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In memoriam: Art Buchwald, Denny Doherty January 22, 2007

Posted by Jeff in "Reality has a well-known liberal bias", Folk, In memoriam, Music, Rock.

Art BuchwaldI mean no disrespect whatsoever when I say that I never really got Art Buchwald (1925-2007).

Buchwald came from a really terrible childhood. He ran away from home at the age of seventeen and enlisted in the Marines at the beginning of WWII, hiring a drunk to sign as his legal guardian because he was underage.

He had been the Paris correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune for thirteen years, something like a funnier Jewish version of Janet Flanner. I read a book of his Paris columns, a handful of which are almost up to Flanner’s standard (and IMHO Flanner set a very high standard). Among other things, Buchwald may have been the first non-music writer to get Elvis Presley.

When Buchwald returned to the U.S. in 1962 he talked the Tribune into letting him write a political column, despite the fact he had never covered politics either in Washington or elsewhere. He was renowned for his caustic wit, but I always found him too bland to have any bite. At the risk of playing armchair psychiatrist, maybe his childhood drove him to be the kind of satirist who seemed most proud of being loved by the very people he was supposed to be cutting to ribbons. That makes for a comfortable life, but it doesn’t make for good satire.

There are two things for which Buchwald will always have my respect. In an era where almost no one was standing up to corporate rapaciousness, he sued Paramount (and won!) after Jeffrey Katzenberg stole Buchwald’s pitch and used it for the Eddie Murphy movie Coming To America without credit or compensation.

Most of Buchwald’s obits have concentrated on the remarkable last year of his life. He announced in February of 2006 that he was under hemiodianalysis for renal failure caused by diabetes and that he had had a leg amputated. Over he next few months he wrote columns about his decision to abandon hospice care, wrote columns about cheating death, and submitted to numerous interviews. After he went home to Martha’s Vineyard, his health took a remarkable turn for the better, and he lived for almost a year after his terminal diagnosis.

Here is his last interview.

The Mamas and the PapasDenny Doherty* (at left in photo), lead tenor for the Mamas and the Papas, died last Thursday at the age of sixty-six.

Doherty, the least well-known of the ‘sixties folk-pop quartet, was (I think unfairly) blamed for breaking up the group by having an affair with backup singer Michelle Phillips, the then-wife of Papa John Phillips.

From the D. A. Pennebaker documentary, here are the Mamas and the Papas performing “California Dreamin'” at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Doherty is the one who sings:

Stopped into a church
I passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees
And I pretend to pray
You know the preacher likes the cold
He knows I’m gonna stay …

*Note: try this website if the above doesn’t work. (I wonder … will I exceed my bandwidth when I die?)

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1. SSM - January 28, 2007

We all mourn Art Buchwald’s passing and would like to bring your attention to The Remembering Site, a non-profit organization that makes it easy for anyone, anywhere to write their life stories. Art Buchwald recently published a great memoir, To Soon To Say Goodbye. Grateful if you could profile us on your blog to encourage your readers to write their biography/memoir at The Remembering Site. We will all die; but will we all take the time to write our life stories?

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