What Happened to the Phoenix?

An article I wrote for the December issue of Boston Magazine, “What Happened to the Phoenix,” is up online.

The title (which I chose) and the art (a burning Phoenix newsbox) are both somewhat provocative. The story itself isn’t, I think, nor is it quite as pessimistic about the Phoenix‘s future and the future of alt weeklies as Salon and some other people have been, especially around the time of the paper’s relaunch as a glossy in September. Not that the future is rosy, but you know.

The most enjoyable part of the story, for me, came as I interviewed people who were at the paper in the 1970s and 1980s. Kit Rachlis, David Edelstein, Lloyd Schwartz—they loved being on staff in that era. Schwartz, who remains the paper’s classical music critic and won a Pulitzer in 1994, appears in the article only to say that “It was thrilling to be part of that,” which is understated. I wish I could have gotten more from Schwartz into the story, but I couldn’t (my own fault—not Boston‘s), so I’ll post a brief excerpt from my conversation with him here.

Me: Why is arts criticism important?

Lloyd Schwartz: Well, I am someone who very profoundly believes that the arts, that works of art, that literature, painting, music, are, you know, are a sign of civilization. And that—I know that there are people who live without these things, and I think they are impoverished if they do. 

I’m a teacher, and I teach poetry especially, and I think great poetry is important in people’s lives, and that I have talented students who want to write poetry, and I want to encourage them and make them better and feel the same way about it that I do. And I feel that way about music, and I feel that way about art. For me, writing criticism is not telling people what to think, it’s having a dialogue with my readers.

Schwartz’s answer has stuck with me. That’s what culture is! And the Phoenix‘s role in creating culture is why I hope the paper does survive. And why its decline is important.

Anyway, many, many thanks to Toby Lester at Boston for his help with the story, and to all the people, including both Brad and Stephen Mindich, who generously took time to answer my questions.

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