There are no real halcyon days of college to look back on for me. I was mostly pickled in beer and liquor. I wrote drunk, which is idiotic, and I went through four-day weekends drunk and skipped so many classes I didn’t graduate. There was plenty of fun, but I look back with embarrassment for wasting the opportunity and for wasting the money. It showed in my contributions to Buzzsaw, which were sloppy, stupid, profane and ill-conceived. Even the one piece I think is still printable withers at the end.
But there is some minor salvation. Buzzsaw is still going, and better than in those initial days. I would have said a few years ago the survival of Buzzsaw was improbable. But it isn’t.
Buzzsaw Haircut is, in hindsight, a triumph of common sense. It was more fun in its birthing stages to think of it as a mild revolution, but it should not be surprising to hear that a liberal arts college with a strong media/communications/journalism program has a thriving “alternative” publication.
And it seems that is what Buzzsaw has become, rising up from its poorly edited, yet inspired, roots in Sam Costello and Cole Louison’s bunkered-down dorm room, where there always was stale piss in the toilet at Sam’s insistence, and where we sat on the beds or window box or Indian-style on the floor.
Sometimes common sense feels like a revolution, and as small as it was in the winter of 1999, the revolution felt pretty foamy and bright—it would have been best celebrated in a beer hall with mugs slammed on the tables and huzzahs! in loose unison.
We’ll do that this year at the Glenwood Pines. It will be a celebration of our willingness to give physical life to a thousand bitch sessions in the halls of Park and dorm rooms. And it will be a celebration of the work of all the students in the intervening years who kept Buzzsaw a respected, legitimate publication at Ithaca College and throughout the city. So a rousing huzzah! for all of them, and for us, too.
And never forget someone stole our first issue and threw it in the trash bins. Cocksuckers.
I took Bryan’s phone call in the basement of the Sigman Family Compound in Staten Island. I had learned to pay close attention to what Bryan said in his calls after the incident about a year earlier when Bryan said, yes, I should buy him a ticket for that Steve Earle show in a few months. And then pointed the family car toward Austin, Texas, a few days later in his Escape from Central New York. He hadn’t, to the best of my recollection, hinted at that in the phone call.
Anyway, in this particular conversation, Bryan related how he’d been “fired” from his “job” as columnist for The Ithacan because he had committed the unforgivable sin of handing a column in late. Neither Bryan nor I were big fans of The Ithacan’s editor-in-chief at the time, and since we figured he had something to do with Bryan’s “firing,” one of us suggested that we start our own newspaper and that the cover of the first issue should have the editor-in-chief’s face with a big X across it. I should point out that I’ve matured only slightly since that phone call.
I don’t know if the seeds had been sown before that, but I do know that soon Bryan was telling me that something was being put together, and he, Kelly, Cole, Abby, and some guy named Sam were working on it. Eventually, the time came to publish, which, as it turns out, costs money. I was living at home and making piles of cash in the lucrative field of copy-editing direct-mail brochures, so I figured writing a check to cover the expenses would be a good idea. So I did, and soon there was Issue #1 (we went in a different direction with the cover).
Now, roughly a decade later, you’re reading Buzzsaw Haircut’s 10th anniversary issue, funded by genuine IC cash and assembled by people way more together than we were. Pretty cool.
As much as I love seeing Buzzsaw Haircut hit the Big 1-0 and look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries at the Bowl-O-Drome, I would love it even more if, after reading this issue, you called a friend and said, “Hey, we should start a magazine, too!” Because you absolutely should. There’s room for everyone.
Just don’t ask me for money. I’m tapped out.
Other people probably remember it differently. They may cite other causes. If I had to lay money, I’d wager that we’re all correct: There was no single moment or event that caused the seven of us that late winter/early spring of 1999 to say, “Let’s start a magazine.” But if I had to pick one thing, for me, it was an ad in The Ithacan.
Cole, Bryan and I were in Egbert dining hall, reading the latest issue of The Ithacan. A small, text-heavy ad caught my eye. It took just a few seconds to read it. Buzzsaw debuted weeks later.
What was so powerful in that ad? It was a bounty. From a Holocaust-denial organization.
The organization—whose name I’ve forgotten now (I’ve got better things to put my memory to)—was offering thousands of dollars to an on-campus organization that could stage a debate about the Holocaust. That is, to debate if it happened.
This organization had been trying to sucker college papers across the country into running their ad. Most had the good sense and good taste to turn them down.
Not The Ithacan.
The editors cited their love of free speech in taking the ad, as I recall (not cited was that law holds that it doesn’t abridge free speech to turn down advertisements).
It’s been nearly 10 years since I last read The Ithacan, so I make no claims about what the paper does these days. Back then, though, some segments of the campus population—Buzzsaw founding editors and supporters among them—had been cringing at its editors’ efforts for a while.
With that ad, we’d had enough. We knew that there must be something better. Turns out, there was.
It’s Easter Sunday in Brooklyn. It’s cold and bright and blue and the trees are out, and my e-mail just turned back on with a note from the Buzzsaw editors saying alum essays are due today. And with this more e-mails, and with these the temptation to launch into a VH1-sounding story about the purity of yesteryear—that’s nice reading, but not so true.
Because personally speaking, Buzzsaw was founded out of hate. Hate for the school where my Dad taught and all the students who weren’t enough like me. Hate for The Ithacan and all the people who worked for it. Hate for the girl who never returned my CDs and published herself in Stillwater. Hate, hate, hate; and not just hate, but fascist hate, because I wanted people to hate what I chose to hate. And out of this hate came love. Love so strong that 10 years later, it’s hard not to squawk about it here and talk about every late night at the Ichabod Lounge and every black morning in Sam’s heatless car, headed to the garage press in Chenango Bridge. Every dorm room meeting, every good idea—like publishing an ‘enjoy the cookies’ note from my Grandmother—and every bad idea—like calling our publication “The Humongous.”
Last week in Ithaca was the 10-year reunion for Buzzsaw, which is now a magazine with a staff, an office, a Web presence, an adviser in the journalism department and school funding. One alum is a lawyer. Another is a mom of two. All the men are balder and have beards. And the group hadn’t been together in a decade. And it was awesome. It was fun. A good, funny, happy time with fond memories and a feeling that the best is yet to come. That’s accomplishment.
Much love in 09 ever after.
Buzzsaw taught me how good writers write. I can’t read the stuff I wrote back then because it’s too ridiculous. “Way Cool, Junior” is mediocre, and it’s the best of what I wrote. The other editors were too nice to shit on my stuff to my face—even when it deserved it. What I did do while working at Buzzsaw was really read and think about what everyone else was working on. I took a lot of writing classes in college, but the best lessons came from sitting in Emerson, working on the latest issue with the Buzzsaw crew.
Ten years later, I wouldn’t say I’m a great writer, but I’m good, and I can do it professionally. If cornered. I would say I owe at least a small part of that to Buzzsaw. Well, Buzzsaw and a few torrid alpha-sensual affairs with grammar nerds.
“Writers are liars my dear, surely you know that by now?” -Neil Gaiman, Sandman: Dream Country.
Working at Buzzsaw you can’t avoid learning that good storytellers were liars. Liars are a much-maligned segment of our society, but how drab it is without them.
Ted Haggard, swearing off the blow and cock one more time on Larry King Live, a crying wife at his side; a politician’s bleached teeth gnashing and weaving absurdist non sequitur; a beautiful woman smiles, lies keep her hair out of her face; seven miles west of the Cincinnati airport, children line up to hear a smiling woman with a hairdo escaped from 1984 tell them that God gave Tyrannosaurus Rexes 8-inch teeth so they can crack open coconuts.
Lies can be debilitating, destructive and detrimental, but they are the things people remember the most. Maybe that’s why the founders and I are celebrating Buzzsaw’s 10th year and not trying to re-create parties faded by serial weekend blackouts.
In the past couple of weeks, I have thought a lot about Buzzsaw. My first thoughts are how hard it is to write, especially to look back on something on a personal level. I never really was good at that, which shows in the pieces I wrote in college and which I guess is why I do what I do today. But when I reflect on Buzzsaw, it always starts with people who are, and will always be, my favorite writers.
I met James Sigman and Bryan Chambala my freshman year at Ithaca, when they were editors of the Accent section of The Ithacan. At the end of his tenure as editor (and as an Ithaca student), James wrote to me in an e-mail that I have saved over the years: “The day The Ithacan stops being fun is the day they should fold it up. It’s nice to hit deadlines and getting awards is good for a fragile ego, but without fun, The Ithacan is an insignificant piece of shit. Believe that.” And so, roughly a year or so later, Buzzsaw Haircut was formed.
I realize that today, Buzzsaw and The Ithacan are very different publications than they were then and I am glad now that they can co-exist with other publications on campus. I know that when we started Buzzsaw, one of our goals at least was to stop one publication from being the sole source of information on campus. That doesn’t usually fly in the rest of the nation, and so it shouldn’t have there either. I look at Buzzsaw now, and I am continuously impressed, and that is something for which I take no credit. But I remain grateful for what it was and what it is now.
When I think about Buzzsaw, I think about how important it is sometimes just to do things, without dwelling on the why or how. Recently, I have wondered why I don’t do that more. And then I find myself missing my friends, the founders of . It was a good ride, but also something you carry with you and that’s a great thing. Hunter S. Thompson, a great inspiration to the founders, inscribed his book Hell’s Angels as follows: “To the friends who lent me money and kept me mercifully unemployed. No writer can function without them. Again, thanks. HST.” Happy Anniversary, (Haircut).
If you’re in college and you’re not angry about something that you have learned in class, seen at a party, or found out about in this world—take your damn pulse.
Starting out at Ithaca as a journalism major with thoughts of one day reporting from France (really), I was constantly soaking up the world around me. There was a lot to learn from a professional standpoint (layout, inverted pyramids, ethics) and way more to learn from a growing up standpoint (taking showers with beer in your hands, 2 a.m. talks with people you never knew, questioning everything).
In class, the word objectivity was drilled into our heads. We argued about it, we tried really hard to report objectively and we didn’t always like it. When you are a journalist, you have to show all sides. Or try really hard to show two sides equally.
So what happens when something you see makes you angry and you have to report about it? What happens when the publication that you work for pisses you off or makes decisions that you don’t agree with? Or they don’t want to run that great idea that’s been running around in your head for weeks? Ten years ago, you would have started your own publication called Buzzsaw Haircut. At least that’s what we did.
But it was born from so much more than anger. There were creative, excited, intelligent and crazy people who were part of the whole founding process. I know I didn’t think too hard about what was happening. I just liked that I had a place to write without restriction, and I liked that other people were going to have a space to write thoughts that weren’t conventional or stories that didn’t make sense or stories that didn’t appeal to the president of the college.
It was good to create that space. I’m so happy that each year, someone has taken that space seriously enough to keep it going and make it a worthwhile publication.
Nowadays, there are other things that people—journalists and others— do when they get a little edgy about something. We create blogs (worth reading, too!). We seek jobs that are worth our time and that let us sleep at night or day. We turn into librarians—at least I did.
And eventually, we get a little happier about things. We’re still critical, we’re still always questioning, but we can see that as lovers/haters/writers/artists/30-year-old weirdos, there’s a lot out there in this world—and you better take note of it. And then write about it.