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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"Most rock journalism . . ."

In the last few months, I've come across a certain quote from Frank Zappa in two separate spots - Kyle's clips page and Mat Callahan's The Trouble With Music. The quote goes like this: "Most rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read." I don't know when Zappa made this statement, but it doesn't matter that much to me because I find this claim still relevant today.

As a curious music fan, I'm constantly reading about bands or artists that I like or might like. When I was younger and hadn't done interviews myself, I ate up whatever I read about a band. It didn't matter how large or how small the article/interview was; I was all eyes and ears. Now that I'm older and have done a number of interviews myself, I'm a little pickier as to what I believe and don't believe in print. Facts can get exaggerated, large assumptions can be made and truth can be compacted all for the sake of space. Of course there is always room for more clarification but when stuff is just flat-out wrong, I throw a flag.

In doing interviews for Post, whenever I bring up something that was printed in an older article, I often learn way more to the story than what was printed. Maybe the person wasn't so willing to talk about certain stuff back in the day for one reason or another. With the writer's angle, I understand that writers often have deadlines, limited space and/or limited time to collect his/her thoughts and ideas onto the page. But time after time, I get dismayed by a certain view of writing about music: making bold or tacky statements in the now. Why? Because the now is always changing into another now.

For example, I'm talking about making obscure pop culture references ("Remember ______? Neither did we") or using jargon of the day ("____ is the new ____!"). This dooms the writing's shelf life, even if it's not meant to be taken seriously. Sure, a lot of things are said thinking that it's for immediate disposal, but when you print something on paper or on a website, chances are good that it's going to stick around for a while. Knowing this, I try to be careful and honest with how I express my thoughts and understand that I'm still going to regret certain things that I say. Christ, reading some of my blog posts from a year ago make me wince. It's not what I said, but how I said it. A part of me wishes I could erase those regrets, but I feel it's important to leave them up. Why? So I can understand where I've come from and know what I want to or don't want to do next.

One observation I've made with reading interviews over the years is the perceived distance between the artist and the interviewer. I don't believe there should be a distance, but there is. I'm guilty of asking all the traditional questions ("Where did you get your name?" and "What are musical influences?" are some of them) but if I didn't get those out of the way, how could I get to the real meat of the conversation? I want to understand whoever I'm interviewing as a relatable human, not as a demigod with immortal musical powers. I don't mean to take the piss out of a person; I just want to get past genre nicknames, cliches and black-and-white recaps.

If life isn't just short and sweet anecdotes, slogans and wrap-ups, then why do so many people read what they read as be-all, end-all sources of information? I understand that not everyone wants to know more than just a skimming of the surface, but how can we truly understand who these people are? Is the purpose of rock journalism to pump more air into an already small balloon? I don't think it's always the case because it's all in the writer's perspective. While I may want to know what makes an artist tick, others (but not everybody) may want to paint with very wide and broad strokes.

There is so much to gain by knowing more so maybe just a little article (with or without writing deficiencies) helps the gears of thought start up.

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