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My friend and collaborator, Marshall Berman, died of a heart attack on Wednesday September 11 while at the Metrto Diner, near his long time home on the Upper West Side; he was 72. Corey Robin, Todd Gitlin for The Tablet and the editors of Dissent have all offered their thoughts but in lieu— for now— of my own memories of the sometimes intense and always rewarding time we spent together (on the phone, in e-mail, in his apartment, at restaurants, in bookstores and auditoriums, in subway stations, etc), I’d like to share a few of Marshall’s own words.

The time is mid-January 2006. The recipient is me. The subject was… somewhat ridiculous but, in brief, one of the writers I’d hired for New York Calling was on a rampage because his essay had— after no small amount of editorial cajoling, suggestion and encouragement— been politely rejected, both for reasons of content (I explained this) and the great likelihood it would not get substantially better (I kept this thought to myself).

No matter. Whatever I said, the writer got angrier and angrier until, in fury, he made myriad threats— legal and personal— which do not bear repeating. I did, however, have to tell my publisher, Reaktion Books, and my co-editor,  Marshall, that we had a disgruntled former contributor on our hands and… I suspect he’s coming for you next.

Which he did but, rather than regret his involvement with such unpleasantries, Marshall sent me a couple of cheering notes replete with his singular warmth, enthusiasm and fortitude, which I reproduce below: abbreviations, TITLES, ellipses, dashes– the works. Shalom, Marshall!

— Brian Berger, Brooklyn, 13 September 2013

***

January 15, 2006

Dear B,

You have to escape, at least temporarily, from this mishugas.

We just rented a classic film noir, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS–they were fighting over ownership for 50 yrs, so there was never a video till now–NYC landscape is gorgeous, Gene Tierney is delicious, movie really swings.  I bet there’s a good video place in Wmsbg that will have it–check it out!

Something made me think you hadn’t read that much Classic Jewish American Lit. How about Philip Roth 1960, GOODBYE COLUMBUS?  How about Roth 1986, THE COUNTERLIFE?  They’re v diff, but both “bad”, sexy & exciting….

Speaking of Williamsburg, do you know Daniel Fuchs’ WILLIAMSBURG TRILOGY?

How about–I just excavated a tape, unplayed for yrs but super–DUSTY IN MEMPHIS/SAM COOKE AT [Miami] HARLEM SQUARE. I made them both, God knows fr what.  Shall I copy for you?  Both sides shd make you feel good.

I just asked my family for more feelgood suggestions for you.  Shellie: FLIRTING WITH DISASTER.  Danny:  SOME LIKE IT HOT.   I’d go to the wall for both.

Shalom!
Marshall

 

January 16, 2006

Dear B,

So glad yr feeling better!

One imp feature of so many portrayals of Bklyn: BRIDGES.  (This goes back at least to Whitman’s “Crossing Bklyn Ferry”, where daily commute=metaphysical transfiguration.W’s poem written bef there was a Br, but used as propaganda to get NYers to spend $ to build one.)  Beautifully realized in that movie we saw the other night, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS.  But central in so many diff works.

Wmsbg  Br a major character in A TREE GROWS IN BKLYN–both bk & movie–& also in Dassin’s NAKED CITY (greatest police movie ever, ironically by a lifelong Commie).  But Verrazano (then new) portrayed w equal complexity & depth in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. Might be fun for you to think abt diff visions of  Bridges, & to work out yr own.  (I’m not telling you what to do, OK? I’m just suggesting something that cd be fun.)

Do you know Jim Saunders, CELLULOID SKYLINE: NY & THE MOVIES (2003)? Something else to treat yrself to.

Love, M

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