When it comes to recognizing coming trends and predicting the future, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But there have been times I peered into my crystal ball and got it right. And here’s one of them:
For the wonderful week I worked at the Village Voice (I quit – the boss was a douchebag), longtime employees were rightfully concerned that the joint was about to close down and they’d all lose their jobs. Being that I was a new employee and already making carloads of cash from my ersatz advertising agency, I didn’t really give a crap. But they did!
Anyway…I predicted that in fact, the paper wouldn’t go away – owing to its cachet as the world’s first and most influential alternative weekly. Somebody with deep pockets who didn’t care that he (or she) might lose money on the deal would eventually buy in just to put ownership of said entity on his resume. And sure enough, in 2015, that’s what happened.
Not all that concerned about a changeover which didn’t affect me in the least, I never actually checked out what moron bought that sinking ship until 30 minutes ago when apropos of I don’t know what, I googled “who owns the Village Voice?” And it turns out the heir to retail giant VF Corporation, which boasts The North Face, Timberland, and Lee Jeans as three of its leading retailers, is the guy who now owns the Voice. Deep enough pockets for ya? Wow! Additionally. Mr. Barbey runs the leading newspaper in (drum roll) Reading, Pennsylvania! And of course, worldly dude that I am, I have a story about Reading, PA!
Having left a paid PHD program in favor of playing the guitar (I know…crazy), all I really wanted to do in life was go on the road. Once I got back to New York (from Tulane), it was off to the newsstand to get the Village Voice, which had a Public Notice Music section in the classifieds where bands ran ads to find musicians and vice versa. I know what you’re thinking. Dad was a big muckety muck so why would I stoop to such a level? And the answer was that he resided in Florida…was retired…and had no connections with which to find me work as a journeyman musician. Plus, I wanted to do it on my own. I’m just that way.
So I scored some local work at the outset, but it took 16 months before I finally found a threadbare band and actually hit the road. Rock stardom it was not! We were booked by a “show band” agent (a dude who’d actually done pornography under the name Dick Towers – get it?) who dispatched us to secondary towns the likes of Shipbottom, NJ, Seaside Heights, NJ (don’t get excited – it was January), Rochester, NY, Terre Haute, Indiana and the like. We’d play 5 sets per night – 6 nights a week – and all for $180 per man and no rooms! Clearly, we were grinding. You get the idea.
Maybe 8 months into this mundane situation, we were booked for a week at some flea bag hotel in Reading, PA. I was neither impressed by the gig or the town. This was about as tanky as it got on a very tanky tour! Almost nobody showed up audience-wise. I was about at the end of my rope with the outfit.
So we come off the stage one night and a middle-aged woman approaches me to see if I’d like her to buy me a drink. But there was a wrinkle. Right next to the hotel was a cerebral palsy clinic. I knew because I’d seen a couple of dozen individuals stricken with the malady getting off a school bus one day. And as you probably already guessed, the woman approaching me was one of the crew! Tragically, she could barely get the words out as the woman shook and trembled from her affliction.
Now I’m not an unsympathetic guy – nor was I at age 24. But this was a little much. No way I could accept her invitation. She was dressed more or less provocatively and I had a feeling about the program – one in which I simply could not matriculate.
In ten or so years laboring as a musician, I played in too many off-the-beaten-path type locales. Some were charming (Greenville, South Carolina) and most were just blah! But when it came to the surreal and depressing, my week in Reading, PA took both prizes. Talk about Nowheresville! It would take a guy from there to buy a goin’-nowhere-paper. I’m not surprised.
So that’s my Reading, PA story. I haven’t thought about that week and the woman with cerebral palsy for probably 35 years. But when I read the bio of the schmuck who bought the Voice and saw that he owned a Reading, PA paper, it all came back. Still spooky after all these years.
P.S. And ya see that pagoda at the top of this entry? That was the sole tourist attraction in Reading. And yes, we did go there. And bored as I was, the battlefield at Gettysburg was another place I visited that week.