Last year I flagged up The Memory Palace, a long-running US podcast made up of real-life stories told against a quietly tinkling soundtrack.
I can't recall how I came across it, but what I do know is, having heard one episode, I instantly gobbled up 10 more like a starving hyena. Subsequently – and with precious little dignity – I waxed lyrical about its host Nate DiMeo, whose mournful voice made me come over a bit unnecessary.
The podcasts were intermittent – DiMeo had a day job as a TV writer and so there could be no fixed schedule – and they were short, just three or four minutes each. But they were, in their idiosyncratic way, quite remarkable.
When, this spring, The Memory Palace suddenly went quiet I wondered if DiMeo had thrown in the towel. But then he messaged me to say that things had changed. Since the success of Serial, and the subsequent interest in podcasts, his audience figures had skyrocketed. In a matter of months his podcast had become commercially viable and he'd had an offer to produce his show on a more regular basis.
So, rather gloriously, The Memory Palace has returned and is now part of Radiotopia, the online treasure trove of US podcasts that also includes the reliably excellent Love + Radio. It is to be broadcast in seasons, there are live shows in the works and the whole operation is backed by Squarespace, the company that sponsored Serial. All of which means that, after years of toil, DiMeo has arrived.
There have been two episodes so far and they are, as ever, elegantly written and beautifully delivered. The first, "The Pirate Queen", tells the tale of Eugenia Kelly, the American heiress and daughter of a banking family, who was seduced by the New York cabaret scene of the 1950s when tango parlours popped up all over the city. Eugenia's mother Helen was so distraught that she had her daughter arrested and charged with "incorrigibility".
The second and latest one is called "Every Night Ever" and is also set in the Fifties, this time in Georgia. It was about the night when two cops came across a pick-up truck that had stopped in the middle of the road. There three young men, looking pale and frightened, were inspecting the creature, now dead, that they had hit. It was two feet tall and had, they said, emerged from a small, red flying saucer. The officers were sceptical but the body had an otherworldly look about it, and there were circular scorch marks on the road.
The next day the papers were full of stories of an alien landing and the obscure town that these extraterrestrial beings had chosen for their foray to Earth. There was a surge of local pride.
"They didn't pick the White House," said DiMeo. "They didn't land zap the Eiffel Tower. They landed right here in Lithia Springs."
But that was before the state authorities got involved and anatomy professors examined the creature, which turned out to be a monkey, shorn of its fur and tail. "The Great Alien Hoax" had been a bet to see if the three young men could get into a newspaper.
It can be hard to remember that these historical snapshots aren't in fact fictional stories, such are their outlandish narratives and the atmospheric nature of their telling. The Memory Palace deserves its success. All hail Serial for opening the podcasting floodgates, and long may it continue.Reuse content