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The Voice from Beyond the Grave

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“I trusted him. In my mind he still represented the Voice I knew. Then I got a call from the publisher, Judy Miszner, and she’s telling me, ‘So you’ve decided to resign.’ I said, ‘What?’ Their attitude was, if I couldn’t get along with Forst, I had to go. I couldn’t believe it. This, at the Village Voice! Then they started giving me a hard time about my severance. I’m there 38 years, and they’re trying to stiff me.”

“Richard broke the chain of command,” says one Voice writer. “That was the unforgivable thing.”

Finally, Goldstein filed a federal suit charging the Voice with, among other things, sexual harassment and age discrimination. “Even after all that, I didn’t want to hurt the paper,” he says.

Should you care to, you can go to TheSmokingGun.com, the Website started by Bill Bastone, former Voice writer, to read the court documents in the case of Richard Goldstein, plaintiff, v. Village Voice Media, defendant. In it, Goldstein accuses Forst of calling him “an ass-licker,” “a slut boy,” “a pussy boy,” and saying he walked “like a ballerina.” After years of hearing about dreary Voice p.c., the case makes surreal but grim reading.

Asked if the Village Voice was “the biggest basket case” of his acquisitions, Mike Lacey bugged his eyes like, “Duh,” and said, “Without a doubt.” But this only raised the stakes, Lacey said, because the Voice, and New York, was “such a big deal.”

“This is it: unique, special, fucking exciting,” Lacey said, walking through a driving rain on Ninth Avenue in the Thirties. He was spritzing, free-associating about what he might do with the Village Voice.

“I like the arts coverage. But we’ve got to work on the front of the book. We can’t have stories cribbed from the Net. We have to get out of the office. Robbins seems good. He’s a reporter. But I can’t believe they don’t have a front-of-the-book columnist, someone to give a sense of the fabric of what the streets are like. Come back, Jimmy Breslin!”

He was steaming now, talking louder, stomping across the avenue toward Manganaro’s Hero Boy. “We could cover the courts. Have a reporter down there. We don’t have to be Time Out.” Did he feel he had a particular responsibility to the Voice staff, especially those writers long identified with the paper? “Of course, you want people who love the place, but this is a business that is based on performance. It isn’t a legacy.”

No doubt this was going to be hard, Lacey said. He too was having some difficulty buying into David Schneiderman’s circulation numbers. “Have to see about that,” Lacey said, regretting that he wouldn’t be able to move to New York to keep an eye on things. “No, I got this 16-year-old. He drove the car through the garage wall back in Phoenix. He requires surveillance.”

Then Lacey said he had to rush. He was flying out in the morning to L.A., where he’d scheduled a meeting at the L.A. Weekly. It promised to be tense, especially after New Times’ sometimes vicious, ultimately losing competition with the Voice-owned Weekly. There’d be hard feelings, fences to mend, necks to snap back into joint. It was all a giant juggling act, Lacey said. With seventeen papers, you couldn’t play favorites.

Meanwhile, the Voice threw a little party at Bowery Bar to celebrate the 50th-anniversary issue. The turnout was good, especially considering the announcement of the merger and how few whose work had been chronicled in the issue were invited or able to show up. (Newfield, Joel Oppenheimer, Joe Flaherty, Mary Nichols, Geoff Stokes, and Paul Cowan, among others, had a good excuse: They were dead. Many others just hated the paper.) A cake decorated with the famous Voice logo was served, and David Schneiderman, after laughingly introducing himself as “that mystery man,” made a speech. Someone quoted Alexander Cockburn’s famous line from a previous Voice takeover, how the change made him “dizzy with the prospect of a whole galaxy of new asses to kiss.” Then, with the dinner crowd arriving, the party was over. The Voice people walked out onto the Bowery. If you looked to the right you could see CBGB, where the drag queen Jayne County once knocked cold Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with a mike stand. James Wolcott wrote a really cool story about it for the Voice. Soon, they might close CBGB because Hilly Kristal won’t pay higher rent. But that was the way it went. It was a new world out there, with new times to go with it.


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