Lanny Friedlander had pretty much disappeared from the world's sight for 40 years. As a college student back in 1968, he'd started a little magazine in his dorm room at Boston University -- with a ream of paper, a ditto machine, and a boundless enthusiasm for his own ideas.
But he had to give up both college and the magazine, which he called Reason, when the first symptoms of his mental illness appeared. He wouldn't appear in the public prints again until his obituary was published in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, and stirred thoughts of What Might Have Been.
Before he dropped out of sight, he'd had time to issue Reason's manifesto, charter, and ideological battle cry. Marked by typos, misspellings, ALLCAPS, and general pizzazz-and-vinegar, it was as clear a paean to the goddess Reason as any pronunciamento since the French Revolution. To quote its first issue:
"When REASON speaks of poverty, racism, the draft, the war, studentpower, politics, and other vital issues, it shall be reasons, not slogans, it gives for conclusions. Proof, not belligerent assertion. Logic, not legends. Coherance, not contradictions. This is our promise: this is the reason for REASON."
If that paragraph had been a musical composition, it could have been titled Fanfare for a Magazine. You can almost hear the drums and bugles.
And if young Friedlander hadn't been so ardent a pamphleteer, he might have made an even more effective graphic designer, for his cover art and illustrations were among the most striking and effective since the Soviet poster art of the 1920s.
The Times, whose obituaries remain the best thing about that newspaper as it steadily dissolves into general NPRness, described Reason's founder as "an intuitive genius of design, publishing issues in the magazine's post-ditto period that had stark, evocative graphics; coolly elegant sans serif typefaces; and layouts that reinforced the editorial content." He seemed well on his way to stardom as a graphic artist with a minor in political philosophy of the Ayn Rand school.
For an ideologue dedicated to the worship of reason, Lanny Friedlander had a decidedly romantic streak that made his little magazine a work of art, its every issue anticipated.
Then something happened. The something had a name, or at least a catchall label: schizophrenia. It struck him in his early 20s and set him adrift. Unable to cope, Reason's editor and publisher had to sell the magazine to a group of its writers.