Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Answers to questions, which you can keep coming if you'd like. One humble request: I am grateful that anyone reads this at all and realize that being a rock-critic list freak makes me susceptible to a certain kind of responder, but of the seven people below (the first is pseudonymous but I'm 99% certain it's a guy), none have been female. So if you're a woman who reads this, can you at least drop me a line and say so? I just want to continue the illusion that I'm not propagating a sausage factory here. Thanks.

To the Qs and As then . . .

From C C:

1. Is your real name Michaelangelo, I mean come on, you are a balding, pudgy white guy. My assumption is that you are just one those journalists who chose to "stand out"; like those people who use middle initials, you merely chose a famous artist, and now your byline is bronzed in people's minds like a Renaissance statue. Am I right?

My grandfather is Puerto Rican and my grandmother is majority Irish; my mother and her six brothers and sisters have English first names and Spanish middle names, as do I: first name Michael, middle name Angelo. Matos is my grandfather’s last name. All of this occurred long before I lost my hair or went to pudge, and I’ve never made a secret of it.

2. Are you a conceited bastard who thinks he knows everything about music, and because you belong to an elite group of rock journo's do you think you are holier than thou and therefore unwilling to let anyone into your circle jerk?

I have my conceited moments and my bastard moments, which aren’t always at the same time, though I generally tend to think I’m neither. Nobody knows everything about music, don’t be silly. If by “elite group of rock journos” you mean I occasionally write for larger magazines, well, I don’t make my living that way, nor did I before I became an editor, so I don’t feel particularly elite that way; I rate my skillz pretty well, but there are lots of writers consistently better than me, so “elite” doesn’t work that way so well either. As far as circle jerks are concerned, 1) I’ve been a regular poster on I Love Music, a public forum, since 2001; I think it’s pretty evident that I value open discourse pretty highly. And 2) the idea that there’s a Mason-like private headquarters with a secret passcode where rockcrits meet and plot what the discourse is going to be for the next six months is a potent one, because I used to think it, too, until I realized that the only reason it seems like that is because rock criticism, like all writing, is notoriously chummy. Is it a circle jerk? Possibly, but I also think it’s less of one than it’s commonly accused of being. Also, calling it that is a pretty tired cliché at this point---one that, if you know enough to call it a circle jerk, you’re probably part of yourself.

3. I'm a big fan, and happen to think you are one of the better music critics in the country, thus the conceited question. I'd fucking be conceited! The circle jerk is what I think music editors do when they get together and play the Smiths. My last question is more serious. Would you love music more or less if you weren't writing about it, picking it apart, and criticizing, whatever that word means, this beautiful creation we call music?

Thank you! I always thought of the Smiths as a private pleasure (for the record, I only began enjoying their music as music about three years ago), but maybe you know different music editors than I do. Yes, I’d love music just as much if I weren’t writing about it, I’d just be potentially exposed to less of it and probably feel less exasperated as a result. But that love renews itself remarkably consistently.


James Blount:

1) i finally got my hands on a copy of accidental evolution of rock n roll ($3 amazon used baby!), omfg wtf lol 'samazing, i came this close to writing some knobslob stalker fanmail a la miccio (only mine wouldn't have my resume attached), AND (here's where it comes to you) (besides amazon connex - they still haven't/won't print my review of sign - "U need 2 read this book." - wtf that's priceless) i've decided/realized that i finally have a concept/gimmick/blueprint for the mix-cdrs i've owed you since the dems ran the senate, and then it occurred to me you kinda had this idea before when you did it with generation ecstasy, ie. yup yup a listener's guide to accidental hoohaw. THEN it occurred to me that a fair take of how worthwhile a book is is how good a mix you can pan from it (i'm thinking hornby's songbook yields dud; if so thesis proven correct)(that fucking thing was nominated for a national book award)(how many other rockcrit books have gotten that nod?)(keyword: crit as opposed to rockjourno)(ie. my guess is guralnick's gotten some love). there was an album derived from lipstick traces that was like this and which fucking ruled and which maybe maybe i even remembered to burn onto cd. and yr gen ecs and my futuretense accidental and maybe a million others now if this becomes a blogmeme (maybe it already was, i forget). THEN i thought rockcrits when writing their rockcrit books should use this as a lighthouse/roadmap - "how good a mix is the reader gonna be able to get outta this?" and THEN it occurred to me this is probably what yall already do in a fashion since, duh, you're already listening to the music before you write and probably after you write (10% of the time maybe even after you write) and this whole thing was me having the epiphany 'hey they should use concrete and steel to build buildings! i should pass this hot tip to my construction buddies!'. SO: (two questions, which when combined POSSIBLY equal one real question)(futurama - "that question is less stupid, though you asked it in a profoundly stupid way.") 1) whattya think? 2) what're some books that will yield some good mix cd-r's (avoid ones that have already done so - lipstick traces, stomp and swerve)

First of all, I didn’t put that Generation Ecstasy set together; Michael Daddino did. (I did do a single-disc condensation of it for the ILM Rough Guides thread, but Mike had already done all the hunting-gathering part of the work for me. For that matter, I did one on Accidental Evolution as well, but that was done mostly out of conjecture---I haven’t even heard half the songs I picked.) I sort of agree w/your theory, though I suspect it has more to do with target marketing than with actual writing quality. I’m faintly appalled that Songbook got the National Book Award nom; I liked both About a Boy and High Fidelity, which leads me to suspect Hornby’s great literary gift is dialogue; even if his characters are cardboard (and I think they’re better than he’s given credit for, especially by folks on ILx), he writes far more interestingly about his stand-ins than himself.

Some books I think would make good or great mix-CDs: What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record? by Steve Propes and Jim Dawson; Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential; Jay Stevens’ Storming Heaven.

2) ts: potatoey potato soup types soups vs. brothy broth soups vs. stewtype stew soups

They all have their merits, but as I type this I could go for the first.

3) what's ichiro's at bat music? and what would your's be? (remember you only get like the first eight to ten seconds of the song)(mines that 'no fun'/'push it' boot from a few years back).

Don’t know Ichiro’s (I haven’t followed baseball in ages), but right now mine would be United State of Electronica’s “Emerald City.”


Tom Breihan:

1. Which album should I buy today: the new Morrissey or the Trillville & Lil Scrappy thing?

The latter. Morrissey hasn’t made a good record in a decade and I can’t imagine why anyone would think he’s about to start now.

2. Do your friends actually call you Michaelangelo? Isn't that sort of long?

A lot of them do. “Matos” is also common. “Michael” is my general preference.

3. Is it possible to make a decent living freelancing?

It depends where you live, who you write for, and how frequently. I got lucky living in New York and freelancing there because my apartment was cheap, I was doing occasional good-money work and lots of stuff for lots of medium-sized places. When I began freelancing full time in Minneapolis in 1999 (meaning no day job, though I had the occasional record store or nightclub to supplement my income), I was paying $232 a month in rent (I shared a house with two other people), so my overhead was very low. Keep in mind that I had no insurance for years--this week I’m going to the dentist four days in a row to make up for a decade between visits--and I’ve never learned to drive, so I’ve never had car costs to worry about.


Matt Cibula:

1. Do you have a secret plan?


2. Have you ever been mellow?


3. What is the record you love the most that you know you'd get the most shit for if you admitted it so you probably never would unless some pain in the ass asked you about it but you asked for it so tough shit answer the question already Matos WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF that might be the fourth question?

I’ve never understood the assumption that every critic has some secret record they don’t tell anyone they love. If I like a record, I like it, and that’s that. I don’t think I’ve been “afraid” of telling anyone I liked something since I started writing, and probably before.


Paul Schierbecker:

Does "Matos" translate to a noun of some type?

Not that I’m aware of. It’s my grandfather’s name; he’s from Puerto Rico. So maybe it does; I know almost no Spanish.

Why do so many of the used CD's I buy from walk-in chain stores (Wherehouse of Music) have "Generic Flipper" written on the UPC label when, in fact, Flipper is not the artist inside?

No idea.

If you see a photograph of a CD collection, say, on the box of a CD tower display, can you resist (a) looking and (b) forming a judgement about the collection's general merit?

(a) No and (b) The collection’s, I do; the collector’s, I try not to.


Kevin John Bozelka:

1. A long one. I read the Chris Heath piece on Prince which, I believe, you said was the best thing ever written on him. Heath's conversation with Martika sums up what I love/loathe about the piece/Prince: "If he was rude, so what? You can excuse all that, you must excuse all that, because what it allows to exist-his music-is ultimately much more important." This is an idea echoed by my man John Leland in a, I think, better piece from Spin: "His excesses are directed inward, excused by his talent rather than shared through it." As a popist who celebrates the allure of celebrity and immersion in media, I excuse the rudeness. I excuse it because Prince makes me dance, cry, laugh, scratch my head and my balls. I also do it because he employs people and keeps Minneapolis pumping, as Heath noted. But as a popist who longs to do away with modernist mystification and all high/low divisions and who longs for a socialist utopia which would result in, among other things, the collectivization of popular music (worship Joshua Clover's Barbie Hit Mix piece in the Voice!!!), I do not excuse the rudeness. I do not excuse it because I want the means of production to be shared and wealth to be evenly distributed. I also do not because I want to end the privileged access of the Members Only balcony at Glam Slam and of Heath himself who ends his article knowing the real Prince, with Prince making perfect sense to him. So I ask: were we to attain a socialist utopia (and not the provisional utopia of "Alphabet St." that Leland describes so perceptively), could Prince exist as we know him today? Could he still be rude and evade questions while not only breathing the same air as us but sharing the floor-sweeping duties at Paisley Park with us as well? Would we be condemned to the more unambiguous, direct myths of Springsteen to whom Leland contrasts Prince?

I like Heath’s Prince piece a lot, and while I’m sure there are better ones out there, it’s rare, especially now, to find one that gets to the bottom of his mystique, or tries to, as well or as interestingly. But Prince hasn’t kept Minneapolis pumping in years, and in fact wasn’t really doing so even during that article; his financial impact on the city had eroded considerably by the time Heath’s piece appeared (October 1991; I bought it right after the Halloween blizzard that year). And Glam Slam closed ages ago; it currently lives on as the Quest, under much different ownership, which it’s had for a decade or better.
To the question itself: Why not? Talent will out, plus he’s insular enough that it probably wouldn’t matter what the surroundings were, he’d retreat into his own la-la land in some fashion. Maybe the degree to which he’d remain unchanged in that scenario would be pretty low, but I’ve never been a nature-or-nurture-choose-one kind of guy.

2. I tried to replicate your C700MB Go! 2003 play list. (By the way, I was quite moved by this line from your year-end wrap-up: "If it isn't happening to me, it probably is happening." I hope to work it into my Spin thesis.) I'm almost there (missing 3 tracks: Hi-Fi Hillary: "Re-Work It;" Vacuous Ninnies: "(Can't) Get Up;" Wiley: "Donkey Kick") but I'm not sure I have the right versions of two songs:
Todd Edwards: "Beckon Call (2003 Remix)" (i!). I have the 2003 Praise Version at 6:50 and another at 6:38 with more vocal snippets. Which, if any, is the 2003 Remix you like?
Data 80: "You Are Always on My Mind (Extended Mix)" (Forcetracks). The version I have says "Extended Mix" but it's only 3:42. Is this the right one?

I got the Todd Edwards from Full On Vol. 2, a CD I reviewed for the Voice; I chose it primarily because it was the one track on the CD that wasn’t mixed into and out of (well, it was, but the beginning sounded relatively unaffected), and because the subtitle said it was from 2003. It’s 6:49 on my CD-R, so I assume it’s the “Praise Version.” The Data 80 is indeed 3:42. And while I’m extremely flattered you’ve taken the time to assemble the thing, you could always just email me for a trade.

3. Who is your favorite gay or lesbian popular music critic?

Great question; I’m going to pick one of each. My favorite lesbian pop writer is probably Elisabeth Vincentelli, who edits at Time Out New York; her book on ABBA Gold in the Continuum 33 1/3 series is wonderful, and she’s extremely good at seeming offhand while not being at all. I’m extremely tempted to say my favorite gay male pop writer is Michael Daddino, which is cheating some, since aside from his Net-only writing and some stray Pazz & Jop quotes I’ve edited the only things he’s written for print publication, and he’s a good friend. (Elisabeth is a friend as well.) But unless I’m missing someone (and I probably am), the gay-rockcrit champ has to be Jon Savage.


Ben Hasler:

1) What's your take on Prince's Musicology?

I’ve only heard it once in full, at a coffeeshop on a sick day from work that resulted from what regular blog readers will recognize as, wink wink, “the Kid.” It sounded pretty good, like a record that will finish somewhere in the mid-50s or so of my year-end albums list. I’ve never been of the mind that Prince had to keep topping himself; apart from writing the SOTT book, the period where I was most obsessed with Prince was probably ’95-6, the Gold Experience/Chaos & Disorder/Emancipation era, so I have a lot of fondness for those albums that in some ways equals my feelings about the ’80s stuff. I haven’t played any of them in full in years, though. I never got sent a copy of Musicology and I’ve never gotten around to buying one, probably because they’re giving them away to ticket buyers at the shows (I’m seeing him August 30) and probably because I haven’t seen a used copy yet. But I will have to get one eventually so I can write about it before the show.

2) What musical artist are you ashamed/humiliated to admit to liking?

I’ve already answered this in a fashion, but the answer is none. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures; if I like something, I like it, and that’s that.

3) What film of, oh, the past 10 years has the best use of music in it?

That’s tough for me to answer because I don’t see very many movies. Plus the way music is often used in movies is pretty boring—the soundtrack industry in general is. Certainly TV has stolen the movies’ thunder on this subject anyway, though the one season of The Sopranos that I watched, the third, didn’t really appeal to me at all. (My girlfriend at the time, with whom I was living, was a big fan.)


Andy Battaglia:

1) As editor of Seattle Weekly, what is the best thing about your audience?

I think there are two audiences: people who pick up the paper, who comprise the majority of its readership, and people who read us online and are not necessarily local but are fans of the writers we use, and of arts and music writing in general. The latter is a nice audience to have, period; if we’re lucky, they’ll follow me and/or our writers wherever we go, both within the paper and if/when we move on. But locally, the people who like it are vocal about it, in person more than via email or letters to the editor; they’ll mention specific articles when I meet the at clubs or whatnot. They’re getting it, which I wasn’t necessarily expecting to happen--especially having lived here before twice. Seattle’s a pretty laid-back city and my approach is much more active (in the writing, and the overall editorial voice) than is usual here, so I expected (and got) some resistance. But people have been a lot less resistant than I’d expected.

2) What is the worst thing?

The climate seems more anti-intellectual here than in Minneapolis or New York, at least as far as people writing and reading about music is concerned, which is a little annoying. And I get almost no feedback from readers either way, which can feel disappointing. I like what Eric Weisbard and Ann Powers said in the Jukebox Jury I did with them: people up here are very taciturn and unwilling to seem pretentious, and pretentiousness is actually not that bad a thing.

3) How much time/effort do you spend thinking about such things?

Within the job itself, not much; mostly, what I do is assign pieces on bands I’d want to read about or figure should be written about whether I like them or not, give them to people I want to read on those topics, and line edit them with the mind of making them accessible. The Weekly’s readership skews older, so keeping things accessible for that audience is something I think about a lot.


J. Niimi:

1) What’s your favorite studio production cliché?

I am a huge fan of studio production clichés, and a sucker for many. For now, I’ll pick envelope filtering---it’s the thing that makes a record sound like it’s going in and out of focus, or like cupping your hand over your ear and slowly moving it away. But there are dozens.

2) What's your least-favorite rock writing cliché?

This might sound flippant, but I mean it sincerely: rockism. Indieism runs a close second, followed hard by use of the passive voice, a big reason so much English music writing is terrible. (It’s not just the English that use it, but boy do they have a lock on it as a device.) If you’re talking about phrases, “[cause] always does/equals/means [effect].” The laziest of the lazy--nothing always means anything, ever.

3) If you were sitting in your apartment one night, and suddenly the door flew open and Donnie Iris walked in to your living room with his arm around Neil Young's neck and a gun pointed at Neil's head, and he told you, "Blow me or Neil gets it," would you blow him?

I’d probably start on him just long enough for Neil to escape, then try to get the gun away from him. But I don’t think he’d like it very much, since I’ve never given a blowjob before.


Matt Lurie:

1. Sally Timms once remarked to me that being a critic is very similar to being a prostitute for one reason: Your boundaries between pleasure and work are never solid. As a budding critic, this is a central issue of any future I might have in this profession and it frankly scares the hell out of me. How do you deal or not deal with this issue?

I don’t actually worry about this very much, because I never consciously decided to think critically about things. It’s how I think; writing it down comes later, at least ideally. So for me it’s all pleasure (except when it isn’t) and all work (except when it comes really easily).

2. I work at at a newspaper and write about hip hop, mainly. The few times I wrote about the racial makeup of the audience (something that varies widely from show to show), I sort of got crucified by some readers for "reviewing the audience instead of the artist." Even though I maintain that race remains the white elephant in hip hop, I was wondering what you think about the act of "reviewing the audience." Is it something that critics doing live reviews should avoid or embrace?

I think the audience is part of a live show and has just as much to do with the experience of attending as the performer does. Writing about the audience can be tricky, though, because they’re not putting themselves in the public eye the way a performer is, and therefore that kind of scrutiny can look unseemly. But it’s no different from commenting on someone’s shoes on the subway. As far as your experiences go, let’s face it---people, especially in the Midwest, are skittish about race, period, because it’s a hot-button topic. (I just went through this a little myself on an ILM thread when I pointed out a bill of four indie-noise bands that was headlined by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings looked pretty incongruous; someone actually posited that it was a return to the glory years of bills like the Feelies-DNA-Sun Ra Arkestra one he’d seen on a 22-year-old flyer. Yep, three bands that sound nothing alike vs. four with loads in common w/each other and none w/the fifth---same exact thing, yessir.) It’s the classic white liberal guilt method of not mentioning race at all and thinking that will take care of it being a factor in everyday life, and it doesn’t.

3. I should apologize for the total lack of fun my questions possess. But you asked for the questions that come to mind and doggone it, here they are: Who is the publicist for Greensleeves and why will they not return my calls/emails?! Maybe you have to be all skillz and established like yourself but I'll be darned if they answered a single thing I wrote.

They’re a strange company that way. I called Frank, who runs their office, on the advice of my friend Paul Kennedy last year. Paul is the imports buyer for Tower Records, and I mentioned him; they sent me Ragga Ragga Ragga! 2003 and The Biggest Dancehall Hits 1979-82, and I think something else I’d asked for at a later time, but I got almost nothing from them afterward. Then, in January, I was mailed the Vybz Kartel record out of nowhere and have been getting everything from them. Maybe it’s because I put Ragga Ragga Ragga! 2003 in my year-end top ten. Anyway, next time I get something sent to me by them I’ll forward you the address.