In honor of CityBeat’s 20th anniversary, music editor Mike Breen and music section contributor Brian Baker (both of whom have been with the paper since the first issue) did an e-chat to discuss their experiences writing about music for the past two decades, from interview horror stories to the joys of covering Cincinnati musicians.
Mike Breen: So 20 years. We were both working (or, rather, volunteering) at Everybody’s News when we found out EN’s editor John Fox was leaving to start a new paper. I remember when he first told me, when it was still hush hush, and asked me to come aboard as the music editor while I was still in college. He pulled me aside as we were leaving the EN building after a day of work, told me (in hushed tones) about his plans and said he’d like me to be the music editor. I was excited because I believed in John’s broader vision — providing a liberal/progressive voice for the city, celebrating the arts and striving to create quality journalism — but also because I was going to finally be paid for my work. Do you remember when you first heard word about CityBeat's formation?
Brian Baker: Vividly. After John left EN, no one paid the slightest attention to me. I don't think they ran a single review of mine after his departure. At some point that following summer, John James, who'd been doing the Positively Yeah Yeah Yeah column, called me at my design day job and said John Fox wanted to have lunch to talk about something he's got planned. So the three of us met at this little seafood place on Reading Road and John (Fox) laid out the blueprint he had in mind for CityBeat. It sounded like a great idea, and my reaction was the same as yours. A byline and a check? Pinch me, I'm dreaming.
But John offered a single caveat, and it would have rather lasting implications. He said, "I can't use you as a reviewer, I need you as a feature writer. Can you do that?" I said yes, and that really changed everything regarding my writing career. In a very tangible sense, everything that's happened to me over the past 20 years is due to John's insistence that I write features, and I owe him a great debt because of that one simple clause in our contract.
MB: I remember months before the first issue of CityBeat I spent days putting together request letters to mail out to hundreds of record labels asking to be added to their mailing lists. Which is funny to think of now — we weren’t using email and, as opposed to receiving most review copies these days as downloads, we started getting dozens of CDs (and even cassettes at that point) a week. It’s crazy to me to think about doing research for reviews and stories in the very earliest days of CityBeat; I had a handful of “encyclopedias of music” books, but mostly we had to just rely on those press kit folders, which usually had a press release, a bio and then a stack of stapled-together photocopied reviews and interviews from other outlets. Now you can literally press a button and see every review and feature story ever written about an artist. It’s certainly easier now to be lazy.
What do you think has changed the most about writing about music over the past 20 years?
BB: No question that the internet has made the research part of our jobs a whole lot easier. And today's connectivity makes it almost (although not quite entirely) impossible for publicists to duck our requests for material and interviews. But remember tearsheets? Sending physical proof of my features and reviews to labels and publicists used to be enormously time-consuming, especially after I started picking up outlets other than CityBeat. Now it's like everything else: email a link.
Here's the thing about the new research paradigm. Back when my daughter was in 4th grade, her class and one other were doing a project on newspapers, where they split into groups, had editors and writers and each made their own version of a newspaper. Isabelle's teacher asked if I would be interested in talking to both classes about working on a real newspaper, which I happily agreed to do. The one point that I really tried to hammer home to the young journalistic minds in the group is that the internet has no editor, and you have to be incredibly careful with pulling what you think are facts from websites that may actually be offering little more than glorified opinions. In some ways, the internet has made everything incredibly easy, and in other ways, it has added in almost arcane levels of complexity that never existed before.
As I am often fond of pointing out, computers didn't make everything better, they made everything different.
MB: We’ll move on from computer-related stuff after this, but I want to vent about internet trolls so just humor me for a sec (haha). As I’m often fond of pointing out, the best thing about the internet is that everyone has a voice. And the worst thing about the internet is that everyone has a voice.
In the earliest days, we had one computer in CityBeat’s office that had web access, so people had to share time. My earliest memory of interacting with a “reader” online was when some asshole kid sent me this scathing note about something I’d written about Goth or Industrial music. He was a dick to me, so I was a dick right back (some things never change!). He threatened to “tell my boss” the mean things I said to him, which may have been the first time I did a computer-related “LOL.” It’s weird to think of now, in a time when online trolls are just par for the course. It’s probably the thing I hate most about the job, and it was evident in my very first experience communicating with someone online about something I’d written. (I should give credit to my first “troll,” singer/songwriter/funnyman David Enright, who, since the internet was still developing and Facebook was many years away from giving voice to everyone’s vitriol, made hand-written fliers eviscerating me, CityBeat and CityBeat’s music section for being lame. He stapled them onto telephone poles all over the Clifton area. I wish I’d saved one.)
We’d always talk about how we sort of wrote in a vacuum — we’d write stuff, throw it out there and assume people were reading it, but, outside of the rare “letter to the editor” or meeting people in the flesh, we had no idea how people were reacting to the content. Now we can kind of see in real time what people are reading (online) and get instant feedback if it hits the wrong or right chord. But people seem to mostly respond only when something pisses them off, which is fine, but it’s almost always rude and insulting, which is maddening.
Anyway, you (wisely) stay off of social media, and I imagine you are spared a lot of this more annoying feedback. But over the years, what have your communications with both subjects and readers been like? Are they only mean to me or do you get some of that too? (For the record, most artists are very cool, even if a review isn’t especially glowing, and very few are anything but kind and polite when I meet them in person.)
Also, and this is mostly for my own curiosity really, why do you avoid social media?
BB: I think I've had maybe one or two weird trollish kind of events, and in both cases I tried to reframe my case for the sake of clarification and when that went nowhere, I just surrendered, which I'm guessing is probably the money shot for most of these boners, so you're welcome. The anonymity of the internet has made self-imagined giantkillers out of intellectual/emotional pipsqueaks, and it has become an occupational hazard for those of us who would dare offer an opinion to a great unwashed mass that now has the means to respond from the bliss of their ignorance at the click of a mouse. On the other hand, it has also given us an opportunity to have fascinating conversations with people who actually relish the thrill of debating divergent opinions without having to declare a winner. A fair trade, I suppose.
My experience with the artists that I review and interview has always been, as you noted, very positive. And when I get introduced to people at shows, events, county fairs, beauty pageants and hog calling contests, and they realize I'm "that guy," they're always overwhelmingly nice, typically working up to a comment that goes, in general, "I've always loved your writing," and it's always nice to hear. A woman recently wrote in with some rather lavish praise about my online coverage of MidPoint, and her compliments were were well received by my always conflicted ego, although I was slightly bemused by this admission: "I've not read any previous articles by Mr. Baker..." So thanks for your kind words on my MidPoint reviewage, and if you're so inclined, there's 20 years of this stuff in the archive. Knock yourself out.
As for my social media blackout, I'm neither Amish nor am I a crotchety old duffer who doesn't understand the platforms and just wants these damn kids to stay out of my internet yard. My avoidance of Facebook has become something of a cause celebre; I didn't join because I couldn't see the benefit weighed against the time involved in posting/monitoring/responding, and now I'm one of a dozen people connected to the modern world who is not on Facebook.
At least part of the reason for the rest of it is the electronic array in the Bunker is just a couple of steps above the radio that the Professor made out of two palm fronds and a coconut shell on Gilligan's Island, and my phone is the Flintstones to everyone else's Jetsons. I have, in fact, grown rather weary of swearing at my 10-year-old Motorola flip phone (I know, I know), and I will soon be upgrading to something more befitting the second decade of the new millennium. And when that happens, I will probably be tweeting and whatnot with the rest of humanity. Until then, you kids stay the hell out of my internet yard.
MB: We often have email exchanges about interviews or stories, behind the scenes stuff, in which you are so hilarious, I’m always tempted to publish them. What have been some of your more disastrous interviews (or attempts to get interviews), either from the standpoint of the conversation with artists themselves or just getting something set up?
For me, the two that jump out both involved alleged “funny men.” I never liked Ween at all, but they were coming to town and I knew a bunch of people (particularly in the CityBeat office at the time) loved them and their publicist was bugging me to do something, so I set up an interview. Both of them were on the phone at the same time and my first question was about the heavy R&B vibe of their then-current single (one of the few songs of theirs I actually liked). For the first question, I just asked if that was a style of music they’d long loved, was it a new thing, did they have favorites — things along that line — and they just mocked me and gave me some mumbled, rude, nonsense answer. I hung up on them (only time I’ve ever done that) and just did a story on someone else.
The other “worst interview” was with Adam Sandler. He was doing a quick phoner with me before his show at Riverbend, which was more of a music-oriented thing than stand-up. I’d been having a bad day and when I called, the publicist couldn’t find him — she’d forgotten that we were supposed to chat. So after he had talked to probably 100 reporters and radio stations that day, the publicist finally tracked him down and I got a few minutes with him and, while he was incredibly nice and polite, he literally gave me a bunch of yes and no answers. I get that the circumstances were weird and understand that comedians aren’t always “on” during phone interviews with altweekly writers, but it still bummed me out that he was such a bad interview subject.
So — horror stories for you?
BB: Oh boy, we're really opening up the crazy box, huh? Honestly, I think I've had more contentious situations with publicists in trying to schedule interviews than I've had with the artists themselves. Sometimes it seems as though flacks think they're on a Secret Service detail to shield their clients from publicity rather than arrange it. There's the never-got-your-call/email/passenger-pigeon ploy, the four-weeks-of-contact-then-schedule-an-ambush-interview-an-hour-before-it-happens gambit and the ever popular ignore-them-and-they'll-go-away device. That said, the majority of publicists I've worked with have been fantastic, and a few of them have become friends that I have shared private life details and long conversations with over the course of our professional relationship. Again, a fair trade. But a few bad apples sure stink up the joint.
If you have copies of those emails, you have a thorough diary of my trials and tribulations with labels and publicists, and I know there are probably stories you're hoping I'll touch on, but I hesitate at actually calling out specific publicists for their attitudes, because I've found that sometimes it's an institutional mindset established by an agency. There are a few flacks who wouldn't give me the time of day when they were representing big names for big companies, but that have bent over backwards to get the job done at smaller agencies. Perspective is everything.
Worst interviews … I’ve been relatively lucky in that department, although I've had a few sort of go off the rails. I was trying to get an interview with Linda Perry, who was coming through on some lower tier festival in the late '90s, and she blew off a couple of scheduled attempts, but the day before deadline, her publicist finally tracked her down and gave me a phone number to reach her; she was shooting pool in the hotel bar where she was staying. I called the number, the bartender answered, then bellowed, "Is there a Linda Perry here?" She answered with a more than curt, "Who the fuck is this?" I was tempted to respond, "I'm the guy they sent to help you with your career. Want to play?" But I introduced myself and we got on with it. At that point, she was more than a little pissed with her label and their lack of support for her first (and I think only) solo album, so a good deal of our time was devoted to that subject. But I finally got her off that ledge and we got about 10 good minutes in before the bartender said, "This is a business line, you can't talk on it." So she said, "I'm heading up to my room, I'll call you right back." Never heard from her again, but I had enough to write a decent piece. I think we went to press with the story and the day it hit the street, the festival was cancelled for low ticket sales.
The other one that was kind of weird was Reverend Horton Heat. I called him at the appointed time, and he seemed a little distracted. I asked one question, and he talked in non-answering circles for about a minute and then shouted, "I can't do this right now!" and hung up. I called the publicist and told her what had happened; she was horrified and said she'd get it sorted out. She called me back about five minutes later and said, "He's having some argument with his manager and he wants you to call him back in three hours." This was back when I was working full time and doing interviews on my lunch hour. I said, "Okay, I'll call him back." So I went back to work for two and a half hours and then beat ass back home. When I got him on the phone the second time, he was completely apologetic and we had a great conversation. I got a lot of yes/no from J. Mascis when I talked to him, but I kept working him until he opened up a bit and it turned out to be fine.
Locally, one of the wildest was with Birdhouse, a Pop/Rock trio in the Raisins/psychodots vein. It was early in CityBeat's history, and you hadn't actually given me an assignment, you just said to just go ahead and do the interview with them in advance so it would be in the can when we needed it. We met at Arlin's, it was a beautiful night, summer maybe, and it was clear from the start, these guys were into anarchy. It was like trying to interview the Three Stooges on angel dust. It was fun, to be sure, but I don't know how much of it would have been worthwhile from a journalistic point of view. At one point, Gregg Martini and Jeff Abbott got up to hit the men's room, grabbed my microcassette off the table and took it into the bathroom with them. The actual feature was never assigned, and I got busy with subsequent real work; to this day, I have no idea what they said or did on or to that tape. Maybe I should get dusted and listen to it.
Comedians have been some of my best interviews (not all of them for CityBeat, of course); Lewis Black, Sam Kinison (who I actually made laugh, maybe one of the high points of my life), Bill Maher and David Cross. I had a great chat with Cross, but when it was winding down, I was apprehensive about carrying out my editor's assignment, which was to ask him to name his personal top five comedy albums. I felt like this was a pretty lame line of questioning, and I said so. "Yeah, that's pretty terrible,” Cross concurred. "How about if I give you my top five mustards?" Brilliant, really.
MB: OK, let’s move it back to a more positive note. What have been your favorite interviews in your time at CityBeat?
Some of my favorites: Talking with Ken Andrews from the band Failure, whose album Fantastic Planet had recently come out and I was obsessed with. I had a huge heroin problem at the time, and it felt like every song on that album was about addiction, but I was also self-aware enough to know that it could have just been me projecting my experience onto it (like how every love song on the radio is about your exact situation when you’re in the middle of a breakup). Ken and I had a great talk about the band and the album, and then I brought up the addiction theme. He paused and I thought, “Oh shit, I was just imagining things,” but then he carefully said something like, “Yes, that’s true that it’s a theme. Certain members of the band have been going through addiction issues.” He acted like it had been the first time he’d been asked about it (it’s since kind of a well-known fact), so I felt kind of proud to have brought it up (and relieved I wasn’t totally insane). That’s always a great moment in an interview — when a subject thinks you “get it,” and they are a little more at ease and open up a bit more (I had in-person chats with Billy Corgan, John and Exene from X and Iggy Pop — pre-CityBeat — that were good examples of this and will always be my favorite interviews).
Another great one was talking to The Ass Ponys backstage at Bogart’s (can’t remember but they may have been opening for Throwing Muses) right around the time they’d signed with A&M Records. They’re just such incredibly nice people and also some of the funniest men I’ve ever met. I just remember it being a great chat. I’ve really enjoyed talking to local musicians for cover stories, because you can chat for a bit longer and get to know people a little better (Bad Veins and 500 Miles to Memphis are two that pop to mind immediately).
And every time I interview local legend Rob Fetters, I revert to the 13-year-old raisins fanatic I was in junior high. Rob’s incredibly nice, thoughtful and funny, so he puts me at ease, but, to this day, when I think, “If Rob Fetters saw me on the street he’d say, ‘Hi,’ and probably have a quick chat with me,” it’s always a “pinch me” moment. Being able to know guys like that (not that we’re buddies or anything, but just to know those people in any capacity) has been one of the greatest things to happen in my 20 years at CityBeat. That and getting to watch The Bears and The Afghan Whigs soundcheck at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards ceremonies they played.
What have been some of you favorite interviews/experiences from working for CityBeat these past two decades?
BB: Iggy Pop? I'm wildly jealous. My teenage shortlist of things to accomplish in life was to smoke a joint with Todd Rundgren, get a guitar lesson from Bill Nelson, play golf with Iggy Pop and sit in a room and stare at Frank Zappa. As an adult, I had to settle for merely interviewing Todd and Bill, thrilling nonetheless. And my jealousy extends to your Ken Andrews interview, and my sympathy to the obvious problem you shared. I have a close family member going through that addiction cycle and it is a pain that knows no depth. I'm glad you came out the other end, my friend.
And I'm right there with you on Rob Fetters. A prince among men and a guitarist's guitarist. Just after moving to Cincinnati in 1982, and at a time when I was missing home and my son and family and friends, and seriously contemplating a move back to Michigan, the couple I was staying with and working for took me up to Shipley's to see The Raisins. I was transformed and my faith that I had come here for a purpose was restored. Every conversation I've had with Rob, and any of the musicians in his orbit at any given moment, has been memorable and life affirming.
Favorite interviews … man, that's like picking your favorite child. I've gotten to talk to so many of my musical heroes; the aforementioned Rundgren and Nelson, Joan Armatrading, Peter Gabriel, Jorma Kaukonen, Russell Mael from Sparks, Led Zep bassist John Paul Jones, Cheap Trick madman Rick Nielsen (who once flipped me off at Bogart's for taking his picture; I had a photo pass), Mountain guitar god Leslie West, the loquacious Peter Wolf from the J. Geils Band (who said to me, "Sincerity is the most important thing in this industry, and when you learn how to fake that, buddy, you got it made..."), the ever brilliant Jules Shear, Tommy Keene, Alejandro Escovedo, Aimee Mann, Steve Wynn, Frank Black, Marianne Faithfull, Alice Cooper (two days after 9/11; we were scheduled the day of the attacks, but obviously pushed it back) and newer icons like The Shins' James Mercer, all of The New Pornographers, Joe Pernice, Mike Doughty, Ryan Adams, Rosanne Cash, Bob Pollard (who I reminisced with from his days as a customer at Wizard Records, when we knew him as "Bob from Dayton") and an unnameable parade of so many others. I've gotten so much from each and every interaction, it's hard to point at any of them as favorites.
And all of my local interviews have been outstanding; again, I vote with you on the Chuck Cleaver ticket. Trying to distill the fabulous chaos that has erupted during every Wussy interview down to a 1,000-word feature is like trying to hammer mercury into a bust of George Washington. We have the absolute best music scene in the country here in Cincinnati, and it's proven every time I sit down with its artists to seriously (and not so seriously) talk about their craft and their dedication. I loves all my music peeps here.
So rather than favorites, maybe I should call out a couple of really memorable moments. One was with the amazing Chuck Cleaver, but it wasn't an interview. I happened to sit down next to him at a CityBeat summer picnic. The year before, the first full year of the paper's operation, I'd done a story on Freedy Johnston; after we'd finished our interview, he asked what paper this was going in and when he heard Cincinnati, he said, "Oh, you guys have The Ass Ponys." I confirmed the fact, and Freedy mentioned that Chuck was his favorite new songwriter. That seemed like a pretty cool quote to include, so I wrote it into the piece. When Chuck and I were introduced at the picnic table, he stopped for a beat and then said, "You wrote the Freedy Johnston piece last year, right?" I said that I had, and Chuck said, "Thanks for that, man, it meant a lot to me." I said, "Well, Freedy was the one who said it, but I accept your thanks on his behalf." Chuck gave me a classic Chuck look, one that I have seen many times over the years, and said, "Duh. I know he said it. But how long did you talk to him? Half an hour? 45 minutes? And how much of that interview did you use in the actual story? Probably not very much. So you chose to put in that bit about Freedy talking about me. You chose. And that's why I'm thanking you. You." And that was perhaps the most important lesson I've every learned about the responsibility involved in doing what we do, the decisions we make as far as the narrative and the direction of the stories we write. I think about that every time I come to a crossroad in a piece I'm writing.
The other wild moment was in 2001, when I was still gainfully employed full time and doing my interviews on my lunch hours. I was supposed to talk to Lucinda Williams for a piece on her Essence album; a couple of earlier attempts at the interview had fallen through and our third attempt was my last chance before deadline. I was a little intimidated, as she has been known to hang up on journalists who she found lacking for whatever reason, and we were at the tail end of the promotional cycle for Essence, so she'd likely heard every question I would ask. After a couple of tries, I got her on the phone and she immediately asked if I could call her back in 10 minutes. I said no problem and hung up. Panicking, I went through my questions and numbered them from first to last in order of importance, because I figured I now would have 20 minutes to talk to her, since interviews are typically booked in 30 minute blocks and the next guy would be calling at the bottom of the hour. When I called Lucinda back, I blew through my questions, and she answered everything in the 20-minute span that we had. I caught my breath and said, "Well, I know you've probably got more of these things to do so I'll let you go." She said, "Nope, I took care of what I needed to do in the 10 minutes you gave me. You're all I've got on my calendar … let's go." And I didn't have a single question left.
So I immediately started sifting through the questions, remembering her answers and thinking about what I would have asked in follow-up if I'd thought I had the time. We talked for another 40 minutes, and I finally had to bail because I had to get back to my day job. Lucinda said in closing, "This might be the best interview I've done for this album. I didn't feel like I was being interrogated, I felt like I was talking with someone who liked what I do and was interested in it. You're really good at this." My creative ego swelled to Muhammad Ali-like proportions and I went back to work walking on air.
An hour later, the human resources director tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I could go down to one of the conference rooms for what I thought might be a brainstorming meeting but instead turned out to be my last day on the job. I walked in, the door was shut behind me and I was greeted by the president of the company, who informed me that my position had been eliminated and I could come back in the morning to clean out my cubicle and after an exit interview, I was walked out the door. All the way home, Lucinda's words were ringing in my ears — “You're really good at this.” When I arrived, I got my wife's attention (I didn't want to drop the bomb in front of our daughter) and told her I'd been fired. She panicked, naturally, and asked what I thought I would do. "I'm not really sure just yet," I said honestly, and then, God love her, she said, "What about writing? That seems to be going pretty well lately."
And so began my ongoing experience in full time freelance journalism. Ups and downs to be sure, but the downs have all been economic, while the ups have been the privilege of being able to have conversations with people who make music about their work and their lives and their feelings and whatever is on their minds. It doesn't get much better than that.
MB: Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how Cincinnati’s music scene has changed in the past 20 years. It’s hard to get my head around it because I think the quality and quantity of musicians seems about the same. I get downloads more than CDs now … and I no longer get cassette releases and demos. The internet is everything. But other than that …
But there does seem to be a bit more audience support for local original artists these days. I’m always amazed when I go to a few different music-related events in one night and there are huge crowds at all of them. It’s like, “Where have these people been?” While there are certainly low turnouts for shows still, the amount seems less these days. Original local music doesn’t seem to hold the same stigma as it did when CityBeat began. Back then, it really felt like, for the general population, if you mentioned going to see a local original band, they’d look at you like you were crazy or make a sour face. It’s been CityBeat’s mission from the start to support local original music, so that was tough and a little frustrating in the old days. It was always mind-boggling to me because I’d loved many local artists (from The Raisins to SS-20 and Human Zoo to The Libertines and Afghan Whigs, who, of course, went national eventually) as much as any national act long before I started writing about local music. To me, having something of that high quality right in our own backyard made it even more alluring.
I don’t know how much credit we deserve for bolstering support for local musicians — I’m sure easy access to fans through social media, more supportive venues and the general growth of downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Northside and other areas has a lot to do with it — but hopefully by writing about local artists right next to and in the same way we wrote about national acts had at least a tiny something to do with the changing perceptions.
I know for a while I primarily had you write about the national touring acts coming to town, but in at least the past decade, I’ve put you on a lot more local musician stories — I think you really excel at them because you get to sit and chat in person vs. just doing a 10-minute phoner and fishing for quotes from the transcripts.
Anyway, any thoughts on how local music has changed in the past 20 years?
BB: Clearly the advent of social media has made its mark on the local music landscape, with posts about where people are (and where other people should be) conceivably driving up attendance numbers. In my book, it doesn't matter how people come to be at a show as long as they're at the show. But I readily agree that we are certainly in the mix as far as CityBeat having a discernible impact on hipping the community to music they should hear and bands they should be following, particularly at the local level. And you make an excellent point about the way the paper has, from the very start, covered local bands with the same depth and passion that has typified our national coverage.
I still have opportunities to cover national acts, but I'm grateful in so many ways that you chose to shift my focus to the local scene. It was a harder beat for me to cover when I was working full time, because I put in so many overtime hours, and my daughter was born four months before CityBeat was launched, and I was writing for a half dozen other outlets outside of the area. It was madness. But I would also point out that my very first published feature in CityBeat was on the local band Lazy, and I was thrilled to be doing a face to face interview with a band, something I hadn't done since writing for The Entertainer in the '80s. It just happened that my writing took me on a path to a handful of small, nationally distributed magazines, and I began making connections at that level, and CityBeat was able to benefit from those relationships. Once I started writing freelance full time, I had a great deal more freedom, in terms of time and energy, to explore and embrace the scene that I had always loved but had to experience through the lens of everything else that took precedence in my life. I like to think I've made up for lost time.
As far as the physical changes in the scene over the past 20 years, I would imagine that you're probably right as far as the number of bands in the scene and the musical proficiency of said bands remaining fairly consistent. I think the thing that has changed the most is the local scene's ability to translate their talent to the recorded medium, and that's a change that has occurred at every local level across the country and around the world. A lot of really great bands back in the day could only afford enough studio time to crank out two songs for a 7-inch or a few more for an EP, and they weren't always mixed properly and weren't necessarily the best representation of a band's true sonic fingerprint.
These days, local studios are every bit as sophisticated, in gear and personnel, as their counterparts on either coast and a fair amount of bands have invested in good mics and nice laptops and can record tracks in their basements that do not bear the technical limitations of basements past. Once that professional bar was cleared, it paved the way for more radio exposure which led to a higher profile and greater fan bases and more outside interest in our little big scene. I think that a lot of those adverse reactions to the idea of local music in the '80s and '90s were holdovers from a time when the local scene was perceived as being populated by either cover bands with no greater ambitions than to be human jukeboxes churning out the hits of the day or true original talents whose gifts were lost in badly tracked recordings and the poor acoustics of clubs whose only aim was to have the highest possible body count.
And I would also reiterate a point that I have made consistently about the Cincinnati music scene over the three decades that I have been witness to it. I sincerely believe that the greatest components of the music community in this area are the camaraderie and cooperation between bands here that does not exist in other, more cutthroat scenes in other parts of the country, as well as the fact that so many people in the greater Cincinnati scene have been inspired by its artists and bands to pick up instruments and make their own unique kind of music, not a weak copy of someone they love, but a blazingly original hybrid of their influences (local, regional, national and international) and their own singular perspectives. That is what I have always loved and will always love about the music and musicians in and around Cincinnati.
MB: So, so true about the originality of so much of local music. It’s been like that seemingly forever. And those are the bands/artists who are still remembered and whose music endures. The ones that did start just to mimic the sound du jour and get a record deal seemed to fade away pretty quickly. I never really connected with those kinds of bands because it seemed like their goal was more to get the hell out of Cincinnati and be superstars.
So to wrap things up, I’d just like to thank you for being such a great partner in creating the music section of CityBeat every week. I hope you know how much I appreciate your willingness to take on almost any project, your excellent “making deadline” track record and your quality work for what admittedly isn’t the greatest freelance pay in the land (but it beats Everybody’s News’, right?). You’ve been a hugely important part of the paper for its entire existence and I’ve not only enjoyed working with you, I’ve learned a lot from you from a writing standpoint.
You got another 20 years in you?
BB: When Fox told me that he was bringing you on as Music Editor, I knew that he was serious about making music a priority in CityBeat because he'd made a damn good decision at the top of the food chain. I would never have bet that the two of us would still be working together on a weekly basis a couple of decades later, but I couldn't be happier that it has come to pass. And that learning thing goes both ways, my friend. You've gifted me with uncountable assignments on artists that I had virtually no knowledge of prior to writing about them in our pages and I've never been disappointed, in the music or the conversation I've had with the people who made it. The pleasure and the honor has been all mine.
20 more years? Hell to the yeah. With the amount of new music being released every day and the technological sophistication along the distribution chain, there's no lack of things to cover and ways to make it happen, and with the advances in medical science, there may actually be a way to keep me animated and engaged for that long or longer. As I say to my wife on a fairly regular basis, if you're willing to keep me around, I'm in for the long haul. Thanks to you and everyone at the best Beat in town for the past — and the next — 20 years.
And yes, that is both a threat and a promise.