I am a serious fan of Joe Frank. He is the radio noir guru of my soul. I have been listening to him since the eighties. He was the joy of my Friday nights, and did much to get me through a difficult graduate program in philosophical theology and ethics. From 1986 until 2002, Joe produced four Series: “Work in Progress,” “In the Dark,” “Somewhere Out There,” and “The Other Side.”
Late Friday night, “Work in Progress” (from KCRW Santa Monica) played on the local NPR station in Iowa City, and almost every Friday night, I was listening. It became something very like a religious ritual for me. Candles, comfortable surroundings… provocative thoughts, brilliant rants, hypnotic bits of music, and his voice. He’s witty and absurd and satirical and dark and deep and funny, and the rhythms of the rants get me every time.
Here’s a little example of the kind of thing he does:
When endowed with profound religious feeling, your skin becomes transparent and your blood begins to turn a thin watery hue until the light of the sun streaming in the window passes entirely through you. At last, having evolved into pure spiritual energy, nothing remains of your existence but a small pile of dirty underwear, damp socks, rumpled garments, a driver’s license, credit cards and perhaps a small nail clipper.
This is what happens when you achieve oneness with the air, with the sky, with the whole world and everything in it. No longer tormented by nagging questions such as the conundrum of imploding ethical systems as expressed in post-war German soup recipes, you feel a sense of ecstatic exhilaration. It is this condition of bliss that Joe Frank: Somewhere Out There will attempt to elicit in its listeners.
Ahh, but with Joe, it’s all in the delivery.
The trains of thought that his work set off for me were better intellectual stimulation than almost anything else I had encountered. There was a sensual, even vaguely erotic, aspect to whole thing as well, so that it was (for me) a perfect melding of mind, spirit, body. I’m not saying that I’m sexually attracted to Joe – I love this man’s soul. I *deeply* respond to his ideas, his delivery, his voice, but it’s in some other sort of space and place, almost otherworldly. I can’t fully express the sense of kinship and gratefulness that I have felt for this.
Back in 1989 or 90 or so, I wrote him a long fan letter, raving about one of the shows. In a wonderful bit of synchronicity, he called me on my birthday (and was surprised that I was so young! Evidently, my letter sounded like it was written by a women some ten or twenty years my senior). After that, I was actually in a short bit of “The Loved One,” from the In the Dark series – which I think I flubbed, pretty much (sigh).
John and I lived in Los Angeles for a summer (Ben was about 2 years old), and I finally got to meet Joe in person. At his house. However, as is my unfortunate tendency when I am socially anxious, I babbled – while he made himself some pea soup to comfort his ulcer, and looked somewhat askance at the aloe vera juice I had brought along as a gift. I couldn’t center myself. I admire him so much that I still feel kind of starstruck when I interact with him. I have no idea what I’m saying or why. It’s the opposite of how I am when I’m listening to his work – centered, serene, silent, clear, my mind dancing, my spirit wild and free.
Still, he hasn’t written me off completely (grin). I think he’s probably used to that kind of thing. We talked recently about a range of things, and while I was still disappointed in myself, it was a very fun conversation nonetheless. Mostly I was just pleased that he was doing better. (Joe – if you ever read this – know that you have only seen the aspect of me that I like the least, the “I don’t know what I’m saying, I just want to be here” where I’m actually standing outside myself, a reflexive ghost just watching and shaking my head morosely, wondering what inauthentic flotsam of self is operating the mouth. I would like to get to a more engaging level of conversational exchange with you someday. Thank you for your kindness toward this awkward flailing confusionbot as we create the terrain between.)
Anyway…. ahhhhh… I am extremely pleased that Joe is still with us. He had a kidney transplant last year, and his recovery seems to be going very well.
It’s been one of my frustrations with living in Georgia that this NPR station could not be convinced to carry any of his work. Sheesh. What is wrong with this place?
Anyway, new things are brewing!
You can listen to some choice bits of Joe’s work on his MySpace “music” page. JoeFrank.com has whole shows. You can listen to a couple of them for free, and there is a paid membership option for more.
There are podcasts available! Now playing: Pilgrim.
Here’s the feed for your podcast software.
If you’re on a PC, download Juice “for fresh content”.
You can also hear him on Sonic Theater, XM radio channel 163 (if I understand it correctly).
If you go to the MySpace page, be sure to check out “Ode to War,” which is in my short list of favorites. See if it doesn’t make you think.
Now there is even a brand-spankin’ new forum for us Frankophiles (.com!).
At MySpace, join the Frankolyte group.
If you’re on MyTribe, join the JoeFrankophiles group.
If I am ever in a position to do so, I would love to buy the whole library of his work. He gave me copies of “Rent-a-Family” and “The Dictator” – both are special multi-part shows. Even all these years later, when I’ve gotten rid of almost all my cassette-tapes, I have held onto the shows I recorded off the radio. I still listen to them, despite the rotten sound quality.
There are no medals to peace, no honors, no marching bands, no great monuments to peace, no hymns sung, no great odes, no martial melodies, no parades to peace. There are no gigantic fireworks displays, no champagne corks popped to peace, no last cigarette smoked in its honor. There is no night before peace, no declaration of peace. The very absurdity of a nation declaring peace on another shocks the imagination. And who among us can say that he has heard of the spoils of peace? Is there such a thing as a peace hero? Who among us have gathered with his old cronies late at night, hoisted a glass and told peace stories? What valiant young man has been welcomed back from peace? What young boy has gazed longingly at his father, saying that he would willingly go to peace to save his country?
My near-worshipfulness is not really objectively critical, but at least I’m not alone:
“Joe Frank is by far the most brilliant comic in America… [He] has created a series of dead-pan radio monologues so sharp and intelligent that during the quiet bits you can almost hear God taking notes.” — The Guardian (UK)
“[Joe Frank] travels in the emotional landscape of Bergman and Fellini; there’s a tension and sense of mystery halfway between Kafka and Chandler, plot twists worthy of Rod Serling, and a satiric edge worthy of Firesign Theatre and Woody Allen.” — The Washington Post
“The world of Joe Frank is a wildly entertaining surrealistic universe…hilarious, unsettling, zany, powerful, moving and perhaps the most unique, inventive and effective use of radio since Orson Welles convinced much of America that there was a “War of the Worlds.” — The L.A. Weekly
“[Joe Frank is] the most imaginative, literate monologist in radio today… If a microphone could capture the nether recesses of the modern psyche, it would sound like Frank’s absurd comical excursions: Radio Vertigo.” –The Village Voice
“A combination monologist-philosopher-black comic-shrink, Frank strips away radio’s genteel veneer of good vibes and exposes the private fears that plague us all.” — The Los Angeles Times
“RADIO’S PRINCE OF DARKNESS RULES THE FREEWAYS” [Frank is] alternately dark, bizarre and very funny – but always hard to turn off.” — The Wall Street Journal
“…Joe Frank is an invaluable warrior who stands in defense of our fears, our vanities and our forever-eroding sense of ourselves. He transforms the everyday banality of the human comedy into an inspired weirdness that feeds on pathos and irony, and feels a lot like revelation. Sartre would have called it nausea; Frank makes it art.”
- Spin Magazine
“I came upon Joe Frank’s work by accident a number of years ago while driving to my home in the Napa Valley late at night. I couldn’t believe the originality and sheer brilliance of what I was hearing. From that moment on I became a dedicated Joe Frank fan.” — Francis Ford Coppola
“Joe Frank is a singular voice in radio. What he has done that is so amazing and impressive to me is to take this singular voice out of my radio and put it inside my head. As I listen, Frank’s show invades me and becomes my own thought process. It’s hypnotic, psychotic, neurotic, sad, terrifying, and some of the funniest stuff I have ever heard anywhere. I can’t think of another radio performer who has come close to achieving this kind of alchemy.” — Charlie Kaufman
“Joe Frank is an original whose work has helped form some of the most eccentric, dark and interesting parts of public radio’s personality.” –Terry Gross
“He’s one of the great, original radio performers. He’s created a sound and style for himself – a complete aesthetic that’s entirely his own. I first heard him when I was 19 and it changed everything for me. His work demonstrated the intensity and emotion that the medium is capable of; ingenious…fantastic.” — Ira Glass
“To me, he’s what radio is really for … his show makes me think he’s getting to some great truth … so completely captivating and just unlike anything else.” — David Sedaris