[BEN GREENMAN is asked to compose a musical on the most scandalous news story of 2009. He is perplexed at first, and so he resorts to democracy.]
I asked my friends
I asked around
I even made a ballot
Story was most
Pleasing to the palate?
Tiger, Chris Brown, Jon and Kate,
Gemma Ward’s increasing weight?
When the smoke cleared
One scandal won
It soared above the others
It took place in
And it involved three brothers.
[ Fade out. Fade in. It is nighttime. RICHARD HEENE is at home in Fort Collins, Colorado. He hears that there’s a storm nearby and goes to rouse his children.]
Bradford! Ryo! Falcon! Up!
Go and get my coffee cup!
I’ll be warming up the car
Storm chasers are what we are
[ The kids groan and grumble, but RICHARD HEENE encourages them.]
Who makes you boys sleep in your clothes?
Father knows, oh, father knows
“Live for science,” that’s my motto
Here in Fort Collins, Colorado
[RICHARD HEENE and the family chase the storm. When the family returns home, RICHARD HEENE feels slightly empty. He goes to his backyard, stands next to the giant Mylar weather balloon that he and his sons have constructed, and contemplates his life.]
I could have been an economist
Who studies runaway inflation
Or else a trusted anchorman
Who brings the truth to our fine nation
Instead I studied acting
That’s where I met my wife Mayumi
And since science is my first love
I tried to fuse the two: so sue me!
I’ve long had a clear vision
Of rising into obscene fame
Of making sure America
Will always recognize the Heene name
I’ve doggedly pursued my dream
When I start something, I never stop
Why else do you think that I let
My family go twice on Wife Swap
But now I feel lost, untethered,
Tossed around by violent weather
I want to hatch a perfect scheme
To realize my lifelong dream
I’ll go to bed. Perhaps in sleep
I’ll find some counsel I can keep.
[ That night, RICHARD HEENE is visited by two ghosts, JOSEPH-MICHEL MONTGOLFIER, who, along with his brother, invented the hot air balloon in the eighteenth century; and ANNA NICOLE SMITH. JOSEPH-MICHEL MONTGOLFIER is wearing a powdered wig. ANNA NICOLE SMITH is not.]
I nearly suffered a deadly fright
Why have you two come here tonight?
Your world is a place of wonder
In the centuries that I’ve been under
The cold and unforgiving ground
The changes have been quite profound
Airplanes! iPods! Cowboy boots! Twitter!
The satellite TV transmitter!
But with all these lofty advances
The hot-air balloon still entrances
ANNA NICOLE SMITH
Nice to meet you, Richard Heene
I am wearing a bikini
Like that girl on I Dream of Jeanie
Nice to meet you, Richard Heene
With this talk of bathing suits
And satellites and cowboy boots
Are you trying to tell me
What I should do next?
Of course, dear man, now don’t you see?
She represents publicity.
And I’m a spirit of the air.
You will find your answer there
Where the two things intertwine
Consider this a kind of sign
PV equals NRT
The law is irrefutable
But TV equals energy
That’s also indisputable
[ The two spirits vanish. Then ANNA NICOLE SMITH reappears, just for a second.]
ANNA NICOLE SMITH
I like publicity
That much is true
But giant balloons
Were my trademark, too.
[RICHARD HEENE wakes in the morning with an idea: he will launch the Mylar balloon from his backyard and pretend his son is in the craft. He fills the balloon with helium and releases it.]
I want the world’s eyes
On my superability
I sometimes feel hostility
When I sense neglect
But this will bring me admiration
The world will pay respect
All I’ll hear from this day on
Will be admiring sighs
So go up to the skies
Rise, my beauty, rise
[ When the balloon is aloft, RICHARD HEENE calls 911.]
My little son
My darling boy
My cherished one
My pride and joy
Sir, now, please
I know you’re upset
But you haven’t told me
What is wrong yet
My son, balloon,
Backyard, wind, rope,
I fear, I cry,
I give up hope.
He just climbed in
And off he floated
Must be promoted
Call the papers
We don’t do that
Oh, yeah, right, okay
I knew that.
Well, search for him
That’s what I meant
My boy is up there
His strange ascent
Should be the lead
On every station
His story should
Transfix the nation
Again, sir, we are not the news
We help out with emergent cases
Right, of course, I understand
Just thought I’d cover all the bases
The magnificent marvelous flying machine, see,
Has carried away my son, Falcon Heene
That’s Heene with one “e” at the end there, okay?
I just want to make sure you’re spelling it right
I don’t lead the national news every day
Now go out and rescue him from his strange flight!
[ The balloon flies over Colorado. A nation watches. RICHARD HEENE goes online to monitor both the balloon and the nation as it watches.]
Look at these headlines
They’re all about Falcon
The whole country’s talking
This story has hooked
Every woman and man
Eff you, health-care crisis
With my brains and my boldness
And my need for renown
I’m on my way up
And I’ll never come down.
[ Helicopters circle the balloon. The National Guard even considers lowering a man to the craft to rescue the boy. When the balloon finally slows and lands, the boy is nowhere to be found. SHERIFF JIM ALDERDEN addresses the media.]
We have no news
It’s too soon to tell
But we had reports
That something fell
We’re praying we’re wrong
We’re holding our breath
We don’t want this adventure
To end with a death
[ After a few more hours, FALCON HEENE is discovered at the Heene home. SHERIFF ALDERDEN addresses the media again.]
We’re happy. We’re thrilled.
We’re relieved. We’re ecstatic.
The boy has been found
In his family’s attic
He went into hiding
I guess he was frightened
This dark and strange day
Has suddenly brightened
[ The night of the incident, the Heenes start to appear on television.]
How come you didn’t hear your parents
Calling from below?
I heard but Daddy told me that we
Did it for the show
[ The next morning, there is more media scrutiny.]
Nice to see you, Falcon
Tell me how you feel
Are you doing better
After your ordeal?
[FALCON HEENE vomits.]
The boy is heaving
What we’re believing
[ Doubt over RICHARD HEENE’s motives begins to spread among AVERAGE AMERICANS.]
AVERAGE AMERICAN ONE
Our concern for Balloon Boy’s life was fervent
Until we decided to be more observant
AVERAGE AMERICAN TWO
My sense of suspicion
Grows higher and higher
I have a bad feeling
About the Mylar liar
AVERAGE AMERICAN THREE
Did Balloon Boy’s father
Knowingly jerk us
Around to set off
A media circus?
AVERAGE AMERICAN FOUR
Richard Heene’s story might fall apart quick
Just like any balloon that encounters a prick
[SHERIFF ALDERDEN announces that there is an official investigation.]
Charges will be filed
In this strange affair
We must protect the child
From what is in the air
[RICHARD HEENE loses custody of his children and goes to jail. FALCON HEENE gets a television show called Falcon Quest. MAYUMI HEENE, after serving her brief sentence, gets a show called Wife Lessons. SHERIFF ALDERDEN gets a show called Up For Justice. AVERAGE AMERICANS get a show called The Law of Averages. The spirits of JOSEPH-MICHEL MONTGOLFIER and ANNA NICOLE SMITH even appear on Ghost Hunters during sweeps week. RICHARD HEENE is a model inmate who works in the library and helps design science projects for the other prisoners. For his efforts, he is given television privileges. He refuses to watch. Instead, he stands in the yard and watches the sky.]