I remember being ten years old in 1968 when Stanley Kubrick released 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sitting on the curb in front of my house on another long summer afternoon I wondered what my life would be like in 2001. It sounded so impossibly far away. I did the math. I would be 43. That’s practically dead. Would I be married? Would I have kids? Would my wife look like Cammie Ramelli from fifth grade home room, because that would be awesome. Would we have flying cars?
Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was still a brand new album. Jimi Hendrix and The Doors and were the hot young things on the radio. David Gilmore had just replaced Syd Barret in Pink Floyd. Johnny Cash had just left his wife for June Carter and they wrote a little song about it called “Ring of Fire.” Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had just been assassinated. A lot of my big brother’s classmates were dying in a place none of us had ever heard of called Vietnam. That’s a lot for a ten year old to absorb. I sat on that curb in front of my house a lot.
Ten years later I was a twenty year old pulling out of my parent’s driveway in my overloaded Datsun 510 wagon on the way to UC Santa Barbara. It was 1978 and The Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever soundtrack dominated the airwaves. An unknown band out of Pasadena called Van Halen and an obscure singer-songwriter named Elvis Costello both released their debut albums changing the way the rest of played guitar and wrote songs forever. Getting the most spins on my turntable that year was Bruce Springsteen’s new album Darkness on the Edge of Town.
By the time 2001 finally rolled around the world had changed so many times I’d lost count. The vinyl albums and turntables we’d used to play the soundtracks of our lives had given way to cassettes, CDs and mp3s. Although her name was not Cammie, my wife was gorgeous, we didn’t have any kids and we most certainly did not have a flying car.
2001 turned out to be a pretty big year. In May, after ten years of part-time teaching at various community colleges in San Diego, I finally landed a full-time tenure-track position as a philosophy professor at Southwestern College. In June, a few weeks later, I turned 43 years old in the Vista jail on my first and last DUI. That September brought the horror of 9/11. And in October the San Diego Troubadour was officially launched.
The Troubadour was hatched on the kitchen table of Lyle and Ellen Duplessie. They recruited their good friend Liz Abbott, an experienced artist, editor and graphic designer to captain the ship and Liz’s husband Kent Johnson to handle the crucial tasks of advertising and distribution. The four of them started calling everyone they knew lining up stories and writers.
Why bother? Why go through all the agonizingly hard work? Why launch another free weekly paper in an already crowded market? Clearly there was no real money to be made – this was a break-even project at best. But something had to be done, and somebody had to do it. Sometimes it’s just that simple.
Frustration is the womb of creation. The idea for the Troubadour was born out the frustration at the lack of media coverage for the music that mattered most to the Duplessies. San Diego had just come through an incredible decade of unprecedented musical output, the nineties, and the major papers in town had too many other things to write about to adequately cover it. San Diego had always had a vibrant music scene going all the way back to the dawn of rock and roll, but the nineties saw the rise of the coffeehouse circuit where venues like Java Joe’s and Mikey’s spawned a long list of acoustic singer-songwriters that went on to garner Grammy’s, White House command performances and gold records. Genres like alt-country, Americana, folk, jazz, gospel and roots music of all stripes were routinely overlooked in the mainstream media. Something had to be done.
So the San Diego Troubadour was born.
Ten years later, the Troubadour is a well-established musical mainstay in the San Diego region with a raft of contributing photographers, top-tier journalists and a reputation for humility, integrity and passion, three qualities not always found in the smarmy, oh-so-ironic hipster world of music journalism. Its DIY vibe and down-home feel stand out in an industry dominated by corporate media and revolving-door writers on their way to better and bigger things. One outstanding exception to the rule is San Diego Union-Tribune’s long-time music writer George Varga whose encyclopedic knowledge, nuanced insight and genuine love of music shines through every word he writes. Like many local luminaries, his professional excellence earned him a spot on the cover of the Troubadour in 2004.
By playing against type and reaching out to a vast clientele and readership grossly underserved by its competitors, the Troubadour has secured its place in San Diego journalism history. And the story’s just beginning. Having proven itself as a legitimate player in a crowded field, the Troubadour continues to expand its coverage and influence through digital, audio and visual media. Who knows what the next ten years will bring.
Ten years is a long time. Ten years is the blink of an eye. But what’s most striking to me is how a vision, born out of love – love for music and a keen desire to share that music with a much wider audience – spanned the chasm between the possible and the actual. Never letting the how interfere with the what, Lyle, Ellen, Liz and Kent and the great team of people they surrounded themselves with kept putting one foot before the other, never completely sure that any of this was going to work, but trusting in the knowledge that if you do good things, people will find you and support you.
It wasn’t always easy. In fact, in never was. In February, 2004 Lyle lost his beautiful and loving wife Ellen to a long battle with cancer. Four months later Lyle died of a heart attack while surfing with his family in Mission Beach. They both left us way too young. But they also left us with a vision and a passion and a willingness to keep doing the hard work of putting out a fresh edition every four weeks without fail, knowing that there are always more stories to tell, more music to share and more community-building to actualize.
Good journalism tells the truth. Great journalism reconnects us with the things that matter most. As we read these stories and see these pictures we are looking into a world very much like our own – filled with everyday heroes who plug away at their dreams, willing to risk it all on the off chance that passion really is worth living for, no matter how depleted our checking account becomes. Always a passion-first and a business-second endeavor, the San Diego Troubadour stands as an inspiration to anyone willing to take a chance on something they believe in, no matter how many consultants tell you it’ll never work. As you gather around your kitchen table with friends to consider your next move, ask yourself a few important questions. What’s frustrating you these days? What does the world need? Is there something trying to emerge, trying to be born? Are you the one to help midwife the next stage of our collective evolution? What if we let go of our fear and lived our lives instead from wonder and joy? Maybe tonight around a kitchen table somewhere a new project is beginning to take shape. And ten years from now we’ll all wonder how we ever lived without it. Where will you be, who will you be and what will come through you in these next ten years?