Money is meaningless! And other great quotes from a great man.

Flipping to the preface of Outlaw Journalist, a book about the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson, I read the following quote:

Word of his death was a shock to me, but not particularly suprising… More than anything else, it came as a harsh confirmation of the ethic that [he] had always lived but never talked about… the dead-end lonelines of a man who makes his own rules…

I don’t even know where he’s buried, but what the hell?  The important thing is where he lived.

It’s not only a perfect introduction to a fascinating book about a great American writer, it sums up what I’ve been feeling for two years now about the death of a dear friend.

A few days before Christmas, 2007 I also got a shock.  I learned from a mutual friend that an old friend I’d met in my first days as a student reporter had died, found in his ramshackle house along a stretch of road across from a farmer’s field about a mile outside a very small dot on the map.  As the police put it, he’d passed away “on or about November 15,” so I guess he’d been there in the Quebec autumn cold for a while even before someone found him.

Malcolm Stone newspaper shot

I’d heard about Malcolm Stone a few weeks before I met him.  Our journalism school teacher, Peter Scowen, simply called him Dr. Feelgood.

Malcolm Stone was the man who went out with me on my very first assignment for a real newspaper: the kind that people actually pay money for. I was on a summer break from school in Montreal, and at the suggestion of that same Peter Scowen – who was also the paper’s owner – I spent a week in the rolling hills of the Eastern Townships working for the Stanstead Journal in Stanstead, Quebec.

“You know Ian,” he told me as we were hanging out in his kitchen my first day there, “there’s this horse-breeder fellow I know who’s just started breeding elk. Elk! Can you believe it? You’ve got to get out there and do a little story on this guy.”

And he leaned back and slowly broke out in his wide smile. “I’ve already got the headline for it!” he said, tobacco-stained right finger waving in the air.

Stanstead farmer breeds horses of a different elk

That was back in the day before Google Search Engine Optimisation killed pun-filled headlines.

Malcolm was someone I deeply admired.  He came up in conversation I had one morning in the kitchen of a prominent Montreal television personality, the wife of the journalism school teacher whose paper I worked on.

“So is living in the middle of nowhere on the edge of poverty some sort of lifestyle you aspire to?” she asked.   It wasn’t a challenge, just an off-hand remark about how the man obviously had very little money to spare, but I said, yeah – if I can live my life enjoying what I want to do where I want to do it without having to answer to anybody and not have to wait ’til I’m 67 to do it, then sure.

Malcolm’s career path abruptly stopped somewhere in his mid-30s, about 25 years before I’d met him.  He was working as a flack, er… public relations officer and mouthpiece for one of the two schools that merged to form Concordia University in Montreal, when he got into an ugly mud-fest with his employer.  He was going to quit, but before he got a chance to, they offered him a whack of cash if he’d just leave.  So he took their money, bought an old two-storey wood-frame house on a plot of land near a farmer’s field outside a tiny town in the Eastern Townships, and lived out the rest of his life.

Not many retire at 37, but he knew what he was doing, that’s for sure.  The town was smack on the border with the States.  When Malcolm wanted to stock up on Camel cigarettes and cheap gas for his beater car, he’d head over the line and be back home within 20 minutes, pushing a bit of blue all the way.  If he needed to see a doctor, he ‘d of course stay on the Canadian side of the border and go to the guy in town.

He lived alone, so if the house hadn’t seen a spray of paint inside or out for the past 30 years, if the floorboard cracks in his kitchen were caked black with grime the dog brought in, if newspapers were piled to the ceiling at the top of the stairs leading to his scatter-house bedroom, if he walked around barefoot everywhere in an old shirt hanging out of his pants, if he got up at nine to walk the dog, tend his garden, listen to some jazz or NPR talkshow on the radio, have another smoke while contemplating his next move, he’d nobody to tell him to do it any differently.

I admired him because he had absolutely no need for the very things most of us strive for, yet was the happiest guy I knew.

“I want to leave The Record,” I told him one day after another of our rousing games of Scrabble.  “Two hours into the drive down from Quebec City last week I looked out the window and thought, if I’m going to start earning some real money, I’ve got to get out of here.”

“Ian! Money is meaningless!” he shot back, slapping the table and, in a way, me upside the head.  “Fuck it!” he said.  “Fuck ’em.  I’ve got everything I need here – a place to go when I feel like writing or doing a bit of farting around, friends who come loaded with tunes, toots and juicy local gossip. What more do you want?”

Part 1 of 2   (or maybe 3)

15 Responses to “Money is meaningless! And other great quotes from a great man.”

  1. November 17, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Man, he sounds like a real personality. Money is meaningless, but not everybody has the guts to just say fuck it. I know I don’t. If I had the gumption, I would live in a mobile home traveling round South America. Looking forward to part 2.

  2. November 17, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Ah. Gonzo journalism. Fear and loathing, and all that. I lived for years with a Hunter Thompson quotation as my mantra: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” It always made me feel better, no matter what. Still does.

    I can’t say I agree money is meaningless. Having made the decision for downward mobility, I’ve figured out that lack of it isn’t particularly romantic. On the other hand, I don’t need nearly as much of the stuff as most people seem to think necessary. And if you regard it simply as one more tool that makes life easier – well, it begins to settle into its proper place in the scheme of things.

    Besides, it was his severance package that provided your friend with the house where he could settle in with his writing or tunes. Surely he didn’t consider that meaningless.

    Anxious for the next installment!

    • November 17, 2009 at 9:18 pm

      Oh, that second part might have you waiting. The first one took TWO YEARS to write. 🙂
      I always wanted to work on it – kind of an obituary I never got a chance to write – but since there is no pressing deadline in blogging, it just never got done.

      I like that quote as well. I think it’s from Fear and Loathing, but can’t be sure. I really recommend that book though. It is more an analysis of the writing than the person. Maybe a book review is in order?

      About his severance – I’m sure it had dwindled to next to nothing by the time I met him. He lived very frugally, but extremely well.

  3. 4 writechic
    November 21, 2009 at 6:00 am

    I would have liked your friend, Ian. Freedom and Fuck’em are my two favorite F words.🙂

  4. November 21, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    I enjoyed reading this piece. We all have someone like Malcolm in our lives. When we’re young we envy them; as we age , less so. When they die alone we feel sad but not surprised.

  5. November 22, 2009 at 10:19 am

    A friend of mine (journalist Susan Chenery) from my New Zealand days interviewed Hunter S Thompson several times, and even spent a couple of wild and crazy nights with him in his cabin… he was some character all right….. sounds like Malcolm was such a one too

    • November 22, 2009 at 10:55 am

      Umm.. did she provide any details of those wild and crazy nights? 😉

      In contrast to HST, who craved attention and notoriety, Malcolm was pretty laid back, though he was passionate about a great many things.

  6. November 22, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Ian, my apologies if I missed the subtly of this character but what did he leave behind, his legacy?

  7. November 25, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Susan did provide details but it’s so long ago now. There were drugs and guns involved ( no surprises there). There’s a short extract from her book “Talking Dirty” here….


  8. 11 Gavin
    November 25, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Hey Ian
    Cool post. I am sitting in an office myself right now, under glaring neon lights near a large woman with a flatulence problem. I cannot tell you how appealing living in the bush seems right now.
    The trouble with being a lone wolf though is people think you are a deviant or the Unabomber. But I reckon your friend seems like a bloke who had the smarts to see life for what it is – and follow his heart.
    Looking forward to partII

  9. November 30, 2009 at 7:28 am

    Sounds like a cool guy. I would tend to turn your friend’s comment around and say that money has a lot of meaning, but it should not be the deciding factor in any decision you make. Reading this I was thinking of who my mentors were when I was doing journalism. Nice tribute to one of yours.

  10. 14 Rita
    December 15, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Hey Ian
    I really enjoyed your column that captures the essence of Malcolm. He was a truly unique, intelligent and quirky individual. It is not a cliché to say he was a true original.
    I ran into Malcolm from time to time over my two decades at The Record and he called me on occasion to complain about that his once favorite weekly paper was more and more weakly. He would always regale me with anecdotes, mostly tidbits he read before they joined that infamous stack of yellowing newspapers.
    First time Malcolm called was about an ad he had seen in The Gazette quoting a theatre review I had written about an absolute flop. The only kind thing I could say about it was that even lead actor Harry Stanjofski (sp?), a master of physical comedy, could not save the play. The advertisement for The Piggery managed to find something postivie to day, noting “Harry Standjofski … a master of physical comedy. – The Record” It appealed to Malcolm`s quirky sense of humour and he absolutely had to share it.
    Not long before he died, Malcolm was in a battle with Canada Post which was installing supermailboxes on his rural road. He was outraged and agreed to be interviewed. After many quotable quotes about the postal corporation, Malcolm regaled me with his favorite recent headline in the New York Times about a famous building in New York that housed a number of dentists. The story was about how they were renovating the building and forcing tenants to move out. The headline read “They all have to come out!” Brilliant headline picked up by a brilliant headline writer. I really miss those occasional calls and run ins.


    • December 15, 2009 at 11:14 am

      Rita, it’s so good to have someone like you – who knew the man and really knows what I’m talking about – come on here and tell me that. I want to write a bit more about him, hopefully over the holidays when things settle down a bit around here. When I do, I’ll let you know.

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