In Which I Turn Once More To Sunday's Clown

I got a call from Las Vegas CityLife editor Steve Sebelius today.

“I’ve got some not-so-great news,” he said.

I started writing a column for the CityLife back in, oh, late 2000 or early 2001. Originally called “Cyber Spyder”, it was a sort of basic technology column. I did so at the request of then-editor Matt O’Brien, who had seen me rant at poetry readings at Cafe Roma, but wasn’t (I think) aware that I was already a professional journalist, of sorts.

When I was living in Seattle in 2001, I was wooed away from the CityLife by the Las Vegas Mercury, mainly by the method of offering me more money. My column for them — another tech-oriented column — was called “Paranoid Android”, because editors Andrew Kiraly and Geoff Schumacher didn’t like my original title, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”.

I enjoyed writing the column, but over time I realized I was tired of just writing about technology. I wanted to expand the column — something which the powers-that-be at the Mercury were unwilling to do. So I talked to Matt O’Brien, and I returned to the CityLife in the winter of 2001. My new column was called, as I’d wanted my Mercury column to be, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. (For those of you who are unaware, “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is the name of one of my favorite Velvet Underground songs, as well as a book by one of my favorite authors, William Gibson.)

Originally, the column was supposed to be generally technology and futurism-oriented, but that soon went out the window. I wrote whatever the hell I wanted. To the credit of the various people who oversaw my column over the years — Matt O’Brien first and foremost amongst them” — I was rarely edited for content, though Matt would occasionally remove an extraneous “fuck” or “cocksucker” from each week’s installment.

I got fan mail. I got hate mail. In those early days, right after 9/11, someone once sent me an envelope full of white powder. (I almost snorted it.) I got endless mail from people telling me I was going to burn in hell, which I loved to read aloud.

I wrote a few cover stories for the paper. Two of them — a two-part series that Matt and I wrote about the homeless people living under the city — got national attention. We were nominated for a Pulitzer — by our own company, admittedly, that’s how Pulitzer nominations work — but still, it was pretty cool. (Matt has, of course, expanded those stories into a book, which by all accounts is doing pretty well. I went off to found an online music store instead of writing it with him.)

One July, some lunatic began calling my house and leaving messages that he thought we lived in the Matrix, that I was his guru, and that he was going to see if my powers were real by seeing if I could dodge bullets. The calls came from a downtown motel. I bought an air pistol, in the theory that if he came to my door, I could shoot him in the face with it and then lock the door and call the cops.

People recognized me — in restaurants, in clubs, at the corner grocery store in the middle of the night. I was a minor Vegas celebrity, not quite on par with that Australian guy who does the goofy car commercials, but close.

I won Nevada Press Association awards — a few of them. Some of my pieces got syndicated nationally and internationally.

Then Stephens Media (owners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal) bought the CityLife, folded the Mercury and brought their staff in to run things. They decided my column should run monthly rather than weekly, in rotation with a group of other “Slant” columnists. I’ve been told by several hundred people that it was this decision — as well as the decision to fire columnist Saab Lofton — that led them to put the CityLife down and never pick it up again.

But people still came up to me and told me how much they loved the column, how I had gotten them to think about things in a new way, how sometimes I’d given them comfort and made them feel not so alone.

And along the way, I wrote some of the finest things I’ve ever written — the column entitled “Meteors In A City Sky”, dated August 15th, 2002, for example, or the column “I Grieve”, about the Columbia tragedy, from February 2003. I talked about politics and the horror of the Bush administration — and, if I do say so myself, predicted a lot of the turns of political fortune that happened in the last eight years — and nanotechnology and transhumanism and reality television and rock and roll and a lot of other things. I pissed all over Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman, which I did and still do take great delight in. I angered people. I amused people.

And maybe I did some good. God, I hope I did some good.

And now it’s done. My column this past week was the last — fittingly, it was a story about transhumanism in the guise of Thomas Beattie, the man who’s having a baby. Back to my roots a bit. There will be no swan song for “All Tomorrow’s Parties”.

And I’m sad about that, because it has become so much of who I am. No matter what other shit I’ve done with myself since the planes hit the World Trade Center, I was always “Joshua Ellis, CityLife columnist”.

But all things do and must come to an end, and I’m happy that I had the run I did. I’m pretty sure that I’m the longest running columnist CityLife has ever had. The last seven — make it eight, with the original column — years have been a hell of a ride.

Since I cannot do it in the paper, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who read my columns over the years — those of you who loved it, who hated it, who came up to me at the coffeeshop or in the street or in a bar to talk to me about it, who wrote me letters telling me to keep it up, to fight the good fight. Thank you for reading. More importantly, thank you for giving me the chance to make you think about things, even if you disagreed with me, because at least I got you thinking. And that’s what I always wanted to do. Thank you for those endless, sacred days you gave me, as the Kinks once said.

I’ll still be here, of course, and I may soon show up in a couple of other places. I’m not done yet. Not by a long shot.

Turn it up. Bring the noise.

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  1. Dang. The passing of an era.

    I got miffed when they cut Saab’s column, but now this?

    I’d say it’s not just CityLife, but the life of a city, that’ll be a little less lively now.

  2. I read your column all the time, understood some of the time, and disagreed most of the time.

    It is a shame, you are a talented writer.

  3. When one door closes, another will open for you. You are on to bigger and better things, Josh. I have always enjoyed your column and Saab’s as well. I even wrote a letter to the editor defending him. It made the paper, but unfortunately they still booted him anyway. Good luck with all your projects.

  4. I’m sorry to hear that Josh. And would like to take the opportunity to pass along a big “THANKYOU” for your column. It’s one of the few things in Citylife I specifically ‘looked for’ every time.. as I enjoyed your straight-forward, uncompromising ‘F*ck you’ manner concerning all kinds of topics. It was often either Hugely entertaining, insightful, touching, or informative. (Often all those combined) If it wasn’t bringing up an experience/point-of-view that I could relate very well to (which it very oft did).. then it was bringing up whole new issues I’d never much considered before.. and making them interesting.

    Perhaps it’s the right time to move on to Bigger Better things. Back in the days when I used to do little illustrations for Anthony Allison’s film spot in CL, We used to laugh about how the ‘LV Weekly’ (The Weakly’ we called it 😉 seemed like a ‘fluff’ paper compared to CL. And while they STILL can be a bit ‘fluffy’ now and then.. to give them credit, – they’ve gotten slicker, better-looking, and have had some pretty damn good articles of late. Citylife by comparison? – has got smaller & uglier(literally) and has, with the exception of an occasional few articles,.. pretty much bored me silly the last year or so.

    Oh well, I still browse through CL all the same. (Seems my browsing is going to go all that much quicker now) And it still occasionally has its uses.. – If not else, makes a fair desk/floor covering while I’m painting. 😉

  5. A wise old man who witnessed first-hand the nazi rise in Europe, tells me to appreciate and enjoy the things that I have in my life today…because they may not be here tomorrow. He also speaks about how the last 8 years of the Bush administration reminds him of how the nazi party eroded away at the rights, freedom and liberties people used to enjoy. All Tomorrow’s Parties sadly, is just another brilliantly outspoken voice that has been abruptly silenced. Be proud! You MUST have said something close to THE TRUTH that really upset them! Anarchy in the USA! Johnny Rotten would be proud! Don’t ever give up our boy, Josh! For those about to ROCK, WE SALUTE YOU!

  6. The Kinks:

    Radios of the world are tuning in tonight, Are you on the dial, are you tuned in right? One of our D.J.’s is missing. Are you listening? Are you listening to me? Can you hear me? Can you hear me clearly? Around the dial.

    I’ve been around the dial so many times, But you’re not there. Somebody tells me that you’ve been taken off the air. Well, you were my favorite D.J., Since I can’t remember when. You always played the best records, You never followed any trend. F.M., A.M. where are you? You gotta be out there somewhere on the dial. On the dial.

    (Are you ready) We’re going ’round the dial, (Are you listening) Around the dial, (Are you tuned in) Around the dial, (Are you searchin’) Around the dial. F.M., A.M. where are you? You gotta be out there somewhere on the dial. On the dial.

    Where did you go Mr. D.J.? Did they take you off the air? Was it something that you said to the corporation guys upstairs? It wasn’t the pressure, You never sounded down. It couldn’t be the ratings, You had the best in town. Somehow I’m gonna find ya, track you down. Gonna keep on searchin’, Around and around and ’round and ’round…

    (They’re searchin’) Around the dial, (They’re listenin’) Around the dial, (Poor station) The best in town, (Poor D.J.) Who never let us down. While the critics kept on knocking you, You just kept on rocking around the dial. Around the dial.

    I’ve been searchin’ for you on my radio. This time your station really must have gone underground Somebody said you had a minor nervous breakdown. Was it something that you heard, Or something that you saw, That made you lose your mind, Did you lose control. Did you step out of line? If you’re there, give us a sign.

    I can’t believe that you’ve been taken off the air. Think I’ll sell my radio now that you’re not there. You never gave in to fashion, You never followed any trends, All the record bums tried to hack you up, But you were honest to the end. Gonna keep my radio on, ‘Till I know just what went wrong. The answers out there somewhere on the dial. On the dial.

    Can you hear me (around the dial) Are you listenin’ (around the dial) Are you out there (around the dial) Can you hear me? Around the dial.

  7. Sorry you lost your gig, but I am sure you’ll find a new venue/venture.

    So, what rights did you retain to your columns?

  8. Wow… epic shudder as the blinds twist flat.

    Must be emotional to the Nth degree. I’ve always felt journalism was your truest voice, and that you were one of the truest voices in journalism.


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