A subset of Twitter users have in the past month or two raved about County Highway, a new broadsheet—it’s published six times a year, with a single copy price of $8.50—not available on the internet, and created by prolific journalist David Samuels (editor) and well-known author Walter Kirn (editor-at-large). The other day I received my first copy, the July-August issue, and it’s impressive; there’s a lot to read (it took me 90 minutes), some of the stories penetrating, some smug, others toss-offs, the likes of which I’ll pass in the next issue. The design is snazzy—rather than the 19th century newspaper it purports to be, it looks more like The Wall Street Journal, circa 1978 (with hints of Spy, where Kirn worked); I wasn’t around in 1890, but I doubt photos and County Highway’s welcome jocular tone was common. The front-page headlines are accompanied by three or four decks below, and that’s something you don’t see anymore. Also, as I noted, it took me awhile to read, and I can’t say the same for any newspaper or magazine (with the exception of London’s Spectator) in 2023.
I’ve no idea who’s financing the paper—subscriptions from Brooklynites won’t cover the printing and delivery costs, and presumably fees for writers; and from appearances CH is editorial-content heavy, light on ads—but that’s immaterial. Until, perhaps, it isn’t, and this prodigious effort either folds or is reduced to a very, very niche product available only in a handful of independent bookstores that have successfully weathered the decimation of so many brick & mortar retail outlets by Amazon. And if the $49.95 I paid for a year (subscriptions are available online) isn’t fulfilled, that doesn’t matter much to me; it’s the equivalent of a fat tip for a friendly cabbie—the disappearance of which, while urban, is a good topic for the paper. I’m glad it was created.
In the spirit of this new broadsheet, I’m obliged to point out that the promotional come-on rubbed me the wrong way. Samuels writes: “Our newspaper comes out six times a year and will be delivered to your home in a transparent envelope. Once the paper is removed, you can hold it in your hands, fold it into quarters, and read it on your porch on a sunny afternoon accompanied by your favorite cup of coffee, cigarette, or can of beer.”
Too cute: However reduced, print newspapers still exist, and every morning I read The Wall Street Journal, usually with coffee, no “favorite,” although it doesn’t take me 90 minutes to get through it (and, honestly, I probably won’t spend that much time with the next County Highway; inaugural issues of a publication, especially ones with promise, deserve careful scrutiny. Also, the “transparent envelope” is, as was said in the 1980s, “blue smoke and mirrors,” and probably a costly bit of panache that I wouldn’t be surprised to see vanish).
I particularly enjoyed Jonah Raskin’s takedown of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Demon Copperfield (one of the sub-heds reads: “NPR listeners are suckers for this crap”), a book I’d never buy but, the review was so entertaining—with the quality of a restaurant review in, say, the 1980s-era New York Times or “Robert Nadeau” in The Boston Phoenix, that you’ll never go to, but read for the writing—that it was time well-spent.
I grinned looking at the heds for Duncan Moench’s not-exactly original denunciation of “corporate colonization of our inner lives. The set-up reads:
Gates, Bezos, Musk, Brin Have Plan to Fry Your Brain and Eat It
Robots will punish you for wrong-think
The grim, absurd future of corporatized totalitarian tyranny in America is here.
The two-page music section is hit-or-miss, depending upon your taste. David Yaffe’s story about influential 1970s singer-songwriter Judee Sill is on-target, although, again, not really new, at least to me. Yaffe runs through her life reverentially, pumps up the 2022 documentary about her, Lost Angel, and lists many of the well-known pop stars who’ve recorded her songs. I didn’t need this sentence: “Maybe Judee Sill was better than any of us deserved.”
In a snippet about Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers, a writer says, “[T]he haunting , half-finished studio outtake of Gram Parsons singing the most beautiful version of “I Shall Be Released” that was ever (partially) recorded. It will change your life.” Parsons was one of my favorite singers growing up, with the Byrds, Burritos and Emmylou Harris, but I’ve heard this rendition. It’s good. It didn’t change my life. (And it doesn’t compare to Parsons’ “Hickory Wind,” “Hot Burrito #1” or Bob Dylan’s original “I Shall Be Released.”
Pardon the carping—but again that’s in the spirit of CH—the long leadtime for the paper gets in the way. The opening paragraph of David Samuels’ puff of Bobby Kennedy Jr. is dated: “Bobby Kennedy Jr. is the first environmental activist with a legitimate shot at winning a major-party nomination for President.” I’ve found Kennedy’s candidacy very interesting—especially his opposition to unaccounted-for billions sent to Ukraine by Biden’s administration when the money could be spend in America—but his “moment” has passed.
In the event anyone forgot—and County Highway falls into this category—there was a time not long ago, before cell phones and devious media, that people did read newspapers. The picture above is of my late friend Don Gilbert, a co-worker at New York Press, in Soho one sunny afternoon, doing just that. He’s not on a porch, but in Manhattan with no coffee or beer, with ripped jeans and high-top Converses, his guitar at the ready, and he’s reading.
Look at the clues to figure out what year the picture (by Michael Gentile) was taken: In NYC, Bernie Goetz is sentenced to a year in the slammer; Ted Bundy is executed in Florida; Nirvana releases Bleach, their first album; Daniel Radcliffe is born and John Cassavetes dies; Timothy Dalton stars in his last James Bond movie; Ron Brown elected chairman of DNC; Exxon Valdez oil spill; Sen. John McCain revealed as part of the Keating Five (journalists have erased this from their memories); Nintendo’s Game Boy is released in North America; Nolan Ryan reaches 5000 strikeouts; Rory Culkin is born and Bette Davis dies; and Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life is published.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023