City Weekly's 40-year history includes good friends, bad mistakes and the worst Utahns | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly
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City Weekly's 40-year history includes good friends, bad mistakes and the worst Utahns

Private Eye

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We are now on Week 3 of our 40-year history recap of this newspaper. Hope you like us sharing some of our memories. I'm personally getting some good feedback, about as much as I could expect considering most of the people who were associated with the paper 40 years ago have died.

It used to be that I was the youngest in the room. Now, I'm the oldest. It's both melancholy and sobering, because when I try to explain the characters and methods we formerly used to put out a newspaper—and especially how to communicate by actually speaking—I'm reminded of so many great moments. I'm also reminded that the 20- and 30-somethings I spend most of my time with often have no clue what I'm talking about.

I've given up counting the number of times I've had to explain where the common computer or mobile phone instructions "Cut" and "Paste" actually come from. Don't even get me started on "waxing." I feel like my parents did when we all watched the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. They didn't get it, but I got it. I now grudgingly admit that I finally understand them.

Among the messages I've received were thank you notes from folks I mentioned as being pioneers of early independent newspapers and magazines. Others must also be remembered. Among them is Susen Sawatzki, the founder and publisher of Utah Ad News, the beacon for Utah's advertising community from 1982 through 2012.

We had only a few of our street issues out in the late 1980s when Sawatzki featured us on her cover, along with the other free publications that were circulating at the time. That was awesome.

In 1989, Red Oelerich would begin publication of his Cycling Utah newspaper, which later became Outdoor Utah Adventure Guide. Oelerich is a supporter of all things local, including the advertisers on these pages. If you see him around town, please buy him a beverage and send me the bill.

Nothing of historical nature gets by the eye of Utah icon Ken Sanders. You may know he's moving his notable Ken Sanders Rare Books into The Leonardo (can you imagine moving a bookstore?), but he found time to remind me of the olden days of Utah's first street newspapers.

At the consequential and historic Cosmic Aeroplane, a movement was afoot. As Utah's first "head shop"—as far as I know—selling such exotic hippie-era items as incense, Grateful Dead albums, tie-dye, black light posters and roach clips (the most perfectly named utensil ever), founder Steve Jones and his partner Bruce Roberts were also engaged in wording the counterculture, not just selling items to it. Their print media was among the first in Utah to be labeled as "underground," a movement that took over city by city with similar newspapers, some lasting even until today.

However, in Salt Lake City in the 1960s and even the 1970s, such thought provoking, establishment-poking media projects were doomed—energetic and necessary, but doomed. Still, Jones managed to give life to The Electric News for five issues in the late 1960s, while later, Roberts would beget The Street Paper, but that also couldn't get traction.

Around the same time, some folks Ken Sanders describes as "BYU dissidents" produced the Seventh East Press. But, really, who isn't a BYU dissident? Aren't we all?

In Moab, a paper arose called String Desert Gazette and was lost to the red sands, I suppose, while in the late 1970s, Richard Goldberger founded and published what could fairly be called Utah's first alternative newspaper, the Salt Flat News. I think that's it, at least for now.

We chug on, last week completing the voting for Best of Utah 2023. In Year 1—1989—about 300 mailed-in ballots were submitted. This year, over 19,000 individuals voted. That's a crazy number, producing a record number of votes, which will culminate in our annual Best of Utah issue and party (Utah's best) in November. I can't spill the beans on any winners yet, but here's something I don't mind sharing.

We run the category of Worst Utahn. That category has the most votes of any other category by a bigly margin. Utah's favorite annoying sprite, Sen. Mike Lee, R (for Ridiculous), has been a consistent winner for the past several years. But lo! This year, he has some competition.

We'll see who wears this dishonorable crown in the end, but be assured it is not someone nice or normal. One thing about our readers, they know a creep when they see one.

On the eve of the ballot closing, City Weekly ran an online teaser promo with the faces of three ill-distinguished Utahns—Lee, state school board member Natalie Cline and Attorney General Sean Reyes—urging people to hurry up and vote at the last minute, and asking who might win this year's Worst Utahn.

The three nominess were wearing the ceremonial mariachi-style costumes worn by Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short in the early 1990s comedy, The Three Amigos—a movie that has clearly lost whatever cultural relevance it once had. Some community members have never even heard of it, but no matter. We at times become our dated parents.

City Weekly lists the Top 3 winners in each category. The Three Amigos casting caused a vocal number of people to call for us to be removed from our own heads for being ethnically insensitive and for cultural misappropriation. The worst pinch of all is to offend someone you care about and, for this outlet, that's especially true.

To my friends and our friends in Utah's Hispanic and Latino communities ... lo siento, mis amigos. (Note: Utah celebrates Latino and Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.)

Send comments to john@cityweekly.net