From time to time the news cycle offers up an event of such import and complexity that it can only be comprehended through the medium of musical theater. This week resident composer Ben Greenman examines the demise of a beloved media institution.
[Offices of the Weekly World News, 1992. DICK KULPA, an editor, calls a staff meeting.]
Welcome, Weekly World people
Let's get started without delay
I guess that you are wondering
Why I called you here today
For years we have all valiantly
Reported on the world around us
Done our best to chronicle
The aspects of it that confound us
We've featured Hitler, mermaids, Satan,
The chimp who got a Ph.D.,
A woman born to kangaroos,
The alien child of Hillary,
Bigfoot, Nessie, Bundy photos,
The world's largest tabby cat
Freeze-dried babies, chaos clouds.
But we've never had a half-man and half-bat.
MRS. OGILVE, DICK KULPA'S ASSISTANT
It's always been at the top of our list
But we had lost hope that such creatures exist.
I'm thrilled to say
I have a tip
Which of you wants
To take a trip
To West Virginia?
Your flight's in an hour
You have time for a snack
And maybe a shower
[Staffers beg off the story one by one.]
I'm pretty busy
With reporting and writing
This morning I got
A new Elvis sighting
You know I would
But I can't go until tomorrow
Today I have to close a piece
On the Nazi Caves of Kilimanjaro
[One reporter, MARY, speaks up. She is short and perky and gung-ho.]
I haven't met
The story yet
That can overtop me
I'll take that jet
And you can bet
That nothing there will stop me
[A cave. West Virginia. BAT BOY is watching "Blossom" on TV when MARY appears. She explains the idea to him.]
How can I be sure
That your motives are pure?
Won't it fill you with delight
To see your name in black and white?
I'm not much for fame and glory
Why should I go along with this story?
The world has only admiration
For our well-researched publication
Other papers, Bat Boy, can put you on the cover
Other papers, Bat Boy, can make you a big star
But only my paper, the Weekly World News
Can promise to show you just as you are
[BAT BOY tentatively agrees to the profile. MARY has forgotten her tape recorder. The two of them fly back to the Weekly World News compound—MARY in the plane, BAT BOY next to it—and MARY retrieves her tape recorder.]
Okay, now tell me your tragic tale
Have you ever been thrown in jail
For a felony or misdemeanor?
Do you have a normal-size weiner
Or are bats possessed of tiny wangs?
Are those teeth or poisonous fangs?
Could you drain the blood from a sleeping house cat?
Do you think of yourself as more boy or more bat?
I hate to let you down
I'm sadly ordinary
Perhaps I don't deserve renown
I wake every morning to a classic rock station
I walk to the bathroom using echolocation
Then off to work, then dinner, then after
I sleep hanging upside-down from a rafter
[BAT BOY grimaces. He touches a wing to his temple.]
I have a headache that keeps getting worse.
Conversing in this rhyming verse
Gives me a sense of déjà vu
Or is it deja entendu?
The feeling that my life
Has been a musical before
Is very strong within me
I can feel it in my core
[BAT BOY returns to the hotel to sleep off his headache.]
What a relief
That guy was so tedious
Show my style
It's fun to be devious
[MARY finishes the piece, padding it out with outlandish manufactured claims about BAT BOY. He becomes a celebrity. Angrily, he confronts MARY about her reporting.]
You wrote with great detail
But you made stuff up wholesale
To the people who purchase your paper every week
I am now perceived as some kind of winged freak.
"I'm Bat Boy — I'm Normal"
Isn't much of a headline
Plus you left me hanging
And I was on deadline
There was no whining
From the freeze-dried babies
What is your problem?
Do you have rabies?
Into frustrated rages
When the facts are distorted on newsprint pages
When what's reported is figment and lie
Their tongues for a long time
When they are the victims of a terribly wrong crime
Perpetrated by those who blindly write
There, their lives in the balance
When promising journalists squander their talents
Just to get in with the popular gang
Over offenses intended to wound
But a bat can't stand by when a bat is impugned
When he's flipped on his back and stripped of his pride
[BAT BOY, furious, decides to avenge himself against MARY and the Weekly World News. He buys dot-com stocks, sells at just the right moment, puts the money into New York real estate, earns a tremendous profit, and then is turned on to an investment opportunity in Mexican telecommunications. When the smoke clears fifteen years later, he is the 117th richest person in the world, though he's left off the Forbes list because he's not really a person. He badmouths the Weekly World News any chance he gets, and then contacts DICK KULPA and explains what he intends to do with the newspaper.]
I'll WW buy it
And WW then
I'll WW shutter
[DICK KULPA puts the word out that the Weekly World News is in trouble. All of the paper's other subjects come to its aid, doing odd jobs and raising funds by any means necessary.]
Satan got a license to do some massage
Bigfoot was working in a bus garage
Nostradamus learned the shell game
Nessie wrote children's books under a pen name.
Elvis applied for a hotdog cart
Everyone is doing his part
Did you hear that? It warms my heart.
Everyone is doing his part.
[The friends of the Weekly World News meet to count up their money.]
HILLARY CLINTON'S ALIEN BABY
The pledge drive is over
Now we can thwart
The dastardly plan Bat Boy hatched to abort
Of this publication
We will be rewarded for our dedication
[BIGFOOT collects all the contributions in his oversize loafers. He counts the money. It's a dollar short. He looks at the calendar. It's a day late. JIM MORRISON begins to cry.]
Don't cry, Lizard King
Let's have a wingding
I thought the money in my shoes
Would save the Weekly World News
Instead I'll use it to buy booze
[The Weekly World News has a gigantic party to celebrate its final issue. MARY makes out with the ghost of Joan of Arc. DICK KULPA plays darts with the world's fattest teenager, who weighs more than a thousand pounds. Ed Anger drinks along, angrily. The entire party is entertained by John Lennon's parrot, who once recorded an entire album after its master's death. The party is so raucous that it can be heard by BAT BOY, who is thousands of miles away but has acute hearing, as he is part bat. He comes to the window and looks in, forlornly.]
Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction. His latest book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, was recently published.
Previously: Fragments from 'Salman! The Musical'