On Anthony Bourdain, Comics and the Silencing of the Revolution

Today, I woke up to news that Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide. It wasn’t as if World War III had exploded, that our president had embroiled us in nuclear war. I could not put my finger on the specific thought or feeling, but what Bourdain’s act did was trigger something latent and surreal so as not to be believed. Eight hours after the news headlined on CNN, after Bourdain’s smiling face graced the front page of practically every online news source, I still feel emptied.

I did not know Anthony Bourdain in the flesh, but I learned of him, and of his unique voice and world view through Kitchen Confidential. And I wanted to write like him. I wanted to be him.

I had started off as a health columnist with a regional magazine long before venturing into restaurant reviewing. I read all the greats…Ruth Reichl, Calvin Trillin, M.F.K. Fisher…before coming upon Bourdain. His tales were salacious, tabloid-level exposes with a punk mystique. His rhythms and words spoke like a knife to the heart, lust-filled and intoxicating. From that point forward I made it a mission to experience food with that same gusto, a blank slate to be imprinted by whatever remote village, home, or far off territory that he visited.

Just as Medium Raw was released, I felt the first vestiges of middle age approach. In my review of the book, I called his softening stance on Emeril and Guadalupe a selling out of the truthiness, a reconciliation of sorts to the corporate wonks who fueled his successes. He ventured into comics, and like the hedonistic groupie I’d become, I devoured every bloody and murderous word in glowing reviews. Then Bourdain curated a line of books at Ecco Press that were every bit as edgy and rebellious as his earlier works–biographies about Korean food truck bad boy Roy Choi and kindred spirit food traveler Graham Holliday. Bourdain chose discriminately, and he chose wisely. Bourdain was Ecco, its unique voice and inspired approaches to food and food writing his enduring gift to the culinary world.

And then today happened. Just a few months shy of paperback release of The Hungry Ghosts, his last comic book series for Dark Horse. I see his books on my bookshelf and I’m not sure I can go there again, or watch an episode of a show I had been anxiously awaiting since Sunday. I need for his voice to be silenced as I process his passing, as I process this latent grief that remains safely kept at a distance.

We lost a voice for the outsider today. A voice for culture. A voice of the resistance. One act that negated everything he had worked so hard to achieve.

Maybe you wake people up to the horrors of our mental disillusionment or maybe you become a postscript in your own tortured mythology. I guess we’ll never know now, will we?

R.I.P. you bastard.


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