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25th Anniversary Sale, and in Praise of Shirley Sexton, Our Former Webmistress

23 February 2006

Recently, we began a “25th Anniversary” sale on our Big Takeover Secure Online Store.

(Briefly, let me announce that sale quickly, in case you haven’t heard about it. If you want any back issues of our magazine, or a shirt or a CD, now’s the time to get them: aside from the sold out issues 32 and 34, for every three back issues you buy, you can get one free. Just go to our store and when placing the order, put in the “comments” section which issue(s) you want for free. Or buy any four back issues, and you can get a free t-shirt in red, black, or white in six sizes, or a free CD—DOUG GILLARD, LAST BURNING EMBERS, or EVEN WORSE. You can also do this by mail order, and the sale lasts for a limited time, until issue 58 is out.)

But both the anniversary and the sale (and the 10th anniversary of our online store itself!) remind me that neither that milestone nor its attendant celebration would have been possible were it not for the efforts of one person in particular: SHIRLEY SEXTON.

Last month in this space, I wrote about DAVID STEIN, The Big Takeover’s co-founder, whose idea it was to launch our publication in June of 1980 and who then asked me to help. Accordingly, it is only fitting to fete Ms. Sexton, without whom we wouldn’t have made it past our 16th year, let alone make it to 25 and counting.

These days it’s hard to remember that informative web sites and convenient online shopping were not regular facts of life before 10 or 12 years ago. We take it as a given. But recall that our first 15 years of the magazine came before all that, so all of our subscriptions and orders came by snail mail in a small trickle of little checks. Simultaneously, it was 100 times harder to find out about our existence back then (and that of other small non-corporate publications) in the first place, apart from a friend telling you about it, or stumbling across it in a mom-and-pop store, or reading about it in another magazine.

Given these hardships, as noted in the new 25th Anniversary Issue #57, it was right around 1995, after 15 years of doing this, that I’d made a firm decision to fold The Big Takeover. Now in my 30s, it was just after the breakup of the band, SPRINGHOUSE, whose rehearsal/recording/touring demands had for six years left me unable to pursue any other career. But now I had to find some other way to make a living, and other events and concerns suggested it was time to get out of the crappy old music biz. Clearly, no matter what, I just couldn’t justify continuing a time-eating, break-even hobby like the magazine any more. Accordingly I took the first steps to embark on a new career as a high school history teacher. This move was put off “temporarily,” almost as soon as I made up my mind, by a lucrative offer to write editorials for a web site in Chicago called JamTV in 1995. But that just bought me some small time and some war chest funds. (JamTV’s site was bought out a year later, and all its columnists were let go. So that was that.) There still seemed no way, even with this little slush fund, to kick The Big Takeover up a notch and make it my job, however modest, instead.

Enter Ms. Sexton. Shirley is both an extraordinary and unique individual, whose history is to get involved in the things she feels passionate about, be it women’s rights issues, politics, charities, friends, and music. She’s thus one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. And though she doesn’t think of herself as being any big deal, I should say I have long admired her, too. She has the courage of her convictions, a great spirit for the things she loves in life, and most of all, she’s a doer, not just a dreamer. When she sees the chance to make a difference in the lives of other people or the things that mean a lot to her, she jumps. If anyone embodies the original punk rock scene spirit she came out of, of both being more than a witness, and being a force for change, it is she. She inspires by pure dedication, work, and example.

To that end, and for the purpose of this blog, she greatly inspired me when she came up from her then-home D.C. that 1995, and volunteered to both create and manage a Big Takeover site and a web store to go with it. She liked the mag and wanted more people to find out about it. This she did, and, did quite well, engineering and massaging a site that was good-looking, succinct, easy to navigate, and user friendly. And the store proved a hit with readers, advertisers, and the newly curious. Long story short, with this new presence, and the general explosion of the web and email in general, we subsequently got a ton of mail and orders from people saying “I don’t know how I missed you all these years.” We finally reached the greater audience of people interested in our kind of coverage. With more readers came more orders, and more advertisers—the crucial funding going forward that was needed to sustain and improve the publication. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that without some kind of effective web site these last 10 years, any magazine would be hard pressed to prosper. And my teaching post? Put off indefinitely.

She then remained, until very recently, our tireless and helpful webmistress, updating the pages and the store for a decade—a thankless job at times under stress. The brand new, current format of this site, with daily content, requires a much more constant time and effort, more than any one person could reasonably be asked to give in their spare time with no guarantee of the barest remuneration. And Shirley has both a demanding job on her own and a fairly new, very cool husband to boot, so it wouldn’t be possible for her to continue to implement and manage such a constantly in-motion operation.

Those who’ve worked on this new site have been thanked in the new issue (cheers MICK LEWIS, JIM SANTO, JEREMY AMOS, and GARETH BOWLES), but let us give Shirley her rightful due and tribute here, which is thoroughly warranted. On behalf of our magazine and its readers, thank you Shirley for devotion to the cause and countless hours contributed out of sheer love. And let me personally also praise her for being such a valuable and loyal friend for so long, too. 11 years ago, I also remember she bet me that I would marry someday and that if I lost the wager, my payment would be to give her one dance at my wedding. That was a bet I didn’t mind losing, and I’m pleased to say she dutifully collected her winnings, and quite gracefully at that. I in turn got one dance at her wedding. (I probably stepped on her foot.)

So any fan or friend of The Big Takeover, please join me in a deserved toast to the amazing Shirley Sexton, in all praise and appreciation for all she did, and all she continues to do, for our magazine and for music in general. For a great example of the latter, why not visit her web site devoted to her (and one of my) all-time favorites, the still going, and still quite good STIFF LITTLE FINGERS (you can check their website here. Knowing her as I do, she’s not big on personal accolades (when I told her two months ago that I intended to write something like this, she just scoffed!), so that might actually pay her the best tribute of all. And drop her an email there, as well, and tell her thanks. The world needs more like her, that’s for sure.


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