As per usual, I’m turning up for the match just as everyone is streaming away from the ground. In fact I am almost certainly the night watchman, employed to keep an eye on the stadium when no-one else is around. Nevertheless, I should capture my responses to these questions now, more or less at the outset of my blogging life, particularly as the answers have a bearing on this blog’s chronological reproduction of pages from my fanzines of twenty years ago. I’m keen to map the common impulse which led to both forms of activity. In terms of blogging per se, I’m answering without having read in detail the responses of others or subsequent commentary – that I’ll do when I’ve finished, and maybe signal which thoughts most and least accord with my own.
These questions appeared on rockcritics.com as a sort of a symposium. I have never thought of myself as a rock critic, even during the brief spell that I could realistically have been described myself. Both words in the term are limiting. I prefer to think of myself as a music writer, or rather a writer about music. Or perhaps to refine further, I’m a writer who happens to spend a fair amount of time on the subject of music, often more time than I think I ought.
1. Talk about your blog and how it has evolved over time. Why did you start to blog? What sorts of things do you do on your blog?
Evolution is obviously a question for the future. I started to blog in anticipation of the end of Tangents, specifically to continue my Backed with series but also guessing that I’d need a space to let loose whatever seemed to have some letting-loose merit and potential. Having written for Tangents since it was a paper-based entity, I had come to depend on it as a means of writing about the music I loved, but increasingly I was taking that means for granted and not being moved to file copy. I very quickly came to feel liberated by Alistair’s decision to burn Tangents down, and would admit to having felt a little hemmed in there by the voracious tastes of the prodigious talents more regularly pouring forth their words. I thank him both for the ten plus years of web space and for giving me the (unintentional) gentle shunt / kick up the arse.
I definitely need a space in which to express myself. I’ve more or less always had one. I would have felt lost and defeated without my three blogs, whose inception coincides with a surge of creative energy that for personal reasons had gone astray for two or three years.What I seem to be doing both with A jumped-up pantry boy and B/w is capturing the musical past and looking at it from the perspective of now. Allied to this are the scans from my fanzines, which inevitably set me thinking about how I was then and what I think today. My eighteen or nineteen year old self would be aghast at some of the things I’m saying about him.
With three blogs, I worry about not spending enough time on each, and losing momentum with one or other of them. But each has a different purpose, and keeping each plate spinning prevents any of them from becoming boring (at least to their writer).
Here at A jumped-up pantry boy, I would like to be spending more time writing about contemporary music (of as many persuasions as I can muster, certainly beyond the independent guitar pop I major in) than I currently do, and increasingly I hope that I will, though it’s so easy to be nostalgically seduced by a reissue from twenty years ago. But I like to think that it’s not impossible for a new group to better the songs of, say, the Go-Betweens and the pleasure they have given me. In this I may be deluding myself, because of the crust that taste and age build up around you. It is no longer possible for me to empathise completely with the worldview of twenty-somethings, but it is only (on an ongoing basis) this yet-to-be-jaded generation who stand a chance of besting Forster and McLennan. Yet to be jaded, yet to be set in stone, yet to allow reality to diminish their creative ambition and belief.
Much as I admired John Peel and his never diminishing appetite for the new, I always had the sense that it was possible for him to continue as he did because he never became emotionally or intellectually attached to the vast majority of the music he played on the radio. Had I ever become as thorough a DJ as John, I’m sure I would have given up in the face of the weight of it all and in the blink of a broadcasting eye, in comparison with his longevity.
So although I spend a lot of time listening to the new, it takes something really special to tear me away from the past and write about the present – The Clientele, Rachael Dadd and the Wraiths convince me to do so, while, for example, Battles, Burial, Cold War Kids and Candie Payne do not quite.
2. Is your blogging voice or the material you cover in your blog different than the voice you use or the material you cover in your professional music writing? If so, how?
I can’t describe myself as a professional for the reasons given in the preamble. If we stretched the notion of professional writing to include what I did for Tangents, then as yet the voice and material has altered only slightly and not significantly.
On the other hand the blogging form does not seem to me to sit easily with the kind of in-depth writing I’m undertaking over at B/w and in particular the competing distraction provided by seductive links off to other more glamorous, entertaining or provocative worldviews. I think I am still working my way to a finished blogging style. I hope my posts will become more judiciously concise and frequent.
3. What are your thoughts on comments boxes in blogs? Do you or don’t you allow them, and why?
I positively welcome them, and at this early stage they are sufficient to create little flurries of excitement. It doesn’t happen here yet – possibly because stylistically I close posts and argument off too readily – but the refinement that can be arrived at when comments don’t simply comprise of winks and in-jokes (fair enough in itself if the blog acts as a place to have pub-banter when not in the pub) is often impressive. I wish I had more time to respond to what I read on the blogs of others – so much of it merits engagement, encouragement, hair-splitting, stand-taking.
4. Is your blog a forum to converse with or critique other writers? If so, please recount one (or some) of your more memorable blog dialogs or critiques.
It may become so. More conversation than critique, I guess, although I welcomed the linking nod I got from Simon Reynolds having appraised Rip it up and start again. Because I also write fiction, I don’t spend my whole creative life celebrating or dissecting music, and I think I would tend to bow to those that do on matters of critical principle. I mostly want to share thoughts about great music and would agree with anyone who suggests that is a problematic endeavour in a world packed to the gills with music-makers, listeners and writers. No-one should care that I have anything to say, but I aspire to saying it in a way which for the reader contains elements of idiosyncrasy, recognition, empathy, neurone-sparking potential.
5. Would you agree that the back and forth conversational aspect of the music blogosphere has died down somewhat in the last few years? Any theories as to why?
I don’t think I can answer the first part of the question having only followed it sufficiently closely since so recently becoming a music blogger myself. Can anyone keep track of everything that’s going on? At every moment a new young, middle- or old-aged blogger is starting out on their monologues or conversations. Like most things, there will surely be waves of activity – some spurred by creative developments, others by technological advances – with certain relative constants. I suppose for me Freaky trigger and the ILX boards provide a sense of those constants, even though I have never participated in either and rarely have a moment to look beyond the FT blogs to the boards.
6. A lot of music bloggers tend to start out with a lot of energy, then drop out altogether. You have kept at this for a while–what keeps you going, and are you ever tempted to just throw in the towel?
Obviously six months is not long, but when I start something I tend to want to see it through to the end of its natural life. And as music has no end, and nor does writing about it, I reckon on keeping on keeping on, subject to occasional bouts of futility-induced depression.
I am definitely also subject to the (obsessive-) compulsive quality of blogging but my life aside from writing is sufficiently forceful that I’m obliged to do less than I otherwise might. The addiction contains in it both noble and ignoble cravings (rather like fanzine writing, hence the reproductions) – you just have to try to obey the noble drive and resist as far as possible the ignoble. So I don’t envisage needing to wean myself off of it anytime soon. If I can keep blogs and life in balance, I think I’m here to stay. The only thing I can see outside of war or apocalypse that that would make me reappraise the worth of continuing would be if the stats dropped to zero. I need to do it, but I also need to feel that I am not simply speaking to myself, a straightjacketed madman in a white cell. I take on board the risk that how I express myself may be turned by the existence of an audience greater than one. I still have some small belief that writing ultimately attains the readership it deserves.
7. Do you think music blogs have any serious impact on record sales, or on how music is covered in newsstand publications?
I suspect negative impact on record sales as far as the influence of this blog is concerned! I’m not sure I care about this as an issue, beyond wishing the groups that I write about well, in the sense that they make enough money both to support themselves and continue recording.
It must be next to impossible now to disentangle the various strands of increasingly viral marketing strategies, let alone distinguish between or even determine what is a genuine appreciative reaction and one which is tied to or compromised by the buzz. But in terms of coverage it would seem to be the case that the mainstream media has taken on board the self-publishing revolution, and encouraged a greater level of reader participation, at least in an online sense. You can see that with the music blog and Comment is free areas of the Guardian. But perhaps other newsstand publications have not been so enlightened – or prepared to adapt to the changing balance of power in the name of self-preservation and self-interest.
8. What would you like to see more of in the world of music blogs?
Allowing that I probably have an incomplete or distorted sense of what the world of music blogs is, I would wish to see more imaginative responses to music which not only accept the contexts in which songs or pieces are written and recorded, but that give them their head as works of art as well as cultural artefacts. I suppose I mean that everything is so heavily loaded; if it’s possible, I’d like writers to strip as much of that away as they can (or at least momentarily get past it) and look at the bones, the guts of the thing. If I am being overly Romantic and culturally naïve about anyone’s ability to do this in the 21st century, carrying the weight of critical baggage that we do, then I suppose that is deliberate.
9. What blogs, music or otherwise, do you most highly recommend?
In addition to the ones I link to on the left under what WordPress unfortunately insists on calling ‘blogroll’ (the ones that aren’t me in other guises are friends – though this shouldn’t discount how highly I rate what they do), I like An unreliable witness for prose which chases itself as might a plump dog following its strangely wiry tail, photography which blends idiosyncrasy with something you might find in a glossy product brochure, subversion of the post-it note, and all-round imaginative engagement with the blogging form. Skyberries and voidmelons or voidberries and skymelons for Squirmelia’s photographic eye and diary-like interrogation of the oddities of natural and urban worlds. The police diver’s notebook for Nick Talbot’s sharp political commentary on the state of the nation. And I like La terrasse for its old-school literary range and flâneur erudition.
Music features prominently in only the last of these. If the Guardian is right and there are now 4 million bloggers in Britain alone, then I suspect there are one or two more music blogs out there which I would wish to read on a post-by-post basis if I had the time to stumble across and stay with them. As it is, I aim to write the blog I would wish to read if I were me, but I don’t doubt that there are people out there doing what I do better and more intensively. They just don’t have my taste…
I admire those few blogs who don’t care to network the blogosphere by linking to a myriad of others in what can either be viewed as back-scratching or patting, or construction of a tapestry of interwoven concerns and cultural identification. The problem is, they are extremely difficult to trace. Perhaps there’s a Strange map of them to be found somewhere…
10. Anything else you care to add?
I have been struck at how much like starting a fanzine starting a blog has been. It’s been a process of learning on the job, finding out both in terms of design and content what works and what doesn’t, reawakening friendships with people whose friendship was awakened in the first place by the fact that we exchanged fanzines. There has been an element of what we might crudely term marketing with each; I’ve discovered that there really is a virtual equivalent of the (occasionally quite productive) madness of attempting to sell fanzines cold and off the cuff to people who attended the same gigs as me. Making links to people – I can see how this would lead to real-world friendships in the same way fanzine connections did, were I not the age I am. Those connections shot off in so many directions, and travelled so far from the initial musical meeting of minds, with letters as a testing ground for ideas, relationships, issues and ambitions. It would be stretching the truth to call my entry into the world of blogging a creative renaissance, but it’s not far off that, and not far off the creative act of discovery that producing fanzines was.
I have also re-learnt the art of completion; towards the end of the Tangents decade, my ideas were mouldering, and for every article I sent through to Alistair, another nine remained unfinished.