F.O.M., R.I.P.

Nobody edits Mitch Albom. That’s the only explanation I can think of. He just opens his laptop, types any old crap, and they put it in the paper:

I was sitting at the Pistons game, fans screaming, giant men racing up the court, when Matt Dobek, the Pistons’ PR vice president, pointed at a TV and said, “My god, did you see this?”

There in the corner of the screen, was a “breaking news” alert: David Halberstam killed in a car crash.

Yes, I think we’ll all remember where we were when we heard the news of David Halberstam’s death. Mitch was schmoozing with NBA executives. I was sitting on my Ikea chaise lounge, trying to write some fiction for my workshop tonight. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn I was procrastinating by reading the wires.

Halberstam, who was 73, would have understood the “breaking news” part.

That’s good to know.

A Pulitzer Prize winner from his Vietnam days, he was as good a journalist as we’ve produced in this country. And since he wrote famous books about the news business, the sports business and even basketball, I guess the setting was not altogether inappropriate.

Mitch, one writer to another: Beware the obvious adjective, i.e. “famous” books. If the books were obscure, no one would give a fig.

But the news itself? Halberstam? Dead? This made no sense. Not a car crash. Not on a Monday. Not being driven by a graduate student in northern California. You couldn’t imagine Halberstam going out that way. Maybe covering some war in some hot zone. Maybe dying at his desk in New York, copious notes piled in giant stacks around him. But not like this.

For a man who made his bones writing about it, Mitch is surprisingly flummoxed by death. Mitch can never believe how people can just…die. And in such unexpected ways! Even on Mondays! As I recall, he was similarly amazed to hear of Bo Schembechler’s passing. The old coach was 77 years old and had had two — two — heart bypasses. And…yet…he just…died? Halberstam was 73, still in good health, but hey, everyone who rides in a car can die in a car crash. Hell, he could have choked on a piece of popcorn; hasn’t Mitch ever watched “Six Feet Under”? Mitch would be more comfortable with death in a war, a “hot zone,” never mind that Halberstam hadn’t covered a war since Vietnam. Or maybe dying at his desk, surrounded by “copious” notes. (Oops, the obvious adjective again. A lawn appears in a subsequent passage. In what condition? Why, “manicured,” of course.)

I tried to turn back to the game. I failed. In his later years, David had become a friend of mine.

Ah, so now we get to it. This is one of those Mitch’s-friend obits. The first one of these I read was Mitch’s tribute to Warren Zevon. Now there was a death with some irony attached. A decades-long smoker dead at 56 from mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer not related to smoking. A writer could do something with that. But, and color me astonished, Mitch’s tribute to Warren quoted the dead man praising Mitch. Mitch is never uncomfortable quoting someone with the opinion that Mitch is a wonderful writer. Bo Schembechler was another F.O.M.: When we finished our book together, the publisher asked if there were any dedications or thank-yous we wanted to insert. I listed dozens of Bo’s relatives, friends and former players. Bo only wanted to put in one sentence. He wrote “I want to personally thank Mitch Albom. The poor son of a bitch had no idea what he was getting into.”

Ha ha! As I was saying to my close friend Tony Bennett the other day…

Oh, why go on? What is the point of this? I still have fiction to write, and picking on Mitch is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. You can’t stop him; he’ll be writing his treacly novels and Broadway play tie-ins and Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies until that day when we all look up at a nearby TV screen and gasp as one to read: Best-selling author Mitch Albom dies of exploded head; “stress of ego too great,” docs say

I just hope he goes before Tony Bennett.

One last note: One of Halberstam’s most “famous” books was “The Reckoning.” It was about the decline of the American auto industry, based guess-where. It’s not mentioned in Albom’s column.


If anyone cares, yes, I think Sheryl Crow is kidding.

Brooke Shields demonstrates what makes a first-birthday party tolerable for the adult guests: beer. (Actually, the more I see of Brooke, the more I like her. Talk about a girl who could have turned out differently. And a beer-drinker to boot.)

If I still lived in Indiana, the bureau of motor vehicles would have made me a believer by now, or at least encouraged it through license fees. Doghouse Riley explains.

The genius of Oliver Stone, screenwriter, via YouTube. Absolutely NSFW, unless you have headphones.

Back to the fiction. Someone, help me feel poetic ‘n’ stuff.

Posted at 10:57 am in Current events, Media |

38 responses to “F.O.M., R.I.P.”

  1. ashley said on April 24, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    I think Andre made the right move with Steffi over Brooke, no doubt. You know the Teutonic bride pounds down the pivo as well.

    I do not think Sheryl Crow is kidding. I also think that she’s evil at the core. So does Cintra Wilson.

    And you’re right…Mitch has become like the “grizzled veteran” who is given a features colum just to shut them up. A Monday? Sacre bleu.

    Ah…Pacino’s range is immeasurable.

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  2. LA mary said on April 24, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Sheryl Crow isn’t kidding. She’s a self righteous and marginally talented. I will not buy a Subaru until they stop using her music in their commercials.

    Love the license plates. They’ve got some swell politicians in Indiana. Not that California’s are all that great, but Indiana’s have their own special sort of craziness. I noticed Doghouse Riley mentioned Seventh Heaven. Have you ever seen that show? My older son developed a thing for it while on break from school, watching re-runs. It’s sort of amazing. The wife is seriously disturbed, and all the young males have strange hairstyles. There is an episode where Haley Duff has a baby, and it’s so out there, so badly acted and written it’s remarkable.

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  3. Cathy Dee said on April 24, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    And considering Mitch has made a bazillion samoleans on books mostly ABOUT death, his surprise at it is even more puzzling! When I meet Mitch in heaven, maybe I’ll ask him about it.

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  4. Adrianne said on April 24, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Nance, keep the snarkfests on Mitch Albom coming! My good friend died? On a Monday? In California? In a car accident? Un-beleevable!

    My brush with David Halberstam – he spoke to one of my journalism classes at Boston University, and was just great – engaging, down to earth, inspirational. Then I saw him last year at a National Writers Workshop in Hartford, Conn., where he was a fill-in keynote speaker at the last minute, and he was as terrific as ever. I’ll miss him.

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  5. nancy said on April 24, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    OK, so now that we’ve got the discussion going, let’s skip to the last graf:

    Things change. I guess David would remind me of that. He would say that news can come anywhere, at anytime, in the middle of anything. But I didn’t expect a car crash, a TV scroll or this empty feeling at a basketball game. He once wrote a famous book and called it “The Best and the Brightest.” He didn’t know he was penning his epithet.

    Another gem of Mitchosity. The banal (“things change”) offered as the wisdom of the ages; the repetition of the opening passage; another “famous” book. (And dig that sentence construction: He wrote a famous book and called it… At least he didn’t stick a feather in his cap and call it macaroni.)

    But what of that last line? Technically, technically, “epithet” is correct. Oxford’s American gives its definition as “descriptive phrase expressing a quality characteristic of the person or thing mentioned,” even though it’s most often used today as a pejorative. But the sentence makes more sense if you substitute the word “epitaph,” which makes me wonder if that’s what he intended. It wouldn’t be the first time either word has tripped up a journalist.

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  6. jcburns said on April 24, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Whose blog this is I think I know,
    her house is in the Pointes, oh-ho.
    She would not think it queer
    to have commenters stopping here
    to leave words like melting footprints in the snow.

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  7. LA mary said on April 24, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    I saw him speak when I was in college as well, and he was all that Adrianne said.
    Do colleges still get good speakers for relatively small venues? I remember my school having Hunter Thompson, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and David Halberstam as speakers when I was there.

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  8. nancy said on April 24, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    IPFW — that would be the ivy-covered walls of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne — had an excellent speakers’ program. I think it’s all in your endowment and commitment to being exceptional. Seymour Hersh, Daniel Boorstin, Molly Ivins, P.J. O’Rourke, etc. Oh, and look: Mitch Albom!

    Never mind.

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  9. Danny said on April 24, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Nancy, may I suggest a poem with the word “Nantuckett.” The rhyming possibilities are good and should get your inner muse primed.

    Ashley, did Cintra write about Crowe recently? Do you have a link?

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  10. nancy said on April 24, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    There was a young lady named Gloria
    Who was had by Sir Gerald Du Maurier,
    And then by six men,
    Sir Gerald again,
    And the band at the Waldorf-Astoria.

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  11. John Brown said on April 24, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    I got as far as “his hair was silver but his words were golden”. Please make him stop. On second thought, since most papers are starting to charge for any obit with more than the pertinent information in it, maybe the Freep could offer Albom’s services . For a nominal fee, your loved one could be Albomized.

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  12. LA mary said on April 24, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    My work computer is not letting me go to the column. He didn’t really say epithet instead of epitaph did he? And that line about the silver hair? He gets paid to write?
    I don’t believe David Halberstam was his friend. I think he’s lying.

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  13. Danny said on April 24, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    There once was a lady named Crowe
    Who would not waste a tissue to blow
    But one single sheet on her ass
    Was enough to clean up this lass
    And Al Gore applauded her show

    I just made this up. It probably shows.

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  14. Dorothy said on April 24, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Mary I’d venture to say colleges still get good speakers, because my daughter e-mailed me this morning expressing dismay about David Halberstam, too. She’s just 24, but did hear him speak at Penn State before she graduated (which was 2005). I don’t know if this person qualifies as a good speaker, but Laura really enjoyed her too: Mary Badham. She played Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.

    Speaking of colleges and journalism, here’s a link:


    When Laura was at Penn State this guy followed the students who worked at The Daily Collegian, and this documentary is supposed to be on PBS later this fall. I didn’t want to forget to mention this to all of you. I’m very anxious to see it!

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  15. Danny said on April 24, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    Ah, the last line might have been better if I had written…

    and, now, the world will have snow.

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  16. Scout said on April 24, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    re: Sheryl — Yes… it was definitely a joke. She says so on her blog.

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  17. ashley said on April 24, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Danny: not recently, except for a bit on her blog, http://cintrawilson.com

    Here’s some stuff written about Cintra “barking at” Crow at Kevin Gilbert’s funeral.

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  18. LA mary said on April 24, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Here’s something poetic:

    “Had we but world enough, and time,
    This coyness, lady, were no crime …
    But at my back I always hear
    Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
    And yonder all before us lie
    Deserts of vast eternity.”

    It’s old but good.

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  19. colleen said on April 24, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Gawd. I love the Albom bashing. He’s just so…so…full of himself. My husband watches The Sports Reporters on ESPN (which I call “The Men Yelling at Each Other Show”), and I find Mitch far more annoying than the rest.

    Epithet and epitaph? I dunno…to me, a writer and/or copy editor not catching that is like a person who makes a living with words not knowing the difference between “imply” and “infer”.

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  20. brian stouder said on April 24, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    It’s old but good.

    I’m a sucker for prose poetry – which is what Lincoln achieved on many occasions; including this line from a written message to congress, early in his administration

    “The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation”

    or this, from a “public letter” to James Conkling, intended to be read at a rally in the late summer of 1863 (emphasis added – to my favorite part)

    “Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time. It will then have been proved that, among free men, there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and that they who take such appeal are sure to lose their case, and pay the cost. And then, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonnet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they strove to hinder it.”

    Lincoln loved commas, and he always wrote (and revised and revised) so as to literally sound better.

    He had the music

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  21. CintraWilson said on April 24, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    You know, the funniest thing about Sheryl and that Global Warming documentary lady rolling up on Karl Rove like that was the fact that 1. Karl SO didn’t care, and 2. Both women are so haplessly narcissistic, they both look wildly impatient for the other to shut up.
    Whenever the director starts talking, Sheryl starts glowering with this “But I’M the star” look, she starts chewing her lip and can barely contain her need to interrupt. Then, once given the microphone, she yodels green sound bites like she’s running for governor. Methinks the Crow is considering politics. Or trying to steal Tipper’s man.

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  22. nancy said on April 24, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Thanks for stopping by Cintra — I’ve been a fan for many years now. And thanks, Ashley, for connecting all those dots; I remember reading that piece by C.W. when it first appeared, although I didn’t make the connection. I recall it primarily because Cintra and Kevin may be the only other couple I’ve heard of who like that Coltrane/Hartman album as much as we do.

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  23. Danny said on April 24, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Thanks from me too Cintra. I’ve been a fan of yours since I happened across your 2002 Oscar review.

    I just finished reading the “In Memoriam” link that Ashley posted. Made me want to go home and hug my wife, hold her tight.

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  24. Kim said on April 24, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    I saw Halberstam, too, and I’ll just bet he’s the sort of guy who would be nice to anyone. (excuse the present tense construction, but you know.) Even Mitch, who’s so Mitch that he’d construe it as BFF, to use the in-the-know vernacular.

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  25. Danny said on April 24, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    And sorry to say that I’d not heard of Kevin until today. I must pick up a copy of “Shaming of the True.” Sounds like an amazing album (and kinda timely since Quadrophenia is currently in my playlist and Lamb was recently too).

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  26. vince said on April 24, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    In Detroit typed an old hack named Mitch
    Who wrote little but treacle-filled kitsch
    When reading, keep a bag
    Handy in case you might gag
    Cuz inducing nausea served his personal niche

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  27. CintraWilson said on April 24, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Check out Kevin’s “Suit Fugue” — there’s a downloadable MP3 of it somewhere on his website, I believe (www.kevingilbert.com)….it’s a real fab display of a truly freakish amount of human talent all packed into one human being….
    Nice blog you got here, people…..Best O’!

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  28. ashley said on April 24, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Hoo hah…celebrities abound at Nance’s lair! Kevin’s site has been redesigned, and I can’t find diddley. I did like seeing him in LA at tiny little gigs; it made me feel like here in New Orleans, where I see the best musicians in the world in a club that seats 80.

    Anyway, here’s an MP3 of “Suit Fugue”.

    And if you’re thinking of getting into the music business as a musician, and Steve Albini can’t sway you, then maybe “The Shaming of the True” will.

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  29. LA mary said on April 24, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    Don’t know if you know of Rob Walker, who writes for the NYT magazine, but get him started on Sheryl Crow and he can get pretty nasty. He’s got a book called “Letters from New Orleans.” Pre Katrina. Anyway, he and I were dumping on her once, and I mentioned her appearance in a concert video with Eric Clapton, whom she was hanging out with at the time. She’s doing backup on the song, “Little Wing,” and we determined her facial expression as that of “received hipness.” It was a combination of reverence and botox.

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  30. Ricardo said on April 24, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    I remember an old gag like the kind you now FAX or e-mail to friends about using one sheet of tp. As a memo from your employer posted in the stalls. Ended with: 4. Use small piece of paper you tore from the middle of the sheet to clean fingernail.

    I like Sheryl Crow because she came up through the ranks, playing in bar bands and backing up Bob Dylan and M. Jackson on tours, rather than being manufactured by some music exec. Had her front teeth knocked out by beer mugs when she waitressed. Ow.

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  31. brian stouder said on April 25, 2007 at 8:47 am

    Here was the line in the Albom elegy that left me cold (so to speak)

    in time I discovered I was smarter when I spoke to David, whether about Michael Jordan, quarterbacks or the Olympics.

    Presumeably Albom’s stock-in-trade writing style is a conversational ‘across the backyard fence’ intimacy with his readers; still, that remark seemed all too self-absorbed.

    Anyway, regarding epithet/epitaph – I confess that I blew right past that until Madam Telling Tales pointed it out. In reading the comments after the article, Albom’s defenders seem to have the high ground – since “The Best and the Brightest” was more of a standard epithet (directed at the braintrust within the Kennedy admin) in his book title, even as it might genuinely have applied to him.

    Gotta grudgingly score a wordsmith point for your local Ray Barone/idiot savant sports writer, I think

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  32. brian stouder said on April 25, 2007 at 8:49 am

    darn!! forgot to close the italics.

    I guess my posting license is again suspended

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  33. nancy said on April 25, 2007 at 8:55 am

    I’m not letting him off the hook on epithet. Mitch isn’t one for using language that way. He’s a man of the people, see, and prefers to lean on more obvious devices.

    The one-sentence paragraph, for instance.

    Or the repeated incantation of a single phrase, perhaps in italics: Please, God, give me one more day with mom.

    Using “epithet” in that sentence is something George Will or William F. Buckley might try, but not Mitch. I’m thinking he lucked into this one. A friend of mine was taking pictures of a softball game once, using a big ol’ SLR, watching the game through the telephoto lens, when the batter took a swing and, a second later, all faces turned to my friend, the photog. He glanced up, stuck out his hand, and the ball fell into it as though dropped by God. That kind of luck.

    Excuse me:

    That kind of luck.

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  34. Kirk said on April 25, 2007 at 10:38 am


    If his crap goes through the copy editors, they might let his blunders sail through because he’s pulled the prima donna act on them more than once.

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  35. LA mary said on April 25, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    Has any of this made you feel more poetic?

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  36. Danny said on April 25, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    Ashley, that Steve Albini link is great. I loved the last line. And Suit Fugue, brilliant, but I prefer “Have a Cigar” by Floyd.

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  37. Danny said on April 25, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    OK, Ash. I went to his site and listened to about half a dozen tracks from Shaming of the True. It reminds me very, very much of Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Do you agree?

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  38. ashley said on April 26, 2007 at 12:42 am

    Yepper. But to me, the whole album, from beginning to end, including the tragically omitted “Miss Broadway”, make for an even broader, more tragic epithet. Er….epitaph.

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