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NEEDS REVIEW NEEDS REVIEW NEEDS REVIEW NEEDS REVIEW BEHIND THE SCENES with Nate DiMeo


Where did you first learn about James Powell, and why did you choose to tell his story?

I recently finished a job writing for an upcoming ABC miniseries about the space program. I immersed myself mid-sixties history. NASA had a remarkable string of successes and heroic headlines during that period. Yet, look at the other headlines elsewhere on the front-page, and America is flying apart. I kept hearing Gil Scott-Heron's Whitey on the Moon in my head (incidentally, Gil Scott-Heron's Whitey on the Moon is one of the world's Great Things).

The Harlem Riots serve, in part, as the backdrop for the episode of the series that I wrote. I started reading the news reports. They're heart breaking. But, by day two, James Powell is reduced to the kind of pro-forma language any reporter updating an on-going story plugs in without thinking, "which began with the killing of James Powell, 15," and then disappears. Which is what happens in these situations. The people get lost as the camera shifts, as it pulls out. That's what I wanted the story to be about. Which is why there are more stories than just Powell's.

I wanted to make a point about how brutally common these incidents are and how often they start with a similar spark: one person who comes to embody the pent up anger, rage, frustration, what have you, of a community. It's as simple as that. This is a story about forgetting and how the same pattern of forgetting recurs.

We're so often barraged by stories of violence and loss that we are sometimes numb to them. What did you do – craft-wise – to make this story resonate?

I think this question gets to the heart of what I try to do with the podcast. Whether it's asking the listener to feel anew the shock of old violence or to consider, say, the joy or thrill experienced by someone in the past when they first encountered a now-familiar technology, I'm trying to find the words, the vocal pattern, the music that will pull the listener in and shake her or him out of her or his day and get them to connect emotionally to the lived experience of someone in the past.

In this one, I suppose I'm asking you up top to identify with Powell and the kids on the stoop: you've done some version of this before. We've all been a kid on the stoop at some point, no matter where we were raised. It's merely a moment of bravado or, indeed, bravery, that comes from being a part of a pack of your peers. And at some point, that goes sideways. We've all felt it in some way on some scale. We just didn't get killed for it.

Do you look at current events differently since you started making the Memory Palace ?

Not really. I tend to view current events historically. Not necessarily in a "these sanctions against Russia remind me of X sanctions against Y in 19___" or a "Here you go again, History! Always repeating yourself!" way. I mean, I'm just hyper-aware of our current moment as a single moment in time. Whether it's a war or a hem-line. It's just the way my brain works.

This Memory Palace episode, as well as the previous one, The Glowing Orbs, are about more recent history than much of your work. Can we expect more of this from you?

I think I'm getting over a previous reluctance to dip into the more recent past. I'm interested in the way that simply saying something takes place in the past seems to trap it in amber. Seems to pot it off and make it feel isolated and alien. Part of the project of the Memory Palace (jeeeeeeze, that sounds pretentious) is to try to undo that a bit. Try to remind you that the people in history are real people. That they living within a certain set of historical conditions that are guiding their actions... and so are you, right there, listening to this story.

I think being reminded of the strangeness and distant-ness of events and people of a more recent vintage is particularly powerful in this regard. Too often, the recent past is mined for jokes: look at how big that persons phone/hair/collar is! But, it means something to have a big phone that's different than having a small phone. It changes you. And you, soon, with your even smaller phone, or your altered hem-line, will live a little differently than you do right now.