• Jimmy Breslin, who pretty much defined what it was to be a 20th century newspaper columnist by, in the words of the New York Times obituary, leveling the powerful and elevating the powerless, "with brick-hard words and a jagged-glass wit," died yesterday. He was 88.
His old friend and fellow columnist, Mike Lupica, recalls this morning of how Breslin would write about ballplayers and mobsters and politicians and sanitation workers and cops and firemen and AIDS patients and civil rights activists and immoral priests and everybody in between - finding "eloquence in simplicity" while being both poetic and profane in the pages of the old New York Journal-American and New York Herald Tribune, and later at the New York Daily News and, finally, Newsday.
The Times writes this morning, "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."
Perhaps his most famous column came after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; while everybody else covered what was going on with the government and the family, Breslin wrote a piece about a man named Clifton Pollard, who dug the grave for John F. Kennedy after the president was assassinated.
• Chuck Berry, the iconic singer and guitarist who virtually created rock 'n roll in the fifties with songs like "Maybellene," "Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” passed away Saturday. He was 90.
The New York Times writes in its obituary that Berry's "guitar lines wired the lean twang of country and the bite of the blues into phrases with both a streamlined trajectory and a long memory. And tucked into the lighthearted, telegraphic narratives that he sang with such clear enunciation was a sly defiance, upending convention to claim the pleasures of the moment ... The music was bright and clear, a hard-swinging amalgam of country and blues. More than 60 years later, it still sounds reckless and audacious.
"Mr. Berry articulated every word, with precise diction and no noticeable accent, leading some listeners and concert promoters, used to a different kind of rhythm-and-blues singer, to initially think that he was white. Teenagers didn’t care; they heard a rocker who was ready to take on the world."
Two other notes. Berry's “Johnny B. Goode," the Times writes, "is on golden records within the Voyager I and II spacecraft, launched in 1977 and awaiting discovery" ... reflecting the best of Earth's musical heritage. And, remarkably, he has a new album scheduled for release in June, entitled "Chuck" and comprised mostly of new songs.
The world is poorer today with the loss of these two men, each of whom - with different talents and in different arenas - used language to illustrate varying facets of the human condition, and did so by touching not just our minds, but our hearts and souls.