yes yes but can he write?:

For years I have loved almost everything abt Alexander Cockburn’s The Golden Age Is In Us: Journeys and Encounters, 1987-1994, from the cover inwards: it’s kind of a blog, actually – snippets of pieces published in print, thoughts abt pieces he failed to write, replies to reader letters, diary entries – and reflections on the three deaths which shadowed the time covered: his mother’s, the Soviet Union’s, and his close friend Andrew Kopkind’s.

The last part of the book also dwells a lot on Kopkind’s own collection of his radical journalism, The Thirty Years’ Wars: Dispatches and Diversions of a Radical Journalist 1965-1994, which wz being put together in the last months of Kopkind’s life. I’ve planned to read the latter for ages, but always put it off: I think unconciously anticipating being disappointed by the tastes or allegiances of someone whose writing I admire (esp. when I don’t always admire his politics). Anyway I finally did a month or two back: and it’s a lovely book. He writes as if he were Cockburn’s grown-up brother – by which I mean that they share certain stylistic flourishes (and Kopkind was the elder by a decade) – but where AC is funny and debunking and playfully unreverential and psychologically shrewd, Kopkind, a genuinely radical leftist in US terms (though far from party-minded) is – despite the elegant belle lettrist clarity of his position – endlessly fascinated, understanding, even gentle with the rank and file of the other side, a gay Jewish East Coast semi-brahmin writing peerlessly, unpatronisingly well about (for example) sex-disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker. He was close enough to the Weather Underground that he calls the collective by its own name for itself, ‘Weatherman’ – he knew personally two of the three Weathermen who blew themselves up with a bomb in the New York Townhouse in 1969 – but he had begun covering Civil Rights agitation in Selma for Time magazine, before travelling to Hanoi with Susan Sontag: this is where he discovered his own politics. In the 70s he covered the rise of Gay Lib, Glam, Disco and the ‘New Age’, and is good on all of them: particularly sensitive, I think, to the growing sense of alienation many in the anti-war movement had from the organisations, strategies, tactics and language which had grown up as a late 60s conduit for this generation of dissident politics, and how many fled for psychic shelter or nourishment under the cultural umbrellas which sprang up as the monolithic counterculture (always a bit of a fiction) came to pieces.

In its desperation and frustration the American left – the left everywhere – has convinced itself that writing like a bunch of snidey daleks is proof of the best intransigent militancy. But actually arguments and anecdotes which show how a politics springs out of and expresses a lived life – Cockburn’s loyalty to and love for friends and family, the tenderness with which Kopkind moves down into the psychosexual subcurrents of friend and foe – seem to me fifty times less frightened and more political.