250 reviews of time travel TV, movies, books right here

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Village Voice Goes Silent

Last night brought the news that The Village Voice, once the hottest, coolest, in synch weekly newspaper in town, was ceasing publication.   This was the last act in a decline which saw the Voice being given away for free on the streets of New York (in an attempt to boost circulation to staunch declining ad revenue) to going completely online just last year.  Though I've long read much more online than on paper, I hate to see any newspaper go under.   And the Voice's passing has special meaning for me, since it was the first place to publish anything that I'd written.  Actually, my first three publications were in The Village Voice.

In September 1971, I was putting the finishing touches on my LP Twice Upon A Rhyme in Mario Rossi's recording studio at the end of Brooklyn.   Ed Fox, Peter Rosenthal, and I lived in the Bronx, and on the clacking train ride out to Brooklyn, a copy of the Voice, then in just its 16th year of publication, was usually close at hand.   One night, I read a typically tone-deaf, dyspeptic review by Robert Christgau in the Voice of Paul McCartney's second solo album, Ram.  I was sufficiently infuriated that, next day, I pounded out a lengthy Letter to the Editor on my electric portable Smith Corona, stained with coffee and orange juice but still working, and I sent it off to The Village Voice.  I doubt I even made a copy, and pretty much forgot about it.   I didn't really expect to see it published there in the Letters column.

My expectations were right.   I eagerly grabbed a copy of the Voice the next week.  The first page I turned to was the Letters page.  Nothing whatsoever there by me, or about McCartney.  But a few days later, early in October, I found a letter from the Voice in my mailbox - a letter and a check.  I looked at the check, first.  $65.00.  I looked at the letter.  It was from Diane Fischer, one of the Voice's main editors.  She said she assumed it would be ok with me if the Voice published my letter as an opinion piece, in its "Taking Issue," section, and paid me $65.00 for it, for which a check was enclosed.

I was thrilled.   The release of Twice Upon a Rhyme on HappySad Records (a record company created by Ed Fox and me, after two or three major labels turned our album down, and we were not interested in shopping it around, for what could have been years) was still a year away, and I still thought of myself as a singer and songwriter, not an essay writer.   But in retrospect, the publication of my letter as "A Vote for McCartney" in The Village Voice on October 21, 1971 was a turning point in my life.  I'd imagined that Paul McCartney would contact me after reading the article, and maybe get me signed to Apple Records.  That didn't happen.  But what did is I began getting far more recognition as a Voice "columnist" - on the strength of that one publication - than I'd received, or would receiving be in ensuing years, as a singer and songwriter.

My second essay in The Village Voice, "Murray the K in the Nostalgia's Noose" was published a little over a year later to the day, in the October 26, 1972 issue.   I'd sent that one in as an essay, not letter, to Diane, after Tina and I had heard and loved Murray the K's return to New York's airwaves on the July 4th 1972 weekend.   Diane (or someone at the Voice) had taken that title from a line in my generally very flattering essay, which said Murray needs to be careful that "nostalgia doesn't become a noose around his neck".  Murray managed to track down my phone number - no doubt the Voice gave it to him - and I received a call from him the very evening that that issue of the Voice hit the streets.  He told me how much he appreciated my essay and offered me a job as a producer on his new NBC radio show.  I took it, and even wrote and recorded a song, "Murray the K's Back in Town" which he played on his show.

By the time my third and final article was published in The Village Voice - in its July 4, 1974 issue - I was already back at school, completing my BA in Journalism at New York University after a long break from the classroom.  My article about Murray the K had brought me to NBC where, after Murray left, I began working as a producer for Wolfman Jack.  After he left, I wrote an essay about his departure from New York, and Diane not only published it, but kept my title, "Wolfman Hits the Road, Jack".

I'd go on, academically, to walk up the street to the New School after getting my BA from NYU.  At the New School, I earned an MA and began reading everything I could by and about Marshall McLuhan.  I went back down the street to NYU's Media Ecology program for my PhD, which I earned before the end of the decade.  And the rest, as they say, is (my) history.

I did have two more significant interactions with Christgau in that decade.  One came in the mid-1970s, when he rejected an article I'd submitted about the evolution of "The Wizard of Oz" in rock music, then culminating in Elton John's "Yellow Brick Road".  Christgau had been put in charge of all the music pieces in the Voice, and I received a letter from him saying that my essay was very well written but said nothing of any importance.  No check was included.  Undaunted, I sent the article to The Soho Weekly News, a more local kind of Voice, focusing more on popular culture than politics, just down the street.  They accepted the article, sent me a pen-and-ink drawing to go with the article, but before they'd had a chance to publish and pay me for the article, I received a letter from - believe it or not, Christgau - explaining that he also was a consultant or something for the Weekly News, and was advising them not to publish my article.  So it goes.

The Soho Weekly News was gone by the early 1980s.  But Christgau continued at the Voice, which I continued to read, despite his caustic reviews of music that I loved.  But the Voice also had Nat Hentoff, as passionate a champion of the First Amendment as ever there was, and Ron Rosenbaum, who could write a riveting, lengthy essay that you couldn't put down, about Mayor Abe Beame, who took boring to a whole new level.

I consider myself privileged to have been in the pages of this remarkable publication which captured the times we were in, fanned and extended them, and made me even prouder than I was to be a New Yorker.

No comments: