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Posted by: Doug Henwood | July 23, 2012

Alexander Cockburn

photo by Tao Ruspoli, via Counterpunch

I’m coming late to the business of remembering Alexander Cockburn, but not for lack of respect. I find the task intimidating.

I learned of Alex’s death early on Saturday morning. I was stunned. I admired him a great deal. I started reading him in the Village Voice around 1975, and he changed the way I saw the world. He is probably more than half the reason I took up the lucrative and prestigious career of radical journalism. He was a magnificent writer—but as every Adorno fan could tell you (and Alex was one of those), there’s no separating style from content. His wit and elegance came from political principle—more on that in a moment—but as his niece Laura Flanders wrote, it also came from a wonderful exuberance:

His was the voice that rang out early from the couch: “Are you ready to greet the day with unbridled optimism?” He told me earlier this year he’d never been depressed a day in his life.

The optimism is admirable enough, and something I dearly wish I had in greater quantity, but he maintained that optimism without losing his critical faculties. Almost supernatural.

The best memorial I can think of offering to Alex is this interview I did with him on August 27, 2011. We did it on Skype, with the video on, and so I saw that the bird you hear in the background was his cockatiel, Percy, who spent a good bit of the interview on Alex’s shoulder. Jeff St. Clair told me that Alex taught Percy to whistle “The Internationale.” Marvelous. Though Alex took some strange ideological detours in recent years, as he says in this interview, the erosion of Marxism has been very bad for the left and for radical journalism.

I knew Alex some, though not all that well. But he was a major presence in my mental life for the last 37 years, and I’ll miss him terribly. Here he is, with Percy singing background.

Alex Cockburn interviewed by Doug Henwood, August 27, 2012

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Responses

  1. I’m glad you wrote about him, Doug. I worked at the Village Voice just after he departed–he made an indelible imprint.

  2. […] more before bedtime: one from Doug Henwood (including a Skype interview with Cockburn), and one from James Ridgeway, who was Cockburn’s […]

  3. The interview you did with Alex C. was the most simultaneously funny and enlightening piece on your show since the interview with Ian Bone way back. Absolutely brilliant, he will be missed.

    Incidentally, I’d love to hear more interviews that talk about the actual structure and feel of being inside institutions like media, law firms, hospitals, etc. The best parts of the interview were when he got down into the nitty gritty of radical journalism (ie how people like him actually got jobs back in the day) and his analysis of journalism now (ie how to get a job today). Don’t get me wrong, I love the high-minded theoretical stuff too (your interview with Mark Dery was fantastic, I’d love to hear more from people like him too!), but I love to hear the messy human stories behind the economic statistics.

    Good job Doug. May Alex RIP.

  4. excellent interview. i had wondered why his columns were so brief recently. a great loss.

    i am in proud possession of his worst book: Idle Passion: Chess and the Dance of Death, surely written to cash in on the bobby fischer craze. it’s a muddle of freud and unsourced anecdotes, but very entertaining in it’s way. it’s not in his c.v., i don’t think.

    his brother patrick is maybe the best western reporter in the middle east – maybe he’d be a good interview who can bring some perspective to the ongoing arab spring/us imperialism debates.

  5. I learned a lot from reading Cockburn and was lucky enough to meet him and see him in person a couple of times.


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