Editors of publications are usually so busy editing that their writing muscles tend to become flabby and weak. Editing and writing are not always complementary skills, and many good editors are poor writers. Read any random editor-in-chief's letter or opinion column in any newspaper, magazine, or alt-weekly, and you will most likely find mediocre-to-atrocious writing. Why do editors need to have a forum anyway? Shouldn't they let the publication speak for itself? The most egregious example of editor-in-chief pen diarrhea occurs every week in Louis Black's columns in my city's alt-weekly, The Austin Chronicle. Black's sins are many. He has a painfully narrow repertoire of subject matter, writing about the same five topics interminably and interchangeably. He is an absolutely shameless and undignified celebrity whore, awkwardly namedropping famous friends and acquaintances in nearly every column, particularly Jonathan Demme. (Most embarrassing example: a column that mentioned his dog misbehaving included the sentence "That's no way for a dog who's just been visited by Jonathan Demme to act." I'm paraphrasing, but I'm not exaggerating.) His columns are too often mired in nostalgia for the 1960s and 1970s. He is humorless, arrogant, and has a bit of a martyr complex. He thinks his mundane observations are profound. He thinks his taste is exquisite. Most importantly, he's a bad writer. He's an editor, but I don't think anyone is editing him. His prose is an awkward pileup of too many words fighting each other for space. His sentence construction is tortured and often less than coherent. He seems to be working toward Beat poet stream of consciousness or Hunter S. Thompson controlled chaos, but he lacks the energy of the former and the discipline and talent of the latter. And if you're making Beat poets look good, holy shit, you're bad. Which brings me to our new weekly feature: The Tortured Louis Black Paragraph of the Week. Before we get to that paragraph, for those of you who don't live in Austin or read the paper, here is the first paragraph of his most recent column, "Turn to Sinatra," by way of introduction:
"Sometimes you just have to put some Sinatra on just as sometimes you have to put the Stones or Talking Heads or Amy Winehouse on. Other times it's Jefferson Airplane, Love, Steve Earle, Alejandro Escovedo, or Patti Smith, and even other times it has to be music you don't really know like you know the music of your blood and of your life. You have to put it on because you have to leave the linear, deny structured forms, destroy memory, and, as best you can, lose yourself in something else. Movies work for me in that way as well, except there is a bit of time, the buildup – long or short – before you just plunge in, flowing along with the movie as you always have and hope you always will."
Ugh. Can it get any worse? Yes it can. Here is the Tortured Louis Black Paragraph of the Week:
"There are days when you sleep and sleeping is all you can do. Other times are haunted by sleeplessness, when sleep isn't even really a memory but more an image contained in some fairy tale told to you a long time ago by one you thought you loved in a city rarely warm and too often frozen over."