We continue our gradual redesign, this week moving Michael Ventura's bebop discord up front, where we need it
Overall, the driving force is for us to really think about the differences and similarities between what the Chronicle does in its weekly printed edition and what we do with our online presence, where we have much greater flexibility, frequency, and available space. By gradually tinkering, we hope to be fun, efficient, and adventurous rather than just introduce, in a single issue, a sweeping redesign that we're married to for at least a year.
"The Straight Dope" will no longer appear in the Chronicle. We have terrific affection for the column, but space in the print edition is at a premium, and some changes had to be made.
Beginning with this issue, we move Michael Ventura's column, "Letters @ 3AM," from the middle of the publication back to the front, following the News section. (We moved him toward the back several redesigns ago.) The Chronicle is really designed to have lots and lots of stops along your journey through it, many bits and pieces to read and think about. Perhaps being overly arrogant, we figure most readers work their way through much of each issue, by no means reading everything but at least checking it out. Moving "Letters @ 3AM" to the middle was by no means a banishment quite the opposite.
We figured readers would follow the column. Year in and year out, Ventura consistently receives more mail than any other writer, even taking into account the flurry some writers receive more in response to the issues they are writing about than to their voice and person.
I wish I could remember my exact reason for suggesting we move Ventura's column at the time we did. I know it had to do with Michael's voice being so distinct and powerful that when his column appeared (every other week), he often set the tone for everything else that followed. Without slighting Michael in any way, I felt this did other writers and the Chronicle a disservice, in that it had readers attuned to the wrong rhythm.
Ventura is a poet, a philosopher, a political observer, a teacher, a student, a barely moored dreamer, a hardcore street-wise truth-teller, and all of the above in every combination, as well as none of the above in any combination. Bred on the streets of Brooklyn, leavened in a house of talk and music and talk in Lubbock, then slow-smoked in Austin, he was finally unleashed on L.A. Michael is running from America and running toward America, which is just one reason he gets Las Vegas as the jazz, the end-all and be-all, so artificial that it may be the most genuinely American moment. Ventura is a lost Beat child still holding out the slim hope that Christ will climb down from his bare Christmas tree this year. Still awaiting the unimaginable and impossible: the immaculate reconception. Still holding the slimmest hope for the very craziest of second comings while deeply troubled by the ongoing fallout from the first.
The right loves to denounce protesters and dissidents for hating America, to trivialize concerns and question patriotism by claiming dissent is driven by a to-the-bone, core-deep hatred of this great country. As usual, they're missing it. There are those who love this country so much that they can't control their anger at its failings. The right loves the idea of America while hating so many basic manifestations; Michael loves the vision of America and wonders about those who not only don't work to achieve it but work against it. Michael loves the promise of America and the dream, but is not so lazy he feels that love is enough, that love demands the forgiveness and embracing of failures of achievement. Some say it is enough that we are, it is enough that we claim freedom and equality, that to criticize such is anti-American. It is not enough, not nearly enough, comes the almost-quiet response.
Sometimes Michael's writing is so pure that it goes to my heart and never leaves. Sometimes he is telling truths others won't, sometimes just thinking deliriously and tortured. Sometimes he is so New Age I want to scream, so visionary I think he is blind, so pedantic I don't want to learn. But he is never boring. He is never reheating the special of the day that everyone else is serving, pretending it is his own. Never unoriginal, never predictable, and, thank God, never quiet.
I suggested moving him closer to the front of the paper again for probably many of the same reasons I once suggested moving him to the middle, only now is the time that he is needed. Now is the time I want his voice to sing out and to stand against. Maybe I think (and I really don't know) that News Editor Michael King has crafted a section so strong as not to be overwhelmed by Ventura, or maybe one so righteously indignant as to need a jazz artist in the rhythm section. Maybe it has nothing to do with King, but that the Chronicle has so defined its job, we need bebop discord. Maybe it's that, in this time of Bush in D.C. and Perry in Austin, of the Republicans so in control that the government is out of it, the political poet acts as a compass. Or it could be that change is change. Or that I've become so sick of my voice at the beginning of the Chronicle, I need Ventura's to drown me out (at least every other week). Or that I'm delusional or that this decision is holy or the time is just right. That just may be it, that the time is so right.