Three Weeks’ High-Button News

Written by John Strausbaugh on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.



Three
Weeks
is everything that doesn’t frustrate us about independent publishing,”
Alexander Swartwout explains. “We like to spell correctly. We like to have
our grammar straight. We like to be elegant.”


Since it
began last October, Three Weeks has been very quietly infiltrating New
York City bookstores and coffee shops with a look as old-fashioned as
celluloid
collars and an eloquent writing style that consciously evokes a more genteel
epoch in American letters. Lede stories of the 16-page newsprint journal have
had titles like “On Hope: Whether It Is Worth Having Any,” “On
Sleep: A Universal Human Vice Examined” and “On Pigeons, Rats, and
Cockroaches: A Worthy Cogitation Upon Our Most Ubiquitous Companions.”
There’s a regular column on “The Weather,” in which the editors
take turns discoursing upon such subjects of weight as those vexing gusts of
wind that knock a gentleman’s hat off when he is innocently reading his
paper on a park bench. Seasonal issues have featured long essays like “On
Turkey” and “The Shape of the Heart: A Succinct Survey of the Discrepancy
Between the Organ and the Icon,” which began:



As very
much as it pains your editors to lend even the slightest credence to the greeting-card
company’s orchestrated dominance of this the shortest month, it is in any
case required of us, as we have dedicated our time and our wills to studying
this great country as it is, and not as we would like it to be. If such were
the case, we could skip this entire essay, as it would be superfluous, and lack
meaning, as the month would lack the so-called Valentine’s Day, and be
predominated by reverence of Lincoln, the Mexican Constitution, and precognizant
marmots.



When not
expounding at length on apparently mundane topics, Three Weeks tackles
political and social issues, juxtaposing the quaint style with current events.
A typical example was a piece called “Our Ongoing Indignation: The Intellectual
Left Underachieves: Why We Remain Petulant, and Why That is OK: And Why the
President’s Diction Matters.” For all their grand and fustian mannerisms,
Three Weeks‘ editors turn out to be political liberals; in this
particular piece, Swartwout takes his fellow liberals to task as “spineless
shills” for being such “Good Sports” about the election of George
W. Bush. Another issue featured an excellent, historically deep response to
the Pledge of Allegiance flap, pointing out that the intrusion of religion into
the secular workings of the federal state was not, as many ignorant people insist
on believing, built in by the Founding Fathers, but in the main really only
goes back to the Eisenhower era.


“One
of the editors’ complaints is that the left is misguided,” Swartwout
explains to me. “Most of the people who are on the left don’t even
know it, and are in fact completely apolitical. Too many of our friends and
acquaintances don’t have a political conscience, even though when asked
they’ll give you a liberal answer… We want to make it not an embarrassment
anymore to have organized, thought-out, thought-through humanist opinions.”


Despite
the current politics, however, everything else about Three Weeks is resolutely
antique. The price is “two cents, voluntary.” The meager illustrations
look like 19th-century clip art. Even the names on the attenuated masthead sound
like characters from Ethan Frome: there’s the editor, Henry William
Brownejohns, and his “associates” Swartwout, J. Ephrain Underhill
and Eliza Anne Bonney.


Wondering
who the hell these anachronisms were, I contacted Three Weeks and requested
an interview. Swartwout wrote back:



My Dear
Mr. Strausbaugh,


Every little
nod we receive from the great mass of humanity is duly celebrated in these offices,
and yours is only more gracious, as it comes from a colleague at arms, rather
than the typical urchin. It has been warily discussed, and at last decided that
we are amenable to granting an interview, though with caution. Naturally, we
aim to keep the cult of our personalities from obscuring the religion of our
Good Sense, as embodied in our pages. So at your convenience, I shall be pleased
to meet with you and answer many of the questions you would pose of me.



I figured
Swartwout would either be a small, baldheaded man in a mustache and tortoise-shell
spectacles, or a normal-looking young man who just happens to affect the high-collar
writing style. He turned out to be the latter.


On the record,
Swartwout declines to divulge much about the editors, their ages or backgrounds.
“Mr. Brownejohns comes from old money. Mr. Swartwout comes from newer money.
Mr. Underhill’s the family man. And Miss Bonney is the femme sole. She
does what she wants when she wants to.”


I tell him
he’s probably not what people expect when they meet a Three Weeks
editor. “Everybody has expectations of who we are,” he replies. “Most
people think we’re overweight, and we don’t dress fashionably, and
we’re old.” Then again, he sniffs, “People have accused
us of being graduate students. We deny it outright.”


When I note
the editors’ tendency to write at some great length about some very small
subjects, Swartwout declares, “As long as we’re publishing ourselves,
we have the right to finish a thought.” Asked why they chose to come out
every three weeks, he explains, “Three weeks is the only open space in
the media continuum. There are monthlies, who are too slow, and weeklies, who
are too fast–no offense to present company. Three weeks gives us enough
time to think through an issue without missing it. It’s also just the right
amount of time for readers to go into their coffee shop, pick up a copy, walk
away, do whatever they have to do, forget about us, and when they return in
three weeks there’s a new issue.”


About the
only contemporary periodical I can think of as a possible model for Three
Weeks
‘ high-button tone is The Spectator. In New York, the last
similar ventures that come to mind are the short-lived Wig-Wag and the
white-gloved Podsnap’s Own, both early 90s. Not surprisingly, Swartwout
cites an older and more exalted model: Washington Irving, “who was both
a Knickerbocker and the granddaddy of American literature,” and his Salmagundi,
the literary and satirical journal he produced pseudonymously in 1807-08 with
the famous declaration, “Our intention is simply to instruct the young,
reform the old, correct the town, and castigate the age.” Swartwout says
he was very pleased to enter a public library and find Three Weeks shelved
next to Salmagundi.


Three
Weeks
has a current circulation of 1000 copies. Asked how it’s circulated,
Swartwout replies, “Bicycle.” You may see small piles of it in various
bookstores and coffee shops around Manhattan and Brooklyn, including St. Mark’s
Books, Kim’s, Spoonbill’s in Williamsburg, the Community Bookstore
in Park Slope.


Three
Weeks
is a finite exercise; Swartwout doesn’t see it surviving much
past the fall, unless some financial savior comes along to make it worth the
editors’ while to continue. “The idea was to do something well with
the possibly irrational faith that doing something well will be its own reward.”
Typically, people doing a project like this in media-enriched New York City
would hope to be noticed and perhaps employed by somebody in establishment publishing.
“It is an idiotic thing to expect to get noticed in New York with 1000
copies of anything,” Swartwout demurs, but they do mail Three Weeks
to “the cognoscenti,” and have gotten some positive private responses.


Just as
gratifying, he claims, has been the response from readers.


“The
response has been terrific. A lot of mail. Which, when it started out, wasn’t
a concern, and, as soon as it started coming in, we craved more and more.”


(Three
Weeks
, P.O. Box 1784, Long Island City, NY, 11101.)


Afterwords


“In
and around the lake, marmots come out of the sky and they stand there…”
A friend of mine thought that’s what Yes was singing, well into his adult
years. For months I thought the refrain to “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
was “Cathleen.” That seemed so sweet, Lauryn Hill singing an ode to
a nice Irish-Catholic girlfriend of hers, that when I learned the real words
the song’s appeal was greatly diminished for me.


That’s
the thing about misheard lyrics: besides being so funny, they can be weirdly
more right than the right lyrics. I love the image of those marmots dropping
out of the sky and then standing around. Beats the hell out of the original’s
mushy symbolism.


New York
Press
contributor and WFMU DJ Kenneth Goldsmith has put out a new little
book that weds his musical interests with his mania for oddball lists (in previous
books he’s listed every word he said in a week, every gesture he made in
a day, etc.). Head Citations (The Figures, 88 pages, $10) lists 800 misheard
lyrics he culled from various sources. He readily admits this has been done
before in books like He’s Got the Whole World in His Pants and When
a Man Loves a Walnut
, as well as on websites like kissthisguy.com and amiright.com.
Still, it’s great to have so many funny lines in one handy pocket-size
book you can take into the subway or whip out when your stoner friends come
over. Here are a few samples:


“Oh,
we are sailing, yes, give Jesus pants.”
“No one knows
what it’s like to be the fat man.”
“Doughnuts make
my brown eyes blue.”
“Gimme the Beach
Boys and free my soul.”
“Like a Ken Doll
in the wind.”
“Hey you, get
off of my cow.”
“I fight with
Dorothy, and Dorothy always wins.”
“Hold me closer,
Tony Danza.”
“You can’t
always get a Chihuahua.”
“Pulling muscles
with Michelle.”
And, of course, “She’s
giving me head citations.”


(Available
only through Small Press Distribution, www.spdbooks.org.)



Another
New York Press contributor, another little book about music… Tim Hall’s
put out a chapbook novella, Club It Up (Digitante Communications, 40
pages). It tells the funny-sad tale of his brief career as a professional songwriter
for a skeevy outfit on Long Island, where his task was to crank out 300 new
tunes his boss could show his investors to keep them off his ass. The ruse didn’t
work and the studio got padlocked, but not before Hall had knocked out a bunch
of good, cheesy, really-early-90s dance tracks, a dozen of which you can hear
on the handily provided CD or download from www.tim-hall.com.
You can also comp yourself a free PDF copy of the book there. Or you can buy
the hard copy and CD from him for $6 by writing to yell@tim-hall.com.


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