The danger of having an opinion (5×8 – 5/30/12)

Local music and local heresy, the lure of the Oil Patch, Marina Keegan’s last essay, wishing away Jim Crow, and what happens to all the VHS tapes?


First, a Wednesday Morning Rouser:

1) LOCAL MUSIC AND LOCAL HERESY

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(Photo: Nate Ryan/The Curent)

I once confused Trampled with Turtles with Dead Man Winter and heard the pathetic guffaws from a local music reviewer, but I’m also old enough that these things don’t matter too much to me. Still, the reaction surrounding a writer’s conclusion that the local music scene thinks too much of itself has been fairly entertaining and illustrative of something, though I’m not sure what.

It started last week when MPR’s Chris Roberts suggested this is the golden era of local music.

A commenter on The Current’s (excellent) music blog disagreed:


There have always been talented people in MN, there are just a million bands nowadays and better ways to promote. Frankly I think it’s a little embarrassing how the press and radio fawn over the scene. There are good bands that have had some success but no real genius and no superstars. Nothing built to last as near as I can tell. The local critics seem to be tooting their own horns. They think everyone’s great. Self importance? Gb Leighton pulls in more people than any of these indie bands. Hey press do your job and do some actual critiquing.

Posted by jeffjordan | 10:55 AM – May 17, 2012

whoops didn’t mean to rip any of the musicians, just the press. don’t get me wrong there are great bands in town. MPLS just looks like some solipsistic backwater when the media crows on and on about how great we are. Out of towners tell me “wow you guys sure are proud of yourselves huh?” Would it kill you to write a negative review of a new local band? Your good reviews hold no water with anyone I know. Smalltown-itis.

Posted by jeffjordan | 11:05 AM – May 17, 2012

Suddenly, it really wasn’t about the music anymore. It was about the media, and the radio stations. It was a theme picked up by Laura Buchholz, who happens to work for A Prairie Home Companion, who roasted both in an op-ed in the Star Tribune:


I’m not going to name names, but I know a local drummer who winces if you call him a local drummer. I imagine it’s the same chilling dread I feel when I see the phrase “female writer.” Why not just be a drummer? Why not just be a band? Why does it all have to be about you, Minnesota?

Yes, it is possible that Minnesota has a good music scene. It might even have a great one. I don’t care. But do we need to make out with ourselves so much? Are there no hall monitors in this high school?

The day I was writing this was Minnesota Music Day, as pronounced by The Current. It also was Art-A-Whirl weekend, so it would have been the day to scramble over to Grumpy’s Northeast to see two of your favorite local bands: Gay Witch Abortion and Seawhores.

Come on, people.

It was just an op-ed by someone who based her musical taste on the names of bands (there wasn’t anything about the quality of music here) — not entirely unlike a grumpy female Andy Rooney, but the local music scene circled the wagons in a way that confirmed that Buchholz has just a little bit of a point.

It spilled over to the Letters to the Editor section today.


Does the local music scene take too much pride in itself? It certainly does. Does an out-of-touch writer (for “Prairie Home Companion,” of all things) stooping to insult other local artists over such a trivial detail as their name help matters? I can’t imagine it does.

CHRIS BESINGER, MINNEAPOLIS

Somewhere in the middle there’s a conversation to be had. Yes, some music stinks. No, you don’t hear or read many reviews about it. People tend to love that that’s local more.

But judging a band by its name is not a substitute for a critical ear. Local bands don’t seem to get the same critical review that out-of-market bands do, but maybe that’s a different angle. The local music artists and the local music press seem to run in the same circles. Is it even possible to critically review a local pal? (Note that even the commenter on the Current blog seemed reluctant to “rip” local musicians)

That would make a great article for a local music critic to write.

(h/t: Julia Schrenkler)

2) THE LURE OF THE OIL PATCH

North Dakota’s Oil Patch has brought boom times to the state, but does it threaten the higher education aspirations some parents have for their children? For some graduating high school students, the money is too good to pass up, the Fargo Forum reports.

Others, however, say they plan to go on to college if only to get out of North Dakota.

3) THE LAST ESSAY

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(Photo via Facebook)

Marina Keegan of Massachusetts graduated from Yale last week magna cum laude. Last weekend, however, she died in a car crash.

“Marina was someone who looked at the world and knew it had to be changed, but at the same time saw there was beauty in it,” said Yael Zinkow ’12, Keegan’s close friend.

She had written one last essay. It was included in Yale’s commencement program. And now, it’s sweeping across the Internet.


We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.

Find her essay, “The Opposite of Loneliness” here.

4) WISHING AWAY JIM CROW

When Dorothy Flood was a girl, she and her grandmother often traveled by train from New Jersey to North Carolina. At the Mason Dixon Line — Baltimore — the train stopped, and blacks were ordered to a separate car. Recently, an organization that grants wishes to people 65 and over granted hers: She rode the rails in the first-class dining car.

It’s like old times in the Bemidji area this week, however. An eight-foot burning cross was set on fire near the Northern Township home of a white woman with two mixed-race kids.

5) DV-WHAT?

Maybe you shouldn’t toss out those old VHS movies you’ve got…

TODAY’S QUESTION

A Minnesota man is scheduled to appear in court today after allegedly being caught with more than 400 fish. Officers seized the fish as well as the man’s boat, motors and trailer. If he is convicted, the man could face jail time and a fine. Today’s Question: How strict should Minnesota be in enforcing its hunting and fishing limits?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Confronting college costs.

Second hour: Comedian and writer Lizz Winstead.

Third hour: Summer reading for kids.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Live broadcast from the National Press Club featuring the CEO of the Girl Scouts of America, Anna Maria Chavez.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: The Political Junkie.

Second hour: When it comes to the standard test that screens for prostate cancer, a government task force essentially told men they’re better off not knowing. Few expect doctors and patients will stop ordering the tests. And if it comes up positive, performing maybe unnecessary procedures. Do you want to know? Plus, the President’s auto czar on Romney, the bailout, and Bain.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - The American dream — what does it mean in politics? To a self-described skinny black kid with a funny name, it meant winning the White House. And what Barack Obama sees underlying the American dream is part of what distinguishes him as a Democrat. NPR’s American Dream series continues with the view of the dream from President Barack Obama and his political party.

Law enforcement officials in Minnesota say prostitution has largely migrated from the streets to the Internet. They’re concerned this has given traffickers enormous new reach into the homes of potential new victims and customers who browse ads online. MPR’s Sasha Aslanian will have the story.

People representing the different sides of the Fairview/Accretive controversy are expected to testify at a hearing called by U.S. Senator Al Franken. Attorney General Lori Swanson, the interim CEO of Fairview and a senior VP of Accretive are on the list, which also includes patients who say they were hounded by the debt collection agency. MPR’s Elizabeth Stawicki is following the story.

  • http://www.danhaugen.com Dan Haugen

    When I read Chris Roberts piece initially, I remember thinking: is this really a golden era for *local* music, or is it just a golden era for music, period.

    Musicians have access to better recording and promotion tools than ever before. And their music is more accesible than ever before. Even 10 years ago, you had to regularly hangout at the Turf Club and 7th St. Entry to stay in the loop on up-and-coming local bands. Now, all you need is an Internet connection. Or a radio, for that matter, seeing as local bands are probably getting more airplay than ever before thanks to the Current, Radio K, KFAI, and others. The experience of being a local music fan who can’t/doesn’t regularly go out to clubs has tremendously improved.

    As for the issue of negative/critical reviews, I think one of the most important questions that good critics answer is: How will this compare to your expectations?

    If an established band makes a record that’s expected to be good, it’s valuable to have critical reviews if it doesn’t meet those expectations. The critic can help make sure I don’t waste my time/attention/money on something that’s not worthwhile.

    If an unknown band makes a record that people ordinarily wouldn’t expect anything from, it’s valuable to have positive reviews when it exceeds those expectations. The critic can help make sure I don’t miss something that I’m going to want to spend my time/attention/money on.

    But when an unknown band makes a lousy or mediocre record, what value is there in writing a negative review? There’s little risk that an average reader is going to spend time or money on it. It’s not really helping anyone, that I can see. It’s just mean.

    There’s no point in trashing an unknown local band, but for several local bands, the bar has been set in recent years. If Doomtree or Howler or Trampled By Turtles make a record that’s not up to par, I would expect local critics to say that.

  • Joanna

    This whole “don’t get too full of yourself, MN music critics” is a classic example of the Scandinavian “Law of Jante, or Janteloven. Praire Home Companion has made millions sending it up, but it has an ugly side, too.

    “Don’t think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us.”

    The ten rules of the Law of Jante, as defined by the novelist Sandemose, state:

    Don’t think you’re anything special.

    Don’t think you’re as good as us.

    Don’t think you’re smarter than us.

    Don’t convince yourself that you’re better than us.

    Don’t think you know more than us.

    Don’t think you are more important than us.

    Don’t think you are good at anything.

    Don’t laugh at us.

    Don’t think anyone cares about you.

    Don’t think you can teach us anything.

    and in this latest version, “Don’t enjoy the talent and success of the local music scene, or celebrate it or be happy about it, because that would be unseemly. Who the hell do you think you are, Californians? New Yorkers? It’s hip to be negative.

  • Ann

    Ms. Buchholz wrote, “Why does it all have to be about you, Minnesota?”

    I didn’t realize just how much it is that way – until I moved out of Minnesota. To North Dakota of all places.

  • Chris N.

    If you’re talking about music critics writing for a publication where their audience is mostly Minnesotan music lovers, then why wouldn’t it be all about Minnesota?

    And so what if we give local bands some critical slack. If it were my brother or sister up there on stage, I’d give them critical slack, because it’s important to me to support them. For a lot of people, it’s important to support the local music scene. There are plenty of others out there who can be objective (or cynical) and provide a critical perspective. Let the people who want to support our own do so without telling them they have provincial tastes.

  • Heather

    I love the way The Current is engaged with the local music scene — both with playing and promoting local bands, and with local venues — but in the context of the obsession with “the Minnesota Connection” it’s definitely hard to separate quality from hype. I also think it’s interesting that the tendency of Minnesotans to make fun of Wisconsin conveniently goes away — and Wisconsin becomes “local” — in certain situations, involving, say, Bon Iver or the occasional artisan food producer. It’s local if you like it. ;)

  • Bob Collins

    //And so what if we give local bands some critical slack.

    If you’re talking about music critics, I would say two words answer your question: Sid Hartman.

  • Chris N.

    //Sid Hartman

    Ha. So what, the guy can’t support all his close personal friends? (By the way, if you haven’t, go check out his Wikipedia page. It’s definitely appropriate.)

    To clarify my position a bit: If a critic can be warmer towards local bands but still provide a useful analysis of their music, that’s ok with me. If they’re just uselessly gushing about Every New Minneapolis Band, then yeah, they need to rethink what it means to be a critic.

    In the end, though, criticism of anything is highly subjective and people will flock to the critics they like. Not because they’re the most objective, but because their tastes match the reader’s. If a local critic tightens their standards to match the detractors preferences, there are other readers that they’ll alienate.

  • David Wilford

    I listen to the Current and appreciate what they do to get new music, and more importantly new bands, heard. But sometimes they’ve indulged in some rather goofy hype. I remember a year or so after the Current went on the air how they plugged an obscure band – The Free Design – as somehow being this vital progenitor of the “current” music scene. I seriously doubt that any band they were playing had ever heard of The Free Design, and it all seemed to be was the product of the fevered imagination of the Current’s staff. I don’t mind the Current promoting local music, and also letting listeners know who is coming to town to play that’s worth hearing.

    As for golden ages of music, it’s all in how you define “golden” and who is the one doing it. As a listener, it’s great to have digital media around that allows you to dig deep into rock ‘n roll history, thanks to those who post the most obscure and fascinating stuff on YouTube. As a professional musician trying to eke out a living, the digital age is a mixed blessing. Sure, it’s easier to make quality recordings, but it’s harder to make money from them. At a recent gig I overheard one of the most talented guitarists in the Twin Cities get asked how he was doing for gigs and he said he gets them but the money is not so good. Needless to say, I bought one of his CDs and happily put some dough directly in his pocket later.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Even when the Twin Cities really WERE the center of the musical universe, visiting artists in some of the chicer venues would receive a standing ovation based on whether they could produce a plane ticket stub for a flight that originated somewhere outside of the 5 state area.

    As for critics, the old “those who can do, those who can’t…” thing goes DOUBLE for them.

    And to paraphrase Lou Reed, “A critic is someone who would eat sheets and say they tasted good if the money was good enough.” :-)

  • Jeff Jordan

    Wow I appreciate how much one blog post can generate so much rancor. Yeah i was reluctant to rip the musicians because I felt the media should be doing it for me. Weak rhymes and blown sets abound. It’s really a lot of A for Effort, Ignore or Adore goldbricking that passes for professional criticism in these parts. Good bands stand on their own. Competent people with lots of friends in other areas of the arts who prop them up is part of the business. Tit for Tat. We can all try to be nice and honest.

  • John

    # 3 “that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.”

    That is sad that such a young person lost their life. Her speech makes me wonder why young people feel that they cannot reach their goals just for their own personal satisfaction.

    It makes me sad to think that these young adults somehow learned to compare themselves to others adn find themselves not good enough. If we can teach competition, then why can’t we instill a desire to learn for the sake of learning and finding that satisfaction of reaching goals within yourself and not satisfaction from feeling better than the other person.