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October 07, 2008

Comments

Daphne Carr

Hi Caroline.

Thanks for taking the time to blog about this.

Actually, there are five women represented in the book this year. I agree that this is a bad situation, but the thing you should understand about the Best Music Writing series is that it is a book of reprints, and therefore reflects the very problems you outlined above - that editors must assign, edit, and pubish articles by folks before I can get to them. I read hundreds of publications and thousands of articles and pay serious attention to bringing in new and different voices to the anthology. I have a commitment to this as a feminist and am always actively engaged in breaking down definitions of "best" writing that assume a universalist, faux objective stance espoused most often by those in power (to protect their power, no doubt). I am interested in great writing from new subjectivities. Please feel free to forward me any worthy articles for future books. I extend that invitation to your readers as well: musicwriting@gmail.com . Greil Marcus is the guest editor next year.

You are mistaken about the number and quality of female critics, I am happy to announce. I run a listserv for women music writers, GirlGroup, that has 469 members (please join) including Vivian Goldman, Evelyn McDonnell, Jalylah Burrell, Caryn Brooks, Amy Phillips, Kandia Crazy-Horse, Daphne Brooks, Molly Sheridan, Kerri Mason, Maura Johnson and many many others. They're fantastic writers and it's a great discussion group. We're celebrating our fifth year this year.

Other folks who aren't on our list but worth checking out are below:

Sia Michel
Amanda Petrusich
Danyel Smith
Melissa Maerz
Jenny Eliscu
Nekesa Mumbi Moody

There are literally hundreds more, and I can go on naming them if you like. It's important that we understand that these women are out there working hard and writing important narratives about popular music. Support them, write letters to the editor praising their work, comment on their articles, email them privately to encourage them. You and I both know how much that helps. This can be a lonely business.

A final thought - as a feminist I believe that an important part of making art is locating your subjectivity but also being actively engaged as an actor for progressive narratives. Like bell hooks says, feminism is not something you are, it's something you do. Otherwise we end up with scary tokenism, and let me tell you that I am not interested in filling up the book with 34 pieces by any kind of Sarah Palin. I believe even heterosexual white men can be feminists and write amazing, necessary, informed stories that tell the histories forgotten by their predessesors, and I count those folks (Carl Wilson and Jody Rosen are two from the book who come to mind immediately) as part of the good project. It's important to support guys like them as well, because folks like Jody are the ones who understand that they have power and that with that power they can help bring other, new progressive voices into the mix. By mix I mean published, paid, read and respected. That's the rally cry, no? I'm there with you.

Caro

Hi Daphne, thank you for your informative and thoughtful note.

My comments on the BMW series -- which I love -- were not meant to be a slam. You're right, it reflects the problems inherent in the industry as a whole. That was my point, really.

And I am happy to be corrected on the prevalence of women, in the series and in the industry. I know there are in fact lots of women out there. I never questioned the quality of women writers. I have been a big fan for many years of many of the folks you mention. As well, I am excited to see names I don't know on your list. Homework for me!

But ask the average music nut to name women writers without looking it up, and I can guarantee you they'll be hard pressed to come up with a handful they'd read in the past six months.

I would argue that while the absolute numbers are good, the visibility and perception has gone backwards from the 80s and 90s. Does that point to some underlying, invisible sexism that is even harder to battle? Methinks so.

Love, love, love Carl and Jody and their work, and yes, the efforts of feminist men. Like you say, it's about what you do, putting the pedal to the metal and all that.

Thanks again, and will join the listserve!

Daphne Carr

Def. not taken as a slam, no worries. This stuff literally keeps me up at night so I'm glad that it is getting discussed.

As for average music fan who reads and like women authors, we have some catching up in that regard, since most of the major histories and "great stories" of popular music have been written by male authors and folks who read music journalism tend to read the books too, not just the articles. That's why it is so important for me that Ellen Willis's memory and works make it into the mainstream of rock criticism history. She was there first, best, and (for me) most inspiring. She left the biz when she lost her edge on how to relate pop culture to larger cultural and political issues, but not many folks want to or can do that. The challenge is to stay forceful, informed, and on target for a whole career! Ann, Nelson, Greil, Joan Morgan and others are good examples. It's hard.

As for contemporary magazine journalism - it's pretty safe, and that's sad. This is a lament of mine that makes me feel like an old person. But I see you have things like Bidoun in your roll over there, and that is a magazine I think that "gets it" (to borrow a phrase from Obama) in terms of serving print audiences in an online era. I would also say Stop Smiling "gets it" for their audience, but I might be biased as the former music editor there. Also praise to Wax Poetics - there's a magazine that knows its audience and has great writers.

This year I spent a lot more time with the big glossies because I was wondering what was going on in that big prestige/long format world, and while the writing was fantastic (oh, the editing!), the subjects were often safer and more historical. It's a bit scary because even Rolling Stone is running very few music features these days, so the question really becomes, who is publishing well-edited pieces by new authors in long format on contemporary musical figures?

While Pitchfork has been called hegemonic and does frame the discourse around indie rock, I think it's a bit false to paint them as the contemporary monolith. They don't get THAT many hits, and once outside the weird world of music writers they are relatively unknown. I taught undergrads last year and in both classes I would say two students were rabit P4RK readers, and the other 20 had no idea what they were talking about.

Final thought - invisible sexism. A friend of mine told me that he overheard a coworker complain that pointing out gender difference was "feminist" and that we were past that point. I agree with you - we live in a deeply backlashed world that mistakenly thinks gender/sexuality/ethnicity/race
discrimination are over because they are nominally illegal (we both know how bs that is!) and that therefore nothing more needs to be done. Well, it does and sexism certainly pervades the industry now as it did back then, if for different reasons.

I've heard hip hop and rock writers alike wax nostalgic for that period you discussed as the golden age of serious, politically engaged cultural criticism - a moment when the music and the writing aligned. We're not in an age like that now, much as I long for it. The question of what to do is one that perplexes me endlessly. Mentorship, support, encouragement, helping out good writers, encouraging good editors, having mag subscriptions, reading great blogs are good ways. Encourage smart people to write books! Put together an anthology! I say that knowing that not everyone has access, but Rock She Wrote is what got me into this business, and every kind of music writer should have their own Rock She Wrote. Perhaps there's an anthology of great Latin music writing waiting to be put together?

Caro

Daphne, wow, so many tasty thoughts to chew on!

Big fan of Wax Poetics and Stop Smiling (may be time to add them to the roll). Fader too.

Thanks for the push to do more. As you say, lots of worthy project need to see the light of day.

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