We were saddened to learn of the death of the writer Tom Wolfe. If you are of a certain age (which we are) then you knew him as one of the genuinely great wits of the 1960s and 1970s. There was very little which was ridiculous in either the pop or high culture that escaped his acid pen and refined sense of humor.
We saw him, once, in person at the University of New Mexico, sporting his trademark white suit and delivering a fabulously funny address to an audience of undergrads. As we recall, that day he told anecdote after anecdote about the New York elite, and the Village people (this was long before the musical group of that name) which amused him. (That night, we remember, he talked particularly about the musician/clown Tiny Tim. Until that moment, we must confess, we’d thought he was simply a creation of Laugh In. Strange to discover that he had been a fixture of Greenwich Village for a very long time.)
We liked Wolfe’s novels and other fiction, but it was his short essays that really won our hearts. By turns funny, painful, cutting, and wise, he took apart all that was pompous and arrogant in the larger culture—smug white liberals in “Radical Chic,” self-important literati in “Mauve Gloves & Madmen,” the drug culture of the 1960s in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”…and on and on. For us, these essays defined what creative non-fiction was all about.
It is true that during most of his career his tone was that of the traditionalist, partly bemused and partly outraged by the excesses of the New. But, that is a satirist’s job, to be outraged at what is happening, and to mock the less attractive features of modernity.
Thus, we think, had he lived longer, he would have turned his talents to the Washington of Trump, as he had already unleashed his subversive wit on Wall Street in Bonfire of the Vanities. He would have been brilliant at that, at taking on the stupidities and crudities of the current administration. He would have savaged them.
And thus his passing is uniquely tragic. We could have used his intelligence in explaining this strange aberration in our history…the Orange Administration…and to mock it, reveal its weaknesses, and, who can say? Maybe help bring it down.
So, rest in peace, Mr. Wolfe. But we will miss you.