Monday, May 25, 2009

Good Barney Hoskyns talk with the Cocteau Twins. I'm not much of a Cocteaus fan--what I like about them I like more strongly in others--but I'll read Hoskyns on anything, and looking at this I was struck by a fundamental difference in the way American and English music writers handle first person. Hoskyns is absolutely comfortable in it. That's experience, obviously. But U.S. writing tends employ first-person much more in confessional mode than in storyteller mode, as if because we have the facts you necessarily care about us personally. (Maybe it's a dork thing: omg they're paying attention to meeeeee, i.e. the thing I did with the Prince book.) Obviously the marketplaces are completely different: Brit writers had to churn out tons of shit at an enormous pace, and the carefully cultivated non-first-person isn't worth bothering with under that workload, if you've been hired to have an opinion.

I'm about to do a workshop with some high school kids on criticism and editing, which I'm excited about, and one of the tenets I want to talk about is this: You have to earn first person. It's the first lesson I was taught by an editor: Jon Dolan, at City Pages. His words, paraphrased: "You can't say 'I' yet because nobody knows who you are." That's a good lesson to learn for a beginning writer in public print--and I think on the Web, too. It's too easy to fall back on yourself, or your self, when you're stuck for ideas or just want to propel the damn thing along so it's all down at once, to hell with revising (i.e. the Web); your job should be to deliver the goods. What is this about? Who would want to know about it, if not me? Blah blah blah. You, "I," need not enter into it unless you absolutely cannot make a point without it. That's the part of the lesson I learned later on, from Peter Scholtes, who took over from Jon. But again, that's a different pace, schedule, and set of resonances from the hothouse NME Hoskyns came up in. There was less space to fill, more of an overall ecosystem to cohabit within; it was more laid-back. If I were English I might feel very differently about a rule like this.