I’ll give him something impossible to do, and that’ll teach him. So I asked Jim, J. H. Williams, to draw the Sandman, the Lord of Dreams, as a plant. And I said, “Just give me a white flower that is somehow reminiscent of a human face, and give me leaves that are reminiscent of a cloak.” And not only did he do it, but he did it better than I ever imagined.

On whether he’s ever started to scare himself as he explored a theme

That did happen several times while I was writing it. There was a story called “Season of Mists,” which essentially is what happens when Lucifer quits hell and closes it down, and throws everyone out.

Suddenly hell becomes the largest place of desirable psychic real estate in the universe, and poor Dream winds up having to decide between angels; there are lords of chaos and order, there are Japanese gods and Greek gods, all of them … essentially cosmic real estate developers, all wanting to take it over, and he has to deal with the consequences thereof.

And you come up with a story like that and you go, this is just too weird! And then you have magical artists working with you and people making it happen, and at the end of it you feel — delighted, and rather terribly proud of yourself.

More On Neil Gaiman

On whether he is the Sandman

It’s true on a weird kind of level, because if you’re a writer, the way that you write is that you always go and find the bits of you that are that thing, and put them in and imbue them into a character to give them life. So on that basis, I definitely am the Sandman. But I’m Morpheus as long as I can also be Death, and as long as I can be Merv Pumpkinhead, who is the only character in the whole of the book who really doesn’t have an awful lot of time for Morpheus but works for him.

On directing people’s dreams, like Morpheus does

We all do that, every writer … one of the titles of the Sandman — and it’s a title that I stole from Lou Reed, who died so recently, from a song — is the Prince of Stories. And I think any writer worth his or her salt gets to be the Prince of Stories, gets to be the Princess of Stories.

We get to direct people; we get to give them waking dreams. We get to take them places, do magical things to their heads, and, with any luck, send them back to the day that they came from slightly changed, and not the person that they were when we got our hands on them and said, “I want to tell you a story.”

Providence Kindles Love Of Horror Writer H.P. Lovecraft


An artists’s rendition of pulp-fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft is just one example of the author’s growing popularity.


The Lovecraft Anthology

An artists's rendition of pulp-fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft is just one example of the author's growing popularity.

An artists’s rendition of pulp-fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft is just one example of the author’s growing popularity.

The Lovecraft Anthology

Pulp-fiction writer Howard Phillips “H.P.” Lovecraft has for decades terrified an underground following of readers with horror stories about monsters and aliens. He’s known to some as a bad writer, and to many as a racist. Even during the author’s lifetime, his readership was limited.

But now, thanks mostly to social media, this old name in sci-fi horror is getting new attention from a growing fan base. Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence, R.I., is trying to capitalize on this rising star.

Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth

The short stories of H.P. Lovecraft are filled with monsters and mysterious creatures from outer space. They have names like Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth.

“You almost feel like you’re reading someone’s diary entries from their horrible experiences exploring some forgotten backwater of New England,” says Niels Hobbs.

In August, Hobbs revived the dormant H.P. Lovecraft literary conference. He called it “NecronomiCon,” a name he hoped would signal to fans that this was no Lovecraft-pah-loozah — this was a serious literary conference. It worked. Hobbs estimates 1,200 people from around the globe converged on Providence, identifiable by their black T-shirts with obscure science-fiction references.

They came from Europe, Central America and even as far as New Zealand, and they got down on the dance floor at the Lovecraft Ball wearing masks, horns and hoods as an organist cranked out creepy tunes.

“I’ve read a lot of the books, but I’ve never been to Providence, so it’s kind of amazing to see all the sites … he wrote about and the different places he visited,” says Vic Cabal, who came from Pennsylvania.

Providence, A Lovecraft Haven

Local businesses latched on to the theme and held their own events. Officials say the Lovecraft convention pumped some $600,000 into the local economy.

Now that Providence is catering to Lovecraft fans, there’s an official H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square, the historical society is working on markers for walking tours, and there’s even an app that provides a virtual tour of H.P. Lovecraft sights.

A new exhibit at the Providence Athenaeum features a silent movie based on a Lovecraft story, and a new bronze bust of the author. Athenaeum librarian Kate Woodhouse says ever since the bust appeared, so too have Lovecraft fans who are making the pilgrimage almost every day.

“We knew that the event would attract a lot of people and a lot of attention but didn’t realize how much we would become associated with Lovecraft by taking the bust,” Woodhouse says. “It’s great.”

Conference organizer Hobbs says this is just the beginning. He’s already planning for another conference in 2015, tied into Lovecraft’s 125th birthday. For that one, he’s preparing for an even bigger crowd.

In the meantime, the craze continues elsewhere — Portland, Ore., will host a CthulhuCon and film festival in April 2014.

Medicinal Laughs: Could ‘Daily Show’ Sour Millennials On ACA?


Jon Stewart, shown here interviewing President Obama on The Daily Show in October 2012, has been lampooning the problems with the Affordable Care Act website in recent episodes.


Brad Barket/PictureGroup

Jon Stewart, shown here interviewing President Obama on The Daily Show in October 2012, has been lampooning the problems with the Affordable Care Act website in recent episodes.

Jon Stewart, shown here interviewing President Obama on The Daily Show in October 2012, has been lampooning the problems with the Affordable Care Act website in recent episodes.

Brad Barket/PictureGroup

Problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act have been all over the news — and the not-quite news. Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart has been one news-ish outlet that hasn’t been too kind in its coverage.

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans spoke with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish about why negative coverage on The Daily Show might be worse for the Obama administration than negative coverage on the nightly news.

Interview Highlights

On how young people get their news from The Daily Show

I think this young group of millennials [are] the folks that the government really wants to take advantage of this program, and The Daily Show is sort of their barometer of when something is ridiculous in government.

And so the fact that The Daily Show — I loved a Daily Show segment, I think on Monday, where they showed the person who’s pictured on [HealthCare.gov] as sort of hanging in despair. She had hung herself because things were so bad. So when you have stuff like that going on on The Daily Show, it might make people less likely to take the [Affordable Care Act] itself seriously.

On an ad run during The Daily Show by Republicans

This ad is sort of a satire of the Apple ads that we saw years ago. And it’s interesting: As lame as the ad itself kind of is, it highlights the problems [with the Affordable Care Act] in the way that The Daily Show has also done. It resonates with the same sort of cultural take that we’ve seen from The Daily Show. So I think it could be effective.

On other lighthearted news shows on millennial-focused networks

As much as I love the The Daily Show and The Colbert Report — they do wonderful work — I’m afraid that young viewers will get the sense that the only way they can consume news is when it’s entertaining, when it sings and dances or makes them laugh. And you want people to be able to focus in on news when it’s substantive and when it’s about something that’s important in their lives. So that’s the one concern I have.