It’s sad. It really is. For months all of those iconic little red boxes have been either siting empty or filled with piles of trash. For the last few months I was in denial but now the grief has quickly settled in. The Voice is dead!
This year is the first year since 1955 without any fresh print editions of the Village Voice. In truth the Voice for some time was nothing but an echo of its former self. For 20 years the Voice has been struggling to survive in the face of buy outs, layoffs and of course losing profits. It survived solely as a final remnant of a Village that no longer lived. Yet a vociferous echo it still was. Rarely did it fail to inspire something in its loyal readers.
Like many readers I first became aware of the Voice when I was a teenager, although what initially attracted me to the Voice wasn’t always the most appropriate for my age. Every Wednesday my fingertips would be black with ink as I turned to the back pages of the latest issue of the Voice to conduct my weekly high school ritual of gawking at the escort ads. Our hormones raging, my friends and I would huddle in the corner of our home room class, salivating over the scantily clad women offering such services as “therapeutic” massages and professional female companionship. Every so often we would work up the nerve to call one of the numbers in the ads only to freeze up with fear when the raspy, seductive voice of a woman would answer. In high school everybody pretends to be having sex but the thought of having sex is terrifying. In the back of those pages, tucked between the phone sex hotline ads I would get most of my sex education from Dan Savages “Savage Love” column. It beat the hell out of anything I learned from health class. Because of his column at the age of sixteen I became my high school’s equivalent to Masters and Johnson.
Those were my first memories of the Village Voice. Later, when I was all alone on the train ride home from school I would make my way through the rest of the paper. Everything inside those pages enthralled me. The Voice was filled with all this cool art and culture that I never knew existed. As a young teenager growing up in working class Queens there were very few places that I deemed cool. Art was a Manhattan thing and the Mecca of everything cool and subversive was in the Village. In my mind I was already a young bohemian that was born in the wrong generation. As soon as I graduated, I thought to myself, my friends and I would immediately move to the village and room together. My friend Cristopher would even go so far as to circle potential apartments in the Voice’s classifieds section. Even though we knew that we could never could afford to move to the Village I guess he just liked the fantasy of it.
For us the Voice offered its readers an opportunity to discover the cutting edge of the counter culture. I was hungry for all of it, devouring those pages like a steaming bowl of rice. In those pages readers were exposed to the world of art, music, film and politics. It was an important bastion of popular education. It got to a point that I wouldn’t even watch a movie if it got a poor review in the film section. Just holding the Voice under my arm made me feel sophisticated.
Later in my life, when I was in community college, I would skip class to be a part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It was amongst the occupiers in those hours long general assemblies that I began to develop my political consciousness. To feed my new developing political outlook, my weekly Voice ritual supplied me with weekly flow of progressive national and local news. It was in the Voice that I learned about the systemic nature of Stop and Frisk or the vast amount of municipal corruption behind Blomberg’s City Time scandal. No other paper was on the cutting edge of local progressive media like the Voice was. Very few media outlets had influenced countless kids like me from adolescents to adulthood like the Voice had. Outside of politics or art it was just so damn comforting to know that every week the Voice would be there patiently waiting in that cherry red box to be picked up. It didn’t matter what was happening in your life you just knew that the Voice was the one stable thing that anyone could depend on regularly.
Back when I was just a kid in high school my friends and I would play hooky in order make our pilgrimages to the Village. East or West, it didn’t matter it was where we believed we belonged. Saint Marks Place had a special place in my heart. From the comic book and record stores to the head shops it was a wonderland that I was infatuated with. We would spend countless hours browsing through the DVD collections at Kim’s Video searching for the most obscure B-movies. Where else can you get a dollar pizza and a falafel for a buck fifty? It was rugged, dirty and nasty. I loved it! Little did I realize that even Saint Marks place in the mid 2000’s was just a shell of its former self. None of us knew what gentrification was nor did we realize that behind the scenes the Voice was in as much turmoil as the Village was.
Around 2006, at the same time we were all freshman in high school, the Voice was bought out by New Times Media. Immediately, like the comet that wiped out the dinosaurs, the new owners began to fire or layoff many of the Voices long time staff. The pages of the Voice got thinner and its voice got weaker. Then in 2015 the Voice was purchased again by Black Walnut Holdings LLC. It was the final nail in the coffin. Late last year they abruptly announced the end of the print addition of the Voice. It still exists online however. Even so, something about print gives an urgency to the printed word that a computer screen can not replicate. An online Voice is no more then click bait indistinguishable from anything else. But like CBGBs before it the Voice is a relic of another time. Honestly, I’m nostalgic for it even though I was not alive to see its glory days. Just walking around the sanitized streets of this city it should be easy to see why. Not one block is free from the tyranny of a big box stores, expensive coffee shops, chain pharmacies or banks. What the Village once represented, what ever that was, is gone. It has been gone for a long time. Gentrification has cremated it. Even though the Village is dead we must be grateful that we were able to continue to hear its voice for as long as we did. It’s not often that you have a chance to communicate with the dead.