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Yellowed Pages That Still Really Shine

Of the scores of nice notes that I've received since the launch of the magazine in February, I've relished none more than one sent by Dick Adler, a Los Angeles journalist.

An Editor's Note

April 30, 2006|Rick Wartzman

"Back in the 1960s and '70s," he wrote, "West magazine--guided by Jim Bellows, Marshall Lumsden and other good editors--always made Sunday a special event. Now . . . it looks like you too have these kinds of goals, as well as the talent to make them happen."

Obviously, flattery always feels good. But what made this missive so special is that it suggested we are doing something, or at any rate trying to do something, that isn't very easy: measuring up to those who came before us.

As the stories in this week's Generations Issue make clear, many things get handed down--heirlooms, businesses, demons and, in reviving the West name, something we're certainly sensitive to here: expectations. Indeed, those who remember the original West do so with tremendous fondness.

Thumbing through old editions of the magazine, it's hard not to notice how dated many of the subjects seem, just three and a half decades later. One article, on the "Shock-Rock" of San Francisco's Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, isn't shocking at all considering today's rap lyrics and rock videos. Another piece details how UCLA wooed to its basketball program "the lofty Negro" Lew Alcindor. Then there's West's November 1969 examination of "ecology--a word most people hadn't heard of a year ago."

It's a bit like stumbling upon a photo album at your parents' house and thinking, "Oh my God! Look at Dad's sideburns!"

But what's even more striking is how much hasn't changed from the old West to the new.

Take, for instance, the September 1966 story on Mexican Americans as "a growing political force." Or the essay on freeway gridlock in Southern California. Or the commentary on "Hollywood as a microcosm of the American dream, both a distortion and purification of all that is distinctive in American life." Or the feature on the military's casualty assistance officers, those responsible for knocking on doors and informing families that they've lost a loved one in the war.

As the saying goes, there are no new stories--just new reporters.

More than anything, though, what I hope we emulate in the redux of West aren't topics but texture. Copies of the old magazine have turned brittle and sallow, but the stories still pop off the page because of the bright prose and high level of craftsmanship.

"That's what we intended--a real writer's magazine," says Lumsden, the first editor of the first West. Among the many, many talented folks whose prose he published were William Saroyan, Ray Bradbury, Carolyn See, Harry Shearer and Kenneth Lamott (the father of our own contributing writer, Anne Lamott).

Several weeks ago, I had lunch with Lumsden and his associate editor, Don Anderson. They reminisced, and we compared notes. It was a truly splendid family reunion.

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