Wednesday, March 01, 2006

WHO GIVES A S*** ABOUT MUSIC JOURNALISM ANYWAY,
PART II
For Spin and the Village Voice, today goes down in history. Albeit, the portion of history not many people care about.



When I was fifteen-years old, I bought my first copy of Spin Magazine. The June 1991 issue featured Perry Farrell on the cover, the then-lead singer of the eccentric LA punk band Jane's Addiction. While I was completely unfamiliar with their music, nevertheless, I bought it because the issue had a news item on U2. At this point in my life, I was not the well-versed music journalist I am now. My knowledge ran the slight gamut from middle-aged rock (Billy Joel, Don Henley) to commercial alternative (the aforementioned U2, R.E.M.). Normally, I would read music reviews in my mother’s People or in the Star Ledger our local paper, so it was refreshing to find a magazine that finally helped my awkward self feel somewhat cool for 140+ pages a month. Spin would thereafter introduce me to alternative rock like New Order, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, amongst others. The records I discovered through Spin (like Pavement’s Brighten the Corners) still resonate strongly with me. The bold magazine was the alternative rock Bible for a suburban Jersey boy with no MTV, no cooler older brother, and no record store within walking distance. Years later, when I wrote for them, it would be a thrill for me to see my byline featured in the mag. I had considered this a true accomplishment, a highlight of my life—to be a part of the publication that was integral to my musical upbringing was thrilling.

Yesterday, it was announced that Spin was sold for a measly $5 million, which, in the magazine industry, is pocket change. The withering publication was bought by the McEvoy Group and Hartle Media, both San Francisco-based companies that are merging together to form Spin Media LLC in the hopes of replicating the snarky tone of the Dennis Media enterprise (Stuff, Maxim, Blender). After clumsily searching for an identity under the helm of Sia Michel for so many years, Spin is in the process of developing into a magazine that hopes to attract an even younger audience than it has now (yes, even younger than the kids that bought both copies featuring My Chemical Romance on the cover twice in one year). To many involved in the industry, this is an end of an era. The man taking over Michel’s position is Andy Pemberton, who was an integral player in the launch of Blender. Pemberton has laid off all the valued, talented writers on the Spin masthead including pop-culture savant Chuck Klosterman, Caryn Ganz and Mark Spitz and he reportedly told the remaining staff that the magazine is headed in a very drastic direction.

In the past few years, with the popularity of the ADD-inspired magazine, outlets for thought-provoking human interest profiles are dwindling. When especially considering pop culture outlets, there remains but a few, one amongst them, the aging dinosaur Rolling Stone. Consumers are finding it less important to delve into a substantial piece and would rather devote themselves to a compendium of gossip, a compilation of lists and sound bites. And in truth, it’s hard to make a convincing argument otherwise. Why should anyone want to read a 3,000-word article on a popular band, or a renowned musician? How exactly do you make that case? Where would you start?

Today, just like every Wednesday, the current issue of the Village Voice hit the streets in the early a.m. The “independent” weekly, which was also just purchased by the large conglomerate the New Times, featured a cover story by the ascending star journalist Nick Sylvester. Sylvester, who was previously a writer for the uber-critical music website Pitchfork Media, was initially employed by the Voice as a daily blogger. The story “Do You Want To Kiss Me?” was Sylvester’s debut cover for the weekly, which would make this a huge stepping point for his career. The overall tone of the article, like much of his writing, was snarky, casual and perhaps too self-referential. But there are fans and appreciators of Sylvester’s style just as there are passionate detractors. I count myself amongst the very passionate detractors because Sylvester’s writing is antithetical to my own tenets of writing. Nevertheless, I wish Sylvester well.

A few hours after the March 1st Issue was distributed in the corner red boxes throughout New York City, the Voice took the article down from their homepage. Gawker.com, the Manhattan media gossip website caught wind of this and reported that Sylvester fabricated some of the anecdotes written into the piece. Out of embarrassment, the weekly retracted the story online, suspended Sylvester, even forcing him to write a public apology. Ultimately, the article and the fabrications it held within will have little-to-no ramifications on the world-at-large. In fact, “Do You Want To Kiss Me?” is a piece of fluff journalism, feeling both forced, and inauthentic—after hearing the Jayson Blair-ish news, Sylvester’s inaccuracies were of no surprise to me. The story reeks of invention. Moreover, it felt like a poor topic to make a cover debut with—men acting like jerks to pick up women in bars is hardly a new trend. This alone makes me wonder why Sylvester felt so compelled to write this piece. But the specific details are irrelevant. Sylvester, only twenty-four years old and already making a splash in a small pool of talented writers essentially shot himself in the foot the first time he picked up a gun.

But even before Sylvester’s self-destructive prose and even before the sale of Spin, the art of long-form music journalism was already on shaky ground. And for shame. All music is an art (yes, you could even make that argument for the Pussycat Dolls in some regard) and requires the same analysis that all art forms require. Some compelling musicians are worthy of true focus. Of course, one could argue that we have the Internet now in place of magazine journalism. But our reliance on the web and the overwhelming inflow of information makes lying possible—rarely do we scrutinize a website as closely as a printed publication and they frequently escape responsibility and accountability for their inaccuracies. Moreover, when you venture into the world of Internet music journalism, you’ll find that it’s intimidating and constantly in flux with little filter and journalistic credibility. High and low scoring reviews are utilized as attention-grabbers (“I championed said band first!”). Pitchfork Media, a website I visit daily, for example, is good for one thing. It’s numeral rating scale. But it’s not a journalistic outlet, it’s a constantly rotating churn of obscure independent music. And it excels in that regard.

For a long time, I’ve had a dream where I start a magazine that combines a predilection for pop culture with the integrity and depth of the New Yorker. But that will never happen now. Not with the further lobotomizing of the magazine industry and not while seemingly credible scribes like Sylvester taints the fading reputation of the music journalist. So, why should anyone want to read a 3,000-word article on a popular band, or a renowned musician? Right now, I’m really not sure. Although, back in 1991, I used to be.

1 Comments:

Anonymous josh becker said...

You write:
Consumers are finding it less important to delve into a substantial piece and would rather devote themselves to a compendium of gossip, a compilation of lists and sound bites. And in truth, it’s hard to make a convincing argument otherwise.

You are absolutely right and the fact that it is true pisses the hell out of me, and has for some time. The worst part is that ever since about 1995ish, our musical artists have realized this fact, and have catered to it. Early 90s Grunge was the last time I remember that our artists actually cared about their music rather than what the public would think of it, and how they can sell more and more. Sure, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Fiona Apple, U2/REM, even the ancient Aerosmith and Rolling Stones and some other left-over bands are still rolling along. (is candlebox still alive?.)Others have broken apart and characters such as Billy Corgan, Scott Wieland, Axl rose, David Grohl, Chris Cornell, Sublime members, Travis Meek, RAGE members, are wandering in and out of bands or recording themselves solo- trying to bring back the abundance of true art this country once had. Once the early nineties ended, these guys were joined by a strew of shitty imitations (silverchair, creed, puddle of mudd, whatever) some of whom started out with potential but all of which totally blew it.
Anyway, since then, the musical audience has been fed vertical horizon, stroke 9 and other crappy American-Pie teenage dirtbag pop (How did Weezer and DMB get so bad so fast?) that forced the real listeners to resort to indie rock for some fresh idealistic, well, just, good tunes. But then indie rock got bigger. I remember when modest mouse got big, and now the same is happening with deathcab. And I found out they're all over the OC soundtracks! Now how did that happen?
The year of the "the" bands was pretty good (the vines, the hives, the helicopters, the strokes, the killers, the white stripes..)and some of that is still going on...its pretty cool but something is still missing..OK, Im gonna go now, cuz I could write a book on this.
Basically, the reason why "Consumers are finding it less important to delve into a substantial piece and would rather devote themselves to a compendium of gossip, a compilation of lists and sound bites" is b.c of the instant gratification of the microwave, cell-phone, Television, and IPOD. NOTHING TAKES WORK ANYMORE! Aryeh, apprecitation of the best music takes work. YOu think Kid A sounds good after a third try? Or a good wine to a ten year old? no, the best things in life take time- but today, no one has the time.

1:49 PM  

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