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You call this art? 

New Times exhibit proves that we're not wallflowers

Why we exhibit

Newspapers might aptly be called the wallflowers of the creative community. We watch, record, and document as everyone else dances, paints, sculpts, photographs, and generally has a grand old time. However, it’s inevitable that, at one point or another, any self-respecting publication—and especially one founded on the principles of alternative reporting—will cast off the shackles of tradition, and join the celebratory ranks.

Henceforth, consider New Times shackle-less.

Our passionate, often geeky writers will continue to bestow weekly helpings of praise and criticism upon the sacred brows of local artists. But we feel that the paper’s relationship with the arts extends beyond a merely passive role; each issue we produce should be a work of art in its own right. And because we understand and appreciate the privilege of being professional artists, and of serving the community members who have shared their lives and art with us for the past two decades, we’d like to return the favor. Our retrospective exhibit, There Will Be Bacon: The Art of New Times, will be on display at the Steynberg Gallery throughout the month of September. And, because New Times staffers have never been known to avoid an opportunity to mix business and pleasure, we’re welcoming anyone and everyone to join us for an opening reception on Sept. 5, during Art After Dark. We’ll have music, beer, art, and bacon, all of which we’d like to share with the community that supports our existence.

As to what you can expect from an art exhibit hosted by a 22-year-old newsweekly, here’s a hint: the unexpected, a history and portrait of a community, even a few pretty pictures. In theory—emphasizing the term theory on the grounds that the New Times think tank occasionally operates at low capacity—There Will Be Bacon: The Art of New Times should entertain as well (in much the same manner that looking into a mirror for an hour and a half while making grotesque expressions until your every feature is distorted and unrecognizable is entertaining). It’s impossible to escape the impression that—from the gentle droop of a rock star bunny’s pink silk-lined ear, to the mischievous grin of a man consuming a handful of flowers, and the immovable tongue of a red snapper frozen to a bed of ice—these faces represent our history, and our community. And that fact should elicit laughter, the sort of response that doesn’t stop after it has been released, but swells because the joke is shared. Whatever your relationship to SLO County, these photographs and illustrations should carry some resonance, selected, as they were, to not only reflect the county as it is today, but as it was 20 years ago, and 10, and five as well.

click to enlarge PROTESTING WAR :  March 27, 2003. Sanderson Beck protests at Vandenberg Air Force Base. - PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • Photo by Christopher Gardner
  • PROTESTING WAR : March 27, 2003. Sanderson Beck protests at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

This exhibit, the attention it receives, and time that was dedicated to its creation, will undoubtedly engender the complaint that our paper’s valuable resources would be better served exclusively focused on hard news. I direct the attention of any would-be critics to the paper’s subhead: “news and entertainment weekly.” Our paper is, in fact, half news and half entertainment. And we’re equally proud of our commitment to both. We read the news because it is our duty to be informed citizens and because, if we are not vigilant, we may find our rights have been swept away when we weren’t looking. But when all is said and done, even as our collective gaze is focused upon politics, elections, and war, it is art that stirs the soul, that enables us to explore and feel our humanity. Whether it is a documentary at The Palm that kindles political indignation or the words of a playwright delivered by a die-hard volunteer actor, art is the very best and worst of us. It’s who we are, who we desire and fear to be. And to step forward and claim the mantel of artists for ourselves—however seemingly indulgent—is a very natural act.

In an editorial handbook titled “The New Times Way,” Steve Moss wrote that “Like people, every publication has a personality all its own.” And the personality of this paper—and those that represent it—has never been reticent. On the contrary, no newspaper, and especially not today, could afford to be. If a community is to be wildly shaken about each new week, it must be done with confidence and a degree of recklessness.

So, we recklessly threw together an art show. And if the promise of really weird photographs and illustrations isn’t enough to entice you to our Sept. 5 opening reception: Come for the bacon. Come for the beer. Come to watch the Shredder get drunk and two-step his way around the Steynberg Gallery singing the lyrics to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” Come for the rock star bunny.

—Ashley Schwellenbach

 


 

In the Beginning: How We Got Here, Where We’re Going and Who’s to Blame (written in Dec. 2001)

I don’t know who wrote that headline on the cover of this booklet with all the where-what-and-when stuff about New Times. I could never get to the bottom of any of it. I don’t know if I should be happy or bummed out.

click to enlarge FOUNDING FIGURES:  From left) Bev Johnson, Alex Zuniga, and Steve Moss began New Times in 1986. - PHOTO COURTESEY OF NEW TIMES
  • Photo courtesey of New Times
  • FOUNDING FIGURES: From left) Bev Johnson, Alex Zuniga, and Steve Moss began New Times in 1986.

All I can say is I wasn’t around when New Times started, but they roped me into writing this New Times history bunk anyway because everyone else was busy figuring out which end of the Christmas tree lights up. So if some of the following doesn’t quite mesh in your memories of what really happened, go write your own New Times history.

It all began when there wasn’t any New Times. That was back in 1986. It was August. Ronald Reagan was president. George H.W. Bush was hoping top grab the job. His son was hoping to score some coke. Corazon Aquino was Time magazine’s Man of the Year, but didn’t know she was a woman. People thought Duran-Duran was super keen, I hadn’t been born yet, and you were probably living in Los Angeles.

This was the setting in which a truly colorful newspaper struggled to survive. USA Today had been launched six years earlier and still hadn’t made a profit.

Meanwhile, here in SLO County, the only countywide newspaper was the Tribune. But it kept changing its name so often that the reading public was convinced there were at least six local daily newspaper, so they all went back to sipping coffee and reading Easy-Ad.

“Who needs another newspaper?” they asked. “We’ve got plenty—hey, look! Here’s a sump pump for only 20 bucks!”

There were three people, however, who weren’t so easily fooled: Steve Moss, Bev Johnson and Alex Zuniga.

They alone could see that the emperor wore no clothes, and that he was pretty icky-looking walking around naked as a Butterball chicken. They thought he should at least wear a 45-rpm record for modesty’s sake. Maybe Chuck Berry’s “My Ding a Ling.”

Anyway, none of this has anything to do with New Times history because I don’t know anything about it.

I thought something had to be around for at least 200 years before anyone called it “history,” not recent stuff like, you know, “The History of the Pop Tart” or “The Last Ten Minutes: A Look Back.” How dumb. “The History of New Times”? How dumber. And me writing about it. How dumbest.

I don’t have to tell you that I wasn’t exactly thrilled with this task, so I don’t know why I just did.

To sum it up: Here were these three historic figures, Steve and Bev and Alex, with nothing to do, a bunch of real losers. Since nobody would hire them, they decided to start their own business so that if they ever decided to fire themselves, they could get unemployment benefits from them and tell everybody what heartless jerks they were. They’d show them.

click to enlarge SPINNING DANCERS: - PHOTO BY CRAIG SHAFER
  • Photo By Craig Shafer
  • SPINNING DANCERS:

I asked the Moss guy how they all met, and he said I’d better get out of his office before he called the cops.

He doesn’t like me. Always thinks my column will get us sued again. What a worry-wart.

He wouldn’t tell me anything. Neither would the other two.

Bev said, get lost.

Alex, well he’s always sort of liked me, I think, but I’m not sure. He hasn’t spoken to me for about five years and said something about “not starting now.” I’m pretty sure he was talking about his car.

How am I supposed to write this if everybody tells me to drop dead? I guess like I always do. Just make things up.

But I don’t have to very much. I actually walked around and found some interesting things about these historic clowns.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY STEVE MOSS
  • Illustration by Steve Moss

*In the beginning, they didn’t know what they were doing. None of them had ever run a newspaper. I think you can still tell that.

*They started this rag with only $4,000. Don’t ask me where they got the money. They say the source was legal. I’m still digging on that one.

*So they bought a brand new Macintosh computer, one of the early coal-powered ones—a Mac 512K, I think. With the rest of the money, they got very drunk in hopes of talking themselves out of this madness. Unfortunately for us, they weren’t able to.

*The first issue was thrown together in an apartment on Swayzee Street in San Luis. A bunch of Cal Poly students heard something really cool was happening there, so they all showed up to play with the computer. Like most Cal Poly students, they were a waste of time. Since they weren’t going to buy anything, they were asked to leave. They wouldn’t. A fight ensued. Somebody phoned the police. The rest is history. Well, if you happen to be reading this 200 years from now.

*There was another partner at the beginning, but nobody wants to talk about him. I guess he either did something real Nixonian, or didn’t want to be associated with this mess. He’s referred to around the office as the Fourth Beatle. But I don’t think he’s dead.

*Moss said that since he knew the alphabet fairly well, he’d be the editor. Johnson had bought things from ads before, so she figured she could probably sell some. They didn’t have an art director. They said that’s the easy part, surely you’re joking, we don’t need an art director. See what I mean? Didn’t know diddly-bunk about newspapers.

click to enlarge DISAPPOINTED DEMOCRAT :  Nov. 4, 2004. Harlan Hobgood donned his Democratic apparel in honor of the 2004 elections. - PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • Photo by Christopher Gardner
  • DISAPPOINTED DEMOCRAT : Nov. 4, 2004. Harlan Hobgood donned his Democratic apparel in honor of the 2004 elections.

*Alex was a graphic communications student. He’d just graduated from Cal Poly and heard about the fight on Swayzee Street. He showed up at midnight, six hours before the paper had to be to the printer. Moss and Johnson thought God had just walked through the door.

*No doubt about it. Alex saved their butts.

*The little star that precedes each of these paragraphs is called a “bullet.” Writers tell you things like this to fill space when they’re running out of information to put little dots or stars in front of.

Like I said, Alex had just been released from college, so he hadn’t had a chance to get fired yet like Moss and Johnson. Now he’s one of the paper’s owners, which makes it harder to can him. But he’ll get his. It’s always great having something to look forward to.

Well, that’s about it. Stuff happened and then they had this open house party. The End.

I wish.

I figured the next thing to do was find out why they started New Times in the first place. So I phoned Moss from the other room and told him I was leaving for Afghanistan to join the Taliban turkey shoot. He got real cheerful about one or the other, and opened right up.

Why did they start the paper?

“No reason,” he said.

click to enlarge VIEWER DISCRETION :  The Victoria’s Secret store in downtown SLO become a veritable red-light district with scantily clad mannequins. - PHOTO BY JESSE ACOSTA
  • Photo by Jesse Acosta
  • VIEWER DISCRETION : The Victoria’s Secret store in downtown SLO become a veritable red-light district with scantily clad mannequins.

I told him I needed a little more than that. Maybe the universe was created for no reason but I refuse to believe this about New Times. Imagine how bleak and hopeless life would be if New Times came to be for no reason at all. Ridiculous. It couldn’t just spring into existence out of nothing—there had to have been a First Causation, a Big Bang. (That sounds kind of dirty. Maybe I should call it a Big Pow.)

So then Moss said,

“Hey, are you talking to me from the other room?”

And I said,

“Don’t change the subject. What’s the real reason?”

He said that he had a dream—a dream that all people in SLO County, regardless of their race or underwear color, will someday have a free newspaper so they won’t have to pay for or steal one, and that this is the meaning of a free press in a land of the free, because all newspapers should be free at last, free at last, and I said, well, you get what you pay for, and he hung up.

Johnson wasn’t particularly helpful, either. She just told me a bunch of phony revisionist history bunkum and blather. That’s what happens when a company can finally afford a Chamber membership—they clean up their filthy past, whitewash everything, and put it on spin cycle so all yesterday’s dirty laundry comes out clean as an unused Kleenex: “We’re so wonderful, our humble beginnings, of yes, we love everybody, we did it all for you,” blah, blah, I think I’m going to puke.

How’d I get roped into this anyway?

Here’s some other junk I found out after eavesdropping when the three were in the Executive Dining Room, Spa and Polo Field bragging and acting like they’re better than me.

click to enlarge DIABLO POWER PLANT :  The subject of numerous New Times articles over the past two decades. - PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • Photo by Christopher Gardner
  • DIABLO POWER PLANT : The subject of numerous New Times articles over the past two decades.

The first fledgling discussion about New Times was on June 2, 1986, at the home of some guy named Jim Joffee (rhymes with “coffee”) where Moss and Johnson met after they’d answered a roommate ad. Legend has it they were all ripped on some white powder. The facts bear this out. Joffee lives in Santa Margarita now, and didn’t return repeated phone calls.

The first person Moss talked to for start-up money was Wally Barnick, the manager of The Spirit, which was the we’re-so-hot-and- you’re-so-not nightclub of the era. It’s where KSBY-TV now gazes down upon us all, wondering why we’re watching CNN. I don’t know why anyone would ask Wally for money. He’s always broke.

Wally worked for developer-party-dude John King, who even then suffered from an incurable edifice complex. Wally told King what Moss wanted to do, and King told Wally to tell Moss that—ha!—that’s about as likely as the whole town of Avila Beach being picked up and moved!

The first planning session took place at Hudson’s Grill on June 11 (the booth on the Osos Street side, counting one, two, three from Monterey. I think they’re having it bronzed).

Further arguments took place at the Darkroom next to the Fremont Theater and at Farley’s 24-hour SLO Slop House. The deal was consummated at Scrubby & Lloyds after the partners decided if they became successful, the first thing they’d do is rip down this crummy burger joint. Then they laughed, ha ha, like that would ever happen.

(Needless Parenthetical Aside: It’s said that late at night in the New Times Building when the moon is full, you can sometimes hear a million dead hamburgers screaming, “We think we’ve fallen and we can’t ketchup!” It’s pitiful.)

The first issue of New Times was 28 pages. Teensy. It was born on August 13, 1986. When I picked it up, I said, “Ha! This skinny little rag won’t last!” Everyone says I’m wrong, the fools, it could tank any day now.

A bit of trivia that’s fascinated therapists for centuries: The Three Stooges were so superstitious they almost waited a day to publish so the first issue wouldn’t be the 13th, so they killed a cat and drank its blood around a fire in Pismo Beach and everything was okay.

The first New Times office was that tiny little place three flights up on the back of the Silvaggio Building. The Silvaggios took a look, took a pity, then took the rent money. At least, that’s what Zuniga said. Let’s have him talk further. He’s doing better than I am:

“We decided it’d be much safer waaaay up high so we could throw things and push chairs down the stairs if we were attacked…”

He’s crazier than all of them. Sure, Alex. Right. And then you dug a moat before the flying apes from Oz attacked.

click to enlarge NEW YEAR BABY :  Nov. 15, 2007. Glass-blower Evan Chambers poses as the New Year Baby for New Times’ Holiday Guide. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • Photo by Steve E. Miller
  • NEW YEAR BABY : Nov. 15, 2007. Glass-blower Evan Chambers poses as the New Year Baby for New Times’ Holiday Guide.

“Exactly! So after they’d scaled the south wall, we fought our way north on Higuera Street and took refuge above Tom’s Toys—the old location where Central Coast Surfboards is now—and we stayed there until King Richard returned to kill the Sheriff of Nottingham. That’s where the song, ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ comes from. Bang! Bang! You’re dead!”

After they put Alex in the Bouncy Room, I was at a loss. Moss wouldn’t talk, Johnson talked too much about zip-olla, and Zuniga couldn’t speak with that rubber restraint in his mouth. But Johnson would at least talk to me, so we met for lunch at Hudson’s, one, two, three booths from Monterey.

“You’re paying for this, right?” she asked.

I said of course. That’s what’s so good about getting the bill after you’ve eaten. Who, me? I didn’t eat anything. What food?

“Well, New Times was all my idea, you see, and—”

“But Moss said it was his idea.”

“Well, he’s crazy. So anyway—”

“And Alex says it was his.”

She looked at me like I was wearing my underwear on my head.

“Who’s Alex?”

I went to the library and looked up “New Times” in the dictionary. “New/adj: of or related to not being old” (page 449); “Times/n: a period during which a process, action or process takes place” (page 683).

I’m sure glad they didn’t call it all those other words. You’d die of old age by the time you finished asking for one.

“Hey, you know anything about New Times?” I asked some guy walking by the bus stop. “I mean, where’d it come from?”

“Right up there on the corner,” he said. “They just delivered them.”

Wise guy.

“Hello?”

“Yes, hi there. It’s me calling. From lunch? Right, that’s me, but I wouldn’t exactly say I’m ‘twerpy.’ Short is better. Anyway, I just need a little more informa—”

I hate it whenever people hang up on me. This means, of course, that I hate all people.

Then I stopped by to see Glen Starkey. He’d been at New Times for a long time, so he must have some gossip and hokum I can cram into this “history.” The Moss guy never reads anything, anyway, so it doesn’t matter what I write—just checks to see if there are words on the page, then goes out for a Bloody Mary at McCarthy’s. Glen wasn’t around. But there was a note taped to his computer screen. It said,

“After you read this note, go away. I don’t know anything.”

It figures. Doesn’t want to talk because everyone keeps thinking he writes my column. “Is Glen the Shredder?” they ask. “Is he? He is, isn’t he? Yes he is!” It drives him crazy.

Because it’s true. I am Glen Starkey. Glen writes me. He is me. I am Glen. Yin and yang. One and the same. So now you know. The computer screen note I wrote to me about me is true. I don’t know anything—about music.

Take THAT, Starkey!

NEW TIMES FACTOIDS: Lois Capps and Mike Stoker once interned in the New Times marketing department together, and have hated each other ever since their clandestine affair ended in a messy brawl…Mike Ryan still delivers the downtown San Luis paper route just as he has for the past 40 years…former Tribune publisher Harold Higgens was let go by the T when he applied for a job here…New Times is Par Ridder’s favorite newspaper and he always says “no” when he means “yes”…The first issue of New Times fetched $120,000 yesterday at Sotheby’s…reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were fired from New Times in 1987…Tom Fulks has always been paid cash to keep his mouth shut about any of this…No trees are gratuitously killed during the production of the paper; they all volunteer…The third New Times office was in a building owned by Tribune columnist and good-old-boy rancher Dick Nock, who didn’t realize he’d rented to a left-wing-hippie-doper paper until seven years later when he realized none of his cowboy pals had talked to him in seven years…Former New Times Ad Production Director Kurt Vavra quit to work for Barnett Cox & Associates and regretfully says the biggest mistake in his entire life was not quitting sooner…Negotiations are currently going on to purchase the Tribune, but it has to remain real hush-hush or the deal’s off…At first, Allen Settle didn’t want to invest in the paper, then he decided he did, then changed his mind…A holy Chumash burial ground was discovered beneath the New Times building and was carefully moved to beneath the New Times parking lot…I would never lie to you…yes I would…no I wouldn’t…at least, not much…

So, to recap, here’s what we know:

New Times began. It’s still around. It’s almost as important as a Pop Tart, but not as tasty.

I decided the only way to discover the unvarnished poop was to call the fourth partner who no one talks about. If I could find him, he’d give me enough dirt to make mud pies forever.

“Yes, that’s me,” he said when I phoned. “What did you say your name was? I don’t know any Mr. T. Shrederinski. New Times? Yeah, what about it?”

So he told me. Everything.

He said New Times was originally created by Satan as an in-flight magazine for the damned, but was eventually bought by Rupert Murdoch in exchange for his soul, and Satan got gypped and is still irked, so then Murdoch sent his daughter to San Luis to run the paper, but she went to the wrong office and ran KSBY for a couple years until someone clued her in, but by then the paper had been sold to a New Jersey company that marketed it as a disposable paddle for spanking puppies, except nobody wanted one because that’s why they buy the Tribune, and then someone noticed there were words printed inside the New Times Puppy Paddle that allowed them to phone “Jasmine” or “Barbi” when they’d finished clobbering Bowser for all the unvarnished poop on the carpet and—

I said, “Really?”

He said, “Take THAT, Shredder!”

I’m going to kill Glen.

The only thing I nailed solidly to the splintery door of truth was that last year the jerk-off owners decided to inflict a similar annoyance on Santa Maria by starting the Sun, a weekly paper that’s obviously smarter than this one, seeing as how they opted to stay 30 miles from me.

During an egotistic pretense, “management” here decided to start calling themselves The New Times Media Group, and now they strut around all puffed up, la dee dah, we’re so cool and you’re not, they make me sick, I mean, they’ve only got TWO papers and who calls two things a “group”? At a wedding, nobody ever says, “Oh! They make such a lovely group!” unless it’s a wedding on Mars. Talk about pretentious twaddle. I can hardly wait until they’ve got three papers. They’ll probably call themselves The New Times Media Herd.

Well, I tried.

I can’t help it if the morons who started this stupid paper wouldn’t give me anything worth telling you. They probably started New Times because they were just bored, or maybe they really wanted to get into real estate with this building and thought a “newspaper” sounded like a “business” that First Bank might “fall” for as soon as I stop putting “words” in “quotation marks,” or maybe there isn’t really any New Times at all, it’s just a dream in the mind of a nit at the bottom of an ocean in a jar by the door. I’m sure that’s it.

All I know is nobody knows anything other than that New Times is probably okay for washing windows at traffic lights (it is, actually), or for packing when you have to leave SLO County because you can’t afford the rent here anymore, or for just holding it up in front of your face so people think you’re smart enough to read at a fourth grade level, or for clothing naked emperors’ butts and underpaid genius columnists.

I’ve got to stop this and get back to doing what I do each week. Look for a better job.

Besides, it’s free, so who cares?

Not me. Do you?

I didn’t think so.

 

Fancy, formal, artsy, high-brow shindig

There Will Be Bacon: The Art of New Times will be on display at the Steynberg Gallery through the month of September. On Friday, Sept. 5, from 6 to 9 p.m., the community is invited to join the staff of New Times for an opening reception. We’ll have music provided by DJ Malik Miko Thorne of Boo Boo Records, libations, art, and bacon, all of which we’d like to share with the community that has supported us for the past 22 years. The Steynberg Gallery is located at 1531 Monterey Street in SLO.


The Shredder has enough people hassling him without giving out his contact information. Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach can be reached at aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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