If you don’t live in Los Angeles, go online and read excerpts of the LA Weekly’s thirtieth anniversary issue on its Web site. The issue is a chock-full reminder of what founding editor Jay Levin says in his own epistle: “The backstory was our commitment.” It’s a five-star assemblage of accounts from Weekly editors, writers, and contributors (past and present), paired with “best of” excerpts from over the years. Among the jewels are recollections from previous editors in chief: Levin writes about tackling L.A.’s huge smog problem by assigning arts and culture reporter Rian Malan “to investigate the South Coast Air Quality management District” because he was “such a keen bullshit detector”; Kit Rachlis discusses deciding to place the culture wars front and center by putting Andrew Serrano’s Piss Christ on the cover; Sue Horton recounts the 2000 Democratic convention in L.A., when the paper decided to transform into a daily operation for the week.
Others to look for: Lynell George, who was a staff writer when the L.A. Riots burst, writes about the lead-up to the unrest—“You’d pivot between the city’s disarray and the paper’s droll, sardonic commentary on the state of things”—when the riots struck and she was suddenly “on assignment expected to explain the inexplicable.” Marc Cooper expounds on the Weekly’s coverage of Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica during the Reagan administration, when he was news editor, while Ginger Varney writes about being the paper’s first Central American correspondent. Jonathan Gold, a former music editor, grouchily says the paper’s music section “sucks,” but offers an alternative assessment: “the beauty of the Weekly’s music coverage, then as now, lies chiefly in the magnificence of its background noise.” And there are plenty of additional accounts from the arts realm: Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, the Weekly’s first art editor and critic (on reviewing Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party); Alan Rich, who got laid off earlier this year after 16 years as the paper’s classical music critic; film critic John Powers; former film critic Michael Ventura (on “the writer’s editor” Bob LaBrasca); and current film editor Scott Foundas (on Ventura).
As an issue, it’s scattered and disorganized, with overlapping and sometimes self-indulgent memories. It makes for a forensically phenomenal read. -Jane Kim