Bella Bazooka is coming to town. Details are here.
I invited her to be the guest of honor at a SEX+STL Happy Hour. We’ve been friends for the past five years, accomplishing great things in our respective towns. She is the Owner and Editor of Bazooka, a monthly alternative weekly publication that shakes the southern town of Paducah, Kentucky, to its conservative core.
This will be our first time meeting in real life – at long last, two strong goddesses finally merging forces. Rumors are flying about Bella. As unbelievable as she is, no, she’s not a drag queen. In this interview you’ll see why she is so deserving of high praise, though she can’t stand me saying that, it makes her squirm with embarrassment. Please honor her with a warm welcome next Wednesday at the Handlebar.
Kendra Holliday: What is your background?
Bella Bazooka: I’ve always said I was plain ol’ Kentucky white trash, with a dash of the exotic. I’m sure there is the blood of Aztec priestesses running through my veins. I have too many dreams about jaguar eyes and temples surrounded by fire in the jungles for there not to be. But my momma is directly descended from Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, so there’s a lot of proud redneck in me, too.
KH: What gave you the idea to create a newspaper for your town?
BB: I went to University of Louisville on scholarships, and when I was there I discovered indie zines, the weekly entertainment stuff like The Leo, and got really involved in the scene. I even got to meet Hunter S. Thompson when he came there for his homecoming. I’ve always been a journalist, since the middle school paper, and was editor of my high school paper.
At one time I thought I’d be the editor of Glamour, but I ended up back home in Paducah as a single mom with two kids. I was at a point in my life where I needed to do something or I was just going to lay down and die. And I refuse to do that.
KH: What’s the town climate like in Paducah?
BB: It’s funny, I’ve always thought of this place as very close-minded, hypocritical…Bible-belt bound and bred. When I was in school I got in fights with everyone because I wouldn’t stand for them teaching creation in science class and the girls smuggly saying you had to do what your husband told you to. Seriously.
But when Dea Riley (the independent candidate for Lt Governor) came to town a week ago, she told me, “Wow, Paducah is really liberal compared to the rest of the state.” And it has opened up.
I mean, we were at a Mexican restaurant owned by a gay couple close to the new Lowertown Arts District. That’s pretty progressive for most of Kentucky. And Paducah is so rich in history, a river town with a past full of bootleggers and brothels, tough people, but still, in the Southern manner, very respectful and kind people.
When I go West I miss the lush rivers and trees and lightening bugs, and when I go North, I miss the manners. I mean, here – you still hold the door open for people at Walmart. The one thing that really kills me about this town is that one family controls the television station, the newspaper, and the local government (one is the mayor) – and it’s just ripe for scandal and tyranny.
KH: Have you noticed a change in the culture since you’ve come out as the ringleader of…. what do you call your schtick? hedonism? raunch? sexy?
BB: I’m sure some people would have some very choice words for it…like smut. I call it Paducah’s favorite alternative, and our tagline is “Only Slighty More Offensive Than Cable”. But I honestly came along at a perfect time. We had just started our local “arts” district, but the town leaders were hoping for very sanitized, “crafty” type art that went well with the quilt show. That’s just not how art works.
The Roller Derby girls were getting going, and there was just a lot of really cool stuff that deserved attention that wasn’t being noticed or encouraged. Now that people know there is someone out there that respects their work and sings their praises, even if it is a little raunchy or different – they’ve been more inclined to try something new.
I don’t know how many times in the past two years I’ve heard people say, “Do you think we could do something like…” It’s actually a pretty exciting time to be here. People are wanting to stay in Paducah after high school, and look forward to coming home to visit. It’s getting cooler, that’s for sure.
KH: What was your goal of Bazooka?
BB: To put something out there that was informative but still entertaining, very much like The Daily Show and The Onion. To make Southern women understand that they can be sexy and be good moms, too. To make the “freaks” feel like they were less alone, and that there were other people in this town like them, like me. To shed light on the subjects the local paper wouldn’t touch, because of small town, good ol’ boy politics. And hopefully, someday, be able to support me and my children by doing something I’m proud of and I love.
KH: Has it been easy to pull off?
BB: Fuck, no! The only reason I’ve been able to pull it off was because I was living with my parents, and I had the luxury of not having to support two kids by myself. That in itself is a huge challenge – trying to run a growing business by myself with no capital and two kids to raise, one who’s not even in school yet. It’s damn near killed me a few times.
Because of the content, the advertisers were hesitant at first, but thankfully, the quality of the content has generated a huge and faithful following. I’m an honest person, and I speak plainly without holding back, and people like that. They feel like they know me. It’s been hard, but like they say, I’ve got a fire in my belly and it ain’t going out ’til I’m dead.
KH: You started off with a newspaper, do you make a profit from it? how do you afford to print it every month? is it your job?
BB: It’s growing steadily. I started by gathering little ads from people who knew me and trusted me, and with $400 printed a 1000 copies. Like I said, I live with my parents, so the money from the paper goes back into the paper, and we’ve gotten up to a circulation of 5000 reaching into Southern Illinios and now even Northern Tennessee and Central Kentucky. It’s been two years, and even though I’m not rich yet, I know I will be. I have faith in it and myself, and I bust my ass for it.
I do it full-time, and pay one person to do my layout each month. I have a few contributing writers and photographers – but I do most of it myself. Everything from selling ads to delivering the damn thing. But that’s good. I own it. It’s mine. It’s got my blood, sweat, and tears in it – and people can tell by reading it. In fact there are people who say there’s too much of “me” in it. I can’t help it – it’s my heart and soul.
There’s been a lot of sacrifice that went into this paper. I don’t buy new clothes, I drive a crappy car. There are bedtime stories missed during deadline and my boyfriend hates it sometimes…it’s hard. But in the end, you appreciate something you’ve worked hard for more than you ever will something that is given to you.
KH: What sort of things do you feature in Bazooka?
BB: Oh Lord, a little bit of everything. I’m a Gemini, and the paper is every bit as schizophrenic as I am. We cover everything from the typical bars and bands to cool stuff for kids to do to a Southern Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Apocolypse. There’s actually a lot of cool stuff here – an independent theater and local film makers, musicians, artists, roller derby, cool businesses and restaurants.
We rant and rave about national and local politics, put pictures from the wild weekend events up, and have shared the beautiy of Paducah with our Pinup of the Month. And of course, because I am who I am, I do a love and lust column every month called Sex in the Sticks that ranges from relationship advice (like I need to be giving it) to borderline porn. That’s the one that gets me in trouble.
KH: Do people protest it or refuse to carry it?
BB: Yep. Now, because it says “fuck” and is a little on the scandalous side (for Paducah anyway) – I don’t put it out at Wal-Marts and Waffle Hut. I try to stick to bars, cool restaurants, liquor stores, tattoo parlors, some salons – things more adult-oriented. Since the beginning, there have been places that you’d really think would carry it that don’t, and places that you would never expect that do.
When I started the Sinner’s Club – a group on Facebook that was not dedicated to sex, but just a place where you could express yourself and not hear about it from your grandmother – there was a huge reaction. These typical Southern Baptist, close-minded women started calling my distributors and advertisers and boycotting them, and I had one or two quit carrying it (and apologized to me profusely) – but for the most part, my people told them to go screw themselves.
KH: Anything unexpected develop from Bazooka? like a town reaction, getting marriage proposals, etc?
BB: Um…there’s a part of me that didn’t realize quite how popular it would be. I thought it would catch on with my friends and the little group that used to go to punk shows, but I didn’t think I would become quite the force it has become. People are always telling me, “You don’t realize how much influence you have in this town…” And I say, “Yes, I do.”
I’m up to 3500 friends on Facebook, 5000 copies in print – even at conservative estimates, I’ve got a fanbase of 10,000. There are only 27,000 people in Paducah. People have taken copies to China, India, all over the world. I have random fans from freaking everywhere. Serious marriage proposals? Not really. I have lots of guys ask me out, send IM’s that say, ” ‘Sup.” I’m glad my phone doesn’t get picture messages.