WAY OUT IN THE DESERT
On the banks of the mighty Rio Grande (often dry enough for cows to graze in the middle of the river bed), guarded on the east by giant watermelon mountains thrust up 10,000’ into the endless blue skies, 70 years before San Francisco and a century and a quarter before Chicago, the town of Albuquerque was founded, in 1706. It took 180 more years but finally a university was established, with a lone five-story building, Hodgin Hall, constructed out where it wouldn’t bother decent folk, rising out of a flat desert mesa like a lost, lone sentinel, in 1892. (For perspective — Samohi was founded eight years before that.)
Six years later the school’s first student newspaper was established. A long stone’s throw from Hodgin, in the middle of the 20th century, they built the pueblo revival-style Journalism building, my home away from home, with classrooms, a printing press and the funky offices of the UNM Daily Lobo newspaper, and it was there that I began my career as a music journalist. (Career? Aren’t you supposed to be able to make a decent living from a career?)
The Lobo had a proud tradition of producing stellar newsmen and women, many of whom became leaders in New Mexico in various fields. But in 1972-73, when Aaron Howard and his merry band of zionist pranksters convinced the UNM Publications Board that the Lobo needed something completely different, they foolishly appointed him editor, and he made the paper unrecognizable, universally despised, and so trashed every
valued tradition of journalism in those two semesters that from then on they picked only
the safest student editors they could find.
THE UNIVERSE SAW THAT COMING, IT SEEMS
And apparently decided to gather a most remarkable band of serious writers for that last gasp of tradition. I happened to be there but cannot claim to be in their stratosphere. I have been, however, for the rest of my life, humbled and inspired by that talented crew.
How could it happen there? The University of Podunk New Mexico, for pete’s sake, not Stanford or Brown or Notre Dame. But there was a magnet at the center. That was Tony Hillerman, UPI Bureau Chief and political reporter for the Santa Fe New Mexican who came to the Journalism Department as I caught a draft and was exiting UNM for an Army uniform, and by the time I returned in 1968 he was in charge there. Lucky us. He was a most remarkable professor, and human being, more a wise uncle whose office door was always open, and if you took only his Advanced Reporting class, you were prepared for anything. He became world famous, starting in the early-’70s while still at UNM, for his series of award-winning mystery novels set on the Navajo Reservation. I remember walking in one afternoon as he was typing away on what became his first, “The Blessing Way.”
The crew that final year BAH (Before Aaron Howard): sports editor Russ Parsons wrote about rodeos and football games, but went on to reign as the LA Times Food Editor for 25 years, with two books to his credit, buddies with Julia Child, inducted in 2008 into the James Beard cooking hall of fame. His fellow sports guy Andy Garmezy became well-known in the upper midwest for his network radio sports reporting. Jim Graebner is back in Albuquerque still doing theater, but when he left reporting for the Lobo to tuck himself away on the Navajo Reservation, just writing writing writing, we thought that sounded kind of nuts. He went on to have a number of his plays hit Broadway, mentored by the great producer Joseph Papp (New York Shakespeare Festival, “Hair,” “A Chorus Line”). Michael Blake showed up one day and made us all initially jealous by being instantly made a Special Editor, but editor-in-chief Wayne Ciddio knew what he was doing. Blake was good. After moving back to California he became Associate Editor of the Free Press, and after years of script submitting and couch surfing and never giving up, he wound up with an Oscar for “Dances with Wolves.”
AND THEN THERE WAS DEANNE STILLMAN
Claimant with Russ Parsons of the longest, most successful career of the bunch as a professional writer, and she alone is still going strong. (Parsons retired.) Graebner and Blake had their spectacular moments but struggled before and couldn’t match it after. Stillman I admire most for having a lifelong career (you know, with good pay). A real writer. I had trouble locating her earlier credits but I know she wrote for top magazines and papers from the start. Vanity Fair? New York Times? Esquire, I seem to remember. Rolling Stone. The LA Times. Now, Truthdig, Huffington Post and others. She edited, with SNL’s Anne Beats, the “first collection of humor by women” in 1976, called “Titters.” She has had for years a residency at UC Riverside’s MFA Creative Writing program and that pays the bills, but what she seems to love is her non-fiction writing. Five so far. Best sellers, award winners.
She was in Santa Monica a couple weeks ago, at our Main Library, talking about her latest, “Blood Brothers: The Story of the Strange Friendship between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill.” I haven’t read it yet but it sounds absolutely fascinating. Few know these two famous “cowboys and Indians” became close friends, who toured together with Cody’s Wild West show. Who wouldn’t go see that, in the 1880s? What I loved was the way Stillman took this exotica from a bygone time and spoke of it as though it were happening today. Cody came up with the idea while in Brooklyn. Of course. The star power, marketing, financial negotiations, PR, billing. Give the people a show. Sounds made for the big screen.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Tonight! Wayne” The Train” Hancock. Hank meets Woody. The real deal. Joe’s Great American Bar and Grill, Burbank, 8 p.m., $15.
LYRIC OF THE WEEK: “Heaven help the boy who won’t reach 21, heaven help the
man who gave that boy a gun, heaven help the people with their backs against the wall,
Lord, Heaven help us all.” — Stevie Wonder
And may I add — “Sweet Home Alabama.” So proud of y’all. What a statement.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 31 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else
in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com