Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived

Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived

by Laurence Shames, Peter Barton

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Some people are born to lead and destined to teach by the example of living life to the fullest, and facing death with uncommon honesty and courage. Peter Barton was that kind of person.

Driven by the ideals that sparked a generation, he became an overachieving Everyman, a risk-taker who showed others what was possible. Then, in the prime of his life—hugely


Some people are born to lead and destined to teach by the example of living life to the fullest, and facing death with uncommon honesty and courage. Peter Barton was that kind of person.

Driven by the ideals that sparked a generation, he became an overachieving Everyman, a risk-taker who showed others what was possible. Then, in the prime of his life—hugely successful, happily married, and the father of three children—Peter faced the greatest of all challenges. Diagnosed with cancer, he began a journey that was not only frightening and appalling but also full of wonder and discovery.

With unflinching candor and even surprising humor, Not Fade Away finds meaning and solace in Peter's confrontation with mortality. Celebrating life as it dares to stare down death, Peter's story addresses universal hopes and fears, and redefines the quietly heroic tasks of seeking clarity in the midst of pain, of breaking through to personal faith, and of achieving peace after bold and sincere questioning.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"I'm hardly the first person to notice that there is only the present, constantly," writes Barton in this extraordinary memoir. "The present moment is lived, and relieved; written, and rewritten. Every previous version still inhabits it." What gives this insight and the many others that follow uncommon power is the ever present fact that Barton, a pioneering entrepreneur in the cable television industry, was dying of stomach cancer as he wrote them. Alternating chapters with mystery writer Shames (The Naked Detective), Barton, who died in September, 2002, at 51, offers us-and his wife and three children-his final rewrite of a life filled with the optimism and idealism of his generation. Barton tells us how it feels to die while the party is still raging, offering us glimpses of a life that packed in everything from being a professional ski bum to working as an aide to New York State governor Hugh Carey to huge success as a visionary businessman (Barton helped found MTV, among other achievements). Readers will be knocked out by his honesty and his utter lack of self-pity or sentimentality. The "gift" of terminal cancer, according to Barton, is that "it doesn't kill you all at once. It gives you time to set your house in order.... It gives you time to think, to sum things up." Setting his house in order included taking his family for a balloon ride at dawn. Summing up what matters, he reminds us that it is the large and small moments of pleasure and love, those very present moments, that redeem us in the end. This is a very beautiful book about how to live. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Readers familiar with Liberty Media (the Discovery Channel, QVC, Encore, etc.) may know Barton as one of its founders and its CEO. Baby boomer Barton (1951-2002) appeared to have it all until he was diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancer at age 51. Here, joined by Shames (formerly an ethics columnist for Esquire and Barton's friend), he discusses his life and his coming to terms with his impending, painful, and inevitable death after having lived as an overachiever in the "arrogance of health." Only an extraordinary human being could have written many of the lines in this book, e.g., "My disease has been good for me....It has made me more accepting, gentler....I'm growing unafraid." The facts of Barton's life-how a talented young man founded a multibillion-dollar media empire and retired early-are certainly interesting, but the book is more an attempt to let Barton's family and friends know what he thought and what he valued. He wanted this book to energize young people to "get excited, get hyper, about their possibilities"-in a word, to give hope. The unusual writing style makes it a pleasure to read, and despite the subject matter, there is no sentimentality here, just lots of insights. Recommended especially for public libraries.-James Swanton, Harlem Hosp. Lib., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dying from stomach cancer at 51, the late media entrepreneur Barton looked back over his hungry, high-speed life to tender some personal truths. There is a powerful disconnect in these pages between the studied calm of Barton’s closing months and his earlier life as an admittedly outsized alpha male, a striver and overachiever. "I’m just trying to give a candid report on what I’ve experienced and continue to experience, to map the progress toward my own little death. I don’t pretend it’s been tidy," he says, and yet it is a fairly tidy summation. (Though Shames [The Naked Detective, 2000, etc.] must have helped Barton compose his thoughts, his presence is invisible except for short, eliding chapters. He takes no credit except to place his name first in the author order.) Barton’s final job was with Liberty Media, a company that shaped the cable television landscape. He grew into a rich man, but before all the money there was a life that fit snuggly into the zeitgeist of the ’60s: ski bum, card dealer, musician, political forays, and also being son to a father who died young, alerting Barton to his own potentially short lifespan. A prickly adolescent, he learned to manage the energy, letting it "ripen into what I think of as creative irreverence." He pushed himself, and, in doing so, learned a few lessons that he wished to pass along, especially to his children: "Recognizing the difference between a dumb risk and a smart one; understanding when you need a change of direction, and having the guts to do it." Certainly his insights are subjective, not a few quite filmy, though others ring with common sense. As Shames remarks, "The overriding theme was always the idea of becoming ready. Readyto live; ready to die." "I can’t believe it all just stops." Barton died in September 2002, leaving behind this appreciable scrapbook of his life. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky
From the Publisher

“Peter Barton and Laurence Shames, the graceful writer he persuaded to help him tell this tale, have produced a worthy monument, a book about how to live, and how to die.” —Ken Auletta

“This is a wise, funny, and intensely true book--a generous gift from an amazing guy to those of us who are so busy getting through life that we sometimes forget why we're living. Sooner or later, we'll all make the journey Peter Barton took; now, thanks to him, it doesn't look so scary.” —Dave Barry

“A little masterpiece. . . a book to be read by everyone. . . . [It] may be the most honest book I have ever read. . . . Some of [the] phrases and sentences literally took my breath away. . . . [Not Fade Away] lit up my own mind and spirit--dare I include soul?--to consider my own life and purposes.” —Jim Lehrer

“You couldn't know Peter Barton and not know he would face dying in the most adventurous and original way. . . . This is a book full of insight and comfort, wisdom and hope.” —Barry Diller

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

Not Fade Away

A Short Life Well Lived
By Shames, Laurence


ISBN: 006073731X

Chapter One

You can tell a lot about a person by his nickname, right?

Mine's Hawk. I've had that moniker for as long as I can remember, and it still tickles me. I just love the word. It conjures images of soaring flight against a cloudless sky. It implies a majestic independence, a raptor's uncompromising realism....

Except that's not the kind of hawk I'm named after.

I'm named after the Studebaker Hawk, a market flop of a sport coupe that was manufactured in the middle 1950s. I just loved the name of the thing. It seemed to summarize all that was cool and jaunty.

Besides, it's really more fitting that I was named after a cat As a kid, I didn't soar, I rode around. I fantasized about automobiles, but what I rode was bicycles or motorized dinghies that I cobbled together from spare parts. Mine was a down-to-earth, nuts and bolts, tinkering kind of childhood.

Then again, kids are always soaring. For them, there's no boundary between the down-to-earth and the heavenly. Mud is a miracle. Snow is pure chilled joy. A pile of leaves is a sacred altar. Why do we lose that feeling, that sense of wonder, for so much of our lives?

Anyway, I was born in Washington, D.C., but while I was still an infant the family moved to Painted Post, New York, a tiny upstate town complete with maple trees and dappled cows and a beautiful white steeple. And pregnant women! Pregnant women carrying toddlers; pregnant women pushing strollers. There were a million kids to play with. Nice kids, nasty kids, gentle kids, bullies -- all of human nature was represented in our little neighborhood.

Our family, in almost every way, was typical. My mother, in those years, was a housewife. My father worked too hard and wasn't around as much as I'd have liked. We were neither rich nor poor; I don't think I knew those categories existed. Everyone was middle class. Life got better for everyone together. One year there was television, the next year there was color television. One year Dad drove a shiny new Dodge, the next year there was a DeSoto with even bigger tail fins.

Kids don't know from economics, but here's the lesson I absorbed: Money needed to be worked for but not fretted over.

It would appear when required. In the meantime, better to climb trees and build snowmen. In other words, to live.

But I want to tell you about Painted Post's one claim to fame. It is very near the Corning Glass factory, where my father worked.

In case there's anyone who doesn't remember, Corning did not begin with the fiber optics business. In the 1950s, Corning manufactured plates and platters and Pyrex pans. What the company was best known for, though, was casserole dishes. Everybody had them, remember? Their trademark was an abstract blue flower.

Since my dad worked for Corning, my mom had every casserole shape ever made. We had one for stew. We had one for soup. We had one for potatoes. If they'd made one for individual spaghetti strands, we'd have had that one too! I can still see the metal cradles that the dishes sat in at the table...

But wait -- why am I going on about casseroles? I think it's because the approach of death has made me realize that there are no unimportant details in life. That childhood sense of wonder is somehow coming back to me. How can I put it?

Things, and the meanings that they have, are being reunited in my heart.

Those old casseroles -- maybe they're just chipped and battered pans, but for me they're connected with incredibly precious things, giant notions like Mother, Kitchen, Family Meals.

So cut me some slack if I get nostalgic now and then over trivialities. The thing is, they don't seem trivial to me. I've come to feel that the big things in life are best understood by way of small things. Ignore the small ones, and the big ones just seem like fancy words, slogans without the truth of something you really know, and really feel.

Who knows how or when a disease is actually born? Who knows what cancer is like in its appalling infancy, when the first disastrous cell divisions are just starting to occur, before detection is possible?

For all I know, there may be something beautiful in the process. Under a microscope, in time-lapse, it might look like flowers opening, mushrooms burgeoning. Maybe that sounds creepy-but just because something's bad for us, that doesn't mean it can't be beautiful on its own terms. Nature is full of gorgeous and deadly things.

Whatever my disease's early history was like, here's how I first learned of it: My doctor called me on my cell phone.

It is Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1998. I'm forty-seven, and I've been supposedly "retired" for a year and a half. But I'm as busy as I've ever been. I've started foundations. I've been teaching a seminar in business school. I sit on boards of various corporations and advise many friends who are still in midcareer. I feel a joyful obligation to help out where I can. And, to tell the truth, I still love the action.

Today I'm in Silicon Valley, at an informal board meeting at Yahoo. They've asked me to become a director. This is flattering, but I pass -- mainly because their business model scares me. How can they actually make money? That's what we're talking about on this particular afternoon: formulating an economic model for a big aggregation of e-commerce businesses. This excites me. What I like is creating things, adding value, shaping the big picture. I'm there to brainstorm, to enjoy the company of some really smart people. And to suggest to them some big ideas -- which, I conclude, they're not ready for...


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Meet the Author

Laurence Shames, formerly the Ethics columnist for Esquire, is a critically acclaimed novelist and essayist, and was the ghostwriter of The New York Times bestseller Boss of Bosses. He lives in Ojai, California.

Peter Barton was a founder and CEO of Liberty Media and a passionate advocate for such innovative programming as the Discovery Channel, Fox Sports Net, Black Entertainment Television, and QVC. After leaving Liberty in 1997, he devoted himself to philanthropy and education. He taught a graduate business course in entrepreneurship at the University of Denver and founded the nonprofit Privacy Foundation. He died in September 2002.

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