Riffs Obits
Published November 10, 2007
The Mighty Norman Has Flipped Out
Norman Mailer 1923 - 2007

There is no joy in Wordville, Beloveds, the Mighty Norman has flipped out. Norman Mailer, novelist, essayist, film director, political activist and arguably Lord Buckley highest profile heckler ever has vacated the narrative and moved into that literary device commonly known as the Epilogue.

Some have described Mailer as a volcano of the written word. He covered the action on so many subjects: war, race, religion, politics, crime and culture that the wig, muttering incomprehensively, quickly switches to the key of incredulity. His books include "The Naked and The Dead", "The Executioner's Song", "The Prisoner of Sex", and "Marilyn: A Biography." He also helped found The Village Voice. In hip circles he is perhaps best known for his 1957 essay "The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster" a meditation in 5/4 discussing the influence of "Negro" culture on the young, urban white male:

"The hipster has absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro. To be an existentialist, one must be able to feel oneself - one must know one's desires, one's rages, one's anguish, one must be aware of the character of one's frustration and know what would satisfy it."

The essay goes on in an attempt to define the undefinable. When reading this next quote, it is natural to want to conjur an image in motion of His Lordship in full Hip Semantic sermon mode:

The bohemian and the juvenile delinquent came face-to-face with the Negro, and the hipster was a fact in American life. If marijuana was the wedding ring, the child was the language of Hip for its argot gave expression to abstract states of feeling which all could share, at least all who were Hip. And in this wedding of the white and the black it was the Negro who brought the cultural dowry.

It was mentioned above that Mailer heckled Lord Buckley. The story comes from composer and Buckley accompanist David Amram who was with His Lordship the night before Buckley himself swooped the satellite. Buckley, sans Cabaret Card, was performing at one of George Plimpton's famous literary gatherings. Buckley's went along just fine until he somehow earned the hydroxyl compound soaked Norman Mailer's vocal displeasure. Uncharacteristically, but ever so gracefully, Buckley backed down and left the party with David Amram and Doc Humes in tow. The next day Buckley died. Coincidentally, and not without a touch of novelistic irony, Mailer was a member of the Citizen's Emergency Committee that was agitating to get Buckley's Caberet Card reinstated.

Mailer leaves in his considerable wake the vapours of six marriages, nine children, a gross or two of books, essays, and films and enough stories to keep doctoral students happy for three generations to come.