Recently while helping a friend sort through her storage unit I happened onto a copy of the July 7, 1960 (Vol. V, #37) “Village Voice”: 10¢. It was really eye-opening.
In 1960 Voice was 12 pp. long and was very clearly a neighborhood newspaper with no enormous ambitions and a few pretty good writers. About a third of it was advertising and notices which could have been found in any Midwestern newspaper — apartments, vacation spots, and miscellaneous. (The restaurant ads are notably commonplace: steak and seafood, Italian-American, “New England cooking”, and “self-service home-cooked meals”, with ethnicity represented by one French-American, one Spanish, one Mexican, and one Chinese restaurant: in fairness, one of the Italian restaurants offers frog legs and clams instead of just spaghetti and pizza). Even some of the stories were generic American, and altogether about half the newspaper could have been from any nondescript medium-sized or or larger city
The only bylines remembered today are Nat Hentoff, Norman Mailer (just a short note), and Jules Feiffer, whose cartoon about a smarmy sleazeball playboy dominates the front page (where square dancing, sports cars, and the community swimming pool are also featured). The politics is mainstream Democratic except for two small notices about David McReynolds (a pacifist). Adlai Stevenson is big, John F Kennedy is unmentioned (though Mark Lane is there, talking about something else), and there is a bit of everyday local New York politics (Carmine DeSapio). Just like today everywhere, there’s grumbling about landlords, gentrification, and the good old days. Greenwich Village was originally an Italian neighborhood, and some of the locals apparently didn’t like the bohemians — belligerently inter-racial couples and riffraff are noted as problems.
What is there in the Voice that you wouldn’t have found in Omaha? Besides Feiffer’s cartoon and a long piece by Nat Hentoff about James Baldwin, you find a neighborhood-newspaper thumbsucker about The Future of the Village, short pieces about Salvador Dali, Sartre, bullfighting in Mexico, etc., and the obituary of a forgotten author named William Poster.
The music ads and coverage and the music / movie / drama calendar were the main thing that you wouldn’t have found in Omaha. There was a long piece about the Newport Jazz Festival and Mingus’s alternate festival, ads for live Monk, Mingus, Tristano, Mann, and Lateef plus some folk (Tommy Makem and “Ertha” Kitt) — but no trace of rock and roll.
What struck me about all this was how pervasive the common American culture was then (chop suey, steak and seafood, pizza), how timid the post-McCarthy politics was, even in NYC, with only the least hint of militance — and how explosive the changes have been since. A dozen years later almost every city in the country had an underground newspaper politically and graphically more radical than the Voice, and by now none of the restaurants advertised there would be patronized by anyone but elderly squares.
But everywhere in the world the music ads are worse today.