Friday, December 31, 2010

Free City Interlude: An Unauthorized Autobiography

I'm in the process of changing my approach to Big Western Flavor because my life circumstances have changed. For most of the past year, I've sat around mothballing while my saintly girlfriend worked to pay the bills. It was really nice having the luxury of two or three entire days to think about a piece, construct arguments in my head, fiddle around with multiple drafts, and edit out most or all of my self-indulgent personal digressions.

But I have to go fast and shoot from the hip now, because I'm working again, and re-reading the post from last night I realize that without that extra gestation time, my quick shifts from effusive praise to withering criticism seem a bit arbitrary... like I'm deliberately singling out bands for abuse. Not my intention. I read every mean comment and e-mail I get and try and weigh their arguments as best I can. I don't plan pulling my punches when it comes to describing the bands I see. If I'm not going to tell the whole story I might as well not write at all. But a well-stated recent challenge to my style made me think about whether I owed it to my readers to better explain who I am and why I think the way I do. I'm self-conscious about talking about myself constantly, but I'm not a private person. I don't take myself seriously enough to feel like the details of my life must be closely guarded. Maybe a little background will help folks to appreciate why it is I listen to music the way I do and why I feel so compelled to point out every flaw and imperfection.

All right, as quickly as I can possibly manage: For the last year and change I've been trying to write the blog from the perspective of a newspaper columnist. I used to do a "all submissions accepted" deal in the Daily Californian, some years ago, and my first big inspiration to write was the local demos feature in Illinois Entertainer. They would rip clueless people, and by reading critiques, listening for myself, and drawing my own conclusions, I learned to think critically about music myself. A journalist is supposed to cut their own narrative out of their writing to as great an extent as they can. I liked taking this stance on my blog for a long while partly as a defense mechanism, and partly because I'm sick of talking about myself after spending most of my 20's precisely working out all of my myriad personal issues.

I'm not angling for sympathy here (I have a neurological order that makes it socially acceptable for me to rip crummy bands on the Internet!), but despite my obvious talents I've made something of a hash of my life up to this point, and I'm aware of it. I have a long-held pattern of starting things with flying colors and then finishing a few months later in a withered heap, often with an accompanying trip to the mental hospital. The Daily Cal? I was a star writer as a freshman, the arts editor my sophomore year and fired before I was a junior. I wouldn't let anybody else write for my section because nobody met with my high standards; I did the entire thing, music, film, arts, and theater reviews, by myself each week. I was not really with the program when it came to the idea of the "student newspaper." A similar thing happened at the radio station in high school; I was a board member as a sophomore and then got kicked off entirely as a senior. At the time it seemed like the world was out to get me. After years of therapy and self-reflection, I get it now: I was a huge dick.

A few years ago after several diagnoses and medication regimens that made life no better, some professional or another decided I had Asperger's Syndrome. It's very rare to not be described as having a condition on the autism spectrum until your early 20's, but a combination of high intelligence and a severely indulgent upbringing kept me "passing" right up until the time when I was about to graduate from college and my subconscious terror about facing a real world I was in no way prepared for sent me into a two-week dissociative psychotic episode on the mean streets of Oakland. By the time I had worked all this stuff out, most of my connections in journalism were out of the business and nobody was willing to hire me given my spotty work history. I'm not 100% sure I agree with the diagnosis or not... the older and more self-aware I become, the more I feel like Asperger's pretty much describes every introspective, creative American male under the age of 25 or so. But I do have some particular tics. Some are quite beneficial -- my sense of hearing, as you may have surmised, is amazingly powerful, and I have the ability to recall precisely large chunks of conversations without taking notes. But I also make super weird facial expressions (they tell me). I've never quite figured out how to smile right, and apparently when I am lost in thought I make a face that seems utterly miserable, pained even, to others. (Which is actually kind of useful when it comes to meeting girls at parties.) I don't have the ability to compose myself at will, though, and I don't realize it when I making other people uncomfortable. It makes first impressions and job interviews in particular really challenging. And terrifying.

During a long period cooling in my heels in Colorado, I met Anna C. (at a Sleater-Kinney concert). She is the most awesome and giving person in the universe and also a ludicrously talented songwriter and guitar player. I was finally starting to feel confident about myself and I really wanted to play in a band with my best friend and partner. The high cost of living in Boulder started choking away our spirit so we moved to Austin to get a fresh start. I started writing about local music first because I perceived I was filling a void, and then because I had a vain hope it might help me to get some paying work in the field in which I belong.

I get it now, though -- journalism has changed too much in the past few years for someone as literal and bloody-minded as me to advance in it. With so much advertising gone to the Web, newspapers simply can't profit from objectivity any longer. They have become PR machines. The Chronicle would be stupid to hire me, because I would immediately start ripping Transmission and C3 and exposing bands whose parents paid for every good review on their MySpace. That's who I am. So if I'm not blogging in pursuit of work, what am I doing then? Let's call it public therapy. The reason I rip into all of these obnoxious, lazy, self-centered young musicians is because I totally see myself in all of them, and to keep making progress in my own personal development I have to remind myself constantly of the tool I used to be and would quickly go back to being if I didn't focus every day on how valuable the perspectives and support of other people are.

That's right, I'm going emo!

No comments:

Post a Comment