Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 30, 2019

Richard Greener (1941-2019): a good friend passes on

Filed under: bard college,obituary — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

For regular readers of this blog, you might recall references to Richard Greener over the years. I’ve reviewed his first novel in the Locator series titled “The Knowland Intervention” and conducted three interviews with him, one of which had him sharing thoughts with Jeffrey Marlin, who has also made several appearances here.

A week ago I learned that Richard had died. He was 78 and living on borrowed time for many years as a heart transplant recipient. An entry for Richard in Encyclopedia.com explains how he became a novelist late in life:

A series of heart attacks in the 1980s sidelined former broadcast industry executive Richard Greener, and over the next decade his health deteriorated to the point that he was confined to bed and named to a heart transplant list. The desire to write fiction came out of a need to alleviate the boredom of bed rest and the pain associated with his heart condition. “I was able to sit at my computer, particularly at night, and avoid chest pains by sitting up straight and writing, it was a great help,” Greener told ForeWord Magazine editor Cymbre Foster. In 2006, his brother-in-law sent Greener’s manuscripts to some agents, and within nine months a publisher agreed to print two completed novels. It was around this time that Greener’s transplant came through, and he was able to celebrate his books’ publication with a new heart.

As for the “broadcast industry” reference, Richard was the president of WAOK in Atlanta, Georgia for decades—a radio station serving the needs of the city’s Black community, whose success was helped by the skills of a white Jew. When Richard used to show up at Black radio conferences, the audience was always surprised to see that its legendary president was not Black. If you want to hear Richard expound on the vicissitudes of radio, the interview below is very much worth listening to. As someone who grew up loving radio, his words as an insider meant a lot to me. Immediately beneath it is an interview I conducted with Richard about James Brown, a business associate of his for many years.

And just beneath that is an interview with Richard and Jeffrey Marlin, who has been a friend for 58 years after I began following him around like a puppy dog at Bard College as a freshman in 1961. Jeffrey and Richard started Bard four years earlier as freshman, so their friendship went back 62 years.

Jeffrey and Richard were two of the leading lights of what we used to call “old Bardians”. This meant representatives of the culture at the college Walter Winchell called “the little red whorehouse on the Hudson”. I can say it was little but not much of a whorehouse or red. The student body was just over 400 and most students were apolitical. What politics there were depended a lot on the initiatives taken by Richard, Jeffrey and the iconoclasts around them. In 1961, they came up with the brilliant idea of forming the Welcome the Bomb Committee that was a reaction to Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s mandatory fallout shelter proposals. They told Bard students that if we welcomed the bomb, it would be less hostile. A ceremony was held on the quad that was culminated by Peter Barney firing off a miniature cannon that he brought back from a sailboat trip around the world. You could hear the thing going off across the Hudson river. The student newspaper reported on the rally:

Welcome Bomb Rally Held Here

The Welcome the Bomb Committee held its first community assembly on the lawn in front of the gym on Sunday, October 1. Grand Imperial Wizard Jeff Marlin presided over the ceremonies, which opened with a cannonade supplied by the deft broomstick of Peter Barney. Chaplain Aaron Goldstein intoned the invocation. He invoked the blessings of the Great Bomb, Lord of Hosts, calling for it to descend to earth quickly so that it might receive a suitably ecstatic reception. Wizard Marlin then made a brief speech outlining the Committee’s policies. He said that if a man arrived at a party in his best attire and found the guests diving under sofas and into closets upon his appearance, he would certainly feel hurt and angry. Similarly, Marlin said, the Bomb is deeply saddened at our frantic preparations for shelters and alarm systems. Unless we make haste to welcome it joyfully, it will come to us in anger. “If we welcome the Bomb,” said Wizard Marlin, “the Bomb will welcome us. If we are hostile to the Bomb, the Bomb will be hostile to us. A hurt Bomb is a hostile Bomb.” Marlin also stated that the Committee was against fresh-man regulations. He refused to clarify this statement. Choral Director Richard Greener next led the audience in a rendition of the Committee’s anthem, “Welcome the Bomb.” Orchestral Director Bob Marrow accompanied on the recorder. Grand Fusilier Barney then set off another symbolic holocaust, and Chaplain Goldstein concluded the ceremonies with the Benediction.

I barely knew Richard at Bard. He lived in Albee dorm with Jeffrey and me but on an upper floor. In my mind’s eye, I can see him walking down the steps wearing blue jeans, a blue denim work-shirt and a green corduroy jacket, usually on his way to the pool hall on campus with a scowl on his face. He was an ace pool player—that’s my strongest memory of him at the time.

It was only after I graduated and moved to New York that I got to know him a bit better. By 1967, I had become a fire-breathing Trotskyist and anxious to convert others to my beliefs. One afternoon I agreed to help Richard move to a new apartment and accompanied him and Jeffrey in a U-Haul van they had rented. For the entire day, I proceeded to give my proletarian revolution spiel to Richard. Jeffrey had heard this numerous times and was smart enough to tune me out. After I was finished, Richard confessed that he found it convincing and worrisome even if he had no intention of going within six feet of the SWP. I only wish that I could turn the clock back and been as skeptical as them.

Both of them came from socialist households, to one extent or another. Richard’s dad was in the CP and Jeffrey’s was a labor lawyer for the SP-dominated garment workers union. Like many Bard students, rebellion was expressed much more in terms of culture than class struggle. Since I was so much in awe of upperclassmen like them, I was willing to forsake my conservative politics just to be socially accepted.

Both Jeffrey and Richard made a trip to Nicaragua in the late 80s as part of a Tecnica delegation. Although I did not join them, I was happy to hear that they made contacts with Sandinista radio management even though a project never materialized.

This was around the time that Richard’s health began to decline and his trips to New York dwindled. Each time he came up, I was always happy to talk to him. As you can tell from the interview I did with the both of them, they remained larger than life well into their seventies.

Over the past ten years or so, I shared two or three phone calls a year or so with Richard—partly to offer some companionship during the shut-in required by his heart transplant and partly to listen to a unique and charismatic personality. Since he took medication to desensitize his immune system from rejecting a foreign organ, it came at a cost. Every time he went out to a concert or any other event with lots of people close by, he always ran the risk of suffering some communicable disease. Despite the drawbacks, including a horrific recovery period after the transplant that he documented here, it was a vast improvement over dying from heart disease 30 or 40 years ago.

For all of the well-deserved contempt that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg deserve, it does provide a social foundation that allows people like Richard to stay in touch with friends. Of all the people who I knew from Facebook, Richard’s comments always were always most welcome even when we disagreed.

This was his last post on FB and well worth including as a measure of his intelligence and humanity:

Common to all human thought, I think, two areas stand alone obliterating truth and fact and instead overwhelmed by lies and invention. They are, of course, Love and History. Love I leave to the memoirists, who truth be told, are little more than novelists writing about themselves. But, History provides the core of most human belief, and here with apologies to my Native American friends (if I had any) is the real story of Thanksgiving, first published about 10 years ago but still worth reading every year and especially to be remembered as the NFL shamelessly thanks the American military for the freedom to play football.


The True Story Of Thanksgiving
By Richard Greener
Novelist, writer, author of The Locator novels, basis of the FOX TV series “The Finder”.
11/25/2010 10:04am EST | Updated November 22, 2016

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

The idea of the American Thanksgiving feast is a fairly recent fiction. The idyllic partnership of 17th Century European Pilgrims and New England Indians sharing a celebratory meal appears to be less than 120 years-old. And it was only after the First World War that a version of such a Puritan-Indian partnership took hold in elementary schools across the American landscape. We can thank the invention of textbooks and their mass purchase by public schools for embedding this “Thanksgiving” image in our modern minds. It was, of course, a complete invention, a cleverly created slice of cultural propaganda, just another in a long line of inspired nationalistic myths.

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1 Comment »

  1. I interviewed him many years ago on KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, California. A straightforward, candid man who related his experiences in a world that has ceased to exist. Sad to hear about his passing.

    Comment by Richard Estes — January 2, 2020 @ 5:19 am


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