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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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Clif Garboden, Self-portrait, Boston University protest aganist Kent State shootings, May 1970  

Clif Garboden, who spent most of his professional career at the Boston Phoenix, is being remembered by friends, family, and colleagues. You can leave your own memories, and browse an archive of Garboden's stories and photographs, at http://thephoenix.com/clif. Below, a sampling of the reaction to Clif's death, collected by the Phoenix staff.

STEPHEN MINDICH (publisher, Boston Phoenix):
Aside from the immediate wrenching in my stomach, and the thought of how painful it must be for Susannah and his children, and the realization that he was younger than I, and the mental film-reel of the years -- decades, now -- that I spent with Clif Garboden as part of my presence, two thoughts asserted themselves over all others. The first, and foremost: that by many means, and often not the gentlest, he kept me and the Phoenix honest to our mission -- sometimes saving me from myself. For this I will always be grateful. The second, and saddest: that we have just lost one of the last and largest repositories of our institutional memory, and I will miss his irascible self.

ASHLEY RIGAZIO (Boston Phoenix, 2006-'11):
As I write this, following the passing of my dear friend and mentor Clif Garboden, I'm listening to a CD he made me. It's the most brilliantly fucked up soundtrack of yodeling, Chuck Berry, rarities from the South Pacific, Rihanna, the Dickies, nonsensical songs in unintelligible languages, and clips of old radio shows and his 1970 wedding. He wouldn't want it any other way.

My first interaction with Clif was in the summer of 2006, when I was a 20-year-old intern at the Portland Phoenix. I had recently abandoned my futile, often embarrassing efforts to become a music critic and decided I wanted to be a serious, hard news journalist. I was assigned a story on lead paint.

I felt like I was changing the goddamn world, saving the innocents from the threat that is lead paint. I filed my story only to have it returned the next day, with a message from some mysterious Boston editor named Clif. At the top of the page, in big red letters, it said: "WHY DO I CARE?" Well then.

It was tough love, indeed, and something young journalists need far more than a fancy degree. I rewrote it to show him why he should care (although the final draft was far from Pulitzer material), and over time, Clif made me a better writer and more confident reporter.

He also became a friend. We bonded over our love for eccentrics, from streetpeople and crazy cat ladies to families that live out of vans by choice. Our favorite, by far, was Captain PJ, a Worcester rock scene fixture, late-night DJ, and human-bowler.

Over the five years I knew Clif, he was always there for me, professionally and personally. He gave me my first freelance assignment and fought hard to land me a full-time gig in Boston. When I fainted at the Phoenix holiday party and was rushed to the ER, he called to check on me and award a score of 10 out of 10 -- a gold-medal-worthy tumble. When my heart was broken, he was there with a hug and a free lunch, one of the greatest gifts an impoverished alt-weekly editor could ask for.

But better gifts yet were Clif's mix CDs. To say his tastes were eclectic would be an understatement -- he had a healthy appreciation for all genres from punk to doo-wop, as well as a devotion to classic rockers like the Stones and a notable fascination with music that can clear a room.

It was Captain PJ who inspired Clif's best work: a mix tape entitled "From the Captain with love...music to fear." Did it scare me? Absolutely. But it's one of the three things I'll grab from my apartment if it's ever engulfed in flames.

It kicks off with Lou Monte's "Jungle Louis," an ol' ditty about an Italian Tarzan from Jersey City. Clif described it as such in the "Hot Dots"-style liner notes: "Not as well known as Monte's beloved chart-topping version of 'Lazy Mary' or his immortal heart-warming classic 'Dominick the Donkey,' but lyrically far richer and thematically cohesive . . . . The monkey's name? Unsurpassed." It's Carmine, by the way.

Our favorite track was "My Pal Foot Foot," recorded by hypnotically bad New Hampshire girl band the Shaggs. "Over the decades, the Shaggs have caused generation after generation to ask, 'What the fuck?' " Clif wrote. It is the Troll 2 of songs.

I miss Clif already -- his jokes, his career advice, the news stories about kleptomaniacs and small-town cops he religiously forwarded, the bizarre non-sequiturs he left on my Facebook wall. I'm grateful he left me with five CDs of both fantastic tunes and pure, musical destruction to remember him by. And as I get ready to leave the Phoenix this spring for a West Coast experiment -- doing exactly what, I'm not sure -- I know I'll be fine. I learned from the best.

LISTEN: “Music To Fear,” a Clif Garboden Mixtape [via 8Tracks]

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