Tag Archives: Joe Frank

Joe Frank and “The Shape of Water”

Joe Frank — (Aug. 19, 1938 – January 15, 2018)

Back in the days and nights when I worked as a typesetter, it seems as if I had more time for my own writing and for reading and listening to what I was interested in. Among other places where I keyboarded for hours on end on a Compugraphic 7500, I spent ten years at Radio & Records, a trade newspaper for the music industry. In the production department, the radio was on almost constantly, primarily tuned to a station that played a lot of INXS and Depeche Mode, or so it seemed in the years when they were most popular. One shift was particularly long: Tuesdays started at 11 a.m. for typesetters, and went until 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Dinner was catered, and it was usually pizza eaten at one’s work station. One learned how strong a bond could develop when a crisis hit, and it took a 24 hour shift to get the paper to the printer.

Off the job, I could devote my energies to my writing, as well as projects such as the Gasoline Alley Reading Series, which I ran for two years with Phoebe MacAdmans, and Put Your Ears On, a cable-television poetry show I did at Century Cable. I also had far more time to listen to radio programs that I enjoyed than I do these days. One favorite show that I shared with many people who had grown tired of hearing about the eccentricities of the inhabitants of Garrison Keillor’s updated version of Winesburg, Ohio was Joe Frank’s program. In truth, I haven’t thought of Joe Frank for several years now. In fact, I don’t recall having listened to one of his broadcasts in the past twenty years. Back in the last decade of the past century, however, it was a special treat if life found one driving on L.A.’s freeways at night, and suddenly Joe’s voice was on the radio. If you were driving home, for instance, from a good visit with a friend, and it was a long drive, then the distances between friends in Los Angeles weren’t something to regret. One just eased one’s car into a right hand lane and drove at a steady speed, and let Joe’s voice ride shotgun.

A week ago I read the announcement that Joe Frank had died, and I took advantage of my access to search engines and listened to a couple of his programs, which can be found on his website. I picked them out at random, since I didn’t remember any particular titles of shows.


As is the case with many successful artists and writers, Frank knew that the “secret” is to find the prototype of content and form that can be identified instantly as having your signature. One walks around a corner at a museum and sees a sculpture of a horse made out of sticks and mud. “Deborah Butterfield,” one thinks instantly. Intoned with a resonance befitting the opening notes of a medieval prayer being chanted in a cathedral on the eve of a feast day, Frank’s stories remind me of a comment made by Jean Luc Godard, “Editing is the process by which contingency becomes destiny.” (Thank you, Amy Davis.) One knows that Frank is editing these stories as one listens to them, and yet one doesn’t feel manipulated. One trusts Frank, to a degree that is unusual in the co-dependent world of authors and readers.

In retrospect, thinking of having seen The Shape of Water about a week before Frank’s obituary brought him back to mind, I wish somehow that it had been his voice that had accompanied the opening images of that film. The Shape of Water is, of course, just a re-telling of The Beauty and the Beast, a realization that hit me about a third of the way into the film. Perhaps there is a way in which that binary is also at work in almost all of Frank’s work. Most certainly, the afterglow is just as haunting as that moment in Cocteau’s version, where the arms hold up their lamps in a tunnel of uncertainty.

May eternal sleep be a feast for you, Joe Frank.