Super Scribing

by Jason Gross

8 January 2009

Gold medal: the best writing of the year.

Matthew Baldwin: “And Great Lyrics Quiz Rock Roll The
(The Morning News, March 18, 2008)
Mission of Burma beat him to the idea of listing lyrics alphabetically, but what a goddamn fun addictive game it is here. You probably think you know your classic rock tunes, but try unscrambling them here and then kick yourself when you don’t get the right answers.

Melinda Bargreen: “The Times’ departing classical-music critic reflects on 3 decades of change
(Seattle Times, May 11, 2008)
The way that Bargreen shares her wisdom about the journalism trade is inspiring, and her truisms are worth savoring. Praise music and you’ll be accused of being soft. Criticize and you’ll be a villain. Yet you still try to be objective. All lessons worth repeating. It makes you wish that Bargreen hadn’t taken the buy-out and hung it up.

Rosanne Cash: “The Ear of the Beholder
(New York Times, May 22, 2008)
Songs are truth, right? “Wrong!” says the legendary singer-songwriter, citing herself, her dad, Dylan, and the Archies. Great songs are crafted truth, she argues persuasively, just the same as with the other arts.

Nate Chinen: “Jazz World Confronting Health Care Concerns
(New York Times, February 21, 2008)
A heart-warming story about musicians struggling and actually succeeding in the face of daunting hospital costs, thanks to benefit concerts by their generous peers and foundations like Music Cares and Jazz Foundation of America. It’s still infuriating to see that something as basic as health care should upend the lives of so many great musicians. Not to mention performers in other genres who are shit outta luck when it comes to getting medical attention…

Edwyn Collins: “This Much I Know
(Guardian, April 27, 2008)
The former Orange Juice singer tells the heart-breaking story of how his stroke debilitated him and forced him to relearn all of his own songs again, plus the hilarious tales of how his band was seen as a bunch of “poofs” by the punk crowd.

Guy Dammann: “Relax. You Might Just Enjoy Yourselves.
(Guardian, November 30, 2008)
Classical audiences are cowered into fear of expressing themselves the wrong way at the wrong time, making them self-conscious about their presence at a concert and wondering how they’re supposed to participate. Doesn’t sound like a very fun-filled experience, does it?  Leading Dammann to wonder: “As for fear: surely there’s enough of the stuff in our streets and on our airwaves for us to keep it out of the concert hall?”

Frank Furedi: “The Truth About Music
(Spiked, April 14, 2008)
The UK government is pissed off at classical music—it’s not serving their particular needs, and it’s not getting enough of a mass audience. Furedi’s not a fan of music serving the agenda of the government, just like most non-bureaucrats, so it’s not much of a strain to speak out against this, but it’s worth saying regardless. Could you imagine what kind of crap we’d have to endure if Congress set the musical agenda for the States? “We Sold Our Souls to Texaco”, anyone?

Joseph Horowitz: “New World Symphony and Discord
(The Chronicle Review, January 11, 2008)
Who was the visionary who proclaimed that the basis of great American music would be culled from “negro melodies”?  Stephen Foster?  Sam Phillips? George Gershwin?  Nope, it was composer Antonin Dvorak who was crafting his “New World” symphony as the 19th century came to a close. Boston sniffed at such a “negrophile”, and though New York embraced him, they were at odds over other ethnic groups, dividing the Metropolitan Opera into separate French and German companies for a time. Leave it to a Czech immigrant who was a fan of not only Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but also Buffalo Bill, to see that his adopted country thrived on its mash-ups of cultures and heritage.

Michael Miner: “A Reporter Pleads the Fifth
(Chicago Reader, July 12, 2008)
In the under-reported slime-fest of the R. Kelly trial, the singer’s lawyers tried to drag Chicago Sun-Times writer Jim DeRogatis into the muck by forcing him to testify and reveal sources, and possibly open himself up to criminal charges of distributing/copying pornographic material. Luckily, DeRogatis had enough sense to take the option of invoking the Fifth Amendment rather than trust a court that gave him empty promises of shielding him from self-incrimination. And just because he didn’t get nailed doesn’t mean the same thing won’t happen to another reporter down the line.

Justin Ouellette: “(muxtape announcement)”
(, September 2008)
A sad, pathetic story of how a music site was beaten with a stick and then lured by carrots at the same time. It also shows that as savvy as the major labels think they are, they still don’t have their act together about online technology and their servants in the RIAA act recklessly anyway. Ouellette vows that his site will come back in another version, which is more than many of the labels can say now.

Chris Riemenschneider: “R.I.P. the CD 1982-2007
(Star Tribune, January 25, 2008)
A nice obituary to an overwritten story. “Once praised for its clear, crisp audio quality but panned for its susceptibility to scratches and smudges, the compact disc passed away in 2007 after a quick but painful illness. It was 25 years old… The final cause of death has not been determined, but friends and fans blamed digital-download sites such as iTunes and illegal file-sharing among rich kids.”  That is, if those friends happen to be the RIAA…

Dave Simpson and Mark E. Smith: “My Rise and Fall
(Guardian, April 14, 2008)
Though he’s fought Shane MacGowen many times for the honor of being the drunkest man in rock, Mark E. Smith returns to his roots, with surprising clarity and honesty about himself, including starting a Japanese internment camp for his sisters, getting sacked as a dock worker, enjoying life on the dole, and his long-time problem with his revolving door band-mates. Not to mention nice, surprising observations like this: “I think it’s more important to be a man than it is to be an artist.”  If only he took that to heart more often…

Squarepusher: “Squarepusher Takes On the Guardian’s Pop Critics
(Guardian, November 14, 2008)
No, it’s not the revenge-fest that you think it would be. Instead, the techno maven poses some very thoughtful questions to the paper’s music staff. “Does a review aim at expressing something more than an opinion?” “If you pan a piece of music, are you registering anything beyond your personal distaste?” “What purpose does being a critic serve for you?” “Can the criteria for a good piece of music can be defined?” “Do you ever have issues of conscience when criticising a composer’s work?”  My answers: “yes,” “yes,” “an outlet,” “maybe,” “ideally, no.”

Clive Stafford-Smith: “Welcome to the ‘Disco’
(Guardian, June 19, 2008)
The shameful story of how the U.S. military is using music to inflict cruel and unusual punishment on enemy combatants, with some of them still awaiting trial. Needless to say, the army has no comment, but most of the artists whose work are used for torture are mum too, except for a metalhead who’s amused and the author of the Barney “I Love You” song, who is resigned to the perversion of his sappy song.

Leon Wieseltier: “Scratches
(New Republic, August 27, 2008)
Even if you’re not hep to his philosophizing about nostalgia, at the very least he makes a heart-felt and convincing case about why imperfections make recordings more alive and real to us than we’d usually think.

We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media


"No Dollars in Duende": On Making Uncompromising, Spirited Music

// Sound Affects

"On the elusive yet clearly existential sadness that adds layers and textures to music.

READ the article