Brick-Hard Words, Jagged-Glass Wit

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‚Äôs buttons with two-finger jabs at his keyboard.”

  • BobCashill

    RIP to a great New Yorker. (GANG wasn’t a Friedkin film. You may be thinking of THE BRINK’S JOB, which has a similar tone.)

    • Whoops…fixed.

      • Djiggs

        Breslin was Friedkin’s original choice for Popeye Doyle in French Connection. According to Friedkin, what cost him the role was his lack of a driver’s license not being a non-actor.

        • comma between “license” and “not.”

          • Ben Kabak

            Friedkin made a wise choice passing on him.

  • Grampappy Amos
  • AnnaZed

    Jeff, you’ll like this story.

    When I moved to New York at the end of the 1970s I adored both Breslin and his flip-side the erudite, pipe-smoking cyclist Murray Kempton (Breslin was a cab and subway man). Reading three daily newspapers was very important at that time, sometimes four. Like all fans of great journalism I adored Breslin’s style and was fully aware of what a privilege it was to wake up to him every single day.

    By the early 80s I was living on Tompkins Square Park North. In those pre-Starbucks times my cohorts and I haunted the hallowed, tiled ancient De Robertis Pasticceria on 1st Avenue and nursed espressos and dunked rock-hard biscotti there; sometimes several times a day in part just to get our newspaper reading done. So, did a collection of wise-guys and demi-dons who would later be photographed and televised on 60 Minutes being arrested and perp-walked right out of there as part of a music industry huge payola scandal. During that period sometime Breslin took to occupying a booth pursuing the mixture of observation and fraternization that was a hallmark of his method.

    We were all aware of him, but we left him in peace as cool New Yorkers do. Still, one afternoon he began talking to me and we talked for most of a long afternoon. He was interested in my job at the then CBS company and was also interested that I can from New Orleans (did I know Fats Domino? did I know Carlos Marcello? – ‘yes’, and ‘yes’). Needless to say I was thrilled and I may have bragged a bit too. I thought that I was having a genuine New York experience and holding my own like something right out of a Scorsese movie. He had a good time too it seems. I know this because a writer friend of mine asked him about me. His reply,”Oh her, God yes, that ass, those eyes, … my god those breasts”. Ha!

  • Jon B

    Didn’t Spike Lee use Breslin’s voice creatively in the underrated movie Son of Sam? Not sure if it was used just for the trailer, but it lingers in my mind.

  • filmklassik

    Trump came courtesy of the ones who like to shit on other people for the “sin” of waking up each day with white skin and a dick that responds to girls.

    I agree that Trump’s a crap show. And I agree the yahoos bought him. But the receipt belongs to the SJWs.