The PJ Tatler

A Stilled Voice?

A counterculture institution — if that isn’t too much of a dichotomy to digest — may be on its way out. The Village Voice, New York’s iconoclastic weekly alternative newspaper, may fold its tent soon.

The writing is on the wall says former Voice writer Rosie Gray at BuzzFeed:

Alt-weeklies are always dying. But the news Friday that four editorial staffers were laid off or had their hours cut to part-time at The Village Voice — two features writers, a news blogger and a listings editor — makes the sad fact of that paper’s eventual demise, evident for years, seems more immediate. The paper now has one news blogger, two features writers, a music editor, a few people working on listings and one critic, aided by a couple contributors, writing about food.

The layoffs at the Voice weren’t the only ones: papers across the Village Voice Media company, which owns more or less every notable alternative weekly nowadays, experienced layoffs, I’ve learned, including those in Minneapolis, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, and Broward-Palm Beach. The Voice itself is planning to move out of its iconic East Village office space in the near future, as I and other staff members found out last year. There have been many ends of an era for a paper that always prided itself at being on the vanguard, but this one seems permanent and final: “I can’t imagine how much leaner they can get,” said a friend of mine who was recently let go from the Dallas Observer.

At the Voice, people found out the hard way. They tried to log onto their accounts and couldn’t. This happened to blogger Victoria Bekiempis and to reporter Steven Thrasher, who still hadn’t spoken with his boss when I called him at 5:30 Friday evening; he learned the extent of the news through texts and tweets, he said. It was a harsh way to go, but fit what the Voice has become.

I was never much of a rebel. Attending an all-boys Catholic high school, it was near impossible to affect the style and mannerisms of the counterculture. I wore my hair short, a clip-on tie, Sears dress pants that rode high, and imitation wing tips for shoes. But that didn’t matter to me or the half dozen friends I hung out with who went to demonstrations against the war, smoked dope with hippie chicks, and most of all, immersed ourselves in the music of revolution.

We might not have looked like a vanguard of the counterculture, but there was one outward manifestation of our rebellion that signaled our belonging: we gathered once a week and pored over the latest issue of The Village Voice.

The politics didn’t interest us much. Our anti-war “activism” was based on the proposition that pretty girls attended the demonstrations and what better way to meet them and get to know them in the biblical sense than standing next to a comely lass screaming anti-war slogans and “Right On!” after some particular inanity coming from a speaker.

But we were serious about music. And no other publication in America spoke to my generation, and many succeeding generations, about popular music more authoritatively or entertainingly than The Village Voice.

News that The Voice may be on its way out will not elicit much in the way of sympathy from most conservatives. That’s to be expected. The unrelenting far left slant of its political coverage was both irritating and sometimes hysterically and unintentionally funny.

The Voice nurtured some of the best liberal writers of the latter half of the 20th century, fulfilling much the same function that Buckley’s The National Review accomplished for the right in that respect. It was loud, brash, unconventional, and gloriously subversive. But what interested my friends and me was that it took rock music as seriously as we did. We had endless discussions about the music, the musicians, and the themes and messages hidden and obvious. The music talked to us, spoke our language. There was, what long time music critic for The Voice Robert Christgau (fired in 2006) referred to a “texture” and subtext to the music that once revealed, allowed us to appreciate what it was we were listening to in a more subtle, and enjoyable way.

I eventually outgrew The Voice, just as I outgrew rock music and liberalism. And much to their chagrin, I’m sure, The Village Voice has become part of the establishment — just another alternative weekly spouting liberal inanities and parroting the nostrums of the far left. The last time I read it, about a decade ago, I remember thinking how boring it was. The columns I read were strident and humorless — a far cry from the vibrant, obnoxiously brilliant writing I recalled from my youth.

My father and mother watched as the old Mom and Pop grocery store died a slow death. My grandparents watched the end of wheelwrights and blacksmiths. Progress is sometimes measured in pain and suffering, and the eventual end of The Village Voice and the newspaper business in general shouldn’t be mourned any more than the corner grocery store, whose death led to the modern supermarket, or blacksmiths, whose disappearance was a harbinger of the coming transportation revolution and the internal combustion engine.

But perhaps somewhere, in some quiet place where reminisces of one’s youth is allowed, I’ll shed a single tear for the death of The Voice when it happens. At a time when few adults, or adult publications, understood what their children were thinking and feeling, The Voice and the music they wrote about, answered a need to express the inexpressible that I am grateful for to this day.