Remembering Clif Garboden

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

Garboden Pittsburgh

JAMES PARKER (The Atlantic):
My Clif was late-period Clif: Clif in one of his final phases, as it now turns out. There he sat, hunched in his special managing-editor's alcove at the back of the third floor, with torrents of copy churning beneath his ironic eye. From time to time he would bark a curse at his computer, or exhale in a shuddering, Job-like manner. There was nothing ill-natured about any of this: Clif by this point was a sort of performance artist of curmudgeonly Clif-ness, and he played to the gallery. At writer's meetings he would have us in fits, his rough voice (roughened by his first bout with cancer) pumice-ing each gripe and grumble down to a new level of deadpan.

On the flipside of this was Clif the journalist: the witty, trenchant writer, the madcap satirist, the selfless editor. His standards were old-school. Much as he may have occasionally despaired of the kids and their bozo allegiances, he preserved a great respect for the Phoenix reader, and hated to see him/her/it condescended to. Anything too glib or groovy got the thumbs-down. His thumbs-ups were proportionately more valuable: encouragement from Clif was encouragement you could take to the bank. And he was practical, too. In a frequently chaotic newsroom, it was perhaps the least of his talents that you noticed first: his gift for organization. No Mussolini, Clif made the trains run on time.

Our first meeting, at the now-defunct Boston Billiards, included a small but vivid disagreement about Christopher Hitchens (which seems appropriate). After that there was never a cross word between us. I can see him standing before me now, head bouncing with laughter, in all of his physical frailty and mental force. I'm grateful to have known him.

Clif Garboden represented the best of his native Western Pennsylvania. Arisen from a lyrically hardscrabble upbringing, Clif had the brashness of a union organizer in a world of scabs. His life was a perpetual favor to all of us -- a favor he never called in.

He held together newspapers, organizations, and people with a framework he forged from insight, humility, sparkling wit, precise articulation, doggedly loyal dutifulness to fellow workers, generosity for neighbors, unfailing reliability, and a very healthy contempt for fraudulent and hypocritical authority. He worked harder than anyone, routinely defeated three-touchdown-favorite deadlines and always took the time to show respect and appreciation for the work of others.

There will never be another Clif Garboden, which is why we all must redouble our efforts to emulate a man whose daily life was a great example for others. My most profound condolences go out to Susannah and his wonderful children and to his tens of thousands of friends.

PS- My remarks would have been shorter and better but Clif wasn't here to edit them.

It was a lousy day at the office, the Gloucester Daily Times, assigned to silly, time-wasting stories including one involving a cherished colleague, lobsterman and author who somehow got himself indicted in Maine for recycling bottles from Massachusetts that had not been part of the Maine deposit-recycling system.

As soon as I got home, Nancy told me the worst news.

In my 50 years of newspapering, Clif stands out as the Swiss Army Knife of ink-stained wretches, the creative mechanic who could do and did just about everything that a newspaper needed to make it run on time; as an afterthought, for his own entertainment and that of his colleagues, kept the mood light with pointed humor at any and every hint of pomposity and hypocrisy he came across, of which there was always more than enough to fuel a permanent one man Broadway show.

When I got to the Phoenix in 1975, as a reporter, my first assignment was to interview a family in Southie about "the Human Side of Busing." I felt pretty cool driving a '56 Chevy, but when Clif picked me up in his unmarked Checker, I knew I was in classy hands connected to a mind and soul operating on a distinguished plane of its own.

Over my 14 years at the Phoenix, Clif wore so many hats annotating his CV would require footnotes, but I don't think he ever blew or missed an assignment. The Swiss army knife had a tool for every problem.

Almost as a value added, he was an inspired columnist. His "Hot Dots" stands as the modern Boston's funniest volume of opinion; as pure style, it has a special place in the elite wing of Boston journalism's Hall of Fame alongside George Frazier's columns for the Herald and the Globe.

Clif was every bit as acerbic as Frazier, and as his Checkered and post Checkered career implies, he had more than enough style, but despite his gift for seeing through phonies and pretense he was the consummate, if cracking-wise company man. He made just enough trouble to keep things interesting.

In 1985, Clif left the Phoenix and at his going away party at the Hoodoo Bar-b-que upstairs in Kenmore Square, he began chatting with Nancy McMillan, who was then the editor of the Boston Business Journal, and in a New York minute found another work-home.

Nancy and I have been together now since 1988 and share the fondest memories, some barely discernible in the fog of memory, of myriad times when Clif made us and the publications we were running look and read a lot better than we deserved.

"Hot Dots" was good enough to have earned Clif a Pulitzer, though I'm guessing he never thought in those grandiose terms, and in the summing up, I'd have liked to see him squirm while delivering the thank you speech for the life-time achievement award he earned, a twist of the knife at a time.

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