Tribute by Jeff Marqusee
Funeral, London, 20 January 2015
I want to thank you all for being here. I know he would be shocked and overwhelmed with the support and kindness.
I have thought about this day for seven years since he was first diagnosed with cancer. There were many painful periods during those years but I am grateful he had them. They were more than I and I know he expected. He made great use of them and I am thankful he had Liz to make it possible. He never stopped telling me how much he loved her.
There is no way I can capture both what Mike meant to me or his life. I have had a steam of memories that have flooded my head since he died. Many more than I can tell you.
He was my older brother in all its meaning. He was my closest companion for much of my life, my partner in crime and exploration, and my guide to a diverse and rich world. We were only a little over a year apart and were close all our lives even as our lives became so different.
We shared a room from as early as I can remember until I was 13. In childhood we were wild boys. With three little sisters to consume our mother’s full attention we were delightfully left to our own devices.
Even as kids Mike seemed to know the secrets of the world. He would introduce them to me and we would explore them together.
The first movie we saw in a theater was John Wayne’s The Alamo in 1960. I was 6 and he was 7. He already knew all the background of the characters – Davy Crocket, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston, and William Travis. And of course shared with me all the details. Mike had not yet arrived at a political analysis of movies (I think it took him until he was 9 for that). We played endless hours defending our beds at home from the evil Mexican army only to die each time in a futile cause. Our love of movies started early. Even just 10 days ago he and I could recount to each other the details of that movie and the joy in watching it.
Mike seemed to know about the world before anyone else our age did. I remember in 1964, I was in third grade and Mike was in fourth. The then Cassius Clay was to fight Sonny Liston. Why he cared I don’t know. Certainly our parents had no interest in the fights. But Mike cared deeply and therefore so did I (I trusted anything he said was worth seeing or experiencing and that trust has never led me astray in 60 years). We were of course supposed to be asleep. But Mike back then was an avid radio listener late at night. So we stayed up listening to the fight cheering for Clay. It was beginning of his love affair with Ali which had its ultimate flowering in his book Redemption Song over 40 years later.
As Mike and I became adolescents our desire to explore the world kept growing. I was always eager to join the hunt and he seemed to have an endless list of new things we needed to experience.
We discovered NYC and the world of movies, art, politics, ethnic food and drugs. When I was 13 we would go into NYC every Saturday by train. Run the dozen or so blocks to the MOMA to see whatever classic film was playing – we would seek out movies at the NY film festival and revival houses on the upper west side – from the silent movies to French new wave cinema we watched them all. We would then go down to Greenwich Village and hear music and order rum and cokes at places that could care less how old we were. We discovered what real Chinese food could be. For kids living in the suburbs of NYC this was the ultimate joy.
At that time Mike’s deep commitment to politics began to explode. The Vietnam War, racial discrimination was all consuming. And Mike consumed everything he could find to understand its causes and how to stop it.
Our parents had a lot to do with our politics. But Mike quickly became his own analyst and needed to understand the issues in ever greater detail. He was more than a participant, he organized and led the protests from our school and reached out to other political groups and individuals to become part of something larger.
As he prepared to go off to university he did something no one else we knew had ever contemplated. He came here. Going to England was both an escape from the demands of his life, the heavy expectations many people put upon him and a youthful romantic view of studying English literature. He naively thought that he was done with politics, how wrong he was to every ones benefit. But that decision set the course of his life.
I came to visit him after his first year at Sussex in 1972. And with no planning we decided to go off to Morocco. I was 17 he was 19 and we set of on a journey which started both our loves for the developing world. It was an amazing experience for both of us. Just a little over a week ago he and I were remembering that trip. We both could recall in detail the amazing grilled sardines and Moroccan bread we ate at the port of Essaouira sitting at a rough table, the only westerners, as if it was yesterday even though it was 43 years ago.
We had divided the world in many ways. He was the writer; I was the scientist. In the late seventies I was in graduate school studying theoretical physics not sure why I was there. I called him up and said I needed a break, would he go to Nepal with me. I had heard about these amazing treks you could do. We set off together on a trip that changed both our lives. It was how he discovered India and started his deep love for south Asia. While in hospice I showed him a bunch of the photos from that trip and he recounted in detail the people we met and the villages we stayed in. He stayed in India after our trek and discovered a country he had known nothing about. After talking with local Nepalis so desperate to learn about science and technology I went back to school determined not to take for granted the opportunity so few in the world have.
I came over often in the 80s for work and would see him and he introduced me to North London which more than any other place became home. He told me in great excitement about this woman he had met and how he felt it was special. It was important to him that I meet Liz. It was obvious they were match.
As a single father, I would take my two kids, Alex and Hannah, and travel with Mike and Liz each summer. Trips here, to Italy and to Brittany were special, not only to be with Mike but to see him open up the world for my kids as he had done for me. He meant a lot to them and I know they miss him.
Mike had his demons that tormented him. He was his harshest critic and was not one to let things go easily. For all the horrors of his cancer in some ways it gave him the space to reconcile the issues that troubled him.
Mike has been in my mind and heart for 60 years. Although he is gone he will be there until I join him.
Mike I love you.
Memorial, London, May 2017
I am here today with my three sisters Joanne, Susan and Ellen. We each mourn in our own way the loss of our brother Mike. He was my older brother in all its meaning. He was my closest companion for much of my life and my partner in crime and exploration. We were only a little over a year apart and were close all our lives even though our lives were very different.
Today I want to celebrate what he meant to me and to many others.
The depth of his knowledge was incredible but more important for me was the breadth of his curiosity and commitment.
He opened the world to me as my older brother to my children Alex, Hannah, Becca and Margot as an uncle and too many who have never had the privilege to know him personally as a writer
His intellectual explorations and his political activism were not abstract but about his unwavering dedication to fighting injustice and recognizing the value of all cultures and all people as individuals.
He was unique even as a little kid.
Mike seemed to know about the world before anyone else our age. I remember in 1964, I was in third grade and Mike was in fourth. The then Cassius Clay was to fight Sonny Liston. Why he cared I don’t remember and probably didn’t know. Certainly our parent had no interest in the fights. But Mike cared deeply and therefore so did I (I trusted anything he said was worth seeing or experiencing and that trust has never led me astray in 60 years). We were of course supposed to be asleep. But Mike back then was an avid radio listener late at night. So we stayed up listening to the fight cheering for Clay. It was beginning of his love affair with Ali which had its ultimate flowering in his book Redemption Song over 40 years later.
As a junior in high school (I think he was 16) he wrote a chapter in a book called “high school revolutionaries”. So at the time he and the rest of us were preoccupied with trying to look cool, finding drugs and trying to desperately figure out girls he also had the awareness to write
“Our only avenue to true expression and development is though rebellion … we hope to free man from all kinds of oppression: economic, racial, and cultural”
So we should not be surprised by his love of Blake all his life.
Blake said “The voice of honest indignation is the voice of God,” – Mike certainly never believed in god but his voice of indignation was never quiet for 60 years.
His love of culture ranged from the high to the popular – whether it was music, literature, movies, art, sports, food and equally important TV, it was visceral for him.
I remember travelling with him and Liz and Alex and Hannah, through Sicily. He would seamlessly transition from a discussion of the mafia and its alliance with generations of corrupt Christian Democrats, to his love of the most over the top late Sicilian baroque sculptures and paintings stuffed with more little fat cupids than you could count and then how wrong Ruskin was to discount this type of art – followed by what we could eat and drink next. All equally important and he was equally enthusiastic about all.
He saw in popular cultural the underlying desires of people to fight against the powers that rule and constrain our societies. If you knew him well you knew his love of TV. Particularly the Star Trek series Deep Space 9. He could watch an episode over and over again as long as he could share his love for it with someone else and open up this world he felt he had found.
Just a week ago I was talking with my step- daughter Margot (who next to mike has a knowledge of Deep Space 9 more than anyone else I know) how one of its stories was relevant to a particular political and ethical issues in the news that day and we thought “what would Mike say”. I know Mike would have proceeded to expound on the topic in great detail.
Mike more than anyone I have known in my life was a citizen of the world – not just because he travelled so widely but because he valued and loved all cultures. He loved North London particularly its diversity of people and culture and eventually became a British citizen but he fundamentally distrusted even the concept of the state.
When Blake said, “Man is not improved by the hurt of another. States are not improved at the expense of foreigners”. It could have been Mike talking. The title of his first book on cricket “Anyone but England” expressed his hatred for nationalistic jingoism.
Mike could in a single sentence draw connections between Hillel a 1st century BC Jewish philosopher, Kabir, a 15th century north Indian mystic, Ghalib, 19th century Urdu poet and Thoreau his childhood idol effortlessly because it’s the way his mind worked.
As brilliant and as organized as his thoughts were – his personal space was equally chaotic. Anyone whoever stepped into his office could tell right away this man did not like neatness.
He used to tell me he loved the lack of orderliness of ancient cites that grew organically and the absence of straight lines in the developing world. Despite all our mother’s efforts that aspect never changed and I loved that about him.
Being brothers we knew each other longer than anyone else in the world. He has been in my mind and heart for 60 years. Although he is gone he will be there until I join him.
But luckily for all of us he was a writer. When we were kids he used to tell me he was envious of musicians because they could practice their art but he always had to create it. I am thankful he did create his art.
Mike admired a poet named Samuel ibn Naghrillah – he was an Andalusian Jew born in 993. Although I don’t know if he ever read this short poem he would certainly agree with it:
Man’s wisdom is at the tip of his pen,
His intelligence is in his writing.
His pen can raise a man to the rank
That the scepter accords to a king.
I will never stop missing Mike but I am thankful for all he gave me and others.