The sad news I read Wednesday was that Paste Magazine is dead. The publication had been on life support last year, during an especially uncertain time for print, but had pulled ahead after the “Campaign to Save Paste” which rallied subscriber and artist support while temporarily scaling back by way of smaller issues and download-only samplers. I hadn’t given the matter another thought until then. Reading those words, I felt like my dog had been hit by a car, like I was going to have to go out into the yard and find a suitable place to bury him, dig a hole, and then say goodbye.
I could have gone to my room, put a record on, and held vigil. I could have but I just stayed at my desk, distracted for a while. I’m not an emotionally unstable person. There is very little that compels me to sadness. Why this? I’ve been a big fan of Paste since the beginning. For eight years, Paste has presented a perspective on music, film, and culture unlike anything served up by the likes of Rolling Stone, Spin, or Entertainment Weekly. Instead of falling in line with these established purveyors of flash fashion, Paste drew a new line instead, one that honored tradition and innovation, excellence, community and conscience.
Each new issue was an event. Donna and I had a longstanding ritual: we went to our local bookseller, grabbed the latest copy of Paste from the magazine rack, and sat together at a table in the cafe to review its contents. One of us read Paste while the other thumbed through a stack of other titles. We passed the copy back and forth. After an hour or more of thoughtful conversation we headed to the check-out, Paste in tow. And then, icing on the cake, we removed whatever disc had been running circles in our car stereo and replaced it with the magazine’s new sampler CD.
While writing this, I have given one question a great deal of thought. What is it that distinguishes Paste from so many others? Of course, I like it but by what standard do I declare that it is better than the rest? I have struggled with this answer because Paste is for me like a lot of good things, like live music, runner’s high, and dreams. Descriptions fail them. Words reduce their significance to so much overwrought poetry and fanciful language. With that I am reminded of an old Frank Zappa quote, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” He was right and yet Paste defied that. Paste covered the topics of music, film, and culture in a way that was simultaneously graceful and human. In so doing, they inspired more careful consideration of meaning, value, and merit.
There are sadder things in the world than the closing of a magazine. There are tragedies much more horrific and yet this is its own tragedy. Nine people have lost their jobs, three others face the collapse of their business, and we all share in the loss of something less tangible: vision. We mourn the deaths of children to malaria and malnutrition, but something else is happening too. That something is the slow death of culture. I do not think of myself as a culture warrior but there is one thing that I understand. To benefit the culture, we must influence thought. Paste was successful at this, if nothing else.