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.