The Last Page

The Last Page

Marshall was a good friend over many years—almost half a century; he was a political comrade for all those years; and he was a lovely human being. My wife, Judy, and I knew him first as a very vulnerable young man, a graduate student, miserable in Harvard’s government department (as I had been not many years before). When he was especially unhappy, he would visit us and hang out in our house, with our kids. I think that we raised his spirits, and he certainly raised ours. I remember vividly how he dragged us to the first Earth Day celebration in Cambridge, on the banks of the Charles River. Judy and I were skeptical, probably wrongly, but Marshall and our two daughters had a wonderful time.

Marshall was in important ways a child of the sixties. Though he hated the way that decade ended, in ultra-left posturing and experiments in violence, he never turned his back on all that had gone before. He relished every liberating and every participatory moment. This produced in some of the Dissent elders a certain wariness, so it was some years before he was fully admitted to our little circle. I was never wary, in part because Marshall and I had another connection: he was, as I am, a man of the left and a lover of Zion. Those haven’t always been commitments easy to combine, but he combined them with grace.

He was also a Marxist, of sorts, though the images of Marx that he put on his book covers and his T-shirts were not the ones we are accustomed to. I can say with confidence that Marshall was not a Marxist Marxist, but one of his own kind. He focused on the writings of the young Marx, and I have always thought that in reading those texts he also improved them.

Eventually, the other editors of Dissent recognized in Marshall the high intellect that they required and admired—and they recognized something else too: a buoyancy of spirit that could lift us all and make Dissent a better magazine. He became our urbanist and our in-house critic of the anti-urbanists. He described again and again, in vivid detail, the connections of modernism, urban life, and human emancipation. He resurrected the old medieval maxim Stadtluft macht frei: the air of the city makes us free. He found that freedom everywhere: in the busy streets of Manhattan; in the clubs and cafes of Greenwich Village; in the gaudy lights of Times Square; in the Bronx where he grew up, which died and was reborn; in the graffiti scrawled on New York’s subway cars; and in the music of the city.

Avram Barlowe, a colleague of my daughter’s at an alternative high school in the New York City system, wrote a brief account of one of Marshall’s visits to the school, on a panel about rap music:

He opened by quoting violent lines from Shakespeare and then seamlessly transitioned to the words of Public Enemy. Just about everyone in the room was amazed by his fluency with late ’80s rap lyrics and his ability to locate the...

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