[Slackjaw] is an extraordinary emotional ride, through the lives and times of reader and writer alike, maniacally aglow with a born storyteller's gifts of observation, an amiably deranged sense of humor, and a heart too bounced around by his history, and ours, not to have earned Mr. Knipfel, at last, an unsentimental clarity that is generous and deep. What begins as a cautionary tale turns out to be, after all, an exemplary American life. The Park Service ought to be charging admission. Long may he continue to astonish us."
Jim Knipfel began writing his weekly column Slackjaw shortly after landing in Philadelphia in 1987. Bored and drunk one afternoon, he picked up the city’s two alternative weeklies and read them cover to cover. Then, in that snotty way of his, forgetting for a moment he’d never done any such thing before, he decided he could do a better job than any of the writers he’d just read. For some reason the editors of The Welcomat seemed to think he might be onto something, and hired him to write a weekly column for $35 a week. In theory. he was supposed to write about underground shows and other unheralded events around the city—goings-on at the punk clubs, avant-garde performances, church festivals and the like. Soon enough though it devolved into a first-person rant and ramble which only occasionally made any sense. His first piece of fan mail was a death threat, which convinced him he must be doing something right. Other threats would follow, bloating his already inflated sense of youthful self-importance.
the ironic thing is, one of the reasons he preferred the first-person model was he had a difficult time recalling what he had done from one day to the next (whiskey can be a demon), and so thought the columns might stand in for his own memory. Having decided that, of course, it was only inevitable a computer glitch would erase some three or four years’ worth of “Slackjaw,” leaving no record at all. To this day he doesn’t remember anything he did when he was in Philly.
He wrote for the Welcomat (still at $35 a week) until 1993, when “Slackjaw” moved to a weekly slot in the NYPress. It continued running regularly there until June of 2006, when he was fired by a new editor who was convinced Knipfel was an agent of the devil (though the official excuse was that he was “not a team player”).
Shortly thereafter, given the bell had tolled for the age of the alternative weekly, the column began appearing on-line at ElectronPress.com, where it has run to this day. New columns are posted every Sunday afternoon.
Over the years the column has morphed and evolved from “Who Knows What?” to “What the Hell?” But that’s just the way life works, don’t it?
A random sampling of a few dozen columns from the NYPress years may be found here.
The current home for Slackjaw is Electron Press. They can be found here.