January 8, 2017

"On Yom Kippur in 1937, the Day of Atonement and fasting, the 12-year-old Nat sat on his porch on a street leading to a synagogue and slowly ate a salami sandwich."

"It made him sick, and the action outraged his father. He had not done it to scandalize passing Jews who glared at him, he said in a memoir, 'Boston Boy' (1986). 'I wanted to know how it felt to be an outcast,' he wrote. 'Except for my father’s reaction and for getting sick, it turned out to be quite enjoyable.'"

From the NYT obituary for Nat Hentoff. The "author, journalist, jazz critic and civil libertarian who called himself a troublemaker" was 91.
While his sympathies were usually libertarian, he often infuriated leftist friends with his opposition to abortion, his attacks on political correctness and his criticisms of gay groups, feminists, blacks and others he accused of trying to censor opponents. He relished the role of provocateur, indirectly defending racial slurs, apartheid and pornography.

He had a firebrand’s face: wreathed in a gray beard and a shock of unruly hair, with dark, uncompromising eyes. Once a student asked what made him tick. “Rage,” he replied. But he said it softly, and friends recalled that his invective, in print or in person, usually came wrapped in gentle good humor and respectful tones....

In “Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other” (1992), he attacked not only school boards that banned books but also feminists who tried to silence abortion foes or close pornographic bookstores; gay rights groups that boycotted Florida orange juice because its spokeswoman, Anita Bryant, crusaded against gay people; and New York officials who tried to bar South Africa’s rugby team because it represented the land of apartheid.
ADDED: Here's Nat Hentoff writing about Bob Dylan in 1964 in The New Yorker. Read the whole thing. Here's the first paragraph. They don't let you publish big bulky paragraphs like this anymore:

The word “folk” in the term “folk music” used to connote a rural homogeneous community that carried on a tradition of anonymously created music. No one person composed a piece; it evolved through generations of communal care. In recent years, however, folk music has increasingly become the quite personal—and copyrighted—product of specific creators. More and more of them, in fact, are neither rural nor representative of centuries-old family and regional traditions. They are often city-bred converts to the folk style; and, after an apprenticeship during which they try to imitate rural models from the older approach to folk music, they write and perform their own songs out of their own concerns and preoccupations. The restless young, who have been the primary support of the rise of this kind of folk music over the past five years, regard two performers as their preĆ«minent spokesmen. One is the twenty-three-year-old Joan Baez. She does not write her own material and she includes a considerable proportion of traditional, communally created songs in her programs. But Miss Baez does speak out explicitly against racial prejudice and militarism, and she does sing some of the best of the new topical songs. Moreover, her pure, penetrating voice and her open, honest manner symbolize for her admirers a cool island of integrity in a society that the folk-song writer Malvina Reynolds has characterized in one of her songs as consisting of “little boxes.” (“And the boys go into business / And marry and raise a family / In boxes made of ticky tacky / And they all look the same.”) The second—and more influential—demiurge of the folk-music microcosm is Bob Dylan, who is also twenty-three. Dylan’s impact has been the greater because he is a writer of songs as well as a performer. Such compositions of his as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Masters of War,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” and “Only a Pawn in Their Game” have become part of the repertoire of many other performers, including Miss Baez, who has explained, “Bobby is expressing what I—and many other young people—feel, what we want to say. Most of the ‘protest’ songs about the bomb and race prejudice and conformity are stupid. They have no beauty. But Bobby’s songs are powerful as poetry and powerful as music. And, oh, my God, how that boy can sing!” Another reason for Dylan’s impact is the singular force of his personality. Wiry, tense, and boyish, Dylan looks and acts like a fusion of Huck Finn and a young Woody Guthrie. Both onstage and off, he appears to be just barely able to contain his prodigious energy. Pete Seeger, who, at forty-five, is one of the elders of American folk music, recently observed, “Dylan may well become the country’s most creative troubadour—if he doesn’t explode.”

45 comments:

Oso Negro said...

A liberal from the days when they supported freedom of speech and thought.

Brent Ayotte said...

THE greatest jazz critic ever.

Mark said...

Thank you. I see the both of you as birds of a feather, Professor. He followed his principles wherever they led (hence his position on life/abortion). In terms of what you've revealed on this blog, you appear to do the same. I hope I do, also.

rhhardin said...

A traditional salami sandwich.

rhhardin said...

Imus used to call jewish employees of his radio station on jewish holidays they were taking off and not allowed to use the phone to ask why they were answering the phone.

rhhardin said...

Uncompromising eyes means pre-prepared obit.

tim maguire said...

This saddens me more than almost any other celebrity death. Henthoff was just about the only liberal I am aware of who was liberal in the true sense of the word, just about the only person on the left who actually thought about principles before taking positions. He recognized that Iraq was a liberal war and wasn't afraid to say it, he recognized that pro-life is a liberal position and wasn't afraid to say it.

Sad that they can only explain this by conflating libertarianism and liberalism.

Bill Peschel said...

Back in '78, I republished (e.g., stole) in the student newspaper I edited a Village Voice article by Hentoff that attacked Teddy Kennedy for some bill he proposed that would limit free speech. I realized then he followed in the tradition of Mencken to write what he thought and let the chips fall where they may.

sunsong said...

RIP Nat

FullMoon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Earnest Prole said...

In “Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other” (1992), he attacked not only school boards that banned books but also feminists who tried to silence abortion foes or close pornographic bookstores; gay rights groups that boycotted Florida orange juice because its spokeswoman, Anita Bryant, crusaded against gay people; and New York officials who tried to bar South Africa’s rugby team because it represented the land of apartheid.

William said...

Does he count as a celebrity? I was hoping that Manson would be the first celebrity death of the new year........I used to read him in the Village Voice. He was worth reading, but I don't think he ever confronted an issue that inspired ambiguity. He had strong opinions on just about everything. ......In one of his columns he talked about how when he went out at night to walk the dog, he carried a flashlight so he could continue reading.. I think in those days you didn't have to clean up after your dog, so it was easier.

tcrosse said...

Long may he wave....
This article brought up Malvina Reynolds' Little Boxes, which has to be the most smug (smuggest ?) song ever written.

Bill said...

This little man was a giant. RIP.

Sebastian said...

It will be interesting to see if he gets any actual posthumous lip service love from the left.

robother said...

When I moved to NYC in the early 70s, and began reading the Village Voice, Hentoff was the one guy who stood out. He challenged assumptions, especially of the Left, in a way that angered but made you think. He was a natural enemy of smug, whatever its politics. And his jazz reviews.... No better musical criticism.

FullMoon said...

Dylan explains Nobel Prize:

“I just can’t make it with any organization. I fell into a trap once—last December—when I agreed to accept the Tom Paine Award from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. At the Americana Hotel! In the Grand Ballroom! As soon as I got there, I felt up tight. First of all, the people with me couldn’t get in. They looked even funkier than I did, I guess. They weren’t dressed right, or something. Inside the ballroom, I really got up tight. I began to drink. I looked down from the platform and saw a bunch of people who had nothing to do with my kind of politics. I looked down and I got scared. They were supposed to be on my side, but I didn’t feel any connection with them. Here were these people who’d been all involved with the left in the thirties, and now they were supporting civil-rights drives. That’s groovy, but they also had minks and jewels, and it was like they were giving the money out of guilt. I got up to leave, and they followed me and caught me. They told me I had to accept the award. When I got up to make my speech, I couldn’t say anything by that time but what was passing through my mind. They’d been talking about Kennedy being killed, and Bill Moore and Medgar Evers and the Buddhist monks in Vietnam being killed. I had to say something about Lee Oswald. I told them I’d read a lot of his feelings in the papers, and I knew he was up tight. Said I’d been up tight, too, so I’d got a lot of his feelings. I saw a lot of myself in Oswald, I said, and I saw in him a lot of the times we’re all living in. And, you know, they started booing. They looked at me like I was an animal. They actually thought I was saying it was a good thing Kennedy had been killed. That’s how far out they are. I was talking about Oswald. And then I started talking about friends of mine in Harlem—some of them junkies, all of them poor. And I said they need freedom as much as anybody else, and what’s anybody doing for them? The chairman was kicking my leg under the table, and I told him, ‘Get out of here.’ Now, what I was supposed to be was a nice cat. I was supposed to say, ‘I appreciate your award and I’m a great singer and I’m a great believer in liberals, and you buy my records and I’ll support your cause.’ But I didn’t, and so I wasn’t accepted that night. That’s the cause of a lot of those chains I was talking about—people wanting to be accepted, people not wanting to be alone. But, after all, what is it to be alone? I’ve been alone sometimes in front of three thousand people. I was alone that night.”

Lem said...

I really enjoyed watching/listening whenever he was on anything.

An American Hitchens, before there was a Hitchens. The

CWJ said...

Notice the framing in Althouse's excerpt. Outcast, provocateur, firebrand. And that he found the first enjoyable and relished the second. The message I get is don't worry about reflecting whether his points are valid because he's just a cranky contrarian. It's all for effect. We New Yorkers can accept him because he's just Nat being Nat. Kind of like Biden being Biden.

Whether true or not, I found the thought depressing.

Gojuplye said...

He died listening to Billie Holiday. That is forgiveness for a great many things.

Jupiter said...

"the restless young ..."

CarolMR said...

RIP, Mr. Hentoff. I am truly saddened. I used to read his columns in The Village Voice for years. My prayers to his family and friends.

buwaya said...

Re "little boxes" - Malvina Reynolds, Pete Seeger, etc.

We have lived in one of the "little boxes" these decades, and my wife was born and raised in one, and all of everyone we know in SF or environs were residents of the same "boxes", the unmentioned, uncelebrated bourgeois majority in this place, very different from the apartment dwelling human peacocks from which SF gets its reputation. We note a curious opinion on that song among the residents. It was seen as tenderly nostalgic. My wife's cousin was looking out into Daly City out of my wifes parent's kitchen window one day, at the "little boxes", green and pink and blue and yellow, and she started singing it, in her Joan Baez voice, but not fake-sweet, but real-sweet, for a very different reason.

The old-timers certainly got the smug and all, but they saw something else too, the families formed, the children raised, and well-provided for, all in a humble little "box" - these things are @1000-1200 sq ft of living space on a 25x100 lot usually. Cozy, or cramped by current US standards. These weren't "executives", they were every Joe, like Joe my father-in-law, a machinist, or the 90-year old neighbor retired from Macys, the plumber, the nurse at Laguna Honda, the teacher at Mission High.

Reynolds and Seeger didnt get that "and they all have pretty children" who go to university and succeed, and etc. is a GOOD thing. In most cases thats just what did happen. A sweet message from sour people.

Anyway, fond memories of lives well lived. There is good luck in the "little boxes", if you know what you are looking for.

n.n said...

Opposition to Pro-Choice/abortion or denial of life unworthy of life is a noteworthy cause. Liberals have not only normalized a trans-human fantasy, but have set human rights and science back several hundred years. Combined with the reconstitution of institutional racism, sexism, etc. under [class] diversity, they have placed humanity on a progressive slope.

South Africa was not integrated, it notably excluded violent factions a la Hamas. This gave Leftists a moral ground to mass abort native Africans in order to secure the land and resources of South Africa. Not unlike their current adventures in social justice from Benghazi to Damascus to Kiev, and their current objective: Moscow. They're repeating their social adventure against Jews in Israel, but so far they lack sufficient leverage, and failed to influence that nation's elections.

The rise of anti-nativism among the left is a concern of an imminent catastrophic anthropogenic climate change that will end in mass abortions and immigration reform (e.g. refugee crises). Well, more than has already occurred. It is a progressive condition.

exiledonmainstreet said...

An admirable and principled man. RIP, Mr. Hentoff.

retail lawyer said...

buwaya -

What a terrific comment! I grew up in a "little box" on a bigger lot, not on a hillside, 20 miles south of you, so my 'hood was not of iconic status, but really the same. I saw a book of photos attempting to show how bleak that life was - one of the photos was of two young boys walking through a suburb openly carrying BB guns with no adults in sight. That could have been me. And then on Monday I would ride my bike to an impossibly good school by modern standards. The things that Malvina Reynolds maligned are almost unattainable now unless you are an elite.

Back to Bob - he stands like a giant in the test of time.

The Godfather said...

The Times really doesn't understand. "While his sympathies were usually libertarian, he often infuriated leftist friends . . . ."

It ought to be "BECAUSE" he was a libertarian he infuriated the leftists who have hijacked the word "liberalism" and applied it to collectivism.

Jon Burack said...

Some memories - accurate to the best of my recall ability.

When I worked at the Progressive (1980-84), Hentoff was a frequent contributor of political articles, as well as articles on jazz, his great love. The Prog's legendary editor Erwin Knoll backed him all the way in expressing he full range of his views, even those deemed politically incorrect. After Knoll died, from what I can tell, even the Progressive limited Hentoff to non-abortion related civil liberties issues. If I am wrong about that, I apologize. I left the left a long time ago. But I believe I am right.  

One related memory from back then: Progressive editor Sam Day was, like Hentoff, a consistent pacifist and civil libertarian. He often put his body literally on the line in nonviolent civil disobedience actions. He was Erwin's right hand man at the Progressive. Sometime in 1980 or so, a group called "Feminists for Life" published an article in the magazine. By Mary Meehan, I believe. The New Left harpies descended and badgered Erwin about allowing such a piece to be published. Erwin, true to form, told the staff, "It's my magazine and I will publish whatever I d**n well want to publish." Sam defended Erwin to several of the magazine's staff who wanted a more uniform pro-abortion stand. Sam said he was not against abortion entirely, but that it worried him that the left was making it such a central cause. In his view, the essence of the left was, or should be, an uncompromising insistence on the fundamental sacredness of human life, all human life. He worried that abandoning that sense of sacredness (which he meant in a religious sense but not in any theologically doctrinal sense) would undermine the moral power of the left.

From what I heard later, I think the feminists wore Sam down, and he got more in line with the prevailing view. Hentoff never did. I believe the history of the past three or so decades has born out the earlier Sam Day and the later and final Nat Hentoff. The left has all but won the lifestyle-culture wars hands down. But its larger vision of a humane, peaceful order? I am not so sure, frankly, they even care all that much. Anyway, Nat Hentoff, RIP.

LYNNDH said...

Did he sit on the stoop and eat a sandwich on Yom Kippur in 1967?

buwaya said...

The Soviet line on abortion changed in 1955, and Soviet propaganda subsequently backed this as part of the "feminist" line. One of the suite of arguments pushed through their agents of influence, like Sartre and his mistress De Beauvoir.
Its interesting how much that drove the agenda of the US Left.
Much of this is still in place, coded into the institutional DNA, abandoned ideological weapons still mindlessly attacking.
Older leftists were left in the lurch quite often by this sort of switch, its no surprise that there was a generational difference.

Michael McClain said...

Meh.

Saint Croix said...

Nat Hentoff's pro-life articles are amazing. So open, so honest. Arguably the finest journalist, the finest liberal, of the 20th century.

Rest in peace, to a man of peace.

Robert Cook said...

I always loved reading Nat Hentoff in the Village Voice. I thought it was a disgrace for the Voice to lay him off, just as it had been for them to lay off Jules Feiffer. I discovered in his obituary a documentary was made about him a couple of years ago. I'll have to find that post haste!

wildswan said...

Nat Hentoff came out in support of pro life when no other "progressive" would and we pro-lifers loved him for it. I'm sure he and Christopher Hitchens are up by the Pearly Gates discussing whether they are really there. I always wanted to be "liberal", i.e. open-minded and brave about it, in the same way as Nat Hentoff. And in that spirit let me say that back in the day George Will used to write columns about his wonderful brother who had Downs Syndrome and these columns often appeared at strategic moments when pro-lifers were under particularly heavy fire. In that day and time, it was support for the pro-lifers. So perhaps we should lighten up a bit in the criticism of George Will right now. Yes, he was wrong about Trump but we want to convert good (tho mistaken) people into supporters - don't we?

Michael said...

buwaya

Thank you for your post on the "little boxes". I grew up in one in the mid south. You have it exactly, elegantly, correct.

John said...

Compare the consequences of Young Nat eating a salami sandwich with this:

MOSQUE ATTACKER DEAD Man jailed for leaving bacon sandwiches outside a mosque found dead in prison halfway through sentence

An investigation has been launched into Kevin Crehan's death after the lag died in jail six months into his 12-month term

BY YASMIN JEFFERY
29th December 2016, 9:34 pm

The inmate was part of a racist gang which attacked Jamia mosque on January 17 this year.

The gang left rashers of bacon on the door handles of the mosque, and put bacon sandwiches on
CCTV footage of the racially motivated attack depicted two men standing by a St George flag with “no mosques” written on it.

Crehan was slapped with a one-year jail term at Bristol Crown Court in July for the racially-aggravated public order offence.


https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2498913/man-jailed-for-leaving-bacon-sandwiches-outside-a-mosque-found-dead-in-prison-half-way-through-sentence/

A 1 year jail sentence for leaving a ham sandwich on a Mosque doorstep. Shame on Britain.

And the Sun doesn't even have the decency to call him a man, human, person or the like. They call him a "lag" right in the headline. (I believe the US equivalent would be "con")

John Henry

John said...

I like to think Nat Hentoff would have been horrified at the sentence.

I remember reading him in Playboy in the 60's and was always a fan. I have a book of his "Free speech for me but not for thee" which criticized infringements on speech.

I didn't follow him closely but, to the extent I did, I was a fan.

RIP.

John Henry

tcrosse said...

It would take a better pen than mine to write a parody of Little Boxes which would satirize the Mindless Conformity of the Bien Pensants. Hard to find a rhyme for Whole Fooods or anti-vax or kale.

Meade said...

"Anyway, fond memories of lives well lived. There is good luck in the "little boxes", if you know what you are looking for."

So true. Meanwhile, many of those who lived in geodesic domes up in Bolinas and elsewhere became certifiably insane.

Crazy Jane said...

I never lived in New York, never read the Voice and so came to him late. He was an inspiration, a rigorous first amendment supporter who wasn't afraid to think for himself and to let the chips fall where they may. RIP for a life well lived.

Russ said...

I wonder how he expected passing jews to recognize the sandwich as salami?

Was it all "Mmmmm-mmmmm! what a tasty salami sandwich I am eating" as they're walking by?

Sigivald said...

"While his sympathies were usually libertarian, he often infuriated leftist friends with his opposition to abortion, his attacks on political correctness and his criticisms of gay groups, feminists, blacks and others he accused of trying to censor opponents."

"While" there ought to be "because".

It tells us something about the Times that they need to say "while", as if all civil libertarians axiomatically toe the entire Left line.

(Or any of it, in fact.)

Rusty said...

"While his sympathies were usually libertarian, he often infuriated leftist friends with his opposition to abortion, his attacks on political correctness and his criticisms of gay groups, feminists, blacks and others he accused of trying to censor opponents. He relished the role of provocateur, indirectly defending racial slurs, apartheid and pornography."

Sounds like somebody I could get along with.
God speed, Nat.

William Chadwick said...

"While his sympathies were usually libertarian, he often infuriated leftist friends . . . "

Hold it right there, Aristotle. If the first clause of that sentence is true, wouldn't the second clause necessarily follow?

Lee Moore said...

As a number of folk have already mentioned there's a real two by four across the temple in that NYT excerpt -

While his sympathies were usually libertarian, he often infuriated leftist friends with his opposition to abortion, his attacks on political correctness and his criticisms of gay groups, feminists, blacks and others he accused of trying to censor opponents. He relished the role of provocateur, indirectly defending racial slurs, apartheid and pornography.

There's certainly a libertarian case for abortion, depending on the view you take of the abortee's status, but as for the rest of it - what else would you expect someone with "libertarian sympathies" to do ?