When I was living in New York a few years back, I did what was normal for me at the time: I went to Barnes & Noble to read magazines. I recall seeing a title I’d never seen before, Stop Smiling, and noticing a flashy cover with a photo of Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. In that afternoon I read most of the issue, which was entirely devoted to film, and marveling at the interviews, with such smartly chosen and out-of-reach figures as Robert Towne, Diane Keaton, and Robert Evans; and I recall essays on famous writers in Hollywood, like Fitzgerald and Faulkner. I immediately set my sights on pitching them, and when I went to the masthead to find a contact, I discovered that, lo and behold, they were located in my hometown of Chicago.
Stop Smiling magazine went under before I was ever able to get my byline in there (they went out with a bang though, with David Lynch on the cover of one of their best issues), but they set their sights elsewhere, becoming a book publishing imprint. Their first title also happens to be one of the best music books ever written, Dave Tompkins’s glorious How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II to Hip-Hop, and I love their second, Sam Weller’s Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews. By the time they were getting their publishing imprint off the ground, I started working some of the events at their storefront on Milwaukee Avenue, and eventually, JC Gabel and James Hughes, the company’s founders, editors, and publishers, became good friends of mine, which they are to this day. It’s bittersweet to report that tomorrow is the last day the space will still be around under the Stop Smiling banner.