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The Word on Buzz? It Hums : Magazines: The latest publication to take issue with La-La Land is inspired in tone and and format. But enough already of the references to New York.

September 27, 1990|BOB SIPCHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even before they set up shop at a Mulholland Drive estate last year, the people at Buzz magazine were whipping up a hum of gossip about their new Los Angeles publication.

Locals and magazine insiders remained skeptical. "What possible audience could this new eight-times-a-year publication be aiming for?" they wondered.

"Westside," "upscale," "sophisticated," were the buzzwords editor Allan Mayer and publisher Susan Gates fired back.

Well, the premiere issue hits the stands next week, and while the publication won't come out and say so, it is clear that Buzz has targeted an even narrower audience: expatriate New Yorkers and those comrades who stayed behind but remain curious about the childlike place they used to refer to as "The Coast."

"A funny thing happened to Los Angeles on its way to the '90s," the magazine's principals generously concede in their opening statement. "It finally came into its own as a bona fide world capital--a confident and cosmopolitan center, not just of movies and mass entertainment, but also of art and theater, business and finance, technological and social change."

That condescendingly congratulatory tone persists throughout the front-of-the-book columns and departments:

* In the "What's the Buzz?" section, Hubert Selby Jr. (the former New Yorker who wrote "Last Exit to Brooklyn") reveals how he finally came to grips with the hard truth that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art ain't no Metropolitan Museum.

* A native "L.A. boy" with knowledge of exotic cars is given a rhetorical pat on the head.

* There is even a "New Guy" column that makes landing at LAX from New York in 1960 seem a bit like arriving at Ellis Island from Hungary or Poland.

* And much of the supposedly "inside L.A." info will come as news only to someone fresh off the boat.

But then, as the magazine sees things, anyone who counts in this city came from somewhere superior--i.e., New York. (Someday when the waves are flat, some laid-back La-La Landers might consider counting the references to New York and Los Angeles in the magazine; they would appear to be just about equal.)

Alas, with all this said, Angelenos must face an embarrassing realization. When the first defensive surge of adrenaline subsides and the neck hair stops bristling, most will have to admit that Buzz is as good a magazine about Los Angeles as the city has seen.

The layout is open and actually invites reading, a departure from the sort of graphics-and-headline browsing so many magazines shoot for these days. The double-spaced text reads like a manuscript, which will make the actor-editor-producer-type readers feel comfortable.

Having Marc Reisner, author of "Cadillac Desert," write about California's water woes gives the magazine instant substance and credibility.

Most of Reisner's well-written piece is old news to non-comatose Californians. But this refreshing refresher course is sufficiently important to merit attention.

And Reisner's simple solution--urban Northern and Southern Californians should join forces and "send agriculture off to a clinic for hydrolic addiction"--is noteworthy.

The other centerpieces include an interesting black-and-white photo essay on the Port of Los Angeles, a profile of artist Mike Kelley, and excerpts from the diaries and letters of the late writer-director Preston Sturges (a New York expatriate who writes a lot about his play "Child of Manhattan").

The magazine's many columns--"The Word," "The Hills," "The Beach," etc.--are for the most part, inspired.

And in the Buzz section, even the Selby column proves insightful ("what I've continually complained about not being here, does not exist in the Apple, either").

Carrie Fisher might not have been the most daringly original choice for a magazine cover. But this in-her-own-words profile is actually fairly fresh. She comes across as a celeb with soul, a condition she confers on Robin Williams, Meryl Streep, Robert de Niro and Sean Penn, rather than herself.

Somewhere in her monologue, Fisher says that compassion is the ingredient that tempers irony and makes writing smart rather than smug.

Buzz, by and large, walks the smart side of that fine line. While the magazine boasts a panoply of distinct voices, it maintains the unifying element of style the editors set out to achieve--a tone similar to the bright, occasionally witty conversation at a good dinner party, as they put it.

Within the magazine industry, there remains much cynicism about the chances of a magazine of this sort surviving. These are hard times for periodicals and there are plenty of other titles around to compete for the upscale advertising bucks Buzz covets.

On the other hand, Los Angeles clearly needs a more variegated print media to nurture and spur its blossoming culture and intellectual life. Angelenos--natives and those from Chicago, Tuscaloosa and Yonkers--have no one but themselves to blame for the impoverished state of magazines here.

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