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We Never Got Rich, But We Are Going To Heaven: Farewell, Clif Garboden (1948-2011)

UPDATE: In lieu of flowers, the Garboden family has asked that donations be made in Clif's name to the Dana Farber Cancer Center, specifically to the treatment of head and neck cancers.

If you knew Clif Garboden, who for many years was the managing editor the Boston Phoenix and a guiding spirit of alternative press, then you'd know he wouldn't want us making a big fuss about this. But we're going to make a fuss anyway. Clif died yesterday afternoon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. His daughter, Molly, broke the news to us today:

As many of you know, my father had an epic battle with cancer about six years ago. While the quality of care at Dana Farber Cancer Institute was excellent, I can't help but believe he frightened the disease into submission with sarcasm and guile.

Unfortunately, last month, the "evil Mr C", as my father called it on his blog, returned for another round. Due to the illness, he developed pneumonia and because of my father's weakened state and other health complications, his condition deteriorated rapidly. He died yesterday afternoon at Brigham and Women's hospital in Boston. My mother, brother and I were all able to be with him. He died peacefully and the doctors assured us that my father felt no pain.

The fight never went out of Clif -- nor did his sense of humor. He was blogging from his hospital bed earlier this month, even after he got the news that the cancer returned. In the hospital he fell and gashed his head. Later he posted a camera-phone photo of himself post-fall, and joked that the heart monitor on his finger was making it hard to type. 

Frankly, we're still in shock and in no way prepared to write the tribute to Clif that he deserves. We'll do that soon. For now, thankfully, there's an even better tribute: the one he wrote himself, on the occasion of the Phoenix's 40th birthday -- his one-man manifesto and memoir about a life lived in alternative media, and why it was worth fighting for. 

It's worth reading in full, but this afternoon we're remembering the way it ends: 

The alternative press — the Phoenix , the Bay Guardian , and the hundred or so alt weeklies toiling in the red states — is anything but obsolete. It’s something to cherish, something proud to be part of. Something invented out of restless outrage to propel the cutting edge of things. It survives in a state of perpetual self-contradiction, a permanent instrument of change — something forever new and necessary. As I tell the youth of today who venture into our offices, we’re the good guys. We never got rich, but we are going to heaven.


If Clif is in your thoughts as much as he is in ours, please share your stories. 

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  • Bill Jensen said:

    One of the good guys.

    February 11, 2011 3:39 PM
  • Sam Pfeifle said:

    He was such a good teacher. Clif loved what he did and he made you love it, too, even if it was typing listings into that fucking Filemaker database for hours on end so that Summer Preview would get done in time. Clif made you feel like what you were doing was important and mattered and there just wasn't any way you could half-ass it and live with yourself. And he could write like hell. I'm going to miss him a lot.

    February 11, 2011 4:14 PM
  • faulkeyue said:

    my condolences to the family and friends of Clif...

    February 11, 2011 4:47 PM
  • Ian Donnis said:

    Clif was a brainy, incisive guy with a great BS detector and a sharp sense of humor. He'll be missed.

    February 11, 2011 5:09 PM
  • Clea Simon said:

    Clif was writing a history of the alt-press and last I heard, he had two interested publishers. Anyone know if there was any progress on that? Would be great if he had anything like a finished ms.

    February 11, 2011 5:14 PM
  • Lyn said:

    I remember looking forward to "Hot Dots" on 'FNX; that seems like lifetimes ago now. The local media landscape is the better for having had him for so long in its ranks. Rest in peace, Mr. Garboden.

    February 11, 2011 5:46 PM
  • charles pierce said:

    He was my first editor when I walked in the doors of 100 Massachusetts Avenue, and my friend forever after, and the heart, soul, mind and indomitable spirit behind one of the best times in any of our lives.

    I loved the man. Sleep well.

    February 11, 2011 6:37 PM
  • Jess Kilby said:

    Clif was one of the few people I encountered in my career who made me feel like I was a part of something noble and worth doing. The alternative press is a hard slog -- the pay is shit and the important stories that you're telling rarely get the wider audience they deserve. But Clif was living proof that it was worth persevering; that it mattered. And unlike so many career journalists, he was without ego. His writing was full of wit, insight, and the occasional wallop of righteous indignation, but it was never full of him -- even when he was sharing personal stories.

    Like the rest of the Phoenix family, I'm still in shock at the news. I wish I'd taken the time to tell him all these things myself.

    Vale, Clif. Yes, definitely one of the good guys.

    February 11, 2011 7:37 PM
  • Jose Invencio said:

    Sometimes nice guys finish first. We'll miss you Clif Garboden!

    February 11, 2011 7:38 PM
  • Barry Crimmins said:

    Clif taught me how to write by editing me. He would take something it took me weeks to twist and gnarl and email it back to me 40 minutes later as a relatively lucid piece of writing. He applied that same ingenious problem-solving talent in more ways than we could ever count. He helped everyone and never took a bow.

    He was a living breathing shot in the arm and like so many of us, I am bereft at the news of his death.

    My profound condolences to his family and humanity.

    Barry Crimmins

    February 11, 2011 8:32 PM
  • Memphis Ken said:

    Counselor,confidente,curmudgeon: thanks, Clif, for all you did to make all our lives infinitely richer!

    February 12, 2011 1:26 AM
  • Quaker Karen said:

    I told him once "You're a closet nice guy."  He bowed his head and smiled a way-sardonic smile.

    One memory, held dear.

    February 12, 2011 9:15 AM
  • Paula Childs said:

    I am deeply saddened by the loss of Clif.  Though I never knew him personally, he was one of the giants in the alternative press.  As a former staffer at the Cambridge Phoenix and a founding member of The Real Paper, I carry with me the pride I still feel at being a small part of a wonderful journalism institution. The important work that goes on in the alternative press can not be underestimated. And today we need it more than ever.  Rest in peace.

    February 12, 2011 9:42 AM
  • Johnny Angel said:

    Funny how in real life, Clif kept to himself and was the polar opposite of verbose, but on the page and in print, kicked out the verbal jams.

    Last encounter with him was a dry exegesis on the maze-like workings of the Phoenix's billing and payment system that had me snickering for an hour.

    Goodbye to a real good guy, one of the few that the tag "true believer" (in quality and work)is a 100% net positive.

    February 12, 2011 11:38 AM
  • Andrea Fischman said:

    Clif opened the door for me at the Phoenix and helped me get my first photo gig there as photographer just out of college. I went into his office and within a couple of minutes of talking, he said, "alright, let's introduce you to everyone!"A sweet man with a very big heart and I will never forget his support he gave me then.

    February 12, 2011 2:21 PM
  • Erin Sullivan said:

    Clif was really and truly a believer in alternative-newsweeklies and all they stood for. He chided, he criticized and he goaded us all to remember what we do, why we do it, why it was important for us to keep doing it even when it seemed irrelevant or inconvenient. Thanks for all of your hard work, Clif, you will be missed by many.  

    February 12, 2011 2:49 PM
  • Theresa Regli said:

    Clif Garboden was no doubt one of the most influential people in my career, an entertaining writer, excellent editor, and an incessantly questioning cynic (about technology in particular, which is what I started writing about when he was my boss 15-12 years ago, and what I still write about today). I remember how he typed with two fingers and always made us laugh. He used to put oranges on my desk and say, "No scurvy in my group." I'll miss you, clif. [sic] Thanks for everything.....

    February 12, 2011 4:22 PM
  • Steven Stark said:

    A wonderful man -- a wonderful editor. Journalism wouldn't be the same without him and won't be now. Already, we miss him.

    Steven Stark

    February 13, 2011 7:46 AM
  • Lou Papineau said:

    I'm sure Clif is smiling a "way-sardonic smile" seeing the picture of B. Dolan where his should be on the friends' activity/popular tags

    I mourn the passing of a humble giant in the alt-publishing world

    February 13, 2011 10:08 AM
  • Jason Notte said:

    Clif took a chance on me when few other people were lining up for the opportunity. I knew him for only three years, but as I told the friend who introduced us -- the managing editor of an alt-weekly in Colorado Springs -- Clif lit a fire under his writers and fellow editors and managed to keep it at a steady heat. You could mistakenly label him as cantankerous and not be wrong, but you could call him passionate and undyingly devoted and be much closer to the mark. We were fighting the good fight and the assholes who were trying to stop us could stick it. There was no question too adversarial or too numerous and no hour when it couldn't be answered. This is a bad era for ideals and an even worse one for the educated cynic, but Clif could still inspire a bit of both.

    Thanks for the push, Clif. I'l keep fighting.

    February 13, 2011 6:53 PM
  • rhea said:

    He was good to me. He gave me some of my first freelance writing assignments when I was about 20. Thanks, Clif. RIP.

    February 14, 2011 10:33 AM
  • Karen Bitter said:

    Clif truly was an original, and I find myself quoting him still after all these years. "There's a light at the end of the tunnel, but I think it's a brush fire."

    February 14, 2011 11:11 AM
  • Mark Jurkowitz said:

    Like a number of others here, Clif assigned and edited the first story I ever wrote as a journalist. And I think it can be fairly said that when all (or many) around him were losing their heads, Clif always kept his. He will be sorely missed.

    February 14, 2011 12:21 PM
  • Eva_b_w said:

    Clif edited the hell out of my freelance assignments while simultaneously making me believe I could be a writer.

    Thank you, Clif.

    February 14, 2011 3:15 PM
  • Erica C said:

    Thank you for showing me the ropes and telling me like it is...we'll miss you.

    All my love,


    February 15, 2011 1:07 PM
  • tcarlson said:

    Clif took a chance and gave me my first job out of college. Somehow thought that four years in a liberal arts ivory tower hadn't clouded my mind believed that adding a hockey-loving mid-westerner to the staff might be good for the mix. I was his assistant editor for several years and took over the good ol' supplements section (can you say Audio, Video?!) when he moved up the ladder. He might have moved up but he was at my side all those mega Christmas and Summer Preview sections! Seems like yesterday...

    Doesn't seem possible that you could be gone, Clif. So happy to have reconnected last year.

    You inspired us all with your wit, your talent and your friendship. You'll always be in our hearts.

    February 16, 2011 5:28 PM
  • Mark Edmonds said:

    Few now probably remember when The Phoenix had a Worcester-area edition from '92-8 and Clif was the guy charged with quarterbacking The Phoenix's alt-media ethos up The Pike to plant the flag. And he did it too. Within a year he had the market's other more established weekly on the ropes and scrambling to become more "Phoenix-like". I count myself blessed to have been one of the lab rats in The Experiment. Fare the well, old friend. We'll miss you more than words will ever tell...  

    February 20, 2011 10:00 PM

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