The ’90z – 2003 (cont.)
The one in which there is an altercation and the editor is fired
Anal Cunt, a regionally based grindcore band of dubious repute, etched original Dig Editor-in-Chief Joe Bonni into shock rock history by referencing him in the 1996 tracks “Punching Joe Bonni’s Face In” and “Everyone In Allston Should Be Killed.” In doing so, the group’s frontman Seth Putnam did Bonni’s legacy in this town a severe disservice—dude played a prominent role in tattoo and cannabis legalization, to say nothing of co-founding the very publication you’re presently reading. So it is with some regret we must attempt to recount the events surrounding the original editor’s 2003 departure from the Weekly Dig, ’cause they’re pretty vague and a little embarrassing. Not as embarrassing as Anal Cunt, but embarrassing nonetheless.
In all your reviews you always talk about yourself
No one really cares how drunk or high you are
You always write about the dumbest fucking bands
It figures you live in Allston
You try and take over everything you’re involved in
You started a new column because your camera got broken
Are you gonna start a new column when I punch your face in?
JOE BONNI (founding EiC): As the years went on, it became really clear to me that [Publisher] Jeff [Lawrence] was being highly influenced by the structure of several other much larger alt-weeklies. It’s not fair to say he wanted to mainstream or corporatize the Dig, but indeed, to some degree, he wanted to mainstream and corporatize the Dig in ways I wasn’t comfortable with.
BENNETT (music editor): Everyone got along. Joe and Jeff had … I won’t say weekly blowouts, but monthly blowouts, I think is safe to say. To both of their credits, they were able to have those, get it all out of their systems, and go back to working. At the time, there didn’t seem like there was much of a grudge building up.
BONNI: I was resistant to some of the things Jeff wanted to do. And I know that created tension. But I also considered myself a partner and a co-founder, period. So I didn’t actually think I could be fired, in the same sense that I couldn’t fire Jeff. I thought if things ever got that bad, he and I had to figure it out, find an exit plan, work through it.
JEFF LAWRENCE (founding publisher): I already knew he was unhinged, insofar as he wanted to run a radical, heavily socialist-anarchist publication that pushed every fucking boundary. And at that point we had a business that relied on advertising that was going to pay our salaries.
MATT KING (classifieds manager): They used to butt heads all the time. Every now and again they would clash over this or that or the other thing. I remember Jeff getting upset that there were too many stories about pot. I think that’s the time the business started to … basically, the Dig outgrew Joe Bonni. I think the Dig outgrows most people.
GRAHAM WILSON (sales manager): Joe and Jeff had different visions. Joe was more of a punk rock guy, more of a zine guy, and wanted to kind of keep things gritty and underground. There’s no problem with that, but we wanted to create something that had a larger audience, and we knew we had to be a little more diverse in our coverage.
BONNI: One of the nastiest arguments that we had was about how I didn’t have a wide-enough variety of stories. I literally put a docket full of stories—like, 12 different kinds—on his desk. I had no editorial staff, really. It was never like I had “x” amount of dollars to produce content. … So I was just sitting there throwing the docket down screaming bloody murder that the content was more varied than he’s giving me credit for and I’m doing it on virtually no money.
WILSON: When I worked for an indie record company, my goal was always to take bands and move them onto a major label. Nobody I ever worked with was like, “Stop selling records for me! You’re selling too many fucking records!” or “I don’t want these A&R guys from Sony and Warner Bros. coming to my show!” So if we believe in what we’re writing and we get more readers, how is that bad?
LAWRENCE: Bonni’s seriously one of the most intelligent people I have ever met in my life, hands down. He’s also absolutely the most obstinate, corrosive individual that you could ever want to try to have a business with. So at the end of the day, here’s me paying the bills, and he’s saying, “We need to look at socialism under Stalin,” or, “We need to go to an all-barter system.” It’s like, “Dude, you don’t live in the real world.”
BONNI: One production night, just before we went to press, Jeff was nowhere to be found. Jeff and I were not on good terms at this point, almost four years into the partnership. But bailing on production night was just plain bizarre. When he finally showed up at the office, he was drunk after some meeting at Foley’s around the corner. I ran into him just outside the building. Jeff and I had words about Jeff not being around on production night and how Tak and I were putting the paper to bed without him. He rambled on about my “career in this town” being on thin ice and eventually shoved me. A small fight broke out between the two of us, and then Jeff fired me.
LAWRENCE: Frankly, the only way or reason I was able to fire him and stop holding back after I had capitulated against requests and probably my own desires for quite some time was the fact that I did a couple of shots and fucking duked it out with him on the street.
TAK TOYOSHIMA (art director): All I remember is working on an issue and Jeff coming upstairs talking about him and Joe having a physical altercation. I don’t even think he mentioned Joe being fired at that point. Just that they had a fight. I feel like the announcement was made after the fact.
KING: I was sitting right across from Joe and Jeff in the office, and they were arguing about something. And then it got heated, and they went outside, and Jeff came back upstairs. His shirt was torn, his hair was messed up. I think he might’ve taken a punch to the face or something like that. I never saw Joe Bonni come up and get his stuff or anything. It was just like, “Oh. I guess Joe’s out.”
In the next episode: The Dig gets a whole new Joe to replace the old Joe and embarks upon a brighter era.