Still crazy after all these years

 Published in the Mountain Gazette, December 2008


           “Why Mountain Gazette? Why not?”

            That’s the way Mike Moore introduced the September 1972 issue of what appeared to be a new magazine. Exactly what Moore had in mind, no one really knew.

            For example – here’s Barry Corbet, a noted mountaineer, skier and filmmaker in the 60s, beginning an essay in that issue: “I have in hand a letter from Mike Moore, editor and manager of this journal. My assignment, should I choose to accept it, is to write ‘from one to sixteen pages about the mountains.’”

            He accepted the assignment, of course, whatever it was, as we all did, all us writers who got that letter – writers living above 7,000 feet, basically (if only in spirit). And we all got listed as “Contributing Editors” in the first issue. Mountain Gazette? Why not?

            It wasn’t actually a startup; it was an acceleration or expansion of, or digression from another magazine, Skiers’ Gazette, that had entered the field of ski journalism in 1966, apparently trying to provide a newsprint alternative to the slick four-color magazines whose mission was promotion of the industrial skiing experience.   

            I became part of Moore’s SG stable while I was still running the Crested Butte Chronicle; he occasionally reprinted something I’d written in my paper; and when I left the newspaper business to try to pursue a career freelancing, he offered me a chance to write a column for the SG.

            That was great: I invented a mythic ski town, and over the course of that winter unloaded half a decade of observations that would have lost me all the Chronicle advertisers I hadn’t already lost. My ruminations about industrial skiing were, however, pretty mild up against the fulminations of some other SG writers who had been more intimately involved with the industry than I, including at least one who was still getting most of his income from the four-color industrial ski mags – he had to write under a pseudonym, name changed to protect the guilty.

            We of course didn’t have to worry about the impact of our bites on the hand that had to feed the SG, and one could hypothesize that Moore’s motivation for expanding the Skiers’ Gazette to the Mountain Gazette was a need for access to a larger body of advertisers to offend.

            But that would have been unfair to Moore’s real purpose; if offense was taken by people in the mountain recreation industries, it was not deliberately given as a matter of policy; it was a by-product of Moore’s real desire, which was to try to find, nurture and give voice to the 20th-century literature of the mountains, and the strange post-urban cultures springing up in their valleys like new mushroom strains.

            Paradoxically, Moore was not a “mountain person” himself. He grew up in Colorado’s Front Range cities, and only visited the mountains, first on weekends and school vacations to Aspen with the Chamberlain brothers; then, after becoming SG/MG editor, on forays to visit his stable of mountain writers. He could ski, but seldom did; he didn’t care for hiking; and if he’d ever had a backpack on, or climbed a mountain, he didn’t brag about it.

            And by extension, his heroes of the heart weren’t skiers, mountain men and women, adventurers or entrepreneurs; they were – I think – the great urban editors and publishers of the 20th century – people like Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, the man who “found” and brought to full bloom Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Ring Lardner, Erskine Caldwell, James Jones and a stable of others. That was what Moore wanted to do, and I think he felt limited by the titular limits of a Skiers’ Gazette; he saw a Mountain Gazette – “A Magazine Generally About the Mountains” – as a way of casting a wider net to catch more writers as well as more advertisers.

            Hanging out in Aspen in the 50s and 60s, he knew there were lots of articulate and over-educated misfits, malcontents and de facto expatriates slinking there to piss their line in the snow; it was as good a place to look for writers as any, in hopes of finding the ones whom he could lead or push to a level of greatness....

            That probably sounds disgustingly altruistic, but it isn’t. More people are called to literature than are chosen, and Moore knew he was a reader, not a writer, but great readers can become great in literature as editors and publishers recognizing and cultivating great writers.

            Whether or not that was how Moore thought of himself, it was certainly the way it seemed to work out. If were lucky enough to make it on his short list, he would suggest ideas – with the same basic assignment: one to sixteen pages. But mostly he just wrote letters – this was long before email; I still have a whole file box of letters from him – cultivating conversations about things he’d read or you’d both read, and encouraging you to think a lot and write more. He would occasionally pass through town, which would result in epic quantities of drinking and talking; and he had no compunctions about calling up at 3:00 in the morning if he was thinking about something he thought you should be thinking about too.

            This resulted in unprecedented opportunities for writers because if you worked your way onto his short list, just about anything you sent him went into the magazine eventually. He was apologetic about editing – “pissing in manuscripts” was the way he put it – but he was not an autocratic editor, and not much into word counting. Basically he spoiled the hell out of us. Looking through my collection of old Gazettes before writing this, I found a book review I’d sent him, a joint review of Thoreau’s Walden and a book called Test Pattern for Living by Nicholas Johnson who was on his way out as chair of the Federal Communications Commission and was trying to simplify his life. You might intuit a connection between those two books – one of which needed no review at all – but Moore let me go on for two and a half full pages, probably five, six thousand words about it. I seriously doubt that anyone but Moore ever read it.

            Once I sent him a 90-page thing written in a week-long hemorrhage of words, and said I didn’t have any idea what to do with it. He called up: “We’ll publish it, of course. We just need to figure out how.” It eventually worked into a four-part series that eventually turned into a book. Dedicated, appropriately, to Moore “and his Mountain Gazette.” He occasionally turned over an entire issue to one piece by one writer – Dick Dorworth’s “Night Driving” is a memorable example.

            His magazine models weren’t outdoors magazines at all, but publications like Harper’s, The Atlantic, and The New York Review of Books – magazines that shamelessly promoted good, deep writing. Moore was blessed to have an “angel” who poured quite a little money into the magazine for several years, and a good advertising man, Darrell Oldham, who labored mightily to put the magazine on a self-sustaining footing. But the times were not right, and maybe the region wasn’t either, at least from the business side – too many somewhat marginal businesses in somewhat marginal communities, whose owners or operators were not so interested in participating in a labor of love of literature as they were in getting a return on their advertising dollar. The times were deteriorating too, sliding into the malaise that Jimmy Carter correctly diagnosed but couldn’t cure.

            Moore left the MG sometime in 1977, as I remember, and headed for The City – for a potentially great editor, there is only one city – searching, I think, for the American Mercury, a great old magazine that, sometime in the midnight-to-closing part of an evening, he would talk about wanting to resurrect. And that was my Mountain Gazette; I’ll let someone else pick up the story from there.