Why does anyone bother writing about music today?
Modern web convention says I’m supposed to have a few pictures in here and maybe a video because you lot lack the attention span of a common fruit fly. I’m supposed to keep this to somewhere between seven hundred and a thousand words. But bollocks to that, eh? What say I treat you like grownups who don’t mind me taking whatever time it takes to wind ’round to the point?
No? Fine. Here’s a photo of a fucking cat.
We good now? Okay. Let’s go.
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Thirty, forty years ago before the massive assault of the ‘net? The purchase of a piece of vinyl was a risky endeavor for poor people. So I understand why music journalism got started. Easily accessible methods of previewing an album were few and far between. Oh, sure — there was radio. But you only ever really got one or two songs off the record. And that was only if you were lucky enough to have a station that rotated the kind of music you loved. None of the bands I cared about in the 80s or 90s received much airplay.
The great joke of today’s classic Alt bands like the Cure is that they were by and large unknown to the unwashed masses in their heydays. It took a publication like Rolling Stone or Creem or Spin or NME or Melody Maker to turn you on to that sound. I clearly remember waiting four to five months for a copy of ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ to arrive wrapped in brown paper from the UK, ordered from an ad in the back pages of whatever zine I’d gotten my hands on that week. Back in the days when if it wasn’t top forty you had to hunt for it. A solid music writer like Ian Penman or Mark Ellen stood ready to lead you by the hand for three bucks an issue to greener pastures than Wang Fucking Chung.
But why should anyone do it now? I mean, seriously? If the kids want to discover new music there’s no shortage of apps designed to help them find it. And once they find it they can listen to it on Youtube playlists all day long. There’s very little risk in buying music these days because there’s very little buying of music. Sonic journalism is a joke today. No one’s willing to pay you to write a bad review. And even fewer people are willing to read it. Hell, there’s gigabytes of vlogging so you don’t even have to pay attention long enough to read a fucking word. You can just listen to it while playing Minecraft.
Some of you still like to read. And a few of us are compelled to write for you. It’s a special club, in a manner of speaking. If you’re reading this now? You’re of a certain tribe. You’re my people, each and every one of you. And I love you for it.
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As I mention constraints, it brings me to muse a bit on the pitfalls of writing about music in a scene. Of course the industry is largely defanged. There’s no ad revenue from the labels anymore, so who cares if you say something nasty about an album or a live performance from a major act? In the here and now the mortal if ironic enemy of honest words about bands is embodied in a singular form: The promoter.
The relationship between promoter and writer is at once strangely symbiotic and yet at times deeply at odds. This is no more true than in the shallow pond of local venues. The promoter needs the critic to holler from the mountaintops about whatever they’ve got going on next week in hopes that it’ll bring enough people out to stave off bankruptcy. The writer needs the promoter to continue putting shows together in order to have something to write about. And round and round we go.
The promoter doesn’t necessarily care about honesty. They’ve exercised their taste in the selection of talent and they expect you to love it. And once you’ve loved it they expect you to love whatever the next thing they’re working on is. Promoters are not unlike sharks. Constantly moving, in search of the next meal.
The writer, on the other side of the equation — if they’re to be taken seriously by the brave few who read these things? The writer absolutely must remain uncompromisingly honest in their assessment of any given show. This is both the dance and the danger. If you write long enough about a given scene, you start to make friends with the promoters and the bands. Maybe after awhile you begin to feel a certain reticence when it comes to gleefully trashing bad work. Maybe you find yourself teetering before the horrifying chasm of decency. Maybe you are eventually faced with the temptation of taking it easy on your subject as to not hurt anyone’s feelings.
Yeah.. Fuck that.
I am not a decent man. Not when it comes to this. And while I possess a pure, unabashed love for great songs? I equally harbour a terrible loathing from the deepest, darkest recesses of the burning pit of coal I call a heart when it comes to lousy music. The one compromise I’m willing to make is that I won’t go out of my way to gut local folks. If I don’t like your band? I just won’t write about it. I generally save my worst for national acts that suck donkey balls.
But if you’re a promoter and you’re reading this? Know that you court disaster if you pester me to write about your show when I’m not feeling it. I’m happy to get a heads up on your latest project. I’m happy to hear a word from you. One word. Not four or five or six. I don’t work for you. I don’t work for anyone. I go where I will, when I will, and I write about whatever the fuck I feel like writing about whenever I feel like writing about it. I’m not in your employ. I don’t get paid for this shit. And I owe you nothing. Savvy?
This isn’t directed at anyone in particular. It’s much a personal reminder to myself as to why I do this as it is a general warning to those who might seek to push me in any one direction.
It’s really not.
Taste and knowledge aside, this is the only reason it means anything when I write that anyone should pay attention to three or four cats brave enough to stand up in a local venue, stitch four chords atop a standard time signature, and howl at the moon.
The day that I can no longer write honestly about any of this? I’ll hang up my fucking pen and walk away.
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This Week in Local Music
Now that I’ve either pissed off or made every promoter I know personally wonder if I’m talking about them with this month’s column? I’ll list the shows coming up that I’m interested in.
Shakas. July 2nd. This Saturday. 7pm.
The original lineup of Black Flag is back on tour. I’m planning on checking this out but it’s in Virginia Beach and I’m allergic to that town. We’ll see.
Young Veterans Brewing Company. July 2nd. This Saturday. 7pm.
Demons is an amazing band that I love. If Black Flag’s not your thing, hit this instead.
Bold Mariner Brewing Company. July 3rd. 12pm — 8pm.
Also featuring: Midnight Snack. Rainbow Kitten Surprise. DJ Lord Thomas. I was a little down on the Monbacks at the LAVA Festival, and maybe unfairly as what I perceived to be a missing element of their sound at that show may have in fact been a transition to a new vibe. I’m gonna try to give ’em a listen here and see if my mind changes.
Charlies American Cafe — Riverview. July 14th. 8pm.
Any time I have a chance to catch BitchIMightBe live I’m down for that.
The NorVa. July 24th. 8pm.
A sorta jam band from the founder of the Black Crowes. I’m intrigued by how this plays out live.
That’s it. Be nice to each other. Or don’t. Whatever.