Watts (chipotle) wrote,
Watts
chipotle

Godspeed

There’s a brief bio of a staff writer for the Tidewater Times, a magazine published on and about the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I found in a quick Google search:

Originally from Texas, the Tidewater Times critic, John Goodspeed, has lived and reviewed books in Maryland for half a century. His reviews, 2,500 or more, have appeared in the Baltimore Sunday Sun, Baltimore Evening Sun, Easton Star-Democrat, Annapolis Capital, Baltimore City Paper, Baltimore Chronicle, Towson Times, Air & Space Magazine, Maryland Magazine, Potomac Review and Bloomsbury Review. He was a reporter and daily columnist (“Mr. Peep’s Diary”) for 18 years on the Baltimore Evening Sun, jazz critic on the Sunday Sun and drama critic on the Annapolis Capital and book critic for 12 years on the Maryland Public Television program, The Critic’s Place.

I know a bit more about Mr. Goodspeed than the Times tells you. I know he considered himself a Baltimorean, not a Texan; he lost his Texas drawl as soon as he could. He looked the part of a Texan, though. For all the time I knew him, he had gray hair, and never lost it.

In addition to being a jazz critic, he was a jazz musician, although not—as far as I know—professionally. When I was quite young I tried to play Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer on the piano for him and he told me it was awful; this didn’t bother me too much—he was right, it was awful—but it’s something my mother never quite forgave him for. (She’s still convinced it scarred me because, after all, I’ve remembered to this day, nearly thirty years later; I’ve remembered it mostly because she brings it up every few years.)

The “Mr. Peep’s Diary” column was about life in Baltimore, and was collected at least once into a book I’ve seen reference to occasionally, the “Fairly Compleat Lexicon of Baltimorese.”

I recall him writing a long article after Dr. Seuss’s death which began with, more or less, “Is it too early to start saying bad things about him?” and proceeded to harangue the children’s author for bad linguistics: teaching kids to read is fine, but why teach them made-up words in doggerel rhyme? That was something else that annoyed my mother. He could be a cantankerous old coot.

He’d read a few of my stories. As I’m given to understand, he thought they had potential, although he didn’t get the recurrence of the talking animal people.

I don’t know when John Goodspeed was born, but he died yesterday, September 10th, at home. He’d gotten more antisocial over the last couple of years—his words, not mine—perhaps because, as his health declined, he didn’t want his remaining friends and family to have an image of him as frail and, in the last few weeks, bed-ridden. His daughter—my mother—didn’t see him at all in the last year of his life, and spent that year feeling rather estranged from him. (See: cantankerous old coot.)

So I’m left with the image of my grandfather I’ve had the last few decades, of a tall gray-haired man, younger than his years yet hard to picture as young, soft-spoken but intense and acerbic, a glass of whisky usually in hand. Just about the stereotype of the mid-20th-century writer, isn’t it?

Closing platitudes about going to a better place, or resting in peace are close at hand but shallow; I’m feeling too agnostic to embrace them, and if there is an afterlife, eulogizing a good writer with pithy clichés is asking for a lightning bolt.

Toasting him with a Jack and Coke later is in order, though. Godspeed, Goodspeed.

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