Throughout my semi-adult life I’ve always admired legendary New York City columnist and novelist Jimmy Breslin. His writing, I mean. That bluntly phrased, straight-from-the-shoulder street prose that he never fancied up. A regular guy who wrote for regular guys. I was from Fairfield County, Connecticut and the son of an advertising copywriter, but I got it. The stuff Breslin wrote was always real-deal. He never tip-toed or pussied around. Well, he probably did from time to time but his legend said otherwise.
Breslin’s rep was that of a guy who could be brusque at times but was always fair and honest and respectful of the people he covered, who were usually (okay, almost always) working-class New Yorkers who never led lives of leisure, and who could never be accused of being well-educated, much less refined. And now their hinterland counterparts have given us Donald Trump. Thanks, assholes! I didn’t mean to say that — it just slipped out.
Breslin also wrote about mob guys, most famously in his 1969 book “The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” a roman a clef about Joey Gallo which was made into a 1971 film. In 1970 Breslin got clobbered by Jimmy Burke, the real-life model for Robert De Niro‘s Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas. Burke was pissed about something Breslin had written, some perceived slight or whatever.
Born in ’28 or thereabouts and 88 years old when he died earlier today, Breslin was best known for his N.Y. Daily News and Newsday columns. He was New York City personified in the same way that Sidney Lumet‘s New York films delivered that bad-coffee-and-shitty-pizza attitude and aroma, that thing that they make in the five boroughs and nowhere else. I first heard of Breslin in 1969 when he ran for New York City Council president along with mayoral candidate Norman Mailer (“No more bullshit”), their main platform being that New York City could and should secede from New York State and become the 51st State in the union.
Hey, Breslin…were you down with Hollywood Elsewhere’s idea of cutting the bumblefucks loose and forcing them to form their own separate country? What about green reeducation camps? You know in your heart that the country would be better off without them. Hell, you know that in your head.
Breslin wrote and wrote and wrote, which was and is the only way that guys like him know how to live.
Dan Barry’s N.Y. Times obit includes the following: “With prose that was savagely funny, deceptively simple and poorly imitated, Mr. Breslin created his own distinct rhythm in the hurly-burly music of newspapers.”
And yet Barry’s lede imitated or more accurately reanimated Breslin’s prose style to a T:
“Jimmy Breslin, the New York City newspaper columnist and best-selling author who leveled the powerful and elevated the powerless for more than 50 years with brick-hard words and a jagged-glass wit, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 88, and until very recently, was still pushing somebody’s buttons with two-finger jabs at his keyboard.”