poet without equal

Something got me to think tonight about my old friend Herb Caen.

Herb Caen — I bet my cool blog-buddy Velma agrees — is among the finest Observers of our time. A master of prescience & a gifted comic to boot.

Velma is from northern California. Somewhere around my age? I think. So she maybe top-of-her brain recalls, as I do, the title to his 1.17.1991 San Francisco Chronicle column. It was 2 days after the ‘deadline’ set by the first Bush for Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait. Caen’s column ran that day behind a front page heralding the start of the first Gulf War; when US bombs first rained on Iraq.

The Other Shoe

As opposed to the other Other Shoe. Which can’t seem to stop catastrophically dropping.

I do think it true that the media are addicted to Bad News. Everyone buys newspapers with headlines like WAR & City Sunk & President Shot. CNN in 1991 was a brand new 24 Hour News network looking for a 24 Hour News story. A line is drawn in some far-off sand & voila! Their 24 Hour News story: On in perpetuity.

Do conglomerate rackets like the Chronicle’s actually start wars to sell more papers? Shit — they may.

Herb Caen only wrote about War when he had to. Not overly often — and clearly he liked it that way.

IT’S THE dramatically sudden appearance of more men in uniform than you’ve ever seen on the streets — symbols of a giant awakening to conflict, perhaps to blot out the peace and loveliness of All This . . .
+ Herb Caen
What is San Francisco?
Oct. 22 1940

Caen’s Chronicle column ran daily from the late 1930’s until his death in 1997. A thousand words wrote 5 days weekly for 60 years. Fifteen million words; Herb Caen wrote something about everything. But mostly of his splendid love for the City.

Bet if he were 20-years-old today he’d blog about San Francisco. On good days for the heart-leap Fun of it. Other days Herb Caen would do it because it’s in his blood so he has to.
gg.jpg
Mr. Caen single-handedly coined the terms Beatnik (“they’re only Beat when it comes to work…” ) & Hippie. Like hitting the Daily Double on some cosmic poetry race…

He had a Knack for the angle you’ll read nowhere else:

SCOOPLET: When Garcia died last Wed. morning, Todd Anderson gasped, “I hope it wasn’t something he ate.” That’s because Jerry had his last meal Tuesday night at Piatti in Mill Valley, which Anderson manages. Garcia and his wife, Deborah, sat on the deck, held hands and ate artichoke hearts and pasta. “He looked awful,” says Anderson, “but he was as friendly as ever.”
+ The Rambling Wreck 8.15.1995

The Herb Caen I knew never doubted his allegience. Him & Jerry both felt proud of their Heros & laughed out loud at the Fools.

[Letter Writer] Jeff Watson asks, “How many Deadheads does it take to change a lightbulb?” A. “They just watch it burn out and follow it around for 25 years” . . . Aww, get a life yourself.
+ Three Dot Drifter 8.21.1995

His signature column style — a thousand niftily arranged words on a dozen topics separated by ellipses ( … ) — is indicative of not so much columnist as Poet.

San Francisco’s Poet in Chief.

No Comic Relief here on our speedWay: after reading Ishtar’s stunner on her Baghdad taxi ride the day Civil War struck Iraq. It was a video of Hunter Thompson — an old pen-pal of Caen’s — on Conan O’Brien. Classically funny. But it seems Conan’s conglom-o-racket Yanked it…yes I think it was Money Related…well whichever way, it is Gone.

So goes.

Safe travels for Ishtar. Go Saints! Happy Birthday — and 1,000 thaks for keeping the Torch lit for the Late — to Anita T!

Play for Peace & pray for Fun please.

I lived in San Francisco for a year in the early ’90s. During that time I read Herb’s column insatiably. I looked forward to it when I woke up in the morning; I read him like a drug.

Herb Caen is my favorite kind of writer — one I’ve never met yet happily know is my Friend. My hero.

Always in the money like my nigaa scrappy T.

Smart fast & funny like I wish I could be.

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4 Responses to “poet without equal”


  1. 1 velmalikevelvet September 27, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    herb, r.i.p., was indeed a writer-extraordinaire, a wordsmith par excellance, a man among men (or among girly-men; you choose). yeah, i dug him. scott ostler does him justice now. read him? rockin’. think he’s back to sports pages now, tho.

    i bet it *was* something jerry ate; shrooms or whatever.

    my age? timeless. but yeah, prolly about your’n. i remember that bush I shit, and now we got bush II shit; here’s to hoping we’ll never have a brother bush III to worry about. new fodder for writers, i say!

  2. 2 Mike E September 27, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    Yeah — great particularly for writers from other Planets who get to evacuate before the big Shit Puddle drops!

  3. 3 galloway September 28, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    “I read him like a drug”

    With metaphors like that I don’t think you need any pointers from me.

    Just one tip, though: language is all there is: it’s your currency; “ideas” don’t matter.

  4. 4 Mike E September 28, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    Beg to differ just slightly, G old buddy. Language is our currency. Like cash money right?

    To buy our Ideas with.


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