June 7, 2013 by sw00ds
Two Village Voice obits for Ralph J. Gleason, one by Greil Marcus (“Ralph J. Gleason, 1917-1975,” June 16, 1975), the other by Nat Hentoff (“Oh Didn’t He Ramble,” June 23, 1975).
Category: Archival, Greil Marcus, Obits, Village Voice
Marcus: “… he was a patriot who took the Constitution at face value, and his proudest accomplishment was his place on the White House Enemies’ List.”
I like what Hentoff said about how RJG was never afraid to be effusive in his praise of things he liked.
Also, Gleason died barely a month after legendary radio man Tom Donahue. For someone like myself, born and raised in the SF Bay Area, it was almost too much to bear, the passing of these two men who had been part of my life seemingly forever, and marked the end of an era just as surely as punk marked the beginning of something new.
It’s interesting, the references to how Gleason was dedicated to preserving the memory of the artists of the past. Some years ago, when I was teaching at Cal, I helped Gleason’s granddaughter on her senior thesis, which was about Ralph. She chose the topic because she knew so little about him.
Great story. Did you actually read Gleason in the SF Chronicle? Was he still writing there when were reading the stuff? Or did you mostly know him through Rolling Stone?
FWIW, until a few years ago, Gleason was always just this legendary, pipe smoking figure out of Rolling Stone’s past (a picture of him was printed in RS, I think maybe in their 1977 10th anniversary issue?), but I was unfamiliar with his actual work. For some reason, I decided to pick his jazz anthology off the shelf, and it set me on a path whereby I listened to almost nothing but jazz for about eight months — not something I anticipated at all. So I can at least begin to imagine what it must have been like for someone reading him at a younger, less jaded age, and before everything was readily available to everyone 24/7 at the click of a mouse.
Yes, the Chronicle was always our big-city morning paper. I can’t say when I started reading Gleason … I mean, he was always a presence in the paper, but I probably didn’t lock into him until he started writing about the local rock bands (“the San Francisco Sound”). He also had an occasional series on the local public station, Jazz Casual … you can see some examples on YouTube. Some big names on there … Coltrane is esp. good.
His work in Rolling Stone meant a lot to me, as well, even though it was clear he was the Adult in the Room. In later years, after he died but his name remained on the masthead, I often wondered what he might have thought of what Rolling Stone became.
What you say about less-jaded … Gleason had a knack of appealing to our less-jaded side, which isn’t to say that he was all flowers and soap bubbles. He took political stances. But his love for bands like the Airplane was charming … don’t know how else to put it.
When he died, Rolling Stone had a bunch of people write their thoughts about him. I recall reading the various comments, some more wordy than others. And then I got to Miles Davis. His simply read, “Give me back my friend.” Broke me up … I’ve never forgotten it.
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