Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How to write an obituary

English newspapers have the best obituaries. Best of them all, weeks after week, are the ones in the Economist. Why? Because Ann Wroe, their anonymous (all Economist articles are unsigned) obituarist who unfailingly catches the character of the recently departed. In the 13 September edition she wrote a brilliant one on Joan Rivers. Quote unquote: 
Her sad-ass critics said she kept crossing the line, and all the more as she got older. She’d say, What line? She’d made a career out of loudly mentioning really unmentionable things—right from the 1960s, when you couldn’t say “abortion” on TV, especially if you were female, and so she said “She had 14 appendectomies.” No one else dared even squeak about these things. But by talking about them you could take control and laugh at life, even when it truly hurt. “Lighten the fuck up!” she would shout to her audiences. “These are jokes.”

And here is an interview with Ann Wroe about her process. Quote unquote: 
The subject of the week’s obituary is decided on Monday, and it must be written and polished by Tuesday. This 36-hour window is a marathon attempt to consume as much information as possible. “I just sort of feed it all in. Make a huge great collage in my mind. And then it compresses down terribly: there must be millions of words in there and it just comes down to a thousand.”
 Often, Wroe is stepping inside the mind of someone who was utterly obsessive about something, and briefly, their passion must become of great importance to her as well. “There was one man I wrote about who was a carpenter, and he specialized in making drawers. It’s quite difficult to get drawers to go in and out smoothly, and you can understand how that could become an obsession. So I had to learn how to make them as well, and find out which woods were best. I had to be just as enthusiastic about how to do it as he was. [...] 
Wroe insists on only reading source material by her subject. “I never go to any books written by anybody else. I go to the words on the paper, their diaries. I think it’s the only way to do it, because that’s the voice that has disappeared.”

Amazing. So here is the late Warren Zevon in 1980 with “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”:


Chad Taylor said...


Stephen Stratford said...

Wasn't he good. Every version of "Carmelita" I have heard is great, which is the test of a song.

Top Alaskan Brown Bear Hunts brooks range said...

Like a miniature funeral, the purposes of an obituary are; acknowledging the passing of one of us, celebrating the gifts that the person’s life brought to us, sharing parts of a life that we may not all be aware of, and expressing the grief of our loss.