Sunday, March 19, 2017

Breslin inspired every emotion but indifference

Here is how, in one of the columns that won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, he focused on a single man, David Camacho, to humanize the AIDS epidemic, which was widely misunderstood at the time:

“He had two good weeks in July and then the fever returned and he was back in the hospital for half of last August. He got out again and returned to Eighth Street. The date this time doesn’t count. By now, he measured nothing around him. Week, month, day, night, summer heat, fall chill, the color of the sky, the sound of the street, clothes, music, lights, wealth dwindled in meaning.”

And here is how he described what motivated Breslin the writer: “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”

Poetic and profane, softhearted and unforgiving, Mr. Breslin inspired every emotion but indifference; letters from outraged readers gladdened his heart. He often went after his own, from Irish-Americans with “shopping center faces” who had forgotten their hardscrabble roots to the Roman Catholic Church, whose sex scandals prompted him to write an angry book called “The Church That Forgot Christ,” published in 2004. It ends with his cheeky vow to start a new church that would demand more low-income housing and better posture.

Love or loathe him, none could deny Mr. Breslin’s enduring impact on the craft of narrative nonfiction. He often explained that he merely applied a sportswriter’s visual sensibility to the news columns. Avoid the media scrum gathered around the winner, he would advise, and go directly to the loser’s locker. This is how you find your gravedigger.

“So you go to a big thing like this presidential assassination,” he said in an extended interview with The New York Times in 2006. “Well, you’re looking for the dressing room, that’s all. And I did. I went there automatic.”

Early on, Mr. Breslin developed the persona of the hard-drinking, dark-humored Everyman from Queens, so consumed by life’s injustices and his six children that he barely had time to comb his wild black mane. While this persona shared a beer with the truth, Mr. Breslin also admired Dostoyevsky, swam every day, hadn’t had a drink in more than 30 years, wrote a shelf-full of books, and adhered to a demanding work ethic that required his presence in the moment, from a civil-rights march in Alabama to a “perp walk” in Brooklyn — no matter that he never learned to drive.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/19/business/media/jimmy-breslin-dead-ny-columnist-author.html

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