ROBERT STONE 1937-2015
Novelist’s tales delved into drugs, violence and strife
Robert Stone, who was regarded as one of the foremost American novelists to emerge from the tumult of the Vietnam War and the counterculture, an era whose agonies and legacies he captured in bracing narratives, died Saturday, Jan. 10, at his home in Key West, Fla. He was 77. The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said his wife, Janice Stone. Mr. Stone was widely regarded as one of the most significant novelists of his generation. He often was compared to Joseph Conrad, with whom he shared a dark awareness of moral fragility, and to Ernest Hemingway, another chronicler of people adrift in an unforgiving world. His novels, among them “Dog Soldiers,” the winner of the 1975 National Book Award for fiction, were the products of a lifetime of geographic and intellectual wandering. Mr. Stone spent periods in the Navy, as a foreign correspondent in Vietnam, and with author and counterculture figure Ken Kesey. In his novels, Mr. Stone took readers into the underworld of drugs, violence and strife, both cultural and personal. His characters were sometimes strung out, often morally ambiguous and, above all, real. His first novel, “A Hall of Mirrors,” was set in the maelstrom of New Orleans, where Mr. Stone had lived for a time, writing and performing his poetry and taking stock of its inhabitants as a census worker in 1960. Its central characters included a dissolute right-wing radio broadcaster and other misfits who head inexorably toward ruin. “The American Way is innocence,” the broadcaster declares in a pivotal moment in the book. “In all situations we must and shall display an innocence so vast and awesome that the entire world will be reduced by it. American innocence shall rise in mighty clouds of vapor to the scent of heaven and confound the nations!” After his debut novel, Mr. Stone reported briefly in Vietnam for a British publication. That experience, along with his observations of cultural turmoil at home, resulted in “Dog Soldiers.” The book featured a journalist who conspires with a former Marine to smuggle heroin from Vietnam to the United States. Eventually, they are intercepted by corrupt federal agents. It was noted that Mr. Stone had created a fictional world not unlike the real one, where the good characters seemed indistinguishable from the bad. Mr. Stone continued writing until very nearly the end of his life. Mr. Stone’s final novel, published in 2013, was “Death of the Black-Haired Girl,” a psychological thriller that derived its drama not from violence in far-flung international engagements, but from an affair and a mysterious death in a small New England community. Robert Anthony Stone was born Aug. 21, 1937, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was an infant when his father left him and his mother, who had schizophrenia. Mr. Stone’s survivors include his wife of 55 years, the former Janice Burr; their two children, Ian Stone and Deidre Stone Jones; a daughter from another relationship, Emily Burton; and six grandchildren.
BEBETO MATTHEWS/AP 2013 The novels of Robert Stone were the products of a lifetime of geographic and intellectual wandering.
Leonard Fein, Provocative Writer on Jewish Affairs, Dies at 80
Leonard Fein, an intellectual and activist who wrote voluminously about contemporary Jews, Judaism and, in his words, “the often stormy relationship between Jews and Judaism,” and who founded a magazine and organizations to combat hunger and illiteracy, died late Wednesday or early Thursday in Manhattan. He was 80.
His brother, Rashi Fein, a professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School, confirmed the death, saying the cause was uncertain. Mr. Fein lived in Watertown, Mass.
As an author, a columnist for The Jewish Daily Forward and a contributor to many publications, including The New York Times, Mr. Fein was among the foremost of the so-called liberal Zionists. Known to friends and family as Leibel (pronounced LAY-bul), he was a social progressive, a fierce peacenik, a staunch defender of Israel and a shrewd observer of the American Jewish community.
He was fascinated by the diverse, complex, sometimes contradictory nature of modern Jewry.
“Some questions,” he began a 1985 essay in Moment, a magazine he edited and had founded a decade earlier with Elie Wiesel: “Why do we, less than 3 percent of America’s population, far, far less than 1 percent of the world’s, seem implicated in so much that happens about us? Or is it that, out of our preoccupation with self, we only imagine that implication?
“And why is it that some of us are so absorbed with self, and others of us so indifferent?” he went on. “How is it that a people so manifestly successful as we continues to represent itself — and, in truth, to see itself — as a victim people? Is Jewish survival everywhere and always at stake, as we so often announce — or can a people that has weathered 4,000 years of time, much of it traumatic, take its continuing survival pretty much for granted?”
Mr. Fein had given up an academic career to focus on Moment. He envisioned it as a more stylish and literary alternative to Commentary, another magazine that concentrated on Jewish issues but one that Mr. Fein found dour, dull and ideologically out of step with most Jews after it swung politically rightward in the 1960s.
Moment became “one of American Jewry’s most influential sources of Jewish ideas,” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center in Washington, wrote Friday in Haaretz, the English-language Israeli daily, “and it launched Leibel as the most influential liberal ideologue in American Jewish life.”
Mr. Fein left the magazine in 1987. (The current editor, Nadine Epstein, said in an interview that Moment was more journalistic and less literary today than it was under Mr. Fein.) Shortly before that, he had founded an organization to raise money from Jewish families who were celebrating bar mitzvahs and weddings in increasingly opulent fashion and distribute it to groups that fed the hungry of any faith.
Based in Los Angeles, the charity, called Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger — it was named for the Hebrew word for food or sustenance — asked families to contribute 3 percent of the cost of their celebrations. Mr. Fein called the figure “small enough to be reasonable and large enough to be meaningful.”
After a year, Mazon was raising $80,000 a month. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, it dispensed $4.5 million in grants.
The idea for Mazon came to Mr. Fein when he learned that party caterers were pulling in half a billion dollars a year.
“A light bulb flashed over my head, and I started figuring a small percent of that sum could mean a lot of food for hungry people,” he told The Times in 1987. He quickly earned the support of rabbis around the country, Rashi Fein recalled, “perhaps because they were distressed at what was happening to bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs.”
Mr. Fein was born in New York City on July 1, 1934, and his first home was in the Bronx. His parents, who were teachers, frequently moved to find work, and before he was 10 he had lived in Winnipeg and Bridgeport, Conn. There, he contracted polio, which left him with a condition known as post-polio syndrome, characterized by muscle weakness and fatigue.
The family later settled in Baltimore, where Leonard graduated from high school. His father, Isaac, taught Jewish studies at Baltimore Hebrew College (now Baltimore Hebrew Institute), and his mother, the former Chaya Wertheim, taught in Baltimore schools.
Mr. Fein graduated from the University of Chicago, spent a year in Israel and then resumed his studies, earning a Ph.D. in political science from Michigan State. He taught in the political science department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later taught Jewish studies at Brandeis.
He was married and divorced twice. In addition to his brother, he is survived by two daughters, Rachel and Jessie, and five grandchildren. A third daughter, Nomi, died in 1996. Mr. Fein wrote about her in a 2001 book, “Against the Dying of the Light: A Parent’s Story of Love, Loss and Hope.”
His other books include “Where Are We? The Inner Life of America’s Jews” (1970).
In the late 1990s, after President Bill Clinton declared that it should be a national goal to have every American child able to read by fourth grade, Mr. Fein founded the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, a network of organizations that provide volunteer tutors in schools. The coalition, which began with a pilot program in Boston in 1997, operates in 47 communities and has recruited about 12,000 tutors.
“Leibel was a pioneer of American Jewish sociology, and in the application of social scientific research to improving the conditions of the American Jewish community in various ways,” a friend, Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, said in an interview. “His feeling for his people was vast. He insisted that certain Jewish teachings about social justice and social equality be put into practice, as regards the community’s policies towards its poor.
“He was an impenitent dove,” Mr. Wieseltier added. “He knew Israel very well, and his concern for its security was profound, and his belief in territorial compromise for the sake of both Israel and the Palestinians was equally profound. We disagreed on some things, but he was a joy to disagree with. He was a state-of-the-art mensch.”
A profound influence upon my life…
Mad Magazine’s Al Feldstein Dies at 88
NEW YORK — Before “The Daily Show,” ”The Simpsons” or even “Saturday Night Live,” Al Feldstein helped show America how to laugh at authority and giggle at popular culture.
Millions of young baby boomers looked forward to that day when the new issue of Mad magazine, which Feldstein ran for 28 years, arrived in the mail or on newsstands. Alone in their room, or huddled with friends, they looked for the latest of send-up of the president or of a television commercial. They savored the mystery of the fold-in, where a topical cartoon appeared with a question on top that was answered by collapsing the page and creating a new, and often, hilarious image.
Thanks in part to Feldstein, who died Tuesday at his home in Montana at age 88, comics were more than escapes into alternate worlds of superheroes and clean-cut children. They were a funhouse tour of current events and the latest crazes. Mad was breakthrough satire for the post-World War II era — the kind of magazine Holden Caulfield of “The Catcher In the Rye” might have read, or better, might have founded.
“Basically everyone who was young between 1955 and 1975 read Mad, and that’s where your sense of humor came from,” producer Bill Oakley of “The Simpsons” later explained.
Feldstein’s reign at Mad, which began in 1956, was historic and unplanned. Publisher William M. Gaines had started Mad as a comic book four years earlier and converted it to a magazine to avoid the restrictions of the then-Comics Code and to persuade founding editor Harvey Kurtzman to stay on. But Kurtzman soon departed anyway and Gaines picked Feldstein as his replacement. Some Kurtzman admirers insisted that he had the sharper edge, but Feldstein guided Mad to mass success.
One of Feldstein’s smartest moves was to build on a character used by Kurtzman. Feldstein turned the freckle-faced Alfred E. Neuman into an underground hero — a dimwitted everyman with a gap-toothed smile and the recurring stock phrase “What, Me Worry?” Neuman’s character was used to skewer any and all, from Santa Claus to Darth Vader, and more recently in editorial cartoonists’ parodies of President George W. Bush, notably a cover image The Nation that ran soon after Bush’s election in 2000 and was captioned “Worry.”
“The skeptical generation of kids it shaped in the 1950s is the same generation that, in the 1960s, opposed a war and didn’t feel bad when the United States lost for the first time and in the 1970s helped turn out an Administration and didn’t feel bad about that either,” Tony Hiss and Jeff Lewis wrote of Mad in The New York Times in 1977.
“It was magical, objective proof to kids that they weren’t alone, that … there were people who knew that there was something wrong, phony and funny about a world of bomb shelters, brinkmanship and toothpaste smiles. Mad’s consciousness of itself, as trash, as comic book, as enemy of parents and teachers, even as money-making enterprise, thrilled kids. In 1955, such consciousness was possibly nowhere else to be found.”
Feldstein and Gaines assembled a team of artists and writers, including Dave Berg, Don Martin and Frank Jacobs, who turned out such enduring features as “Spy vs. Spy” and “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” Fans of the magazine ranged from the poet-musician Patti Smith and activist Tom Hayden to movie critic Roger Ebert, who said Mad helped inspire him to write about film.
“Mad’s parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin — of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe,” Ebert once explained.
“The Portable Mad,” a compilation of magazine highlights edited by Feldstein in 1964, is a typical Mad sampling. Among its offerings: “Some Mad Devices for Safer Smoking” (including a “nasal exhaust fan” and “disposable lung-liner tips”); “The Mad Academy Awards for Parents” (one nominee does her “And THIS is the thanks I get!” routine); “The Lighter Side of Summer Romances;” and “Mad’s Teenage Idol Promoter of the Year” (which mocks Elvis Presley and the Beatles.)
Under Gaines and Feldstein, Mad’s sales flourished, topping 2 million in the early 1970s and not even bothering with paid advertisements until well after Feldstein had left. The magazine branched out into books, movies (the flop “Up the Academy”) and a board game, a parody of Monopoly.
But not everyone was amused.
During the Vietnam War, Mad once held a spoof contest inviting readers to submit their names to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for an “Official Draft Dodger Card.” Feldstein said two bureau agents soon showed up at the magazine’s offices to demand an apology for “sullying” Hoover’s reputation. The magazine also attracted critics in Congress who questioned its morality, and a $25 million lawsuit in the early 1960s from music publishers who objected to the magazine’s parodies of Irving Berlin’s “Always” and other songs, a long legal process that was resolved in Mad’s favor.
“We doubt that even so eminent a composer as plaintiff Irving Berlin should be permitted to claim a property interest in iambic pentameter,” Judge Irving Kaufman wrote at the time.
By Feldstein’s retirement, in 1984, Mad had succeeded so well in influencing the culture that it no longer shocked or surprised: Circulation had dropped to less than a third of its peak, although the magazine continues to be published in local editions around the world.
Feldstein moved west from the magazine’s New York headquarters, first to Wyoming and later Montana. From a horse and llama ranch north of Yellowstone National Park, he ran a guest house and pursued his “first love” — painting wildlife, nature scenes and fantasy art and entering local art contests. In 2003, he was elected into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, named for the celebrated cartoonist.
Born in 1925, Feldstein grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. He was a gifted cartoonist who was winning prizes in grade school and, as a teenager, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He got his first job in comics around the same time, working at a shop run by Eisner and Jerry Iger. One of his earliest projects was drawing background foliage for “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle,” which starred a female version of Tarzan.
Feldstein served in the military at the end of World War II, painting murals and drawing cartoons for Army newspapers. After his discharge, he freelanced for various comics before landing at Entertainment Comics, whose titles included Tales From the Crypt, Weird Science and Mad. Much of Entertainment Comics was shut down in the 1950s in part because of government pressure, but Mad soon caught on as a stand-alone magazine, willing to take on both sides of the generation gap.
“We even used to rake the hippies over the coals,” Feldstein would recall. “They were protesting the Vietnam War, but we took aspects of their culture and had fun with it. Mad was wide open. Bill loved it, and he was a capitalist Republican. I loved it, and I was a liberal Democrat.”
AP writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana contributed to this report.
Gwar Frontman Dave Brockie Has Died
Update: Richmond Police say they don’t suspect foul play.
Updated 8:21 a.m.: In the death investigation of David M. Brockie, detectives with Richmond Police say they “do not suspect foul play at this time,” department spokeswoman Dionne Waugh tells Style.
Police were called to Brockie’s residence in the 4800 block of West Seminary Avenue at approximately 6:53 p.m. on Sunday, she says, and found Brockie deceased when they arrived. The Medical Examiner’s office will determine the cause of death.
RICHMOND — The founder and lead singer of renowned metal band Gwar, David Brockie, has died, numerous sources close to the band tell Style Weekly.A member of the Richmond Police Department confirmed early Monday that the 50-year-old musician was found dead in his home Sunday between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. by his roommate.
“Dave was one of the funniest, smartest, most creative and energetic persons I’ve known,” former Gwar bassist Mike Bishop says. “He was brash sometimes, always crass, irreverent, he was hilarious in every way. But he was also deeply intelligent and interested in life, history, politics and art.”
“His penchant for scatological humors belied a lucid wit. He was a criminally underrated lyricist and hard rock vocalist, one of the best, ever! A great front man, a great painter, writer, he was also a hell of a bass guitarist. I loved him. He was capable of great empathy and had a real sense of justice.”
The news comes in a year the Grammy-nominated band marks its 30th anniversary and recently returned from a long-awaited first performance in Japan. It recently announced that it would hold its fifth Gwar-B-Q concert Aug. 16 at Hadad’s Water Park.
Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus, founded what became Richmond’s most famous band in 1984 with a group of five boundary-pushing artists and musicians working out of North Side’s Richmond Dairy. The band struck a nerve, selling out shows and touring the globe. It released its 13th album in 2013.
The self-described “Scumdogs of the Universe” were known for their messy shows, outlandish costumes and intentionally offensive theatrics. “We were and still are provocateurs,” Brockie told Style in a 2012 feature story. “We’re just a bunch of guys with warped senses of humor spit balling the most evil ideas that we could think of, to hold up a twisted mirror to the culture.”
Friends and others posted condolences and remembrances across Facebook into Monday morning. “I wish it was a joke,” says former band member Chris Bopst, a music writer for Style. “Everyone is in shock.”
We’ll report more details as they become available and share the band’s official statement here.
Brockie, a devoted fan of the Washington Redskins and a World War II buff, had recently fulfilled two of his lifelong dreams by visiting Stalingrad and playing shows in Japan with Gwar.
While the singer’s death will be mourned internationally by the metal community, his passing will hit even harder here at home among friends and family. It would seem to mark the end of an era in Richmond and this city will be a different place without him.
Brockie made numerous appearances in character commenting on current events and culture, including such unexpected places as “Red Eye” on Fox News. In an interview last month on Insane Clown Posse Theater, Oderus Urungus talked about the essence of what made him tick:
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