The Pleasures and Contradictions of Being Nat Hentoff
The title of David Lewis’s documentary “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step/Notes on the Life of Nat Hentoff” begs a central question: Has Hentoff, 89, famed social commentator, critic, jazz writer and activist, really spent his life being out of step? Or is that largely a romanticizing conceit? If one considers the prevailing conformity of Eisenhower-era culture out of which his career first flowered, the answer, of course, is yes; a bearded, left-leaning, jazz-loving, African-American-befriending agnostic Jew was about as out of step as a person could get. But situated more narrowly within his own milieu, among his own kind, this East Coast child of the Great Depression who lived in the heart of Greenwich Village, frequenting its lively night scene while helping to forge the distinctive tone of its own local newspaper, has spent most of his life not only in step, but also frequently choreographing those steps for his confreres. Read more from my latest piece inThe Forward.