Jan Reid: A Remembrance
Jesse Sublett pays tribute to his late friend as a true writer
By Jesse Sublett,
11:30AM, Tue. Sep. 22, 2020
Jan Reid, author of The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, the Ann Richards bio Let the People In, several other books, and scores of magazine articles, died on Saturday, Sept. 19. His writing was widely admired, and he was a friend to many other writers. One was Chronicle contributor Jesse Sublett, who offers this remembrance of Reid.
Jan Reid was what I think of when someone says “writer.” He was the real deal. A guy who is always writing, always thinking, and he knows his craft so he does good work but his work is great because he’s passionate. Jan was passionate about so many things, and we share some of those passions — food, music, boxing, drinking, storytelling. Jan was more of a storyteller than a writer, actually. He had stories about everything. We have a group of old guys who go to lunch together and talk and eat, all of us writers, and I named the group in a fit of ambivalence the Knuckleheads. Because we all needed a reason to get up from our MacBooks and go talk to somebody. This has been going on for years. We started at Hoover’s and gravitated to Threadgill’s, where we were until they turned out the lights.
I actually started getting close to Jan after he got shot. I was part of a big benefit banquet to pay his medical bills and then we started hanging out, largely because of a mutual friend, David Marion Wilkinson, also a writer, storyteller, talker, and best friend. And I was still suffering and recovering from my own life/death battle with cancer when Jan got shot and started rehabilitating. So we bonded over that. The Bullet Meant for Me is a helluva book.
I’ve actually known Jan since the mid-1980s because when I was writing at the Chronicle building on Rio Grande, I decided I should be a famous novelist and didn’t know how to go about it other than write so I wrote Jan a letter asking about his agent. Authors tend to dread this kind of thing, which I didn’t know at the time. Jan didn’t know me at all back then. But he wrote me a nice letter and gave me his agent’s contact info and everything and sincerely wished me luck. The agent ended up politely passing on my book, my first Martin Fender music/detective novel, saying that it was too close to the work of a client she had started representing: Kinky Friedman.
There’s so much history wrapped up in Jan, his writing, his politics, his friends, his late wife Dorothy, etc. So much Austin history, so much knowledge. And yet he was a human being, a friend. Here’s probably the best thing. Even as Jan aged, as we all have been doing, the first thing you would notice about him when you saw him was his eyes — big and round and blue and bright. The big eyes of a curious young boy. He was always on, transmitting and receiving.