In the nearly 2,500 Saturdays I’ve had in my life, never once have I gotten up at four o’clock in the morning to listen to the radio.
Simon Loekle has me wondering if I shouldn’t be ashamed of myself. Here’s a guy who gets up every Saturday morning at four, not just to go to work, but to shower, trim and comb his beard, press his suit, and arrive at WBAI in New York at 6:00 am in time for his two-hour arts and literature program “As I Please” looking like this:
Actually, ‘geek’ doesn’t even begin to describe the man in this photograph. This is not Simon dressed up for anything in particular – this is Simon as you might find him on laundry day, or at the Oscars, or anything in between for that matter. Often seen sporting a wide-brimmed Panama hat and genuine ash-plant walking stick, Simon is the very portrait of a modernist – as much of an envoy from the mid-twentieth century as you can hope to encounter without an actual time machine.
Here are a few more descriptors:
That Sinatra-style-cigarette-hold is no mistake. Although “As I Please” always has plenty of music, readings and local announcements, Simon could easily fill both hours of weekly airtime with anecdotes alone. His is a voice you could actually get used to in the morning – Regis Philbin simply pales by comparison.
Again, think mid-twentieth century: Satchmo, Duke, Bird, Diz, Monk, Prez, Hawk, etc. – much more than just Old Blue Eyes, and usually taking as much as half of Simon’s airtime, especially if you include the music history anecdotes he always brings in.
(I’ll pass over Simon’s remaining descriptors – perambulator, cartoonist, pledge drive pugilist, etc. – to talk about what most impresses me about Simon, for it is here where Simon and I land on our most common ground):
The literature portion of “As I Please” generally goes straight for the hard stuff: Eliot, Pound, Beckett, Joyce. At least once a month, Simon makes a point of reading aloud from these truly challenging modernist writers, and not just their “easy stuff”: he’ll dive right into the Four Quartets, the Cantos, the Trilogy, the Wake, and he’ll make no apologies for doing so.
With regards to Finnegans Wake, Simon is well on his way to completing a full audio archive of Joyce’s final work. Once completed, this project will put Simon into one of the most exclusive clubs in existence: Patrick Horgan and Patrick Healy are the only two members at present. Of all the readers who have made efforts at committing Finnegans Wake to audio format – Patrick Ball, Patrick Bedford, Jim Norton, Marcella Riordan, Siobhan McKenna, etc., noone else has come even close to laying tracks down for the entire book.
But Simon is not a man to be rushed. Generally only once a year (the final Saturday to be exact), Simon reads around ten or so pages of Finnegans Wake into the microphone and archives it – his reading is slow, methodical, and passionate. Informed by as much as two months of preparation, each annual reading is essentially flawless in its execution. And just consider – this is live radio; no chance to do a re-take if he flubs a word or phrase, and he never does.
He’s been doing this since 1996, and has covered around 150 pages thus far, so at this rate, he should be done with the project in about fifty years. Despite his slim frame and penchant for tobacco, he might very well live to see this project to completion without even picking up the pace – his energy and exuberance are a marvel to witness. But even if he doesn’t live to complete the project, Simon will have made his point abundantly clear:
If it’s not hard, it’s not worth pursuing, and the pursuit is all that really matters anyway.
So follow Simon’s lead: challenge yourself. Simon’s “Year-Out WakeShow” is coming up this Saturday morning at 6am eastern time, 3am pacific, and the passage he’ll be reading starts on page 448 (the paragraph break near the bottom), and will likely end somewhere on page 457. Those of you who live across the pond need not get up till noon – lucky you – and even we lazy North Americans have the option of tuning into the podcast on WBAI, which should be available until mid 2015, and by then of course Raphael will have put it permanently onto fweet.org. The point is: no excuses. If it’s good enough for Simon it should be good enough for you.
Allow me to demonstrate. Here’s a little selfie Simon and I took this summer outside Simon’s favorite haunt: Swift’s Hibernian Lounge on 4th Street near Bowery. That’s me on the left, enjoying my lone cigarette of 2014:
Simon passed away this morning at the age of 62 from pancreatic cancer. I will be posting another blog about this extraordinary man soon – meanwhile you can go to his facebook page which is presently covered in memorials.