Writing Wrongs

To the Editor,

We don't care what the papers say about us, as long as they spell our name right.

Well, okay, that's not quite true. We're a literary magazine, and as a literary magazine in the current cultural climate, we act as the very tenuous medium between artist and reader. Artists benefit from exposure, readers get innovative art, and if there's enough energy generated through our pages, we get to keep doing this for a few years. Support from local publications can really help us out, so it would be nice if we lived in a world where what the papers said about us was abundant and supportive, as well as informative and accurate. Heck, we'd settle for any one of those four.

Mailbag So we were pretty dismayed, a week after issue 34 of the Sonora Review hit local bookstores--an issue that contains writers hailing from Alaska to Amherst and everywhere in between--to find the Tucson Weekly mentioning, in a brief and wholly inaccurate aside, that the Sonora Review only accepts work from University of Arizona graduate students (Media Mix, Tucson Weekly, February 5). We expect working in the service of the arts to be a periodically thankless job: what we don't expect is to be portrayed as a batch of elite nepotists by people who should know better. We welcome inventive and proficient writing, local or national: in fact, the only people we won't consider work from are the precise people you reported us as representing: UA graduate students.

Not abundant, not supportive, not informative, and not accurate.

And you didn't even spell our name right.

Thanks anyway,

--Jeremy P. Bushnell
--Eric Burger

Editors-In Chief, Sonora Review

To the Editor,

Regarding Media Mix (Tucson Weekly, February 5): What do you get when you cross a local weekly paper, some bad editing, and a lack of communication? The answer is a joke: Tucson Weekly's Media Mix. Check out Media Mix to see Tucson Weekly editors bash two local magazines and make mistakes while they get to it. Sonora (your editor needs a healthy reminder to check the spelling of local organizations) Review is a non-profit magazine celebrating the release of its 34th issue with enticing and original poetry, photography, fiction and creative non-fiction. (Hey, we even have an interview with poet Mark Doty!)

Though funded through grants from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and Tucson/Pima Arts Council, and run by the volunteer efforts of the staff (creative writing MFA graduate students), Sonora Review publishes a national literary magazine featuring work from all over the world (that includes Tucson, but, oops, not current graduate students (you must be graduated three years to even submit)). Sonora Review is published twice yearly and can be found at most local bookstores (and some not so local bookstores, too).

Oh, Tucson Weekly, how I wish there was communication between your staff. Maybe then someone might realize how often we place ads in your paper requesting work from the community in an effort to publish more local talent. Sonora Review avidly encourages submissions from local writers and photographers. We have been working on strengthening the connection between the Tucson arts community, the university and national writers for the last eighteen years. Next time you want to club us in the head, do a little research; you might even learn something.

--Robin J. Lauzon

Fiction Editor, Sonora Review


To the Editor,

Recently, an old childhood friend visited here, and, to my dismay, commented on the cultural bankruptcy and general lack of sophistication of all things pertaining to Tucson. I retorted with, among other things, a shopping list of jazz concerts (a common interest of ours) that had transpired over the years.

But when it came to press coverage for those same events, I have to begrudgingly agree that my friend's observations bear some credence. Even though Tucson has at least two presenting organizations devoting their efforts full-time to this music, the print media often seem clueless and, at its worst, full of hostility driven by ignorance. For the most recent case in point, one need only look to Lisa Weeks' preview of pianist Fred Hersch's performance presented on February 7 by the Tucson Jazz Society (Soundbites, Tucson Weekly, February 5).

Even before she launched into her tirade, Weeks advances a white lie that The Weekly has perpetuated for years. She talks of confiding with "one of our resident jazz writers" to give her additional insight. The reader is lead to assume that The Weekly retains a staff of scribes (i.e.: more than one and, presumably, living somewhere in Pima county) whose sole purpose is to inform the lay public of every jazz event that occurs throughout the region with vivid detail and unfailing accuracy.

This, of course, is a laughable assumption. It is painfully obvious to anyone who has bothered to use The Weekly as a reliable barometer of said events that nothing could be further from the truth. Great concerts come and go with The Weekly barely mentioning or never fully acknowledging their existence.

How could the "resident jazz writers" let such indiscretions get by them? The only "resident jazz writers" that The Weekly employs with any frequency is the singular Dave McElfrish. He is doubtlessly the anonymous colleague that Weeks alludes to. To his credit, McElfrish possesses a witty style and has managed to contribute some poignant dedications to Dexter Gordon and Miles Davis. All too often, however, McElfrish is reduced to a braying chest-beater advancing the electro-funk-acid-hip-hop-new-thing as the vehicle that will "save jazz." Far more disturbing is his insistence that "real" jazzmen must have a major dilemma or personality disorder complicating their lives (heroin addiction, thievery and spousal abuse are re-occurring favorites) to be an improviser of distinction. Anyone who seems to lead a comparatively conventional lifestyle or, horror of horrors, actually knows the names of the notes in the chords is at once a sellout and a callow, geeky academician.

Conspicuously absent from the pages of The Weekly is McElfrish's mention of events to come in Tucson, including the avant-garde gathering he professes to have an undying love for. Why? Because the "resident jazz writers" (all one of them) resides 100 miles to the north in Phoenix.

Enter Lisa Weeks. Unlike McElfrish, as local as they get. No "jazzpert" she. Never touches the stuff. Only recently endowed with the ability to even mention the name of the mysterious art form in her bylines, we now have to bear a relentless attack by her on one of its prime modern practitioners. Critical acclaim and artistic merit, the anathema of any oh-so-revolutionary-rock-chick like Weeks, must be challenged at any juncture. "Uh...lemme see now...Dave...er...uh...I mean the 'resident jazz writers' can't dance to this Fred Hersch character either...no discernible Tex-Mex or zydeco influences present. Hmmm...solo piano?...unamplified?...in a church?...no beer on tap?...whad'ya mean I can't talk while he's playing? Well, anyone who digs this kind of formalized horseshit has got to be a square...but how can we really go for the jugular? I know! We'll call him the 'jazz Yanni'...son of a George Winston. Yeah...that'll fix 'em. OK...assignment completed. Now where did I leave my smokes?"

At least when the Tucson Weekly ghettoized jazz out of its music section as it did for so many years, it was treated with at least a little passing dignity. Artists who regularly get several glowing column inches in, say, The New York Times or the Village Voice might have been reduced to a microscopic blurb buried deep within the pages of Tucson's news and arts journal, but at least the childish slandering was kept at bay. Now, no doubt due to editorial pressure from above, Weeks has been forced to confront this unwieldy jazz beast head-on and to try to come to terms with it. Hostile to it, she begrudgingly spills some ink on its behalf only to fulfill her commitment to be the "complete" music journalist. The "resident jazz writers," after all, are already working overtime.

It should be mentioned that Fred Hersch's concert was a complete success. Attendance was better than expected and, if applause was any indication, well received. The music, of course, bore little resemblance to the bitter bromides that Weeks served up in her Soundbites column. And of course Fred Hersch doesn't sound like Thelonius Monk. It was never his intention to do so and should have been obvious to anyone who approached the music with an open mind. All of those that I talked who also bothered to read the preview noted that it told more of a redneck revisionist approach to music journalism than of Hersch's eloquent performance.

Time marches on. Tucson's music scene--with both indigenous and visiting talent--grows more diverse with each passing year. New arts presenters emerge from the fertile desert soil, while veteran organizations blossom into full-flowered maturity. Yet the Tucson Weekly's coverage of this is often stuck in the mud. I've ranted enough about this for now and this certainly isn't the first letter I've written to you on this subject. In closing, I would like to leave you with some (hopefully) constructive criticism. Let Soundbites degenerate back into a rock column. Weeks can't really write, but if all she is covering is folks who can't really play, then little harm is done. If McElfrish can't find comfortable digs in Tucson, then you should dump him. His frame of reference is also entirely too narrow to do you any good. Go ahead and hire (dare I say it?) a "legitimate" music journalist--someone who can talk with some authority of classical music and jazz, items that have received only the most cursory of coverage in your pages. The town is now big enough and so is your paper. I, for one, would be delighted if the Tucson Weekly really did have one or more "resident jazz writers."

--Benjamin Nead

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