Thursday, August 03, 2006

Stephen King, John Irving and J. K. Rowling

NRKII at "An Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp" (a benefit reading at Radio City Music Hall, August 2, 2006).

This is a horrible picture I've included, but it's the only one I got. More on that later.

As I was cruising into the Holland Tunnel at 6:15, I thought I'd be way too early and stuck out in the horrendous heat.

As I was searching for a place to park at 7:00, I was shouting, "It's my birthday! I can't be late to see Stephen King, John Irving and J. K. Rowling on my birthday!"

Both panic attacks were nonsense of course. I parked a few blocks away, and arrived at Will Call at 7:15 with only 2 people in front of me. Picked up my ticket and went right into the theater.

Unfortunately, they confiscated my camera, so I didn't get any photos from inside. Tried using my phone to get the inside of the theater before the show, but that picture was even worse than the outside shot. Just as well, as I didn't want to take pictures during the readings anyway (though plenty of people who snuck their cameras/cellphones through the security check were not so shy about snapping photos while the authors read).

I sat next to a woman who immediately introduced herself as Olga. She was also there alone, and explained that her cousin had come with her but was sitting way up front. We were about 30 rows back, which was fine. Olga was a Rowling fan, and not terribly familiar with King or Irving, other than a couple of movies. She told me a few times that she'd never been to an event like this, and she wondered what it would be like. As if I had a scintilla of a clue, I answered that I thought King would be great, Rowling would probably be pretty good, and Irving might be decent. (I would see later that I completely underestimated Irving.)

The crowd was a mix of King fans, Irving fans and Rowling fans. Probably mostly the latter -- there were a decent number of kids in the audience, and the screaming when Rowling was mentioned or introduced seemed louder, maybe because there were more Rowling fans, or maybe because King and Irving fans are less screamy.

I brought a notebook with me, in case I got a chance for an autograph. Even though I was 30 rows back, I knew they were going to call some people up from the audience who had submitted questions ahead of time. By the way, my questions were something along these lines:

For Stephen King - what character would you like to write about again?
For John Irving - what character or event didn't want to get written?
For J. K. Rowling - what character or description have you written that has surprised you?
Anyway, I wasn't called up, I didn't get to ask my questions, and I didn't get autographs, but I did have my notebook and pen which allowed me to take notes, in the dark. I'll try to interpret my scribbles and describe the evening further.

Surprise Host
The only personalities billed for this event were the three authors, so I was happily surprised when Whoopi Goldberg came out to introduce the show. She talked about each of the authors, and praised them:

They are forces greater than any of the supernatural characters in their books.
On the topic of bringing the authors together, she remarked how much different some of the worlds the authors created might have been if brought together. On Harry and Carrie: "If that little wizard boy had just asked that poor girl to the prom..."

Stephen King
Tim Robbins did the introduction for Stephen King, another pleasant surprise. He talked a lot about Shawshank Redemption, making a bit of a joke out of the name and how badly people mess it up ("scrimshaw... scranskank..."). Robbins said of King:

In addition to his ability to scare you, he has the compassionate heart of a great writer.
As Stephen King was announced, eerie music played, and King came out of the dark through back-lit fog. He took his chair -- which looked a lot like the electric chair from The Green Mile -- and talked a bit about what he was going to read. He decided, he said, to read us something "gross." He hoped we hadn't just eaten dinner -- if so, he was sorry.

King read the pie-eating-contest scene from his story "The Body" (made into the movie Stand by Me). It was funny, contained vivid characters, and was, in fact, gross. I'm surprised nobody had to go running out when all the story-vomit started. I'm surprised I didn't have to block my ears.

Halfway through his reading, when the audience was captivated and laughing, King stopped, and said, "They pay me to make this up!" Then he paused, and followed with, "And it's the BEST. JOB. in the WORLD!"

John Irving
Stanley Tucci introduced John Irving, saying:

Anyone who finds his characters outlandish hasn't been paying attention to ordinary life.
Irving sat in a leather easy chair and read the "Little Lord Jesus" chapter from one of my favorite novels, A Prayer for Owen Meany. (This novel inspired the movie Simon Birch, which is another way of saying it wasn't really the same story, but it had some of the same characters and incidents). The chapter describes the preparations for the annual Christmas pageant.

I had predicted that Irving might not be a great reader, and boy was I wrong! First of all, he did his character's voices with impeccable accuracy, and considering Owen Meany's voice was a mousy falsetto, that's no small effort. Also, Irving had great facial expressions. At one point he was reading Owen Meany's rendition of the Announcing Angel, and when he got to the words, "unto you is born... a savior, who is Christ the Lord," Irving put on a comical expression of boredom and exasperation (perfect for Owen's feelings at that moment in the book).

The best thing about Irving's reading though, was that he cracked himself up a few times. The chapter he read was quite funny, and once in a while, when the audience would break up with laughter, he would as well. I loved the fact that he found his own writing funny -- it would be a shame if he were bored by it.

J. K. Rowling
Kathy Bates came on to introduce J. K. Rowling. She praised Rowling for bringing children back to reading in a way nobody had managed before her. Bates said even the Harry Potter movies hadn't kept kids away from reading:

Harry's legions went eagerly to the movies, and then faithfully back to the books.
Rowling walked on stage to a somewhat-frenzied cheer. The young girl in front of me was jumping up and down, hugging her mother, then jumping up some more. She was enthralled and practically in tears at the sight of Rowling.

Rowling's chair was a gothic, red-velvet job, looking as if straight out of the Hogwarts library. She mentioned how she had missed out on the "vomiting" theme of the evening (there was a little vomit in Irving's reading too), but then pointed out that she was content because she had the best shoes. The camera zoomed in and on the big screens above the stage we got to see Rowling's feet and her admittedly fantastic shoes.

Rowling read from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. She selected the scene where Dumbledore goes to see Tom Riddle at the orphanage to tell Tom that he's been accepted to Hogwarts. It was a shorter reading than the others, as she wanted to leave some time for questions.

During the first questions to Rowling, the one thing she said that struck me was about why she would stop the Harry Potter series at 7 books: "I admire the people who go out when people still want more." This made me think of baseball players who retire before they become "has-beens." Or TV shows that are never as good in the final seasons as they were at the outset.

Q and A
The Question and Answer segment was moderated by Soledad O'Brien. They selected several people from the audience who had submitted questions in advance, and Soledad introduced each one before the question was posed. The most interesting of the questioners was Salman Rushdie, who came up to the microphone with his son, I think, and posed a question to J. K. Rowling.

Here are some of the points of interest from the Q&A. Be careful though, Rowling struggled with all her questions because she did not want to give away too much about the next book, but there are still a couple of Harry Potter spoilers in what follows!

Rowling, asked if Aunt Petunia actually loves Harry:
You will see in book 7 there is a little more to Aunt Petunia than meets the eye.
Rowling, asked if Dumbledore would reappear in book 7:
Don't expect Dumbledore to do a Gandalf.
Rowling, asked by Rushdie if Snape is good or bad, with the assumption that Snape is good and Dumbledore is not really dead:
I'm going to have to be explicit. Dumbledore is DEFINITELY. DEAD. You need to move through the 5 stages of grief. I'm trying to help you all get past the first stage, denial. Though, the second stage is anger, so maybe we should end this soon.
Irving, asked if he'd write a sequel to any of his novels:
I need to know the ending of the novel before I begin. Not just the ending, but the tone of voice of the ending. It's impossible to think past the end [for a sequel] because the ending meant so much to me, it is where I begin.
King, asked how he lived such a regular-guy life in Bangor, Maine:
I'm here and tonight I get to be on stage and this big deal, but I'm going to be home on Saturday and Tabitha is going to tell me to take the garbage out and empty the dishwasher.
He also mentioned that he considers himself a husband first, a father second, a man of his time and community third, and only after these can he be a writer.

Soledad O'Brien finished with a question she posed to all three authors: "Which 5 characters of your creation would you like to take to dinner?"

King: MY characters? Are you kidding? I'll take Harry Potter to dinner.
Rowling: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid
Irving: Dr. Larch, Owen, Patrick Wallingford, Melanie, Hester, Emma
And that was the end of the evening. I said goodbye to Olga, left the theater, went back to the theater for my confiscated camera, and came home... an older and enlightened me.


daisy said...

It sounds like a very special birthday treat to me.

Gregory K. said...

Great report. Thanks for taking notes for those of us unable to be there....

Kimmy said...

Thanks for the details. Sounds like it was an amazing time!

Curtis said...

Really nice, nrkii. I was wondering if you'd ever been ti Radio City before. I remember the only time I was there. I'd guess it was in the late 1980's or early 1990's. Every so often I'd see an ad in the Sunday Times Leisure section announcing that such and such a group that I really liked would be appearing somewhere in the city. I'd call at the appointed time for tickets to go on sale, and after 10 or 15 frustrating calls trying to get through, I would give up. Finally, my favorite group, The Pretenders were to appear at Radio City. I thought, this time I'll try harder and get through. I called and I called on the appointed day with no luck of course and by noon I had given up once again. I went back to work and at about 5:00, after an afternoon not thinking a single thought about my frustrating morning, I wondered if it were possible that tickets were still available. So without much hope I dialed the number one final time, got through on the first ring, and with fingers crossed meekly inquired whether there were any tickets available. The woman on the other end politely informed that no the shows had been sold out, but that I was in luck because they had just added an extra show not ten minutes earlier. And she added that she had excellent seats for me. Well, I dismissed the part about excellent seats as mere puffery, but gladly ordered two tickets. They were in Row DD I think. Didn't sound like great seats. Not having been to Radio City Music Hall, I wasn't quite prepared for its mammoth size. It is simply enormous. I handed the usher our tickets and she started down the lengthy aisle with us in tow. On and on we went....until we got to the fourth row from the stage....dead center. In fact a little platform stuck out into the seats and all during the concert, Chrissie Hynde would jump out toward us and, I swear, I got hit by sweat from her brow. Heaven. Best concert I ever saw.

Nancy said...

Curtis, hi again!

I did go to RCMH for the Christmas shows as a kid/teen.

The Pretenders at 4 rows back? Wow. Never got to experience something like that!