Friday, February 26, 2010

RIP Andrew Koenig

For the past week I’ve been following the story of the disappearance of Andrew J. Koenig. The story came to a tragic end, Koenig being found dead in Vancouver yesterday. His father, Walter Koenig (Chekov of Star Trek fame), reported that his son’s death was a suicide. Most people knew Andrew for his role as Boner on Growing Pains. I never watched that show and couldn’t pick Andrew out of line up based on that role. But for the past several years I’ve been an avid listener of the Never Not Funny Podcast, a great comedy podcast for which Andrew tweaked the knobs. Andrew often appeared on mic, sharing stories about his life. Given that his sister Danielle often appears on the show, and the show is hosted by his brother-in-law, Jimmy Pardo, I feel like I know a lot about the Koenig family.

Interestingly, Andrew also serves as the inspiration of one of my all-time favorite short stories, Jeffty Is Five by Harlan Ellison. Jeffty is a beautiful and tragic story about the loss of innocence and childish wonderment. Ellison is a great writer and for most of his short stories he writes evocative forwards talking about the given story’s inspiration. Jeffty is largely inspired by a brief chat Ellison had with the five year old Andrew at a party thrown by his parents. I’ve posted that intro here. In the light of this week’s events, Ellison’s words serve as a touching tribute to Andrew. Please note that Ellison refers to the child as Josh, which is Andrew’s given name. Also, if I've misinterpreted any of this, my apologies.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

189 pages of boredom followed by 314 pages of page-turning excitement. What’s up with that? Stieg Larsson appears to be quite the international writing sensation for his Millenium trilogy of crime books. At some level, I don’t entirely get it. On the one hand, I love certain aspects of his books, but on the other hand, some aspects of his books leave me cold. Punk rock, lesbian, Satanist, computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and publishing bad-boy Mikael Blomqvist are back in The Girl Who Played With Fire. This time they’re trying to get to the bottom of an international prostitution ring. But I swear, almost nothing of interest happens for 189 pages. I’ll give Larsson the benefit of the doubt and suggest that over the first third of the book he has effectively laid down the groundwork for the final acts, because on page 190 things turn on a dime and get damned exciting. I really hard a hard time putting the book down. Conversely, I had a pretty hard time picking it up until that point. I imagine I’ll read the third installment, but I’ll definitely be hoping that he has finally written a book that is scintillating throughout.

Here's what I had to say about the first installment.

Childhood, The Marx Brothers & Dick Cavett

I loved the Marx Bros as a kid. I had a Duck Soup t-shirt (creamsicle orange, sporting the movie poster) and a Horse Feathers t-shirt (bright yellow, also sporting the movie poster). They were my favorite shirts. I wore them ragged. I religiously watched You Bet Your Life in syndication. I dragged my parents to whatever theaters would play their movies, and I believe I once made my dad drive me and friend through a snowstorm to a community center playing Animal Crackers. We were the only people in the audience and they played the film for us anyway. The show must go on, don’t you know. I even read a Groucho bio when I was in middle school. In all likelihood, it was the first celebrity bio I ever read.

Like many things from my childhood, it’s been ages since I’ve seen a Marx Bros. film. I showed my son Horse Feathers several years back, but he wasn’t biting. Too much language play for even a really verbal 5 year old. Several weeks back, Animal Crackers played at the Clay Theater as part of Sketchfest. The film was followed by a round table featuring Dick Cavett and Harpo’s son, Bill Marx. Cavett and Marx were fantastic, sharing 45 minutes of raunchy stories about the Marx Brothers, as well as providing some great insights into their careers. What a fun night. This time, my son, now 8, dug the proceedings. I think he really liked the absurd, strange interludes that fill the film. Harpo was his favorite--not surprising for a kid weaned on Buster Keaton. And I was laughing throughout. All the reasons why I loved these guys came flowing back. Sitting in the theater, I could see how much their brand of comedy has influenced me. And if that wasn’t enough, the soothing sound of Dick Cavett’s voice was a pleasant trip down memory lane as well.