The New York Times reported that writer Irwin Silber, former editor of the influential folk music magazine Sing Out!, died on Sept. 8 in Oakland from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 84.
QUEST featured Silber and his wife, singer Barbara Dane, in a television segment about Alzheimer’s disease that aired in 2008. The story looks at a gene associated with the disease.
Silber was famous for taking Bob Dylan to task in an open letter in Sing Out!, after the 1965 concert at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island in which Dylan shifted his sound from acoustic to electric.
Silber and Dane let us film them as they each attended support groups for patients and caregivers at Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay, in Berkeley. Silber also led us on a lively tour of his library at their Oakland house, where he kept copies of the books he had written. His interests ranged from folk music to socialist politics to health – after knee and hip replacement surgery, he wrote a guide for people undergoing the procedure. At the end of the day, they sat down for an interview during which they discussed candidly the challenges of dealing with Silber’s Alzheimer’s.
“He always was the smartest guy in the room, always. Everyone knew it,” said Dane. “Many times I’ve been in a meeting with some brilliant people debating different issues, and they all kind of wait for the end for him to come up with a summation that would take it a step higher. He was a specialist at that. And then bit by bit you could see that the ability to do that was ebbing away.”
Silber kept an upbeat outlook. “I’ve lived my life,” he said. “The more I can enjoy it, the better. But I’ll be satisfied when I’m done no matter what because I feel that I did something and I feel good about it.”
We at QUEST are very grateful to Silber and Dane for the openness with which they talked about Alzheimer’s and its impact on families.