“For twenty years now, I’ve been telling the trainees who I teach and mentor that they should recognize that they will never develop such intense personal relationships as the ones they are now cultivating with their peers in the trenches during medical training. And for years this has held true for me. Until Expert Witness happened.
“Expert Witness is just as vivid and important a shared experience for me as my residency was. I’ve made friends I’ll hunt down in my travels. I’ll share my tough moments. I’ll always have my eye out for someone wearing a Wussy t-shirt. And I’ll always be there when any Witness gives me a call.
“There is something epic about how Mr. Christgau has crafted his writing, his art history of the musical now. But in some weird way his writing expands into something even more alive here at Expert Witness.”
– Cam Patterson salutes the Expert Witness community, which, interestingly, has felt like as big a part of the Exert Witness story in the last few days as the demise of Christgau’s column itself.
It’s a wonderful thing to be part of a community — a genuine community, I mean (not to get all hoity-toity pedantic on you, but like “friend,” the word has been somewhat debased — or anyway, altered beyond meaningfulness — in the Web 2.0 era). Not just one connected by geography or demographics or economics but a community brought together through what Patterson calls “shared experiences.” I’ve experienced that kind of community three times in my entire life: writing for Nerve, a Toronto indie publication, in the mid-80s; writing for Why Music Sucks and Radio On (and Tapeworm and Kitschener) during the ’90s — a fanzine network with a core group of writers who contributed to the discussion in all of them; and the HMV Superstore in Toronto, also during the ’90s, where I was employed, in various positions, for nearly a decade. The strength of these respective communities was far from equivalent, and all ended, to some degree, in varying measures of disappointment. But the fact is, they existed, and for however long, and to whatever degree, I was part of something bigger than myself.
I’ve certainly experienced intimations of community at other times and in other places (and even in other jobs, such as my current one), but those three events, or situations, feel singular to me, and I’m not convinced I’ll ever experience something like them again. I think I’m just too ambivalent about community now (whereas, I’m much less ambivalent now about family, which, by the way, I don’t interchange with “community,” though there are shared characteristics, for sure). It’s sad in a way that communities never last, at least in a physical, or real-time, sense. But the truth is, if you’ve experienced community it will never really leave you anymore than you will ever leave it. (Believe it or not, I actually appreciate Facebook for this reason; it has been my only means of staying in touch with my HMV cronies.) I laughed at Patterson’s line, “I’ll always have my eye out for someone wearing a Wussy t-shirt,” but my laugh, ultimately, is one of recognition, not scorn (not that you will ever catch me in such a tee).
10 thoughts on “The Expert Witness Community”
Scott: I believe the portions of the testimonial you quoted were written by Dr. Cam Patterson, and not by his student partner-in-blog Nicky.
Thanks, j. sot, I take your word for it, but there’s no indication of that in the post itself, is there? I will correct that if you can verify it somehow.
Here’s his post in full as it appeared in the EW blog. You might want to delete it since I didn’t get his permission to post it here. Also, I can give you his contact email if you’d like.
Cam PattersonFri 6:25 AM
In my life, music has two, almost polar-opposite roles: It’s always been a special safe place to go where you (almost) never get hurt, let down, double-crossed, betrayed. But music has also been my #1 social vehicle, and I’ve met more people through music than any other way outside of work. Let me say that slightly differently: I’ve met more great people through music than any other way period. (And, yes, I bonded with my blessed wife and my three life-long best friends professionally and musically at the same time.)
I remember the moment when my musical tastes diverged from my barely-teen peers—an ad in Creem (I’ve tracked the edition down, June 1976) promoting the first Ramones album. That ad screamed out transgression, joy, mayhem—it said that there was something risky behind the door that would open if I heard this music, and that there was no going back.
It’s hard to explain the challenges of getting ahold of non-mainstream music before digitalization and the internet. I had to special-order that Ramones record at the local record store because no way was that being stocked in Mobile, AL. And eventually the back pages of Trouser Press and, later, Goldmine, became lifelines for music I read about but couldn’t lay hands on.
The situation improved dramatically when I went to college in Nashville in 1981, mostly because there was a wonderful used record store—the first one I’d ever come across– only a block from my first dorm room, The Great Escape. But as my musical boundaries expanded (the first club show I saw was at Cantrell’s, October 1981, Jason and the Scorchers opening for REM pre-Chronic Town) more guidance was needed.
Having learned that the first (red) Rolling Stone Record Guide was conservative beyond utility (the Pere Ubu review did it), I grabbed Robert Christgau’s ‘70s Consumer Guide when I went home in 1981 for Thanksgiving. And I’ve never really gotten my nose out of that thing. I eventually triangulated that this Christgau guy wrote the Consumer Guide column in all of the used issues of Creem that I was buying at the Great Escape and soon I was subscribing to the Village Voice to get his columns pronto—which made me something of a commie at Vanderbilt. The rest is history, as they say. (And guess what? Xgau was also blurbed in that Ramones ad I saw when I was 13, a fact I only discovered recently. It all makes sense!)
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Cam PattersonFri 6:26 AM
Until Expert Witness happened, I’d communicated with Robert Christgau exactly twice. Once after I figured out who he was and had bought the first CG book, and realized that I could capture his recommendations going forward but that I’d missed the 1981 Pazz and Jop Poll with his Dean’s List for that year. With tremendous trepidation (and throwing in a dollar bill for the copy costs) I asked him if he would mind sending me a copy of his year-end expertise. “Keep yer buck” he wrote back. Much later, I tracked him down after 9/11 and got a kind note in response, as well as a Rachid Taha tip.
So regarding Expert Witness, you know what it is and I know what it is—Expert Witness is something we know so well that I don’t really feel like it can be put into words without diluting the experience. But who knew that there was this community, so widely dispersed geographically and in interests and age? Who knew that our host (and occasionally the elegant-like-Susan-Sontag-in-the-‘60’s Carola) would be not just overlords but part of the general population? Who knew that folks we all knew and revered from their writing, like Tom Hull and Milo Miles and Joe Levy, would show up and teach us so much?
But to me there is this: I went to medical school and then residency mostly assigned to a tough part of Atlanta, and for basically 6 years straight during that time I was on call every fourth night taking care of patients and hanging out with my colleagues-in-training who shared this experience with me. We saw things you’ll never believe, we did a lot of good for people, and we had a lot of fun together inside and outside the hospital. I’d count 8-10 of this group as my deepest, take-a-bullet-for-them friends, but another 100 or so that I could connect with at any time our paths cross and instantly regain an important connection. It’s not that I haven’t made friends since then, I’ve got more than I deserve. But that instantaneous connection, that shared experience, that deep look into a colleague’s eyes and knowing exactly what was going on—how could that ever be recreated? And believe me, that experience is miraculous.
For twenty years now, I’ve been telling the trainees who I teach and mentor that they should recognize that they will never develop such intense personal relationships as the ones they are now cultivating with their peers in the trenches during medical training. And for years this has held true for me. Until Expert Witness happened.
Expert Witness is just as vivid and important a shared experience for me as my residency was. I’ve made friends I’ll hunt down in my travels. I’ll share my tough moments. I’ll always have my eye out for someone wearing a Wussy t-shirt. And I’ll always be there when any Witness gives me a call.
There is something epic about how Mr. Christgau has crafted his writing, his art history of the musical now. But in some weird way his writing expands into something even more alive here at Expert Witness. I should say more about Mr. Christgau in this post, but I think I’ll fall up short. Bob, I wish I could have introduced you to my grandfather Ollie Starke, you two would have loved each other.
And now, I’m going to lay my head down and turn off the lights. In the morning, the sun will come up and it will be another day for all of us here. And lots of other people too. But only we will know what it meant, what it means, to be a Witness. Be good.
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I’ll change it to Cam’s name, though I think the issue should be raised (if it’s indeed worth raising) with the blog I posted it from — where I see absolutely no indication that it’s by someone other than the guy who runs the blog! (unless I’m missing something totally obvious here). Anyway, thanks for the heads up. .
Yeah, the Odyshape blog is a two-man job, but Cam, for whatever reason, prefers to post anonymously thereon.
I’ll let him know about this post and he can contact you directly if he’d like.
Also, Nicky is a kid and Cam has actually gone to medical school, etc.
Scott, thanks for the salute to daughter Sarah’s KITSCHener [as she spelled it] fanzine up above. I’d just run across my stash of the three issues of KITSCHener when I was organizing things here last week, and I was reminded too of the community of discussion we enjoyed there, in Phil’s Radio On, in Frank’s Why Music Sucks, and Jeff’s Tapeworm, back in the ’90s. Those were the days, especially because we could discuss music without literally talking about it; e.g., finding out more about your and your friends’ obsessive-compulsive habits is a good way to get a rhythm started (as Meltzer might say), which of course leads to music.
Also glad to learn that Cam Patterson’s love of r’n’r/rockwriting/whatever began with an issue of CREEM, the First Cause in my own crit path. And I got a chuckle out of Dr. Patterson’s report of Christgau’s “Keep yer buck” response to his fan letter, as I didn’t know before now that The Dean ever resorted to CREEM-like spelling in his private life. If I’d used “yer” in one of my reviews for Bob at the Voice, I would’ve been in for a Socratic Editing session then!
Nicky from Odyshape here. That material is not mine but the other dude’s. j. sot’s right. I wrote a testimonial myself, but posted it only to EW. No need to be redundant on our blog. Besides, his is way better.
Also, I recommend a distance between the other dude’s real name and whatever appears on our blog. The anonymity is deliberate.