Creative Loafing goes monthly, saying farewell to a journalistic era
I didn't recognize Creative Loafing.
Instead of the familiar newsprint cover with the newspaper's logo emblazoned across the top, I saw a stack of publications with a higher grade of paper and no visible name.
Not quite as glossy as a magazine, the cover showed photos of chicken wings, with a boldly colored headline splashed from top to bottom "the ultimate wing smackdown." Suddenly I realized that this must be Creative Loafing, seized by another misguided re-design experiment. A closer examination proved my suspicions correct. I found the logo hiding at the bottom of the page, printed in tiny type.
An editor's note on the first page disclosed that Atlanta's venerable "alternative newspaper" had switched from weekly to monthly publication, which explained why CL had been absent for a few weeks. The editor promised similar "content" to the old paper, along with a beefing up of daily online offerings.
The switch even moved the AJC to write a news story, penned by veteran scribe Rodney Ho. Ho ascribed the CL's success over the the years to its calendars of entertainment events. A lot of that information is now available on the Internet, Ho reported, making CL irrelevant for many. In recent years, stacks of CL have remained unclaimed on racks around town.
While CL did a fine job with entertainment listings, I want to praise its reporting and writing. The newspaper has had its ups and downs during my now 30-plus years in Atlanta, overcoming a bankruptcy and various ownership changes and shifts in coverage strategy.
But I've always found the paper an essential news source, especially since the AJC has retreated from its coverage of the city. I hope CL maintains its commitment to serious journalism, but the chicken wing cover raises doubts.
At its best, CL has given in-depth, imaginative coverage of the city's neighborhoods, politics, musicians, artists and writers. I always liked its restaurant and theater reviews and its annual Golden Fleece awards for best and worst legislators. The writing and editing were often quite good.
I'll also admit that I like its horoscope. Gosh, what will I do know without its weekly prognostications for my Taurus sign?
Creative Loafing established a distinctive personality, casting Atlanta as a hip, creative, funky city rather than its soulless corporate image. Writers like Thomas Wheatley, now moved on to Atlanta magazine, Curt Holman and Cliff Bostock made the paper enjoyable.
In recent years, I looked forward to work by Maggie Lee, my old legislative and Patch buddy. In a sign of new CL priorities, Maggie's knowledgeable pieces no longer appear in the newspaper. She still covers the state Capitol for the Macon Telegraph.
CL reached its highest level with the publication of Doug Monroe's column, one of the city's all-time best. Monroe understood the history of Georgia, Atlanta and the South. His words echoed the region's pain and beauty through his personal experience, and gave hope for a better future. Monroe later did outstanding work for Atlanta magazine, raising it above its usual mediocrity. Alas, Monroe's voice was stifled in his days at the AJC.
A few months ago, Monroe wrote a gripping piece for the AJC about his terrible health problems in recent years. A few scattered reports show that Monroe's in better shape these days, giving hope that his voice might return somewhere in Atlanta.
CL's monthly publication marks a shift from "long-form" pieces on politics, neighborhoods and social and economic issues to softer features on food and entertainment.
The new CL did have an OK interview with mayoral candidate Peter Aman, part of a series on the city's election. The AJC has provided little substantial coverage on the mayor's race.
I wish the CL well with the new monthly but will miss the old feisty weekly.
Atlanta native Mark Pendergrast sees Beltline as best hope for city's future
Author Mark Pendergrast expresses large hopes for Atlanta's Beltline in "City on the Verge: Atlanta and the Fight for America's Urban Future."
As Atlanta historian and former city reporter Douglas Blackmon said in a June review of the book in The Wall Street Journal, Pendergrast tries to cover too much, bogging down in details.
Blackmon, now a scholar at the University of Virginia, also pointed to Pendergrast's contradictions in analyzing the issues of gentrification, affordable housing and the revitalization of poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
Pendergrast pushes the Beltline's potential in revitalizing the inner city, while asserting that the trail system will help those mired in poverty. But he doesn't delve deeply enough into how poorer residents will be able to afford to remain as property values rise, especially when the Beltline Corporation is falling short of its original aim of increasing affordable housing. He gives a superficial account of Beltine originator Ryan Gravel's resignation from the corporation over this issue.
Blackmon also questioned Pendergrast's assertion that the Beltline holds the power to solve Atlanta's long-entrenced problems of economic disparity, racism, automobile dependence and shortage of urban amenities.
While Pendergrast overstates the Beltline's power to transform the city, the system of trails encircling 45 Atlanta neighborhoods looks like more of a significant historical force than Blackmon acknowledges.
The Eastside Trail has brought remarkable changes to Poncey-Highland, the Old Fourth Ward and Inman Park, although those communities had been revitalizing for years. The Presidential Parkway also was a catalyst.
Adjacent to the Eastside Trail, the beautiful reservoir and surrounding park in the Old Fourth Ward stands as one of the city's best aesthetic enhancements since Centennial Park downtown.
The Westside Trail now nearing completion goes through neighborhoods with fewer prospects for renewal than those along the Eastside Trail. More entrenched in poverty and blight, those communities will have to overcome higher barriers.
A native of Atlanta and the author of a number of successful nonfiction books, Pendergrast undertook an impressive amount of reporting for "City on the Verge," as Blackmon mentions.
Pendergrast visited Beltline neighborhoods from the richest to poorest, spending nights with residents and walking streets, through woods and along creeks.
While his peregrinations grow confusing, Pendergrast gives vivid portraits of Atlantans seeking to make a difference with grass-roots efforts to improve their neighborhoods.
He sees those small efforts as more effective in the long run than massive "top-down" projects funded by corporate leaders like Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who gave money to aid impoverished neighborhoods affected by his Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Yet, in one of his contradictions, Pendergrast praises such corporate largess as necessary for Atlanta to carry out projects such as the Beltline.
Pendergrast makes the questionable claim that Atlanta lacks the tax base for such projects because of its low-density development. While Atlanta has less density than other major cities, its weak tax base is more the result of too many poor neighborhoods and anti-tax attitudes in wealthy areas like Buckhead, which has successfully resisted paying too much for social programs.
Shifting course from his account of the Beltline, Pendergrast toward the end of the book gives mini profiles of suburban counties and cities. While he displays substantial reporting, the connection of the suburban communities to the Beltline is weakly established. For some reason, he ignores Cobb County, whose metro importance has risen with the move of the Braves to the county.
With the suburban profiles, the history of the Beltline, and accounts of Pendergrast's childhood growing up in Buckhead, "City of the Verge" is like several not fully developed books stitched together.
Among the book's strengths is Pendergrast's look at the debate over Beltline mass transit. The Beltline Corporation is providing for rail lines in its trails construction, while others wanted the trails built without space for the transit system, which is to sometime in the future connect to the downtown trolley that Pendegrast rightly calls "a disaster."
While marred by bureaucratic language and clichés, "City on the Verge" gives a valuable history of the Beltline's development and a good synopsis of the challenges to its completion by 2030, when funding runs out. Despite its flaws, "City on the Verge" will serve as a good first draft for those excited about the Beltline and Atlanta's future.
Remembering William Faulkner, I'll stay with Southern Bookman name
William Faulkner spent much of the last years of his life in Charlottesville, Va., where for a time he held the post of writer in residence at the University of Virginia.
Faulkner's writings came to mind after last weekend's murderous assault by Nazis and other white supremacists in Charlottesville.
The Nobel Prize winner's books and short stories examined how the obsession with the "Southern heritage" and the Confederacy crippled the region. At 152 years after the Civil War's end, those repulsive beliefs rise again.
During his time at Charlottesville, where his daughter, Jill, lived with her family, Faulkner frequently spoke before university classes, civic groups, women's clubs and high school students. He also worked on his novel, "The Mansion."
Such a show of civic engagement and intellectual discourse stands in striking contrast to the angry young men bearing torches, inciting violence and bringing about three deaths in the bucolic university town.
Faulkner was hardly a progressive on race; the more than 28 hours of tapes made of Faulkner's Charlotteseville appearances, available for listening on the UVA website, reveal his support of segregation. In his time, he was a voice of moderation and tolerance. His books exposed the South's racism and spoke for the humanity of blacks.
After the violence in Charlotte, I've considered removing the Southern reference in this blog's title. While proud of my Southern roots, I abhor the region's racism and fully support the removal of Confederate monuments.
When I began the blog 10 years ago, I chose the "Southern Bookman" name to honor LSU's Southern Review, which under the editorship of Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks in the late 1930s showed an international outlook. and an openness to new literary voices.
Moving beyond regionalism and a narrow focus on criticism, the SR first published significant Southern writers like Katherine Anne Porter and Eudora Welty and gained a national reputation for excellence. Warren's presence drew poet Robert Lowell and short story writer/novelist Peter Taylor to Baton Rouge.
I wanted Southern Bookman to emulate Warren and Brooks' vision. While writing about Faulkner, Welty, Walker Percy, Flannery O'Connor and other Southern writers, I've also looked at the work of international artists like Elena Ferrante and Clarice Lispector. While writing about Southern culture, the Civil War and Southern cities, I've also posted pieces on New York, San Francisco and Boston.
Moving beyond books, I've expanded the blog's boundaries to look at movies, music, TV, art, politics, journalism and sports.
The blog's name reflects the best parts of the South, as represented by Warren, Brooks and Faulkner. To change the name would give a victory to the haters.
"A Man's World" author Steve Oney: Whether happy or sad, writing "should be a delight to read"
Steve Oney’s “A Man’s World” gathers 20 profiles of men from Oney’s more than 40 years as a magazine writer. Oney characterizes the pieces as “portraits” that show men interacting with the world as “fighters, creators, actors and desperadoes.”
The book encompasses a rich selection of famous and ordinary men and their challenges, triumphs and failures. Displaying a consistent control of language and masterful use of details, the pieces cover Oney’s career from his start at the old Atlanta Journal and Constitution magazine to those written for Los Angeles and California magazines, Premiere, Esquire, GQ, Time, Playboy and The New York Times magazine.
The personalities and their pursuits blend into a complex look at men’s place in American culture, from the military to sports, entertainment and literature. They show how the understanding of men’s roles has shifted, and how men cope with fame and professional and social expectations.
A native of Atlanta and a graduate of the University of Georgia, Oney left his native state for a long career in Los Angeles. His “And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank” is the definitive book on one of the darkest and most momentous events in Southern and American history.
In this Southern Bookman interview, Oney discusses his reporting and writing philosophy in relation to “A Man’s World.” He also speaks about his work on “And The Dead Shall Rise.”
Oney will be discussing “A Man’s World” in an appearance at The Atlanta Journal Constitution-Decatur Book Festival at 11:15 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, at the historic DeKalb County Courthouse. He will also appear at the Southern Festival of Books Oct. 13-15 in Nashville. The schedule for the Nashville event has not yet been released. (Photo by Raymond McCrea Jones, courtesy of Mercer University Press).
1. In “A Man’s World,” you place your subjects in different categories: Fighters, creators, actors and desperadoes. Where would your place be as a writer?
A. All of the above. Writing is a fight for me. Sometimes you’ll hear a writer say that a piece “wrote itself.” I never say that. It’s always a struggle for me. At the same time I’m open to creative inspiration. When I’m stuck at the end of the day a solution often arrives out of the blue the next morning. Overnight my subconscious has done the work. As for the acting part, I’m very aware of presentation. I plot my articles as if they’re plays. There are opening and closing scenes, narrative arcs, and character development. The desperado comes out in story selection. I’m attracted to unruly people. In “A Man’s World” I’ve got Harry Crews, Andrew Breitbart, Nick Nolte, and Gregg Allman. Even John Portman, who’s also in there, could be called a desperado – he achieved success by bucking the architectural establishment. Come to think of it, Herschel Walker, another guy in the book, is kind of a desperado. I quote him saying that to become a great athlete, you must get a little crazy. I’m a little crazy, and it hasn’t made me a great athlete – but maybe a slightly better writer.
2. You describe your profiles as portraits. Along with evoking physical attributes such as John Portman’s hair, and a sense of place, you give each subject a distinctive voice. How did you convey each man’s special way of talking?
A. Years before she started directing films, the late Nora Ephron was exclusively a magazine writer, and she titled a collection of her stories “Wallflower at the Orgy.” It’s a provocative title and also one that articulates my journalistic philosophy. The reporter’s job is to find their way into the best parties and wildest scenes then stand at the periphery and take notes. You are not a participant. You are an observer, and if you are a good observer, you can capture descriptions of people’s dress, hairdos, and, most especially, verbatim chunks of their speech. So it’s all about staying out of the way and taking notes. Occasionally, I use a tape recorder. One of the stories in “A Man’s World” is a profile of the novelist Robert Penn Warren. In that piece there’s a spirited exchange between Warren and his wife, the writer Eleanor Clark, about the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Warren was a conservative, Clark a liberal. So they had differing views, and they were both very articulate in expressing them. Their back-and-forth was like a championship tennis volley. Boom. Boom. Boom. Thank goodness I had my tape recorder going; otherwise I could never have kept up. After I transcribed the tape I realized I had something fantastic, and I used it almost word for word in my article.
3. The story of Chris Leon, a Marine killed in Iraq, is the most complex in the book. Along with his suburban California life, his relationships with his mother and other strong women, you give a moving portrait of his father, Jim, whose grief for a son killed in war goes back to “The Illiad.” How do you view Jim in relation to the other men in “A Man’s World?”
A. I dedicate “A Man’s World” to my father, and while most of the book is about young men, a strong subtheme concerning father-son relationships runs through the best pieces. “Casualty of War,” the profile of Marine Corps Corporal Chris Leon, revolves largely around the way Chris’s father coped with his son’s death by sniper fire in the Iraq War. I’d had the idea to write about the family of an Iraq KIA for some time. The third or fourth person I contacted was Jim Leon, and I could tell from the moment he picked up the phone that he badly wanted to talk with someone about his son, so I drove to his home in the L.A. suburbs and spent an afternoon with him and his wife, Kathi. They were in terrible shape. We met in their living room. Chris’s ashes were in a box on a shelf. A sense of loss filled the house, and there were some treacherous undercurrents. On the one hand, Jim and Kathi were proud of Chris. He’d had a screwed up adolescence, and the Marine Corps saved his life. On the other, the war took him to his death. Not only were they trying to come to grips with the loss of Chris, but they were struggling with this paradox. Jim was having a hard time with it, and I think my presence did him some real good. I was a sounding board. As I got into the story he started calling me every day to discuss different aspect of his feelings, and much of my piece came from what I learned in those conversations. Of all the fathers in “A Man’s World,” Jim is the most fully realized. I write about Robert Penn Warren’s relationship with his children. I touch on the feelings of the actor Bryan Brown for his daughters. But the story of Jim Leon runs the entire emotional gamut. It includes his joy at Chris’s birth, his concern during Chris’s bad high school years, and the devastation following his death. I was privileged to tell the story. It was a bequest, and I tried to treat it with care and sensitivity.
4. You said at a recent appearance at Atlanta’s Margaret Mitchell House that you try to write with a sense of joy. Could you explain this further, especially how it relates to sadder stories like that of Angels pitcher Bo Belinksy?
A. Whether a piece is happy or sad, whether it takes you to a bright place or a dark one, it should be a delight to read. I never want reading my work to be a chore, so I labor – not always successfully – to infuse stories with life. The story of Bo Belinsky is a good example. Everyone thinks Sandy Koufax pitched the first Major League no hitter in California. Not so. It was Bo. He had everything – talent, good looks, an incredible way with women – and he threw it all away. He was a drunk, a cocaine addict, and a danger to himself and others. Yet there was something wonderfully human about him, and he had an infectious, ironic sense of humor. He was funny. In writing the piece, I tried to convey all that. Only then could a reader care about what happened to Bo. It’s a bit of a contradiction, I know, but tragic as that piece is, I wanted the response to it to be a muted Wow. Before Bo hit the wall – even after – he possessed some dazzle, and I worked to get that across.
5. Fame, and how your subjects deal with it, is a unifying theme. You see Gregg Allman and Herschel Walker on the downside of fame, John Portman, Hubie Brown and Robert Penn Warren at the height of fame, and actors Harrison Ford and Nick Nolte ascending to greater fame. How do you see fame, or celebrity, in American culture?
A. As you say, there are different kinds of fame. Look at the Kardashians. They’re famous for being famous. They lack any intrinsic talent. That kind of fame debases the culture because it isn’t earned. However, there are certain people in this world who’ve earned their fame, and I’ve written about a few of them. In “A Man’s World,” the article that comes closest to dealing with this sort of person is the profile of Harrison Ford. It originally appeared as a cover story in Premiere magazine, a now-defunct glossy movie monthly that was owned by Rupert Murdoch. The hook for the piece was Ford’s then new film, “Frantic.” When I took the assignment, I was told by Ford’s publicist that I would not be allowed to visit Ford at his home and could not name in print the city or state where he lived. That all seemed slightly absurd to me, but then again, Ford is an international movie star. He’s both Han Solo and Indiana Jones. As a result, he attracts stalkers and freaks. However, there’s also something else going on. He’s a very prickly guy. I think I get at the riddle of fame – at least in this piece – by pushing back at Ford gently and comically. I respected his request for privacy, but in the story I reveal him to be a pill. Luckily for me, he actually has a pretty good sense of humor. Throughout the article he reveals that he’s in on the joke. Ford knows that he’s a famous guy throwing his weight around and is kind of chagrined – but not genuinely sorry. It’s a wry story. I guess that’s how I view fame – wryly.
6. Shifting attention to your marvelous book on the Leo Frank case, “And the Dead Shall Rise,” how did your journalism background aid your research and writing?
A. Researching and writing “And the Dead Shall Rise” was like surviving the Bataan Death March. The book took 17 years, and it just about killed me. I haunted every library that contains anything of relevance – Brandeis, the Atlanta History Center, the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, and a bunch of others. I read every newspaper account of the case – most on old-fashioned microfilm machines. I interviewed just about every person in Marietta, Georgia, site of the Frank lynching, searching for next of kin to those involved. (I actually interviewed three people who saw Frank’s body hanging in the oak grove.) I went through city directories and crumbling phone books trying to determine where various participants lived not only at the time of the crime but later in life. I tromped through graveyards, corresponded with distant relatives, pored over diaries, and stood on the steps of the old Milledgeville, Georgia, state prison where Frank was abducted. I even requisitioned 1915 Georgia auto registration records to discover who owned the cars used by the mob that snatched Frank and drove him more than 100 miles to his death. All of this is a long way of saying I was obsessed with answering a basic but hard question: What happened? That’s the essential journalistic question, and too often today historians don’t even think it’s relevant. They’re more interested in looking at an event through a contemporary prism. They peer backward through the lens of gender, race, religion, or class. A good reporter is, of course, aware of those perspectives but believes they pale before the old-fashioned who, what, where, when, and why. I’m not so bold as to say I solved the Frank case, but I got close. By the end of the book a careful reader knows who killed Mary Phagan – the 13-year-old girl Frank was convicted of strangling – and who lynched Frank. For nearly a century those things had been mysteries. Incidentally, next year marks the 15th anniversary of the publication of “And the Dead Shall Rise.” The book just went into its 10th paperback printing.
Discoveries of essential Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans recordings a gift for jazz fans
The appearance of Thelonious Monk's previously unreleased "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is the most exciting jazz event of the summer.
Recorded in 1959 for French director Roger Vadim's 1960 film "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," the album is the latest discovery of important jazz recordings in recent years.
Seven reels of tape were found in the archives of Marcel Romano, the manager of French saxophonist Barney Wilen, who played on the album.
Along with Wilen, fellow tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, double bass player Sam Jones and drummer Art Taylor join Monk on pulsing performances of some of his familiar compositions.
Far from the bland background music associated with film scores, the album swings with hard bop ebullience as Rouse, Wilen and Monk push each other to higher flights. Taylor and Jones lay down vibrant rhythms.
After that soaring joy, Monk shifts to quiet introspection with a lovely solo of Charles Albert Tindley's "We'll Understand It Better By and By."
Along with the vital discovery of a major Monk recording, the album includes captivating photos of Monk and his bandmates. While the album has a French pedigree, it was recorded at the Nola Penthouse Sound Studios on West 57th. Street in New York City on July 27, 1959.
The album follows the 2016 release of newly discovered recordings made by Bill Evans and his trio in 1968. The tapes that make up "Some Other Time: The Lost Sessions From the Black Forest" were done at the studio of German company MPS Records in Villingen, Germany, following an appearance by Evans' trio at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The recordings were made on June 20, 1968.
At the time, Evans' colleagues were bass player Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette. As jazz scholar and Wall Street Journal writer Marc Myers says in the accompanying CD booklet, the album marks Evans' transition to his introspective last years.
While many jazz players had moved toward fusion, with "Bitches' Brew" by former Evans colleague Miles Davis a hallmark, Evans on "Some Other Time" stays with with the model of interpreting Amiercan songbook classics.
Familiar melodies like "What Kind of Fool Am I" and "My Funny Valentine" serve as templates for Evans' meditations, augmented by Gomez and DeJohnette, whose brushed cymbals give an enticing counter conversation.
Resonance Records, known for its musical archaeology, released Evans' work. The recordings had remained in the MPS shelves unreleased because of contract problems with Evans' American record company.
The French label SAM released the Monk album. Producer and musicologist Zev Feldman was involved in both projects.
Both albums give new musical discoveries with each listening. They stand as essential additions to each man's oeuvre.