On her new solo CD, Jennifer Nettles (of the country duo Sugarland) does a rousing, bluesy version of Bob Seger's "Like a Rock." The lyrics "Twenty years now; where'd they go? Twenty years, I don't know; I sit and wonder sometimes where they've gone" have always had a haunting quality to them. When you change 20 to 30, they become downright maudlin.
I wasn't with the Weekly at the very beginning, which is probably for the best for all concerned. I have heard stories that it was a combination of "Hey gang, let's put out a newspaper!", "There's money to be made in them thar hills" and "We can't just sit around and bitch about how bad things are; we have to do something about it." Too weird, even for me.
I signed on a couple of years later, writing cover stories at first. As I've mentioned before, I was there (along with Barbara Kingsolver) for the first-ever Best of Tucson® meeting and I was also there when the ugly split between the two founders took place. Peripheral people got drawn into the mess and had to choose sides. I, ever the idiot, chose the Idealist (Doug Biggers) over the Businessman/Realist (the other guy). It worked out OK.
One of my favorite memories of Doug is when I walked into his office back when the paper had its headquarters in a building south of the Tucson Convention Center. We never really talked much; he always seemed somewhat uncomfortable being around a jock/nerd/meat eater such as me. But I've always respected the hell out of him and almost all of his quixotic ventures. Anyway, I walked into his office and he said something along the lines of, "Tom, I'll be honest. I really don't get you, but some of my friends think you're funny."
Whoa, big fella! Go easy on that praise!
I saw Doug's son the other day, all grown up and tall. I told him to tell his dad hi for me. It's been a while.
It's ridiculously cool that the Weekly is still going strong after 30 years, but instead of gloating in any way, I lament what has happened to other newspapers. When this paper started, it was like a gnat on the giant elephant butt of the Arizona Daily Star. Even the afternoon paper, the Tucson Citizen dwarfed the Weekly and a couple of others that tried to elbow their way into the market. The Star was a good, solid daily paper and the Citizen offered an alternative.
The latter is long gone now and the Super-Mega Gannett Super Mega Corp. took the advice of some lawyer somewhere and recently snuffed out the flickering light of what was left of the Citizen's online edition to save a few bucks.
Meanwhile, the Star, which has been used and abused by its parent companies for decades, soldiers on. But it's nothing like what it once was. (Even The Arizona Republic in Phoenix is a shadow of its former self. It used to be a big, hefty beast. I picked up a copy the other day and it was thinner than a runway model on crack.)
The Internet was supposed to make the entire world a better place, but the results so far are decidedly mixed. It has caused scores of newspapers to go away, which is a horrible thing. Karl Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses. Along the same lines, the Internet is the supermeth of those with microscopic attention spans. People don't read as much as they used to and they don't read in the same way that they used to. Everything is soundbites and 140-character thought-lets. Somebody mentioned one of my columns the other day and I asked if he had read it. He said, "Not the whole thing."
I said, "It's only 800 words, you dolt!" Another reader of mine for life.
After writing cover stories for a few years and doing an entire special section on the Sean Elliott/Steve Kerr 1988 Wildcat basketball team that went to the Final Four, they let me write a column on a decidedly irregular basis. Jeff Smith was The Man back then and my column was tucked away near the back. Jim Nintzel once pointed out that, according to some market research that had been done, more people read the classifieds than my column. I pointed out that there weren't any ads with naked women in them near my column.
In those early days, I was always pleasantly surprised when people would tell me that they had read something that I had written, although it always seemed to be someone who lived downtown and/or drove a Volvo. Jeff Smith used to plead for Doug and the editors to move beyond the downtown base and broaden the appeal. (That generally meant mentioning that radio stations other than KXCI existed.)
Through the efforts of too many dedicated people to name (and some whose names I have long since forgotten), the paper eventually hit its stride and became a force in the community. I have a special respect for the people who had to try to sell ads in the early days. I can just imagine how many times they heard "The Tucson what?!" And no recollection can be complete without the mention of Chris Limberis, the ultimate professional investigative journalist. He was dogged and relentless, painstakingly meticulous and always fair. He was gone too soon and he's been gone too long.
So many good people have put so much of themselves into this enterprise over the years. You can tell that's it's not just a job. I want to make special mention of assistant editor Irene Messina; I have no doubt that she has been running interference for my nonsense for years.
One of the things that I miss from the early days is the Letters to the Editor page. It takes a lot for someone out there to sit down and write such a letter. The odds are incredibly high that they're not going to do it because they've read something they agree with, or that they found amusing. It's an alarm going off in that "I'm mad as hell" part of the brain that prompts a person to put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. Plus, in the old days, they had to put a stamp on it and mail it. That's a lot of work.
These days, all of the action takes place in the online Comments section. I don't always read the ones about my column because, as George Orwell once so eloquently wrote, most writers are (and I'm slightly paraphrasing here) lazy pieces of crud. It's weird (and highly counterintuitive), but when you don't work for a living, it's hard to get stuff done. (My wife, who works hard every day and has been at the top of her field for quite some time now, just loves the heck out of that sentiment.)
I will admit that I occasionally delight in the back-and-forth that takes place in the Comments section. There's this one guy who chews my butt on a weekly basis (although there was that time I almost gave him whiplash when I wrote about the good old time I had trap shooting at the gun club). He's got this picture of himself astride a big-ass motorcycle and goes by CW13.
"CW" has, on occasion, emailed me directly. I try my hardest to respond to everybody who emails me, but it doesn't always happen because, as mentioned, I'm a lazy piece of crud.
Almost sadly, he seems like a decent-enough guy who just happens to disagree with everything that I write, believe in and/or think. It would be so much cooler if he were a Snidely Whiplash right-wing racist, sexist bastard. Instead, he's simply just wrong a lot. He and this other guy, who goes by AtticStattic (I think it's so cool when old white guys adopt hip-hop names), go at it almost every week. I sometimes want to invoke the spirit of dearly departed St. Rodney King in asking if we can't all just get along, but how much fun would that be?
Congratulations to the Tucson Weekly on its 30th anniversary. May it continue pissing people off forever.