Those were the days, my friend --
We thought they'd never end,
We'd sing and dance
forever and a day,
We'd live the life we choose --
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young
and sure to have our way.
The obituary in the
Every young reporter who's lucky enough to get his first job, first byline, first scoop, first irate letter -- the whole baptism in printer's ink -- at a small, family-owned newspaper in a slowly fading old Southern river city will forever after think of it as a golden age. And maybe, just maybe, at the old Pine Bluff Commercial back in the 1950s and '60s, it was.
Even then Pine Bluff was full of stories just waiting to be unearthed, ghosts lingering in the shadows of the stately elms and oaks, crumbling mansions slowly drifting into the past, a host of windmills to tilt at, and more eccentrics than even a little Southern town had any right to produce in the middle of the last century. Plus an abundance of raw young newspaper talent recruited from all over the country.
All those rookies were there at the express invitation of the Commercial's still young publisher-in-the-making --
How describe that staff? It was a mix of naivete and pretend sophistication, a combination training ground and iconoclasts' club. Yes, those were the days, my friend.
Half a century later, the now silver-haired veterans of those golden years, complete with their canes and walkers and overflowing memories, assembled again. They'd come to
Yet something, or rather someone, was missing from that reunion. And not just a legend like
Oh, the classic pieces of reportage that
Harry would soon become the paper's environmental expert, gadfly and educator, the linchpin of its efforts to Save the Buffalo! And it was indeed saved, thanks to the efforts of a legion of conservationists far and wide, as the Buffalo National River now attests.
At that point Harry was given leave to take all the time he needed -- no pressure, no deadlines, no nothin' -- to do the definitive story on the ecology of the imperiled woods, streams and general treasure that is the state's northwestern quadrant. Whereupon he promptly disappeared. For weeks, then months. The only thing the front office knew about him at that point was that his checks were being cashed.
A curious managing editor decided to give Harry a call -- just to check on him, you understand. Whereupon a furious Harry came on the line: "You told me I could have all the time I needed, no pressure, no inquiries, no contact. But now you've broken your word! I QUIT!" And he did. That was Harry. Did I mention he was the prima donna of prima donnas?
Then, like every Southerner since
To quote the music critic of the
It took years before Harry deigned to notice that CDs had improved enough for him to accept them. And they had -- largely because of his criticism, which inspired so many refinements in the recording art that CDs finally won the Absolute Sound's seal of approval, that is,
Of Harry stories there is no end. There were the weekly soirees/salons he conducted in his tiny apartment above a feed and seed company in Beautiful Downtown Pine Bluff. The atmosphere, though surely Harry would have preferred a word like ambience, still sticks in the mind, and nostrils. For the steep staircase leading up to his bedraggled rooms was lined with bags of fresh fertilizer.
The walk up to Harry's was worth it to attend those Sunday evening gatherings, part dining and debating society, part music-appreciation class. Harry would play his newest stereo discs for the edification of all us philistines, pointing out every subtle change in tone, some deliberate, others not. At the volume he played them, the best place to appreciate their sound quality was from the parking lot across the street. Those were the days, my friend.
As the news of his death spread through the surviving ranks of those who knew Harry when, one said of him: "There won't soon be another." If ever.