Today’s post—which covers some of the backstory of how “Juke” came to be—was initially available just for our community of paid subscribers. It was also an opportunity for me to ask those readers about the possibility of new audio features for Juke, which is why we were talking about audio in the comments section.
As a New Years' bonus, this page is now available for everyone. And if you'd like to share your thoughts about what you enjoy on Juke, or what you'd like to see more or less of in the future, please jump into the comments and let me know.
Thank you! --Tonya M
"Juke" was one of the names on my list. I kept copying them down as I thought of them:
Curio Sideshow Curiosity Juke joint Juke Bakery Firsthand Cat Roads Toast Dead Wood Deadwood Journal Bread Pudding (???) Meander Open Window
This was last January. My circumstances at the time were—to put it nicely—in flux. I had left my marriage after a decade. I had left my home in Kansas. I was staying in my mom's basement apartment and making do with the things I'd been able to throw quickly into two carry-on size suitcases. My days were primarily spent taking long walks with my mom and her golden retriever Moseley. Otherwise, I talked on the phone with my sister, with my divorce lawyer, my neighbors in Kansas, and a couple of my oldest friends, and I spent hours responding to emails from everyone else in my life who (having seen some crazy shit go down on Facebook) wanted to make sure I was still standing. Thankfully, I was.
That period was hell. I won't pretend otherwise. But I was consistently bowled over by gratitude. I had such amazing people around me. People I had barely known revealed themselves as true friends. My friends became like a family. And my family ...well, my family saved me. When I felt overwhelmed or battered by the overall sequence of events, I turned up the volume on those voices. All of them were telling me that I had the freedom to start something new.
"Something new" didn't have a name for a while. It was just a conviction. I wasn’t done with publishing (or maybe publishing wasn’t done with me.) I could make my own thing. And I wouldn’t have to do it alone.
Two of the most supportive voices last winter belonged to Paul Vlachos and Damon Falke. I had worked with each of them for roughly a decade. Damon, the Norway-based but Texas-born poet/playwright/essayist with the otherworldly wise, intuitive writing style. Paul, the wry New York photographer/writer/etc. etc. (think documentary films and punk and reggae bands) with the lightning-fire mind and unmatchable eye for detail. They had both contributed to the publication I'd published with my ex-husband, and they were among the earliest voices of encouragement after I left. I knew their talents, in both cases, were limitless. They just needed the right audience. If I were going to create something, it would be a vehicle for them, too.
I could make this place into anything I wanted. So what would it be like? I had never asked myself a question like that before. What did I love? Outsider art, jazz and blues music, noir films, pulp fiction, poetry... What would it feel like? a little raucous. Disorganized. Friendly. It would feel like freedom.
I used that word a lot. Freedom.
On January 10th, while my Petition for Divorce was being delivered to a courthouse in Kansas, I wrote a “Mission Statement” to myself. I still couldn't sleep longer than two hours at a time. I was still having trouble eating. And I couldn't focus long enough to read a book or watch an entire movie. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I thought about this website. I added to the list of possible names. I began to map out the style and format in my mind.
The mission statement didn't have to make sense, I told myself. Making sense could wait. Every time I used the word “mission”, in fact, my brain supplied “...if you choose to accept it,” just for silliness’ sake. For the moment, this was it:
Serving pies since 1985…
To exist in a state of earnest, but not humorless, dissatisfaction with nearly everything. To make an absurd conversation. To afflict the antiseptic. To get kissy with a scuzzy world. To seek a few honest freaks and the last of the sticky sentiments. To bite any hand that bleeds you. To be pissed off, if apologetically. To tolerate, if grudgingly. To fall in love, albeit fearfully. To get covered in dirt. To slip into occasional luminescence. To gather voices tumbling out from open windows. To mumble some maudlin nonsense. To spew and self-contradict. To float a helium-high mind and slop around in the low brow. To thrill cheaply. To paint on Emmett Kelly tears. To be candy-sick. To be grumpy. To keep talking because you can't sleep. To decide it's a nice walk, even in the wrong shoes. To be a little bit serious. Only just serious. But not quite.
Given the insanity of that mission, only one name made sense. I fussed with my list for a couple more weeks, but I already knew. So I got the Substack address. Then I locked down a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, an Instagram account, and a handful of backup domain names. And I made contact with another writer I'd worked with a few years earlier. If anyone would understand the "Juke" idea, it was Ned Mudd, the Alabama-based ambient rockabilly musician, the Zen poet and raccoon lover. He and Damon and Paul all agreed to join this crazy circus sight-unseen.
I will never, ever, be able to thank them enough.
I spent two and a half months building. I learned about Substack. Developed graphics. Wrote and gathered material. In between, I managed to file my last batch of joint taxes and finish getting divorced. Then Ned and Damon and Paul submitted their first pieces and we began. That was April 18, 2022. It seems like it was years ago, and it sort of seems like yesterday too. Funny how that works.
We've found so many new readers in the last few months. Some of you may not have seen those early pieces. Give these early favorites a read when you have time. But first, stop by the comments section below…
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Tonya Morton is the publisher of Juke.
I second Tabby's nomination for Damon reading the phone book, and i'll go one further: I'd pay good money to read a phone book that Damon wrote. As for the origin story of Juke, I'll admit I was hoping for Tonya to open up a little bit about herself in this essay. ... You know, words matter. And the word 'juke' is one of the most badass words in production. It can't be ignored in any setting, and to place it out there by itself: that's the power move. That's the win. I'm not kidding about any of this, except the part about Tonya, duh. I really think it's a brilliant title for what goes on here.
Wonderful to revisit these pieces, Tonya. and to learn more of the backstory of Juke and your journey to get here.
And, I love the idea of having an audio option - I would listen to Damon Falke read a phone book!