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Wallace Baine: An Appreciation

wallace_baineI remember when Wallace Baine was the new kid on the block, back in the early 1990s, when he first arrived at the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
Back then, the local literati got together weekly over stale popcorn and coffee for film screenings, held at the Nickelodeon, to promote the latest cinematic faire on the theater’s schedule. It was there that I was first introduced to this fresh-faced kid just hired by the Sentinel to serve as its new arts writer.

For those of us who came of age during the Counter Culture here in Santa Cruz, the Sentinel— with its conservative political leanings and Wall Street Journal sensibilities—was considered enemy territory, particularly for those of us who wrote for the two or three weeklies always in distribution here since the early 1970s, including Good Times.

On top of that, one was never sure how long the fresh journalistic meat at the daily would last—whether it would reside long enough on the rack to develop some seasoning. So I looked upon this literary ingénue with a bit of a skeptical eye.

It didn’t take long for my doubts to be quickly—and utterly—disabused.

Baine soon established himself as one of the premiere arts journalists in the community—whether writing about film, music, theater or the visual arts. Moreover, he had a deft sense of which artistic efforts to chronicle locally, what mattered, and he often stayed away from the more obvious subjects, working the margins for creative discoveries.

At the same time, he became a strong advocate for many of those arts organizations critical to maintaining a creative presence in Santa Cruz—the Cultural Council, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Tandy Beal—even as the cost of housing and arts space in the community was skyrocketing. He also developed an annual award that honored the late arts activist Gail Rich by recognizing those who contributed to the cultural milieu of Santa Cruz County with the same esprit de corps as did she.

For nearly two decades now, he has chronicled the day-to-day, week-by-week cultural life of Santa Cruz County, without really missing a beat. The guy is a Steady Eddie. And he has done all of this while he and his lovely wife, Tina, have raised two beautiful and talented daughters, Quinlyn and Casey, all the while working on his own creative fiction.

He has developed a national voice, really, as a cultural (and political) critic of 21st Century America in his weekly column at the Sentinel, “Baine Street.” On top of that, he is an absolute gentleman and also a bit of a baseball fan.

Baine writes with a humor that is dark, wry, piercing and sardonic—shades of Mark Twain mixed with David Sedaris. Earlier this year he published a collection of his columns, “Rhymes with Vain: Belabored Humor and Attempted Profundity,” which I have been reading with great appreciation and admiration in recent weeks.

It is a brilliant collection of essays. In it, Baine crafts a perfect homage to Dr. Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson; he writes delightfully of life in the Age of the Internet; he mocks those of us a bit older than he by noting that the moment of the Baby Boomer has come and gone; he celebrates the grace of Henry Aaron; he closes it with a lovely elegy to a mutual friend of ours, the writer James. D. Houston. And much, much more.

Now, for once, those of us who cherish the Honorable Mr. Baine have a chance to appreciate him publicly. John Sandidge of Snazzy Productions (another local cultural icon) is hosting an evening with Baine and his talented colleague at the Sentinel, photographer Shmuel Thaler, at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center on Nov. 12, at 7:30 p.m.

In the first half of the show, entitled “A Picture and a Thousand Words,” Thaler will present a collection of his images while discussing his craft with Baine. In the second half, Baine will read from his book, along with new material, in what promises to make for a delightful evening of humor and imagery.

And it should also be a special evening celebrating both Baine and Thaler, two talented community artists—though don’t expect any sideshows. According to Baine’s press release, he promises “to attempt no shadow puppets, celebrity impressions or yodeling.”

 


An Evening with Wallace Baine and Shmuel Thaler at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12, at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. $22. For tickets go to snazzyproductions.com.
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