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How To Listen to “Welcome To Night Vale”

night vale

If you’re anything like me, it took you a while to get into Welcome to Night Vale. I had seen all sorts of fan art, head-canons, and music (some featured on the show, some inspired) that I just figured it was something I needed to check out. Well, I did just that, and I was left feeling very unimpressed.

Before I go any further, here’s a quick explanation of Night Vale, if this is your first exposure to the podcast:

Twice-monthly community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events. Turn on your radio and hide. Welcome to Night Vale. (Produced by Commonplace Books. Written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor.) – iTunes

I didn’t know if it was the unabashed love from just about every corner of Tumblr that oversold it to me, but I walked away just not understanding where everybody was coming from. What exactly was it that made this podcast so popular that it skyrocketed to the number one spot in iTunes, practically overnight?

Well, I am nothing if not stubborn, so I tried again… and I finally started enjoying it. Now I’d like to offer up some advice for newcomers who haven’t listened to a single sound bite from the show and for people who are giving it a second try, alike.

Here we go! (I would like to specify that this advice is being offered solely from my perspective. It is chock full of my personal opinions and ideas, and will not necessarily translate wholly to the experiences of others, unless of course there’s a secret portal hidden somewhere where if I went through it everyone would turn into me, à la Being John Malkovich.)

1. Don’t Do Anything Else While Listening

I suspect this was the real reason I had trouble enjoying the podcast the first time around. I allowed myself to get distracted easily (usually scrolling through Tumblr while halfheartedly paying attention) and didn’t fully engage in the world being offered.

Once I turned all the lights in my room off, laid down, and did nothing but pay attention, I started connecting to Cecil Baldwin in all his wacky glory. There’s still kind of an odd disconnect, but I suspect that’s me getting used to the fact that I’m receiving entertainment like someone from the 1940s would.

Is that a bad thing? No. No, it is not.

2. Take the Weather Forecast with a Grain of Salt

Once you start listening to the podcast, you’ll realize that Night Vale’s radio station must get some signals crossed every time Cecil tries to inform listeners of the day’s weather. Instead, strange music starts playing, and doesn’t stop until one full song has been completed.

And boy, is it excruciating. I realize that music is an incredibly personal experience and everybody likes different things, but come on. I had to skip through this section of the broadcast for roughly the first three episodes. But don’t worry, the music starts getting interesting (if not always good) right around here.

3. Stop Scrolling Through the “Night Vale” Tumblr Page Immediately

A lot of what I learned about Night Vale before listening I learned through Tumblr. This is probably the worst way to experience something, since with all the (sometimes) awesome fan art, there are also opinions, hopes, dreams, and head canons.

It’s very hard to get a sense of something when everyone else’s ideas are running rampant and just about every post you see on the piece of media you’re trying to understand comes chained to the personal experience of some other consumer.

Trust me, if you stop once you get an inkling that you want to check Night Vale out, your experience will be much better. You won’t come in with opinions informed by the minds of others. In that way, you’ll get to experience all the big events – and some little ones, too – with fresh eyes.

Check out the entire series here, if you’re interested.