Four NYT obituaries from recent weeks, not for linguists or language-related figures and not for very famous public figures (like Margaret Thatcher), but for people whose work has brought me enlightenment or pleasure: Anthony Lewis, Paul Williams, Hugh McCracken, and Carmine Infantino.
From “Anthony Lewis, Supreme Court Reporter Who Brought Law to Life, Dies at 85″ by Adam Liftak on 3/26/13:
Anthony Lewis, a former New York Times reporter and columnist whose work won two Pulitzer Prizes and transformed American legal journalism, died on Monday at his home in Cambridge, Mass.
… Mr. Lewis brought passionate engagement to his two great themes: justice and the role of the press in a democracy. His column, called “At Home Abroad” or “Abroad at Home” depending on where he was writing from, appeared on the Op-Ed page of The Times for more than 30 years, until 2001. His voice was liberal, learned, conversational and direct.
Lewis became the great reporter of the U.S. Supreme Court, which eventually resulted in his impressive book Gideon’s Trumpet (1964), about the case Gideon v. Wainwright.
From “Paul Williams, Father of Rock Criticism, Is Dead at 64″ by Paul Vitello on 4/1/13:
Paul Williams, a writer and critic who founded the alternative pop music magazine Crawdaddy, one of the first outlets for serious writing about rock music, and whose critical support helped rescue the science fiction author Philip K. Dick from obscurity, died on Wednesday in a nursing residence near his home in Encinitas, Calif.
The cause was complications of early onset dementia, which had been triggered by a traumatic brain injury suffered in a bicycle accident in 1995, his wife, the singer Cindy Lee Berryhill, said.
Mr. Williams was a 17-year-old freshman at Swarthmore College when he started his magazine, in 1966.
This is the saddest of the four; all the others died in the fullness of time, but Williams was taken down young by dementia.
From “Hugh McCracken, a Studio Musician in High Demand, Dies at 70″by Douglas Martin on 4/4/13:
Hugh McCracken, a virtuoso guitarist who was in such demand as a studio musician that he could afford to turn down Paul McCartney’s invitation to join the band Wings in 1971, died on Friday in Manhattan.
… Studio musicians toil in near anonymity as they support the artists whose names everyone knows. Their job is not to draw notice but to subtly enhance the stars’ work. But the elite of the music business know the best ones, and Mr. McCracken was always getting calls.
Just a partial list of the hundreds of musicians he accompanied includes Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Steely Dan, B. B. King, Jefferson Airplane, Billy Joel, Laura Nyro, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Carl Perkins, the Monkees, Carly Simon and James Taylor. He recorded with all four Beatles after their breakup. He recorded with Aretha Franklin and Mr. McCartney in different studios on the same day.
Wow. He did great stuff.
And from “Carmine Infantino, Reviver of Batman and Flash, Dies at 87″ by Margalit Fox on 4/6/13:
Carmine Infantino — the man who SAVED BATMAN! — died on Thursday at his home in Manhattan. Mr. Infantino, a celebrated comic-book artist who also drew the Flash, was 87.
… Mr. Infantino’s dynamic, avant-garde aesthetic helped usher in the “silver age” of comic books, which held sway from the mid-1950s to about 1970. He was known in particular for his long association with DC Comics, where he began as an artist, became an editor and was later the publisher.
Sleek and streamlined, Mr. Infantino’s work married comic-book art — formerly busier and baggier — to midcentury modernism. He was considered one of the industry’s finest pencilers, as the artist who first gives a story visual form is known. (An inker follows behind, filling in the penciler’s lines.).
… He was also famed for his death-defying resuscitation of two DC heroes: the Flash, whom he reinvented in the 1950s, and Batman, who was selling poorly in the 2960s and threatened with cancellation.
Yes, I know, four men and no women. But then Maureen Dowd countered today on an op-ed page, with “A Tale of Three Women”, beginning:
One got famous wearing mouse ears. One got famous wearing brightly colored shifts. And one got famous wearing down the opposition while carrying a handbag.
The trio of famous deaths this week seems incongruous. Yet these spirited women — two quintessential Americans known by their first names and one quintessential Brit known by her nickname — were all vivid emblems of their time.
Three very different worlds are conjured up when you think about Annette Funicello, Lilly Pulitzer and Margaret Thatcher.
Three very different worlds indeed. As it happens, I never took to the Mouseketeers (even the twink boys) — they were so relentlessly perky — or to Pulizer’s shifts for society women (though they were charmingly unpretentious), and I detested Thatcher, so these three didn’t make me list above. I’m a hard man, but fair, as Monty Python would say.