Originally appeared in The Stranger; volume 1, issue 1; September 1991 under the byline “Tony Ramirez”. It has been edited to remove some errors and inconsistencies in the original.
My conversations with Lydia Bordland began in the late 1980s, when I was researching my thesis on Sexual Degeneracy in the Decline of Western Civilization. She was living in Portland at the time, working for a telephone marketing organization, subsisting on meager wages. It was during that time I first called her for an interview. She rebuffed me. Two weeks later, I called again. She accepted and offered to meet me at a cafe near her home.
At our meeting, I asked the usual questions: Why did you do it? How did you do it? She was obviously put off by my unimaginative queries. Having no other questions, I took my leave, wishing her luck in life.
I had two other meetings with her that summer. The second was much like the first, with me merely following up on questions I asked the first time. I must admit that her usefulness to me was only to provide color for my thesis, which I worked on feverishly all that year. She understood this and was polite, but offered little extra input.
Seattle Weekly’s last print issue hits the streets today. It’s another exclamation point at the end of a string of exclamation points that signal the exasperation of excitable writers witnessing the end of an era that began in the mid 1970s with the rise of alternative weekly newspapers.
Alt Weeklies, as they were called, were the counterculture’s attempt to take back the media narratives that were at one time controlled by daily newspapers. Dailies were the CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC of their day, respected and read by everyone who wanted to know what opinions they’d have at the clubhouse after a round of golf.
The alternative was newspapers like the Chicago Reader, Village Voice, and the L.A. Weekly who reported weekly on the culture beneath the dominant culture with a loud and proud voice that told it like it was. The mid-to-late seventies were a time of cultural upheaval, and the rebels wanted their own balladeers to properly sing their praises. The upstart young poets would weave epic tales worth rhyming, and the hearts of the broken-down cities of the ‘70s were bleeding to the beat of a different drummer.
The birthplace of great writers such as Susan Orlean, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Matt Groening — where television personalities Chris Hayes and Jake Tapper got their journalistic start — alt weeklies were the WNBA of the literary sport: the place you’d go to see the game the way it was meant to be played, without the oversized egos and the steep ticket prices.
After Woodward and Bernstein’s investigative journalism had just brought down a President, what else was it capable of doing for the public good? This was the ‘70s on a stage set in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. King, the riots at the Stonewall Inn, and the fight for an Equal Rights Amendment. Great social change was ongoing, and it was in this chapter of Journalism’s greatest story ever told, the Seattle Weekly proudly proclaimed themselves the alternative to the alternative weekly.