Let's Rave On; None of us will ever be great writers

I’ve got some fairly big news concerning my life, and since it’s fairly en vogue around these parts to share personal feelings at the top of one’s column (gives you a personality!) I’ll take the cue.

I’m giving my 30 day resignation today. I’ve been teaching English in Korea for the past two months, but I just can’t do it anymore. It’s not that I can’t perform. I’m actually very, very good at it. I helped organize a five day camp last week that was an astounding success. All of my lesson plans have been home runs. Thing is, I came here as a test to see if I wanted to go back to school to become a teacher, and I don’t. I don’t get any excitement out of what I do. I don’t feel the rush of the ‘teachable moments’ that people always talk about in this industry. I wake up every morning wishing I was somewhere else. So I’m going to go home and try something else.

I’m 23. I’ve got a book nearly ready to go. If I don’t make it big, at least I’ll open a great diner somewhere.

Also, I’ve got some cool photos up from the English camp. My group was the Punk Rockers, because damned if I was going to a camp and being part of a group called The Squirrels or The Green Days.

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There Is No News

About a dozen people came out last week, from Lance Bass to Nelly Furtado (bi!) to, of all people, reportedly Oprah. I love it when wars break out in foreign countries the US doesn’t want you to really know about. The stars just start going all flip floppity on us. Dave Chappelle couldn’t have been more right about the Michael Jackson thing.

That’s about it.

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Cassette Tapes From Old Lovers

Some columnists give you lists of what they listen to. This is just about the laziest thing anyone can do. The best anyone can do with a list of songs is go “Oh, that’s nice” and move on. With hundreds of thousands of mp3 blogs out there, it’s negligence at this point not to share music with others. Enough people know the rules these days. This music is for listening only. Buy the CD if you like the song. Tell your friends.

1. Cry On – The Detroit Cobras
2. Just Like A Woman – Bob Dylan
3. Make War (Live) – Bright Eyes
4. Tymps – Fiona Apple
5. I Almost Cried (Live) – Hayden
6. Sun Sun Sun – Jets Overhead
7. Softly and Tenderly is Calling – Robert Sean Leonard
8. You Went away – Tegan & Sara
9. Absinthe Makes The Heart… – The Illuminati
10. Ciao – Lush

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What I’m Reading When I Should be Teaching

I wanted to write a similar column to Gloomchen’s back when I was a cruise DJ. I feel this one a whole hell of a lot.

Mathan Talks about longetivity in Hip Hop, and I pretty well completely agree with him too. That’s two for two this week.

Greg keeps calling me a ‘must read’. He should read my column this week, and realize that I should probably hang it up and let the bloggers take over. As well, when it comes to Greg’s column, I really wish he’d dig deeper into some of the ideas he sets forth.

And ever since Shawn’s moved to Saturday’s, I’ve neglected linking him. I think it’s important to read this column, especially if you’re going to read mine, since they’re both dancing around the same thing.

I have a feeling we’re all going to be dancing around this for a good while.

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Let’s Rave On

Good Journalism is everywhere. But great journalism? It’s pretty much DOA.

At least, it is according to Chris Dahlen, writer of the Pitchfork column Get That Out Of Your Mouth. In his latest article, Chris writes about the lack of Gonzo journalism in our time. He bemoans the absence of our ‘Hunter Thompson’. He scoffs at our entire generation of writers; “Today’s writers eat it. Nobody knows how to cover music, or movies, or video games, or any of the other media that matter.” His argument isn’t entirely inaccurate. Is there any single voice in the music press now? Is there any single person we look to for our map to quality?

He would have a good point, but Chris misses the mark on his diagnosis completely. He makes a just claim about technological advances being the main thing we all write about. This is one reason I don’t deserve to be a journalist. I wrote an article about podcasting not six months ago that unobtrusively sleeps with the formula. I wrote it from the viewpoint of a casual fan giving his opinion. I was not exceptionally educated on the subject, but that’s okay. I’m an editorial journalist, not an instruction book or the surgeon general. I’m allowed to have opinions not buried in spec sheets, expert analysis and other nerd-ery. Still, he’s right. My podcasting piece was lazy writing, through and through. I wrote the same column fifty other people did about fifty other new ‘interesting’ things about the music industry.

Chris is wrong not because what he says is incorrect, no; Chris is wrong because what he talks about isn’t the problem at all. Yes, technology is advancing at a rate where journalists can’t really get a fair grasp on it before the next cool toy comes about. But that isn’t why we lack a great writer, or why, as Chris says, “They (the public) want a tastemaker, a voice of authority, who can put it all in perspective and knock our heads together with his or her crazy-yet-dead-on arguments.”

What was Hunter Thompson’s job? Quickly, anyone? That’s right, he wrote about music. Sure, he wrote about drugs and politics and Bill Murray, but all of this was to make what he wrote about for his day job more interesting. People think that Hunter Thompson made kids like rock music because he took a lot of drugs and lived the lifestyle. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Hunter Thompson made people like rock music because he was an exceptional writer who knew how to hook in his readers. Look carefully, because these are two very different things.

Let’s get back to Chris from Pitchfork for a second. Chris is a good writer. His column this week was informative, quirky, unique, and asks a very good question that I’ve never seen asked outside of my own head; why are all the journalists in modern media cocksuckers? Why does every single person out there writing about movies, music, technology, and especially video games sound like giant tools, almost as if they were working for the corporations that sell us these distractions? Yes, sometimes it’s because they are working for these companies, but that’s another article. My point is, as good as Chris’ column is, and as good a writer that he is (I read his column every time), I don’t give a damn who Chris Dahlen is.

Now, let’s take a look at me, because I do exactly the same thing Chris does. I write an article no longer than 2,000 words for a site that focuses on a particular media niche. Every week, I bring forth an argument, an idea, and sometimes questions and advice. Neither of us talk about music. We talk about the idea of music and how it is a crucial aspect of our lives. We do this because we’re not satisfied telling you what CD to buy this week. We want to have a discussion with you about what this whole crazy world is doing to us. Chuck Klosterman, the guy both Chris and I quote with some regularity, does the exact same thing on a larger scale (he writes for Spin and Esquire and has a few books). You could say we all do the same job at different levels of our career. Nobody, and I mean nobody, cares about any of us.

Oh, I’m sure our families love us, and we’re probably all got a good group of friends that’ll drag us out of any ditch, and maybe we’ve all fallen in and out of love a few times. But since we want people to care about ideas and not us as ideas, they’ll never care about us.

People generally like reading Hunter Thompson because he’s the Hulk Hogan of music journalism. What I mean is, just like regular folks loved Hulk Hogan, but being a fan of Hulk Hogan really didn’t have anything to do with enjoying the fine art of professional wrestling. Hogan wasn’t a real person; he was an idea. Hunter Thompson, too, was an exceptional caricature. He wasn’t a real person either. Through his writing, he was an image of a man so involved with rock music that he couldn’t help but be a part of it, and we couldn’t help but be entranced. It didn’t matter what he wrote about, just like it didn’t matter who Hulk Hogan was fighting. People love ideas; they’ve never really loved other people.

It’s interesting that Chris talks about the lack of a voice in video game journalism. When it comes to great critics in the video game industry, he says, “I’m guessing the root cause of Klostermann’s argument is that no great critics have emerged, and by that he means he’s never been at a big lit/journo cocktail party and heard anybody say, ‘You’ve gotta read THIS WRITER. I could give a damn about gaming, but whoa, s/he writes about games like a house on fire!’ Nobody has shown up with that bowl-you-over voice that takes a seemingly alien and marginal activity– an activity that, like drugs, many in the audience will never even try– and turns it into a must-read experience.”

Now, this is interesting, because there is one voice in the video game industry that lots of people listen to and read, even though many of us wouldn’t piss on the video game industry if we were on fire. The two guys over at Penny Arcade, Gabe and Tycho, craft such nuanced and beautiful sentences that I’m literally carjacked to their site thrice a week. Maybe that’s just the English major in me, I don’t know, but they could write about plants and I would be interested. Take this sentence from last Monday’s entry; “Even faulty equipment cannot bar us from our ancient duty, and even with only a camera, a table, and a pen at our disposal we shall pierce our gathered enemies. Gabriel struggled to retain his lunch as various aggressors took chisel to his beloved space opera.” Fact is, if these two published a novel that talked about them sitting on their couch playing Final Fantasy I would probably devour several copies.

But look around the Penny Arcade site. Do you see pictures of Tycho and Gabe anywhere? Do you see inclusions to their real life that come from outside their direct poetic dialogue? Is there a viable reason as to why Tycho and Gabe are using aliases? There is very little argument that these guys are probably the most influential writers for their field, but just about none of us know who they are at all. Our chieftains in expending biases are literally cartoons.

Chris Dahlen, Tycho and Gabe, and myself all don’t matter to anyone because we all lack real credibility. Sure, Chris has indie cred writing for Pitchfork, and Tycho and Gabe have nerd cred for plugging consistent rhetoric for eight years. I’ve got some independent credibility (different than indie) because I have no editor, no style to attain, and nobody telling me what to write about. But none of us have credibility as real people. We don’t have this because we are known first for being writers and second (or eighth) as being someone who is flesh and blood. My point is that none of us will ever become the next Hunter Thompson because we aren’t willing to give up our little-known flesh and blood to become immortal.

Until someone comes along to give him or herself up for what they truly believe – or at least do enough drugs so that he can’t make a sane decision to get off the ledge – we will lack the true famous, articulate, and influential writer of our generation.

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