By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Clif Garboden, 1948-2011

Clif Garboden

Early yesterday afternoon I received some very sad news. Clif Garboden, former managing editor of the Boston Phoenix, had died. It was not entirely unexpected. Clif had gone through devastating treatments for cancer a half-dozen years ago, and had recently been diagnosed with a recurrence. He died of pneumonia before treatments could really get under way.

Clif was simultaneously a caustic, profane social critic and an unabashed idealist — two qualities that I think are often found together.

His 2004 outburst following the election results, “Screw You, America,” is a classic example of the former. I remembered every word of it when I re-read it this morning — it’s that good.

His essay for the Phoenix’s 40th-anniversary issue was an example of the latter. Clif genuinely, deeply believed that we in the alternative press were doing God’s work in holding powerful institutions accountable. It was a bracing idea, and something to ponder when the day-to-day frustrations of journalism were getting us down.

Clif’s contributions to the Phoenix were legion, ranging from his hilarious “Hot Dots” television listings to his leadership in the creation and growth of — a site regularly recognized for its excellence by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, an organization of which he was a past president. (Here is a tribute posted at

Indeed, he did so much that it’s sometimes forgotten he was also a first-rate photographer. Here is his Flickr photostream. When Howard Zinn died a little over a year ago, Clif let me publish a photo he had taken of Zinn during a 1967 debate over the Vietnam War. The richness of tone and lighting is striking. As Clif once explained of his student days at the BU News:

In the darkroom, we pushed standard black-and-white film to wantonly high speeds with specialty developing concoctions so we could shoot everything with available light — imparting an atmospheric, realistic look to our pictures and abandoning the flat, grain-less, over-lit direct-flash intrusiveness of standard press photography.

Tributes to Clif are pouring in on Facebook and at The lives of all of us who were fortunate to know him were enriched by the experience. He possessed a great soul, and we are all going to miss him deeply. I already do.

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  1. Wilson Tisdale

    Sad, and a great loss.

  2. News of Clif’s death is profoundly sad. There is a deep bond among Phoenix alums. Clif spanned decades of them. ….mission-driven, insightful, creative….one thinks at this time of Al Lupo and Dave O’Brian and others with whom Jim Barron and I worked and laughed.
    Thanks,Dan, for your post.

  3. Hartley Pleshaw

    Clif Garboden was one of the greats, one of the last of that wonderful generation of writers from the 1970’s-’80’s Phoenix/Real Paper era. “Hot Dots” was a must-read, especially after the Boston dailies pretty much abandoned TV criticism. I will miss him.

  4. Mike Benedict

    He was one funny mofo, that’s for sure.

  5. Rachel Alembakis

    When I interned at the Phoenix in ’98-’99, I got to write a short news story on a lecture Bill Baird (birth control/abortion rights campaigner) gave at BU. I interviewed him, and when I introduced myself as a Phx intern, he said, “Oh, yes. Clif Garboden. Now there’s a man who helped the movement.” I got a 30 second mini-lesson on how Garboden and the Phoenix helped raise awareness in Boston of the abortion rights movement. I never forgot that intersection of activism and journalism.

  6. Wilson Tisdale

    I expected to see an obituary in the Globe or the Herald by today. Guess that shows why we need an “alternative” newspaper.

  7. Fred kirsch

    Cliff was a damn good writer, funny and
    a great guy. Wish I hadn’t lost touch with him. Sad news.

  8. Michael Goldman

    I knew he wasn’t well, but I’m quite saddened by this loss…

  9. Laurence Kranich

    I remember how Clif ignored cable TV in the Hot Dots even after it became almost universal. It was an old-school reminder that we don’t really have to pay to watch. This didn’t leave him with too many good shows to talk about, but I always read it to see what he’d say.

  10. David Rosenbaum

    Hot Dots was always what I turned to first in the Phoenix, not as a guide to what was on television, but simply to enjoy Clif’s wit and style. He was an epitome of professionalism in an organization that did not always value that highly.

  11. Mike Rice

    “Screw You, America,” is indeed a classic and the mordant style in which Mr. Garboden wrote it is nothing other than cannon fire from his soul. What a read! What a rush!

    What a loss.

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