If you were to incinerate your laptop on a forest-green Coleman campstove, run your iPhone over with a rotary blade push mower, and punt your Kindle through your 72” Flat screen in a fit of Howard Beal-worthy rage I certainly couldn’t (and wouldn’t) blame you….”
“Smokebox started innocently enough many months back with a simple e-mail exchange between myself and fellow smokeboxer Marc Covert…he came upon an article in Salon Magazine that was written by Ira Robbins…in it he coined a phrase that was to alter the way I articulated my disconnection with contemporary consumer culture. Referring to Iggy Pop & The Stooges as ‘pollution-fueled mutants,’ Robbins unveiled a description perfect, yet so uncanny in its accuracy that it stopped me in my tracks-a coarse and simple phrase, conceptually spring-loaded, hinting at menace and heroism in the same terse nod.”
Well, there you have it, the lead salvo of “Pollution-Fueled What?,” the essay/rant that started it all for Smokebox in Issue no. 1/October 2000, only now that I’ve reached issue no. 59, it’s been many more than many months back. It’s been ten years now, much to my amazement, since we first sputtered to life as an internet-only, noncommercial e-zine of “pollution-fueled commentary.” There’s been a whole lotta water under that bridge since then, more than I can honestly say I grasp even today, and the temptation was there to simply run another issue, letting the anniversary slip by unannounced the way I fervently wish my own milestones would – quietly, sans fuss.
But what has been accomplished here merits more than that. Not so much as a testament to the resilience, wisdom or talent of Smokebox’s core editorial staff, but rather because of the incredible, insensible, humbling generosity of our contributors. What started as a small group of surfers, punks and social misfits has evolved into a truly international community of artists, one whose collected works (a mere click away in our Vault of Smoke) is staggering in its quality, range, and breadth of perception. That’s what I was hoping for when we started out and seeing it come to pass is what has sustained me in the years since. It’s overwhelming. It’s cool. But most of all, it is pure, uncut and real.
Anyone who has written a book that includes acknowledgements knows the feeling of dread that they will commit the unforgivable act of leaving out people who deserve unstinting thanks, so let me apologize now to those who go unnamed. Smokebox would have had a hard time getting off the ground without the help of our east coast sister publication, the now-departed Lurch, and their mad genius team of Mike Morgan, Brendan Costello and Bill Carney. Kristina Eldredge’s “My Fluent Mundo” column added solid literary criticism in our early years, and John Pinamonti’s “Root Cellar” did the same for music, touching on everything from Honky Tonk Heroes to Dueling Ukeleles. Our poetry feature came and went, never really living up to what we had hoped despite strong, original submissions. Sports, culture, essays, Mr. Grant’s Rant, interviews (Greg Sage, Tom Tomorrow, John Backderf, Johnny Ramone, and many more), all of these have to them a certain ebb and flow in the overall tone and makeup of Smokebox. Fiction came to the fore about five years in; flash fiction made its appearance more recently than that; but thanks to the talents of our regular contributors and those who submit from out of the blue I’m always floored by the distinct personality of each issue as it comes together.
I’ve taken an equally risky (if not foolish) tack in our story lineup for no. 59. All of this issue’s stories have run in previous issues of Smokebox. While it may seem like a “best of” selection, I realized early on that would be impossible-there are too many excellent works in the archives to make it possible to pick the very best. So I’ve tried to pick pieces that represent the arc of Smokebox’s evolution over the years. Brian Doyle, David James Duncan, Laine Perry, Troy Dockins, Mike Morgan, Kurt Eisenlohr, Misha Cahill, and Brendan Costello are rerun here, but they could easily have given way to the work of Ed Markowski, David Moscovich, Mike Estabrook, Julio Peralta-Paulino, Christine Tothill, Mike Daily, Papa Osmubal, Kevin Sampsell…I know I’m leaving people out who deserve mention here, and can only ask that they forgive me and keep sharing their work with us. Follow the links and make no mistake — the writers are the foundation of the whole project. They’re the ones who make things pop around here…
…except then there’s the the art. What about the art? Sometimes the issue needs to grab the greasy vibe of a Slim Harpo lp. Other times copping the edge of a Ween concert makes more sense. You just never know until you read the words. The words lay down the rules, but the pictures lay down the law. At any rate, it has always been imperative that each issue of Smokebox has its own mood and feel. Though we have featured the illustration work of many over the years, I would be a complete and utter asshole not to mention the graciousness of artists Troy Dockins, Dee Sunshine and the inimitable Kurt Eisenlohr (whose striking work has graced these issues since the very beginning).
While plenty has changed in the years since October 2000, many if not all of the assaults on our sensibilities and dignity railed against then are still in place, clearly not going anywhere. (“Incestuous companies openly and legally trade my personal information like a Wall Street commodity, spying on my activities online and tracking my purchasing patterns…inside my home a blaring television freely insults my intelligence on a daily, hourly basis…Is it the news? Is it a commercial? Who the hell can tell anymore? …Can I believe anything I read, view, or hear? Is there anything pure or unpolluted left to look up to? What am I to take inspiration from? Where are all the heroes?”)
Smokebox has done its share of spleen-venting in the years since, and will no doubt let fly with plenty more rants and ruminations in years to come, but we have no intention of letting the temporal repercussions of the 21st century frenzy-state steal the nutrition for the soul that art provides. If you were to incinerate your laptop on a forest-green Coleman campstove, run your iPhone over with a rotary blade push mower, and punt your Kindle through your 72” Flat screen in a fit of Howard Beal-worthy rage I certainly couldn’t (and wouldn’t) blame you.
But since you haven’t (and won’t) thanks for reading. Really. It means a lot to the motley crew that puts this unholy but blessed thing together.
If producing Smokebox has taught us anything it is that “hero” is a broad and loosely defined concept. Don’t be misled. Every day seems like an act of heroism all things considered –“Individuals make heroic stands all around us, but you have to turn off ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ and listen closely to find them. True heroes are harder to come by. I could name some, but they are mine and you need to find your own.”
In the end, that’s what keeps us going. It’s art and colors and words and stories and music and mayhem and bleeding and laughing until you have to smile in spite of it all.
If Smokebox has done anything to help provide that then it’s been ten years well spent.
— October 2010