Reflections

 

Britt Robson
(Britt Robson, a City Pages associate editor and staff writer from 1993 until 1998, is a Minneapolis freelance writer and remains a frequent contributor to the paper.)

Murray Tate was losing his mind. He'd sit through long conversations with old friends, waiting patiently to remember who they were. He'd fight back panic-stricken tears when he lost track of his wife at the mall. He'd learned to walk through the nine-foot apparition at the top of the stairs, and to ignore the little people he saw out in the back yard. He told me these things when he was lucid, between stories that rambled or hopped off the tracks when his brain betrayed him. He and his family let me into their lives, then thanked me after I wrote about it.

Kevin Garnett was reading a promotional spot for a Mankato radio station. All day long, he had flawlessly fielded the same questions, over and over again: At age 18, was he mature enough to handle the responsibility of playing professional basketball? Was his mother in town? Who would take care of him? Now, reading the radio copy with the media's well-meaning, yet condescending queries preying on his mind, Garnett kept stumbling over the same line. The man-child who would become perhaps the most charming and certainly the highest-paid player in all of team sports was as rattled as I would ever see him. "Could happen to anybody," I said after another failed attempt. He looked up, tapped the top of my shoulder with his fist, and nailed the line within the next two takes. Before spinning away to his next stop on the media gauntlet, he winked at me.

Greg Johnson was wracked with AIDS. In the spring of 1996, he had lain in bed for weeks with barely enough energy to walk to the bathroom, while his partner of eight years withered and died. He had updated his will, sold his house, and determined what music would be played at his funeral. But a new cocktail of anti-AIDS medication seemed to be working. After coming to terms with his own death, at the time I met him he was tentatively imagining the unthinkable: survival. He spoke of mundane, life-and-death decisions: A new dining-room table, he decided, might be a good investment if he lasted another two years. One night at the Leaning Tower of Pizza, he raised a beer mug with an emaciated arm, and we toasted his health.

Being with City Pages put me in touch with Murray Tate, Kevin Garnett, Greg Johnson, and dozens of other people I'll never forget. And I got paid for the privilege.

 

Terri Sutton
(Terri Sutton, City Pages' arts editor from 1991 to 1993, remains a frequent contributor to the paper.)

Last spring I heard two local writers reminiscing about irreverent, pugnacious times at the late alternative weekly, the Twin Cities Reader. I confess I was startled. When I arrived in Minneapolis, around 1987, the Reader struck me as the safe, suburban choice. The paper with its fists up, the paper with punk-rock attitude and grounded political smarts, was City Pages. I had been riding out (hiding out from?) the Reagan-Bush years within the scruffy tribes now known as "alternative rock." Discovering the yaps of another unsatisfied, undernourished underdog--published weekly!--fed a hunger for a stronger community that might accomplish more than a few nights of drunken bliss. I still read the music articles first, of course.

When I started contributing rock criticism to City Pages, my (suburban) relatives would tell me, "Oh, you're writing for the Reader now, aren't you?" This was maddening, but good. It made me want to write even more true to the pissed-off, feminist, anarchic self that concealed itself at family gatherings: leave that "fuck" in the text, shock the readers, help fashion an identity that even casual grazers can't ignore. City Pages printed anything I threw at it, including--to at least one reader's disgust--personal revelations about menstruation and abortion. The paper became a place, whether physical, in the Third Street offices, or virtual, on the page, where we could frankly argue the worth of everything from Ebonics to Nevermind, the war on drugs to the Guthrie's latest. It lived its name.

Like any city, the paper did have its uglier aspects. The "we" that argued in City Pages was not very diverse: Despite various roundtables, interviews, and freelancers peppering the mix, the news and arts editors were (and still are) uniformly white, college-educated, and under 45. Political savvy notwithstanding, I think that imbalance did show up in what we covered and how. Some of the business-as-usual "office politics" that went on in those days I would now call emotional harassment. (Do all small businesses drift into nasty family psychodynamics?) And sometimes, reaching for radical viewpoints, we ended up merely sensationalistic or, worse, exploitative (mea culpa, as much as anyone's).

A more subtle problem was that City Pages had less and less claim to the title of "underdog." As the paper grew, the Reader diminished. There was little of substance anymore to define oneself against. The City Pages arts sections upped the ante by taking on a more national and intellectual focus. The news section seemed to stagnate, awash in the ambiguities of the Clinton reign. And then, suddenly, the Reader was eaten up, and City Pages, by default and purchase by a major media chain, turned into the fat, self-satisfied bully, the establishment we'd always loved to hate. It was all just a little disconcerting.

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