Responding to the death of John Ross yesterday morning, Frank Bardacke, for Counterpunch, writes, "John's gone. John Ross. I doubt that we will ever see anyone remotely like him again."
Bardacke's obituary gives "the outline of the story," which begins:
The bare bones, as he would say, are remarkable enough. Born to show business Communists in New York City in 1938, he had minded Billie Holliday's dog, sold dope to Dizzy Gillespie, and vigiled at the hour of the Rosenberg execution, all before he was sixteen years old. An aspiring beat poet, driven by D.H. Lawrence's images of Mexico, he arrived at the Tarascan highlands of Michoacan at the age of twenty, returning to the U.S. six years later in 1964, there to be thrown in the Federal Penitentiary at San Pedro, for refusing induction into the army.
Then there was John.
Even in his seventies, a tall imposing figure with a narrow face, a scruffy goatee and mustache, a Che T-shirt covered by a Mexican vest, a Palestinian battle scarf thrown around his neck, bags of misery and compassion under his eyes, offset by his wonderful toothless smile and the cackling laugh that punctuated his comical riffs on the miserable state of the universe.
He was among the last of the beats, master of the poetic rant, committed to the exemplary public act, always on the side of the poor and defeated. His tormentors defined him. A sadistic prison dentist pulled six of his teeth. The San Francisco Tac Squad twice bludgeoned his head, ruining one eye and damaging the other. The guards of Mexico's vain, poet-potentate Octavio Paz beat him to the ground in a Mexico City airport, and continued to kick him while he was down. Israeli settlers pummeled him with clubs until he bled, and wrecked his back forever.
He had his prickly side. He hated pretense, pomposity and unchecked power wherever he found it. Losing was important to him. Whatever is the dictionary opposite of an opportunist—that's what John was.
Please visit Counterpunch if you're yet to read the obituary in full—unlike most, it manages to capture something of the man, a great man.
Frank Bardacke's new book Trampling Out the Vintage will be published by Verso in June this year.