Tuesday, October 25, 2005

This past six weeks, the missus has been very busy, editing the 50th Anniversary issue of The Village Voice. Along with commissioning a raft of all-new essays (see the links below), the most challenging element of the project was selecting, excerpting, and weaving together a mosaic of archival pieces from 1956 to the present. Just physically hefting those ponderous hard-bound volumes, then sifting through their crumbling, perilously fragile pages, was a Herculean undertaking; that’s before you even get to the mind-strain of juggling different criteria (range of writers, diversity of fields of discourse, historical momentousness of subject) and winnowing down from a mass of photocopied features, piles of which have made her office and our living room unsightly and hard to navigate. Joy reckons she's physically handled getting on for 2000 issues of the Voice (which in the 70s and 80s ran to around two hundred pages an issue!). She had some helpers at the primary stage of trawling for pieces, but the tough narrowing-it-down decisions were hers. Liking few things more than flicking through old magazines I pitched in a bit with the trawling. Well, in truth, I would have loved to have taken a whole month off and spent it perusing every last volume in the Voice library, but was only able to check out a Oct-Dec 1975 here, a April-June 1982 there--a few years in total. That experience was both inspiring and depressing. On the one hand, the sheer amount of fantastic journalism--not just music criticism, which I had a special eye out for obviously, but all kinds of socio-cultural thinkpiecery--was staggering. It really made me wish the Voice would get smart to exploiting its own back pages and pull together a DVD box set of every issue ever like the New Yorker just did. On the other hand, it brought home the ephemerality of journalism and newspaper criticism, how for all the passion and skill put into it, it’s mostly only meant for its moment. The other depressing thing was being reminded of what the Voice had meant in the 70s, 80s, and still, fitfully, in the 90s; and how, as bohemia fragmented (one of the best pieces, from '92, excerpted in the mosaic, is C.Carr’s classic "The Bohemian Diaspora") and the broader culture’s centre of gravity shifted to the right, the place it occupied in the scheme of things got eroded away. I can’t think of hardly any other magazines, at least in my lifetime, that fulfilled that function--of being the place where everything that might conceivably matter to people of disparate progressive/radical/boho/pretentious persuasions would get covered in a charged up context where internecine dissension was valued as much as extra-nicine dissent, and where style and verve mattered as much penetration and insight. The NME perhaps, had something of that function and that vibe, in the UK at least, for a little less than ten years, albeit mostly through the prism of music; and for all I know, the post-hippie and pre-decollectivized Time Out did (its still-collectivized offshoot City Limits certainly would have liked to have been the Village Voice of London, while the new yuppie-fied Time Out would eventually import itself to New York and exert market pressure on the Voice to become more like it). Today, I can’t think of any magazine that fulfils that role, which is perhaps why many of the essays linked below have a pained elegiac note towards their end....

Okay, on with the retro-fiesta:

Here's just the pick of the overview essays:

Greg Tate on black journalism

Robert Christgau on rock(& etc) criticism

Alisa Solomon on gay liberation

J. Hoberman on cineasterie

and (especially good, this) Ellen Willis on feminism

Decade-long instalments of the archival mosaic:

1956 to 1965

1966 to 1975

1976 to 1985

[some of the pieces have the full text on the web as opposed to far smaller excerpts in the paper --e.g. check for the entirety of Christgau’s punk UK report ]

1986 to 1995

[full text of that C. Carr 'Bohemian Diaspora' piece as mentioned above]

1996 to 2005

Bonus web-only bit: selections from VLS

And finally:

A one-per-year slideshow of front covers from Jan 1956 to the present

(You really need to get a physical copy of the issue if you can to fully appreciate these in all their yellowed and frayed-and-torn-round-the-edges glory, plus the whole archival mosaic is designed in retro typefaces that change with each ten-year bloc)

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