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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Overview

Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived by Laurence Shames, Peter Barton

Some people are born to lead and destined to teach--not by precept, but by the example of living life to the fullest. Peter Barton was that kind of person.

He protested at Columbia University in the 1960s, played soul music at Harlem's Apollo Theater, spent time as a ski bum and a craps dealer, and eventually emerged from Harvard Business School to become a central figure in the creation of cable television. In the prime of his life, happily married and the father of three young children, Peter came face to face with the biggest challenge in a life filled with risk-taking and direction-changing. Diagnosed with cancer, he began a journey both frightening and appalling, yet also full of wonder and discovery.

Not Fade Away recreates that journey in the intimate and alternating voices of Peter and of Laurence Shames--two men close in age yet who've chosen vastly different lives. Together, in a spirit of deepening friendship, they relive the high points of years that embodied the hopes and strivings of an entire generation. With courage, candor, and even humor, they search for meaning in Peter's unflinching confrontation with mortality.

In life, Peter was an overachieving Everyman, a vibrant spirit who showed his peers just how much is possible. In his dying, similarly, he redefines the quietly heroic tasks of seeking clarity in the midst of pain and loss; of breaking through to a highly personal, secular faith; and of achieving peace at last.

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.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060737313
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 660,987
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: 830L (what's this?)

About the Author

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.

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.

Read an Excerpt

Not Fade Away

A Short Life Well Lived
By Shames, Laurence

Perennial

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...

Continues...

Excerpted from Not Fade Away by Shames, Laurence Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

Introduction

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.

Questions for Discussion

  1. In his preface, Laurence Shames admits that he initially resisted writing Not Fade Away with Peter Barton, who was dying from terminal stomach cancer. Why do you think Shames felt this way? How did he overcome his resistance? To what extent is Shames's reaction part of our culture's larger discomfort with death?

  2. Peter Barton discusses his skepticism for organized religion and contemporary spirituality in his introduction. How does he choose to inhabit his spiritual side? Do his attitudes change in any way by the end of the book, as the end of his life draws near?

  3. What role does music play in Peter Barton's life? Discuss some of the figures from the music world (Sha-Na-Na, Frank Sinatra, Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones) that Peter Barton encounters, and how they impact his life.

  4. In what way does the title, Not Fade Away, reflect on Peter's connection with music?

  5. Throughout Not Fade Away, Peter Barton makes connections between the story of his life and the story of his illness. What does each of these journeys have in common? How are the three phases of life -- childhood, adolescence, and adulthood -- reflected in Barton's denial and acceptance of his illness?

  6. What did you think about Barton's decision to tell his family and colleagues that he had an ulcer after his diagnosis of cancer? What motives might be behind such an impulse?

  7. What are Peter Barton's views on taking risks in life? What risks has he taken, and what were some of the outcomes of those risks?

  8. Laurence Shames describes himself as "a friend for [Peter's] dying." Are there friends you have had at various points of your life who have known an entirely different side of you? What elements of Barton's personality during the last months of his life does Shames witness?

  9. How does Peter's sense of time change at the end of his life? How does he come to appreciate the present tense? What did you think of this transformation, and do you think it connects to his acceptance of his death in any way?

  10. When Peter Barton writes that he did his best, what do you think that means to him? What do you think sustained him in his final days?

  11. What messages did you take away from his story that you will apply to your own life?

About the authors

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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