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A Letter From David Simon
A Letter From David Simon

In his overarching claim that American lives have no second acts, Fitzgerald made no room for the likes of Ed Burns, a native Baltimorean who somehow manages to reinvent himself every five or six years while at the same time remaining true to his inner self.

At points he has been:

A Baltimore homicide detective specializing in drug-related violence.
A city schoolteacher.
An author and social critic.
An infantryman.
A television writer and producer.

Dig back far enough and there's even a stint as a young copyboy for an afternoon Hearst newspaper. It's as if one lifetime — or, more precisely, one career path is insufficient to contain his innate curiosity and interest. He is no dilettante either. As a detective, his interest in the history, logic and mores of the West Baltimore drug trade led to the kind of protracted wiretap and grand jury investigations that are depicted in The Wire. As a teacher, first at Hamilton Middle School and later at Baltimore City College, his desire to pull more of his students through the narrow keyhole that is the city school system led to unique programming initiatives designed to keep at-risk children participating in an educational system seemingly bent on losing them.

He pisses people off. He can't help it.

It is the nature of people who care intensely about what they do and why they do it to ask hard questions. And the idea that there is always, always a better way — with more to be said and done and tried and perfected — has been forever hard-wired into Ed's being. He often leaves a trail of frustrated cohorts, but more important, certainly, he always leaves them with better ideas, or at the least, a new way of seeing the elemental problems we face.

I met him as a police reporter looking for sources in the Baltimore department. I came away with the impression that Ed was a unique creature — unbroken by either the institutions he served or those, like the drug trade itself, that he was confronting. Here was a thinking detective — a voracious reader and careful listener, who insisted on finding new ways to see the world. Once he had left policework, it made sense to report and write The Corner with him and further, to contemplate the world of The Wire with him. He sees everything with fresh eyes and without the ornate ideology of more political beings.

It struck me a while back that Ed Burns is in some remarkable way the living manifestation of lost wars. He served in Vietnam, surviving a tour of duty as many around him did not. After which, he survived twenty years of service in the nation's failed War on Drugs. His seven years in the Baltimore City schools are, of course, a different kind of soldiering, but in a system that is unable to graduate the minority of its enrollment with even the rudiments of a high-school education, Ed's experience is once again in service of a seemingly losing 'cause.

That kind of history would break most people. For Ed Burns it is fuel for a still-burning fire.

While Ed's contributions to The Wire have been elemental in every season, it is this year — as the show turns its attention to a West Baltimore middle school — that the story connects even more intricately with his personal passion. Of all of his incarnations, Ed regards teaching as the most intensive, exhausting and important. In that sense, season four of The Wire finds him at home, in the classroom, still.

David Simon

Continue to HBO.com's interview with Ed Burns...


Inside Season Four
Ed Burns talks to HBO
Ed Burns talks to HBO
"...The school is porous. If there's a problem in the neighborhood, there's a problem in the school..."

Inside The Wire
Trivia Game
Trivia Game
Think you know The Wire? Have you played the Trivia Game lately?
The Complete Second Season DVD
The Complete Second Season DVD
The DVD box set, with enhanced content, is available to order at the HBO Store!
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