This past June 3rd we held the final event of the season at the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings. The readers were Karen Russell
and Thomas M. Disch
I cannot claim to have known Tom well, but I ran into him at memorable points throughout my life. When I began volunteering at WBAI at age 13 I was an intern for the Drama and Literature director, Baird Searles
. Bai (that's both WBAI and Baird) was a magnet for sf writers in those days -- I met Joanna Russ, Chip Delany, and Theodore Sturgeon as well as Disch in the few years before Searles left the station in 1970.
When Margot Adler
began Hour of the Wolf
in 1972, Tom was one of her early guests. in those days I was her co-host on Thursdays and Fridays, which she dubbed the Science Fiction Spectaculars. At one point, Margot, Disch and David Hartwell (as I recall) served jury duty together, and I'd go downtown to lunch with them in a Thai restaurant in Chinatown. Some time later, after I'd taken over Hour of the Wolf
(and Margot began Unstuck in Time
) I had Tom on the show myself. He was always irascible and entertaining, and it was always a pleasure and honor to have him on the air. He read well enough, but gave great interviews and even better phone calls.
He did manage to annoy me once in the late 70s. He was scheduled to be on the show and just never showed up. Given that the program begins at 5 AM, I am usually not appalled to find that someone may turn up missing, but his phone was off the hook. (Remember hooks?) When I got in touch with him the next day Tom said off-handedly that he simply decided a day or two before that 3 AM was too early for him to wake up. I'm willing to concede the point, and I can handle a show quite well, thank you, without a guest or even a plan, but if he changed his mind the least he might have done was phone or leave a message.
That was the last time I offered to have Tom on the show. It wasn't, however, the last time I broadcast him. I co-produced a radio drama of "Fun With Your New Head" (verbatim to the printed word, but presented as if it was an advertisement) with the wonderful voice and sounds of audio maestro Frank Heller.
In fact, I recorded Tom several times in the intervening years, particularly at the NYRSF Readings. Disch and Delany were, as this faulty memory serves, among the very first readers at NYRSFr@Dixon Place when Gordon Van Gelder started the series. He last read about 10 years ago, featuring "The Troll of Sure Would Forest."
Last year Henry Wessell guest-curated a tribute to Avram Davidson and put Disch on the program. At that event I was promoting/boasting of the following month's festivities: a performance of excerpts from Delany's "The Star Pit", which Baird Searles had produced for WBAI in 1967. Something clicked for Tom, and he remembered me from when I was 13. This brought us back into dialogue for the first time in over a decade, and eventually led to my booking him (through Tachyon
, publisher of The Word of God
) for the reading on June 3rd. His only condition was transportation to and from the reading.
When June 3rd came around, we discovered that we had somehow been double-booked in the Melville Gallery with the Packet Singers -- a wonderful sea-shanty singing group. Thanks to the quick-witted abilities of the Seaport Museum's facilities manager, we moved to an alternate (allegedly haunted) space in their main facility.
Tom showed up looking a bit piqued, but pleased at the turnout. He was in good spirits; happy, gregarious, and quite enamored of his new role as God. (Read the book.)
I won't go into the blow-by-blow of the event -- Mark Blackman posted this detailed report at SF Scope
and you'll be able to hear it for yourself soon. (Details below.) While Tom required a small, sturdy table to sit upon for his reading, I hadn't realized just how bad his legs were until we adjourned to Ryan Maguire's, our after-events pub. It took help from Norman Spinrad and myself and about 15 minutes to get Tom the 2-1/2 blocks to the pub. After arrival, he was in decent shape.
When the dining and drinking was concluded, Barbara and I went to fetch the car out of hock at the nearby lot. Norman brought Tom to the corner to await us. Tom had assured us he'd be fine standing there, but when we arrived 5-10 minutes later, he was sitting on the sidewalk looking quite forlorn, with Norman at a loss what to do. We managed to trundle him into the car, and set off.
En route, I arranged to talk with Tom early in July to set up a recorded interview to complement the reading for a full two-hour broadcast. (I had the other reader Karen Russell on live
this past Saturday.) I would have called Tom yesterday, July 7, had it not been that I heard of his suicide the day before through a post by Ellen Datlow.
This is the second time Tom Disch has managed to make himself unavailable for a scheduled interview. And once again, I'm really upset at him.