Live from the Mojave, it’s the strangeness of the desert


Ken Layne was at Theater 29, a space in the town of Twentynine Palms, in the Mojave Desert, performing a sound check before a live performance of “Desert Oracle, His late night radio show and podcast, which is also the name of the cult fanzine he publishes, near Joshua Tree. He was testing a vintage rotary telephone that he invited members of the public to use during a call segment. His nasal, gritty baritone echoed through the loudspeakers: “Hello-oo? Hello-oo? “

Ken layneIllustration by João Fazenda

Layne, who is fifty-six, relates “Desert Oracle” as some kind of old-school AM radio host, but with a hint of Mark Twain (in writing) and a growl of Tom Waits. The show inspires a fervent fandom, from California to Brooklyn. Six-four years old and fair skinned, Layne has bright blue eyes and a gray beard. Even though it was one hundred and eighteen degrees, he was wearing a black long-sleeved shirt, green pants, and a foldable ranger hat.

Theater 29 had been closed since the start of the pandemic and the set was always ready for a production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” that never took place. Layne draped a black tarp over Narnia’s wardrobe and plugged in a string of lights that simulated a campfire. Soon he was pacing the stage, reciting monologue tracks over a moody soundscape created by musician RedBlueBlackSilver: “In the United States alone, more people believe in aliens – sixty-five percent – than the sixty-four percent who believe in the biblical God. . .

Layne is a former blogger, and he dreamed Desert Oracle on visits to a Buddhist monastery in Carmel and a Benedictine hermitage in Big Sur. It released the first issue in 2015. The pocket-sized publication mixes news with articles about eccentrics and local lore. Its desert strangeness extends to its real estate listings: “Missile Silo with 25 Acres” near Roswell, New Mexico; a “Fabulous Cave Home” in Bisbee, Arizona.

The radio show came two years after the zine, but Layne first sketched it out in 2010: “Weather over the desert, pick a place, tell its story in a long, rambling humorous monologue,” he wrote. in a note at the time. He wanted to talk about missing pets and “funny Europeans”. It was not an obvious choice for the local Joshua Tree FM station, but Layne prevailed and now his show is broadcast on eleven stations, mostly in the Southwest. (He’s planning a nationwide tour later this fall.)

The next evening, Saturday, the theater was packed. “Finally, it’s the time of night when you can go out and you can touch things again without gloves,” he told the crowd, referring to the fact that the temperature had dropped by a degree. . He sat down at a desk telling what he calls a “radio story”, in fact, a series of them. It started with Snippy, an Appaloosa mare who was found dead in the San Luis Valley, Colorado in 1967, with surgical cuts all over her body and her head bared to the bones. He ended with the sordid story of Richard Doty, an agent of the Office of Special Investigations of the Air Force, who fueled the disinformation of ufologists in the seventies and eighties.

After a few hearing calls (including one from a woman who described a camping trip in which she saw “pristine darkness” move across the sky and obscure the stars), Layne “lit” the fire. camp. As cracklings played through the speakers, it concluded with a campfire story. He spoke of billionaires launching into space, mysterious drone sightings and the “Tic Tac” UFO video shot by a Navy fighter jet off San Diego. “It’s a time when our space age is really kind of on our minds,” he said.

What started as a story ended as a sermon. Layne urged the public not to wait for permission to see inexplicable things. There is still one thing missing from the government’s UFO reports, he said: re do – may have an encounter that will change your life forever.

Afterward, Layne came to the lobby to greet fans and talk about the heat.

“Yesterday my car’s air conditioning turned off,” one woman said.

Oh-Jesus-Lord“said Layne.

“I remember the days when we didn’t have air conditioning and we had to roll down the windows,” said another woman.

“My grandparents and my parents only half-closed the window because you couldn’t hear anything,” said the first woman.

Layne nodded. “I wouldn’t want to miss an important conversation during your heatstroke, would I?” “

A guy in Desert Oracle colors — black shirt and jeans, yellow sneakers — wanted a photo. But first, Layne wished her reservation agent a safe trip home. “The section between here and Joshua Tree?” ” he said. “Keep your eyes open.”

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