A Letter from the Editor
This magazine started as a joke. Whenever a celebrity dies, especially a very old one, people online express surprise that he was still alive. Years ago, I posted on Twitter about a notional magazine where each issue would focus on “a person who it would surprise you to learn is still alive.”
The barrier between a joke and not a joke is tissue paper. Friends began to tell me when they discovered someone who was improbably alive. Twitter followers tagged me. Dick Van Dyke, William Eggleston, Roberta Flack. Henry Kissinger came up a lot. It seemed universal, the feeling of surprise, or sometimes wonder, at discovering some formerly notable figure was still out there. I thought it was a funny premise. The stupidity of making it real appealed to me, as did the impossibility: the subjects would keep dying. It would always be a race against time.
Our goal, in print and online, is to make something that looks and feels like no other magazine. My initial premise, tossed off in ten seconds without thinking too hard, has been broadened to include not just one living person, but many people and entities. "Still Alive" is the loose prompt, but our first wave of writers took it in every direction—personal, biographical, critical. Each contributor understood the spirit of irreverence and independence. One of them told us that he's interested in identifying systems and working outside of them wherever possible. What a cool way of putting it. We want to do that, too.
In this issue, you'll find writing on music figures (Joan Baez, Chubby Checker, Keith Morris), actors (Tippi Hedren, Michael Richards), filmmakers (Clint Eastwood, Liliana Cavani), and more. You will find a profile of the world's oldest known turtle and a photo essay on malls, which are not only still alive, but getting weirder. You'll find a cocktail party anecdote about 10th President John Tyler's living grandson, which might even say something about America.
A couple years ago, my aunt died and left my sisters and me her small house in Saranac Lake, NY. She had a sad life and a sadder death. She was our father's sister. He also had a sad death. We sold the house and are using part of the money to fund this magazine. Some friends helped put it together, and a lot of brilliant strangers.
In Donald Barthelme's classic story The School, a teacher struggles to explain to his students why their class pets keep dying.
They said, is death that which gives meaning to life? And I said no, life is that which gives meaning to life. Then they said, but isn’t death, considered as a fundamental datum, the means by which the taken-for-granted mundanity of the everyday may be transcended in the direction of —
I said, yes, maybe.
They said, we don’t like it.
I said, that’s sound.
They said, it’s a bloody shame!
I said, it is.
We don't like it. It's a bloody shame. But what can we do? Try to have fun, I guess. We're here to have fun until the money runs out.
Erin Somers, March 2023