Wistful For a Time I Never Even Knew

I came of age right as The Village Voice was winding down its heyday. I wish I'd been able to work there for its prime.

It was the great philosopher Andy Bernard from NBC's The Office who once said, "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good ol' days before you've actually left them."

Without much effort of imagination, I can easily swap out Andy in the Dunder Mifflin offices for any number of talented journalists who called The Village Voice home during its heyday.

Then again, maybe not.

Dwight Garner reviewed The Freaks Came Out to Write, an oral history of the publication by Tricia Romano, and placed the following near the top of his piece:

A lot of the people Romano interviewed, former Voice writers, editors, photographers, designers and cartoonists, will probably wince, at times, at the text. Humiliations are recalled; toes are trod upon; old hostilities have been kept warm, as if on little Sterno cans of pique. Nostalgia remains at arm’s length. Yet the tone is familial and warm. Discontent was part of The Voice’s DNA. For nearly every staffer, working there was the best thing they ever did.
What Was The Village Voice?
“The Freaks Came Out to Write” is an oral history of America’s most important alternative weekly.

Well, no matter; I've enough nostalgia for all of the writers, editors, photographers, designers, cartoonists, New York-based readers, and long-distance subscribers, combined.

I loved Garner's description of the magazine, as one of two halves: the front for hard news and the back for social commentary and criticism. I love even more his description of the magazine's evolution:

The back of the book slowly swamped the front. The Voice gave America most of the first important rock and then hip-hop criticism. It was the first paper to pay close attention to Off Broadway, and it started the Obie Awards. The literate satire of Jules Feiffer’s cartoons defined a generation’s sensibility and won a Pulitzer Prize. The Voice covered the nascent downtown art and film scenes in a way no one had.
Its critics were mighty, a killer’s row, and they often wrote in the first person, a rare thing at the time.

The review sums up a time that seems too romantic for a writer to even imagine these days: A publication born out of founders counting Norman Mailer among their number that didn't just publish, but survived; didn't just survive but thrived; and didn't just thrive, but outgrew its target audience and shaped the national conversation through sheer force of will and talent.

Like so many publications, especially as of late, its better days lie behind it.

The internet in general and Craigslist in particular tanked The Voice. So did the gentrification of downtown. The paper was the victim of its own success. The things it cared about were embraced by the mainstream.

But unlike some, it managed decades of culture-setting journalism and a much-deserved (and highly anticipated) oral history that I'll be pre-ordering ASAP.