In 1978, at the age of 25, Rick Karlin was asked by Sarah Craig (then editor of the Chicago newspaper GayLife), the following question, a question that would determine his life-path: “Do you think you could do it?”
The question was in response to Karlin’s mention that he missed the cooking column that had run in GayLife—when point blank asked if he would take it on, he replied (to his own surprise) that he would give it a try. So try he did. From 1978 to 1982, he wrote a cooking column as “The Gay Gourmet.” In 1982 he began working at Gay Chicago magazine, writing serials, reviewing theater, eventually becoming a entertainment editor for their “After Dark” section in 1988. In 1996, he moved to another Chicago publication, Nightlines, and also began broadcasting on Chicago’s “LesBiGay Radio” program. Until 2016 Karlin would be involved in some fashion with Chicago LGBTQ media, be it print, radio, and/or web, as he writes in his memoir Paper Cuts: My Life in Chicago’s Volatile LGBTQ Press.
Karlin may insist that he himself is no “A-List” Gay or “mover or shaker” but there is no denying that he walked in some rarefied circles: many of the “names” of Chicago LGBTQ media during the 1970s through the early 2000s were people he worked for, or with, or at least knew professionally. Many of them were eventually inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, as evidenced by the inclusion of their bios from chicagolgbthalloffame.org into the text of Paper Cuts (Karlin himself was inducted in 1997).
But Karlin’s memoir is much more than a tell-all exposé of Chicago’s LGBTQ press over the course of 30+ years: he could have titled it simply Paper Cuts: My Life, since he devotes as much ink to his own life as to the goings on at various Chicago media. Amid all of the newsroom drama (and there was plenty of that!) Karlin intersperses all of the changes in his own life: divorcing his wife; helping to raise his son; coming out to his family; moving; changing various day jobs; gradually becoming more active among the Gay community; meeting men, including his husband Gregg; earning a Master’s degree. His memoir also records the impact of numerous historical events upon him, the LGBTQ community, and LGBTQ media–for example, the deregulation of AT & T in 1982 led to the “proliferation of independent phone companies offering a variety of services”–i.e., phone sex lines. Phone sex lines further proliferated due to the AIDS epidemic; but they were a boon to many LGBTQ publications, providing them with much needed advertising revenue. (The rise of Internet porn in the late 90s/early 00s would lead to the drying up of this revenue stream.)
Karlin may also insist that he was no journalist; nevertheless, he had a privileged view of history as it occurred, both nationally and regionally. What is also true is that what he himself lived is also part of that same history: how he lived, loved, and survived, all the minutiae of living in Chicago as a Gay man during the end of the twentieth century, is just as valuable reading as the other events he records.
Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske