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Jonathan Frakes shares his love for Maine; talks PanCan.org, playing with Phish

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Jonathan Frakes is a big fan of Maine. The actor and director, best known for his role as Commander William Riker on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and his work in the ensuing franchise series and films, has been a Maine resident for years. He set me straight during my interview with him when I introduced him on radio as a “former” Maine resident.

Frakes and his wife, actress Genie Francis (“General Hospital,” “The Young and the Restless”), have actually been splitting their time between the midcoast of Maine and California for many years. Through 2012, when they weren’t filming their respective TV series and films, Francis operated a home furnishings store (The Cherished Home) while Frakes taught filmmaking. As Frakes put it during my interview with him, Maine is the best place in the world but he’d like to keep that a secret.

The primary purpose of the interview was to discuss his work with www.PanCan.org , an organization dedicated to promoting early detection of pancreatic cancer as well as new treatment approaches to the disease. Frakes has joined forces with two Star Trek alumni – Kitty Swink, and her husband, Armin Shimerman – to raise funds for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network for an ongoing fundraiser that has generated nearly $65,000 to date.

In the following interview, Frakes revealed that he recently finished directing a block of episodes for the next season of “Star Trek: Picard,” set to air on Paramount+, and he gave us the backstory of how he ended up playing trombone on an album by Phish.

The Maine Edge: Do you and your wife Genie miss living in Maine year-round?

Jonathan Frakes: Every day. We’re actually on our way back to Maine this week. Our kids are already up there, it’s their home too. They’ve got the garden in, they have the chairs out, they’re catching the bass, they’re swimming and working in town. Maine is the best place in the world but don’t tell anybody else about it.

The Maine Edge: I’m very happy to discover that you’re still here. I wanted to talk with you about the work that you’ve been doing for PanCan.org. Your involvement is very personal for you, isn’t it?

Jonathan Frakes: It is. My late, great brother, Daniel Frakes, died with pancreatic cancer two weeks before my daughter Eliza was born, 24 years ago. He went into the hospital, they opened him up, looked at him, closed him up, and his doctor told him he had six months to live, and he lived about five months after that. It’s that type of diagnosis that people are living with every day. Back when Daniel was diagnosed, there was a one or two percent chance of survival.

We’re raising money for two primary reasons. Early detection, because there seems to be no awareness of this horrible disease, and new treatment approaches.

My dear friend, actress Kitty Swink (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”), got me involved with PanCan.org. I remember 17 years ago, she had pancreatic cancer and she survived. At that point, the survival rate might have been four percent, and now the survival rate is ten percent. Kitty represented something important to my family. I used to visit my Mom a lot in Pennsylvania, and she would always ask how my friend Kitty was doing. Kitty made it and Daniel didn’t. There is great warmth in my family for her.

The Maine Edge: I have a Star Trek-related question for you that came from a fan named Jeff Pierce. He’s the operations manager for Wreaths Across America, an organization that does a lot of great work honoring veterans. Jeff says “It was great to see Jonathan in the ‘Star Trek: Picard’ series on Paramount+. Are there any plans to get back together with the old crew on the upcoming season?”

Jonathan Frakes: I just finished directing a couple of episodes of “Star Trek: Picard.” I can confirm that one of our old crew, the omnipotent Q, played by John de Lancie, is in fact in both of the episodes that I direct. As for the rest of the cast, I don’t know what the plan is for them. Marina Sirtis, who played Counselor Troi, and I, were briefly in “Picard” last season. Brent Spiner, who played Data, is back in another role, but that’s about as far as I can see.

The Maine Edge: Not many people can say that they appear on an album by the band Phish. How did you become involved with the piece called “Riker’s Mailbox” that became a link track on their 1994 LP “Hoist?”

Jonathan Frakes: Mike, I love that you’re doing a deep dive (laughs). This is a great memory for me. The producer of the album was a guy called Paul Fox who was my next-door neighbor when I lived up in Lookout Mountain in Los Angeles. The members of Phish were Trekkers and they generously invited me to play trombone on a track. I went out to a studio out in West Lake and they gave me the charts. To be perfectly frank, it was beyond my expertise. I play trombone but I play sort of loud and sloppy. This was a really demanding chart and my sight-reading was not up to the task. It was a little embarrassing that I didn’t have the chops for it, so they used the outtakes of this failed attempt and ultimately hired the brilliant trombone player from Tower of Power to play the chart they wrote for me.

They called it “Riker’s Mailbox” because the mailbox in front of my house was in the shape of a cow, but it was all beat up and dented by delivery trucks and was just sort of askew. It became a distinctive landmark of where I lived, next door to Paul.

On my wall in Maine is a framed gold record award for “Hoist” because of Paul Fox and my friends from Phish. They’re a fabulous band and they’re still doing it. Jonathan Fishman, their drummer, has a great little store up in Lincolnville Center, one of my favorite spots.

Last modified on Wednesday, 14 July 2021 07:43

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