B-Side: True Confessions Of A Music Journalist-Turned-Monster
What a monster I’ve become.
I met The Figgs’ Pete Hayes while I was schlocking coffee. Spinal Tap references ensued. I proved my musicianship in a fit of name dropping: Arty Fufkin (“Polymer Records”), Stumpey Joe, Viv Savage. They were all I needed to know.
The Figgs had just been signed to Imago and were breaking in their new, spiffy-white touring van. Slack-jawed and gapped-toothed, I had just graduated college. Racing from a potential future in plastics to a Saratoga-based triple-identity, I slogged latte by day, played solo acoustic pop by night, and wrote articles [for The Saratogian] in between.
When Pete found out I wrote a pop column for the local rag, he reminded me that of the old adage, “Those who can play, play; those who can’t write.” I’d heard it before. But I’d always figured that those who can do both, write and play, do both. And so I’ve written these disperate, word-heavy pop columns for nearly a year.
I never imagined what a horrific monster would become of my genetic splicing of art and commerce. I don’t even remember what I was like before I began prostituting myself to legions of record labels.
This is my confession.
When I began this column, I was the archtypal music consumer. 18 to 24-years-old with a bit of disposable income, I subscribed to Rolling Stone, read Spin and Musician, and picked upi new records when the tip jar was full, or some new band had generated substantial buzz. Partial to melody heavy, guitar-based bands, I valued substantive lyrics and emtotional, substantive songs.
Then came the flood. Press kits, tour packages, reems of paper, gratis vinyl, and bonus tickets were mine. Suddenly, other musicians wanted to talk to me (or had to). Suddenly, promoters called me and pitched their artists. My CD collection doubled in size. I had access.
Next came the slow-slip into the abyss of corporate alterna-rock culture. Quicker than I could say “You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tune A Fish,” I had become a callous, averice-driven, free-CD junkie.
Cassettes rarely made the cut. Some CDs, banal abscurities like Butt Trumpett, never made it into my player. Others never left the shrink wrap. They were the lucky ones.
Entire CDs were reviewed in a few fitfull listens. Scanning lyric sheets for exceptional non-sequeters and band-related verbal imagery, cynicism set in. An album represents years of silent struggle and tireless work for a performer, but my resulting pieces rarely found depth beyond the first chorus or catchy single.
The limits to which publicists will go (and journalists will follow) continue to be pushed. Just this morning, within 24 hours of requesting “whatever you’ve got,” I fat, greasy package was delivered to my door via messenger. Ripping at the seems, I found inside a new 15-track CD, four pages of bio, 18 pages of related articles, an 8×10 glossy (suitable for framing), a pair of tickets and a mousepad, complete with the bands’ logo and email address.
In their quest for press saturation and publicity, labels have resources to burn on every half-credible journalist within shouting distance. Sad but true, these freebies are givens. Keychains, t-shirts, tickets, records — neat, free stuff — makes us take notice. And write.
These are heady times, though. National exposure for indie-bands spells sell-out to their cranky fans. Ripped jeans, ratty t-shirts and faded flannel are ingredients for credibility for indie rock’s moral minority. Bon Jovi has come to represent an aging, rotting empire.
Still, all labels, great and small, have kept me drunk on the prospect of finding The Next Big Thing. Having binged on flashing, colored lights, cranked amps, the roar of the crowd, sticky sweat and cheep bear, I’m finally loaded enough to see straight.
But it’s too late for me — save yourselves.
Remeber when Shawn Cassidy’s “Da Doo Run Run” was a great 45 regardless of what his publicist or Rick Dees said. Remember the day that you first heard REM’s “Time After Time (annElise)” wafting from your big brother’s dorn room. Remember when the bad news came to the tune of Sugar’s “Believe What You’re Saying.”
Because music columnists, marketting and madness aside, pop songs may be disposable, but the memories for which they provide a soundtrack are not.
This article first appeared in The Saratogian