The final printed edition of the Village Voice has hit the stands, and I find myself deeply emotional about the event. I had occasion to eulogize the paper once before in 2013 when, after months and years of decline, they fired the last of their distinguished contributors and opted to become a sorry excuse for fish-wrapping. Then, a couple of years later they rebounded, hiring a terrific stable of new writers, not famous names like the original bunch mostly, and at much smaller word counts, but at least they were publishing important journalism again. Theoretically, they will continue to do that, but only online.
Kids, who live on their phones, will wonder what the big deal is. I live on my phone too, but have retained memories and habits from the old days. The Village Voice (i.e., the newspaper that you could hold in your hands) was attached to a real place. The world became its beat, and it became world famous, but it always reflected the character and culture of its community, and reported on local stuff (arts, politics) that mattered to it. Now, untethered, it will be free-floating, like all web sites. Yes, there are lots of blogs about NYC neighborhoods (Park Slope and Coney Island, places that matter to me, both have great ones, for example). But it’s difficult to imagine the world famous Village Voice, now out there in the ether-sphere, feeling a need to keep the readers of London, Mumbai, and Indianapolis apprised of NYC matters like City Hall scandals, the atrocities of crooked landlords, or the buzz about New York nightclubs and art galleries. I could be wrong; hopefully I will be.
As I said in my previous elegy, I wrote 30 pieces for the Voice between 2000 and 2010, a fact which fills me with no end of pride, because of the ASSOCIATION with so many writers (and artists) I admire. The paper has done a big photo spread in the current issue, involving as many of the living ones as were willing to participate. As it was designed to, it brings back a flood tide of memories. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many of these people over the years while wearing one of my many hats, either as fellow journalist, or as publicist, or as an artist they covered… in some cases I’m just a fan. In several instances I’ve written entire tributes to them; just click on the link.
The great Nat Hentoff was one of my favorite of all journalistic writers; he got copious tribute when he passed away just a few months ago. Ditto the late Jerry Tallmer, the Voice‘s founding theatre critic, who coined the term Off-Off-Broadway and helped start the Obies, and whom I got to know while working at the Villager (I’m quoted in this obit). Brian Parks, my editor the whole time I free-lanced for them, a gentle, generous sweetheart of a guy and a terrific playwright himself…staff writer Karen Houppert, whom I knew through her husband, the stage director Steve Nunns and who may have been my initial pathway into the Voice now that I think on it…Laurie Stone, who gave me some of my first legit press attention for one of my shows in 1998…Alisa Solomon, whom I spent a month with at the MacDowell Colony in 1995 and has done me many a good turn in years since…Vince Aletti whom I dealt with as a free-lancer when he was senior editor…Michael Feingold, theatre critic since 1971, with whom I kibbitz from time to time on social media…gossip columnist and critic Michael Musto and dance critic Elizabeth Zimmer, who’ve both come to my shows over the years…J. Hoberman, my favorite movie critic, whose book Midnight Movies was a huge influence on me, and with whom I once exchanged banter in the halls of NYU Tisch…the great Jonas Mekas, whom I’ve never gotten to meet but whose art cinema Anthology Film Archives I’ve spent many a happy hour in….art critic Roberta Smith, whom I got to meet and know when I was p.r. man for New-York Historical Society (I always read and enjoyed her husband art critic Jerry Saltz too, of course, but since he’s my wife’s favorite, my appreciation of him has gotten all the keener in recent years)…….Mark Jacobson, who was on a bill with me once at a reading at KGB…and Charles McNulty, whose byline would sometimes abut mine and who has written for the LA Times for many years…
I got to know the great cartoonist Jules Feiffer quite well when we did an exhibition on him at N-YHS (and I can easily guess why he didn’t participate in this edition!)…and the great Drew Friedman, whom I’ve gotten to know from mutual book events and the great community of the classic comedy mafia…
I’ve known a lovely lady named Jackie Rudin for years, without realizing she was the Voice’s advertising manager from 1971 to 1987…
Then there’s the great Trump-nemesis Wayne Barrett, who passed away earlier this year. Some names I hadn’t come across in years, and they hit me like a blast from the past. Nightlife columnist Tricia Romano! Film critic Amy Taubin! Gary Indiana used to write for them too though I don’t see him represented in this edition.
I have not exhausted the legendary names: Molly Haskell, C. Carr, Robert Christgau, Tom Robbins, Gary Giddins, Guy Trebay, Richard Goldstein, Susan Brownmiller, and cartoonists like Ward Sutton and Stan Mack!
The edition also contains historic photos of people they covered over the years, some of whom (Ed Koch, Taylor Mead) I’d had the honor of meeting. Not to mention their cover boy, who sums up entire eras all by himself. My copy of Robert Shelton’s Dylan biography No Direction Home was dog-eared when I was a teenager; it filled me with visions of the Village in my head, built up its mythos, called to me like a Siren.
So the memories of 30 years of engagement with this paper and this city came flooding back yesterday, as did even earlier ones, for these legends reached me even unto my teenage years in a place a couple hundred miles away and drew me here in the first place. I found myself clutching this paper on a bench on the Coney Island Boardwalk yesterday, as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s melancholy 1973 power ballad “Free Bird” (a song my friends performed in our high school talent show) blasted out of a concession stand and felt the momentousness, as though one of the six hurricanes churning around the Atlantic lately had picked me and chucked me down hard. Jesus, it’s all a blip, my life, your life, the life of a newspaper, the life of a city. My life has straddled two centuries and yesterday I found myself reminiscing about the previous one. Typewriters , dial phones, cameras with film, tvs with rabbit ears. I remember going to the bank with my dad, the bank manager filling the branch office with his cigar smoke like a dog marking a tree. My mom paid for groceries with checks. There used to be newspapers; to replace them, there are displays of electrons on your phone. Watch out you don’t drop it.
P.S. Be sure and read the Villager, Downtown Express, Chelsea Now, and Gay City News! (There’s a certain irony in my attaching that link. You’ll be doing something real cool if you pick up a hard copy from your local box on the corner).