Tribute to Art Bell

Art Bell
Art Bell

Art Bell died a couple weeks ago (April 13th). Why would I post something about this on a “gaming blog”? Well, you’ll see soon. I finally caught up on my Coast to Coast AM Podcasts (I’m an 11+ year Coast Insider subscriber) and just finished the tribute show that aired April 19th. WOW, was Art an awesome guy! I could listen to him endlessly…

I put Art Bell up there with Gary Gygax. Let me explain why.

  • First of all, like D&D, the early years of Coast to Coast AM were a little “before my time”. I was born the same year as D&D, so it’s easy to understand that I obviously didn’t play OD&D and AD&D 1e. Similarly, West Coast AM) originally started in 1978 (according to Wikipedia) later to be renamed Coast to Coast AM in 1984. Whereas I did get into D&D as a teenager (read all the Mentzer box sets, but only played 1-2 AD&D 2e games due to no local groups I was aware of in my small town), I didn’t hear about “that strange late night radio show” until college. And then the same “excuse” comes up that I was busy as fuck (and tired as hell) all through college and med school to do much of anything that involved many hours of playing D&D or listening to a 4 hour long radio shows.

It wasn’t until fellowship that I started getting into both of these genres that now define all that makes up my personal hobbies/interests (well, these two and anime). Early on, it was all the “moonlighting” that I did, where I’m stuck in a call room just waiting for an emergency, so otherwise bored as hell, so I started reading, listening to C2CAM podcasts, and watching bootleg Anime off the crappy hospital WiFi.

And now, with both of these icons, I’m left wishing so bad that I would have met either of them. Wishing so bad that I was more involved in the early days when the ideas were more genuine and original. Left feeling like I have to “catch up” with what came before.

  • At least in my mind, both Gygax and Bell “changed the world” and created an entire genre that may not have existed if not for them. Albeit, in both cases, of course there were other players that helped them along the way. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but if you step back a little, it’s there. Nevertheless, they are both absolute icons in their field.

Of course Gygax (along with Arneson) created D&D which then led to the entire genre of tabletop RPGs later to become a complete industry of CRPGs, gaming aids, an expansion of sci-fi literature, movies, gaming conventions, etc.

For Art Bell, his little show became a BIG show that became a platform. A platform for the “average Joe” to discuss and to learn about the paranormal, the strange, libertarian ideas, and the conspiracies that surround us. And, keep in mind, this is 10-20 years before the internet. You could say that what came out of this would have happened anyway, but I think you have to give credit where credit is due. And, just like with D&D, everything after that must be considered to be derivative.

  • What was created in both cases were for the Eddies of the world. I bet there are quotes to support this; I guarantee that Gary said many times that his game was for everyone. No matter if you consider yourself a creative type, or if you struggled with actuarial tables worth of math. I mean, really, what is 50% of the job of a DM other than to be mediator between the game world and the players. No matter who those players are. Similarly, all you need to do is listen to a few “Open Line” calls on Coast to Coast, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. The weird and strange is open to everyone.
  • Both were free thinking, curious, and first rate story tellers. But most importantly, they encouraged these same qualities in others. This is what makes someone truly great. When they make others great.
  • The creations of both would later be revised and made main stream. See the next two points.
  • Both were tied to their creations, and after leaving their original associations, they continued to be involved in the genre and create content in their own ways but was limited by failing health and the simple passing of their genre that continued to evolve beyond them.
  • Both created a cult following that continues to this day, and both are having a renaissance of those followers seeking the original wisdoms of the original formats created in the beginning when the emotions and experiences were more raw and unfiltered.

So, I hope you see the connection that I’m making. If not, then maybe it’s all in my head! Either way, both of these wonderful people created genres that I’m fascinated with. For one, it was the weird and the strange within your own mind/imagination. For the other, it is the weird and strange that surrounds us in the real world. And, for both, I draw inspiration that fuels the other.

Somewhere out there…