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.