Two weeks ago, J. Cole, whose debut album was No. 1 and who just got off tour with Drake, came with me to the American Museum of Natural History to do an interview because his second album is coming out soon and he’s lecturing at Harvard. I chose the museum for the interview because it’s just an amazing place. In this picture, we’re in the Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs. Even though I’ve never gotten into J. Cole’s music, I love this interview. Read it at Interview Magazine.
At the end of the summer I left my job at the music television channel where I worked and started law school, which is where I am now (in the library). You may think that people who go to law school are the people who have completely failed professionally after college and who are suckers for paying for a worthless degree that equips you to join a profession that nobody respects with historically bad employment prospects, but I can live with that. Anyway, so last summer I wrote a short book, and over the winter it was edited, and then two weeks ago, I went to a meeting with a publisher.
My book agent met me outside the building. (Many small bloggers have agents because bloggers want to have agents so they feel legitimate, and also so they can tell their parents they just got off the phone with their agents when their parents ask them if they’ve finished sending in their law school applications. Agents want to sign new clients because it doesn’t cost anything to sign an agency agreement, so there’s not much downside.) We took the elevator upstairs. In the elevator, my agent encouraged me to just be myself, which I have tried many times, especially during meetings with publishers, and often it hasn’t worked to my advantage.
In the meeting with the publishers, they asked me some questions about the content of the book, which is very personal. Some questions I thought I answered well, others made me wish I could get a do-over. After the meeting, in the elevator downstairs, my agent said he thought I did a good job, and I told him I thought he did a good job as an agent. On the street outside, I said, “I really liked those people, I hope they offer to buy the book.”
And then on Wednesday morning, I was running through my pretrial adjudication flashcards in the student lounge and my agent emailed me and told me that publishers had made offers on the book, and the publisher we’d just met with had made the best offer. I was very excited, so I called my parents and told them. My mom said she hoped the excitement wouldn’t take my focus off my finals, and my dad said having a book deal would look good on my resume, and then I called my grandma but I got the machine because I think she was in water aerobics class. I texted and called some friends, told three kids in my study group and one of them hugged me, and then got back to my flashcards because I’m in finals right now. But I also wanted to tell you, and say thank you for reading this blog.
So it comes out in 2014. The publishers called it an autobiographical novel. Right now, the title is You’re Not Much Use to Anyone. I think you are going to like it.
I need one of these.
Hey I got these three tickets from work for free to the Warped Tour tomorrow at Nassau Coliseum and I wanted to know if anybody wants them? If you can pick them up at a super secret location in Brooklyn (my apartment) they’re all yours.
On Tuesday I spent the day riding around in a press convoy with Chief Keef, the 17-year-old Chicago rapper who’s brilliantly explained here. He told me about his daughter and had me take the above picture of him. We had a nice day. I wrote about it here:
Exclusive picture of Riff Raff with his pet python Shelly Kapowski and Diplo, in Diplo’s yellow Lamborghini, on their way to a party to celebrate Riff Raff signing to Diplo’s label.
I wrote a very long story about Riff Raff, a rapper who I really admire, for the website Gawker, and you can read it here. Last week he came to my apartment (you can read about in the story) and we went up to my roof and I took pictures of his tattoos for a gallery that’s included with the story. This is a WorldStarHipHop.com tattoo on his left shoulder, which I’d seen before in his videos, but I’d never noticed that little “WORLD RIFF RAFF” tattoo above it. I hope you like the story.
Hey, I mentioned this but a few weeks ago I interviewed Waka Flocka Flame and then after the interview he went outside to meet someone he termed “the homie with the smoke” and this man had unexpectedly set up a microphone in the back seat of his car so Waka freestyled into it, with the guy using Pro Tools on a laptop in the seat next to him. The photographer I was with managed to get a photo of Waka rapping in the back of the car and he just sent it to me and I thought it was too good not to share.
Hey I interviewed Waka Flocka Flame:
Here’s a picture of Waka Flocka looking wide-eyed right before he intentionally startled me by jumping at me and then called me “The Scarecrow” for the duration of our time together because I got startled.
In the back room of a basement club in Chelsea, past the bouncer who mercifully let me in, through the front door and down the stairs, past the coat check and across the dancefloor and down a narrow hallway, I am standing and staring at Lil Wayne through a very thin, almost transparent curtain. There are models and reporters and bottles of liquor and champagne all around me, and smoke in the air and Lil Wayne music playing over the club’s PA. Lil Wayne is the most popular rapper in America and also my personal hero, and right now he’s standing in the encurtained VIP area of this club because he’s here to promote a new line of skateboarding clothes that he either founded or is endorsing. Lil Wayne is wearing all-white Moon Boots that go up to his knees, which he cutely tucks his pants into, and I am watching him as he raps along to a Drake song and extends his arms and dances, like when someone on the new York Jets scores a touchdown and they run around the field impersonating a plane. I am nearly in heaven.
I put my face up against the curtain, staring at Lil Wayne, waiting until the woman guarding the VIP area deigns to let me in to interview him. Lil Twist sits on a couch behind Lil Wayne, laconically drinking out of either a bottle of clear liquor or an exotic-looking brand of bottled water that I’ve never seen before. I incidentally make eye contact with Lil Twist, and he looks at me suspiciously, so I immediately look away because I don’t want him to think I’m being too lurky and have me kicked out of the club. I wish I could assure him that, although I like his raps, I’m not lurking around the VIP because he’s in it, but that might insult his pride more than it would put him at ease, and he’d have me kicked out. From now on, I’ll just try to avoid looking in Lil Twist’s direction.
Anyway, ten minutes ago when I got here, I knew that telling the woman who is guarding the VIP area that I write a semi-active Tumblr, formerly about an indie music website, probably wouldn’t be the kind of professional credential that would make her want to let me into VIP area to interview the most popular rapper in America, so one of the reporters here, who writes for a famous magazine, volunteered to let me interview Lil Wayne for that magazine. And so now I am temporarily in the unpaid employ of a magazine that would never hire me. When the VIP area guard turns away from me, I comb my hair with my hand to try to get my appearance more closely aligned with my impressive fake credential.
Now Lil Wayne is talking to a man who is probably his lawyer but who I prefer to think of as the 60-year-old, mostly bald, loose-suit-wearing newest member of the Young Money family. Lil Wayne stops rapping along to Drake and leans in to hear what this man is saying because he speaks softly. Obviously I can’t hear what they’re saying from ten feet and a curtain away, but when they’re done talking, Lil Wayne smiles and laughs. This guy is probably Lil Wayne’s new lawyer because on Tha Carter IV’s Nightmares of the Bottom, Wayne says, “If I knew I was going to jail, I would have fucked my attorney.” I think, if Lil Wayne’s new lawyer did his due diligence and listened to the new Lil Wayne album, he must know he’s on thin ice.
Now Lil Wayne has stopped talking to the lawyer and is pogoing in his all-white Moon Boots. He pogoes around the VIP area for a while until, I guess, he gets tired out. Then he drinks some water.
A man comes out from behind the VIP curtain and walks up to me and looks me over and goes, “Is it really that serious, son?” I try to understand what he means, like if it’s an existential question or I have a really serious look on my face that I didn’t realize, but I can’t, so I say, “What do you mean?” He says, “Leanin’ up against the curtain like that? Is it really that serious that you gotta do that?” I show him my Lil Wayne tattoo, my only tattoo, and he looks shocked, and then laughs, and then gives me a high-five that turns into a handshake, and says, “Aight, you aight, I got you,” and then he walks back into the VIP area. I am watching Lil Wayne as he adjusts his fitted cap, which is a whopping size 8 (to accommodate his dreads) and says “Sorry I’m Fresh” in big gold embroidered letters on the front, and “And You’re Not” on the back. A model bumps into me and I mumble an apology, and then she wanders into the VIP area.
Fifteen minutes later it looks like my chance of interviewing Lil Wayne is starting to dwindle. The woman guarding the VIP says that Lil Wayne is taking a break from doing interviews and then I realize the party ends in like twenty minutes. I wonder, “Is Lil Wayne running down the clock on this promotional appearance?” My heart sinks a little and I think about texting my Mom about this near-miss because I’ve spent a lot of plane and car rides trying to get her into Lil Wayne (she likes M.I.A. and one Young Jeezy song), but there’s no service down in this basement so I can’t.
Suddenly, a man emerges from the VIP area and whispers something to the woman guarding it. She looks at me and touches my arm and goes, “Okay, I need you,” and then looks at some reporters from Teen Vogue behind me and says, “And you and you and you,” and then she pulls us all inside the VIP area! I have passed through the pearly gates!!
Now my palms are clammy and my heart is almost racing because Lil Wayne is standing four feet from me as the reporters from Teen Vogue interview him. I turn to my left and Lil Wayne’s manager Cortez Bryant (and co-star of the documentary about Lil Wayne) is standing there, looking me over. He’s wearing small tortoiseshell glasses and we smile at each other and I go, “Hey Cortez! I’m David!” Cortez Bryant smiles and shakes my hand and asks me how I am doing, and I say, “Dude, I don’t even know how to tell you how excited I feel right now.” I want to tell him that it feels like my whole life is building to the moment when I get to interview Lil Wayne, but that seems needlessly dramatic, so I just finish by saying, “I’m pretty nervous.” He understands.
A waiter carrying a tray of pieces of tuna tartare on little toasts comes up to us and a guy standing next to Cortez says to him, “Yo, you gotta try this.” Cortez shakes his head and his friend insists and Cortez jokingly says, “This? Are you settin’ me up?” by which I think he means setting him up to be killed in a poisoned food assassination, so that maybe the other guy could usurp the throne of being Lil Wayne’s manager/confidant, or just setting Cortez up to eat something that tastes weird as a prank. But Cortez acquiesces and eats the tuna. He likes it, and he looks at me expectantly, as if to ask, “Do you want to try one of these tiny tuna steaks too?” but I shake my head. I could never eat a piece of tuna tartare on a little toast at a time like this, lest my breath smell like cat food when I talk to Lil Wayne.
The Teen Vogue reporters finish interviewing him and then it’s my turn. I turn the recorder (that the person from the magazine lent me) on and take two steps towards Lil Wayne. He reaches out and shakes my hand and introduces himself, and I can’t stop smiling, standing there looking down into the face of the greatest rapper to ever do it. His diamond grill is shimmering, he’s covered in tattoos (I wonder if he has any Lil Wayne tattoos? Like how Bukowski used to wear that shirt with a big picture of his own face on it), and his face has even more of that uniquely lizardly quality in person.
I ask, haltingly, “Are you working on Tha Carter V?” Lil Wayne starts saying something and then Cortez Bryant leans in and goes, “Only questions about [the skate clothing brand Lil Wayne is here to promote].” I nod vigorously but Lil Wayne shakes his head, and then Lil Wayne reaches up and puts his arm around me and turns us both around, so we’re not facing Cortez Bryant, and leans towards me and tells me that he’s not working Tha Carter V yet, but that he’s working on something else. Lil Wayne is in open defiance of Cortez Bryant, and on my behalf! I hope this isn’t the straw that breaks the camel’s back of their troubled relationship…
For a second I can’t remember my next question, and Lil Wayne stands there looking expectant, and then thankfully I remember it: “What will you do after rap?” Lil Wayne doesn’t even think about it: “I’m gonna focus on being the best father I can be.” That was an easy one — obviously these aren’t the questions I would personally ask, but I’m here on assignment from a prestigious magazine, so I’m trying to keep it broad.
Then Lil Wayne releases me from the fraternal shoulder hold and I am again facing Cortez Bryant, who I don’t wanna cross twice, so I ask my final, two-part question: “What skate clothes do you wear? Do you wear Supreme?” Supreme is the skate clothing brand popularized nationally by Odd Future last summer, but it was locally very popular for like 15 years before that, including when I was in college and coveted it most. Lil Wayne tells me about how he skated in the big skating bowl inside the Supreme store in LA. I think about showing him this sick polar fleece Supreme hat I have, and maybe seeing if he wants to trade his “Sorry I’m Fresh” hat for my Supreme hat, but I remember I checked my bag and my hat’s in my bag. Crud.
Then I am out of questions! And almost out of time, according to how Cortez Bryant is looking at me. Light glints off of Lil Wayne’s eyebrow ring, and he looks at me and smiles as a Lil Wayne song plays over the club’s PA. I put the recorder down and look at Lil Wayne and say, “I also just wanted to tell you that you really inspire me,” and Lil Wayne smiles, and then I show Lil Wayne my Lil Wayne tattoo, and his eyes widen and he starts grinning and then starts laughing. He reaches out his hand and starts shaking my hand, which I suspect concludes our interview, but then he pulls me in for a hug and hugs me for maybe five seconds, which doesn’t sound like that long but, to put it in perspective, light travels 931,411 miles in five seconds.
He releases me from the hug and I go, “I’m Jewish, so if my Dad knew I had this tattoo, he would kill me!” Lil Wayne laughs again and then says these magical words:
“Yo, we gotta hang out! Why don’t you give my secretary your phone number?”
I nod and Lil Wayne beckons a woman in her mid-twenties, who stands up from the couch she was on, near Lil Twist, and comes over to us and Lil Wayne tells her to put my name and phone number into a Blackberry Bold 9900 that’s maybe Lil Wayne’s phone, which she does.
And then Lil Wayne and I shake hands and say goodbye, and he starts doing another interview as I float through the VIP section, out of the curtains, and over to the bar, where I find K, get myself a glass of champagne and sit down with her on a leather bench in the back of this basement club. I tell her that Lil Wayne asked me for my phone number, and it was like being knighted, finding $20 in the wash, and momentarily reaching that ecstatic peace that monks reach when they meditate for a really long time, all in one.
We reflect on the likelihood of Lil Wayne actually calling me to hang out, and we agree that it’s likelier than The Notorious B.I.G. calling me to hang out, for sure, but probably not by much. I think I am okay with this because, as they say, “It’s an honor just to be nominated (to be an acquaintance of Lil Wayne, possibly as a circuitous way for him to end an interview).” Half an hour later we leave the club and I float down the street in Chelsea, really happy to be in New York for, I guess, and not to end it on too mellow a note, maybe the first time in a long time.
Sent via Blackberry
Update 1/27/12: Still no call, patiently waiting by the phone.
Update 2/2/12: No call, giving up hope.
Update 2/28/12: Got a missed call from an unknown number, assuming it was him. Waiting for call back.
I’m putting out a zine! It’s called The World’s First Perfect Zine, costs $12, and was printed in a run of 500 copies. The contributors are as follows:
Dylan Baldi is the sole songwriter and recording member in the band Cloud Nothings.
Rostam Batmanglij is a musician and songwriter in the bands Vampire Weekend and Discovery.
Pete Berkman is the lead songwriter in the band Anamanaguchi.
Joe Coscarelli is an assistant editor at New York Magazine’s Daily Intel blog.
Lena Dunham is a filmmaker.
jj is a Swedish pop group.
Tao Lin is a novelist.
Ryan O’Connell is an editor at Thought Catalog.
Maureen O’Connor is a staff writer at Gawker.
Choire Sicha is the editor of The Awl.
Himanshu Suri is a rapper in the band Das Racist.
Bucky Turco is the editor of Animal New York.
Victor Vazquez is a rapper in the band Das Racist.
Mike Vilensky is a staff writer at The Wall Street Journal.
Jenna Wortham is a staff writer at The New York Times.
You can order it online here. It’s now sold out. If you ordered a zine and you still haven’t received it, email email@example.com. If you live in/visit New York, you can still get a copy at Strand Bookstore, but they have one a handful of copies, so I’d call ahead to see if they have any left.
Tumblr threw a release party for the zine, with an open bar (god bless them), on November 16th from 7:00 to 9:00 at Other Music in Manhattan.
The zine also has a small, private, password-protected Tumblr of supplemental content (photos, interviews, stories) which you can get the password to by ordering the zine online (I’ll email it to you), emailing firstname.lastname@example.org if you bought it in person, or finding the answer to this riddle, which is the password:
What is the first name of the girlfriend of the director in the only 9-minute official music video (presently unavailable in the United States due to copyright issues) by the band whose original guitarist’s older brother was previously in a band whose two other members went on to form a band whose most recent album’s first single prominently features a sample from a song by a now-defunct band whose percussionist is named John Braddock, nicknamed “Dutch”?
Okay, that’s it, see you later!
Read about the zine, maybe
buy a copy, come party.
Das Racist put out their second mixtape about a year ago and Ian Cohen, a combination entertainment lawyer/Pitchfork reviewer, gave it an 8.7, the second-highest Pitchfork score any mixtape has gotten. Three days later I interviewed Hima (one of the rappers in Das Racist) and suggested to him that Ian Cohen’s review indicated he completely missed the idea that Das Racist is a project about race at its core, highlighting jokes and references instead of teasing those out to get to the idea that their music is concerned with being brown, and Hima agreed with me. I also noted that Cohen’s review attributed one of Hima’s lines to Victor, the other rapper, which was an unfortunate error to make in the review of a Das Racist mixtape with a song that makes fun of people who can’t tell the two rappers apart, which prompted Hima to talk about how his flow (“in your ear”) is really obviously different from Victor’s (“laid back”).
So on the afternoon my interview piece went up, five days after the review came out, I thought about how Ian Cohen gave Hima an 8.7 and then Hima turned around and publicly affirmed a suggestion that Ian Cohen didn’t understand Das Racist, but obviously it’s not an artist’s job to keep their critics pacified or politely return favors. A few hours later, Ian Cohen read my piece and sent me a one sentence email, ummm, letting me know how he felt about it.
Then he did something that I think only ex-girlfriends have ever done to me before: block me on Gmail chat (Cohen contends, via email, “I went invisible”). And then last week, the Das Racist debut album came out and Ian Cohen gave it a 6.3.
Hima said, “[The Relax review] didn’t mention me rappin like I gave a fuck. Or any of the Indian stuff.” Later Hima added, regarding Ian Cohen, “He wack.”
I can imagine Ian Cohen stakes some self-worth on his position at Pitchfork (as anyone in a position of power does), and takes pride in being a Pitchfork writer who’s given big records to review, and the best evidence I have of that is when he said to me at the Pitchfork Festival, the first time we met, “If I get bit by a bug and die at Pitchfork Festival, that’d be a pretty okay way to die.” So having his critical acumen impugned by some random kid from the internet in tandem with the artist whose career he just gave a huge boost to was probably not what he was expecting to come out of that 8.7. Artists want critics to like them (obviously) and critics want artists to like them back (maybe even more?), and they wind up at the same parties a lot, so you can imagine there’s some mutual admiration in the air. I guess here Ian Cohen felt some unexpectedly unrequited admiration — in the Relax review he says he found their mixtapes “pretty fucking intimidating to encounter as a critic.”
I remember thinking about being in sort of a Human Centipede iteration of that as I stood outside a Das Racist afterparty during the Pitchfork Festival with Ian Cohen, trying to get him to talk to me, like 9 months after I wrote that thing about him and he “went invisible.” He wasn’t very friendly but he opened up a little more the next day when he said the aforementioned “get bit by a bug and die” thing. I knew how he felt — there I was, totally nerding out because I was talking to Ian Cohen, a guy whose reviews were often pretty fucking intimidating to encounter as a reviews reviewer!
I also remember writing a really complimentary 2,000+ word email to the band Real Estate last spring asking if I could come on tour with them and write a book about it, and I kept thinking, like, “What an irresistible idea — why wouldn’t people want a book written about them? Even if it’s a bad book, that’s still a cool thing to have.” One day I went to Market Hotel to talk to one of the members of the band about it and he said that they were still thinking about it, but if they did decide to let me do it, I would have to do a share of equipment-moving and van-driving, which sounded like they were about to approve my request, but then a few days later they emailed me and said they didn’t think it would be a good idea. I was crushed and didn’t tell anyone except Charlie who said, like, “Why would dudes who have to spend all their time together for months in a stinking van and probably fight all the time want you to come write about how they fucking hate each other?” This seemed valid (the member I talked to that day is no longer in the band, for instance) but my internal monologue kept saying it was because my writing is bad and they hate me and don’t respect me. I haven’t been able to listen to Real Estate since then. People who write about music are sensitive. If I wrote for Pitchfork, I would probably stick their next record with a 6.3 too.
But I’m not writing this to suggest that what I wrote or what Hima said caused Ian Cohen to give Das Racist a retributive 6.3, because his compellingly-argued review tells you pretty much all you’d need to know about why he gave it a 6.3 (although inexplicably still no mention of race), and also, from the cumulative eight minutes I spent talking to him and looking through his eyes into his soul at the Pitchfork Festival, I really believe Ian Cohen is a decent, professional guy who would try his best to set aside personal issues he’s had with a band before reviewing their record. And I don’t owe Ian Cohen anything or have any reason to vouch for him if I didn’t think he was worth vouching for, and I’d be eager to tell you if I thought he was dense (not the same as being sometimes careless) or dishonest, and if you listened to Relax and then read his review and thought it was dead on, well, I can’t imagine you’re alone.
But reviewing records numerically isn’t science, so there is some ineffable stuff that contributes to the difference between a 7.3 and a 6.3, or an 8.3 and a 6.3. A record can’t stick a triple lutz, land in a pool in total synchronicity with its partner, conduct an aerial maneuver off a balance beam, or do any of the other stuff that really throws the utility of the ten point rating scale into relief, so the numbers come out of pretty much thin air and sometimes consensus. There’s a lot of personal stuff going on behind the scenes of record reviews and I hope that’s illustrated with an [ultimately hopefully invalid but useful] Ian Cohen-based example.
And next time you listen to a record and really like it, and then the review comes out and it’s a 6.3 and you’re second-guessing yourself, just imagine that the difference between that and an 7.5 is that the reviewer was watching one of the band’s videos with his girlfriend who is better looking than him and he’s insecure about it, and his girlfriend sees the lead singer playing guitar onscreen and she absentmindedly says, “He’s really hot.” Imagine the reviewer sees the drummer across the room at a birthday party, and they’ve spoken a few times before, so the reviewer waves at the drummer who is looking right at him, but the drummer doesn’t wave back because he doesn’t see the reviewer because he’s not wearing his glasses, and then the reviewer doesn’t try to initiate further contact because he thinks he’s been rejected. Maybe it’s not even a conscious thing, but, like, these are the kinds of things that color our impressions of people we don’t know very well. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Life is nothing but high school… You get into real life and that turns out to be high school again.”
Who would know the difference between the origins of the 6.3 and the 7.5, and all the undisclosed personal stuff going through the mind of a critic? The only valid opinion on a record is your own, you know, listen to your heart. Obviously! Or, alternately, if you’re forming an opinion on Relax and are genuinely unsure about it so you’re wondering about what other people think, here’s Hima: “I’d give it an 8.9.” :).
Sent from my BlackBerry
Update, on Twitter:
This might be your first time reading this blog, so you should know that some posts on PRR are better than others, and I think you might like the blog better if you started with one of my favorite posts. Here are a few posts I’m proud of:
Telling Barack Obama About Pitchfork, or the Official Version
Himanshu of Das Racist
A Pitchfork Writer Mailing Me This
Chillwave as an Economic Phenomenon
What Ryan Schreiber Thinks of This Blog
On Sunday afternoon, the last day of the Pitchfork Music Festival, it is 94 degrees outside and me and Jim DeRogatis are sitting on a bench, under a tree, in the dugout of a baseball field behind one of the main festival stages and talking about Jim DeRogatis’ highly coveted and super rare Pitchfork Music Festival ELITE VIP badge. I just took this picture of Jim DeRogatis wearing his ELITE VIP badge and you can see the baseball field’s backstop in the background with a small mountain of orange Gatorades wrapped in plastic behind it:
So at the Pitchfork Music Festival there are a few kinds of passes that people are wearing in the VIP area: performers wear Artist badges, the crew wears Crew badges, festival organizers wear All Access badges, and regular VIPs (including Pitchfork staffers) wear VIP badges. And then three people that I’ve seen here are wearing pink ELITE VIP badges that are new this year and you can see someone wearing one from 50 feet away because they’re so bright. Jim DeRogatis is wearing one because [there’s a compelling argument that] Jim DeRogatis is the most famous rock critic alive.
Like when he was a senior in high school he interviewed maybe the most famous rock critic ever, Lester Bangs, and then Lester Bangs died almost immediately after that, and if this strikes you as a torch-passing moment in the vein of Bob Dylan kneeling at Woody Guthrie’s deathbed, or Charles Bukowski kneeling at John Fante’s deathbed, I guess Jim DeRogatis is lucky to have such strong legend-casting wind in his sails. It makes me think, like, if Jim DeRogatis happens to shuffle off this mortal coil while we’re sitting here on this bench right now, maybe he’ll be passing me a torch. That would be so sad but cool.
Jim DeRogatis takes a sip of that Gatorade he’s holding in the picture and tells me about another thing that happened to Jim DeRogatis to make him a famous rock critic, which is that he was working at Rolling Stone in 1994 and he gave a Hootie & The Blowfish record a bad review, and then Jann Wenner, the founder and publisher of Rolling Stone, pulled the review, and then Jim DeRogatis did an interview with the New York Observer where he talked about Jann Wenner pulling the review, and then Jann Wenner fired him for public insubordination, and Jim DeRogatis talked even more about it, which honestly seems like a pretty punk thing to do.
As Jim DeRogatis is telling me the story of talking to The Observer about Jann Wenner, I feel a yawn coming on, but not because I’m bored with the story, but because I didn’t sleep much last night, so I turn my head away from him and clamp my jaw down to conceal and minimize the yawn, which is a little rude in itself but less rude than yawning in someone’s face, and then I turn back to him and my eyes water a little from the yawn but I don’t think he notices because he is really into his story.
He continues talking and says, “When I was at Rolling Stone, there was a sign up in the office that said ‘[giving a record] three and a half stars means never having to say you’re sorry.’” Jim DeRogatis says he sometimes tells Ryan Schreiber he’s the Jann Wenner of the 21st century and Ryan doesn’t like it.
I tell him that I don’t think Pitchfork has a “7.0 means never having to say you’re sorry” sign up at the office and he shrugs, and then he takes a ziplock bag out of his shoulder bag, takes a dry washcloth out of that, towels his face off, puts the washcloth back in the ziplock bag, and puts the ziplock bag back into his shoulder bag. This level of meticulous preparation is not so punk.
Anyway, a picture of Jim DeRogatis wearing an ELITE VIP badge at the Pitchfork Music Festival is complicated because Jim DeRogatis hates Pitchfork, constantly writes openly derisive things about it on his blog, and has been promoting a protest against Odd Future (re: their lyrics about raping women and hating gay people) at this festival for months. Odd Future goes on in an hour and that’s when the protest roughly starts and I think it will be the highlight of Jim DeRogatis’ weekend. I’m trying to sort out my feelings about it. But despite the protest and always writing nasty stuff about Pitchfork, Jim DeRogatis gets the ELITE VIP pass because he’s still Jim DeRogatis, I guess like how if you are married and you don’t like your wife’s parents, you still have to keep inviting them to Thanksgiving.
Before Pitchfork came to prominence, Jim DeRogatis was maybe the most famous living rock critic (as I mentioned before), and then Pitchfork sprung up in Chicago, Jim DeRogatis’ hometown, and didn’t include him. And now 30,000,000 people read Pitchfork every month and Jim DeRogatis blogs for a local radio station’s website, and Jim DeRogatis is still maybe the most famous living rock critic but that doesn’t mean what it used to, and so I can understand why he hates Pitchfork.
And so now I am thinking that Jim DeRogatis’ position on Odd Future, a group that Pitchfork reps harder than they rep almost anyone else, is an outgrowth of hating Pitchfork, but then he says, pretty tenderly, “There will be people here (watching Odd Future) who’ve had experiences with sexual violence…” which is tragic and true and a valid reason for not wanting Odd Future to be here, but it’s hard to not think that maybe Jim DeRogatis is manipulating groups that fight violence against women and gays to mobilize against Odd Future (and delegitimize the Pitchfork Festival) because he really just hates Pitchfork for stealing his primacy as a rock critic. Jim DeRogatis seems like a complicated guy so there’s probably some of both motivations at work here.
Jim DeRogatis points to the three holes (featuring little plates with forks and knives on them) on his ELITE VIP badge that entitle him to three free meals at the Festival, and points out how they’re not punched out, and says, “I’m not here to eat their food,” which means he doesn’t endorse this festival.
And then he says, “And I don’t feel like a VIP,” which means that people here aren’t being sufficiently reverent of Jim DeRogatis, and then he looks over at Chris Kaskie, the president of Pitchfork, who is sitting on the opposite dugout’s bench about 100 feet from us, and he points at Chris Kaskie and says, “That’s Chris Kaskie, the president [of Pitchfork].” Jim DeRogatis thinks for a second. “He’s the money guy.” It’s hard to capture what he’s saying with those words, and I don’t want to twist what he’s saying, but, like, if you swap in, “That’s Chris Kaskie, he’s the ART PURITY CONTAMINATOR,” what he means comes through even clearer.
A few minutes later, Chris Kaskie walks past us and Jim DeRogatis tells me that Chris Kaskie has walked past him “seventeen times” and “hasn’t even said hi.” Now the band Yuck is playing, whose festival set Jim DeRogatis will later post a lightly positive review of on his blog even though we spend their whole set on this bench behind the stage, and Jim DeRogatis is chainsmoking Dunhill Internationals, like my Dad used to smoke in the Army, and showing me his tattoos. Here is the top of his Creem Magazine (the magazine that Lester Bangs was the editor of) tattoo and some of my grubby little fingers:
The last tattoo Jim DeRogatis shows me, and the first thing he reveals that endears him to me I think, but I don’t take a picture of it because I feel like I reached my socially appropriate limit at two pictures (maybe one? maybe zero actually…), is something that looks like a lampshade on his calf, and he tells me that it’s the symbol for the Vorticism movement, an early-20th century school of philosophy that dictated, according to Jim DeRogatis, “you should live your whole life with the vigor of a teenager.”
And then it dawns on me that Jim DeRogatis’ objection to Pitchfork is based on something deeper than the fact that they’ve almost put him out of business: it’s that he’s committed to thinking about music, and acting, like a 17-year-old, with his heart on his sleeve complaining about his boss to a newspaper, bitching to me about not feeling like a VIP, writing a book about his teenage hero, and generally being an insolent, self-contradictory, spoiled, histrionic, bratty guy.
And if Pitchfork was a guy he would be almost the opposite of that guy, or he would have at least grown out of being anything like that guy. There are no more 0.0s, the writing is professional and well-mannered and sometimes quasi-academic and almost never voicey. Pitchfork grew up and is now engaged in a kind of disembodied, endless taxonomy of pop music, which is astute sometimes and interesting to read when it’s on point, and useful and thoughtful, but you’d be hard-pressed to find people who would describe the writing as passionate. You read it and sometimes learn a lot, and find out about a ton of great music, but it’s really far from Lester Bangs sitting on the floor in his messy living room and raving about records he loves on a typewriter. Pitchfork writing is serious about pop music and Jim DeRogatis is passionate about it, and obviously those overlap sometimes but they come from different places.
And now there are 30 million people reading Pitchfork and roughly 0 million people reading Jim DeRogatis, and his philosophy about writing and thinking about music is currently music writing’s historical loser, and somewhere out there in the crowd right now is music writing’s current historical winner, Nitsuh Abebe, maybe taking notes on his phone, maybe problematizing some arguments, and likely on his way to composing a piece that will make you think, like, “Fuck! That’s so smart.” It won’t metaphorically take you somewhere new, or get you really excited about a record or music, but that’s not what it’s aspiring to do.
Jim DeRogatis tells me, “My biggest problem with Pitchfork is their desire to be monolithic,” and I tell him I don’t think Pitchfork set out to dominate music like it does, and maybe the burden of responsibility in cultural stewardship that’s on Pitchfork can kind of be a drag for a writer/publication who wants to let loose on a record they hate but can’t because 600 mean words can ruin a band’s career. With great power comes lame responsibility. And Pitchfork didn’t like dupe everyone into reading it: it’s just great at what it does, and people who read about music elected it champion by a vote of 30 million to however many people read every other music reviews site combined, which has to be paltry, and so now the overwrought, hyper-emotive music guy, Rob Gordon, is in cultural remission, and his level-headed and mature cousin is the music criticism establishment.
Then Jim DeRogatis tells me that he grew up in New Jersey, and his “brother is a fat racist trucker,” and if it he hadn’t read Lester Bangs in high school and listened to the Velvet Underground and the Rolling Stones and The Clash, he would have wound up like that too. I think about telling him about feeling almost the same way about Lester Bangs in high school, although I don’t know if fat racist trucker was exactly the path he steered me off of; I could tell Jim DeRogatis about wanting to write like Lester Bangs, about the Lester Bangs anthology that comes from bathroom to bathroom with me every time I move dorms and then apartments, etc. If there are kids who Pitchfork is inspiring to forsake their trucking dreams to write about music, I can’t imagine they are kids like me and Jim DeRogatis, which could bode well for the future of music writing depending on your taste.
But I don’t really know what the point of telling Jim DeRogatis how I feel about Lester Bangs would be, so I thank him for talking to me and shake his hand and get up and walk around the festival looking for Jacob. I can’t find him, and then ten minutes later Odd Future comes on, and I wander around trying to find the protest but I can’t because I don’t think it materialized. The lowlight of Jim DeRogatis’ afternoon. Then I think about how Lester Bangs and maybe Jim DeRogatis are closer to being my writing’s forefathers than Pitchfork is, which makes me another kid in their lineage of music writing historical losers and Rob Gordons. A few days ago I told Kat how I felt about Lester Bangs and she said, “I didn’t know you wanted to be a music critic,” and I told her that in the way every music critic is a failed musician, every music criticism critic is a failed music critic.
And then I spot Jacob, and he’s watching Odd Future, and I ask how it is and he says it’s fine, and then we walk over to a booth where Trident is giving away free fruit-flavored oxygen through tubes that you stick up your nose, which we’re expecting to be mildly consciousness-altering (like how in Fight Club, Ed Norton describes how those oxygen masks drop down in front of you on airplanes to calm you down while the plane is crashing) but then they turn out not to do anything. If Lester Bangs was here he would remark on how even the drugs here, which don’t work, are sponsored by a multibillion dollar corporation, and then maybe something about how it really is hard to stay punk as you get older, and consequently how it is undeniably better for your legacy to pass on a torch and then die young.
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