As far as new local publications go, Radio Silence is an easy one to root for: It's a nonprofit magazine of "literature and rock 'n' roll" founded last year in Oakland. The project's first two issues are beautiful, hardbound paper objects that place the work of celebrated fiction writers like Tobias Wolff and Daniel Handler next to that of musicians and musician-writers. In the first issue, Jim White recalls being on tour with David Byrne and finding the real-life setting of Cormac McCarthy's Suttree in a barbershop in Knoxville. Adam Haslett describes his obsession with New Order. Kim Addonizio offers a personal eulogy for the late local bluesman and music teacher Johnny Nitro.
Radio Silence's mix of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry -- mostly but not entirely related to music -- may resemble that of a literary magazine. But founder and editor Dan Stone says he doesn't want people to think of it that way. "[Literary magazine] has sort of come to mean that it's for a small and select audience, rather than just for anybody," he says. "I want anybody who picks up this magazine to read each of the pieces and feel like it could speak to them."
Radio Silence does more than put out a pretty little book every once in a while. On Sunday, June 16, it will host famed critic Greil Marcus and performers Eleanor Friedberger, Thao Nguyen, and Van Pierszalowski (of local rock group Waters) for a live concert and conversation at Public Works. The event is ostensibly a celebration of Buddy Holly -- the subject of a chapter in Marcus' upcoming book -- but basically just a special, intimate performance. It's also the biggest event Radio Silence has put on so far.
Stone, a fiction writer himself, got the idea for Radio Silence while producing radio documentaries for the National Endowment for the Arts -- a job that required traveling around the country and interviewing famous musicians, writers, and artists. After so many long conversations (including a bedside, scotch-enhanced chat with Gore Vidal), Stone came to appreciate the crisscrossing of creative influences. "What I was often seeing," he writes in the introduction to the first issue, "was how their art was affected and inspired by genres not their own." A project pairing literature with rock music only seemed natural.
After settling on a print magazine -- admittedly a "pretty reckless" endeavor, Stone laughs -- he decided to start it in the Bay Area. It took about six months to put the first issue together. Issue No. 2 came out in April, and includes writing from Thao Nguyen, Tift Merritt, and an old Edith Wharton short story. Stone hopes to use the funds from Sunday's event to cover the cost of the third issue -- since, as you might expect, Radio Silence isn't exactly a lucrative endeavor. No one on its staff, including Stone, gets paid (although the contributing writers do). And the magazine also donates some of its income to buy musical instruments and books for local schools, a project inspired by Stone's past career as a middle and high school teacher.
But if starting a smart, hardbound publication about lit and music seems like a fool's errand, Radio Silence seems to have proven that it isn't. The magazine has so far published some very famous writers, nearly sold out of the first issue's initial print run, and grown its subscription base internationally. The next step is to put it on a regular publication schedule, Stone says. Although he isn't in too much of a hurry: "It's kind of nice that we are still small enough right now that no one is holding their breath waiting for the next issue to come out," he says. "We can kind of take our time and do it right."