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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Here is a story about of why the magical internet should never replace libraries, newspapers, and newspaper morgues. In the late 70's and early 80's I was a regular reader of the Village Voice. Back then it was a different publication than the boho pennysaver it has become. It had evolved from the more-or-less half-baked political broadsheet founded by Ed Fancher, Dan Wolf, and Norman Mailer and had become an essential weekly read for engaged and aware New Yorkers, whether actual or aspiring. In addition to Nat Hentoff, Tom Carson, Wayne Barrett, Robert Chrisgau, it was where I read Andrew Sarris for the first time. And I.F. Stone. Actually, a list of all the great writing by great writers that went on at the Voice back then would be a good start at a worthy anthology that will probably never be assembled. It was a lively publication, and it seemed to be filled with obscure feuds, which made it even more fun to follow. It was where you went to see Jules Feiffer's work, and Matt Groening, Lynda Barry, Stan Mack (Real Life Funnies: "Guarantee,All Dialog Verbatim") and Mark Alan Stamaty. It was, I believe, the first periodical intended for the general public which featured a regular column analyzing and critiquing the work of the press in covering news stories. Although this is now commonplace, if you wanted it before the Voice started running Press Clips you pretty much had to subscribe to The Columbia Journalism Review .

It had other charms as well, one of which sent me down this particular rabbit hole. In the back pages, among the classifieds, there was a brief column under the byline Vladimir Estragon, called Waiting for Dessert. It was a food column, the sort that consists of a short essay about the author's confused and distracted life, followed by a recipe for something or other. Beef Carbonara, for example, which started out with an anecdote about an acquaintance who said of someone once, "He's such a chump he carries his money in his wallet." The piece continued by observing that such a chump probably also made stew with water. Once there was a piece about making homemade bread and churning butter in a blender. Once he wrote about making chocolate pudding from scratch. The author referenced his family-- The Woman Warrior, The Youngest Member, and The Wee Bairn, and the stories about them were warm and sweet without being cloying.

The guy who wrote it was Geoffrey Stokes, something I did not know until he died, at age 55, in 1995, and I read his obit in the Voice. I can't find that obit online-- here is the NYTimes'. Stokes was prolific. In addition to "Pinstripe Pandemonium", a good book about the Yankees which I have read, he wrote a book called "Starmaking Machinery" about the marketing of a rock band, which I haven't, and a book with Robert Coles called "Sex and the American Teen-Ager". It also seemed like he was writing most of the Voice back then, including Press Clips. That's Stokes in the photo that accompanies this post-- the guy who does not resemble a hipster dofus, which is Robert Christgau. Waiting for Dessert was always accompanied by a little cartoon depicting the author engaged in some frantic activity-- it never occurred to me that the aging hippie the cartoon depicted might be a recognizable caricature, but it turns out it was.

Here's the thing: all that writing, and a lot about the man himself, is nowhere to be found on the 'net. You can go to the Voice's site and hunt-- that's where I found the photo. The obit isn't there, and neither are the Press Clips, or the serious journalism. About two thirds of what I am writing here is out of my own memory. Waiting for Dessert isn't there. (It was anthologized, and if you know to look for it you can find used copies-- the web does have its uses.) If you look up Geoffrey Stokes on Wikipedia, though, all you find is a page of references that suggests just what a significant writer he was. He died before the internet was the ubiquitous presence it now is, and as a result he has largely fallen from the memory of anyone more or less younger than I am. That's a shame.

| Comments:
The Village Voice website was launched in 1997, which explains why it can be tough to find stories older than that.

However, there are two projects you'll probably be interested in.

First, we turned over our entire microfilm library to Google, which is gradually putting up a terrific searchable archive. Go here to start sifting through it:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=mCEQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=M4wDAAAAIBAJ&pg=3856,6030308&dq=david-bowie

However, Google has been somewhat erratic about posting the material. All of 1965 and 1967 is online, for example, but not 1966. I have no idea why. Many other years are missing as well. We've bugged Google about it, but apparently they're going to take their time posting years in a haphazard manner.

The other project you might be interested in is a stab at that "worthy anthology" you mentioned. For the last two years, starting with our oldest existing paper archives, which begin in 1956, I've been posting at our news blog Runnin' Scared an excerpt from another issue each weekday morning, going forward in order. I call it "Clip Job," and I'm now up to 1967.

Here's a link to the latest Clip Jobs:
http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/clip_job/

And here's a link to a page we created to archive all of the Clip Jobs:
http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/clipJobArchive.php

(The archive page got a little abused in this week's web redesign, but if you scroll down you can see the entries. The page is being fixed today.)

Sincerely,

Tony Ortega
Editor
The Village Voice
 
Thanks, Tony. Stokes actually edited a Village Voice anthology himself, and I intend to keep an eye out for it.
 

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