In Memoriam, Mike Moore

I had a friend who drank too much
and played too much guitar – 
and we sure got along. 
Reel-to-reels rolled across the country near and far 
with letters poems and songs…. 
but these days he don’t talk to me 
and he won’t tell me why. 
I miss him every time i say his name. 
I don’t know what he’s doing 
or why our friendship died
while we played the poet game.
– Greg Brown, ‘The Poet Game’


“Why Mountain Gazette? Why not?”

That’s the way Mike Moore introduced the first issue of a new magazine “generally about the mountains” in the fall of 1972. Exactly what Moore had in mind, no one really knew.

For example,  here’s Barry Corbet, a noted mountaineer, skier and filmmaker in the 60s and 70s, sounding puzzled: “I have in hand a letter from Mike Moore, editor and manager of this journal. My assignment, should I choose to accept it, is to write ‘from one to sixteen pages about the mountains….’”

He accepted the assignment, of course, as we all did, all the writers who got that letter—Moore’s stable, writers living above 8,000 feet elevation if only in spirit. Mountain Gazette. Why not?

Now, it’s a long way from 1972, and word just came in a roundabout way that Moore died November 20, in Vermont where he has lived most of the past quarter century. This is not an obituary—he wanted none of that: no funeral, no memorial, no eulogies, said the notice making the rounds. Okay, but he can’t stop old friends, old loves from remembering him. Trying to re-member (sic) him through what he brought to our lives in what was the relatively brief but very intense first five years of the Mountain Gazette.

The Mountain Gazette wasn’t actually a startup; it was an acceleration or expansion, or maybe a digression, from another magazine, Skiers’ Gazette, that had entered the field of ski journalism in 1966, a newsprint gadfly journal that was the Village Voice to the ski industry’s array of earnest four-color Wall Street Journals (the romance of ski capitalism).

I became part of Moore’s SG stable of writers while I was running the Crested Butte Chronicle in the Colorado resort town of same name. He occasionally reprinted something I’d written in my gadfly newspaper; and when I left the newspaper business, where the ratio of business to writing was too high, to try to pursue a career freelancing, he offered me a chance to write a column for the SG.

That was great: I invented a mythic ski town, and over the course of that winter unloaded half a decade of observations that would have lost me all the Chronicle advertisers I hadn’t already lost. Moore made sure we writers didn’t worry about the impact of our biting of the hands of the advertisers that fed the SG and our meagre checks; still, we might have hypothesized that Moore’s motivation for expanding the Skiers’ Gazette to the Mountain Gazette was a need for access to a larger body of advertisers to offend.

But that was not Moore’s motive; he wanted to find, nurture and give voice to the 20th-century literature of the mountains, and the strange post-urban cultures springing up in the mountain towns like new mushroom species. Skiers’ Gazette had made him aware that there were lots of articulate and over-educated misfits, malcontents and de facto expatriates slinking around the mountain towns and beyond, trying to piss a line in the snow—dirtbag hippies, burnt-out suburbanites going exurban, lawyers undergoing a Saul-Paul transformation, Lord Jims in orderly retreat, all of whom knew, sort of, what Robinson Jeffers was trying to say: “When the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.” He wasn’t beating the underbrush of the mountain valleys for advertisers but for writers, whom he could lead, push or otherwise nurture or seduce to some greater level…. He didn’t want to just do a Village Voice for the mountain regions; he wanted to do a high-altitude New Yorker: the socio-economo-politico-cultural voice of a place and a time whose writers he believed might have something interesting to say.

Paradoxically, Moore was not a “mountain person” himself. He grew up in Colorado’s Front Range cities— cities that are to the mountains what Boston and San Francisco are to the ocean. He didn’t ski, didn’t climb, didn’t even hike much except on golf courses with a mountain view. As MG editor he mostly came to the mountains to visit his stable of mountain writers, visits that seldom moved beyond the bars of those places.

And by extension, the exemplars he carried in his heart were—I think—the great urban editors and publishers of the mid-20th century – people like Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, the man who “found” and brought to full bloom Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Ring Lardner, Erskine Caldwell, James Jones and others. That was what Moore wanted to do, the life he wanted to live.

I was lucky enough to make it onto the short list in his stable—those not just called but those maybe chosen, after a little serious work and tuning. He was the kind of editor who edited from the front, pre-manuscript, as well as what he called “pissing in the manuscript” after it was in. This often involved 12-to-7 “working lunches” for throwing ideas around that got better as the afternoon deteriorated, in the event that either he or the writer was capable of remembering the ideas – especially since the working lunch usually deteriorated further into just going out and overindulging for the rest of the evening. Moore also worked the phones with writers – and being an insomniac himself, a 3 a.m. call was not unusual.

But most of Moore’s interaction—at least with this writer—came in letters, those things we used for communication before email. I have a whole file drawer of letters from him—and I wrote as many to him. I reread the folder of his letters from the Gazette years the weekend after he died, and some of them would begin, “Responding to your two letters from last week….” What were these letters about? Well, about one to sixteen pages. They might be about a piece I was working on, or he wished I was working on; but they were also ongoing conversations about things he’d read or I’d read or we’d both read (it was Spengler for quite a while), discourses on what was happening in our lives, and –… But that sounds so damn – literary.

I need to downshift and get honest here about re-membering Moore. The letters, the long meetings were a love affair, is what they really were: we were both in love with my potential. That sounds terribly egomaniacal, but I think it is true, and the affair was conducted through this mad blizzard of letters about writing, with a focus on my writing. There was nothing sexual about this love affair – but something he said in one letter about his sex life kind of explains something about his relationship with the writers he worked with.

He said that he took a lot of his self-identity from the woman’s physical satisfaction—“She comes; therefore I am,” was how he put it. So it was with us: if, with his suggestions, support, critique, wheedling, stimulating and stroking, we might finally write something generally about mountains (and what isn’t?) that communicated a little Wright-Brothers-type hopping flight of the soul—then he existed too. I knew of course that he was profligately twelve-timing me with all the other Gazette writers; we all knew that, and jealousy occasionally intruded, but basically we loved him back as profligately: our Max Perkins, shepherd, custodian, editor, lover-of-our-potential.

If you were one of his short-list writers, he would—eventually—publish just about anything you sent him. Even in complete disregard of the “one to sixteen page” parameter stated in that first letter. Between stages in my own life in the summer of 1975, I cranked out a 90-page manuscript in a two-week burst of desperate something-or-other—in many respects, just a longer letter to Moore, but more generally about mountains. I sent it to Moore, with a letter asking him to see if there were any salvageable fragments in it, anything to take out and work up; “I can’t imagine what you could do with the whole mess,” I concluded.

I got a letter back a few days later that began, “We’ll print it, of course; we just have to figure out how and why”—then went into a description of how he had alarmed patrons at the bar where he went to read it, with noisy outbursts of laughter, backtalk, and other manifestations of his tendency to be a very active reader…. We define love too narrowly, too pedestrianly, if it can’t include this – not just “brotherly love,” but loverly love, a kind of shared intimacy involving mutual penetration of each other’s minds and hearts, and the kind of trust that enables that.

Eventually that outpouring became the final part of a four-part series that involved a lot of back-and-forth calls and letters, a couple emergency work days in Denver, and some serious stress on both of us. When done it occupied more than 50 pages of the magazine over four months, and was very well received in the mountain world. For us: how was it for you, did you…? Yes, the peak intensity, climax of our love affair with my potential, through which his potential was realized. We came together on it; therefore we were.

He thought the “Part of a Winter” series should become a book, and started calling in or begging favors from every big leaguer he had ever encountered in the rarified realm of New York publishing. But this was also a time when he was going through a lot of personal trauma—a failing marriage, financial troubles at the magazine, a lot of heavy drinking and the indiscriminate bestowing of random female orgasms. I got a contract eventually, with what turned out to be the wrong publisher—my fault, not Moore’s.

And not long after that, in 1976, Moore left the Mountain Gazette and Denver, to set off on an extended tour of Europe with his family in what even he could see was predestined to be a futile effort to salvage the marriage. The book was edited by a young woman in New York who knew commas but didn’t know what either she or I were doing; suffice it to say that Part of a Winter wasn’t the Look Homeward, Angel or Farewell to Arms that Moore had made us both believe it could be, in the intensity of our affair.

We continued to write letters for a number of years after he left the Gazette, but with increasing infrequency, while he went through a number of editing jobs, and eventually a partnership in a Vermont publishing house. Finally, he stopped writing entirely—not just to me, his partner told me, but to everyone from his “former life”. For almost two decades I heard nothing from him, until out of the blue he called one afternoon a year or so ago—“to say goodbye”: he’d received his death sentence from the doctors.

Well, no eulogy then, Moore, per your instructions, no obit, just this effort to re-member you in my life, keep you a member in my life, and remember how you changed my life, for better or worse. I think we both eventually realized that I lack something—the ego, discipline, drive—to really realize fully whatever potential I have or had in the running for the Next Great American Writer, and that may be why you stopped writing letters. But I thank you from whatever depths I have for your seemingly boundless love for us all during those first intense and exciting Mountain Gazette years, which like all love is given, just given, and not for what we are but for what we might become. Unsustainable, love like that, but how gray life would be without ever having had it.          —George Sibley

11 thoughts on “In Memoriam, Mike Moore”

  1. Well, damn. I’ve read some honest accounts, but that “in love with my potential” observation has the kind of credibility usually reserved for stuff we overhear in bars. Damn. We can all just hope to leave similar footprints, but most likely won’t. And, of course, I can’t be the only one noting that a lot of the “potential” was in this piece — leave it to a Mountain-G writer to craft the non-obit obit.

  2. It is such sad news that Mike Moore is no longer with this world. I adored him, his brilliant mind, his mischievous blue eyes and his grin. My late husband, Darrell Oldham, was Mike’s partner at The Mountain Gazette. Mike figured heavily in our life during those days. Mountain Gazette was a mecca for so many brilliant writers, poets, artists and genuinely fascinating people many of whom bunked in our guest room. What a time it was, what a gathering, all Mike’s vision. Our family has a set of bound volumes of the Mountain Gazette which keep Mike and Darrell alive for us. Thanks for everything, Mike.

  3. Here is Michael Moore’s official obituary, written by Susan Walp and Chip Fleischer.
    ” Michael Moore, 73, a magazine and book editor who helped to found both the Mountain Gazette in Colorado and Steerforth Press in Vermont, died at his home in Washington, Vermont on November 20, 2014 from complications of small cell lung cancer that had spread to his brain.
    Moore, whose lifelong passion was good writing, turned a small skiing magazine edited in the basement of a Denver office building into the Gazette in the late 1960s and ran it for nearly ten years. Despite the Gazette’s frequent inability to pay writers on time, if at all, western writers like Edward Abbey, John Nichols, Dick Dorworth and many others were eager to be edited and published by Moore. The magazine, a mix of writing about the mountains, the environment, and alternative lifestyles, was admired for its originality and irreverent spirit, and also for Moore’s innovative design, with bold covers featuring black and white full bleed photos and spare interior layouts. By the time of the demise of the print version in 1979, the magazine had built a loyal and enthusiastic following. Surviving issues of the original Gazette retain their value and frequently are sold on eBay for twenty dollars or more.
    In 1993 Moore was one of four founding partners and editors of Steerforth Press in South Royalton, Vermont, where he continued as editor-in-chief for ten years. Among the many books he saw into print were the diaries of the novelist Dawn Powell, which the New York Times Book Review called “one of the outstanding literary finds of the last quarter-century,” and My Two Wars, a memoir by Moritz Thomsen, described by the Washington Post as “one of the best American writers of the century.”
    Moore was born in Beebe, Arkansas in 1941 but spent his childhood in Colorado Springs, where the family moved after the Second World War. There he learned to play golf at The Broadmoor in the shadow of Pike’s Peak. He won The Broadmoor’s junior club championship before enrolling at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he became the golf team’s top-ranked player and entertained thoughts of turning pro. He told friends later in life that dream died when a freshman golfer named Hale Irwin knocked him off the top spot his senior year and taught him the difference, as he described it, between a good golfer and a great one. Irwin went on to have a Hall of Fame career on the PGA tour.
    After graduating as a political science major in 1963, he did graduate work in the same field for a time. After leaving the Mountain Gazette in the late 1970s, Moore worked as an editor at Outside magazine in San Francisco, and then moved to New York for tours with Esquire and Rolling Stone. In the mid-1980s, Moore moved to Vermont with his partner, the painter, Susan Walp, whom he had met in Denver. A few years later he met his Steerforth Partners Chip Fleischer, Alan Lelchuk and Tom Powers.
    For the last decade of his life Moore was semi-retired, living in Washington, VT where he and Susan were avid gardeners. He remained active with Steerforth Press after it moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, where it continues to publish books, and he resumed playing golf. It was his belief that his golf game reached its highest level during his years at Northfield (Vermont) Country Club, where he played in all weathers and won the senior club championship eight times.
    Best known as an editor who was loyal to his writers and devoted long hours to working on their manuscripts, Moore was also an able writer. Modest about his work, he rarely showed it to anyone else. In recent years he told friends, not quite entirely truthfully, that he had quit reading and now only watched films, which he then described in brief notes that were careful, crisp, sharp and often funny. Over many years he also worked on a personal memoir of his life called The Puffer’s Notes, about which he said so little that not even close friends knew if the title referred to his long refusal to give up smoking.
    In addition to his wife Susan, Moore is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, Margaret Hillary Moore of New York City and Courtney Cleary of Wardsboro, Vermont. He also is survived by his mother, Eunice Moore of Colorado Springs, a brother Malcolm Moore of Crestone, Colorado, and a grandson, Devin Moore-Gray of Wardsboro.”

  4. Sibley? Shit, man, thanks.

    I spent parts of several winters reading your “Part of…” and a lot more. You were prolific. A cabin philosopher, though some of the shack-in-the-Rockies part was likely exaggerated. We were all trying for bigger, for literary. Especially, it seemed, when in a bar in a mountain town with Mike. I was a part of the Gazette too, with pleasure. A fringe part out where its western orbit grazed the Eastern Sierra, where we all thought it was Colorado Cool, picked up your attitude, slurried it around with our own breakable crust, and spat back echoes here and there.

    Pause for a shot of single malt, out of a silver thimble because that’s the way now, here, smack dab on that magic 8,000-foot contour, still high in the Sierra, watching a few hopeful inches of longed-for winter — one that Mike Moore won’t see — turn to rain dripping off the roof.

    I don’t know how we got the word — osmosis, maybe; then again, likely Dorworth — but we Eastsiders were reading Mountain Gazette from the get-go, and I began eagerly penning stuff for Mike, who graciously printed it. Now that I’ve been treated to prose shaping from notably great editors — Katie Ives and Terry McDonell leap to mind — I appreciate a lot more Mike’s “nothing special” style of kneading my paragraphs. See, he didn’t do much of that, and when he did he might infer that it wasn’t really his idea but something to please the honcho down the hall. No, the office session could be cursory, followed by a kind of casual invite: get your hat and we’ll talk in the bar — preferably about something else. Somehow, those sessions gave unconscious shape to the steering of the prose that had been left unsaid. By then we had done the bars of Aspen (no small feat) and off the I-70 corridor getting there from his house in Denver, and re-convened in San Francisco to crank up Outside Magazine (it’s never been as good as that first year). The editorial honchos, Terry McDonell and Will Hearst, had noticed us crossing Third Street from our offices in the leftover quarters of Rolling Stone, which had abandoned them in a celebrity-chase onward to New York. So before the first drink had been sucked dry, they came through the door, laughing at something I — not as cool as Mike — would strain to catch. Likely on their heels would be Tim Cahill and Rob Schulteis. And so would convene another evening of what I would fondly call literary brawls. All perilously close to sea level.

    It was quite a year. When it ended with the sale of Outside to a Chicago competitor I went back to the Sierra. Mike? I heard Connecticut. I heard depression, but then there had always been his own wry expression of a streak of that. And then the grapevine went silent. Until now, and I’m grateful for the word. Thanks Sibley, for your non-obit (true, dat), and now to the kindness of strangers for something close to a regular one. It’s value, the staid old form, is in the scraps of where he took it: the golf, a couple of interesting-sounding books, north to Vermont, the survived-by relatives.

    Take it back to Aspen. Early Seventies. My first glimpse of its true glitz. But it began at Mike’s Denver house, and the home of Mountain Gazette. A basement room, capacious with a single desk in the center and not much else. Feeling a bit subterranean, and he was right at home there. And it began with a book edit. Maybe his first, but who knows? He was good at them, a natural. Like he was at the magazines. Yvon Chouinard had written his “Climbing Ice.” I had helped flesh it out. So Mike convened us in Aspen for a bit of shaping. We worked on the manuscript underneath a picture window that looked straight out onto the Ajax lifts. Borrowed apartment, alpine mountaineer and poet, off in the city. Mike seemed to know all the bars, all the stories. Later, at Outside, I recognized some of them as he edited Craig Vetter’s short piece “Why I Left Aspen,” which stands as about the best ever requiem for the coke-fueled high life in a fast-lane ski town. But it was (relatively) innocent that first time. I had brought light XC skis, and after an evening out with Mike I’d ski off up the mountain and sleep out on a cat track, skittering down in the morning to find Mike pouring coffee like it was the first day of the world.

  5. Mountain Gazette #38 is mostly taken up with Part One of Sibley’s “Part of a Winter” and Mike Moore’s “Breaking Free From the Human Potential Movement.” Both are fine pieces of writing and each in its own way is classic Mountain Gazette. It’s hard to pin down the quirky genius of Mike Moore, but in “Breaking Free” he could be describing himself when he recounts falling in love with Barry Stevens, author of “Don’t Push the River” and called “a natural born therapist” by Fritz Perls. Moore wrote, “A beautiful old zen monk is what she is. Barry Stevens has it…the mysterious ‘it’…People kept asking her questions, about her life, her current thinking, wanting to know how she’s solved her own riddle, as she so obviously had. One fellow yelled out, ‘Hey, Barry, I just like watching you.’ She laughed and threw her arms up over her head as if to say, ‘Yeah, I know you do.'” Mike Moore had ‘it’ and he passed it on to Mountain Gazette and to everyone who was ever touched, moved, inspired, informed and freed by its contents, and there were and are many, and we all liked watching them both.

  6. Thank you, George, Dick, and Leslie and those of you whom I don’t know for these wonderful tributes. I met Michael at the tail end of his time with the Gazette and so came to know him over the intervening years in a different light, though I can assure you that all you have to say about his natural ease, warmth, generosity, and brilliance shone through to the very end. One correction to Doug’s introduction to the ‘official’ obit: it was written by Tom Powers and Chip Fleischer, Michael’s partners at Steerforth Press. I contributed only a few minor additions.

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