“Most rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.”
That’s what Frank Zappa told the Toronto Star in 1977. I’m not going to go so far as to say that Zappa’s assessment of music journalism is 100% accurate – sure, there are journalists (yes, even bloggers) who write beautifully, I’ve certainly interviewed a few musicians who are both brilliant and articulate, and I’ve interacted with enough of my readers online and in person to know that they’re certainly not idiots either – but still, after a several years in and around this business, I have to say, there’s a grain of truth in what Zappa said. Maybe a few grains…
Most of us, I think, come to this business out of a place of relative purity. We love music and we want to share it. But there are certain pitfalls that go hand-in-hand with an industry where everyone knows that a few kind words from one person or another can result in a few extra dollars in another’s pocket. A constant diet of flattery and free stuff is enough to feed any ego, and when it begins to fill your inbox, it’s hard not to develop a taste for it.
When it began, The Indie Handbook, was as much a reaction against Before-It-Was-Cool-ism as it was a pursuit of anything new and exciting. Our initial concept for this project, in fact, was born out of satire. Think about it. The very idea of an Indie Handbook—a how-to guide to being independent—is utterly ridiculous.
I know I say these things now at the risk of alienating some of our longtime readers. But I don’t want any of you to feel as if you’ve been duped. You haven’t been. The content here has remained pure even if my motives for posting some of it haven’t always been. I can say with complete confidence that I have never shared a band on The Indie Handbook that I did not genuinely like and, if you asked her, I imagine Kristin would echo that. I think the same can be said for Kate, and Dan, and Kathy, and Melissa, and any other guest poster whom I’ve forgotten at the moment.
Over the years, we put a lot of time and effort into the posts that appeared here. I would much rather spend several hours editing a single paragraph until the rhythm and pacing of each sentence is exactly the way I want it (something I’ve done dozens of times) than copy and paste a press release (yes, it happens—it happens a lot). But your value in this business is predicated on getting there first, not getting there elegantly. No one cares what you say or how you say it as long as you say it before anyone else. And that’s never been for me. I’m more likely to give you 800 words on a two-song single than three sentences and an mp3. I suppose, in that sense, The Indie Handbook is more a product of the 18th century than our present one and, in a way, it is.
Not everyone knows this, but Kristin and I met in college where we were both music history majors. And in the years The Indie Handbook has been languishing since it was a “several posts a week” blog, that is what I have missed the most. Rock and roll is an oral tradition. Jazz, country, pop, the blues, they are too. They are not codified. They are passed down from one generation to the next. More of us in the music media need to think of ourselves as historians first. We need to put less emphasis on wielding our power and opinions like a cudgel and focus more on the stories we are recording and sharing. Forty years from now, no one is going to care how you or I felt about a mediocre record riding the chillwave boom of 2009, but they might want to know about the time Will Oldham and Angel Olsen turned up in Columbus at midnight, unannounced, to cover an obscure Kevin Coyne record under an assumed name.
Every day, we are making history. It’s usually boring, but it’s history. And that’s where I want to shift my focus. I will still have opinions and I will share them. New music will come along that I love, I will share that too. But, from now on, I am a historian first.