Remembering Clif Garboden

The life and times of an alternative-media true believer
By PHOENIX STAFF  |  March 4, 2011

Garboden BU darkroom_800

LEIGHTON KLEIN (Shorenstein Center for Press and Public Policy, Harvard University):
Try to describe Clif Garboden and you'll run out of adjectives. Brilliant and pig-headed, bleak yet poetic, damn-the-torpedoes and pull-that-damn-ripcord. Foul-tempered and kindness itself, the last person you wanted to hear from and your last hope. And I knew that after the first month of working for him, more than a dozen years ago.

I arrived from the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and Clif was then the Phoenix's managing editor (he was "executive managing editor" at the end; they'd run out of titular encomiums). I had the somewhat nebulous rank of "senior editor" and it soon became clear just what I was up against -- unbending press deadlines, supple writers' guidelines; the glory of Pulitzers, the reality of listings; supplements without number, nights that were far longer than anyone could have feared.

But we weren't on our own. Clif wasn't just the ringmaster, he was up on the high wire with you. He wrote copy, proofed, designed pages, coded. He fought with management and wrangled freelances like no one I've ever seen. He never let down the pressure, but always kept his sense of humor -- smart, searing, human. And while you weren't even looking, he'd turn out a hilariously caustic "Hot Dots" television column.

What will most stay with me is Clif's voice. Unapologetic, cranky, unbowed. He was a true friend, and I'll miss him terribly.

MARK BAZER (Chicago Tribune Syndicate)
In need of database software at the end of 2010 and wondering if the program we had used at the Phoenix was still any good, I contacted Clif. My last day as a full-time employee of the paper was well over a decade ago and, other than receiving the yearly holiday letter from Clif that somehow managed to get you in the Christmas spirit while pointing out every hypocrisy known to man, we didn't correspond much. But there aren't many people you ever meet who both tell it like it is and are always willing to help. So, I emailed him.

Needless to say, he replied immediately with an answer. And when I then complained that the price of the software had become prohibitive, he replied: "Yes, competition from higher-end database technologies encouraged FileMaker to evolve to the point where it's no longer a really-really powerful consumer product, but an aspiring big-application tool -- which makes it more costly and harder for just anybody to use. A shame, but that's the biz. -- Clif."

That may seem a rather plain email to read today. But it wasn't to me. Because in it, Clif did what he did every single day I worked with him at the Phoenix: He taught me something, he made me laugh and he pointed out one more absurdity we were up against. The Phoenix was my first job, and, while I know I appreciated Clif while I was there, it wasn't until I experienced the wider work world, that I began to understand how generous, how talented, and how right he was. If there's a heaven, I just hope it doesn't include anything like the Phoenix's old photo library. As much as Clif tried, that thing was a mess.

(Ed. note: the Phoenix photo files are still a mess.)

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