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BOOKS & THE CULTUREI, They Blue It A Once Great Magazine Goes to Seed BY ROD DAVIS re to See nem .How to Grow Them -The Top Bluebonnet Painter r”-Wn . In January 1973, when Mike Levy and Bill Broyles and a few others were starting what would be an upstart, national-class magazine based on the unlikely demographics of a regional audience, Levy cockily dared potential readers to subscribe in a famous ad which began: “Sick of Bluebonnets and Bum Steers?… Send us ten dollars and we’ll send you a damned good magazine about Texas. Monthly.” Two months later, in March, undaunted by and obviously relishing in Fuming from the Defenders of the Sacred Flora, Levy upped the bravado in his “Letter from the Publisher.” Although the staff had voted to “love our bluebonnets,” he said, the magazine wasn’t going to cut anybody any slack. “As Bill Broyles wrote last month, we started Texas Monthly for those readers who’ve finished the daily paper or the six o’clock news and felt that there was more than what they were told.” “What we are sick of is the quickness of some of the Texas press to rely on bluebonnet pictorials and other similarly hardhitting journalistic efforts,” Levy wrote. “Stories on bluebonnets, kittens, and octogenarians generally don’t offend too many readers, or, more importantly, advertisers. Nice, bland pap and puff, the kind of stuff that was big in 1930 and which some of the Texas press and senile journalism professors still laud as great journalism.” Dude! But, ‘zup with the March ’97 cover? It’s not just that it’s bluebonnets, or that former First Lady and Hill Country matron saint Lady Bird Johnson is in them up to her knees. It’s more like they forgot the black border. If ever the death of an idea was caught on four-color, high gloss pulp, this has got to be it. Take the issue to a wake and get drunk. It’s the only decent way to show respect for the pages that over the years gave life to Gary Cartwright, Stephen Harrigan, Al Reinert, Giles Tippette, Larry Wright, Suzanne Winckler, Bill Martin, Jan Reid, Richard West, Dominique Browning, Nicholas Lehman, Joe Nocera, Dick Reavis, Jan Jarboe, Peter Applebome and many, many others, and which Broyles left in 1981, turning the reins over to Greg Curtis, Levy’s choice over Paul Burka. I remember those early days. I was a young reporter for The Associated Press, already cynical and hard to impress butdespite an early tendency towards gloss I once mildly satirized in these pagesTM was doing what we all wanted to do. I didn’t just read Cartwright; I studied him. He was Eric Clapton. Now, he’s covered in bluebonnets. It’s like being promised no more water, the fire next time, and getting a wet 40-day forecast. It’s the sound of a covenant broken. Granted, this whole bluebonnet thing has always been beyond ordinary understanding. K-104, the urban black station in Dallas, ran an extended joke last spring, the morning laugh team laboring in vain to see why white folks had to go stand in blue bonnet fields and get their pictures taken. At one point, drive-bys sible way to unclog the fields and highway shoulders. The March cover is no homicidemore a public suicide, naked and flabby. Read the ’73 letter again. There’s no equivocation in Levy’s manifesto. There was no lack of fire in his belly when he wrote those words. So a bluebonnet cover, complete with a full assortment of socalled stories \(“bland pap and puff,” was ing, can only be either: a symbolic public renunciation worthy of the Stalin show-trials or a Clinton campaign pledge; a kind of self-parody, if they did that sort of thing, which Levy says was the more or less the case [see transcript, “Look at the Body of Work,” page 261which would be more plausible if Levy had a sense of humor about himself; the result of a terrible mix-up at the printer, and the real cover of the March TM issue”LeAnn Rimes: Secret Love Child?”is now horrifying readers of Texas Highways; ro, “,110 tiatioaal Watfik., Or 11,*,mrch Cegtor MARCH 28, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25