Sunday, December 16, 2007

Martin Rev - Gutter Rock

Martin Rev - "Gutter Rock"

Before I graduated college, I had to get an internship relevant to my major. I should have looked at this as the opportunity that it was rather than an unfortunate chore standing in the way of picking up my degree. What I should have known -- and what no one told me, but what I should have figured out for myself anyway -- was that the degree itself was going to be completely useless and hardly worth the paper it was printed on. The internship, on the other hand, was a real chance to get my foot in the door somewhere, or at least earn some valuable experience that would look impressive on a resume.

My parents wanted me to pursue something with the Chicago Tribune, or maybe WGN. I had the feeling that there was no way I'd be accepted by either outlet or any others comparable in size or reputation -- most major newspapers and television stations seem to have working relationships with big universities anyway, so getting accepted from outside of those established programs seemed like wishful thinking to me -- so I wrote off my chances not just there but with any place where I felt I might find myself in competition with anyone else. Maybe I thought I was being practical, but with a few years of hindsight I can clearly see that I was just making excuses for myself and my fear of really being put to the test. Anyway, I managed to get an internship with a local music magazine. Huge local circulation, more or less unknown and unavailable outside of the Chicago area. I'd been reading it for years and was incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be a part of it.

And... it was everything I expected it to be. I answered phones, opened lots of mail, spent many hours copy editing, and got lots of chances to contribute with reviews and features. I'd always thought of myself as a good reviewer and an average writer outside of that format, but in time I realized that the the converse was true. Interviews stressed me out terribly. Before they even began, just the process of even arranging and conducting them over the phone was a nightmare plagued by constant rescheduling and occasional technical disasters. And once I managed to conduct and transcribe any of these, it would take me an embarrassing amount of time to turn them into anything resembling a cohesive article. For anyone who's going to make a living as a journalist, consistently being able to turn a story around within a few days (or a few hours) is one of the most important skills to possess. Having to devote entire days to single paragraphs or sentences was a clear sign that I wasn't going to go far in this business. I can say that I was, and still am, really proud of how a few of my features turned out. But that's all in a day's work for some people, not a few weeks of snail's pace writing and revision.

My reviews never turned out as good. It's hard to say anything at all about an album in 300 words without just regurgitating the press release, which I always strove not to do. But brevity was never my strong point, so any efforts that I made to sound witty, insightful, or provocative always came out... just wrong. Embarrassing, really. I was reading too much Pitchfork and not enough books. I guess that was my problem all though college, though: lots of time spent on the Internet, writing in my journal, reading magazines and high school level novels when I probably should have been digging deep into the Western canon and practicing the craft of writing instead of just assuming I'd get around to it later. Pure laziness, only without the drugs, alcohol, and everything else good that's supposed to go along with it.

Like I said, it was everything I expected it to be, which meant it was extremely laid-back, low key, and wholly noncompetitive. At least I learned some valuable lessons. Mainly, that magazine writing is not a feasible career for anyone not living with their parents, and that selling advertisement space and classifieds is about 75% of the work behind every issue, and is pretty much the reason that magazines exist at all. The actual content in any issue is an afterthought.

At least I got to hear pretty much everything that came out between the autumn of 2002 and the spring of 2003. Being an intern, and eventually an editorial assistant, meant opening all the mail every day and screening all the CDs that had been sent in to us. A dozen or two albums would arrive every day, so after a few weeks there would be a lot of music vying for our coverage. What would the contributors get to choose from to review? I guess I was the gatekeeper, putting anything that I deemed "good" into one pile that would eventually find its way into our editor's office, and everything else into another, which would end up in a bin somewhere in the back of a storage room with a few thousand other forgotten discs. My "power" had its limitations; we were going to review the new Disturbed album whether I liked it or not. That was fine. I got to hear lots of new music, sometimes months before it was released, and got to hear a few really good albums that fell through the cracks, never getting much of a mention in the world of print magazines or anywhere on the blogosphere.

In 2003, Martin Rev released To Live on Chicago's File-13 label. Suicide had ridden the post-electroclash wave back into prominence and were getting some attention again. They even put out a new album on Mute at the end of 2002. If had been any good, maybe more people would have listened to Rev's solo follow-up. Maybe all of his albums sound like this -- power electronics, lounge, overdriven fuzz pedal rock -- but there are so many ideas here and so many great melodies, and so much attitude and I only wish it was contrived because Rev sounds like one seriously strung out, desperate, and angry man throughout the whole record. This CD melts anything else I put it next to. My copy of Murmur is completely ruined. No big loss.

I stopped writing for them altogether more than two years ago. The magazine I was with is still kicking but whether or not anyone reads it now is another matter. They've been around for years but I can see them folding any day now -- Craigslist is killing them with their free classifieds, and disposable tabloids are choking them out of their long-held distribution spots. At least everyone paid their meaningless respects to Punk Planet. I wish they'd do the same for this rag when the time comes but I can't say for sure that we ever really earned it.

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