Reality Check: Print, Bravery & The Aquarian Weekly

What I’m about to write is way overdue. It should have been written five years ago, maybe 10; the weeks, months and years get hazy after a while. When this space had its 10th anniversary in 2007, I remember writing something about the paper that publishes it; the home base for the Reality Check News & Information desk, The Aquarian Weekly. When the Aquarian was inducted in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, I had some fun in my backhanded compliments of it, mostly couched in a chest-thumping ego-fest that at once bloated and then eviscerated my own efforts here. But make no mistake, in this era of dwindling print and rabid corporate journalism, filled as it is with demagogic jockeys and spit-shine scribes posing as television hacks posing as reporters, it is good to know that I can ply my trade here and that there is a here here.

As the Washington Post and Newsweek and soon many other much larger and celebrated periodicals go completely digital, and where many weeklies have either gone poof!, especially those dealing with pop culture and music, the Aquarian continues to be the longest-running independently-owned weekly. And don’t think that’s not vitally important and strategic to what we do here.

This space, for good or ill, has provided not only myself but our readers, many of them free thinkers; hardly rote talking-point robots spit out by the daily swill dumped upon the public by dime-store charlatans, a voice. Not to say that we’re not charlatans here occasionally or perpetually, but it is done not because it is a mandatory vehicle to serve masters, but because the whim moves us. It is the whim that makes having a byline in this paper worth it; the whim; or as Oscar Wilde once mused, “Sermons in the stones.”

And while the environment for print weeklies and independent, even underground journalism is volatile or worse, toxic, there is a refreshing notion that somehow when you hit a club or see a band or go to a record store in the Village or Wayne or Hoboken, there will be an Aquarian there, because there always was one; before Rolling Stone and in spite of the haughty and often preachy megaphone of the Village Voice. Rolling Stone is a People magazine corporate joke that now has to put sexy pictures of terrorists on the cover in order to continue to appear relevant, but I still dig the Voice. I have had my issues with past staffs there and I am no longer allowed in the lobby, but that is another story for another day.

The story today is that The Aquarian Weekly bends to no wills. It is completely independent and this space may end up being its most putrid advertisement. Even when the Huffington Post picks up one of these pieces, and it is weird how those guys decide which ones, they have to edit them to death or yank them down. The Aquarian has never denied this voice. Never. Do you realize how essential that is to me? To you? To the concept of America? To the idea of the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate? Without getting too maudlin here, and I believe that horse left the paddock by the second sentence of paragraph one, it has been one of the great pleasures, nay, imperatives of my life to pen a column for this paper, because this paper is brave and has been and always will be.

This bravery cannot be overlooked or underappreciated. It must be celebrated and I thought it was time.

I sent my first opinion piece on politics and social issues here in August of 1997. I was invited to do so at the behest of The Aquarian Weekly’s then managing editor, Dan Davis. There had been a buzz about me after the publication of my first book, Deep Tank Jersey, which had come out the summer prior. But Davis’ curiosity had begun in the summer of ‘95 whilst I was running around the Jersey rock circuit with a band called DogVoices and all the other crazies that inhabited its fluid madhouse. Davis thought I was nuts and wanted to unleash nuts on his readership.

Since Davis disappeared into the gypsy wind with whores of Babylon and a drunk rabbi gun-runner, I have had, I believe, three managing editors. In 16 years over 832 weeks and roughly 6.6 million words, these guys have stood fast against many rising storms. We have covered four presidential elections, dozens of school shootings, several and varied wars, and that horror show on 9/11/01, and none of it with a scintilla of decorum.

I am proud to say that when the succeeding managing editor, Chris Uhl, titled this column Reality Check, he did so against my wishes and was right when he said, “You’re providing a service here much needed. It is indeed a check on reality or cynicism, your call.” And then he began smoking peyote with faux Indians and stole a motorcycle owned by the manager of Radiohead. The last I heard of him, he was selling forged passports to interns working at something called The Blaze?

I’m pretty sure it was Uhl who took on Bill Roberts, a man I sent to press after he claimed I was a Red. Roberts, to his credit, penned a column beside mine called Conservatively Speaking and did so under a phalanx of duress. It was completely my fault. I told him to take on the public domain and he had to leave beneath a torrent of threats and abuse. His valor is enviable, if not silly. When I do hear from him, it is from a secret island fortress; he appears calm and has kept up his silent vigil for Georgetown, my old source, who was last seen eating human placenta in an opium den in Sausalito, or a bean taco at a Chili’s in Fairfield. Not sure. Roberts is fine. He sketches happy faces on blueprints for pipe bombs in Guam and has twice tried to skip the check at Shelly’s Back Room on F Street in D.C.

Then there was Patrick Slevin; a man so patently unconquerable, so vehement in his defense of the harangue this space encountered that I cannot thank him enough, which I did at my book launch for my first novel this past May. There he stood, at the crowded bar in the Johnny Depp Room above Pete’s Tavern and mocked the very idea of print journalism with the kind of diatribe that would embarrass William F. Buckley. It sickened me and excited me at the same time. He is a civilian now, and has no wish to be lambasted here, and so I merely say that whatever transpired on that boat on the Gulf of Mexico was nobody’s fault and sometimes fishermen don’t come back. These are the lives we’ve chosen, or at least I’ve chosen; he chose to make money with technology or something.

And so now the bravest of all souls, JJ Koczan is left to commandeer this doomed exercise in truth. But whose truth; Pilate asked Jesus, and Jesus, for all his Christ peddling, had no serviceable answer. And Koczan sure as hell isn’t going there. The man is holed up in a hang glider factory in Beantown writing anonymous letters to the NSA about human shield training.

I know this, I will go down with any ship that sick bastard is commandeering, because he has done right by me and this space, and this paper has always provided me the voice. And that voice, as the independent spirit of The Aquarian Weekly, will forge ahead.

Bravery might not pay well and comes with an interesting array of combatants and comrades, and I have been proud to be among the counted.


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James Campion is the Managing Editor of the Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, “Midnight for Cinderella”, and “Y”.