As I write this month’s column, it’s challenging to find words to express the depth of my gratitude. I am deeply thankful to all those who replied to my advertising invoices and renewal reminder cards, often with contributions far exceeding the money requested. My bank account is now replenished enough so that I can continue to publish this paper, pay contributors, and soften the effects of inflation and supply shortages that have resulted in dramatically higher printing and postal costs. Your kind generosity has made all the difference.
In addition to a note of thanks (which I offer here), my obligation to you is to publish the best paper I am humanly capable of putting together. The Syncopated Times is a collage of found objects, each coming over the (digital) transom with no guarantees. I have to find the pieces that fit best, make them consistent with the editorial style and quality of the rest of the paper, and hope that I don’t have any blank spaces left at the end of the process. What usually happens is that I have leftover pieces (frequently marvelous ones) that have to be published the following month.
This is my eightieth issue. Venerable magazines that I grew up with, assuming they’d long outlive me and my paltry efforts, have vanished. Playboy, for all its toxic lifestyle advice and impossible airbrushed nudes—and its eternally adolescent publisher, offered the very best in journalism and literature. It’s gone now, along with Mad, which instilled in me a subversive irreverence which has most likely kept me alive and (marginally) sane unto age sixty. The corrective lens of satire has prevented me from leaping off many a cliff or onto many a bandwagon. I’m inconsolable at the loss of those bulwarks of a free and lively press.
Conversely, I chugged along through the pandemic and its stifling of live musical performance, The Little Engine That Probably Shouldn’t Have but Did Anyway Out of Sheer Bloody-Mindedness. It wasn’t just my mulishness, though. At first glance it might seem that The Syncopated Times is a Labor of Love. And I will concede that there is love of a sort involved. That love is not the Joy of Doing the Thing Itself, which entails entirely too much sitting, squinting, and irritation of my carpal tunnels. It is, in fact, a pain in the hinder. At the end of the process of layout, there is a perceptible relief and a genuine satisfaction in having completed the task.
The “love” of which I speak is inextricably entwined with the unwillingness to disappoint those who have paid for their subscriptions and, more importantly, who pay attention to a thing which I create each month. The litany through my childhood, oft repeated by my teachers and my mother, was “don’t encourage him, he’s just trying to get attention.” That was the style of parenting and pedagogy in those benighted days. (Now, of course, the exhalations of children are considered oracular.)
How I was raised has stuck with me. Even as an aging near-recluse, I still crave attention, have an irrepressible need to entertain, and veer into stand-up comedy whenever I sense an audience. The difference now is that if attention is being paid to me I am compelled to make it worth the while of my listener—or reader. The love is the gratitude I feel for those who take what I do seriously (even when my tone is not entirely serious) and the determination to maintain a high level of excellence. And I am profoundly grateful to all those who consider what I do worth their money.
As Publisher and Reader, we have a fine symbiotic relationship. I produce The Syncopated Times every month, and you subscribe with the trust that the paper will continue to be good. (Those who don’t trust me aren’t reading this, since they ceased subscribing ages ago.) With the current austerity, however, I’ve had to discontinue some of the lagniappes in the form of “lifetime subscriptions” and free copies for jazz clubs. My predecessor was generous with both—in the days when festival ads were rife and mailing expenses were lower.
I promise you I’m not being parsimonious when I suggest that The Syncopated Times is not a public utility, but a microscopic business that makes just enough money to keep itself in print. I’m not insensible to genuine hardship, and have occasionally kept people going when they wrote to say they were unable to pay for another year.
I get it. I’ve been in that situation myself. I understand what it’s like to return bottles to the store to get a few dollars to put in my gas tank. I’ve had to be resourceful in such a manner even during periods when others were making pots of money and doing well. My ability to function on next to no capital accounts for why I’ve been able to stay in print while mightier publications have fallen.
By that same token, I wonder how hard it would be for your jazz club to raise the price of a year’s subscription over a few meetings. Even so, I am willing to work with cash-strapped jazz societies, and will consider waiving the annual cost if I have assurance that their members are buying the paper after reading it at club meetings.
And even if you’re reading this for free, thank you for your very kind attention.