Art Bell, mysterious narrator of the American nightscape, is dead at 72
April 14, 2018 5:27 PM   Subscribe

"At Mr. Bell’s peak in the 1990s, his show, “Coast to Coast AM,” was on more than 400 radio stations. He took calls all night long, alone in the studio he built on his isolated homestead in Pahrump, in the Nevada desert. He punched up the callers himself, unscreened, keeping one line just for those who wanted to talk about what really happened at Area 51, the U.S. government reserve that for decades has been a locus of UFO sightings and purported encounters with alien beings." --Marc Fisher, The Washington Post
posted by valkane (58 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow - this is awful. I'd just spent the last week listening to old Coast to Coast shows as I feel asleep.

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posted by davebush at 5:29 PM on April 14


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posted by Automocar at 5:35 PM on April 14


/lowers goat.
posted by Artw at 5:39 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


I owe my nom d' Metafilter to his incessant huckstering of a years supply of food back before the millenium when I called in. Oh, man, if I dotted, I would do it here. He was the Bomb. At least, comparatively. Not like that fuckin" cryptofascist George Noory with his go to world affairs specialist Jerome OG Birther Corsi, may he, the latter, at least, rot in hell.
posted by y2karl at 5:46 PM on April 14 [13 favorites]


RIP the voice of my paranormal-obsessed childhood.
posted by Bwentman at 5:47 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


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Bell was a relic of a kinder, gentler age, before the fascists and the Dumb Mean Hicks took over.
posted by acb at 5:50 PM on April 14 [28 favorites]


I can't wait until he dials in to the show to explain what really happened...
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:51 PM on April 14 [35 favorites]


Man. Mysterious holes, long rants by former military psychics, reverse speech, shadow people, aliens, all that. Damn. So many stoned teenage nights enjoying the ride. And the best was Ghost to Ghost. People would call in with some legitimately spooky shit. Hopefully Art found a bit of truth about the unseen on his way out.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:53 PM on April 14 [8 favorites]


on Friday the 13th. (Cue theremin)
posted by hal9k at 5:54 PM on April 14 [15 favorites]


My only knowledge of Art Bell came from the section of The Men Who Stare at Goats (the Jon Ronson book) that dealt with Hale-Bopp and the Heaven's Gate cult's mass suicide (Google books link).
posted by NoMich at 5:55 PM on April 14


I've been trying to be less negative about everything as I age, but my goodness, Noory is awful. Goodbye Art - you'll be missed.
posted by davebush at 5:55 PM on April 14 [5 favorites]


I stumbled upon him many years ago when I was working night audit for my family in our hotel. It wasn't very often but whenever I was in the mood for something a bit stranger and to just keep me company, he always fit the bill.

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posted by Fizz at 6:01 PM on April 14


And, man, when you called in and were on hold, sometimes you could hear him spin up the CDs of the bumper music and yak to someone on the phone 'cause he left a mike on. It was so folksy. I remember blathering about salvia divinorum one time to Terence McKenna like a complete fool and Art's going What!? What!? in the background... Oh, how I blush to hear that repeated.

Of course, another time I listened to another rebroadcast and some dude was reaming out some lame Nostradamus expert with a little Edward G Robinson in The Ten Commandments stylee Hey, what about the internet !? Where's your Nostradamus now, Moses ?, figuratively speaking, and I was thinking 'hey, this guy really knows his onions' and then realized it was me. D'oh!
posted by y2karl at 6:08 PM on April 14 [31 favorites]


I'm a night owl so I used to listen to him all the time. Such a shame the weird nationalist and damaging-conspiracy-theory turn the show took after he left. I remember he usually managed to sound like he was, not exactly skeptical, but not credulous about the calls he would get. The show was not without problems, he was inviting Corsi on before George Noory did, but I think I remember it was mostly UFO stuff or the JFK assassination Corsi was talking about at that time. The ultimate difference between talking about conspiracy theories THEN and talking about them NOW is that more people, many more, are believing in them to damaging levels now IMO. They weren't as widespread and damaging to the fabric of the country, of our polity, as they are now (thanks internet). Coast to Coast plus X-files closed out my millenium.

RIP Art.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 6:17 PM on April 14 [12 favorites]


Worked the door at the epistemological whorehouse that America has become.
posted by thelonius at 6:17 PM on April 14 [10 favorites]


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Was never a fan but you got to admire the persistence of vision. A world without weird is a boring world. Give em hell, Bell.
posted by vrakatar at 6:26 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


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When I heard about Art Bell, I thought about Hilly Rose, whose non-abrasive political talk was, to me, the definition of 'Moderate' and for whom I worked briefly as a Phone Screener on nights when his wife Mary didn't share the studio with him. The last I heard of Hilly he was doing fill-in for Art Bell and thought "high profile, but still a letdown" and was not surprised when he lost or abandoned his role as 'heir apparent' to George Noory (about whom I agree with davebush). Anyway, I googled Hilly Rose and learned sadly that he passed away at the end of 2017. I then had to google every other 70s-80s radio person I'd ever met... no other obituaries, but I still haven't totally gotten over Gary Owens.

But Art Bell's ability to talk about totally outrageous things without sounding all that outrageous himself is truly a lost art. Or a Lost Art.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:28 PM on April 14 [8 favorites]


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I would not have spent my day selling medieval woodcut inspired blockprints of UFO abductions if not for Art Bell.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:34 PM on April 14 [23 favorites]


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posted by edeezy at 6:35 PM on April 14


Remember reading about him in Fortean Times years back, but didn't hear his voice until his cameos in Prey.
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posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:02 PM on April 14


Art was my constant companion while working the night shift during the later 90's. I drove all through the usually sweltering southern countryside, Art saying wacky shit in my ear. Thank you, Art, for the night skies and your many questions.
posted by ottergrrl at 7:34 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I remember an episode about thunderbirds years ago. Caller after caller called in a perfectly described great blue herons. Over and over. What I'm saying is people never notice birds until they're right I front of them.
posted by misterpatrick at 7:37 PM on April 14 [10 favorites]


The ultimate difference between talking about conspiracy theories THEN and talking about them NOW is that more people, many more, are believing in them to damaging levels now IMO. They weren't as widespread and damaging to the fabric of the country, of our polity, as they are now (thanks internet)

I cannot believe that Corsi is not a corrupt cynical hypocrite but then maybe he just tunes into his own private Fox News and buys it hook, line and sinker the instant he pulls it out of his ass.

But, believer or not, he is an evil, evil man. Deep State, my ass -- anyone who's ever worked in an office knows better than that.
posted by y2karl at 7:41 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


RIP, Art.
posted by tclark at 7:47 PM on April 14 [5 favorites]


What I'm saying is people never notice birds until they're right I front of them.

Not after you learn their songs. I can spot an Anna's Hummingbird from a block away and can see them in flight. After I did hear one sing, I came to find that I didn't have as many floaters as I thought.
posted by y2karl at 7:47 PM on April 14 [5 favorites]


Art Bell was one of a kind and his show kept me company on many late lonely nights. He brought out the best and most interesting in hundreds of people that were lucky to be interviewed by him.

And there was one thing I will never forget him saying, to a caller who complained about UFO debunkers. He said in the best radio voice "well you never say that after you've SEEN one".

And it was perfectly ambiguous. If you've never seen one and you think they're all kooks it was perfectly fine. And if you've seen them and you think the truth is on your side it was perfectly fine too. It's just a talk show. Ambiguity contributes to the flow. He never got in a fight with somebody who was wrong on the internet that I can remember and if you give people space they will sometimes tell you the most amazing things.

His interviews with Malachi Martin were incredible.
posted by bukvich at 8:32 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


As evidenced by the second photo in the article, Bell was an amateur radio operator. His death makes him, in ham parlance, a silent key.
posted by bryon at 9:25 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


I started listening to Art when he was outraged about Ruby Ridge. He was about as far right and anti-government as a radio host could be and still have a show. Even then he had people calling in about UFOs and chemtrails. After OKC, he started getting criticized for radicalizing the militias and Freemen. By that time, he was already doing Coast to Coast one day a week and it was starting to catch on, so he changed to all alt-science. Almost everyone on my night-shift crew listened. I wonder what Richard Hoagland is up to these days. God speed, Art.
posted by faceonmars at 9:25 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


As an anxiety-ridden introverted insomniac living alone with no tv in a new city in Fall '97 - Winter '98, I found him to be a worthy companion over many a long night. I don't remember much of it, but it was nice to know that he was there.

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posted by monopas at 9:29 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I spent some summers working in a carnival, which is a late night kind of job that leaves you half-crazed and weary after a shift. I remember evenings driving home along Highway 37, which is a straight, raised line through a wetland, and almost perfectly dark at night, but for the regularly placed lamp posts. They would illuminate the road, but not the swamp below. All to be seen was the daisy chain of light pools, which I'd drive along with Coast to Coast on.

Art would sometimes do this thing where one caller would have something to say to another caller, so he'd just let them chat on the air, across the country across the radio. In my mind, on that empty highway, it was very possible that the world had quietly ended, swallowed up behind me with the midway. The very last thing left of the universe was was a long fairy necklace of highway lights, staticy voices talking in the dark about UFOs and bigfoots, and Art and I to bear witness.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 10:31 PM on April 14 [19 favorites]


The great thing was, pre internet, just catching this show randomly scanning stations while driving across the desert at night and thinking "WTF am I hearing?". Which is the perfect way to discover Art Bell. I only listened occasionally, I never really knew when it was on or what the story was at the time. It seemed like stumbling on a secret that had probably been going on for decades.

It sort of reminded me of finding CBS Radio Mystery Theater late at night as a kid in the 70's and not understanding; was this an old show, a new show, did other people know about this?
posted by bongo_x at 11:26 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


And for a fact, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, among others, listened to and loved themselves some Art Bell when they were on the road.
posted by y2karl at 11:59 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I remember driving in the wee hours through pitch-black lonely desconocido mid-90's Mexico with the superheterodyne spookiness of Coast-To-Coast on the AM dial, booming in with ghostly rancheras skipping and drifting in and out in the background on my way to La Playa Nayarita -- where Art would also provide me now and again with 50,000 watts of company through the long stony hours of the Mexican morning. It was a lifetime ago...

Godspeed, Mr. Bell, and thanks for the late-night companionship.
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posted by Fuzzypumper at 1:55 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


As an early to bed, early to rise guy, I never had the pleasure of listening to Art. I LOVE the subject matter, and now I want to go out and find a really good archive of his best shows to listen to.
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posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 3:02 AM on April 15


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posted by heatvision at 4:08 AM on April 15


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From west of the Rockies
posted by danabanana at 5:25 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


I only heard him a few times, most memorably on a very late night drive back to my college dorm along unfamiliar back roads, map open on my lap and window rolled down in the cold late-fall air to keep me awake.

...you know, this thread is full of stories like that. What a strangely universal experience that is, the alone-when-everyone-else-is-sleeping moment. And how intense and important a voice reaching you, speaking to you right then can be, huh?
posted by minervous at 6:34 AM on April 15 [11 favorites]


Aw, man. Back in my early days at the newspaper, I started at 5am because it was my job to post the news stories onto the website by 6am, which was when the last print copies were delivered to the doorsteps. (Chew on that for a second.) Art was my commuting buddy, and sometimes I'd get to work early and sit in the parking lot for an extra 15 minutes so I could hear him chat with the late-night/early morning crew.

I, too, hope he found his truth.
posted by kimberussell at 7:10 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


My companion for my rough early teen years on BBSes all night.

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posted by dta at 7:37 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


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posted by filtergik at 7:59 AM on April 15


Remember when conspiracy theories were harmless and kinda funny?

👽
posted by panama joe at 8:23 AM on April 15 [12 favorites]


I never listened to the actual Mel's Hole until this weekend and I was tickled at what a great interviewer he was getting people to talk away without asking himself out of a good story by examining inconsistencies too closely.

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posted by Space Coyote at 10:23 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


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posted by Foosnark at 10:31 AM on April 15


It's hard for me to feel any affection toward conspiracy theories in this day and age, but I was an insomniac pre-teen and then teenager listening to Art Bell, and I'm still grateful for his company and for the stories. I loved the Halloween and New Year shows the most.

(And as far as late night radio goes, I don't think Coast to Coast AM fucked me up half as much as Loveline did, so there's that, at least.)

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posted by mixedmetaphors at 11:01 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


Remember when conspiracy theories were harmless and kinda funny?

They tried to put fucking Info Wars in X-files. Fucking no, that is not how our garbage works, you are ruining everything.
posted by Artw at 11:06 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


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posted by Lynsey at 12:04 PM on April 15


Art Bell is dead.

or... IS HE?
posted by newfers at 12:26 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Oh man, Art Bell is the sound of lonely nights driving from show to show. He's the laugh you shared with other travelers, the wink of an alien bobblehead on the dash, the spooky sounds at an abandoned rest stop.

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posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 12:32 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I think I first heard of Art Bell when a friend became obsessed with the John Titor time-travel story. Which seems to have been a forum thing and not so much the show.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:57 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Wasn't the John Titor guy some kind of far-right Randroid or something?
posted by acb at 5:13 PM on April 15


The cool Alex Jones
posted by wheelieman at 6:27 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Guy had a great radio voice. Calm, offsetting him from the screaming AM nudniks. Clearly having fun selling us alternative universes in the tenebrous night.

In my head, I'm dropping some of his ashes (don't ask) into central Washington's bottomless pit. They're slowly rocking to-and-fro, drifting down into the unending darkness.
posted by Twang at 7:10 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Art Bell began broadcasting decades before Alex Jones did. The latter does not deserve to be uttered in the same breath as him, except as a copycat.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:37 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


O
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 6:51 AM on April 16


I didn't believe one word of Coast to Coast, neither Bell nor Noory and certainly never a caller............ but I hung on every word and enjoyed every single minute.
posted by lstanley at 7:42 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I didn't believe one word of Coast to Coast, neither Bell nor Noory and certainly never a caller............ but I hung on every word and enjoyed every single minute.

That's pretty much my story too. Just recently, I listened to his old show with Al Bielek on The Philadelphia Experiment. His story was completely ridiculous and yet I was totally riveted.
posted by davebush at 1:53 PM on April 16


for a fact, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, among others, listened to and loved themselves some Art Bell when they were on the road.

I grew to really like Art Bell’s act as a road musician in the Southwest myself in the early 90s. I swear he kept me awake and alive as I put down the miles. Also, Bell did a fabulous interview with Willie Nelson once.

Then I spent a month or so in rural Nevada bear Area 51 in 1995 and it was like living in Bell’s Head.
posted by spitbull at 6:43 PM on April 17


I wonder what Richard Hoagland is up to these days.

In a word: bullshit.
posted by y2karl at 5:12 AM on April 18


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