Paste Magazine Eats It; Steven Wells Would Be Proud

By Steven Wells
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 13 | Posted Feb. 20, 2009

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The March/April issue of Harp was--thankfully--their last.

Editor's Note (9/1/2010): With the news yesterday that Paste magazine is no more, we revisit the late Steven Well's takedown of boring music writing and those that push it.

You hear that vile bubbling? That's the sound of America's indie rock press violently shitting its beige corduroy colostomy bag as it gasps its last.

Three leading indie music magazines have bitten the dust since the beginning of the year. The spectacularly dull No Depression, the stunningly uninteresting Resonance and the jaw-droppingly mediocre Harp have all recently gone to that great Belle and Sebastian disco in the sky. All of which is great news for anybody who hates mediocrity.

Harp founder Scott Crawford was actually proud of how timid and unambitious and bland his baby was. He described Harp as "a nice middle ground between the indie-centric Magnet and the dad-rockin' Paste," which is not so much a manifesto as a prenatal death rattle.

Full disclosure: I worked for Harp for a while. Publisher Glenn Sabin recently described the magazine as "irreverent." It wasn't. It licked musician ass until its tongue bled. The line "Joe Strummer must be laughing his rotting cock off," was cut from a review I wrote of an embarrassingly necrophiliac Clash re-reissue box set because it was "disrespectful." And the editor who hired me--admittedly a rampaging punk rock lunatic--was told to clear his desk and vacate the building immediately.

Harp's online slogan was: "Aimed at serious music enthusiasts." More accurately that would have read: "Aimed at social inadequates who alphabetize their record collections and really hate music journalism that isn't profoundly respectful of both the musicians and the sacred fabric of rock's rich tapestry. Now please close the door. I have just finished cataloguing my collection of Pere Ubu picture discs and I feel the need to wank."

It wasn't always thus. Once music journalism was the playground of punks, pirates, arse bandits, chancers, hardcore lesbian punk bondage freaks, revolutionaries, drug addicts and the borderline insane.

In the early '70s the likes of Creem and Rolling Stone and NME were staffed by bedraggled refugees from the revolutionanddrugsandfucking-crazed underground press of the late '60s. Jewfro-ed honkies engaged in fistfights, drug orgies and bondage sex (literally--this is not a metaphor).

As the decade degenerated, these jive-talking hippie scumbags (who said stuff like "bread head" and "chicks" and "sticking it to the Man" without the slightest trace of irony) were joined by a generation of chemical-kamikaze Marxist punks who took to the drugs, fisticuffs and bondage with a gusto that bordered on disgusting. Next came the hypereducated, Nietzsche-quoting postmodernist fans of Einstin Nuebarten who did battle for the soul of music journalism with a wave of skinhead Trotskyites.

It was mental. I saw the finest minds of my, the previous and the next generation of music journalists throw typewriters out the windows (attempting to brain passing mod tourists), get beaten speechless and (in one instance) strapped naked to the Eiffel Tower by angry bands, and engage in full-blown and fully public drug-assisted nervous breakdowns.

I saw one angry punk lesbian writer--notorious for having fucked a female colleague and then having left her bound and gagged in a cupboard to starve to death--attempt to smash a pint glass in the face of another female writer for being "too girly." Honor was defended with fists and boots as much as it ever was in print. Bands that spoke homophobic, racist or sexist shit were slaughtered mercilessly. And the prose flowed like blood from a gaping head wound.

Charles Shaar Murray--a righteously 'fro-ed honky hippie rescued from patchouli-reeking infamy by potentially lethal doses of punk rock and amphetamine sulphate--reviewed a much anticipated album by progressive rock gods Yes thus: "No." (A trick that wasn't improved on until Pitchfork's Ray Suzuki reviewed Jet's Shine On with a YouTube of a chimp drinking its own piss.)

But there was no hypercharged tomfoolery in Harp or Resonance or No Depression. Oh no. Things had changed. For even while the aforementioned pack of scribbling punk and hippie animals were capturing the beat, throb and hum of rock 'n' roll in their clattering, discordant, hateful and proselytizing prose, the Legions of Dullness were at work.

They sat in their stiff tissue-filled basements, typing (softly so as not to wake their moms) or scribbling with mauve crayons, churning out thousands of dull letters that all asked the same dull question: "Why don't you write about the music?"

This was code. The dullards didn't actually want writing about diminished fifths and chord progressions. They wanted music journalism devoid of personality. They were tediously fond of quoting Frank Zappa: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." It isn't. It's like writing about architecture. Or sex. Or science fiction. Or anything else. If you leave it to the myopic fan-obsessives, you end up with unreadable shit.

Well, guess what? We ended up with unreadable shit.

Eventually the dullards reached a dull critical mass. They formed hundreds of dull, white, sexless and punchably smug suburban bands. And they started magazines with names like No Depression and Harp and Resonance and Corduroy. Yes there really is a magazine called Corduroy. One imagines they passed on Beige as too incendiary and Cardigan as just a shade too fucking exciting.

I'd often wondered what the rock press would be like if all the finger-sniffing dolts who demanded dull, consumerist music writing stripped of hate, bile, anger, wit, imagination or attitude actually had their way. We've found out with the indie American rock press. The dreadful suburban sleeping sickness crept into Rolling Stone and Spin and NME. They in turn infected the alt-weeklies. And the circle jerk was complete.

Music journalism--seething with the reckless, showy, young-dumb-and-full-of-cum, anything-is-possibilism of rock 'n' roll itself--was drowned in a dull gray sea of mediocre fan jism. Bottom line: If you actually genuinely like Ryan Adams, Wilco, Bright Eyes and My Morning Jacket, you shouldn't be allowed to write. Period.

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Comments 1 - 13 of 13
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1. steven wells said... on Apr 30, 2008 at 10:30AM

“"As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do." - A.C.”

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2. steven wells said... on Apr 30, 2008 at 09:13PM

“alls I know is they [Harp] took 8 months to pay me for a 600 words review of the Sugarcubes reunion [the bad]....but they didn't edit a fucking thing out of my piece [the good].... but if they're dead, they're dead because no one gives a good goddamn about the music press anymore. period. I mean when was the last time you bought a record [yeah, BOUGHT, hahahah] because of a review you read? it's all dead. the music press, the music business, everything. long live just a bunch of us jamming in our fucking garages because that's pretty much all that's left. UNLESS you're Madonna. Or Paul Simon.”

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3. steven wells said... on May 2, 2008 at 09:12AM

“{ weeping }”

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4. Andrea 'Enthal said... on May 5, 2008 at 11:07AM

“I think this is a load of shit. But take it from someone you may actually respect: "I really am a resolute believer that it's morally wrong to go around saying that 'things were better when...,' particularly when you were doing that thing. When I was younger, I just hated it when I heard people talk that way. It wasn't before I got very much older when people began asking me 'wasn't it better then?' And that's a cowardly way to look at the world. And it's also cruel and disempowering for younger people to constantly tell them that they'll never know the glory you saw. That sounds like a lot of crap. If people think that the time they're living in is dull compared to some mythical time they've heard about, then it's up to them to make it more interesting, or to find what actually is interesting in their own time." -- Greil Marcus, 2004.”

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5. swells said... on May 5, 2008 at 11:28AM

“OK everybody, group hug!”

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6. swells said... on May 5, 2008 at 12:33PM

“And by the way nate, there's plenty of good strong in your face hateful glorious music writing out there on t'internet, easily as wonderfully obnoxious as anything from the 70s or 80s. And all those writers are cheering like fuck at the demise of these shit mags too. Come on, join in, you know you want to. Huzzah! Huzzah!”

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7. Sam Marchan said... on May 5, 2008 at 03:02PM

“sounds like you really learned all the right lessons from Meltzer and the rest. what I get from your prose is: the rock and roll fan club meets here, and of course, you have the righteous angle on all of it. your piece is spectacularly dull and cliched, and a real excercise in your own taste. the process you refer to started in the 1970s. you know, man, whatever shit it is you think is hep, I could say the exact same thing about--if you really like whatever seething shit you think should be championed over Wilco or those No Depression bands, then maybe you should stop writing as well. glad you still hold the punk banner high; that's exactly what No Depression did, except with some cowboy hats.”

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8. swells said... on May 6, 2008 at 05:55AM

“Oh Christ he's at it again”

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9. Fred Mills said... on May 6, 2008 at 11:53AM

“There's always the temptation to pick up the stray veggie object or burger patty in the middle of a food fight such as this, but as a not-disinterested party in manners regarding Harp, prudence suggests I add some factual background, rather than my opinion, to Mr. Wells' lively screed. Sometimes what is not said in an article is as revealing as what is said. Around the tail end of November 2006 I was hired as Harp's Managing Editor, replacing Neil Ferguson -- who, unless I miss my guess, is posting here as "sonofdalglish." During his tenure, Mr. Ferguson brought in several new writers to Harp, one of them being his friend Steven Wells. (You can view a small archive of his Harp writings at Immediately after Mr. Ferguson's departure I sent an email introducing myself to all the people who had previously been writing for him at Harp, Mr. Wells among them. I was informed by my boss that Mr. Wells probably would not want to write for Harp in Mr. Ferguson's absence, but just the same I was free to reach out to any/all of the writers I wanted to work with. There were probably two or three more emails sent out to the Harp roster (soliciting their input, circulating a reviews list, etc.), and sure enough, Mr. Wells never responded so I determined that he wasn't interested and removed him from my email list. Concurrently, and to be honest, somewhat surprisingly, Mr. Ferguson indicated that although the editor job at Harp had not worked out, he bore no grudge and was still interested in writing for the magazine. I quite happily kept him as one of our regular reviewers and he continued to contribute to Harp up through the magazine's demise - archive of his writings at Meanwhile, as noted above, Mr. Wells did not, but I presume that during the time he was writing for Harp it was because he wanted to and not because he was trying to do his friend a favor or that a gun was being held to his head.”

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10. Joolie Bitchill said... on May 6, 2008 at 02:16PM

“SILVER SPRING, Md. -- BLURT is coming. Scott Crawford, founder of HARP, along with Managing Editor Fred Mills and Senior Editor Randy Harward, will unveil BLURT digital magazine and the accompanying BLURT-online website in June. In addition to the Joan As Police Woman cover story, artists featured in the BLURT debut will include My Morning Jacket, Ray Davies, My Brightest Diamond, Sally Shapiro and many others. Brought to you by the creative team behind the lauded HARP magazine (called "America's best music magazine" by NPR's Bob Boilen and "the best music magazine in the country and the one that musicians always read" by Foo Fighter Dave Grohl), BLURT will raise the bar for online modern music and entertainment magazines by combining insightful interviews, dozens of no-holds-barred reviews, and top-notch design standards. Its green-minded, digital-only format will set the standard for how digi-magazines can heighten the consumer experience by offering fully interactive content including videos, MP3s, podcasts and more. The publication will be available free 10 times annually at . "While the print world continues to struggle, launching a magazine in this format allows us to explore the music community just as comprehensively but without many of the handicaps that burdened HARP," says Editor-in-Chief Scott Crawford. "It's a new world out there, but creatively, I've never been more excited about the possibilities." The digi-mag will be hosted at -- soon to be an essential one-stop for enthusiastic music and culture fans with exclusive content including daily news and concert reviews, humor, industry insider and political blogs, exclusive videos and interviews, podcasts, hundreds of reviews, and much, much more. Prepare yourself: Blurt-online goes live this June.”

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11. swells said... on May 6, 2008 at 04:30PM

“A digital Harp! That's awesome! Can I write for it? How much do you pay?”

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12. Clark Gwent said... on May 9, 2008 at 06:10AM

“he's right you know. I blame Scab Sutherland ("brand manager" of NME). Things were never the same after he ruined it”

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13. brandon said... on Sep 3, 2010 at 07:46AM

“what a load of crap. there is nothing worse to read than an article where the writer inserts himself into the story. people read articles to be entertained and keep informed. we don't care that you get revenge on a former employer.”


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