Tribute to Barney Rosset

Michael Guinzburg

 

YOU don’t know me without you have read a book called Beam Me Up, Scotty, but that ain’t no matter. In that book a guy runs around New York knocking off drug dealers to maintain his sobriety. It was a fun little ride, but I couldn’t for the life of me find anyone to publish it until I met Barney…
It’s the early nineties and I’m flipping burgers and blackening tuna for Doc Zinsser over at Automatic Slim’s in the West Village and Doc sends Barney my manuscript. Barney falls for it like a ton of books… He invites me over… So I shoot cross-town to his crib. He shows me a portrait of his beloved childhood dog Spike, a dead ringer for the vicious white bull terrier Natasha in the book. “Did he bite a Frenchman’s dick like Natasha does in the book?” I asked. “No, a Canadian and an Italian!” he answers with giddy glee.
For next twenty years I was lucky to have Barney as my pal and literary godfather, as he liked to call himself. He introduced me to editors and publishers and great artists like Joe Strick and he was extremely kind to me and my family. Barney and Astrid treated me like a human being…

“Why didn’t you publish The Hobbit?” I once asked.

“I didn’t get it. I still don’t.”

Who has time for sword and sorcerer fantasy legends when your life is all about creating and knowing real legends: Kerouac, Miller, Beckett, etc., and fighting real demons (Ignorance, Racism, Fascism), defending the weak? Who needs dwarves and trolls and monsters and kings when you live in the Village, a legend in your own time? Fantasies? What could be more fantastic than real life and real art? Oh yes, he was special. One of the great stars of his time. He lived on rum and coke and curiosity and fought shit-heads everywhere. He was a live wire, buzzing with energy, full of passion. He had crazy reserves of mental and physical strength…When he decided to do something he wouldn’t rest till it was done. Henry Miller? He didn’t sleep those years. When Barney sold his home in East Hampton he dug up twenty trees and transplanted them himself to Astrid’s yard, building fires to keep the roots warm, tending them like a feverish child through the snowy December nights… He loved trees and people and books, art and sports and love and Jamaica then Thailand and the latest gadgets and gizmos and Beckett and Beckett and Japanese twins and all his kids and wives and friends and writers and tennis and Irish roots… He changed America with his will and wit and charm and smarts and most of all energy… He was the Ghandi of literature. He wore down the establishment and set literature free. God bless you, Barney. Thanks for being.