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.
Rusted Root's eclectic mix hits Coda