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CMJ Panels and Bric-a-Brac, Day 5: 4 November 2006

Dan Nishimoto and Andrew Phillips

In our final day of bric-a-brac, PopMatters explores a laundry list of hip-hop stigma, gets the scoop on the ins and outs of music journalism, and ventures into WFMU's annual record fair in an attempt to hit the vinyl-junkie jackpot.

Rants and Raves

Tales of Dorkiness and Self-Delusion from the WFMU Record Fair

Day 5 Panels

Music Journalism Exposed

Hip Hop Under Fire

Tales of Dorkiness and Self-Delusion from the WFMU Record Fair

By Andrew Phillips

CMJ isn’t about sensory deprivation as much as the selective reassignment of mental resources. As the week wears on, the world around you shrinks to a series of interactive auditory elements -- music becomes your universe, your solitary obsession.

It’s appropriate, then, that WFMU’s annual record fair is held the same weekend as this year’s CMJ. While not directly affiliated with the event, the massive vinyl festivus is clearly positioned to coincide, and from the look of things, that’s good news for the record sellers.

Entering a record fair is a lot like your first steps into a casino -- there’s noise and excitement and that annoying voice in your head that tells you you’re about to lose a lot of money. But you silence it and join the throngs (mostly middle-aged dudes) hoping to strike the jackpot (which, ironically enough, means giving someone else your dough).

There’s classic rock blaring through speakers and rows upon rows of tables stretching in every direction. $1 bins lie next to $100 bins and it’s not unusual to flick from a beat-up Mott The Hoople record to a $500 Velvet Underground LP. Like a good comic fair (yes, I’ve been to, uh, one or two), pasty skin and pot bellies are the norm (not judging, mind you) and conversations push into the farthest reaches of outer space. I am not immune:

ME: You’re telling me you’ve never heard of Anne Shelton? She had a number 1 in the UK in like, what, ’56? Joe Meek produced it? Come on, man. I thought female vocalists were your thing.

RECORD DUDE #1: Sorry, doesn’t ring a bell.

RECORD DUDE #2 (across the aisle form #1): You mean Anne Shelton the ‘40 big-band singer? I don’t have “Lay Down Your Arms” but I can sell you a “Man on the March” 45.

ME: Is that when she was touring British military bases?


ME: I’ll take it.

Of course, Anne Shelton is just kid stuff. Later, when my finger flipping lands a copy of Fraction’s Moonblood, I’m dumbstruck. I didn’t know this thing really existed (and, priced at $2500, it sort of doesn’t). I hold the cover in my hand, tracing the outline of a blood-red moon. Before I can look up, a hard, veiny hand grips my wrist.

“What are you doing?”

It’s an older, school-marmy woman with strikingly straight blonde hair and a conservative flower dress. Apparently someone tried to steal this record earlier in the day and Mom’s just looking out for her investment. When I explain my excitement -- I’m obsessed with hard '70s psych and these guys are as out-there as it gets -- her fingers loosen. It turns out that I’m not quite a kid with his hand in the cookie jar -- just another harmless, nebishy gawker.

I ask her if she has any Nirvana (the original '60s UK band, silly) and she begins to tell me about the band’s third record (one I didn’t know existed and can be mine for only $70).

“I’m kind of looking for the first one.”

“Oh, how wrong you are.”

She’s kind, but a soft killer in conversation -- explaining obscure points about the band’s ridiculously obscure music like I was a child who pooed in the wrong place. (Oh, for a mother this cool!)

I could talk to her all evening, but alas, the lights have begun to flicker -- the sign that it’s time to vamoose. I thank her, promise to give the record some serious thought, and head for the door. It’s not until the November wind hits me that I’m shaken back into the real world. My normal senses have returned, but it’s another few minutes before I stop, amazed in my tracks with the weight of the realization: my new matron of music was clearly, inarguably, a man.

Music Journalism Exposed @ Alice Tully Hall Lobby

By Dan Nishimoto

"Do you identify yourself more with the industry or as journalists?" The audience question, which came late in the panel, suggested that such a division exists in music journalism, kind of like a separation between commerce and art. The question also summarized how the panel had not clearly illustrated to its audience the ambiguous position of music journalism, a field that works neither inside the system nor completely outside of it. The panel spent most of the hour discussing the myriad aspects of the field, from relationships with record and public relations companies ("What constitutes pitch harassment?") to writing pet peeves ("Don't use 'good' or 'bad'," advised J.J. Koczan, Managing Editor of The Aquarian Weekly), but perhaps danced around this point. Which is unfortunate, because the panel was clearly attended by a number of aspiring writers/journalists looking to streamline their craft or start their careers.

Hip Hop Under Fire @ Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse

By Dan Nishimoto

Considering the heavy presence of white rock acts at CMJ, I rarely have high hopes for any of its hip-hop features. However, a discussion this year about hip-hop's controversies with a panel including Derrick Parker, founder of NYPD's Rap Intelligence Unit and author of The Notorious C.O.P., piqued my interest. Much of the hysteria surrounding drug and gun violence in hip-hop and government-sponsored criminalization of hip-hop fuels the existence of Parker's department, so a conversation about where it all came from sounded insightful. A last-minute line-up change added even more potential: Chuck D, vigilant activist and co-founder of Public Enemy, and Angela Yee, DJ on Sirius radio's Shade45 show and manager of GZA, were added to a bill that was rounded out by editor Dove and Flipmode Squad emcee Rampage.

So, what went wrong? Perhaps it was when it devolved into a directionless and clichéd laundry list of hip-hop stigmas: violence (2Pac, B.I.G.), misogyny (video vixens), and sexism/neo-feminism (Karrine Steffans, a.k.a. Superhead). Maybe it was when conversation facilitation was thrown out the window in favor of panelist rants about how hip-hop artists and fans "dumbassify" themselves. Or maybe it was when the panel started with only Parker and Dove present (D, Rampage, and Yee all arrived late, each with a colorful excuse about traffic). This was no dialogue -- unless Merriam-Webster has changed the definition from "conversation between two or more persons" to "five chattering heads rambling at each other." Hopefully next year CMJ will have the foresight and care to facilitate an actual conversation on hip-hop, rather than a series of unfiltered rants.

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