Recently journalist Morgan Troper published a blog post that seemed to take a few swipes at my work and personality, while asserting that in general he supported same — and let’s be fair, ranking my band’s work quite highly and the work of Big Star higher still. So, a mixed bag. I’m certainly not perfect but I felt that if I’d made a bad impression, I would address the issues. Read on.
Someone recently forwarded me a blog post of yours, that was in essence an exploration of the Power Pop genre, with a ranking of representative artists. Thank you for including two groups I’m associated with in the top 20 of the 100 ranked artists, that’s very kind.
I wanted to respond to the Posies’ entry, it seems that a couple of things in our interactions have left a bad taste in your mouth and, being someone who as a semi-public figure feels a sense of responsibility for the wake I leave in this world, feel a duty to respond to both of your objections. All of this, if it’s not clear in the cold font of the internet, is meant with no ill will or rancor.
1) The Posies performance in Eugene. Not sure which show you’re referring to — we played a couple of shows in Eugene in 92-93, and then returned in 2005, 2010, and then again in 2018. If I know which show you saw, I can better attempt to reconstruct what was going thru my head. And was it me? Because — my bandmate Jon at times can appear aloof or even hostile, he’s been told–that’s just how he looks sometimes, even when he’s genuinely engaged. If we said something mean to the audience, I apologize. We’re only humans. I feel like our band has gone out of our way to maintain good relations with our fans — and not out of strategy, just out of a natural sense of community and inclusiveness. I personally answered every single piece of physical mail that came to our PO Box in Seattle over the decade we kept it open. Literally thousands upon thousands of personal correspondence at the expense of my own time, attention and resources. Discussing with fans their secrets, fears, despairs etc when they felt they could trust no one else — I truly worked to live up to that extended trust. There’s a little bit of smug satisfaction I detect in your observation that the show you saw was unsuccessful. But, hey — we did what we could for our career. We worked really hard. We pushed an artistic agenda that flew directly in the face of the prevailing winds of the marketplace because we believed in it, and managed to sell half a million records on our own terms. To pinpoint the fact only 50 people came to see us in Eugene and imply it’s indicative of some failing on our part … hmm. I mean, We’ve played to much bigger audiences, even on our last tour (over a thousand people in Seattle, sold out Doug Fir easily in Portland) so what can I say. Eugene is an odd market. If I personally had any attitude about an audience not living up to my expectations at some point… I ditched that long ago with the other potentially arrogant aspects of my 20-something charmed life. If you witnessed that I didn’t act professionally, I truly and sincerely apologize. I hope we’ve/I’ve made up for it in subsequent actions.
Having said that, I’ve seen Mark Lanegan walk offstage from a packed audience of several hundred paying fans after TWO songs just because of some minor caprice, with no consideration to said audience and no one seems to saddle him with the label asshole. It’s not a dig on Mark, just saying there seems to be a double standard applied to our band/myself frequently, and not just by you. My theory is our vulnerability, openness, lack of conventionality on one hand, and then on the other hand our minor success being seen as flaunting our inability to do the ‘correct’ thing — mimic the attitudes or values of the moment as opposed to march to our own drum — are viewed as punishable offenses. I grew up in an era where unconventional attitudes were celebrated, and I’ve made the community of our band as inclusive as possible to all comers, self described as conventional, unconventional or neutral/agnostic — it was a key to our early success that everyone felt welcome at our shows, when they often did not at the (decidedly masculine and aggressive) punk/grunge/hardcore shows. Virtually every successful young musician I’ve met — from Ian MacKaye to Richard Hawley to various nobodies long forgotten from the Seattle scene in which we started out … could be categorized as indulging in arrogant behavior at that age. And shall we talk about Prince? The Dandy Warhols? Bob Geldof? Have you ever heard a single charming anecdote about any of them? Aloofness, arrogance, capriciousness, irascibility and other forms of asshole-ry are/were part of their brand. And yet… they get a pass. I may be no Prince in terms of virtuosity, but I guarantee in terms of skill, erudition, execution, intellectual curiosity and whatever we want to call ’talent’ I am every inch the artist that any member of Dandy Warhols is/was. And their band name is almost as crappy a band name as “the Posies”. So, they are human after all. And by being so, I would give the Dandy Warhols’ members the benefit of the doubt that maturity has enriched and broadened their individual world views and they need not be held in judgment in perpetuity for being young and foolish at some point, it’s a natural part of becoming mature that you are, at one point, less mature.
2) My 2012 response to your (mostly) negative review of my 2012 solo album. I went back and had a look, and at least as far as I can see, the comments are no longer visible. So I don’t know exactly what I said. But the review is there for all to read — a review in which you label my work, at times, as being ’stupid’, ‘mediocre’ and ‘meretricious’. For some strange reason, I’m punished not only for not having the courage, imagination or talent to leave the confines of my power pop heritage (a label I never once adopted for myself) but for not having the talent, courage or imagination to excel at anything outside those boundaries when I do make the effort. As a rebuttal, I’m going to list a handful of the vast and diverse range of artists I’ve successfully collaborated with — Thom Yorke, Wilco, R.E.M., Patti Smith, Mercury Rev, Neil Young, John Paul Jones… need I go on? The record is criticized for being too long (and it’s mentioned that the Posies 2010 album that consisted of 12 songs — an absolutely standard length for an album in the modern age — is “obscenely” long.) So, yes I responded. I responded to the double standard that has been consistently applied by certain reviewers to my work as opposed to ‘acceptable’ artists — one reviewer of the Posies 2010 album spent several breaths railing against a guitar solo that he decided was ‘too short’. As if Elliott Smith, The Beatles et al … didn’t have guitar solos the EXACT same length. I felt that you were holding me to a standard that I could never have reached—-you’d have just kept finding faults with the record, because I believe you had a preconceived notion of what that album, the product of my personal artistic vision, should be, as if your tastes are something I should keep in mind when pursuing my artistic vision. That you didn’t like it is fair. That you could have passed it on to a reviewer who might have come at the record with a more open agenda is also fair of me to assert. You, the reviewer, are the interface between me, the artist trying to survive, and the public who might be interested in this album. So, every bad review is essentially a threat to my livelihood, so yeah, I’m going to fight back. But I did not in this case, or any case, throw the first punch. And if you think my comment, whatever it was, was hostile… have you read the comments section in literally ANY published journalism, cultural or otherwise, in the last 15 years?
Let’s say this — Alex Chilton, who was the driving force behind your #3 band on the list, Big Star, for most of its history, a band of which I was a kind of member for nearly 20 years (is that the thing — you have deemed me unworthy of such luck and your subsequent degradation and dismissal of my work is based on professional jealousy? Hey, I wouldn’t blame you — I’ve lived a remarkable life and I’d never pretend that I deserve that more than you, but it happened, and I lived up to the challenge and very well at that indeed) — could be a complete jerk to fans. He had ZERO interest, at times, in fan interaction and I’ve seen him walk away from a fan who was extending an earnest handshake with no reaction whatsoever. If you love the band, you KNOW this about Alex and yet you don’t hold it against him — only The Posies, based on (your personal opinion of) ONE bad night many years ago.
Look, I’m used to being a punching bag. I was bullied heavily growing up — which is not your fault of course, but it left a certain impression on me by which I assess all people I interact with even now, at age 51. Bully, or not a bully? At this point, my goal as an artist is simply to be judged with the same standards that are applied to any artist. I dare you, and any reviewer, to put aside your revulsion at the fact that we are/I am successful but not untouchably so; sensitive, vulnerable but also impassioned and intrepid; youthfully curious but no longer young and new; unique but not ‘unique’ in a preconceived, calculated and marketer-approved fashion — ditch your prejudices and review the work like you’ve never heard my early work. As a journalist, you’re supposed to keep those prejudices out of the way of your assessment of work, otherwise, you yourself are not living up to the challenge of being in the moment, objective and curious. You’re just taking out some kind of emotional agenda that I’m not responsible for on MY work, and potentially souring the view for a potential listener. How should I respond? Whoopee?
I’m absolutely willing to move forward today on that principle. How about you?