Thursday, March 22, 2007

King Dork

A friend of mine from college sent me a novel by a friend of hers from high school: King Dork, by Frank Portman. It turns out I had at least heard of Portman indirectly in college: he is a member of the band The Mr. T. Experience, which got a bit of airplay back in my student radio days at KZSU. And the band still exists.

King Dork is billed as an anti-Catcher in the Rye book. At the beginning, I found several nice bits to underline or mark, but decided not to, as it seemed like the kind of book that would keep coming up with good quotable bits. And it is. I did ended up marking a few things, though. Here's one of them.

The narrator, Tom Henderson, has a few books that belonged to his father when his father was a teenager; the books are of great interest to Tom because, when Tom was eight, his father died. One of the books is Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead:

"I had originally shied away from this book because I was worried it had to do with the Grateful Dead and nudity, and, well, let me put it this way: if you can imagine a more alarming combination, your imagination is quite a bit better than mine. Then I realized it was about war, and it was more like naked people and dead people, two of my favorite subjects, so I thought I'd give it a try.

"Now, this book was by a guy named Norman Mailer, and he was a piece of work. You know how Holden Caulfield said 'giving her the time?' Well it was the same with Norman Mailer. He said 'fug.' I kid you not. Like 'this is a fugging nightmare!' or 'go fug yourself.' You know, it's no wonder everyone was all crazy and weird in the sixties, if everything was being run by prissy grandma types like Holden Caulfield and Norman Mailer."

I was once at a Dead show at Boreal Ridge, in the Sierras, and during the second set a naked woman climbed up on the barrier in front of the stage and dove back into the crowd. It was pretty alarming. (It was also the worst Dead show I ever attended, out of 82 or 83.)

Tom Henderson is sort of in a band with his friend Sam Hellerman; their main activity as members of a band is to think up new names for the band, for themselves, and for their first album (so much fun!). The book also contains a glossary, with two entries that I thought worth noting here:

"The Velvet Underground: you can tell how badly someone wants to come off as a hipster by how fervently he or she pretends to have been into this group since early childhood. They were my favorite band as a zygote."

"Franz Zappa: it all hippie music had been this weird and good, maybe that subculture wouldn't have been such a total waste of brain cells."

Later Coda: This is supposed to be "teen fiction" (the hero is a sophomore in high school). It's good that the book did not win any awards; there are worse things to explain here than the word "scrotum" on the first page!

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