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Remembering Clif Garboden

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

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JASON GAY (Wall Street Journal):
The least-appreciated skill in writing? Brevity. We're gluttonous creatures; we think big is always better. The longer the story, the more important it supposedly is.

This is absurd. As we're all learning on Twitter, it's harder to economize; to say more with less; to penetrate with a sentence instead of ten paragraphs. But that's exactly what Clif Garboden did every week in his hilariously terse Phoenix television column, "Hot Dots."

"Hot Dots" was sneaky. Breezing by, it just looked like another banal set of listings -- upcoming shows, movies, specials, sporting events. Upon reading, it was anything but. The World's Finest Misanthrope had hijacked TV Guide.

Here's Clif on Godzilla: "No, not the 1956 Japanese import that people have loved for almost half a century, but the 1998 Hollywood remake with Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, and Hank Azaria that people hated on sight. It sucks."

On Murder on the Orient Express. "You'd think everyone would know who did it by now."

On Walker, Texas Ranger: "Chuck Norris is chasing a 13-year-old boy who is running away from the mob because he happens to have possession of a missile-guidance system. Happens all the time."

On the Kentucky Derby: "Who will run out of names first: thoroughbred breeders or garage bands?"

(Clif was not a mindless sports homer. Here's a Hot Dot on the Red Sox-Yankees from 2001: "We can tell by the sudden influx of loudmouth morons into our office neighborhood that baseball season has begun anew. To all you decent, well-behaved, normal, intelligent Sox fans: good luck.")

Snarkiness is rampant in the Internet era, but the snark in "Hot Dots" was precise with its venom. Like Howard Thompson, who wrote pithy (but not as scathing as Clif's) capsules in the New York Times, Clif served as his own straight man -- many listings were delivered without a joke, which made the funny ones rip. He made inside jokes and rewarded his loyal readers. "Look at us," Clif wrote in a summary of a Roy Orbison tribute show, "We're typing a description of a Roy Orbison concert for the 50th time. If you haven't seen it, watch. It's great."

A few years ago, in response to a reader irritated that "Hot Dots" wasn't spending more time promoting pop phenomena like Survivor, Clif outlined the column's genesis. "The original 'Hot Dots' mission (back in 1973) was to publicize under-publicized PBS and local television programming, and, secondarily, to make fun of most commercial TV," he wrote. "I've always considered 'Hot Dots' to be entertainment and commentary first and information second."

If you read "Hot Dots," you were more than entertained. You re-read it, parsed it, quoted it. If you wrote, you stole from it. It was maniacally, always good. It was one of the many things Clif Garboden did quietly and brilliantly that influenced so many.

And yes, if Clif had written this, it have been 450 words shorter, and at least five times as good.

MAUREEN DEZELL (Emerson College):
Every memory of working with Clif: ever smart, consistently funny, always kind.

RAY MUNGO (co-founder, Liberation News Service)
When I was editor of the Boston University News in 1966-67, along came a brash new freshman named Clif Garboden who struck us right away as special. Every year, it seemed, the long-established paper attracted one outstanding new recruit destined for future greatness on our masthead, and Clif was that year's sensation. Sharp, acutely intelligent, a terrific talent and a tireless worker, he had that intuitive instinct of a born newsman.

He was such a standout that we, his elders, remarked he'd be editor some day. And of course he was.

He was a great reporter and went on to be a great editor and all the time was a cherished friend. Even more so lately. Sorely missed.

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