For monthly publications, December is generally the time to reflect back on the past year and make some overarching statement of conclusion—good, bad, or indifferent; hopeful or hopeless—leaving January open for prognostications on the upcoming annum. Well, consider me late. November was very much a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of month—not the best frame of mind for contemplation—and its abrupt end caught me quite by surprise. (Why did I think there were 32 days in November?) Now, as we go to print in this darkest hour of the year, hard on the winter solstice, I’m ready to look back on 2007 with the requisite level of repose and clarity.
To immodestly paraphrase Martin Luther King: the arc of Chronogram is long, but it bends toward greatness. Poring over the past 12 issues fanned out on my desk, I see the work of hundreds of people (literally), who believed in this ongoing project enough to lend their considerable talents to its execution. Thanks is not enough.
And now, a brief stroll through some of my favorite moments from
Chronogram in 2007.
January We feature phenomenal local art on the cover each month, so when our creative director, David Perry, told me he wanted to design a calendar for the cover of the January issue—something he thought would be “simple, elegant, and likely to end up under a magnet on the refrigerator”—my first thought was: What? Did the Hudson Valley just run out of artists? David proved himself right, however, and the cover became a icon, making it to more than a few fridges and bulletin boards.
February As music editor Peter Aaron noted in his profile of Adam Snyder, Kingston is not a town known to inspire many songs. Snyder, who grew up in Kingston, decided to record a whole album about the city, This Town Will Get Its Due. Its songs were deftly described by Peter, whose wide ranging taste in music make him as comfortable writing about singer/songwriters as jazz musicians or classical composers—all subjects he covered for the magazine in ‘07. An added bonus to the feature was a video of Snyder performing and talking about his music, shot exclusively for our website by videographer Brian Branigan.
March Chris Ferraro worked closely with senior editor Lorna Tychostup on “Conduct Unbecoming,” an examination of the legal discrimination against homosexuals that’s tolerated in the US military.The article also showcased one of my favorite illustrations of the past year, by Jason Cring, a witty take on the Uncle Sam recruitment posters of old.
April The story goes like this: Flea market devotee Robert Swope found a box of 400 photographs of men in drag at the 26th Street flea market in Manhattan a few years ago. A little research turns up that all the photos were taken at a house in the Greene County hamlet of Jewett, where, during the `50s and `60s, cross-dressing men from New York would come up for the weekend and hang out in women’s clothing. The photos became the book Casa Susanna—the name of the getaway, run by Tito Valenti, aka Susanna—by Swope and Michel Hurst. Jay Blotcher, who penned the piece for us, took the story one step further to find a modern successor of sorts to Casa Susanna in Palenville. And so the story continues.
May Performance poet Eric Mingus, whom Peter Aaron profiled in the December issue, published “Poet Cowboy,” a powerful response and genuflection to Walt Whitman in our Poetry section in May. From “Poet Cowboy”: “Walt Whitman laying at the bottom of a box. Face down. The poet cowboy / surpassing the hold of technology.”
June My favorite photo of the year: Saxophonist Joe McPhee—avant-jazz legend and Poughkeepsie resident—standing, horn at the ready, in an overgrown junkyard in front of a `50s-era Cadillac with bullet points on the grill, the hood smashed in, and a maple sapling growing into the passenger-side window. Sheer incongruity and brilliance by photographer Fionn Reilly. As if to say: A man with a saxophone has as much business standing in a junkyard as a player of McPhee’s stature has living in anonymity in Poughkeepsie.
July Health and Wellness editor Lorrie Klosterman was adamant when she spoke to me about a story she wanted to pitch on advance directives—which are written instructions for loved ones (or a proxy of your choice) to use as guidelines for medical care should you become incapacitated. Not an easy thing to think about, especially when you begin to talk about topics like orders not to resuscitate, but an important one. The best service-oriented article we ran in 2007.
August In the current issue of Utne Reader (January/February 2008), you will find a story that begins on page 26 titled “At the Top of Their Lungs,” about Music Together, the preschool musical instruction program for children and parents, written by Erika Alexia Tsoukanelis. The article, under a different title—“Changing the World One Song at a Time”—originally appeared in the August issue of Chronogram, profiling local teachers and classes in the Hudson Valley.
September I admit that John Ashbery is a hero of mine. Books editor Nina Shengold’s thoughtful profile of the Pulitzer prize-winning poet on the occasion of his 80th birthday celebration at Bard, where he teaches, placed Ashbery both in the physicality of his home in Hudson, but also in his poetry, whose quicksilver meanings elude the savviest of commentators. We were also permitted to print a poem from his most recent collection, an unqualified honor.
October Tobias Seamon’s meditation on pet death and animal cremation, “In the Realm of Ashes,” raised more questions than it answered about human relations with the animal kingdom. Who among us really wants to know what happens to our pets when they die? (Some interesting discussions happened behind the scenes as we readied this piece for publication, as a few of us debated the finer points of what amount of revelation Chronogram readers could take regarding the gory details of cremation. The upshot: Different versions ran in the Hudson Valley and Capital Region editions of the magazine.)
November More than one person has told me over the years that Chronogram should lighten up, be less serious, joke around a little. Well, every November we do, via the zany auspices of annual Literary Supplement editors Nina Shengold and Mik Horowitz, and our readers, who send in submissions for our humor contest. This years’s theme: Literature, the musical. Readers were asked to stomach a work of literature and re-envision it for the stage. My personal favorite was submitted by Karl Thropp of Germantown: “My Fair Junkie,” which included the song “The Fury with the Syringe on Top.”
December Right before we went to press with the December issue, Robert Burke Warren (aka Uncle Rock), sent an e-mail over the transom with a short essay he had written, “My Last Mix Tape,” about a bygone era of hidden messages encoded in songs and recorded in intensive bursts via a flawed technology that decayed with each listening. The piece served no purpose other than to evoke a feeling, a mood, for 600 words. It charmed the pants off me.
And as for the photo gracing the top of the page—that’s my favorite fake cover of the year, featuring myself and creative director David Perry in an unintentional homage to Silent Bob and the fifth Baldwin brother.