Amid all of the loss and chaos of 2020, there was one death I missed: that of radio host and author Barry Farber. Barry Farber died on May 6, 2020.
I became a fan of Barry Farber’s radio talk show during the 1990s. I was in my twenties then, and my life circumstances necessitated a lot of driving. I don’t mind music; but a little bit of music goes a long way during a two-hour drive. For a really long drive, talk radio is a much better alternative. (Yes, audiobooks and podcasts are even better alternatives. But audiobooks in the 1990s were expensive, and mostly distributed in packages consisting of multiple cassettes. Podcasts were still twenty years in the future.)
Farber was a political conservative. As those old enough to remember the 1990s will know, this was the age of the bombastic Rush Limbaugh, and the outspoken G. Gordon Liddy. Rush Limbaugh declared America during the Clinton era to be “America under siege”. G. Gordon Liddy once advised listeners to “go for a head shot” if their homes were invaded by federal law enforcement officers.
Barry Farber was different. He was a soft-spoken man who appealed to simple standards of common sense. He saw both sides of complicated issues. In the aftermath of the LAPD’s beating of African American suspect Rodney King in 1991, Farber condemned the LAPD’s excesses. But he also condemned the excesses of those who insist on running from and fighting the police. Extreme actions invite extreme overreactions, Farber pointed out.
Because he wasn’t over-the-top, Farber was never as well-known as either Rush Limbaugh or G. Gordon Liddy. Nevertheless, he was my favorite political broadcaster of that era.
Barry Farber also shared my love of foreign languages. During his long lifetime, he studied and mastered scores of them: Chinese, Latin, Spanish, Norwegian, and others. (Farber admitted that the learning of foreign languages was his only real hobby.) This gave me yet another reason to be a Barry Farber fan: I am also a longtime lover and student of foreign languages.
Farber wrote a book about his hobby: How to Learn Any Language: Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably and on Your Own. I reread this book many times. It became an inspiration for my first nonfiction book, Why You Need a Foreign Language & How to Learn One*.
I lost track of Barry Farber during the new century. I knew that he had to be getting up there in years. His semi-autobiographical book about language learning mentions his childhood experiences during World War II, after all. I occasionally searched for him on the radio; but I had long assumed that he was retired.
I did an Internet search today and found that he died on May 6, one day after his 90th birthday. (I can only wonder if he had a special desire to live to see this milestone.)
Farber lived a long life, and he filled it with a lot of activity. Nevertheless, he is one of many great individuals (like Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, who also died this year), whom I would liked to have met, but now never will.
Barry Farber, age 90, R.I.P.
*My book about language learning, Why You Need a Foreign Language & How to Learn One, was published in 2003 and updated in 2005 in a second edition. I’m presently working on a third edition. In the meantime, you can read the second edition here for free on this website.