Three Weeks' High-Button News
"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.)
"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](http%2F%2F: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](http://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 [email@example.com](mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org).
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