The Life Of An Alternative Weekly

Our columnist reflects on 15 years of work with SEE

There’s no way to accurately encapsulate in one article the shadow that SEE Magazine has cast over my life for 15 years. For starters, SEE had a hand in breaking up my band in 1995 by picking us as the local act they’d sponsor for a slot at the North by Northeast music fest in Toronto. The ensuing three-week jaunt to Toronto (and Halifax) was financially ruinous enough to start said band on its year-long death spiral. That aside, the nomination and the cover photo, taken in the alley behind SEE’s Old Strathcona offices, was very validating.

SEE later gave me my first byline when I was in journalism school and they were in cramped, water-stained, windowless caverns in the Boardwalk Market building downtown. As SEE’s newly anointed jazz writer I would interview a superannuated bop trombonist I’d never heard, nor heard of. For writing 600 words about it, they would give me $35. Thus was a beautiful partnership born, a thousand thousand articles of questionable structural integrity launched.

Later, when SEE moved into bright, spacious, freshly painted offices — almost instantly defaced by the Most Famous Guy in Town with an awesome magic marker portrait of a monster on the wall outside the sales manager’s office — on the south end of the High Level Bridge, I was hired as SEE’s entertainment editor. Though it ultimately kicked the living shit out of me trying to distill the raging cataract of our city’s culture into the available space around the adstack (making sure to leave room for Dan Savage, Josey Vogels and The Kid) week after week, I doubt I will ever have a job that cool again — thinking and talking and reading and writing about the abundance of overlooked talent based in this town, engaging with passionate people entwined with the city’s cultural life every single day was a joy and a privilege, when it wasn’t an agonizing slog. I also got to talk to a lot of famous folks; I still have Ron Jeremy’s home phone number somewhere.

(While we certainly gave a platform to local provocateurs, it was Mr. Savage who most consistently provoked the wrath of the city’s moral scolds. My most memorable customer service moment was trying to placate a local restaurateur who was outraged, to put it mildly, at the sex columnist’s graphic debunking of an urban legend involving the hideous consequences of masturbating with a lobster tail. I could certainly sympathize that someone who came across that article mid-meal might be put off their feed, I also couldn’t keep myself from laughing about it. We all loved Dan at See, but no other contributor cost us so many distribution drops.)

My years editing SEE made for some concentrated living, to borrow a phrase from former local heroes the City Streets, and it still looms large in my mind as a formative and transformative experience. But, inevitably, trying to drink from the firehose every day leaves your head all distended. You have to take a break.

(If you’ll allow me to get maudlin for a moment, I was extremely lucky to bask in the reflected brilliance of various SEE colleagues, contributors and collaborators, some of whom continue to play active roles in taking Edmonton’s cultural temperature — those that know Fish Griwkowsky may be conjuring an alarming mental image just now. But as I’ve noted before, one of SEE’s most reliable and relied-upon contributors for a long time was beloved cultural commentator Gilbert Bouchard, who tragically left our midst too soon a couple of springs ago. Were he here, Gilbert might well be covering the end of Edmonton’s alt-weekly wars for CBC Radio. And the Edmonton Journal. And the Globe & Mail.)

Still, I couldn’t kick my SEE habit cold-turkey. The best way to stay connected to Edmonton’s hydra-headed arts scene — and the wider world of creativity — was to keep writing about it.

I’m grateful to the editors who kept me around to write about theatre, movies and, later, restaurants. My vocabulary in those media has been enriched exponentially by trying to come up with new things to say about them, though to this day the question I get asked most frequently is still, “Which one do you write for again?”

Nostalgia aside, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the bloodless conclusion of Edmonton’s alt-weekly wars didn’t come a moment too soon, and can only bode well for the local mediasphere, the daily print arm of which has been in steady decline for quite some time.

Hopefully the combined know-how, resources and ad revenue of the former combatants will make for a robust media alternative that is truly local provokes readers to think outside the simplistic political dichotomy that has seized our country and will soon renew its grip on our province. Lord knows Edmonton abounds with stories, issues and ideas — and a shocking amount of talent — mainstream media outlets don’t have the time or space for, especially with the royal visit approaching.

I hope we all stick around to see what happens next.


All Content Copyright © SEE Magazine 2008 About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Terms of Use Contest Disclaimer