Thursday, March 14, 2013

Boston Phoenix 1966-2013

Lost a home today. Hadn't lived there in over 25 years, but when a house goes, it always hurts.

 Haven't been in the trade I learned in that home for over five. Doesn't matter. I love the trade still, even if the love is mingled with relief we've had a permanent separation. And my, how I still love the Boston Phoenix, which died today of Internet poisoning of the balance sheet.

One thing about journalism. You get good obituaries. A newspaper gets the biggest and best of all. Considering the many talented people there who lost their jobs today, and the many many more talented people who like me are Phoenix alumni, the paper will get reams of printed and pixelized eulogies far more eloquent than what I'll have to say here. But I can't let this death in my life pass by without comment. Or more accurately, one comment and a few disjointed memories.

The Phoenix is where I fell in love with first sight with the newspaper racket, where I learned the skills so that my love could be occasionally requited and where I associated with one hell of a lot of unbelievably talented people whose professional acquaintance and/or friendship I still consider a source of unending joy -- even the more than one person there who drove me nuts. It was a considerable honor to have been on that staff.

I won't even go into the arts staff, where the list of subsequent professional successes is the paper's longest (not one but TWO film critics for the "New Yorker," not to mention the paper's Pulitzer won by then and current classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz). I'll just give the following roster. The Phoenix had four staff sportswriters in its history: George Kimball, Mike Lupica, Charles Pierce and me. I sure don't mind being the last man on that team. Point is, I made it.

Most of all, the Phoenix taught me that newspaper work -- any kind of journalism, really, can only be done well if it's fun to do. My God how much we laughed at that place. Cussed a lot, too, but that's just the flip side of laughter.

Here are some memories, just the ones that popped up as I wrote the first paragraphs.

My job interview in 1977. First question from editor Bill Miller was "Can you live on the shit we pay?" When I answered in the affirmative, there was no second question.

The day Kimball and I, playing golf at the Fresh Pond course in Cambridge, each hit horrific slices off the tee that missed whacking the same jogger upside the head by three inches or so. The jogger was music promoter Don Law, the paper's biggest advertiser.

Playing Hangman at lunch at the old Eliot Lounge, a game which gets considerably harder after more than one beer, by the way.

The Charles and Diana's wedding party held by Donna Kay Williams. I've been to more than any six human's share of parties. Still the best ever.

The time publisher Steve Mindich damn near killed himself sitting in Pierce's beloved but highly defective swivel chair. If the office windows had been open, Mindich and chair would have flown out for a crash landing on Newbury Street.

Now I'm starting to remember the people. There can't be laughter without people, after all. I can't start writing about them, as there are too many and too many memories to write unless someone dumps a Stephanie Meyer-sized book contract on the desk in the next three minutes.

So let me close this disorganized tribute like so. The people of the Phoenix taught me that H. L. Mencken was right. Newspapering IS the life of kings. They taught me enough so that I had almost 30 years of a life in my opinion far better than that of some inbred chinless wonder in a drafty palace somewhere

To all the people of the Phoenix, living or dead, the ones I'm still in touch with and the far greater number with whom I'd sadly not. To the publisher, the editors, my peers, and the anonymous ad salespeople I never got to know because they seldom lasted long enough to know.  And finally, to the ones I couldn't know and owe the most to -- the readers. Thank you. Thank you for having lived in my life for awhile.

Sorrow at loss is a powerful thing. But so are laughter and gratitude. And a business whose former employees still love it long after the young adulthood they spent in it is gone is a business that earned its keep.


At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Deborah Frost said...

Amen, bro!

At 8:50 PM, Anonymous Charles Pierce said...

C'mon, Mike. Your Election Night Party in 1980 was freaking epic! Litwak killed most of a quart of Jack between the package store and the front door. My date went home with Joe Concannon. And, as the Reagan nightmare unfolded, we all stayed uo waiting to see if John Fcking Brademas had been re-elected, as he was all we had left. Plus, I think you guys ate the last of the lamejuns last week.

At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to say I wasn't reading the Phoenix sports pages in the '70's, but I sure read the arts and politics and local news pages, from about 1970 (and the original Phoenix, through the Real Paper, etc.)
I loved that paper. Even took it with me for awhile when I left, but it made me too homesick to keep that up.
I got here from Pierce's page. Your obit is lovely, too. Thanks.
Cheryl now in Texas

At 5:51 PM, Blogger Harry Forsdick said...

Michael, thanks for posting these reflections. How is it that death brings out good expression? Is it because memories of bygone times touch our inner emotions? Perhaps. Last night on Greater Boston, several of the regulars reminisced about their time at the Phoenix. Good stuff.


Harry Forsdick

At 6:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice tribute Michael. I never was a Phoenix reader, but did work as an anonymous ad salesman for 22 years for a small local newspaper chain, and your fond obituary made me smile in recognition. I enjoy reading your blog regularly and hope you keep it going for a long time.
Cape Cod Scott

At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

michael, nicely put: i had a couple of scotches in memoriam when i heard the news.

the way i like to put it to people is that the phoenix was a mix of folks who could write anywhere (as you've already noted) and those who were only good enough for the local market (like, for example, me!), but it was an honor to be around such talented writers and editors.

and c. pierce, while i remember that party well, i'm pretty sure that it was wild turkey and not jack daniels; of course, the election being called in, what, 30 seconds, guaranteed that i'd be deep into the bottle....

howard litwak

At 9:41 AM, Anonymous David Moran said...

Nice; I well remember the day you joined.

At 12:54 AM, Blogger Sally Cragin said...

I just found this. Thank you Mike -- I wish you'd reprint some of your pieces -- lord knows I typed more than a few between 1979-1983.
And, is that THE Howard Litwak??

formerly teenage typesetter on the nightshift


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