Exactly one year after the death of Gawker, the Village Voice announced yesterday that it would cease publishing its print edition. For this New Yorker who came of age as a reader of one and then the other, the end of the Voice is like losing my other coolest friend from college.
This isn’t a surprise— you could sense this was coming when the Voice left the Village in 2013. And it isn’t the end– the Voice will soldier on as an online entity, just as American Apparel will continue on in some zombie form. But let’s face it: redesign or no, clicking onto Villagevoice.com bears none of the thrill of grabbing the red plastic handle of that iconic newspaper box and, in one swift motion, fishing deep in the pile for an unsoiled copy of that Wednesday’s edition, tossing it into your checkered Canal Jeans bag, and finding the nearest bench in Washington Square Park in order to pore over the week’s offerings.
For me, much of the thrill of leafing through the Voice was in scanning its ads to find out how I’d be spending my nights. Before I read a word of La Dolce Musto, or dove into Robert Sietsema’s latest sesame-oil-stained dispatch from some hole-in-the-wall in Queens, I’d turn to those stacked rectangles advertising the latest Harmony Korine movie at Angelika, or the freshest batch of shows at places like Brownies and Coney Island High.
You can’t get that on the Voice’s website, which is currently emblazoned with a banner ad for a controversial luxury development. (One Manhattan Square is also sponsoring the Voice‘s upcoming Seaport Music Festival.) Still, it makes sense that the Voice is going online. In an excellent capsule history published in The New Yorker in 2009, Luis Menand wrote that the Voice “was doing what the Internet does now long before there was an Internet”— moreover, it “helped to create the romance of the journalistic vocation by making journalism seem a calling, a means of self-expression, a creative medium.”
The Voice wasn’t as radical as the alternative papers that sprung up in its wake; Larry “Ratso” Sloman recently told us that the East Village Other “made the Village Voice look like a church circular.” But it was instrumental in the birth of New Journalism. Norman Mailer, who founded the paper with New School alumni Dan Wolf and Edwin Fancher in 1955, intuited that “what was wrong with all journalism is that the reporter tended to be objective and that that was one of the great lies of all time.” Wolf wrote that the paper was “a living, breathing attempt to demolish the notion that one needs to be a professional to accomplish something in a field as purportedly technical as journalism.”
Much has been said about the Voice’s pioneering journalism, particularly following the recent deaths of legendary music critic Nat Hentoff and his colleague Wayne Barrett, an investigative reporter who was one of Trump’s earliest bullshit detectors. And much has been made of the Voice’s various ownership shakeups. Long before Vice Media took flak for getting in bed with Rupert Murdoch, the Voice was briefly owned by the conservative media baron. According to Hentoff, Murdoch called the paper and its unionizing staffers “the bane of my existence.” Later, in 2005, it was famously acquired by the New Times Media chain of alt-weeklies, the owners of which went on to become embroiled in legal battles with Sherriff Joe Arpaio and then California Attorney General Kamala Harris. The latter trial, which they won, was over their controversial classifieds site, Backpage.com.
As for the Voice’s notorious back page, well, I don’t need to tell you about that. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was surprised to find out, when Tracy Morgan tried to place an ad on Crank Yankers, that there are things you can’t say in the Voice personals.
What made the Voice “one of the most successful enterprises in the history of American journalism,” in Menand’s view, wasn’t just the writing and cartooning that won it three Pulitzers. It wasn’t just that it fostered contributors like Jonas Mekas, who went on to found Anthology Film Archives; Jerry Saltz, now a New York magazine art critic who inspires beach towels; and formative rock critics Robert Christgau and Lester Bangs.
The success of the Voice was also measured by its advertising. Even in 1968, two-thirds of the paper consisted of ads, and that seemingly hadn’t changed much by the time I started picking it up every week in the late ’90s.
Some of those ads have been preserved online— a blog called It’s All the Streets You Crossed Not So Long Ago has meticulously digitized a treasure trove of them from the mid ’60s to the late ’70s. The ads from the Summer of Love, 50 years ago, are not to be missed. For starters, the First International Psychedelic Exposition– at the Forest Hills Country Club, of all places– promised “artists, light shows, environments, rock shows, happenings, ceremonies, chanting and freak outs,” all for $1.
By the time I arrived in New York City, the days of the Nick Zedd Film Festival at Danceteria were gone, but you could still catch some pretty good shows at places like Wetlands—as evidenced by a sheaf of the Tribeca venue’s 1998 ads. When I recently caught the Descendents at House of Vans, I told a friend that it was my first time seeing the punk legends live— and then I joked that I had probably seen them at Wetlands years ago and had totally forgotten about it. It was only yesterday, as I dug back into my Voice clippings, that I realized that I actually had seen them, in 1996.
As I look back at other clippings from ’96 and ’97, my freshman and sophomore years of college, I remember things like going to see Thurston Moore play at the Cooler, a former subterranean meat locker that, true to its name, was cooler than any other place in town. I wasn’t old enough to drink, so I innocently ordered a Coke. “Are you sure that’s what you want?” the waitress asked. “They’re really expensive here.” I spent the next month outraged that I had been charged so much for a soda, revealing to anyone who’d listen how clueless I was about the economics of a nightclub.
Many of the venues that placed these ads– The Cooler, Tramps, Roseland, The Supper Club, CBGB— are no longer with us. And many of the places where tickets could be purchased—Bleecker Bob’s, Kim’s Underground, etc.—are also gone. (Even the text on the back of these clippings points to a different time; in a capsule review of the recently shuttered San Loco on Second Avenue, Robert Sietsema confesses to eating a Taco Loco once a week: “It goes crunch, it goes squish. This invention shows a whimsical sensibility, and it tastes pretty damn good, too.”)
And now the print edition of the Voice follows them. I’m pouring out a $5 glass of Coke.