Saturday, October 23, 2010


Eric Hoffer

The man who wrote well of fanaticism and mass movements (where we are returning) in any of his ten books (see The True Believer and The Ordeal of Change) was Bronx born in 1902 and was gone in 1983, but not without leaving his mark. Mostso in the city of San Francisco, around the docks of The Embarcadero, where he worked and lived as a longshoreman until his retirement at the age of 65. This was an era when someone still loved to work. The longshoreman philosopher is what they called him, best served in his classic Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, a personal favorite of mine — less on the preaching and extolling and more on the building of each day, mind, body and spirit.

Hoffer had a short and cruel childhood — his mother accidentally fell on a stairway with 5 year old Hoffer in her arms — this fall would take her life. Hoffer went blind two years later. At 5 he was already reading both English and German. His cabinetmaker father died shortly after the boy of fifteen's sight miraculously returned, no one knows quite how, but he began reading voraciously and never stopped. He was said to have a library card in every town in southern California where he worked his early years as a migrant worker. A favorite author was Montaigne.

Incorrectly labeled a conservative, Hoffer was but one more hardworking dreamer and doer, living simply and alone in his San Francisco apartment near the docks. Never wealthy or abusive with power, as many who had admired and awarded him (Reagan), he was a poet of America's underclass, which he described as "lumpy with talent."

"Hear, Hear!" and hello Eric Hoffer.

Columbia Records famed producer John Hammond caught the young Dylan in one word, it was the very word that zeroed in the troubadour — quite different than all the others with a guitar — "sincerity". When Hoffer was alive and at work, and Dylan was rising fast, no one in their right mind would align the two...yet there is the same sincerity in the work of both. In this song, unlike any Dylan would ever write or perform, is the open heart and the open road — Hoffer born in New York City had to get westward; Dylan off the northern plains had to get to New York. Prospects, hurdles and dreams are with them both. Far beyond politics. Lucky stars.

eric hoffer photo from "working and thinking on the waterfront" (Harper & Row)

back road chalkie photo: bob arnold