But here at Spokane's arts and culture newspaper, we take the frou-frou seriously. For 15 years, we've spotlighted all the stuff that people want in their communities but then say they don't have any time for: reading books, strolling through museums, attending concerts, going to plays.
Oh, sure, we provide the fall arts previews and the fiction contests, but we've also devoted cover stories to particular art forms.
Film: We've regularly previewed summer movies and Oscar-season films, but we've also done film-related cover packages on subjects both highbrow (Schindler's List and Edward R. Murrow) and lowbrow (the filming of Dante's Peak in Wallace, Idaho). And don't forget locally produced films like The Basket, End Game and Nell Shipman's silent movies filmed at Priest Lake.
Theater: Patty Duke in The Glass Menagerie, "Fifty Years of the Civic Theatre," Rent, The Lion King and The Phantom of the Opera (twice).
Classical Music: Gunther Schuller and the Northwest Bach Festival have graced our cover three times. We've also covered "Fifty Years of the Symphony," the makings of an individual Classics concert and concertmaster Kelly Farris' farewell.
Visual arts: We've splashed ink on painters ranging from George Flett to Mel McCuddin to the Impressionists (in an exhibit at the MAC), and from Harold Balazs to Leno Prestini to Andy Warhol.
Books: Four covers devoted to Get Lit!, but also features on Rick Bass, Jess Walter, Sherman Alexie, Diane Middlebrook's biography of Spokane jazz "man" Billy Tipton, Sam Spade and Harry Potter.
And we've covered various aspects of culture, too. We asked in a 2005 cover story if H.R. Pufnstuf would become the next dominant cultural icon. (He didn't.) We've written on computer games like Riven, 'zines, the New Domesticity (aka "Stitch 'n' Bitch"), skateboard culture, roller derby and Spokane's fashion industry.
And now for a closer look at 15 years of arts coverage.
Our first issue had a theater review of Dancing at Lughnasa at Interplayers, a dinner review of Marrakesh, a review of Pearl Jam's second album and calendar listings for 17 art galleries -- only four of which are still around. That same month, Jer McGregor reviewed Counting Crows' August and Everything After, which we later selected as our '93 album of the year. In January 1994, $17 would have gotten you into the old Coliseum to see the BH Surfers and Bobcat Goldthwaite open for Nirvana. In February, we featured local writer Randall Brink's book revealing that Amelia Earhart had been a spy. In March, the top sellers at Hastings were Embraced by the Light by Betty Eade, John Grisham's The Client, and Accident by Danielle Steele. In July, the big stories were about Los Lobos, Pantera and Forrest Gump.
Auntie's donated profits from O.J.'s I Want to Tell You to domestic violence programs. On April 1, you could choose between Judy Collins at the Opera House and Beck at Outback Jack's. That same month, Molly Ivins, Marilyn Quayle and G. Gordon Liddy all spoke at Gonzaga. We reported that Outside magazine had called Spokane a "Northwest Cinderella," one of its seven nationwide "Dreamtowns."
A September issue featured cowboy poetry and wheelchair rugby on facing pages. In what we called "another blow to regional theater," ACT and the Rogue Players met their demise. In an article on local creative writing programs, EWU's Nance Van Winckel said, "One or two out of each class make it. Six to 10 years later, I wish it could be talent that helps them, but a lot of it is chutzpah -- it's getting yourself out there and doing some self-promotion." At the Zags' opening-practice ritual of Midnight Madness, a guy with a "booming voice and silver-tipped hair" won the Dan Fitzgerald look-alike contest.
We hoped that Universal's $108 million bet on Dante's Peak would do for Wallace what Field of Dreams did for Dyersville, Iowa. (It didn't.) In our Best Of issue, Bette Midler beat out Les Miz for best arts performance. Despite the potential feminist outcry, Nick Heil raved about Interplayers' Sylvia, in which a woman plays a dog: "This show has nothing to do with gender identity -- and everything to do with human identity."
The Fall Arts Preview featured Fabio Mechetti standing in a Palouse wheat field and wearing cowboy boots. Nick Heil suggested that, as second in command at Interplayers, Michael Weaver "may be responsible for more laughs" around here than anyone other than county commissioner Steve Hasson. Among our "10 reasons to blow up your TV": Ally McBeal, Dharma and Greg, and the Teletubbies.
Nick Heil's article on Cavanaugh's Entertainment Series for the "Fabulous Millennium" (which included Les Mis & eacute;rables, Riverdance, Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera) included quotes from some local English professor named Bowen who sniffed, "It puts posteriors in seats, but it can also Hollywoodize the playgoing experience.... I'm not sure we come out of Phantom more knowledgeable about human nature." (Oh, just dry up, why don't you?) But then Inlander theater critics have long played "bad cop": Jerry Kraft referred to a production of The Taming of the Shrew at Lake City Playhouse as "mind-boggling, jaw-dropping, breathtakingly god-awful.... terrible Shakespeare, but a very fun evening." Meanwhile, the Singing Nuns explained that they are "not a Sister Act routine with lots of dancing," and that the habits they wear are quite real, thank you. And downtown CdA tried to get rid of teen hooligans by using loudspeakers to blast Beethoven until midnight.
Karen Seashore won our fifth Short Fiction Contest with "Separation Suites," a story about how whites and Indians deceive one another -- appropriate, since Sherman Alexie was the contest's judge that year.
Nearly six years before the Met became the Bing, Sheri Boggs asked if Crosby "was the face of Irish Catholic holiday goodwill or ... a tired old crooner." We excerpted some of Gary Giddins' biography, which notes Bing's aloofness: "He never seemed to get emotionally involved with the girls he dated." Then Dr. Drew Pinsky of Loveline appeared at EWU. Mike Corrigan praised the Doc's "unflinchingly honest answers to prickly questions," then found a way to repeat the phrase "prickly questions."
A traveling Smithsonian exhibit made it clear, said Boggs, that "there was more than enough work to go around" in "Young America." Kendall Feeney and Zephyr offered a concert featuring everybody's favorite ancient Chinese musical instrument, the er-hu. But Zephyr's 12th season was its last.
Calling all mycologists! Sheri Boggs offered advice on where to find the tastiest local morels. She also got Sherman Alexie to decide that Emily Dickinson is hotter than Emily Bronte. Allegro's Beverly Biggs revealed her secrets for synchronizing fireworks and baroque music. And Henry Rollins confided in Mike Corrigan: "I am not going through this life quietly. Have you noticed? I want to whup that ass."
Marty Demarest called The Triplets of Belleville "a farewell kiss from a dying tradition," handcrafted animation. Actors Repertory Theatre of the Inland Northwest presented its premiere show, How the Other Half Loves. For a story on innovative local businesses including a local bakery, our cover featured three guys in hairnets (and one in a beard net).
Previewing a MAC exhibit, we excerpted Jack Nisbet's book The Mapmaker's Eye, which retold the experiences of David Thompson in 1809. Opening his review of Anthony Swofford's Jarhead, Kevin Taylor recounted how, years later, his father still had nightmares about Japanese soldiers in World War II. Carrie Scozzaro profiled Sister Paula Turnbull, a sculptor-nun who wields a blowtorch.
Luke Baumgarten and Joel Smith watched all 20 James Bond films so they could laud the Daniel Craig prequel, Casino Royale -- don't call it a "reboot" -- for focusing "on character and tension, not whizbangery." Ted McGregor Jr. reviewed all four discs of These Days in advance of Vince Gill's appearance at the Opera House.
First of all, our photo of Decepticon Megatron for Ed Symkus' Transformers review was totally cool. For our Summer Adventure issue, we sent dorky editors out fishing, kayaking and flying in airplanes and hot-air balloons. Kevin Taylor used vodka to wash down some tasty barbecued marmot. And Spokane Is Spelling held the area's first-ever adult spelling bee. (Now, who won that again?)
The reading that packed Auntie's? Those guys from Deadliest Catch. We profiled Lily Tomlin as "Our Lady of the Goosebumps" -- and in our Summer Guide, we profiled "softball ambassador" Fuzzy Buckenberger. And there you have it: 15 years of what we value in our Inland Northwest culture.