ODE TO TOM WOLFE

In 1976, I found myself in the odd and precariously uncomfortable position of photo editor of Down the Line, a tabloid magazine edited and produced by Michael Tomson and Patrick Lee. My title sounded grandiose but in truth, it mean that I would spend many nights in the kitchen of my Botanic Gardens Road in the dark and with  Jenny, processing rolls of film and printing loads of black and white 8 by 10s.

One night Michael, fresh from another North Shore raid, and at the time a budding writer with Rolling Stone, Surfing Magazine and the New York Times credentials pitched up at the door with a copy of ‘The New Journalism’, a book compiled by Tom Wolfe.

“This is compulsory reading.” he said without the mandatory laugh at the end of his sentence. Then he was off back into the night and eventually off to California where he still lives today.

We all know the success that followed. Michael was to become a super star surf visionary, responsible for taking the sub culture to a higher place. 

The book was a gift I cherished and still do. 

There I was an empty headed, star struck appie surf photographer who couldn’t string two sentences together, but with my hands firmly wrapped around the book that was to totally change my perspective on what I was doing and how I was doing it. It was in that book that I first encountered Hunter S Thompson (The Kentucky Derby) and in particular the great Tom Wolfe.

His effect on Michael was also significant. Remember the first Gotcha byline ‘The Right Stuff’, well it came straight out of that book. 

Wolfe influenced a generation of writers. He was the first to place himself in the centre of each of his magazine articles, some of which were published in Rolling Stone, New York and others. This was a new way of writing that connected the reader to the story like no-one had ever done before. 

I still have that book as well as The Right Stuff, Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full. These are amongst my most prized possessions.

His journalism and the effect it had on pop culture is his real gift to us. He coined such terms as ‘the me generation’, ‘the right stuff’ and ‘the master of the universe.’ 

“Never try to fit in; it’s sheer folly” he once advised. “Be an odd, eccentric character. People will volunteer information to you”. 

Wolfe died on the 14 May at the age of 88. His effect on journalism is profound. Probably more so than we could ever imagine.

© PATRICK FLANAGAN