DARRELL BOB HOUSTON
Darrell Bob Houston was a gonzo-journalist par excellence for most of his fifty one years, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story. He wrote for many papers and served as chief copy editor, as well, including on the national desk of the Los Angeles Times. He never stayed long, though he left and returned to the Seattle P-I no less than five times. He wrote for papers from Guam to Honolulu, from Los Angeles to Seattle and points in between. The last paper he worked for was in Anchorage; he drove all the way to Alaska, sat down at the computer in his office, and headed for home the next day. Darrell Bob Houston had gloriously, spectacularly rough edges that refused to be polished and ground to meet the mundane standards of mainstream society.
Endeavors outside of the newspaper business included launching Avatar Magazine on June 1, 1967, at the explosive peak of the counterculture revolution and when the alternative press was taking root. He drove to Seattle to assemble the first issue with his friend and fellow alter-journalist Walter Crowley of Helix newspaper fame. Together, they assembled the first issue of Avatar in one explosive 24-hour period. [See "Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle," Crowley, Walter. University of Washington Press, 1995, p. 93] Only a few issues of DBH’s Avatar were published.
Darrell Bob Houston was deeply and voraciously read—from Freud to Thoreau, but he particularly loved the Beats. He was especially attracted to the life of Neal Cassidy, whose character he based the protagonist in his book, "King of the Midnight Blue" (Avatar Books, 1976), a fictionalized account of skyjacker DB Cooper. His unique talent for writing was also exemplified in an article on Neal Cassidy’s life that was accepted by Esquire Magazine at its peak. Darrell Bob, however, refused to have so much as a comma edited by Esquire. He refused their contract and returned their check to stay true to his own vision. He was hungry, yes, but not that hungry.
Darrell Bob Houston refused to be gentrified or controlled; to behave nicely inside the box (any box!), or to color prettily inside the lines. His spirit was too wild and free and large to fit inside any confines, whatsoever. He did not compromise his friendships, writing or perspective, and sacrificed dearly to hold true to his values. In short, he never sold out. He loved deeply and when in a position to help others more vulnerable than himself, he did regardless of his own situation or personal feelings about the person.
In 1980, doctors diagnosed Darrell Bob Houston with melanoma and gave him six months to live. In true DBH style, he went on to live another four years. He lived those years fully—with exuberance, with style, and with flair. He continued to freelance until the end came finally on April 5, 1984. He is mourned by many distinguished professionals as well as those who live on the margins to this day.
Beloved author Tom Robbins was one of Darrell Bob’s closest friends. They worked together over many years and shared the pinnacles and valleys of their lives. Tom Robbins stood beside Darrell Bob, encouraging and supporting him during both feast times and the inevitable famines. Upon Darrell Bob Houston’s death, Tom Robbins initiated an annual literary award for young journalists. The "Darrell Bob Houston Literary Award," was to be given out each April 5th to a journalist who revealed, "some soul, some color, some grace, robustness, risk, mirth and generosity in a single prose piece" in the manner of Darrell Bob Houston. The final award was presented several years ago. As Tom Robbins explained to me, the stories were good, but just didn’t have the flair. Tom Robbins dedicated the epilogue of "Jitterbug Perfume" to Darrell Bob Houston. The book was published in 1984, the year of Darrell Bob’s death.
I am in the process of collecting and creating an archive of Darrell Bob Houston’s work and remembrances of his life and times, so that future generations will have access to his work and history. If you can contribute to the archive, with either stories or his writings, please contact Mary Witter.
Mary Witter (2/10/07)
Mary Witter (2/10/07)