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 ThePhoenix.com — 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 AAN.org.)
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 ThePhoenix.com. 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.