Canto XXXIII: 5 Songs to Mark One Year Since I Left My Dream Job at OC Weekly

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Gentle cabrones:

One year.

I’ve been thinking of how to write this particular canto for weeks, and figured a music listicle was the best way to do it, namely because music has always played a big part of how I frame my life (maybe I’d like High Fidelity?) and because I need structure to anchor me lest I babble even more so than usual.

So, without further ado, Mr. Magoo…

“The Harder They Come,” Jimmy Cliff

On the day I was announced as editor of OC Weekly in November 2011, I cruised back home in my ’74 Cadillac Eldorado convertible and blasted this reggae classic. Loud. And for a reason.

I had achieved my dream. And had helped to restore the Dream.

Out-of-town owners had bought OC Weekly in 2006, which sparked a mass walkout in early 2007—three-quarters of the staff quit. Those who left ridiculed those of us who stayed. But myself and a few others remained—we would be the keepers of the Weekly flame.

I remember having a meeting in the office of former editor-publisher Will Swaim—the man who got me into journalism—with one of our new executives. Classic conqueror move: take the throne of the former king. And I remember looking him in the eye and telling him that one day, I wanted to be OC Weekly editor.

He laughed.

But I stayed the course.

Over the next four years, I WERKED like a loco, even as I got other, more lucrative offers to leave and wrote two books. I never took a day off, even while I was on vacation. I (and those of us who stayed) needed to restore the Weekly back to the rightful line of succession.

To those of us who stayed.

And we did it.

(Take note, LA Weekly)

I do not see me becoming OC Weekly editor as a individual achievement. That said, the harder the haters came at me on the way to the editor’s chair, the harder they fell. One and all.

They still do.

I’ve always carried the flame of hope, a rosary for help, and a booklet of prayers

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“Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, 3rd movement, Allegro,” Johann Sebastian Bach

I first discovered Bach as a teenager, and specifically loved the Brandenburg concertos, specifically the third one, ESPECIALLY the third movement. So much that I once scored a silent movie to it when I was still a film major at Chapman.

Whenever people asked me to describe my writing style, I always compare myself to Bach—not in talent,  mind you, but how he’d turn into a SAVAGE on the harpsichord. But I can never remember the section of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” where Bach’s harpsichord really went off, so I always referr people to Brandenburg 3, 3 to describe my process: pleasant. Swirling.

And ceaseless.

That was my career as editor at OC Weekly. And a better musical piece to describe my reign is Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Not just did I get to edit my hometown paper, but I also got to work with people who became family. Together, we covered Orange County the way it deserved to be covered: Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

Tiptoe through the tulips with us as we punched our way through evil.

Myself and others created Paradise.

“Last of the Steam-Powered Trains,” The Kinks

But I knew the dream times were in danger.

At the beginning of 2015, our corporate bosses told us we were going to be sold. Even though editorial was killing it, our sales people weren’t bringing in the revenue. So we needed to be scuttled.

When I announced this bad news to my staff, I also told them I would not accept any sadness. If you weren’t going to give it your all, quit. Those of us who would remain would fight until we couldn’t fight anymore.

We all stayed.

As the year went on, I kept repeating this classic Kinks song as a mantra for us. We represented the last of our kind—hard-charging, unrepentant, brilliant. We were an anachronism—but were we going to cry about it? Nah, we were going to huff and puff until the end, damn our doom.

The esprit de corps took us through the sale. It took us to our new owner, a Newport Beach yacht millionaire who at first agreed with our ethos and let us roll.

Indeed, 2016 through about the middle of 2017 was probably the best run in OC Weekly history since 2004, when Moxley took down the Haidl Three, Nick Schou got a Huntington Beach mayor thrown into jail, Commie Girl was peak Commie Girl, and I went after the pedophile protectors at the Diocese of Orange, covered hate groups AND started ¡Ask a Mexican!

But I also told any Weekling that would listen that the dream times had to end—they were too good to be true. I said that to keep us grounded, and to appreciate what we had.

Because by May of 2017, I already knew a terrible secret.

Our new owner wanted to destroy the Dream.

“La Carcel de Cananea,” Francisco “El Charro” Avitia

On the day I announced that I was resigning as editor of OC Weekly exactly one year ago—on a Friday the 13th, no less—I puttered back home in my ’68 Kombi and blasted this ranchera classic. Loud. And for a reason.

I had lost my dream. But helped to keep the Dream alive.

From May until that day, I had delayed what the OC Weekly owner wanted: cuts of 50 percent, which he left to my discretion. Any way I added it, though, it would result in devastation for everything we Weeklings had built.

So I somehow, miraculously delayed any decision for five months.

All I’ll say about from the time I was told to lay off folks to the day I resigned was this: My blood pressure went up dramatically. I couldn’t sleep. I was going to sacrifice my professional career to try and save the jobs of others.

And I succeeded. And I don’t regret anything.

This song. It’s one of defeat, but also one where the protagonist knows he ultimately won. Because while the Cananea Strike that “La Carcel de Cananea” ended in brutal defeat for the protagonists, it also helped to spark the flame that eventually became the Mexican Revolution.

The Dream lives.

“Someone’s Rocking My Dreamboat,” The Ink Spots

Whenever my wifey and I have parties at our home, I put on a closing suite on Sonos to let people I want them the hell out. It started with “En Mi Viejo San Juan” by Javier Solís, proceeds to “Todo Tiene Su Final” by Hector Lavoe, and concludes with this 1940s classic by the VERY underrated Ink Spots.

A dear friend recently called “Someone’s Rocking My Dreamboat” maudlin. Shows how much they know!

I won’t discuss my professional year since leaving the Weekly—that’s going to be the subject of my Christmas canto (and OH, what a canto that’ll be, Remierda!). All I’ll say right now is that no one should shed a tear for my saga—I’m right where I want to be right now professionally.

Except I’m not.

No matter what I do with the rest of my career, I will never be able to return to the Garden that was OC Weekly. But what am I supposed to do about it? I’m not one to wallow in pity, so I’ve moved on and never look back.

Except today.

Un indio quiere llorar.

**Enough ranting. This was the semana that was:

READING: “Saudade: the untranslatable word for the presence of absence”: Aeon consistently publishes thought-provoking essays, and I loved this one on my favorite non-English or -Spanish word. Eu tenho saudade agora.Gustavo Appearances!

OCT 14: GUSTAVO IN THE AUDIENCE!

David Allen is the longtime columnist for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and one of the most underrated SoCal scribes—I say as much in my blurb for his new book. I’ll be in the audience when he presents at Cafe con Libros, 280 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 469-1350. Lecture starts at 3:30 and is FREE, with the book BARATO.

OCT. 16: GUSTAVO AS A MODERATOR

I’ll serve as the moderator for “Why History Matters – Rent Control in Los Angeles: A Historical Perspective,” a panel discussion at the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy. Event starts at 7—more info here.

OCT. 18: GUSTAVO IN PUEBLO!

I’ll be speaking at the El Pueblo History Museum about “Mexican Food Along the Borderlands (That Even Extend to Colorado)”. My lecture starts at 6:30, but southern Colorado being southern Colorado, show up at 6 because they’ll be offering BIZCOCHITOS!!! Details here.

OCT. 20: GUSTAVO AS ARCHIVIST?

I’ll be on a panel at the annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar at USC, which I’ve never actually attended so I’m THRILLED to participate in. My lecture starts at 2 p.m, and more info is aquí.

Gustavo in the News

I’ll add the links next week—I’m already late in sending out this newsletter! I try to get it out before 7am on Saturday!

Exclusive to GustavoArellano.org

“In Pico Rivera, Ethnic Studies faces a reckoning about how “radical” it can be”: Remember when ustedes donated $1,000 to me so I could start my own website to commission stories? That project is somewhat on hold, for reasons I might explain one day. But I did use the last $250 to publish this great story by fellow Anaheimer and my former Weekly colleague Gabriel San BlogmanGustavo’s Stories

“The union movement’s ground zero is California”: My latest California columna for the Los Angeles Times talks about how awakened labor has become in the past couple of years. KEY QUOTE: “40% of “major work stoppages” (strikes involving 1,000 or more workers for at least one shift) in the U.S. in 2016 and 2017 happened in California.”

“The True Story of How National Taco Day Was Invented — Then Appropriated”: In which I discover that National Taco Day isn’t some PR bullshit but based in Tejano civil rights history. KEY QUOTE: “Its full history is far more complex and fascinating than anything any corporation could ever concoct. Indeed, National Taco Day is a metaphor for the course of Mexican food in the United States: introduced in good faith by Mexicans as a proud representation of mexicanidad, then appropriated for consumerism by outsiders, and eventually wiped clean of its sociopolitical history so the masses could mindlessly enjoy it.”

“Is the Little Saigon Political Machine Fraying?”: My latest KCRW Orange County Line commentary tackles Vietnamese politics in OC. Where have you gone, Bao Nguyen…

You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here. Buy me a Paypal taco here. Venmo: @gustavo-arellano-oc. And don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres!