Full disclosure: I'm a former employee of a paper that spent a lot of its time aiming potshots at the Phoenix -- some of which landed, others of which careened off into the shrubbery in excitingly futile parabolic arcs. If the Phoenix was the scrappy dog of Boston media, we were the fleas. And a few of us were probably disease vectors.
That said, I'm absolutely gutted by the Phoenix's closing. It's a huge loss for the alternative press -- which remains one of the few niches in media where writers can still work their way up quickly from the intern desk to a paid job writing real, meaty, feature-type stuff, if they have the hustle and the drive. It's a huge loss for Boston. Frankly, it's a huge loss for the Phoenix's competitors, large and small, who all had to be better and smarter and fiercer because that paper existed.
A torrent of ink has been spilled over the Phoenix's closing in the last 24 hours. More is on the way. Most of it just makes me want to drink beer and throw things.
But one story stands out in my mind: This tribute to the heady glory days of the Phoenix, by alum Charles Pierce, writing for Grantland. This story deserves some sort of special prize for being both a devastatingly well-written outpouring of grief for the Phoenix, and an unconsciously hilarious display of what a huge sausagefest the whole enterprise of alt-weeklies was (and is).
It's beautiful. How can you not love this:
I mean, Jesus Mary, where do you start with the newspaper at which you grew so much, and learned so much, and came to respect the craft of journalism with a fervor that edged pretty damn close to the religious? What memories have pride of place now? The fact that T.A. Frail, now at Smithsonian, suggested you might just like Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy and it wound up changing your life? The day that Doug Simmons, now at Bloomberg News, snuck up behind you and stuck a pair of earphones on your head, cranked Black Flag’s “Six Pack” up to 11, and taught you that rock and roll had not calcified when you graduated from college? What’s the song that plays when you realize that you’re young when you thought you were growing old? What’s the prayer of thanksgiving for a hundred days of fellowship, drunk on words, all of us, as though there were nothing more beyond the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph locked into place? Please say that the muse is something beyond the balance sheet, something beyond technology. Tell me that she’s alive the way she once was when you’d feel her on your shoulder as one word slammed into the other, and the story got itself told, and you came to the end and realized, with wonderment and awe, that the story existed out beyond you, and that it had chosen you, and you were its vehicle, and the grinning muse had the last laugh after all.And yet. There was that familiar sinking feeling, as the names of the beloved fraternity of hard-drinking, fist-pounding, day-seizing boyos of the good old Phoenix were called. And then, just to prove once and for all how mightily the fearless alternative paper did speak truth to power: There was a dick joke.
I think I let out a bitter little bark of laughter. And then I blew my nose.
The culture of the alts, now passing into a long dark twilight, is something most vigorously to be mourned. And I'm mourning it hard. But let's be honest with ourselves: There were a lot of stories that went unwritten amid the din of writers who all looked a lot alike busily high-fiving each other for their contrarianism. There were a lot of people who didn't get to join that party. Or got stuck doing the writing equivalent of serving drinks at it.
I'm not one of them. I got a seat at that table, and I fucking loved it. As a non-penis-owner who got to experience some of the thrill and the camaraderie and the honest-to-God fistfighting of the alt-weekly press before the desperation fully set in, I feel tremendously lucky.
I don't think that world ever fully belonged to people like me, though. And now that it's unraveling at the seams, it never will.
I'd just like to take this moment to note -- knowing full well how shrill the cry of the harpy grates upon the ear -- that most of the recently-unemployed Phoenix writers being lionized now, almost forty years after Pierce got his start, are --
Oh, hell, I can't do this. I love those guys too much.