May 21, 2019

In Memory of the Village Voice

“WHEN I THINK ABOUT MY TWO STINTS at the now-shuttered Village Voice—for which I freelanced regularly from the late seventies to the late eighties, returning as a staff writer from 1994-1999—one unexpected but apt word that keeps popping to mind is “fecund.” My recollection that I worked for two or possibly three different papers all hawked under the same name doesn’t seem remarkable, because the Voice never stopped mutating. Interludes of smugness weren’t unknown, but ossification was never in the cards.

That was because responsiveness to cultural and political flux was built—and often jerry-built—into the paper’s ramshackle m.o. The Voice broke its share of hard-news stories, and certainly alerted readers to more than its share of no-longer-fringe trends, sometimes NYC-specific and sometimes not. But the difference between how we went about the job and the staid way the NYT or The New Yorker did was that we never covered that stuff from a settled institutional distance. We let ourselves get stimulated and jostled by it, and brother, did we ever argue about it. We hashed these squabbles out every week among ourselves, as well as with an audience that expected contentious perceptiveness about the latest City Hall shitstorm or collective art-world orgasm, not just a tidy rearrangement of the same reassuringly familiar deck chairs.

Amid all the disputativeness, fecundity became the only constant, defining the paper’s identity every bit as much as the stubborn (albeit increasingly minuscule) “Village” in its name. I don’t want to exaggerate this side of the paper’s appeal, because our audience could also expect the Voice’s crankier mainstays to reliably produce thoughtful variations on the same column brief week in and week out. For some readers, that no doubt remained a much better reason to pick up the paper every Wednesday than the basket of unpredictables who’d chosen to update a bohemian sensibility they’d imbibed from the Voice itself by regularly yanking and re-wiring their elders’ preconceptions six ways to Sunday.”

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