An Immodest Proposal
By Scott Creney
Dear Sub Pop and Matador.
I’m not asking for much. I think $25,000 is a more than reasonable amount of money. In return, I promise not to write about music for an entire year.
The way I figure it, in my two plus years here at Collapse Board I’ve written three reviews that stopped a band’s momentum dead in its tracks. One of them belonged to Sub Pop.
And two of them belonged to Matador.
We’ll start with Savages’ Silence Yourself. In the run-up to its release, the band experienced a near-ubiquity of critical praise and hype. Me, I thought the record was an underwhelming piece of shit. And I made a pretty compelling case why in my review. That article got read by over 30,000 people, was posted/re-posted, tweeted/re-tweeted all over the place, and I haven’t had to read about the band since. A friend of mine who manages one of the 10 most influential record stores in the US told me that the day the record came out they sold a half-dozen copies, but they haven’t sold a single copy since.
Last month I heard a rumor (I was in the UK at the time, so I guess technically it was a rumour) that Matador had paid Savages a million dollars to put out their album. If this is true, then it’s entirely possible my review cost the label half a million dollars. Like I said, $25,000 is a more than fair price.
I have no remorse about my Savages review, however ‘The Iceage Thing’ (as it’s now referred to around these parts) requires a little explanation. I’m a little reluctant to get into this, given all the mail I got from that article, including actual real live death threats from actual real live people. The angry letters fell into three camps:
1) Those who agreed with my basic premise (Iceage wraps their music/image/iconography in xenophobic far-right imagery) but felt it was irrelevant because, you know, Joy Division.
2) Those who felt that my evidence was, at best, circumstantial, a series of unrelated coincidences and only a fool would read anything more into it.
3) Those who felt I had erroneously targeted a non-violent, non-racist, apolitical band who were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.
Most of these people chose to ignore the other dozen or so questionable things in the band’s history/iconography and instead focus on this photo that the band had posted on their Tumblr.
Because I lazily used the term ‘sieg-heil’ instead of ‘right-wing fascist salute’ to describe the guy with the raised fist, some folks thought my entire argument was discredited. One particularly vehement Swede insisted that a raised fist represents black power or women’s liberation. Which is true. But that all depends on the context.
That’s a picture of Anders Behring in 2011 at his trial for massacring 77 people in order to “save Norway and Western Europe from a Muslim takeover” (quote from Wikipedia). I’m pretty sure that raised fist wasn’t meant to show solidarity with African-Americans or women. In fact, someone need to send these next stupid motherfuckers some e-mail death threats IMMEDIATELY. Because they are so stupid they are totally making the WRONG PATCH.
Anyway, The Iceage Thing unleashed a major shitstorm. Some of which landed on me (or more specifically, landed in my inbox — my Facebook account is now private, thank you very much), but a great deal more of which landed on the band. Now if you read the article, it’s pretty obvious that my criticism was directed more towards US/UK music folk for alluding to the fascist overtones as if they somehow made Iceage dangerous/fascinating than towards the band itself. I oppose censorship in nearly all its forms, so getting e-mails from people telling me they were trying to shut down Iceage shows filled me with almost as much horror as the Iceage fans saying they were going to stab me if they ever saw me (IN DIRECT VIOLATION OF ICEAGE’S EXPLICIT “NO STABBING” POLICY, I FEEL I SHOULD MENTION). As someone who appreciates some of Ezra Pound’s poetry — and Ezra was so fascist he makes every Nazi-dabbling musician look like a spineless dilletante — I do think it’s possible to loathe an artist while still loving their art. And if I can squirm my way through NWA then you can squirm through Iceage. Or Guns N’ Roses. Or James Brown. Or John Lennon for that matter. I was just, you know, pointing out some Iceage stuff that I personally found shitty given the current political climate in their neck of the woods, coupled with what I saw as a hypocrisy among US/UK music writers who would’ve torn a band from their country a new one if they’d covered their selves/sleeves in that kind of shit.
But getting back to the point. Whether I intended it or not, my Iceage article cost Matador a heap of dollars in unsold records. Wouldn’t it have been better for everyone, including the sweetly apolitical Iceage, if I just hadn’t written it in the first place?
Look, I’m a reasonable guy. The overwhelming majority of my reviews are positive and enthusiastic. It’s not my fault that I can stop an album by say, Howler, dead in its tracks, but I can’t turn Blanche Blanche Blanche or Filthy Huns into superstars (though I did help boost The Bastards Of Fate into some small segment of the popular imagination).
And it’s not like I have a vendetta against any of your labels. I wrote very nice things about the recent Cat Power album. Same with Yo La Tengo and Fucked Up. Yeah, I made fun of Fleet Foxes and Stephen Malkmus, but not enough to ruin their careers or hurt your labels. And let’s just talk about the fucking emotional memoir I wrote for last year’s Interpol reissue. There was so much soul in that review that Collapse Board’s Mike Turner, a lifelong Interpol hater, was forced to reassess the band after reading my review, arriving at the conclusion that the record “actually isn’t that bad”.
As a writer, I am nothing if not persuasive.
Which brings me to Washed Out. After my review a couple of years ago, I received nearly a dozen e-mails/messages from strangers thanking me because I articulated exactly why Within And Without was such a deathless piece of shit. I hadn’t heard about Washed Out since, until last week when Ernest Greene (the brains behind WO) surfaced in a Pitchfork interview talking about his forthcoming new album. So here’s the deal Sub Pop. I know you have a lot riding on this record. $25,000 isn’t a lot of money to you, but it’s enough for me to live on comfortably for a year. Shit, that’s only about, what, 3,000 album sales? You didn’t get to be where you are today by making bad financial decisions.
Okay, technically, that isn’t true. One could argue that Sub Pop got where they are today in spite of their bad financial decisions. But they definitely aren’t stupid, so come on Sub Pop. Think of it as an investment in your label’s future. Give Gerard Cosloy a call. I’m sure you can get him to throw in some money as well.
An entire year. No music writing until September 2014. I’m not kidding. No pseudonyms, no Twitter, not even a snarky Facebook post. A 100% music writing blackout for an entire year. If I can’t get paid to write about music, (Collapse Board pays me nothing — this is entirely a labor of love. Or hate, if you prefer) then maybe I can get paid not to write. Either way, it’s a living.
Besides, I have more important shit to do in my life than assess the mediocrity of buzzbands. I’m an acclaimed novelist, a handsome poet. I write about music because I love to write and because Everett gives me the freedom to say whatever I want. Collapse Board is the only influential website out there that doesn’t have advertising. You think Drowned In Sound would have let me write those reviews? Or the fucking Guardian? (We won’t even discuss PR farms like NME/Pitchfork). My writing at Collapse Board is the only thing keeping you from shoving tedious, uninspired shit upon the general public without any criticism whatsoever. Eliminate me and you get every PR person’s dream — unanimous praise. I’m letting you off easy.
E-mail me at email@example.com. If I don’t hear from you within the week, my price doubles.
I would hate for anything to happen to that new Washed Out album. What’s it called again? Paracosm? What the hell does that even mean?
a detailed imaginary world, or fantasy world, involving humans and/or animals, or perhaps even fantasy or alien creations.
Oh wow. You really need to e-mail me as soon as possible. This could get ugly.
Yours in sound business decisions,