The Santa Cruz journalism scene would not have been as contentious, creative, or subversive in the 1970s and ‘80s without Buz Bezore. And it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. When Buz sauntered off to the newsroom in the Great Beyond last week, Santa Cruz lost a little piece of itself.
I met Buz years before either of us landed a job in the newspaper biz, when we were both students at UCSC. We had a two-quarter, multi-media class together at College V (now Porter) called The ‘20s and ‘30s in America; we read Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos and Gertrude Stein, and we watched a lot of movies in class—Busby Berkeley musicals, crime melodramas, screwball comedies.
I didn’t know Buz really well, but I remember at the end of the class (back in the touchy-feely days when students could make up their own finals), he and I were the only ones who chose to write papers on the movies. My topic was comparing the top box-office stars between the two decades as some sort of cultural barometer. His topic was gangster movies. Years later, as I recall, he bought an old, vintage pinstripe suit at the Goodwill for some formal event, and was delighted to find a small bullet hole in the back of the jacket.
When I first went to work for Good Times at the end of 1975, Buz was already on the payroll as a freelancer, writing a live music column, but as freelancers, our paths rarely crossed. In those bygone days, Santa Cruz alternative journalim was in its infancy. The daily Santa Cuz Sentinel was considered too conservative, and Buz quickly decided that the entertainment-oriented GT (whose motto at the time was “lighter than air”) was not alternative enough for him.
Largely under Buz’s instigation, the first in a series of alternative alternative weeklies began to take shape, starting with the original paper known as the Santa Cruz Weekly. (A spiritual heir of the old Sundaz rag that I used to read with such relish as a student up on the hill.) It wasn’t until Buz started popping up at Nickelodeon press screenings in connection with the Weekly that he and I became friends
Over the years, The Weekly begat the Santa Cruz Express, begat the Independent, begat Taste, begat the Santa Cruz Metro. Buz was the editor through most of these incarnations, each of which was dedicated (tacitly or otherwise) to knocking GT off the map. And as volatile an editor as he was to work for (and those stories are legion), he and I were always friends—even though I continued to work for “the enemy” throughout our parallel jouranalistic careers.
One year, the Express (I think it was) published an April Fool’s issue lampooning GT and everyone in it. (It was called Goon Times.)I opened it with trepidation, fearing the worst, only to find out there wasn’t a mean word about me in the whole issue. In retrospect, I might have felt a bit left-out, but as a thin-skinned baby journalist at the time, I was enormously grateful!
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Art Boy and I used to host Oscar night parties for local media folks and other celebrants, and Buz and his longtime-partner, Christina Waters, were always at the top of the A-List. We ordered pizzas, kept the champagne flowing, and staked serious cash money in our annual Oscar pool. Buz was famous for coming in with the fewest correct predictions—usually in direct proportion to how loudly he proclaimed that, this year, he was going to win! Most of the time, he went home with the consolation prize, an old Oscar issue of Mad Magazine that was passed around among the low-scorers year after year. But it never interfered with his bonhommie as the evening played out.
Even years after we stopped hosting those bacchanals, and after Buz had severed the last of his ties to the local journalism scene, if we happened to run into each other at the Live Oak Farm Market, or a movie, we’d still spend an hour yakking, catching up. As if it had only been a couple of days, not years, since we’d seen each other last.
Maybe it was because I never worked for Buz full-time that we stayed friends for so long. (Okay, full disclosure: I did occasaionally write for his various papers under a nom de plume.) He pushed buttons to get results, but he was also an editor who knew how to inspire and/or bully his writers to do their best work. And everything I pretend to know about writing catchy headlines and slugs, I stole, oops, I mean learned from Buz.
Alternative journalism in this town has lost one of its major spark plugs, instigators, and agents provocateur. It would have been a much poorer scene without him. Thanks for everything, Buz!