I was a features writer with The Journal and AJC for nearly forty years and was syndicated to more than two hundred papers at the height of my career. People from Bangor to Seattle got a weekly dose of my “Southern wit and wisdom” and two of my compilations were NYT bestsellers for a few weeks in the eighties. The advent of the Internet began the slow, agonizing death of print journalism.
Oh, sure, I was offered jobs with Web startups but I steadfastly clung to the old ways too long. By the time I finally started taking the online scene more seriously, the demand was more for opinionated hacks who generated controversy and less for slice of life writers with down home Southern charm who verified their sources.
My last hurrah with the paper was a brief stint as one of the theater critics. I didn’t mind writing reviews, and free theater is always good in my book especially in a town like Atlanta. I had no discretion with what they sent me to review and there’s usually a show in Atlanta every night, so I was on the go a lot. Some of the shows were really difficult to sit through.
I remember this one stinker from the mid-aughts that was all the rage in the build up to it. The Alliance was staging something called Vampire Sisters of Alameda County (book by Anne Rice, music by Stevie Nicks). It was supposed to be a Broadway warmup. I’m a fan of Rice and Nicks, so I went in with high hopes which were mercilessly dashed. Never before had two creative geniuses produced otherwise stellar work that fit together so poorly. The resulting train wreck closed a week ahead of schedule and plans for Broadway were scrapped.
As I said in my review, I felt either the book or the music would have worked on their own but together “they produced a maudlin effort that followed no logical trail” (actual quote). In fact, the cast toured in a show mostly focused on the music with a few script highlights which garnered better reviews.
Unfortunately, the producers sank a lot into development and poor reviews took the heat for the lack of audience support. Personally, I blame horrible word of mouth given that previews and opening week sold out and the subsequent month of performances tanked. At any rate, in the aftermath, the decision was made to scale back the theatrical staff at the paper and I was the low man on the totem. So…