I first met Jonathan Gold in 1983 when we were both working at LAWeekly. I was a news editor and feature writer and Jonathan worked on the copy desk. He was destined to become an iconoclastic food reviewer as from the start he relished being the odd man out.
This was during the Reagan days and everybody at the Weekly was some sort of lefty, even the then-owner, Jay Levin, who was a very liberal Democrat. Everybody, that is, except Jonathan. He fancied himself as some sort of conservative and if I remember correctly, he spoke of plans to go to GWU and join the Foreign Service. We would razz each other about politics, him calling me a commie and I responding he was a Reagan lackey. All in good fun and never with an edge.
He was, fortunately, far too talented for work as a drone diplomat. Hard to even imagine him in such a role! He had a vast knowledge of up-and-coming rock and punk bands and started writing about them in what became his signature mode and tone. (Check out this monster piece on Darby Crash and The Germs.) And of course he quickly became the first and best bloodhound snooping out the best of the tens of thousands little hole-in-the-mall eateries around L.A. Somewhere along the line, not sure exactly, his politics shifted toward the other side of the fence (fortunately) but I never met anyone who wanted to talk to him about politics! It was much more important to squeeze the latest dope out of him on some little place he had written about the week before that served the best noodles or pho within 10 miles of Arcadia.
It was at the Weekly where he met his wife, Laurie Ochoa, who also became a respected food writer in her own right and today serves as a Calendar editor at the LA Times. For most of the aughts Laurie was also the editor in chief of the Weekly, really the last real editor of the real legacy Weekly before it was raped and ripped apart and trashed by the toads who bought it. She was a great editor to work for and was and is a fine and caring person who was deeply invested in good writing.
Their love for each other was palpable and their marked but diverse eccentricity made them a perfect match. Those of us who know them are as saddened for Laurie and her family as we are for the loss of Jonathan.
I suspect everything else about his career will be said within the next 24 hours. But it is sort of a miracle that a guy who wrote about virtually unknown restaurants and dives would so enrich so many millions of lives in this part of the world and beyond. To die at any age is to die too young. He was a little TOO young. Yet it’s an inevitable journey that we all make from the first day out of the womb. In that sense, Jonathan’s death is not very remarkable. What is stunning, what can mitigate the loss for his family and friends, is to assimilate the scope of the unique legacy he leaves behind. Not many people can pull off that trick.