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Portrait of author Michael Chabon in Chicago in 2012. Chabon spoke last week at Claremont McKenna College and the audience was at least as curious about his work in the “Star Trek” universe as they were about his more serious literary pursuits. (File photo by Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)
Portrait of author Michael Chabon in Chicago in 2012. Chabon spoke last week at Claremont McKenna College and the audience was at least as curious about his work in the “Star Trek” universe as they were about his more serious literary pursuits. (File photo by Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)
David Allen
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When writer spoke last week at Claremont McKenna College, the audience was at least as curious about his work in the “Star Trek” universe as they were about his more serious literary pursuits, including his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.”

Chabon was showrunner for season one of the Trek spinoff “Picard,” starring Patrick Stewart, and also wrote the screenplay for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter” and a draft script for what became “Spider-Man 2.”

During his onstage conversation with a McKenna professor at the college’s Athenaeum on Feb. 20, Chabon talked about the concept of or what’s considered factual history in a fictional universe of stories.

Michael Chabon chats with a fan after the writer's appearance at the Claremont McKenna Athenaeum on Feb. 20. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Michael Chabon chats with a fan after the writer’s appearance at the Claremont McKenna Athenaeum on Feb. 20. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

“The chance to put words in the mouths of these characters I know so well, it’s a thrill,” Chabon admitted. “It’s that fan-fiction feel. If it’s onscreen, it becomes canon.”

Chabon continued: “I love canon, as a fan. And I hate it too. Because it’s utterly arbitrary. Canon contradicts itself frequently.

“It goes back to the original fan fiction, the New Testament, which is fan fiction on the Old Testament,” the Jewish writer joked.

He referenced an only slightly less revered example: the Sherlock Holmes stories. As Chabon noted, Dr. Watson had an old war injury, but writer A. Conan Doyle couldn’t keep the details straight. In one story, the injury was to Watson’s shoulder. In another, it was to Watson’s leg. (Maybe it was really to Watson’s memory.)

While working on “Picard” was “exhilarating,” Chabon said, the restraints meant the job was also “like a prison.” Because of, say, a stray comment about the Romulans in a 1960s episode of “Star Trek,” Chabon said, a better concept can’t be entertained nearly 60 years later because it would contradict canon.

Even in a fictional universe involving Jean-Luc Picard, it seems, the writers can’t just “make it so.”

During the Q&A, someone who may have thought about “Star Trek” a bit too much asked why people insist on believing that Captain Kirk routinely said “Beam me up, Scotty,” a phrase he never uttered.

“It sounds better to the ear,” Chabon offered. Ditto, he said, with “Play it again, Sam,” in “Casablanca,” when the actual quote is “Play it, Sam.”

Said Chabon: “‘Beam me up, Scotty’ sounds better than ‘Beam me up, Mr. Scott,’ or whatever he says once.” Felicitous phrases, thankfully, aren’t subject to canon.

During the Q&A, Chabon also talked about being 60, a subject yours truly expects to return to sometime around, oh, March 14 (cough).

Vital organ

Some 500 people came to Claremont United Church of Christ on Feb. 25 for a concert by Notre Dame Cathedral organist Olivier Latry. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Some 500 people came to Claremont United Church of Christ on Feb. 25 for a concert by Notre Dame Cathedral organist Olivier Latry. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Notre Dame Cathedral organist Olivier Latry’s solo recital Sunday on  drew more than 500 people, well above expectations. That and the audience’s enthusiasm must have been a relief. Behind the scenes, there was some anxiety.

The organ was freshly tuned Saturday by an expert. But due to a miscommunication, the church’s heat was left on overnight. That temperature imbalance meant the 4,041-pipe organ had to be tuned all over again on Sunday — groan — before the 4 p.m. concert.

Whether most ears would have noticed the difference is impossible to know, but probably beside the point. If you’re hosting a world-famous organist, after all, the least you can do is provide him with an instrument that’s in tune.

The church’s organ is itself renowned.

“Before this I was in New York and had lunch with a very famous organist,” Latry told the audience. He was referring to Stephen Tharp, who performed at the church in 2019. Tharp asked where Latry would perform next and had an unusual reaction to the answer.

“He said, ‘You’re playing Claremont?’, and his eyes went wide,” Latry related. “And then he spoke about the organ for 10 minutes.”

At the reception after his concert, Latry appeared to share Tharp’s affection for the church’s organ, albeit in terser fashion. “It’s very, very, very friendly,” he told me.

People came to the recital from far and wide. “We learned that three people from Guadalajara, Mexico, flew up just for this concert,” organ committee member Ann Olander told me, “and also a father and son from Peoria, Illinois — the dad’s birthday gift to his 15-year-old organ-playing son.”

Who knew a concert on a church organ had tourism potential?

Culture Corner

• Fans of zines (self-published fanzines) have at least two upcoming events at which to gather, swap, buy and chat: Saturday, March 2 (11 a.m.-7 p.m.) and Sunday, March 3 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at Pomona College’s at Edmunds Ballroom, and Wednesday, March 6 (noon-2 p.m.) at Chaffey College’s at Wignall Museum. Admission to either is free.

• The famously bad 2003 cult movie “The Room” is at 10:15 p.m. Saturday (March 2), with actor Greg Sestero present and doing a Q&A afterward. (At that hour, for the record, yours truly will be in his own quarters, asleep.)

• Organist Robert Phillips will answer the question “Is there humor in organ music?” in the affirmative by playing whimsical works by Haydn, Pachelbel, J.S. Bach and of the late Peter Schickele (him again!). That’s at , 4845 Brockton Ave., at 7 p.m. Saturday (March 2). Says church member Kris Lovekin: “It is free and our organist is quite entertaining.”

brIEfly

Happy 100th birthday a day early to Lottie Smith of Menifee, who hits the century mark on Saturday. Daughter Donna had emailed thusly: “My mother reads your column faithfully. If there is a way to wish her a happy birthday in your column on the Friday before her birthday, she would be thrilled.” How can I say no to a woman who may qualify as my oldest reader? I hope her birthday is a Lottie fun.

David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday for young and old (but mostly old). Email dallen@scng.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.

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