Sunday, March 08, 2020

Farewell, Chris Matthews

It's funny how the most extreme spokespersons on both sides of America's troubled political spectrum have found themselves in a giddy state of schadenfreude this week over Chris Matthews' unexpected announcement (on the air) that he will be retiring from his nightly program, Hardball, which has been broadcast on MSNBC since 1997. The fact that the most bombastic of commentators - right and left - did not approve of what Chris was all about tells me that the man was probably doing something right. Apparently Chris was not quite as politically correct as he might have been for a few people. On rare occasion I would find myself mildly embarrassed for him by a minor transgression of 21st century etiquette, but it was always something not even worthy of taking note of. What some folks failed to take into consideration was that Chris Matthews is a man who was born five years before the dawn of he second half of the last century. He was a man of a different era - who was still relevant.
My first introduction to Chris Matthews was not via Hardball - or even television. It was in the form of a book someone gave me for my birthday over twenty summers ago called Kennedy and Nixon - which chronicled the fragile friendship and, later, bitter rivalry of the two most visible political icons of the era in which Matthews came of age. It was the best book that could have been written on that subject. Months before Matthews became a household name across the American landscape, I already considered myself a stone-cold fan of the dude. This has not changed.

One of the things that made Chris so valuable, I believe, was the fact that he never condescended to his audience; he spoke to the viewers in language that any of us could easily understand. In a country that has become as depressingly dumbed-down as this one has in the last four decades, I have a sinking feeling that a lot of people are going to miss him now that he's gone - I know I sure am. My access to broadcast news is rather limited these days, and I haven't been able to watch his program recently as completely as I would have liked to. I would watch most of his program through YouTube, and I can say that the man was as on his game as he's ever been. Nothing good lasts forever and I suppose I should consider it fortunate that Chris Matthews has lasted longer than Water Cronkite lasted as the anchor of the CBS Evening News - but it still doesn't sit well with me. It never will.

Matthews has always been a fairly prolific author and I recommend every book he has ever written, all of which are available at In addition to Kennedy/Nixon mentioned above, I also highly suggest that you read his separate books on the careers of Jack and Bobby Kennedy. The only good news to come out of this is that he will still be writing. We'll still have more to look forward to from him.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Billy Meres
AFTERTHOUGHT: I composed this little meditation in the early-morning hours of March 6, 2020. It involves the memory of a boy that I once knew who passed away fifty years ago....

It is now three in the morning. I awakened about an hour ago with the most melancholy of feelings. On March 6, 1970, fifty years ago today, my little town lost a thirteen-year-old kid named Billy Meres. Being two years his junior I always looked up to him almost as a college freshman looks up to a senior. Whenever I come across a photograph of Billy all these decades later, however, I am always blown away by the realization that he was only a little boy on the day he passed away. I was introduced to him by our mutual friend, Kevin Kelly, in the spring of 1969. Sadly, Kevin stepped into eternity at the end of 2018, his life well lived, but far from finished.

On the day that Billy Meres died, the Beatles released their final single, Let It Be. It took me a full four years before I could listen to that recording without feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness. On the day that he was laid to rest, there was an eclipse of the sun. It's funny, the things you remember, you know?

Tonight, Billy sleeps in Saint John's Catholic Cemetery, a little over a mile down the road from where I am now. I plan on visiting the graves of him and his brother, Ed, today. It's the very least I can do.


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