Before social media, we had influencers who often took the shape of music and book reviewers in magazines, a monster heap of paper called the Sunday NY Times, an occasional interviewer like Charlie Rose, Dick Cavett, or Bill Moyers, as well as our own classroom teachers.
For my friends at Interlochen, one of our main influences was Michael Delp who was animated by his own genius, but deeply inspired by the writer Jim Harrison, who therefore became a favorite writer to a generation of us. Harrison was a Michigander who had a worldly appetite for food, knowledge, people and literature. He was ours, but he was always bigger. He gathered things abroad and packed them into recipes and stanzas until you weren’t sure if he was Midwestern or a European titled noble who had left the abbey for the Lascaux Caves in search of wine casks lined with beetle shells. Basically, Harrison made you want to grab for history, biology, geology, and geography textbooks. He also didn’t appear arrogant, as he hung an arm over his head to keep his burning cigarette near his ear. He ate headcheese, he paddled kayaks with Brokaw and the founders of Northface, he drove free Subarus for Subaru because they wanted him driving a Subaru. He knew his philosophy, his plants, he could care for wild and domesticated animals.
Best of all, Jim Harrison was the guy that Delp helped us immortalize. We all loved a one-eyed, Bordeaux-stained, story-maker who hid out in his granary, preferred the company of dogs, and who wrote some of the best literature of his generation. So I am sad that Jim is gone, though this is a great excuse to read everything again, but I’m grateful, profoundly grateful, that Delp gave us this soul to ponder, worrying as I do, that the current high school generation risks a steady crap diet of Kardashian.