Contrary to the grand tradition of awards shows (teary montages that invariably make one think, Oh that's right....I forgot he died this year... huh.....where'd that bowl of Doritos® go?) the crack team of researches here at BB present some dearly departed folks whose singular contribution to American life may have passed unnoticed on your radar, and about whom we will now sing. (For an aural companion, please press Play (below) for the thoughtful strains of legendary cellist Jacqueline du Pré, and then read at your leisure: All Great Americans will be honored in order of disappearance.)
Frank S. Emi (above, left), a grocer and one of over 100,00 Japanese-Americans herded into prison camps during the Second World War. Not one of our finer moments. This brother, however, left the comforts of his home and went quietly to Wyoming to the ironically named Heart Mountain facility, which defaulted into the largest "city" in the entire state during the war years. (School yourself here.) Mr. Emi would have patiently waited things out, had the government not decided to conscript the prisoners into fighting for Democratic ideals conveniently forgotten during their mass relocation. For his courageous stand and organizing efforts--one of six, out of the Heart Mountain population of 11,000 who stood up and said No--he was rewarded with a conviction on federal conspiracy charges. An appellate court restored sanity by overturnng the decision, but not before he spent 18 months in the Leavenworth Pen. President Truman pardoned some 300 of the internee resisters in a silent apology, but my research indicates Mr. Emi didn't make that list. Many years later, his patriotism was finally recognized by a group of Japanese-Americans veterans, shoring up a critical brick in the American foundation: There is more than one way to fight for American liberty. Although he lost his family business during "relocation," he became a postal worker and enjoyed a long life, dying at 94 with a family that included two daughters, one stepdaughter, nine grandchildren and four great-granchildren. May we all be so lucky.
Allan R. Sandage, 84, the scientific heir apparent to Edwin Hubble, who acheived susperstar status amongst, um, telescope guys. Most notably, he broke with the findings of his mentor, arriving at the hypothesis that the actual age of this universe is 15 billion years old, not 13 million. This can only be good, because I'm certain we're going to need the extra time to figure out a bunch of life's ineffable questions, the first of which is: Why are there so damn many spellings of Allan...?
Here's to you, Mr. We-evolved-from-space-alien-gods-who-hail-from-a-12th-planet-called-Nibiru-and-who-crossed-the-solar-system-in-B-movie-styled-rocketships-to-enslave-proto-hominids-and-mine-terrestrial-precious-metals. It's a long name, I know--you may choose to call him Zecharia Sitchin--but it's apt for a fellow with a long tale. You can debate whether his methods are sound science or insane fantasy, but you can't really argue with his book sales: His first treatise, The Twelfth Planet, is enjoying its 45th printing, and that's just here on Earth. Story goes, in the mid-Pleistocene Epoch, some really tall dudes on a 3600-year orbit swung by to plunder our gold and stayed for 447,450 years. In exchange, they created us. (Thanks, for that!) One can only imagine why they ran screaming from the place, around 550 BC, but it was probably man's unique talent to take the beautiful and simple, and twist it into the ridiculous and complicated. The births of both Confucious and the Buddha suspiciously coincide at this time, for example. And, it's not hard to imagine extraterrestrial exasperation getting the better of them after1500 years of the Babylonians counting their mutton in Base 60. ("We give you the gift of life through interstellar DNA and the best number system you can come up with is this shit?")
Mr. Sitchin rode the strength of his convictions to age 90, and delighted millions of readers along the way. On the subject of his life's work, a top Amazon reviewer gushes, "Ultra important...even if 50% of it is wrong..." May the same be said of all of us.
For 50 years, the brilliant Paul Conrad (1924–2010), dean of editorial cartooning, cracked up his colleagues, pissed off politicians, and shrugged off death threats in service of drawing our national conscience. He was Pulitzer-ed three times during a tenacious career, and singled out for top honors in the foreign press as well. In 2006, PBS's critically acclaimed series, Independent Lens, documented his life. If you Netflix it, I'll warrant you'll not be disappointed.
Self-describing his work as "90% idea and 10% drawing," was a modest assessment. Indeed, he was an accomplished sculptor as well; bronze was his medium. I like bronze but I don't think I realized why until just now: it's the working man's precious metal--a substance of honesty and integrity. Gold (despite its attraction to space aliens) is soft. Silver is for show. You want to craft a no-nonsense truth that refuses to hide behind a glittery facade? Go with bronze.
Reagan Hood --- He steals from the poor.....
Thank you, Mr. Conrad, for helping to keep it Real, in often unreal circumstances.
Let's face it: most of us are horribly underread. So was this guy by all accounts--but in his case, it wasn't that he hadn't read a lot; rather not enough people have read him. My Lebanese–American brother Vance Bourjaily slipped on to the next life having made it to 87, leaving an enviable trail of literary breadcrumbs, and here I sit, a man of some letters (B through perhaps I?) and I learn of the guy posthumously. From Wikipedia.... one could weep.
Turns out, he was a bon vivant who did it all: rubbed shoulders with Mailer and moviestars; taught at the celebrated Iowa Writer's Workshop for 20 years and directed the first writing MFA program at Louisiana State; wrote features in 'Frisco and threw the best literary parties in New York. And lots of other writing and editing, including reviews, essays, short stories. And don't forget the novels, too--seven of 'em. His Big Book was his first, apparently. It's The End of My Life, published in 1947. I'm budging it to the top of my Library queue (sorry Roger Angell... I'll get to you, I swear it)
Dan Schorr makes me think of my grandpa, who passed away in 1989. He was a journalist as well, and he was born the same year as this giant of American reporting. I knew Schorr's work primarily from NPR, but the gentleman from the Bronx had long ago dug the trenches from which other reporters made their bones.(And mixed their metaphors...) For starters, he interviewed Khrushchev before my mother was even out of middle school. He also gave President Nixon enough grief to make it on the infamous List of Enemies, which he discovered when he read the list on live television. That must have been one hell of a moment. On the radio, his voice--liquid and wavy like his elderly-gent face--carried the kind of measured gravitas that said "I'm telling you the way it is because I have nothing to lose and I've seen it all." And consider this: Any newsman who also sang Gershwin with Zappa and stared down Congress, refusing to name names, is a fella I'd want on my side. And I think he was. Dan Schorr was 93, and lived a great American life.
in my poetry or in any speech i give.
that i must and can only say it to myself
as the new Black Womanhood suggests
a softer self
a more reserved speaking self. they say,
that respect is hard won by a woman
who throws a word like muthafucka around
and so they say because we love you
throw that word away, Black Woman ...
that i only call muthafuckas, muthafuckas
so no one should be insulted.
Had Ms. Rodgers lived past 69, this self-described "little black slim ink pen" would have certainly continued her dance of mighty calligraphy across the pages of American literature.