With Sam de Brito’s sad passing yesterday, here B&T’s editor John Bastick reflects on a few run-ins he had with him over the years…
Sam de Brito passed away yesterday. Probably like anybody who loved or was infuriated by his writing, I’m in a state of shock.
I knew Sam for going on 15 years. Not for a moment am I suggesting we were best mates or anything, more colleagues who occasionally bumped into each other and bumped heads.
The epitaphs and eulogies should be written by those who knew and loved him – quite rightly, mind – but if there’s one thing I’d say about Sam he was the journo’s journo. Author, writer, raconteur, contrarian, shit stirrer, rabble raiser, thought-maker and trouble maker – all the wonderful things that this slightly demented profession we call journalism allow you to be. And Sam shifted it in spades.
Sam and I first butted heads in the early 2000s. He was editing – if I recall – a men’s column by the trite name of “Male Grams” for Sydney’s The Sun Herald. I was boss at men’s mag FHM and would chuck him stories in a contra deal – he got free content and FHM got the PR.
A cosy arrangement until one day I fucked up. FHM ran a photo of some unfortunate fellow with three-legs or some sort of human deformity (as was the want of men’s mags at the time). De Brito was furious when he saw it; fucking livid he was. Phoned me and ballsed me out for an hour, called me every name under the sun for poking fun at this poor unfortunate.
And you know what? He was right. No longer did I see Sam as another run-of-the-mill Sunday newspaper plodder. He was a deep, deep thinker and – heaven forbid – well prepared to put his neck on the line for someone who he felt had copped the short shaft.
I’d occasionally run into Sam at the endless (often tedious) product-launches-parading-as-parties that journalists are required to attend. Nice bloke, liked a beer, kept to himself sort of a fellow.
Then in 2008 – might have been 2009 – one of the now defunct lad’s magazines named Sam in the running for its “wanker of the year”. If I recall, he and Kyle Sandilands were the frontrunners.
But rather than laugh it off, Sam was devastated. He phoned me (I was flogging my sorry arse as a freelancer), begging me to use my contacts to get it pulled or him removed. It wasn’t rage; he genuinely was beaten down by it. For all the pretence of ballsy, bash through scribe, Sam clearly took the criticisms to heart.
Over time we eventually fell out of contact, as blokes do. I took crap jobs that paid well; Sam, admirably stayed the writing course. Trust me, to find that motivation to churn the shear number of articles, columns and books that Sam did as a freelancer – and with the calibre in which he did it – is no mean feat, I can assure you.
If I remember the last time I even spoke to him would have been in 2009 when I phoned to congratulate him on the release of his incredibly excellent first novel The Lost Boys.
Again, this scribble was never intended as a homage to Sam’s life. It’s abundantly clear I was never close enough to the guy to pen that. But it is an admiration of a bloke who did it on his terms, a writer, and a novelist, who remained at the top of his game. And I write that with a good dose of jealousy, too.
Most of us get into this journalism caper with a sense of nobleness. Sure, you think, “I’ll get paid fuck all (a given, in fact) but I’ll do good, I’ll entertain, I’ll challenge, I’ll be dangerous, I’ll tip the zeitgeist, and I’ll piss people off to boot.”
And that’s exactly what Sam did. And then chuck in the five books that Sam wrote (most journalists talk about it without ever finishing one) and it proves he was the journalist/writer/author/commentator that we all get into this industry wanting to be but few ever achieve.
Sam did it his way. He published and was damned. Never sullied, dragged down by money, bosses or popular opinion. He wrote from the heart and wore the slings and arrows. But I can’t recall it ever being nonsense – his writings were always well researched, considered and typically hand grenades.
Australia has lost one its best storytellers – part rogue, part showmen – and heaven forbid are we in bloody short supply of them.