Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Golly, it's been awhile since I've posted. Not much has been going on, really; I've been revising a novel, freelancing for rock and jazz magazines, and trying to have a life sometimes. Same old same old.

I did go to this over the weekend, though. I went to talk about metal T-shirts and, specifically, why the wearing of them by non-metalheads, celebrity pop tarts in particular, can be viewed by metalheads as a rather poisonous insult, akin to blackface.

The panel I was on was about 50% good. I thought I did pretty well, even if I was revising my paper not just the night before but actually at the table while delivering it, but the two female panelists (and that's just how it broke out) fell down on the job pretty hard. One was supposed to talk about the secretive (because generally ignored-by/contemptuous-of mass media) world of Insane Clown Posse and the Juggalos, but it just kind of devolved into "I don't like ICP or their fans, and I can't really articulate why because neither the band, their label, nor said knuckle-dragging fans would talk to me, but here's some footage of fans off one of the band's DVDs - aren't they scary and hate-mongering? Look, they're angry, and white!" The other one was gonna talk about ageism in rockcrit, specifically how it was leveled against her for writing a rather blockheaded (as I recall, I haven't read it in years, and didn't exactly close-read it when it ran) Sonic Youth review in...well, go ahead and guess. That's right, the Village Voice. The review talked about how she'd been a fan of SY since high school, and viewed their then-latest album Murray Street as an unconscionable ball o' suck, and wanted an apology, to be followed by the band breaking up.

Two points on this one. First, the wounded-fan review has a long history. Lester Bangs wrote a great piece about how the MC5's Kick Out The Jams didn't come close to justifying the pre-release hype (it didn't). Second, I too felt burned by Murray Street, and not just because it was no Sister or even Goo. It was because I read in the pre-release hype that one track featured guest sax from Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich of Borbetomagus, longtime friends of Thurston Moore and the other SYers. I figured I'd get a slammin' 15-minute noise-blare-fest. I bought the CD, and got a three-minute song with about thirty seconds, if that, of squiggly sax, nestled in the dimmest back corner of the mix during the bridge. Whatta gyp!

Anyway, Amy Phillips (the presenter in question) was 22 or something when she wrote this piece; she'd been a Sonic Youth fan in high school all of five years earlier. So naturally, grizzled hipsters went berserk on her in the Voice letters page, and on the internet and whatnot. And it could have been a good paper, with all the questions about why old white men are the only reliable voices in rockcrit there for the answering, or at least the asking. But she relied on inaudible MP3 files from her interviews with said old white men to basically state that they thought their minds were still open even in their advanced years. Wow - you asked them if they were calcified, critically, and they said no! What a shocking development! She wound up with some fist-pumping about how she was gonna stick with it, maaaannn, because writing about rock 'n' roll was a stone gas. Yawn.

It would have been nice if she'd asked Robert Christgau (one of her interviewees, and a guy who was right there in the room as she delivered this opus) how he could consider himself open-minded when he bends over backward to like every black act that comes down the pike, but routinely shits on any and all metal or loud-guitar rock without even thinking once, let alone twice. Not all that open-minded after all, are ya, Bob? But whatever.

There were some other much better papers presented, including one on Steely Dan which was fun, if a little jargon-y; one on Albert Ayler and his music as a metaphor for/struggle against the Vietnam War (would have been cool to hear him break down, say, "Truth Is Marching In" vs. Hendrix's "Machine Gun," but he kept it firmly in jazzland throughout); one on Lester Young and the development of the "cool" posture in black jazzmanhood; and some others, too.

Even when I wasn't sitting quietly and absorbing the wisdom of other hacks (and some academics), I was wandering around the EMP building (which is incredibly ugly outside, but sort of cool inside) and talking to other folks I had theretofore known only online. To a man (and woman), they were very nice and friendly and smart - smarter than their posted opinions/tastes, in quite a few cases.

I had fun. I'll go back next year, if they'll have me.

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