24 February 2008

Back To The Future

Back in the 1980s one of the greatest compensations for enduring the intellectual and moral swamp that comprised life in Mendocino County was the Anderson Valley Advertiser.

You've probably heard me mention it before: the plucky little small-town paper and scourge of the booboisie, run by muckraking and hellraising editor Bruce Anderson (no connection, at least not originally, to the Anderson Valley, but by now he has surely put his stamp on it for time immemorial), who came north from the Bay Area in the wake of the hippie back-to-the-landers, bought the struggling local weekly and has been enlightening and tormenting those back-to-the-landers and their descendants ever since.

I used to write a few articles for the Advertiser myself, and even when I didn't, Bruce would feel free to lift them from my own magazine, the Lookout, which was performing a similar function in the slightly less sophisticated cosmopolis known as Greater Laytonville. Long after I migrated out I kept subscribing to the Advertiser for its nonpareil insights into life on the frontier that America forgot, or more likely preferred not to think about.

But a few years back - I can't remember exactly when - Bruce finally gave up on Mendocino County, sold the Advertiser to a local hippie, and headed north to Oregon where he tried, unfortunately without success, to launch the AVA Oregon. David Severn, the new owner of the original AVA, tried his best to keep things humming along smoothly, but despite having the good sense and editorial sensibilities to keep much of the paper's disparate and cantankerous staff on board, he simply wasn't the writer Bruce is. Well, nobody is, really, and when it came down to it, Bruce's inimitable style and unbridled clarity of thought was what set the AVA apart from and above all competitors.

I still kept up my subscription for its window into the life I had lived for a dozen years or so and which, from London, where I was now living, seemed to grow ever more bizarre and implausible. If nothing else, I could show copies of the paper to friends and say, "Look, I didn't make it up, there really are people who think, act and talk like that." But I finally let my subscription lapse when international air mail postage rates rose a couple more times; I suppose I could have kept getting it by surface mail, but all the news, such as it was, would have been a month or two old by the time it got to me.

But recently Aaron Cometbus, who's been wintering in San Francisco, told me that Bruce Anderson had, by some mysterious and as yet unexplained turn of events, retaken the helm of the AVA and that everything was back to normal only moreso. It seemed hard to believe; Mendocino County and the North Coast are such different places (or so one would think) 20 years down the line that it's hard to imagine people getting fired up about the same issues Bruce was hammering away at back in mid to late 80s.

Nevertheless I renewed my subscription, and today my first issue arrived. And lo and behold, it was almost as though I (or the AVA) had never been away. The same tales of hippie marijuana growers and their violent, "non-groovy" doppelgängers, the ripoff artists and "commercial" growers with their bad vibes spoiling the scene for everyone else, the same incompetent, corrupt, borderline insane bureaucrats and politicians bumbling their way to Armageddon, the same woo-woo New Age BS artists peddling the same recylable bottles of organic snake oil. I wrote a note to Bruce welcoming his return to the fray and he fired back, "When are you coming back to Spy Rock, Lar Lar?"

Stranger things have happened, Bruce, but I wouldn't hold my breath. In the meantime, anyone interested can check out some samples of current AVA articles and get subscription info at: theava.com. And if they ever find themselves in need of a Brooklyn correspondent, you may even see yours truly represented there.

No comments: