My Brother Joe

By Tony Sutton

Reader Joe Bageant was my brother. Not in a literal sense, of course: we came from different countries, although with similar rural backgrounds, he from Virginia, I from Lincolnshire in England.

Nor do I have any need for a surrogate brother, having five real ones, including a twin. Joe was my intellectual brother: we cared about the same things, shared the same, socialist, dreams and loved to articulate the thoughts that most men keep to themselves. The rhetoric did, occasionally, drift into the fanciful, such as the time he confided his plans for the future to my wife Jools and I over a well-liquored dinner at his home in Winchester, Virginia. At the time Joe was splitting his life between there and Belize, but the latter haven was becoming too small for him. “I’m off to India,” he said, “to talk to the wise and holy men in the mountains and on the plains. And, in a few years, when I die, I’m going to be cremated in a blazing barge on the Ganges.” Me? I’d be happy for my remains to be packed in a refuse bag and dumped on a wooded slope back home in England, I replied.

Joe was immensely conscious of his mortality. Had been since the day we first communicated seven years ago this month, when ColdType published "Covert Kingdom", one of his first essays. “I have to do this stuff now,” he told me during the first of what became regular hours-long Skype conversations, “because I won’t be alive in two years.” A lifetime of smoking, boozing and ingesting exotic substances had left their marks on his lungs and the daily trip to his magazine job in Washington, DC was compounding his woes.

Moving South, first to Belize and then Mexico – “Come and join me, there’s an empty apartment next door; we can booze all day and write away the remaining hours before oblivion strikes” – gave him a new lease on life, but our conversations always hit the forthcoming darkness. Fortunately Joe survived longer than he forecast and wrote a pair of epic books that will cement his name in the generations ahead; unfortunately he won’t be around to see the HBO TV adaptation of Deer Hunting with Jesus, of which he spoke so proudly a couple of years ago when the deal was announced. But he’d probably have hated it anyway.

And, unfortunately for editors and readers, there won’t be any more of his stupendous and monumentally sensible essays landing in our email boxes each month. Joe’s writing will probably never be matched, but somewhere there are other voices waiting to take over his mantle. If we can find them.

Goodbye brother, you left too soon. I’ll miss you, your words and your wisdom.

All of Joe's essays have been published in pdf format at

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