May 22, 2013 by admin
The Grey Lady’s Pop Music Man: Jon Pareles in Conversation
By Steven Ward (July 2001)
Whenever I interview rock writers for this site, I always ask them to name their favorite music critics — writers that make them want to read about pop music. Many of these writers drop the name of Jon Pareles, the pop music critic for the New York Times. Ira Robbins recently called him “by far the finest working critic in America.”
Because of accolades like that, I had to find out for myself what makes this guy so great. I was always a great fan of Pareles’s work at the New York Times. During the following e-mail interview, Pareles talks about his time as a full-time staffer at Crawdaddy!, Rolling Stone, and the Village Voice before taking over for the late and legendary Robert Palmer at the New York Times.
During the course of the interview, I found (as you will) some of what makes Pareles so special. Some lessons fellow critics might learn: never limit yourself to writing about one genre of music; album liner notes contain just as many enlightening ideas as newspapers and magazines; and writing for a newspaper may be more fun than writing for the monthlies.
So sit back and let one of the masters tell you a thing or two about the Peter Pan profession of rock journalism.
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Steven: There was a time when rock criticism was considered a very influential force in popular culture journalism and you happen to be the pop music critic at the nation’s (arguably) most respected daily newspaper. Your music writing obviously reaches many people. Do you think rock criticism is still an influential force today? And what do you see as your mission at the New York Times?
Jon: Was rock criticism ever influential? I have my doubts. I know it reaches people who care about music and who want more variety, depth, honesty, independence or crankiness than they get from other sources of information about music. (It also reaches some very touchy musicians.) But popular music too rarely informs broader culture journalism. Most of my fellow newspaper writers would probably agree that in newsrooms, rock critics are seen as dealing with mere “entertainment” and “kid stuff”–even when an Eminem album is a more complex cultural artifact than most movies, TV or fiction. And pundits who wouldn’t dream of not knowing about The Sopranos cheerfully flaunt their ignorance of gangsta rap, which has far greater cultural repercussions.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Popular music, sometimes even music that sells millions of albums, can still move under the radar, which makes it so ceaselessly fascinating. If pop culture is society’s id, music is the fastest, most polymorphous, least compromised vision of that id, so it’s strange that more people don’t pay more attention. But hey, it’s not my problem.
Back to your question: I would never call what I do a “mission.” (If there’s anything a fan should learn from rock, it’s not to take yourself too seriously.) My job is the same as any other journalist and critic with specialized knowledge: to see what’s going on, tell the truth about it, offer a judgment and give some sense of what’s behind that judgment. And privately, it’s about figuring the music out for myself. I’m not trying to impose my taste on the universe, since that would eliminate surprises; as Mao Zedong said (though he didn’t mean it), “Let a hundred schools of thought contend.” I just want to provide a vivid account of what I hear and one informed perspective.
At the New Music Seminar one year, when I was wearing a name tag, someone came up to me and said, “So you’re Jon Pareles. I never agree with anything you write.” I shook his hand and was happy to meet him. For that guy, I’m a completely reliable critic; all he had to do was take the opposite of my advice. That’s fine with me. But I’d rather have my record collection than his.
Steven: Tell me about how you first got involved in the rock criticism business? Where were you first published and how did you wind up at Crawdaddy! in the ’70s?
Jon: Except for my high school and college newspapers, Crawdaddy! was the first place I was published.
I had always been attracted to music–I have perfect pitch–and started playing the piano when I was 6. I played keyboard and flute in rock bands during high school, and majored in (classical) music for my B.A. at Yale. But I spent just as much time at the radio station, where I became music director, listening to all the new albums and suggesting what songs to play. I also played in a rock band, sat in on flute with some jazz musicians and pealed out music on the carillon, a belltower full of heavy metal (54 bronze bells): acoustic broadcasting. And back in the early 1970s, I got to use the music school’s very early electronic music studio, including an Arp 2600 synthesizer that took up most of the room and was hooked together with patch cords. Getting sounds from it helped me understand a lot of the electronic music to come.
A friend who was also at the radio station, Gary Lucas–a virtuoso guitarist who went on to play with Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley–had written some rock reviews for various magazines, and told me he got free albums. After I graduated, I had a dim idea of becoming a disc jockey, but luckily–I’m so glad I didn’t become a radio disc jockey–no commercial station was interested in my tapes.
I had acquired a serious new-album habit, though, and I had written a few reviews for the college paper. So I thought I’d try to become a writer. In late 1974 or early 1975 I sent out a packet of three reviews to Crawdaddy!, Fusion and Rolling Stone magazines. (I don’t remember if I got names off mastheads or just sent them to Reviews Editor.) I never heard from Rolling Stone, but John Swenson at Crawdaddy! accepted one (of a Lambert, Hendricks and Ross reissue, which came out soon after Joni Mitchell recorded Annie Ross’s “Twisted”) and encouraged me to do more. Fusion was about to fold, but its editor/publisher was starting a giveaway paper for the Boston area (where I was living) with the unfortunate name of PopTop, and he wanted me to write for it. The pay per article was approximately zero, but I did a lot of writing and saw a lot of shows. I later wrote a few columns for the Real Paper, an alternative weekly.
Eventually, Crawdaddy! realized that I was a careful self-editor as well as a writer they wanted to use regularly, and in 1977 they offered me a job as copy editor. This was no longer the beloved magazine founded by Paul Williams but its later incarnation, bankrolled by the editor’s father. Still, there were so few nationally distributed non-teen rock magazines that Crawdaddy! published some fine writers, including Timothy White (now editing Billboard), Mitch Glazer and Charles M. Young, as well as most of the Trouser Press crew. I came to New York for that job and I’ve been here ever since.
It was a lucky time to come to New York: the moment when the city was germinating the ideas that would dominate the next generation. Punk, hip-hop, dance music and art-rock were all new and all mixed up with each other; Philip Glass was playing at the Peppermint Lounge, Fab Five Freddy was rapping with Max Roach at the Kitchen in SoHo. There was always something new to discover.
Steven: You went from Crawdaddy! to Rolling Stone. Was that exciting and how did you make that jump?
Steven: I deserted a sunken ship. Crawdaddy! had folded, possibly because its status as a tax write-off had run out. By then, I was the music editor, assigning/editing/proofreading record reviews and front-of-the-book short features. Tim White had already moved on to Rolling Stone, where he had assigned me some stories (including a cover on the Cars) and clearly was praising me to the right people. They needed an assistant music editor, a deputy to Peter Herbst who was running the front-of-the-book music department, and that was my job. Rolling Stone had much snazzier offices and a bigger staff, and felt like a real business. It also felt like an institution, with a lot of people who had longstanding relationships that didn’t particularly welcome newcomers. I learned a lot–watching Jann Wenner take up a cover story, devour it, point out precisely what its unanswered questions were and then jet off to other business–but I didn’t have a lot of say. Or perhaps I wasn’t pushy enough.
Steven: I understand that you were at Rolling Stone for a very short time. (Maybe a year.) Why did you leave and did you feel like the magazine or its editors at the time did not allow you the space or assignments to strut your stuff, so to speak?
Jon: Mostly I left for a better job. (Jim Henke, now running the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, took the one at Rolling Stone.) I had been freelancing around New York, including writing for the Village Voice, and when Robert Christgau took a leave of absence for a year to write his Consumer Guide in 1980, I was offered his job temporarily. The Voice had a tradition of treating writers respectfully, and it was a much better written paper then than it is now. Staff writers and regular contributors included hotshots like Tom Carson, James Wolcott, Peter Schjeldahl, Alexander Cockburn (before he got lazy), Geoffrey Stokes and many others, along with smart writers like J. Hoberman and Michael Feingold who are still there. Christgau pushed the music writers to make each review speak to something beyond simply rating an album. The job offered a chance to work with a great stable of writers (Gary Giddins, Tom Johnson, Greg Sandow and freelancers like RJ Smith, Lester Bangs, Nelson George, Vince Aletti and Tom Smucker), to write as much or as little as I wanted and, most of all, to have autonomy. It was supposed to last six months; I think it lasted a year and a half, and it was a wonderful gig.
Steven: I know you played keyboards for the Rolling Stone “in-house” band, The Dry Heaves, along with Jann Wenner, Kurt Loder, Timothy White and others. Do you think rock critics should stay away from musical instruments or do you still play today?
Jon: I don’t think critics should stay away from anything. A critic should learn as much about music as possible, from any angle that seems interesting: music theory, history, psychology, literature, theater, acoustics, religion, dance, anthropology, film theory, pharmacology, economics, fashion, linguistics, electronics, sports, and all the other things that touch on music. Playing an instrument and being in a band help you appreciate what musicians have to learn, how groups make decisions and how songs feel from the inside. It’s one way, though not the only way, to understand how music works.
If critics were forbidden to play, you’d lose some fine music by ex-critics and current critics like Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, Ira Kaplan, Stephin Merritt and Sasha Frere-Jones. But obviously you don’t have to be a good musician to be a good critic; there are many other perspectives.
As for me, I spent so much time listening to music and writing that I rarely had the opportunity to play, until I fell so much out of practice that it was hard to listen to myself. I guarantee the world did not lose much of a keyboard player when I became a writer. I still keep threatening to start again, though.
Steven: I know Robert Christgau’s writing and the man himself had a huge impact on you. Tell me about that impact and the relationship between the two of you.
Jon: I greatly respect Christgau. He can pack megatons of erudition and perception into one of his famously dense clauses. As anyone who wrote for him can tell you, he’s the kind of editor who always improves his writers: not making them sound like him, but bringing out more clearly what they were trying to say in the first place. Before I was even thinking about writing about music, Christgau was one of the people who were fighting, and winning, the battle to have rock criticism addressed intelligently by writers, and to be read seriously by the kind of people who have discovered this web site.
Sometimes our tastes agree, sometimes they don’t, though his are always backed by a good argument. I share his affection for African music; I’m baffled by his blind spot with heavy metal. And I was thrilled when he lent me his job.
But when I was at the Voice on a daily basis, Bob obviously wasn’t, and I wouldn’t say we have a relationship other than friendly mutual respect. I’m not part of his circle of close friends, or of some imaginary rock-critic in-group. And while I may not be a reliable analyst of my own approach, I’d say a greater influence was the other Robert: Robert Palmer, who brought me to the Times and passed his job on to me.
Palmer was a seemingly effortless, straightforward writer who was always listening to everything: Ornette Coleman, ethnomusicology from Chad, Megadeth, the Five Du-Tones, Pandit Pran Nath, Live Skull and of course the blues. He had an ear for connections; at times, I thought he had what I’d call a phonographic memory, allowing him to cross-check anything he’d ever heard. His way of explaining his musicology sounded natural rather than pedantic, and he got astonishing stories out of the musicians he talked to. Palmer had a taste for the noisy and un-tempered–from the blues to raga, he loved music that couldn’t be reduced to Western notation–that has proved to be extremely durable. And when he brought me to the Times, he was a good example to follow because he was one of the few bylines there (along with Vincent Canby and the sportswriters) who wrote conversationally, not sounding stuffy or taking on an English accent.
Steven: Sort of in-line with the above question, tell me about your rock critic/music writer influences and your favorite rock magazines that you read in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.
Jon: It was never just rock criticism. I’d say the reading that arrived at the most crucial moment was Ishamel Reed’s novel Mumbo Jumbo, a wild-eyed, hilarious romp through history, myth, race, sex and other things with a direct bearing on music. Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street, the great American rock novel, also had a decisive early effect. And all the Dr. Seuss books in my childhood showed me that words were for sound as well as meaning.
I didn’t read a lot of rock criticism growing up. I was too busy with music itself (and other things). Of course Rolling Stone was around, and though I didn’t pay much attention to particular writers, Paul Nelson, Ed Ward, Chet Flippo, Stephen Holden and Dave Marsh certainly sank in. R. Meltzer’s ideas about rock’s irrational genius shaped the way I listen, and I also read Ellen Willis in the New Yorker, though I don’t think I realized just how astute she was until I read the pieces later in her anthology Beginning to See the Light. My main exposure to music criticism was probably through liner notes: Palmer on a lot of jazz albums, Lenny Kaye on Nuggets and John Mendelssohn on The Kinks Kronikles, for instance.
Living in Boston, I read good critics like Michael Bloom and Bob Blumenthal in the Phoenix and James Isaacs in the Real Paper and my fellow fledglings atPopTop, including Steve Morse (now at the Boston Globe), Don Shewey, and Michael Freedberg. But only when I started writing did I start reading rock criticism in any organized way: Rolling Stone, the Voice and good old Creem, then at its comic peak with writers like Lester Bangs and Rick Johnson. That was also when I read Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train, and was impressed by the way he found metaphysical significance in every microscopic musical nuance. As an editor at Crawdaddy!, Rolling Stone and the Voice, I read just about everybody who was or wanted to be a critic at the time, and I probably learned something from all of them.
Steven: How and when did you end up writing about pop music at the New York Times and was that a bigger experience for you than landing a gig atRolling Stone?
Jon: The New York Times was supposed to be a summer job. I was freelancing after Christgau came back to the Voice, and also working on the first edition of the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. In the summer of 1982, two of the Times‘s critics, Stephen Holden (who was writing about rock) and John S. Wilson (who was writing about jazz and cabaret) both went on vacation. Because I was writing about a broad range of music and could cover both Holden’s and Wilson’s areas, Palmer brought me in to fill the gap.
I was a stringer–a freelancer–and the gig was supposed to end when Wilson and Holden got back. But the “Culture” section of the Times had just changed editors, and every editor likes to have more troops, so they kept me on. In 1985, the Voice offered me the music editorship since Christgau was giving it up, and after agonizing over the choice, I decided I preferred writing to editing, and ended up using the offer to persuade the Times to put me on staff.
Soon afterwards, in the late 1980s, Palmer decided he was tired of the grind, and he went back to his old stomping grounds, Oxford, Miss. (near Memphis) to teach and write a book. That’s when I became the chief pop critic at the Times.
And yes, it was a very big deal. My mother started to tell people what I did for a living, and people I hadn’t heard from in years, who weren’t reading music magazines, saw my name in the Times.
The Times was, and is, a giant institution, and especially back then, it still had the grimy romance of newspapering. Although the linotype era was over–typesetting was done by computer, and only a few people still wore eye shades–it was still a throng of people working above a big printing press. The typeset stories would be pasted down by hand, and if they didn’t fit at the last minute, they’d slice off the closing paragraph: “cut on the slab,” punchline or no punchline. Trucks pulled in from 43d Street with giant rolls of blank newsprint and drove out with damp newspapers. The first time you got a story on the front page, they’d give you the etched metal plate it was printed with. Since then, the press has been moved out of town, and in a few years, the Times will move to a gleaming new corporate headquarters; it’s in the information business now.
Despite the Times‘s stodgy image, Robert Palmer had been quick on the uptake for punk, hip-hop, no wave and all kinds of other avant-gardes. (So was John Rockwell before him; Rockwell, after detours through classical music and running the Lincoln Center Summer Festival, is now the editor of the Arts and Leisure section.)
At the Times, the editors don’t second-guess the pop critics. When I got there they were all from an older generation that cared more about classical music, and even now, with an early baby-boomer hierarchy, they assume we know more about the subject than they do. We get treated something like being a science correspondent or the head of the New Delhi bureau; we’re sending back dispatches from the distant reaches of Musicville. As a result–and unlike writing for a music magazine–no one was particularly worried about what was in the pop charts. We could, and still do, cover what we think is worthwhile. Palmer could write all he wanted about Sonic Youth–which was quite a bit–and I can follow my own inclinations, though obviously I’m not going to skip Madonna at Madison Square Garden.
Back in 1982, not many people had PCs, and I used to go to the office to write, wearing the jacket and tie I had bought for the new job. Everyone there seemed considerably older than I was, and they thought I was covering barbarians, but once it was clear that I was a “clean” writer (not a lot of editing work), that my facts were straight and my opinions were intelligible, and that I was dependable, I was treated as a colleague. The tie soon disappeared, as did the jacket, and once I got my first PC I mostly worked at home, where the albums and stereo are.
Incidentally, this might be the spot to clarify what I do at the Times. A lot of people seem to assume that I’m some sort of music czar there, overseeing every word written about popular music, and I’m not. What I do is write; I also assign the weekly review schedule. Otherwise, I don’t assign or edit, much less oversee all the various music coverage in the paper. If “Arts & Leisure,” “Metro,” “Business,” “Style” or the New York Times Magazine run a music story, they do so on their own. It’s a big organization.
Steven: As a Times writer, you write record and concert reviews and you report music feature and news stories. Which of those do you prefer and why?
Jon: I’m a critic by temperament, not a reporter. I can do reporting, and I generally have a good time with interviews. But I’d rather analyze and interpret than track down the he-said, she-said nuggets that make good reporting, and I’d rather do musical studies than character studies, which is what features are. Every critic should get facts right–that means reporting–and character is part of music. But reporters have to strive to be objective, while critics are subjective, which is more fun. I have boundless respect for the good, careful, revelatory reporting I see all around me at the Times, and a snappy feature is a pleasure to read. But what I like to do best is a combination of close-ups–concert reviews, album reviews–and long shots, where looking at an entire musical landscape yields some insight.
Steven: You would think that the Times would keep you extremely busy. But you find time to freelance. What keeps you writing for other publications?
Jon: I try to limit repetition at the Times. If I’ve written about somebody’s previous album, then I prefer to have Ann Powers or Neil Strauss or Ben Ratliff or a freelancer write about the next one: readers get a fresh perspective. Similarly, if I’ve reviewed an album, I like to send someone else out to review the concert. So if I know I’m not writing about something for the Times, and if someone asks me, and if I’m interested, I freelance.
Steven: Tell me about which rock mags you read today and who are your favorite current rock/pop writers out there now?
Jon: I read a lot of magazines occasionally, among them Rolling Stone, Spin, Billboard, the Village Voice, the Source, Entertainment Weekly, CMJ(weekly and monthly), Alternative Press, Vibe, Rhythm, No Depression, Reggae and African Beat, Wire, NME, Tower’s Pulse, DJ Times and on and on.
As for writers, I got the Times to hire the best ones I could find: Neil Strauss, an extremely rare combination of amazing reporter, knowing critic and hilarious writer; brainy, heartfelt, far-seeing Ann Powers and eclectic, penetrating, imagistic Ben Ratliff. Stephen Holden was at the Times before me, and he’s primarily a film critic now, but he still writes about cabaret and singer-songwriters, and he conveys like nobody else the way words, music and voices fit together. All together, it’s the best popular-music staff the Times has ever had.
Other music writers I recruited, who were in and out of the Times while I’ve been there, are Karen Schoemer, Danyel Smith, and Peter Watrous. Incidentally, there are other things to read besides rock criticism. I’m also a fan of two of the Times‘s classical critics, Bernard Holland and Paul Griffiths; the architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp, and the art critic Holland Cotter.
Among other music writers I enjoy, let’s start with daily-newspaper writers like Tom Moon, Greg Kot, Geoffrey Himes, Steve Morse, J.D. Considine, Jim Farber, Edna Gundersen, Richard Harrington, and David Hinckley, who manage to be graceful and intelligent under daily constraints and deadlines. In magazines, one writer no one should overlook is David Fricke, who’s equally brilliant in reviews, features and historical liner notes; he does serious research, pays attention to both music and people and writes with real spark.
I also like, along with writers I’ve already mentioned and in no particular order, Rob Sheffield, Joshua Clover/Jane Dark, and Mike Rubin for irreverence and big ideas; Charles Aaron, who slips deep thoughts into little spaces; Eric Weisbard, who chews on complex questions; Anthony DeCurtis, who knows how to assess icons, and a bunch of others, alphabetically: Lorraine Ali, Michael Azerrad, Jon Caramanica, Sue Cummings, Francis Davis, Celeste Fraser Delgado, Banning Eyre, Will Hermes, James Hunter, Enrique Lavin, Alan Light, Amy Linden, Michaelangelo Matos, Mike McGonigal, Peter Margasak, Rob Marriott, Sia Michel, Ed Morales, Simon Reynolds, Scott Schindler, Ethan Smith, Toure, and more that I’ll probably think of later.
Steven: Reaching a lot of readers is an obvious advantage to writing about music for a publication like the New York Times, but what else do you think is important about your position and what are your personal goals in music writing for the Times?
Jon: Don’t tell anybody, but the job is really an excuse for my continuing education. New York in all its variety–social, artistic, ethnic, attitudinal, sonic–is a cornucopia of musical phenomena and a constant spur to learn more.
I don’t forget that I’m writing for the New York Times, and the paper is supposed to be comprehensive. To me, covering popular music in New York City means paying attention to the full spectrum of music here: rock, hip-hop, pop, jazz, Latin, dance, world, avant-garde, commercial, non-commercial. That’s what the job should be, and that’s what I try to do. Obviously I can’t get to even a fraction of what can be heard–I’d have to go to ten shows a night–but I hope that over the course of a year I can give readers a glimpse of the music that’s out there.
I love the nightly variety: N’Sync, Cheikka Rimitti, Dismemberment Plan, the Dirty Dozen Bass Band, Squarepusher. But I also have another goal, which is to fight provincialism. No one has to like everything–there are huge amounts of mediocrity out there–but no one should be afraid of certain music or deliberately ignorant of it. Cliquey types who listen to just one kind of music, whether it’s classic rock or hip-hop, are only depriving themselves.
People still sometimes act as if the Times should define the taste of the elite, or if whatever is covered in the Times is therefore within the elite. I’m happy if something I write about in the Times is then picked up by other media, though it would be better if they made their own decisions. But “Hound Dog” was right–if they say it’s high class, that’s just a lie. Rock, and popular music in general, proves again and again that the elite is the last to get the good stuff; it almost invariably comes up from the lowest classes and, sometimes, from the underworld. Trying to cover popular music from the top down, whether that’s the Top 10 or what the yuppies are listening to, would be ridiculous.
The center–arena concerts, hit albums–is important, but so are the margins. This is where popular music differs from the other arts beats, like books or film (despite a smattering of independent films), and from sports, which basically covers the pros. Music is far more decentralized, and it can thrill you in a stadium, in a basement or between headphones.
Steven: What is your take on the state of rock criticism today? Many, comparing it to the adventurous writing in the ’70s, dismiss what’s published today as PR hype. What do you think?
Jon: Everything looks better through nostalgia, and I don’t believe we’re necessarily worse off now. It’s true that in the 1970s, feature writers could get a lot closer to bands, a la Almost Famous, and that the publicity machines weren’t quite so slick. Magazines also gave writers more space per article, which could be room for crazed inspiration (Lester Bangs) or bloat (no comment); now, there’s more of an emphasis on consumer advice–thumbs up or thumbs down–than extended thought. It’s hard to say much in a 150-word capsule review, or to project much personality.
But the real difficulty–for criticism, not for music–is the sheer avalanche of releases, 25,000 to 30,000 a year. If a publication wants to cover as many worthwhile ones as you can, then each gets fewer words. One response to that overwhelming number of albums is for writers to turn into specialists: only hip-hop/R&B, only dance music, only punk and metal. It’s part of the whole divisive niche-marketing mentality of the 1980s and 1990s, and for a critic it’s a mistake. Musicians keep their ears wide open; they’ll steal from anywhere, and they should. And listeners don’t go to stores thinking, “I want a two-step garage song”–they just want good music.
The narrowness of too many music critics is at odds with what happens in the real world. I’ve found that musical events are what you might call culturally demilitarized zones, where people and ideas can interact freely. Music always invites people in, even if they’re outsiders with notebooks.
The flipside to the glut of releases is that there are also more outlets for information about music than ever before. Music magazines are proliferating, competing for every micro-niche and sometimes aiming for a general audience, and of course there’s the Internet, where everybody’s a reviewer. The writing’s not usually stylish, and rumors masquerade as facts, but, again, schools of thought are out there contending. Among the pros, meanwhile, look at that long list above: There are as many smart writers now as there ever were.
Steven: Newspaper writing or magazine writing? Which do you prefer and why?
Jon: Newspaper writing, no contest. Newspaper writing is almost instant gratification. Soon after it’s written, it’s in print, if not the next day then by the end of the week. With magazines, I’ve just about forgotten what I’ve written by the time it comes out.
Yes, there are serious constraints in newspaper writing; no obscenities, the need to paraphrase what’s going on even in some non-obscene lyrics because they get too raunchy for “a family newspaper,” and the occasional copy-editor demand to explain something I don’t think needs explaining (just the other day I had to insert that the Go-Gos were an all-female band). I also don’t like calling everybody Mr. or Ms., though it does have some enjoyably absurd moments: Mr. Sixx? But the inconveniences are worth it because writing improves when you’re constantly seeking clarity and economy. Magazines have their own editorial tics anyway.
Beyond that, writing for a newspaper means you might reach someone who wasn’t already interested in music. A newspaper is a miscellany: Kosovo, New Jersey, the stock market, recipes, real estate, the crossword puzzle. That’s a good thing; something is lost with those online news services that only tell you about what you already know you’re interested in. With a newspaper, readers might be finishing a feature on Lincoln Center or looking for a book review and suddenly find themselves reading about hip-hop or Brazilian music just because it’s on the page, and maybe it will give them a new bit of information or make them curious. You get more serendipity in newspapers.
Steven: The dreaded Greil Marcus Stranded question. What CD would you bring to a desert island and why?
Jon: I hope it’s in tomorrow’s mail.