Monday, April 22, 2013

Farewell Phoenix

           The Phoenix, according to the ancient Greeks, is a bird which rises from its own ashes to live again. For all that's happened in Boston this past week, the Phoenix is an apt metaphor, the transition from being huddled in our houses in fear to being out on the streets hugging neighbors and high-fiving first responders.

            But for those of us in Boston, especially on the music scene, for the past thirty years the Phoenix also had a literal meaning, as the city's alternative weekly, the bible of what was happening, of who was playing where, not to mention what movies, plays, readings and rallies were worth checking out. Sadly, the Boston Phoenix published its last issue on March 15, exactly one month before the bombing. Staff, let alone the public, wasn't notified that it would be the last issue until that day.

            There were signs the Phoenix was on thin ice - the year before they'd gone from newsprint to a magazine format, incorporating the glossy nightlife coverage of their (former) sister publication Stuff. And print media of all kinds is in trouble from digital competition. But still, when word spread it was the last issue it was a shock, another unwelcome sign that the world is changing too fast in unwelcome ways.

            I'm fifty-four. I resist change - I am still upset that my favorite band broke up (in 1981), that my favorite show was cancelled (in 1969). When I moved to Massachusetts, with my band, after college, the Phoenix was our immediate source of who was who, what was what. I have a scrap book with numerous Phoenix ads for clubs Loose Ties played, the Rat, Cantone's, Jack's, the Channel, and the review of our '86 Rumble show. Cellars by Starlight, the local music column, didn't champion us like they did Mission of Burma or Del Fuegos or Gang Green, but we still depended on them to get the word out. Even in my later folk era, I made a point of letting the Phoenix know when I playing in town (yes! my Nameless Coffeehouse gig got listed!).

            The Phoenix was also the jumping off point for many literary careers - Caroline Knapp, Anita Diamant - so we got to read great writers finding their voices on a weekly basis. I didn't agree with, or like, all the music critics - one particularly verbose editor could writer for pages about a record and you still couldn't tell if he liked it. But I certainly found out about lots of great music, and great shows, from the Phoenix: X at the Channel on Labor Day in '81, Human Switchboard at the Inn-Square in '82, Marshall Crenshaw at the Paradise in January '86, T-Bone Burnett, solo acoustic, at Passim, Pat Metheny, long after he was a jazz legend, sitting in at Ryles.

            So what now? I certainly feel for the current staff, out on their butts in a shrinking profession in a stagnant economy. (As a veteran of a record company I know how they feel.) Best of luck, guys. Keep in touch. But I also feel for the city, at the least the portion of it old enough, like me, to get our information in print, and to remember the long and proud tradition of Boston alternative weeklies, the Real Paper as well as the Phoenix, providing an ear a little closer to the shifting ground of youth pop culture than the established dailies. Maybe I'll have to get a smart phone with alerts for when artists I like are playing in town. But that's the easy part - the Phoenix was where we read about the artists we didn't know about. That's what I'll miss.

            I'm glad Boston survived the bombing, and that despite the tragic loss of four lives and a nerve-racking manhunt only a week later we're pretty much back to normal. But despite rising from our ashes I, for one, miss the Phoenix.

Read editor-in-chief Carly Carioli's farewell editorial here