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Keohane exits Boston

That would be Boston magazine writer-at-large Joe Keohane, who's departing both the city and the publication.

With the recent departure of John Gonzalez, BoMag has now lost two big bylines in a span of three months. Like Gonzalez, Keohane is a very talented writer. He also brought a native's perspective to a publication dominated by transplants from out of state. A representative passage follows, from an August 2008 piece on Boston's inability to retain artists; before you read it, note that Keohane's heading to New York to freelance for Portfolio and other publications:

There's a certain wistful acceptance that comes along with leaving town. You've recognized that you can't change it. It is, ineffaceably, what it is: a nice place for college students and twentysomethings for whom there's a kind of contentment in being broke and raising hell in hallway parties in Allston, and for well-heeled people who are older and looking for a quieter and more comfortable existence.

But the makings of a vibrant arts scene lie between those two worlds, with people who are able to do creative work and still stay in the city long enough to forge a commitment to it....

That ambivalence is as old as the town itself. Boston is famous for its strange ability to simultaneously attract and repel. Jonathan Richman of legendary Boston band the Modern Lovers once sang, "I'm in love with Massachusetts." Now he lives in San Francisco. Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, a ferociously local band, wrote an anti-tourist, anti-student song called "They Came to Boston," with the refrain "I was here before they came / I'll be here long after / Don't want to share, but it seems clear / that I'm gonna have to." Today he lives in L.A. Andrew Bujalski, the terrific young filmmaker who never missed an opportunity to sing the Hub's praises, has decamped to Austin, Texas (though he says it was personal circumstances that sent him packing). Going further back, novelist William Dean Howells, the "Dean of American Letters," was a hard-core Hub loyalist who once decreed, "The Bostonian who leaves Boston ought to be condemned to perpetual exile." He relocated to New York in 1891, and had one of his characters, making a similar move, liken Boston to a living death.

Of course, the irony is that Howells wound up not caring much for NYC, either, and spent a lot of time looking longingly back at Boston, as many who have followed in his footsteps do, and will continue to do indefinitely, or at least until rents get cheap enough to again tilt the balance away from our native reserve and standoffishness long enough for an arts scene to cohere, as it did in the '80s and early '90s in a big way. And that's the great frustration. This city has the makings of a dominant cultural force: physical beauty, compact size, reliable institutions, a constant inflow of new blood, and the kind of cruel and capricious weather that drives artistically minded residents inward for long stretches, making self-reflection a fixture of life, or anyway surely less of a horror than it would be in Southern California. We're just unable to make it all come together.

 Good stuff, and difficult to replace.

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  • andrea said:


    Augh. Damn.

    September 18, 2008 6:19 PM
  • Chris said:

    Yes.  SO true, Joe.  The arts are dead in Boston.  And I just don't them coming back any time soon.

    You'll have much more creative energy in NYC.

    September 19, 2008 2:05 AM

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