When Tom Robbins, the longtime Village Voice metro columnist, quit the paper, we all gathered in the newsroom, which was a pretty empty place by then. I still have the champagne cork from that day, so I know someone brought champagne—I can remember the paper cups we were all drinking it out of, though not much else. Anyway Tom, who was quitting nominally in solidarity with the fired Wayne Barrett—and also because as a union shop steward he’d spent a good chunk of the prior five or six years accompanying employees into the editor in chief’s office, where he’d duly stand next to them as they were let go—eventually was convinced to stand up and give a short speech.
Mostly he talked about the people in the room. He said kind things about the work that was still being done there, the writers and editors who were doing it. Tom’s a really nice guy, had worked at the Voice in the ‘80s, was at the Daily News for a while, and then came back. Over that time he’d learned the thing that he was about to tell us all.
“Newspapers will break your heart,” he said.
Then his cell phone rang. It was a source. He took the call. And that was the end of the speech.
Everyone has their own Village Voice. I’m reminded of this all the time, but especially during days like last Friday, when then paper laid off three of the final four or five holdovers from the Village Voice that I knew—meaning the one that existed from 2005, when I started there as an intern, to 2011, the year I left. There are so many of us, people who carry around some arbitrary number of years that they worked there, memories of the golden age during which they arrived, and the fall from grace during which they left. It was always better back then, when Norman Mailer worked there—and Norman Mailer worked there for about four months in 1956, wrote 17 largely terrible columns, and then angrily quit, a pattern that would repeat at the paper, with remarkable consistency, for the next fifty years.
Anyway, my golden age involved Robert Christgau, Chuck Eddy, Ed Park, Dennis Lim, Lynn Yaeger, Jim Hoberman, Robert Sietsema, Joy Press, Jerry Saltz, Michael Musto, and a gang of other people—my friends Nick Sylvester and Tom Breihan, Jessica Winter and Tricia Romano, etc. etc.—who to my mind remain evidence of an almost comically loaded newspaper but who were at the time regarded as the decadent and listless remnant of a remnant. The Voice was past it then, like I’m sure it was in 1993, when Colson Whitehead was there reviewing Basehead records, or 1975, when Vince Aletti was writing dispatches from backstage at a Jackson 5 concert. The Voice has been past it for as long as the Voice has existed.
So it’s always strange to watch people pronounce the place dead, as they did last week, and the week before that—I remember all too well what it’s like to go to work at a place that’s ostensibly already dead. My Voice died in 2006, before I even really started working there. Someone else’s Voice died when I left, or when Camille Dodero left, or Rob Harvilla, or Allison Benedikt—it is always someone’s golden age there, even now, with the staff down to 15 or so people. Someone will some day speak rapturously about working with Stephanie Zacharek in the long ago year of 2013, and why not?
The Village Voice has a way of making true believers out of everyone. One entertaining phenomenon over time has been watching editor after editor switch sides—most recently, Will Bourne and Jessica Lustig, who both walked out in after less than a year on the job, in defense of a paper and a staff they barely knew. Or rather—my guess—they knew it all too well, and that’s why they left, like Mailer, or Tom Robbins, or Tejal Rao and Nick Pinto, both of whom seem to have quit the paper while I was writing this. A big part of loving the Village Voice is leaving it.
It will always have been a great paper. Not now, but just before now. That will be true if it folds tomorrow or in another fifty years. It broke your heart already. That’s the beauty of the place. I miss it, and don’t miss it at all.