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Monday, November 29, 2004


My Novel Will Be Called "What Is Is"
Ken Goode's 2004 novel is called What's the Frequency, Kenneth?



This is not to be confused with a certain R.E.M. song, which was performed on David Letterman's show with the assistance of a network news anchor:




The mystery may be solved: Dan Rather has identified the man he says beat him up on the street in 1986 while demanding to know 'Kenneth, what is the frequency?' The CBS anchorman said his assailant was William Tager, now in prison for killing an NBC stagehand outside the Today show in 1994. Tager was convinced the media had him under surveillance and were beaming hostile messages to him, and he demanded that Rather tell him the frequency being used, according to a forensic psychiatrist who examined Tager after the NBC shooting. Rather was told by the psychiatrist, Dr. Park Dietz, that Tager was almost certainly his attacker. The anchorman identified Tager from pictures supplied by the New York Daily News. 'There's no doubt in my mind that this is the person,' Rather said."
--January 1997, Associated Press.



In his blog, Rob Barry has "uncovered" additional information:


But does it really end there? Let me tell you about a book. It's a red one, published in 1968. Goes by the title City Life. It's a collection of short stories by a misanthrope by the name of Donald Barthelme. Let me read you an excerpt, from page 84:

Q: That's a very common fantasy.
A: All my fantasies are extremely ordinary.
Q: Does it give you pleasure?
A: A poor... A rather unsatisfactory...
Q: What is the frequency?
A: Oh God who knows. Once in a while. Sometimes.
Q: You're not cooperating.
A: I'm not interested.
Q: I might do an article.
A: I don't like to have my picture taken.
Q: Solipsism plus triumphantism.
A: It's possible.
Kierkegaard Unfair to Schlegel
by Donald Barthelme
Weird, isn't it? Very disconnected. Most of his stories seem to fit neatly into that post-modern narrative that lacks a coherent structure.

I'm sure you notice the 3nd question. Odd question -- it doesn't really fit in there with the flow. I mean, none of it really fits together, but you get the impression that there's a direction to the questions, and that question doesn't really... work.

Wonder why he put it in there.

Funny. There's another story, called "The Indian Uprising". It's also by Donald Barthelme. Guess what the main character's name is?

Kenneth.

Barthelme was born in 1931, which is actually Rather's birth-year too. Unfortunately, he died in 1989....



Also see a Harper's Magazine article from Paul Limbert Allman:


Imagine my shock at finding, quite out of the blue, the words "Kenneth" and "What is the frequency?" combined within the same text, by a writer from Houston, Dan Rather's hometown.

It was an odd coincidence. What are the chances of finding "Kenneth" and "What is the frequency?" in any way connected to each other, outside of the mouths of Mr. Rather's attackers? And yet here they were, inside Donald Barthelme's book.

The photo of Barthelme on the back of the dust jacket: a stocky fellow with a leprechaun's face and beard, wearing a checked shirt and a leather vest, with a patch of Rorschach-style wallpaper behind his head. Was this mischievous but gentle soul the type to rough up a news anchor or hire goons to do the job? He looked capable of a prank but not one so violent.

The coincidence seemed to be just that: a strange, puzzling, but unintentional juxtaposition, one of life's sublime jokes.

Intrigued by the Rather riddle, I researched Dan Rather's career as a newspaper reporter and editor in Houston but could find nothing except the tale of a tireless, ambitious young man--what used to be called a B.M.O.C.--with something of a roving eye for what his biographer referred to as "coeds."

Mr. Rather excelled first as the editor of a college newspaper. Eventually he broke into radio and then television journalism. Might there have been a grudge or a simmering jealousy from as far back as then? Somebody Rather stepped over on his way up the ladder of success, or the boyfriend or husband of one of those "coeds"?

Mr. Barthelme, just six months younger than Mr. Rather, also grew up in Houston. Barthelme attended the University of Houston; Rather attended Sam Houston State College. After their stints in the military in the fifties, both went into journalism. Rather worked at a Houston radio station, while Barthelme went to work as a reporter for the Houston Post.

Rather and Barthelme, same age, same military backgrounds, were now reporting for competing news outlets in a city of modest size. Is it possible that they could not have known each other, or of each other, in the Houston of the late 1950s and early 1960s? That they could not have attended the same journalistic functions? Or that Rather, the rising star, could not have been the object of envy and speculation on the part of his peers?

I tried to imagine an imbroglio between these two men, both titans in their field: the burly, bristling, brilliant professor/writer and the eager, ambitious, glamorous, comparatively superficial news anchor. Titans who left large footprints in Texas soil but no legacy of mutual distemper, no trace of a grudge. The implication--that a brilliant writer would somehow get himself involved in a hugger-mugger retributionary ambush of a prominent news editor over an undisclosed dispute--was difficult to accept. Yet these giants were undoubtedly linked together by that strangely magical refrain--Kenneth, what is the frequency?--and by their oddly parallel lives.

In 1959, Rather became a TV reporter for KTRK in Houston; two years later, Barthelme became director of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. Rather eventually transferred to New York City for CBS News, and Barthelme also landed in the city, teaching at City College.

I will never know what wrong Donald Barthelme perceived was done to him by Dan Rather during their mutual incubations in Houston. No one will ever know. It will have to be the one unknown that haunts our generation as we ponder the Rather/Barthelme connection with the incident on Park Avenue. But there are at least two well-dressed white men out there (now in their fifties) who know the complete truth. Did Barthelme know what they were doing? Or were the avengers acting on their own, loose cannons armed with quotes from Barthelme's canon?



Meanwhile, there's a guy searching for Paul Limbert Allman. Don't know why, or who. But he sells t-shirts.

Comments:
It just goes deeper, and deeper. Possibly, the answer to life, the universe, and everything is embedded somewhere in the parallels between Paul Allman, Dan Rather, and William Tager.

Or maybe it's just a coincidence.
 
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