Arthur Magazine is no more. After 31 issues published over 2002-08, and another two years as blog and events promoter, the self-styled countercultural periodical ran out of money and, on March 15, 2001, ceased releasing new writing altogether. Today there is silence from this bold and clever champion of freak folk, psych rock, underground comix, sci fi gurus, anti-corporate economics and off-the-grid sustainable living.

Admittedly, I didn’t keep up with Arthur.  I haven’t kept up very well with its founder Jay Babcock, whom I befriended over two decades ago in an overlapping year at the UCLA housing cooperative. We stayed in touch after college—my crappy first band played at his parents’ house in Claremont around 1991—and then we saw much more of each other in a few halcyon years in Silverlake around 1996-99.  Jay was making a living writing about music for the LA Weekly by then, and diving deeper into the musicological lifestyle. I recall an excellent Fela Kuti party at his apartment (was it on Sunset Blvd?), where we all partook of whatever substances were there and danced to the classic Fela records. The balance between musical jubilance and conceptual focus was an uncommon experience, and entirely Jay’s creation.

In the new millenium, Jay moved to Eagle Rock Atwater Village [ed. note: see postscript below] and in a couple year’s time became ensconced in the expanding social milieu of Arthur: T-Model Ford, Thurston Moore, Julian Cope, Alan Moore, et al. I moved to upstate New York and could never find copies of the free Arthur newspaper when I visited NYC.  I could have subscribed, I know, but I was too busy with my own life, kids and career to make it a priority. At some point around 2006 or 2007, Jay e-mailed a lot of people, including me, making a personal plea for emergency funding to sustain Arthur after he broke off from his publisher.  Although in hindsight it was clearly a losing investment, that wasn’t really the point.  Jay was doing something remarkable with Arthur—maybe not as radical as its admirers often proclaimed, but certainly more ambitious and DIY than just about any other comparable operation at the time—and I regret not being able to help him out.

In 2008, Jay left Los Angeles in a somewhat notorious exile. Having made public his disappointment that the city’s ‘alternative’ circles failed to support real DIY undertakings, more than a few mutual recriminations were sent his way as he moved to Brooklyn. Then he moved to Philadelphia. Others will know better his exact circuits in this period. So far as I can tell, he’s now situated somewhere in the California desert, perhaps having taken his 21st-century back-to-the-earth pronouncements to their logical conclusion.

With his peripateticism over the last 5 years, the Silverlake days are probably ancient history to Jay.  Maybe this is nostalgia, but I see Arthur as something that emerged out of the late 90s bohemian enclave in Silverlake. In those years, Spaceland was Los Angeles’s coolest musical venue; the Geraldine Fibbers (still Silverlake’s greatest band, if you ask me) headlined the annual Sunset Junction festival; Keith Morris and Bob Forrest waited tables at Millie’s Diner; El Vez was an art/kitsch gallery owner at La Luz De Jesus; and Jay was dating Sue Carpenter, truly an unsung hero of DIY Silverlake. Under the pseudonym Paige Jarrett, Sue ran a pirate radio station out of her own apartment, the late great KBLT, doling out timeslots to her many friends and musical connoisseurs like Mike Watt, Don Bolles, industry legend Mark Kates, and, uh, the keyboardist from Possum Dixon (whose alt-country credentials were sorely tested by my fruitless requests for Kris Kristofferson’s version of “Sunday Morning Coming Down”). From Sue’s 2004 memoir, 40 Watts from Nowhere (Scribner, 2004):

     It’s six-thirty on a Tuesday in late July and DJ Zamboni, aka Jay, is at the controls with a couple of friends, spinning the Fela/Fat Possum/Oasis/Hendrix/Swans/Verve extravaganza that is The Magic Ticket Show. I’m in the kitchen, sweating over the stove cooking red pepper sauce and pasta for dinner, when the phone rings. It’s DJ Santo. He just got a call from Mark McNeill, general manager of KSCR—the pirate radio station broadcasting from USC. The FCC was just there. They are headed for KBLT…

I thank Mark profusely and hang up the phone, then run to the studio to let Jay know I’m shutting off the transmitter right now. I sprint down the hall to the transmitter and flip off the station. In the studio, over the speakers, Portishead’s “Glory Box” turns to hash.

I’m shaking. Shit. The FCC is on to us.

It’s not that Jay and Sue were the royal couple of Silverlake, nor that they were even fated for a long-term relationship with one another. But Sue’s entrepreneurial savvy, her growing address book, and, yes, her balls in breathlessly outfoxing the FCC for a couple of exciting years, I think, left an impression on Jay.  And now Arthur has lived out its run— not a run from a pro-corporate regulatory agency, as in KBLT’s case, but from the market forces that make underground publication and underground living damn costly to scale up.

Postscript: Jay e-mailed me shortly after this went up and flagged several errors, for me the most galling being the fact that he didn’t live in Eagle Rock but in Atwater Village, both of which are on the other side of the I-5 from Silverlake. Argh! After 8 years since my last visit to L.A., my geographic memory of the city has dulled considerably, which is obviously disheartening for a professional urban sociologist. Hmm, can I plead the Woodstock defense? I.e., if you remember those days clearly, maybe you weren’t there.  The rest have to do with how Jay recalls the story of Arthur’s rise and fall, which he relates in this interview.