Saturday, August 05, 2006

Sorry I didn’t get the jokes

A lot of talented people passed through Wired heading in wildly different directions. Bill stayed put. I remember patting Bill on the shoulder once and nearly hurting my hand. The guy was rock solid, both physically, judging from his shoulder, and most certainly as a presence in the Wired office. He also had a bull-headed determination to get the job done -- right.

Every. Single. Time. The man exhausted us all. (Oh, those nights working till 3 a.m.)

And then ... that bewildering wit of his. I often had no idea what Bill was talking about, as his cultural references were frequently too obscure for my plodding brain to process in conversation mode (or in any mode). I didn’t mind, because I connected with him on the bull-headed-determination level. Bill sometimes scolded me, though, for not being opinionated enough. (Sorry Bill, I’m still not.) I wanted to scold Bill for not giving himself enough credit.

Bill spent a lot of time developing talent, getting people to work at a certain level. I told him once that he taught me much of value. He was down then for some reason -- said he might go spend a few years smashing rocks or something (might have been that “Japan Rocks!” headline) -- and he told me that I would have learned all that anyway. I don’t think so, Bill. There are some bits of wisdom that could have come only from you. What good fortune it was to know you.

Bill was a great editor, but he was a genius in headline writing. God that guy was good. I’ve never seen anything like it. At first I didn’t realize he was one of a kind. I thought all senior-level editors were like that (and that man, did I have a long way to go).

But here’s the thing about Bill’s headlines: they weren’t just clever, or witty. Like his editing, they were deeply sensitive to what the story was about. Bill was acutely aware of what the writer wanted to say -- more aware than the writer was sometimes -- and he was there to help.

Bill was there to help for a lot of us, and not just in work matters. Thanks, Bill, for being a friend and a mentor. Sorry I didn’t get the jokes.

Steve Mollman

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