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Dear Providence Phoenix...

By PHOENIX STAFF  |  October 15, 2014

BILL FLANAGAN

NEWPAPER/PHOENIX CONTRIBUTOR SINCE 1978; AUTHOR; former editor-in-chief of Musician magazine; MTV Networks EXECUTIVE; FIRST NON-MUSICIAN INDUCTED INTO RI MUSIC HALL OF FAME [NEW YORK, NY]

The end of the Providence Phoenix — or as some of us knew it, the NewPaper — comes as a shock. It’s like hearing that your old high school has been torn down. An awful lot of talented people (and perhaps one or two freeloaders) have passed through this periodical since 1978. Why, back when the NewPaper started, Buddy Cianci was mayor!

It’s hard to exaggerate how important the NewPaper was to the rebirth of Providence in the 1980s. It was not only that local musicians, theater folks, writers, and artists could get reviewed, interviewed, and promoted in its pages. It was not only that local politics got covered from a different angle than what the Journal offered — the NewPaper provided a voice for what started out being called the underground and eventually became the New Providence. The NewPaper was a weathervane pointing toward a different kind of city. It was the community bulletin board for Rhode Island’s post-war generation. Now that generation is approaching retirement age; it is sad but not entirely surprising that the bulletin board is coming down.

A lot of people contributed to the NewPaper/Phoenix over the last 36 years, but two names must be shouted from the top of the nation’s second largest unsupported dome:

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Ty Davis, that crafty, smiling, endlessly patient entrepreneur who kept his eye on the prize while everyone was freaking out around him. Ty built the local paper no one else was ever able to build.

And Lou Papineau, the tireless Mister Roberts who put his blood into every issue, who made order out of the chaos, and who remains the single most selfless editor I have ever had the luck to work for. Lou made everybody else look good, and he did it for decades.

There must be something in the air. I left Rhode Island 30 years ago but in the past couple of weeks I have attended a reunion of Brown-based rock groups from the ’70s, led by graduates of Johnny and the Luncheonettes and the Mundanes; gotten a new song in the email from Anthony Franco and Richard Ribb of the late great band the Shake; and received photos from Spain of a tour by a group featuring Klem Klimeck, front man of the legendary Rizzz.

There was something so vibrant in the creative scene in Providence 30 years ago that it’s still giving off sparks.

SEAN DALY

WPRI-TV/FOX PROVIDENCE REPORTER

The loss of the Providence Phoenix as an institution is trumped only by the loss of an arguably bigger institution that lurked within for 36 years: “Philippe & Jorge’s Cool, Cool World.”

Right away and all along, Chip Young and Rudy Cheeks totally “got” Rhode Island’s charmingly homespun, if also clubby and corrupt, DNA. First appearing in the Providence Eagle and later moving to the NewPaper which was renamed the Providence Phoenix, P&J’s irreverent column always was the draw for me and countless others who salivated for Thursdays to see who or what they might skewer or celebrate next, and what hilarious new nicknames might emerge in the process. Ed “Gerber Baby” DiPrete, Susan “Muffy” Farmer, and Bruce “Captain Blowhard” Sundlun remain favorites.

Covering the whole range of topics, Chip and Rudy were plugged in way before our world was wired, and they kept their devoted readers plugged in. In the parlance of today’s Twitter-verse, we readers were their “followers.” And there were a lot of us. Their “Cool, Cool World” was sort of an early version of social media with a journalistic backbone where writing with attitude that would never fly in the prime time world of the Providence Journal found expression.

What a great name for a column, too. I mean, who doesn’t want entrée into coolness? As a Facebook commenter wrote recently on news of the death of the Phoenix, when you made it into “Philippe and Jorge,” good or bad, you knew you had made it in Rhode Island. That’s influence.

So thanks, boys. I am forever grateful for your kindnesses, and I will miss your weekly musings terribly. You both leave an indelible mark on Little Rhody. It’s easy to make a buck. It’s much harder to make a difference.

JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ

NEWPAPER/PHOENIXCONTRIBUTOR SINCE 1985

Writing about the arts, food, travel, even local politics — over a span of almost 30 years — for the NewPaper/Providence Phoenix has been stimulating and sustaining, fun and fulfilling, with its typical share of ups and downs. The following are people whom I’ve appreciated and who have often told me how much they appreciated me and my writing: arts organizations and artists, including poets, authors, playwrights; filmmakers, screenwriters, producers; directors, designers, actors, storytellers; dancers, choreographers, musicians; visual artists and curators; food-related folk, including restaurant owners, chefs, farmers, small-business food producers; anyone trying to promote and protect Rhode Island’s natural and traditional resources, including environmentalists, naturalists, historians, state legislators. And, of course, the staff at this unusual publication, which has been valued for its ability to tell the truth to power and to maintain an alternative and supportive voice for the arts. A large encompassing thank-you goes out to all of them and to you, our longtime readers. We were a good team!

ROB TANNENBAUM

NEWPAPER/PHOENIX CONTRIBUTOR SINCE 1984; CONTRIBUTOR TO GQ, BLENDER, ROLLING STONE, THE NEW YORK TIMES; CO-AUTHOR, I WANT MY MTV: THE UNCENSORED STORY OF THE MUSIC VIDEO REVOLUTION [NEW YORK, NY]

This final edition of the Phoenix will likely be full of fond remembrances from those of us who wrote for the paper, and reminders of its accomplishments. I’m here on a different mission. I’m here to talk about you. And to let you know: you are fucked.

The Phoenix was a lively one-source guide to arts and news. “But,” you’ll say, “we have blogs now.” Yes. You’ll need to bookmark many of them to get the same amount of information, and they’ll be curated by people who have far less expertise and insight. Instead of reading a newspaper, you’ll spend even more time staring at your stupid smartphone while the world walks past.

Also, the Phoenix was a bulwark against the Providence Journal, a once-respected newspaper that has become a quilt of generic wire stories (“Is Your Lawn Fertilizer Making Your Cat Sterile?”), run by people who think the interests of corporations should prevail over the welfare of the poor and middle class. The Phoenix fact-checked the Journal, revealed and argued against its biases, and as you’ll see from the tweet by Weekly Standard literary editor Philip Terzian (a smug idiot who formerly edited the ProJo’s editorial pages) calling the Phoenix’s closing “amusing” and “deeply satisfying,” the paper’s diaspora of lackeys has been celebrating the removal of the biggest thorn in their side. The Journal doesn’t want free and open debate — it wants to reign, unquestioned. The Phoenix was your mom. Mom’s dead, so have fun with your haughty, selfish dad.

Alternative weeklies have been struggling for years, and it’s an accomplishment that the Providence Phoenix lasted longer than its Boston namesake. The strength of a city’s alternative press reflects the intelligence and vigor of the local citizenry. San Diego supports two weeklies, as do Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Kansas City. Providence won’t support even one, but Harper, Kansas does. What does that say about you?

The Phoenix wasn’t great every week. It was often insular and juvenile. (It was also too white and too male.) It was also brazen, outlandish, and provocative, like you. The Phoenix was the Rhode Island sensibility rendered into cheap print. And you let it die.

There’s hardly anything Providence about the Providence Journal. Do you know who owns daily papers? Wealthy people who care more about safeguarding and increasing their wealth than they do about the city they cover. Weekly papers? They’re run by your neighbors.

I feel bad for the people who work at the Phoenix. I feel worse for you.

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