He's gone. Hard to believe. He was a brilliant man -- a wondrous combination of literary skill, honesty, humor and the occasional burst of pure heavenly bullshit. In other words, an Irishman.
Frank was also (and this is surely the least of his accomplishments) a beloved member of the Rock Bottom Remainders. He performed with the band often, and it's hard to say whether he was funnier onstage or off. A couple of memorable moments among the many:
-- We're performing at a literary festival. Frank has agreed to do a song. He told us earlier he wants to do "Love Me Do" by the Beatles. So we have rehearsed "Love Me Do" by the Beatles. And now we bring Frank onstage. The crowd is going nuts. I announce that Frank is going to sing "Love Me Do" by the Beatles. The band starts playing "Love Me Do" by the Beatles. Frank frowns, then leans over and whispers to me, "I don't think that's the one." I say, "Well which one is it?" He says, "It's the one that goes..." and he starts humming "I Should Have Known Better." So we stop playing "Love Me Do," and Frank blows into his harmonica, playing the opening notes to "I Should Have Known Better." And the crowd starts singing along, just their voices and Frank's harmonica, and it is wonderful.
-- We're in Cleveland, performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We've been traveling around the Midwest on a bus that usually transports (and smells like) a soccer team. Frank's on the bus. We've all been laughing when we should have been sleeping. On stage, Frank is supposed to sing "Danny Boy." He starts out fine, but then he forgets the words. We give him much grief: An Irishman! Forgetting the words to "Danny Boy!" But he doesn't care at all. He is amused, as he seems to be by everything. Later that night, we all gather in his hotel room to drink numerous beers. He and Roger McGuinn (who was also, incredibly, on the bus) start singing Irish folk songs. The songs get more and more obscure, but Frank and Roger both know every word to every one. At some point, there's a pounding on the door; it's a hotel employee, sent to ask us to keep it down. He of course does not know he is asking this of Frank McCourt and Roger McGuinn. They agree to try to keep it down.
The last time I saw Frank was in November, at the Miami Book Fair. He and I did a talk, and I made sure I went first, because I knew that once Frank started talking, nobody would want to hear me, including me. He was incredibly funny. He made me feel like a pension actuary. That night he joined the band, and he sang "Don't Fence Me In," and he got the audience to sing along, and it was the best moment of the night.
I can't type any more. I can't believe he's gone.