Goodbye, Joe

(UPDATE: This one’s for the Robert Stacy McCain readers who followed his link.)

Joe Bageant, author, blogger and fire-breathing class warrior, died yesterday after a short bout with cancer.

The financial success of Joe’s first book, Deer Hunting with Jesus, shocked and, I think, embarrassed him. He tried to give away as much of the money as he could, as fast as he made it, but felt compelled to hang onto at least some of it because he figured sooner or later, his drinking and smoking would catch up with him and he’d be at the mercy of the American healthcare system.

He was right.

I don’t think I ever felt so comfortable, so fast with anyone as I did with Joe. We were fans of each other’s work, and corresponded back and forth for years. I still remember our first phone call, which lasted a couple of hours and covered everything from class stratification to the consciousness-raising wonders of LSD. I always intended to visit him, either in Winchester, Virgina where he was first born and returned decades later, or in Belize and then Ajijic, Mexico, where he’d been spending a lot of time and was trying to lure his many friends down to form a community of like-minded ex-pats. But I never had a reliable car, or enough money to travel.

And then he got sick.

After a vibrant life, Joe Bageant died yesterday following a four-month struggle with cancer. He was 64. Joe is survived by his wife, Barbara, his three children, Timothy, Patrick and Elizabeth, and thousands of friends and admirers. He is also survived by his work and ideas.

According to Joe’s wishes, he will be cremated. His family will hold a private memorial service.

Did I mention that Joe was, in fact, an actual socialist? He wrote so powerfully about the tyranny of owning things, but also had a deep well of compassion for fellow Americans who were caught on the wheels of the economic machine. He was always urging me to stop looking for a job and “just write, goddamnit!”

He was my friend, a mentor, and a fellow traveler on the road to enlightenment. He was no doubt easier from a distance, but really, aren’t we all?

I have a review copy of his latest book, Rainbow Pie, sitting on my desk. I’ve been edging my way toward it, sad because I knew it was his last book. I think I’ll read it this week, in his memory.

Bless you, brother. See you on the other side.

(More tributes here and here.)

8 thoughts on “Goodbye, Joe

  1. I’ll take the “tyranny of ownership” over the tyranny of those who think I shouldn’t own anything.

  2. Suzie: So sorry to hear of your friend’s passing.

    If it’s any consolation, however, on the basis of the above I’d say that his advice to you to “Just write!” was not ill-considered.

  3. Joe Bageant was truly one of the good guys.

    Aside from its obviously important content, I’d like to say that “Deer Hunting With Jesus” was also beautifully written. Bageant always seemed to maintain a heartfelt compassion for the people he wrote about. It shines through his prose.

    Can anyone say with a straight face the same thing about, for example, George Will? Ann Coulter? I think you all can see what I mean.

  4. Long-time lurker here (since around 2005) and fan of Joe’s work.

    The compassion he had for others is what life is supposed to be about, isn’t it? Isn’t what he espoused the things we teach our kids, only to forget as we get older?

    If everyone had just half of the human decency he had, this world would be the most amazing place in the universe.

    So long, Joe …

  5. This is horrible news! “Deer Hunting With Jesus” is on my shelf and already has been read twice. Joe was a treasure. RIP, my good man, from a fellow socialist and child of the working class from way back. We’ll continue the battle.

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