Ira Glass on David Rakoff

iraglass-584.jpg Ira Glass, executive producer and host of This American Life in his New York office, Monday Feb. 5, 2007. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg) 

First aired on As It Happens (21/6/13)


A month before his death from cancer last year at the age of 47, David Rakoff finished his final book. Written entirely in rhyme, the novel is called Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. Rakoff was beloved for his storytelling ability in many forms and was a frequent contributor to This American Life, appearing 25 times over the course of his career, so when As It Happens wanted to discuss Rakoff's final work, they turned to his friend Ira Glass, who is also the host of This American Life.

Glass became friends with Rakoff thanks to a Barney's department store window display. They had a series of windows honouring the best thinkers of the 20th century and Rakoff had been hired to play Freud. He gamely took on the role and invited several people he knew to be patients while biding time in the display. At the time, Rakoff and Glass knew each other "just a little tiny bit," but when Rakoff invited Glass to participate, Glass said yes. The experience was surreal, with shoppers staring and with Rakoff drawing on his experience as the son of two renowned psychiatrists to lead the discussion. "I have to say it was incredibly intimate," Glass told As It Happens co-host Carol Off. "It made me feel really close to him. I felt it was a real beginning for our friendship."

Their friendship grew over the years and Rakoff became a frequent contributor to This American Life, performing essays, talking about his Canadian identity (of which he was very proud) and acting in radio plays by another This American Life contributor, David Sedaris. In fact, Glass believes it was this experience that inspired Rakoff to give writing fiction -- specifically fiction in rhyming couplets -- a try. "I think Rakoff ... just decided 'I could do that' and totally kicks ass on it."

Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish was Rakoff's first attempt at writing fiction. His previous books were all essay collections. Despite the newness of the experience, Rakoff thrived creatively. "This book came to him much more easily than his normal writing," Glass said. "He discovered that he really just loved writing in rhyme...He was enjoying it much more than his normal writing."

Glass says that Rakoff's fiction displays the same sharp wit and acuity as his non-fiction. "He's constantly measuring people and being both deeply judgmental but also deeply empathetic," Glass said. "I feel like not only is he doing that with the characters in this book, but the characters in this book do it at each other. You see David's brain at work."

Rakoff was very ill when he wrote Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. He explores death and dying through a character named Cliff, who is dying of AIDS, and this is Glass's favourite part of the book. Glass was so impressed with his friend's novel that he's disappointed Rakoff didn't try his hand at fiction sooner. "It came so easily to him and was so satisfying for him and he was so good at it," Glass said. "It's hard to imagine that he wouldn't just keep going along these lines."

David Rakoff died on August 9, 2012. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish will be available in Canada on July 16, 2013.

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