Remembering Clif Garboden

The life and times of an alternative-media true believer
By PHOENIX STAFF  |  March 4, 2011

Santa, Captain PJ, and Clif 

BRIAN GOSLOW (Worcester Phoenix, 1995-2001):
Clif Garboden first became a major part of my life through his weekly "Hot Dots" TV column. You could be in the deepest funk in the world and feel confident that once a week Clif would lift you out of your funk with his humorous takes on that week's viewing options.

I first met him in May, 1995 at a marathon all-day and all-night party for the first Worcester Phoenix Best Music Poll Award winners at the Lucky Dog Music Hall. When you're locked in a building with someone for 12 hours you tend to get to know them and luckily for me we hit it off, because just over a month later, I was working for him as the Worcester Phoenix's events editor.

One thing you picked up on quick was once you were onboard, you were expected to jump into the fire face first. After he showed me the database he had created for the listings section, he asked if I had any questions, and I responded by asking him to never show me how to delete the whole thing. Of course, he did and I did and that trial by fire served me well for the next six years till our office was closed in May 2001.

For some reason, Clif really took to Worcester. (Maybe it was because we had the honor of being the birthplace of the much beloved and much missed Mr. Butch,"The Mayor of Kenmore Square.") At the aforementioned party, Clif enthusiastically presented an award to a band called Huck, whose lineup featured Scott Ricciuti. Scott had previously fronted another band called Childhood, who had stunned the Boston music scene by winning the Rock 'n' Roll Rumble in 1987. Now, in the spur of this moment, possibly remembering a not so kind review from a Phoenix writer in those Childhood days, Ricciuti snapped the award over his knee.

Unlike most in that position, Clif didn't hold it against Ricciuti or his band. "He actually offered me a lot of music advice whenever I'd see him," Ricciuti said. "He was so learned in the music business and willing to share that knowledge." And the award? Shortly after I started at the Worcester Phoenix, it returned to the office glued back together -- reportedly by the Sir Morgan's Cove soundman -- as a peace offering.

If you know anything about the Worcester music scene, you probably know its unofficial mascot, William "Captain PJ" LeBlanc, who's been known to show up at garage rock shows throughout the region with a doctor's bag filled with puppets that never fail to steal attention from whatever band is on stage. A devoted Phoenix reader, PJ was excited to meet Clif -- who somehow made sense of this psychedelic-era madman who tended to ramble into seemingly un-understandable rants that would almost always end with his trademark, "Yee yee!"

I watched in amused horror and pleasure at a subsequent Music Poll Awards event where PJ and Clif held a discussion on the psychological coaching battles between the Celtics' Red Auerbach and his rivals throughout the National Basketball Association as if they were trying to reach some previously unknown truth about the universe. "It was a conspiracy!" PJ would screech, Clif just nodding his head in agreement (or bemusement), a huge smile on his face.

After the Worcester office closed, I spent a year at the Boston office where one day I was stunned to see Clif printing and cutting out a series of Captain PJ masks which I've since learned were prized gifts passed around the office.

I don't know why Clif loved us so much, but he did. When the Worcester Phoenix closed the week before the 2001 Best Music Awards Party was scheduled to be held, he made sure we went ahead with plans to honor and celebrate the local music scene and asked me to make sure all of our writers, past and present, were on hand. For the next four years, he continued to assist us with the Wormtown Music Awards, an offshoot of the Phoenix Best Music Poll, first through my website, then through Worcester Magazine. It took hours of extra work, but all Clif asked in return was that we made sure we let him know when and where the party was -- and made sure Captain PJ would be on hand.

Just about the time Clif prepared to say his goodbyes at the Boston Phoenix office in 2009, he asked me to write a small piece for the "This Just In" section on the 30th anniversary of Ralph's, Worcester diner-cum-nightclub. Accepting the assignment, and wishing him all the best in whatever adventure life had for him next, Clif responded, "Thanks for the props, Brian. We'll always have Worcester -- where I suspect the Recession has hardly changed a thing."

Eight years after professionally being separated from the city, Clif still felt a moral obligation to be at the show, and when he couldn't, he sent a heartfelt apology. "Guys -- sorry I didn't make it out to Ralph's last night. Hope you all had a good time. Various family disruptions conspired to keep me away, but I was there in spirit. (I was the spirit slouched in the corner under the neon sign.) Will stay in touch, though."

And he did.

Almost immediately after leaving the Phoenix, Clif joined Facebook, bringing a large part of his journalistic family together under one roof where we had the pleasure to be able to continue to enjoy his positively sarcastic wit and pictures of his travels through Roadside America and London. Amongst his final conversations with us, he took great pleasure in owning a copy of the Singing Nuns' Dominique album and debating what band Norman Greenbaum was in prior to releasing "Spirit in the Sky."

One of those participating in that final go-round was former Worcester Phoenix music columnist John O'Neill, who now lives in Austin. Having shook up his Valentine's Day with news of Clif's passing, I was surprised, a short time later, to pick up the phone and hear his voice, telling me of the strange occurrence that had just taken place. Listening to Pandora, he teared up thinking of Clif as John Waite's "Missing You" played on his radio. Then, suddenly, it just stopped mid-song, replaced by the always-unmistakable opening guitar chords of "Spirit in the Sky."

Trust me -- Clif's never leaving our lives.

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