Eric Francis Interviewed by Generation Magazine, 2010

We dug deep into our archives and discovered that Generation Magazine’s founder was a really interesting guy, so we called him up.

What is the story of Generation’s origins?

Photo by Dakota Lane.

Photo by Dakota Lane.

Generation started with a satire called The University Malice. In 1984, the neoconservative movement was just getting going, nobody had heard of Karl Rove, and there was a little newspaper on campus called The University Balance. This was published by the College Republicans and was designed to give the “conservative” point of view in the supposed ocean of relentless liberal domination. Buffalo was pretty liberal at the time. My professors were true freaks but I just thought that was normal. Conservatives hated the academic freedom we had. The money to publish was coming from private funding off-campus. This same movement was threatening to tape the classes of professors to detect their alleged liberal bias, and then use the evidence to have funding to the university taken away. It never occurred to me that this movement would soon take over national politics. It did—Rove came out of the College Republicans.

Anyway, one night I sat at my IBM Selectric typewriter and tapped in The University Malice, a three-page spoof on the Balance, which I published on yellow mimeograph paper. This was complete with an ad for “Bender’s Crucifiction Supplies,” featuring “sharp nails, dark caves, screaming hoards, the whole shebang.” This ad was mocking a local Christian supply company that advertised in The Balance.

At the time, I was managing editor of the campus magazine, The Current. The other editors didn’t think The Malice was funny, and they impeached me for “activities which endangered the credibility and continued publication” of The Current. They neglected the part about how I didn’t check my First Amendment rights at the door, but mostly they seemed to lack any sense of humor. I took my case to Sub-Board I, the student-run services corporation that published the magazine (and which still publishes Generation), and they agreed that The Current’s board had violated its own charter by impeaching me. I was reinstated to my job. But The Current wanted no part of me (I don’t blame them). An impressive battle between Sub-Board and The Current ensued, which went as far as State Supreme Court. The court ruled that it was up to the university president to decide what to do; the president, Dr. Steven B. Sample (much to his credit), said it was up to Sub-Board; it was up to students to decide the issue.

One Thursday night in September 1984, Sub-Board’s board of directors determined that The Current editors, with the exception of me had, by their actions, resigned; and as the sole surviving editor, they instructed me to take over, change the name of the magazine and come out with an issue the following Tuesday.

Notably, I had spent the summer writing and editing Reach, the student handbook. One night over the summer in the midst of The Current crisis when I was really down and out, with my head down on the desk, the word GENERATION flashed across my mind—flashed like neon light. I guess you could call that a vision. Also of note, University Archives managed to collect a copy of The University Malice, so now it’s up above the UGL in the same room with the James Joyce papers.

What do you remember about putting out your first issue? What was that experience like?

It was frantic, I really mean it. But we had a lot of fun, and the new staff bonded and we began our adventure. We basically had a long weekend to put out the first edition. Fortunately, the production staff (Debbie Sterner and Liz Webb) had defected from The Current, so we had that angle covered. An old photo editor from The Spectrum had adopted me as his friend and was helping us out—Dave Heckman—so we had that angle covered too. Generation has always had really good art and photo karma. A guy named Reg Gilbert was around and he was experienced and very helpful.

I started with one writer, Andrew Galarneau. I think he was about 17 or maybe 18. He wore a fedora and trench coat and Wayfarer sunglasses  and smoked Winstons like a chimney. He had written a really funny column called “Bitter Twisted at UB” that I lost twice and which he submitted a third time, printed in dot matrix ink. That column put Generation on the map (and over time, won five national awards). By Sunday night, we still didn’t have a cover story. So Heckman said, “Well there’s always the old standby. Sports.” Heckman had tons of football photos. Sports were becoming an important thing on campus. I thought: well, I’m not really into sports; but everyone else is, and it’s good PR, so our first cover was “Dave May: Profile in Power,” about a campus football player. I’m glad I’m the only person who knows that story.

What was the goal or spirit of the magazine?

Our goal was to put out a hot, relevant magazine, stir the pot and have fun. I think we did all of that and a lot more. In an interview in The Spectrum at the time, I said I wanted Generation to be a morph of The New York Times Magazine and The Village Voice. Andrew added the gonzo journalism flavor. He made fun of frats and we were suddenly wildly popular among the Greeks. He could make fun of anyone and they would love it. Andrew, I know you’re reading. You better fucking write a book. I’ll buy the first copy.

According to your Wikipedia page, you were born in Brooklyn. What brought you to UB? What did you like or not like about going to school in Buffalo?

Brooklyn is great; the best thing about it, in retrospect, was John Dewey High School. By the way, I am doing publicity for the 40th anniversary all-class reunion—if you’re a grad, Google that please. Anyway, I had visited the campus and I loved the place, and the thing I loved the best was Squire Hall. That was the old, magnificent student union on the Main Street Campus. Squire was closed the next year, though, and students had to put up a huge fuss for a long time to get a union on the Amherst campus. I got along great with Buffalo. The first year, before I was involved in campus journalism, it was a little boring, but I loved my professors and my classes. I thought Buffalo was a friendly town, and had the spirit of inviting participation. Yes, it’s a small town compared to New York City, but it’s also on a more human scale. On the other hand, I chose SUNY Buffalo because it’s a large campus with resources and culture. My theory was you can make a large campus small but you can’t make a small campus large. By the end of my stay at Buffalo it was a place I was intimately familiar with; it was a small place when I left. I have only good memories. More to the point, I know that I made a contribution, and I wear my class ring almost every day. I have a faded pink SUNY Buffalo tee shirt that I wear at least once a week, if you know what I mean.

Right now students are facing a lot of financial issues, like proposed state budget cuts to SUNY and increased tuition. What were the big issues facing students when Generation started?

First I want to speak to the issue you mention. Cutting the budget and increasing tuition is a way of shifting the burden of public education costs to students and away from the taxpayers. It’s regressive; that is, it’s the opposite of progress and it goes against SUNY’s core mission. It only hurts students and their families, and it’s designed to push public higher education out of the reach of anyone but the posh side of the middle class. This is really stupid if you want a functioning state economy. This has been going on for a while, but when I was editor of Generation, Mario Cuomo was governor and there was a tuition freeze. There was this concept of access. So the budget could be cut, but tuition was stable at $550 per semester for about seven years. That’s what I said.

When I graduated Buffalo and started grad school in New Paltz, I created a statewide publication called Student Leader News Service that served student newspapers around the state. That was in 1989. By 1990, tuition hikes and budget cuts were pretty much all we wrote about; SUNY was on a rampage to raise tuition. The then-chancellor, your neighbor D. Bruce Johnstone over at Buff State (hi Bruce!), was busy dismantling the Student Association of the State University (SASU) and getting control of the Student Assembly, so that students could not resist the tuition hike efforts with effective lobbying. We’re now living under the financial structure envisioned by Johnstone: students pay for most of their public education. It costs more to go to a university center than a four-year college; that’s fairly recent. There’s another fee for everything. Tuition always goes up and the budget is cut, usually at the same time. This is a rip-off and both students and faculty need to do more about it.

What did you do after you graduated? How has your path differed from what you thought as a kid that you’d be doing, compared to where you are now?

At the time I graduated, I was planning to be the editorial page editor of a major metropolitan daily newspaper, or something like managing editor of Newsweek. My first job out of school was as a small town newspaper reporter, a good first job because you do real journalism day and night. By the time I was at my second job, editing high-end business newsletters about stuff like medical education and liquor regulation, I was on the way to being a writer for The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, but I quit my “straight” career to start my own news service, the Student Leader News Service that I just mentioned.

Today I’m an astrologer, and I edit a daily Web magazine called that focuses on astrology, sexuality and politics. If you had told me I would be an astrologer someday, I would have said: “A what?” But it happened; I chose astrology or it chose me, and I’ve made a real go of the work. On the other hand, is the closest I’ve come to realizing the vision that I had for Generation.

What is Planet Waves and why did you start it?

Planet Waves is an eclectic, beautiful, global voice that provides a forum for many controversial issues and some of the best astrology writing you’ll find anywhere. I started it for the same reason I start everything—it was the thing to do at the time. It’s also a community of conscience and creative exploration. We publish on two cycles—twice weekly, and then a professional blog about six times a day. Planet Waves is an original and it’s hard to describe “what it is” but it’s something I love and invest a lot of time and energy developing and taking care of.

You’ve done a lot of work as an investigative journalist—are there any particularly interesting stories or experiences that stick out in your mind from that?

I could tell you of many adventures, including some while I was a student journalist, such as covering the re-occupation of the contaminated Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls. But the one story I want everyone to know about is the dioxin-contaminated dorms at SUNY New Paltz. Some students here have siblings living in those dorms, who may not know about the problem. There was an electrical explosion in December 1991 that spewed seriously toxic chemicals, called dioxins and PCBs, into four dorms, Bliss, Capen, Gage and Scudder. The buildings were not cleaned properly and they’ve never been cleaned properly. PCBs were one of the great sins of the electrical industry and we are living with their legacy at New Paltz. Meanwhile, that story was my point of entrée into the global dioxin and PCB issue. If you want to know more, check out a Web site called

How would you explain what you do to someone that would hear “astrology” and dismiss it as a fluff section in the back of magazines like Cosmo, for example?

Anything can be done well, including the horoscope in Cosmo. I was drawn to astrology because I fell in love with the writing of a newspaper astrologer named Patric Walker. I bring integrity to my work, no matter what I’m doing. I think that the astrology you get is only as good as the astrologer who is doing the work: their skill and commitment and writing talent. It’s silly to dismiss as fluff a system of organizing life dating back to the dawn of civilization (the Chaldeans or Babylonians). Astrology is a foundation of mainstream intellectual thought. With mythology, it’s the first true study in psychology. Astrology is the basis of astronomy, and its roots go deep into mysticism and religion.

Also on Wikipedia, it says you have worked “as a research astrologer specializing in minor planets and other newly-discovered objects”—can you explain a little bit about what that means? How did you become interested in that?


In grade school we were taught that there are nine planets; in fact there are about 225,000 known bodies orbiting our Sun. I work with about 150 extras—asteroids, discoveries out in the neighborhood of Pluto and a group of weird objects called Centaurs that were first discovered in 1977. I’m a fan of Pluto, which is now considered a minor planet but is no less potent as a force for change. I learned about these early in my work and became passionately interested in them.

By 1998, three years into my professional career, I was teaching other astrologers how to work with them, beginning in England (where much of my astrological career has been centered). These are the planets that are not written about in most astrology books and some aren’t written about anywhere; some only get airplay on Planet Waves. To understand these little worlds, it’s necessary to do original research, to observe and to ask a lot of questions—which is common ground between my two careers.

To gradually understand a new discovery, you need to be willing to enter unknown, unproven territory—which is basically the nature of the mind, when you really look at it honestly. The mind is unknown territory, and I treat anything I encounter, whether it’s journalism, relationships, art or astrology: a tool to investigate and co-create existence.

Is there any hope for English majors?

I want to give some advice that I trust you may not hear anywhere else. But first I want to say that I treasure my English degree from Buffalo. I am the self taught kind of writer who has learned something important from every professor. Truly, I think of that at least one every day, especially Carline Polite, my fiction writing professor, who taught me to write a word a day.

Here’s what’s going on in the “real world.” Literacy is melting away. There will always be the literati, the snobs who went to private schools and allegedly know more than you. What I mean is that your basic, grounded, decently well-read, able-to-write-on-the-spot kind of literacy is evaporating. The ability to punctuate is disappearing. And everyone, and I do mean everyone, needs people who can write. And people who can edit. Learn how to do both. Start at a small newspaper; do it a lot. Editing and self-editing are skills that most writers lack. So learn how to do those until they’re easy. Always have a good computer or two. Write every day of your life.

Now here is the advice.

When you embark on a career that you want, make sure it’s the one that you really, really want, because when you succeed, you’re going to be doing that thing a lot; and you’re going to be doing it for a long time. So choose not just on what you feel your capabilities are—those expand every day—but choose on the basis of what you want. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Tell them I said to fuck off. Or tell them yourself. Believe in yourself and believe in what you want.

Remember that you’re doing this because you’re a creative person and that means you have a restless mind that cannot be confined. So stay a few steps ahead of yourself and develop new talents as you go along. If you have to focus, make sure you stay diverse at the same time. The great A.M. Rosenthal, longtime executive editor of The New York Times, told young journalists to keep a garden—it would help their journalism. I never followed that advice but I will say this: keep your hands in music and art. Do these things to keep your whole brain alive. I mean the nonverbal parts because the verbal parts are going to have plenty to keep them busy. Take pictures, drum, make noise and make love.

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