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. Ready to 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.