Weekly Mailbag! Vol. 5: Remedial Letter Writing

It's been at least a year since my last Weekly Mailbag, so the name isn't even REMOTELY accurate. I kind of like calling it Weekly Mailbag in spite of that. It's kinda what makes blogging fun.

Let's start with an e-mail:

To: the Public Readers of The Hartford Advocate & the Editor and Dan Barry

Dan Barry has it all wrong.

For anyone that was standing in the club on Saturday night in down town Hartford- Up Or On the Rocks was featuring Connecticut's TIP THE VAN from Marlborough & the crowd loved them!

The place was packed. The crowd was cheering,dancing,singing
,clapping and the SOUNDMAN "FESTER" was swinging the chain hung lamp back & froth because he was so excited.TIP THE VAN was never a full blown ska band anyway, and if Mr.Barry had ever seen TIP THE VAN at any previous show in CT he wouldn't have made the unfair comments he published in this weeks Local Motion. Up Or On the Rocks will see me again if they book TIP THE VAN and I will tell all my friends to come out for one of the best bands this state of ours has to offer.TIP THE VAN is a rock/reggae/power ska band. Pick up their newest cd titled 'Something Wicked" and you would know this is a band that has a rock influence. The horn lines are awesome and powerful. "Chicago" is a rock band. Anyone with have a brain knows that a band with horns doesn't necessarily mean you are a ska band. TIP THE VAN'S two lead vocalist sisters Nicole & Simone make this band my # 1 band to go see & listen to.I can't wait for TIP THE VAN to re
lease another cd because I'll be in line amongst the many fans who voted TIP THE VAN the # 1 band in the Hartford Advocate Grand Band Slam - to get another cd to skank to.Check out TTV'S web site and listen for yourself.
www.tipthevan.com or www.myspace.com/tipthevan

Yup, Dan Barry has it all wrong.


So what you're saying is, um, you're a fan of TIP THE V... excuse me, Tip The Van. And you advertised their CD, which I already knew about. Was there anything else?

No? Great. Moving on, then.

* * *

As you might imagine, the vast majority of responses to my column -- when they're not from the musicians themselves -- are from someone claiming to to be the General Public (though they are often, I shit you not, girlfriends/parents/roadies of the band who received my less-than-sparkling review. You know that MySpace page you made where it says "MY BOYFREINDS BAND IS SOSOOOOO FREAKIN AWESOME"? Yeah. It's not hard to find). And they're fuckin' angry. They want to kill me. They want to bleed me to death slowly by hundreds of tiny papercuts made with Hartford Advocate pages.

Unfortunately, these people then sit down behind their keyboards and compose letters like the above. "I've got it all wrong," our anonymous writer claims -- and then goes on to summon up a bunch of random information that has absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote. Yup, the crowd was definitely into it -- but I never claimed they weren't. I caught those powerful horn lines; I remember specifically complimenting Steph, the trombonist, as a good player. And yeah, I was aware of their CD -- I first listened to it when I penned the cover article about TTV winning our Band Slam this past summer. (Our correspondent must have missed my byline.) In my recent review of Tip The Van, my central point had nothing to do with any of these things. I argued that they are not a ska band, despite their claim to be. I argued that due to certain things they did in their songs and on their instruments -- and certain things they did not do -- they were more like plain old alternative rock.

"TIP THE VAN is a rock/reggae/power ska band," writes our correspondent. Well, ska historically preceded reggae, so if they don't have the elements of ska style, they probably don't have much reggae in 'em, either. And I had never heard of "power ska" as a subgenre before, but a quick Google search seems to turn up other bands who are rock/ska hybrids -- which, as far as I can tell, is exactly the same kind of watered-down, 3rd-wave skate-punk ska I was bagging on in the first place.

So... what you're saying is, I was right? Because a second ago you said I was wrong. You're losin' me, baby!

* * *

It saddens me that the vast majority of our readership, it seems, is so lacking in anything resembling argumentative or rhetorical skills that they can't even latch onto the main idea of my column -- let alone disprove it. It saddens me more when a zealous reader, trying to come to the defense of their beloved band, accidentally lends support to my arguments. That shit is so sixth grade. Like, if it came to me written on a piece of paper folded up into one of those little square packets, I would take it seriously. But somebody let you on the internet, and that means you're old, and should know better, and that shit scares me.

A lot of people put the burden on members of the press to write responsibly. And we should and must, I agree; but the buck doesn't stop there. I think the public also has an obligation to read responsibly. If you can't read an article or watch a newscast and isolate the main idea, then you're not going to notice when media organizations start replacing Good Press with ridiculous biases, factually incorrect statements, and self-imposed censorship.

Wait. Wait a second. OH, FUCK!


Anonymous said...

Categories: shitty critics

Dan said...

For transparency's sake, I'm pasting in my response to Joe Heston's blog post, linked above.

* * *


Some stuff you said definitely pissed me off, but on the whole I have to admit I'm happy that someone out there is paying enough attention to take me to task. I get very, very little actual feedback from readers, so I appreciate yours, even if it's not a glowing review.

Couple things.

First, I'm glad that Eric Danton gave you some good press, too, but I honestly had no clue he even reviewed your disc. I don't read his stuff in the paper that often. The Advocate(s) and The Courant are linked because they're both owned by The Tribune company, but other than that there's no real connection between the writers at the two papers. That's especially true for me, since I'm a freelancer and work from my home. If Eric and I both gave Glitch similar reviews, it's because it was a good disc. Eric covers local stuff from time to time, but I've never felt he's stepped on my toes -- the more local rock press, the merrier, as far as I'm concerned.

As for showing up at your show when I did, you should know why if you actually read the whole column. I was at the show across the street at Wrench in the Works! I stayed there until the end of Lisa Lawrence's set, and immediately came across the street to the Arts Center see who I could see. I had been hoping to catch the Shrinnirs as well as the Liz Larsons. I never intended to review the Hestons. No hard feelings -- it's just that if I can choose between giving a band I haven't reviewed some press, or revisiting one I've already written a bit about, I go for the new band. I'm not saying I've never reviewed the same band twice -- but on the whole, it's pretty rare. And if I do review them twice, it's usually because they contact me, and say "hey, we're doing some cool new different shit now from the last time you saw us -- you should come check it out!" The last e-mail I've got from you is dated 1/6/05.

I saw three songs by the Liz Larsons, which, as you mentioned, isn't all that much. Of course I prefer to see more if I can -- but to be honest, I think it's quite possible to give a band a fair review after just a few songs. Their drummer even wrote to me and thanked me for being honest about what I saw, which I thought was cool. So I clearly can't be that far off-base with what I wrote. Most people know within the first few measures of a song whether or not they like it. What makes you think it would be any different for me? The main difference between me and Jane Listener is that once I know whether I like or dislike it, I have to figure out why, so I can write about my reaction. Like with any job, when you do it for a couple of years, you get quicker at it.

As for previewing shows in the column: this is one thing where I agree with you wholeheartedly, and share your disappointment. I've tried pitching my editors on expanding the column, playing with the format, incorporating my blog onto the website... I think post-show criticism is good, but I would love to do more pre-show work to drive up the attendance like you said. There are two problems I run into over and over again, though: first, I only have 600 words per column (on a good week), and they MUST be dedicated to reviewing two recent shows. Second, the administration's only response to my many proposals was to offer to increase my column's word count -- but still offer me the same rate of pay. Now, in a perfect world, I'd do it for the love. But considering that I already run a local music blog, stay in contact with a ton of artists, solicit new CDs for review, and do a bunch of other unpaid shit just because I love local music, it's pretty hard to say to your boss, "sure, I'll do more work for free!" So I would encourage you and everyone you know to get on the Advocate about it -- tell them you want more pre-show coverage. Make them think it's worth it. I'm ready, willing, and able to do it, but this is my career, and I need administrative and financial support to make it work, just like you or anyone else.

The last thing I want to talk about is something you mentioned right at the beginning of your post. The argument that "they just don't get our art" is the first and easiest line of defense in an artist's (or fan's) toolkit. Overzealous Tool and Floyd fans tell naysayers of those bands that "they just don't get it," as though Tool and Floyd (or whoever) are so magnificent and inaccessible that only the elite few can hope to understand. I think that's a cop-out. It makes the people who say it look like elite pricks who don't want others to share in the art they enjoy; it also insinuates that others are too brain-dead to get it.

Dude, I get it. And I think it's pretty shortsighted of you to say that the same person can only get metal, but not folk; can write intelligently about what makes a painting good, but not an entree. Michael Gannon, who wrote food reviews for The Courant for years, just did a wonderful piece in Slant about a young couple buying their first house. Edie, the Advocate's Lush Life columnist, is a straight girl but writes wonderful stuff about all kinds of queer events. Outside of the Advocate, I write about Japanese animation, film, and video games. Being a writer -- if you're hoping to make a living off of it, that is -- involves using all of one's experience, not just a slice of it. Likewise, being a critic isn't about who's got the deepest record collection or knows the most obscure bands (or painters, or culinary styles). It's about having the ability to think critically about the things that make ANY art good or bad: technique, themes, crowd reaction, delivery/performance, emotional reactions, social messages,
the artist's influences, etc.

Art is meant to communicate ideas. If I, as a person paying attention, don't get it, that's the artist's fault and not my own.

Thanks for reading and taking me seriously.

Rob said...

The anorexic chick in that band is pretty hot for an anorexic chick.

Anonymous said...


Right On! Shake it, stir it and keep it real even if it means to sacrifice popularity for the truth!

Nate T said...


I have to say that your "weekly mailbag" is awesome. Its a shame that people would target you when you're pointing out that TTV is in fact a mere alt rock band.

I have yet to hear reggae music come from the group. No "One Drop" riddims in there tunes, however, there are times I catch hints of ska (with their older tunes, haven't heard any of the new) with the up beat in the right place.

Either way, great post! I think that bands and fans should take any review and be cool with it, good or bad. I will agree that TTV has some talented musicians and they should keep on doing what they're doing.

Bless up, keep writing.

Nate T said...

I wish I could spell... Should be *their* not there.