RM: Okay, we’re back. This Calvados is killer.
ARC: Yeah, it’s a nice change, isn’t it? I usually do wine with dinner and vodka when clubbing or fucking. I don’t play much with cordials or brandies unless I want a cigar.
RM: Nice image.
ARC: (Laughs.) Men do get turned on by a woman with a cigar. Maybe it’s a reverse-Clinton kind of thing.
RM: Let’s get back to music. Fast.
ARC: If we must.
RM: Do you think rock is dying?
ARC: Bad question. It’s dead—or as dead as it was in ’63. There are some great rockers out there today—Beach Day, Sugar Stems, The Connection, Kurt Baker, Rah Rah, West Water Outlaws—and they’re all struggling to be heard.
RM: Why do you think that is?
ARC: Because music has become a consumable, just like tomatoes and peanut butter. Because three very large companies control what gets attention and what doesn’t. Because it’s all about the money and manipulating the morons who need music to reinforce their fragile identities—there’s a genre or sub-genre for every fucking neurosis in the human psyche. Because of the astonishing greed of the artists who cross over into stardom. Did you see that cunt Taylor Swift pulled her songs from Spotify because she made less than a penny a spin? Bitch makes $200 million a year, gets two million from Spotify and tries to hide behind “the artist deserves to get paid for their work” principle. People! How much money do you fucking need? The musicians or the moguls—it doesn’t matter—once they hit a certain level they all become a bunch of greedy fucks trying to exploit the stupidity of the masses. Even most of the so-called indies are playing the same game—classic niche marketing. Artistic integrity is a rare thing these days.
RM: This trend isn’t unique to music, of course.
ARC: Fuck no! Music, sports, politics—nearly every aspect of society is corrupted by greed and a lack of social consciousness. It’s not quite as bad in Europe—except for our overpaid footballers—but American entertainment trends have a lot of influence everywhere. With music, though, it really hurts—both on an emotional and social level. The audience for music today is conformist and dull. They have no use for rock because what drives rock ‘n’ roll is non-conformist energy—the freedom you feel when you say fuck the inhibitions, rules and regulations. People are fat, dumb and happy with their silly thrill-based entertainment and electronic playthings. Shit, even the Chinese have figured out you can oppress people more effectively with consumerism than with guns. Anyway, the problem with music today, art today, society today—can be summed up in three words: conformity, consumerism and greed. Huh. I wonder if I could make that alliterative. Is there a synonym for greed that starts with a “c?”
RM: Uh, yeah—it’s, it’s . . . cupidity.
ARC: You’re kidding. It would work if anyone knew what it meant—the rhyme with stupidity is serendipitous! I wonder how cupidity became associated with greed? Cupid—arrows—love—how does that become greed and not lust? I’m not up on Greek mythology.
RM: Sorry, I don’t have my O. E. D. handy.
ARC: That’s okay. I’ll research it myself—I love stuff like that.
RM: But there are still some musicians who get it, aren’t there?
ARC: Yes—some who haven’t made it yet or the ones who made it a long time ago and have learned that money and fame don’t measure an artist’s value. It will be interesting to see what happens to St. Vincent—I said that her album was going to turn out to be the best album of the year and I just read that even the wimps at N. M. E. agreed with me. But I’ve seen signals from her tweets and Facebook posts that it’s all going to her head. And she was nominated for a Grammy, which is usually the kiss of death.
RM: I hate to keep pressing, but shouldn’t the state of music today make it even more important that you keep writing about it?
ARC: Robert, Robert, Robert. You’re being silly. I was getting about 6000 hits a month and about half that in new visitors. AllMusic, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone—they all get millions of visits a week. I’m not even listed in the top fifty music blogs, and the top blog on that list gets around 100K new visitors a month—thirty times what I get. If you google up that list, you’ll see that it’s full of niche music blogs defined by genre or even artist—there’s a Jimmy Fucking Buffett music blog in the top ten. I don’t fit into any of the categories—I have broad and diverse interests, which makes me perfectly useless in a world where people define themselves by the box they’ve crawled into. I could write until I’m old and wrinkly and never change a thing. There are thousands of music bloggers and podcasters out there. Who needs The Alt Rock Chick?
RM: The short answer is “the people who care about quality.”
ARC: And I wish more of them would have visited my website and revealed their existence. I might have continued had I felt there was a strong and growing core of people who really cared about and thought hard about music and engaged with me more often. But that never came to pass, and when you’re writing in the dark for a handful of admirers, it’s really an exercise in vanity, isn’t it? I want to put my energy into something that matters—that’s what you’re doing with that nonprofit, isn’t it?
RM: Yes, but there are many ways to make a difference, and I think you may have quit too soon. I’ve read most of the comments on your reviews and I was amazed at how many people wrote about how you helped them discover new music or rediscover music they’d forgotten about. Music is timeless—there are decades full of great music left for you to explore.
ARC: Technically speaking, you’re correct. I barely touched the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and the R&B of the early 50’s. Even in the barren 80’s there were underground artists who did some pretty cool stuff that no one paid attention to. But like I said, it would be an exercise in vanity. Only a very few people care about that stuff. Most people are attached to the music of their teens, often one particular artist. That’s their brand and they’re brand loyalists. I read or heard somewhere recently that the human instinct for survival isn’t half as strong as the human need for familiarity. When you’re dealing with something like music—something that people identify with very, very strongly—people have made up their minds and they’re not going to change. I’m constantly amazed at the Baby Boomers who hate Oasis. If Oasis had been a British invasion band, they would have loved them. It took my father years to accept that the post-punk rockers of the 90’s were doing some pretty good stuff—he was clinging to his almost religious belief that if it didn’t come out of the 60’s, it was shit. The Alt Rock Chick fought an uphill battle against familiarity on many levels—my gender, my non-standard-issue writing style and my . . . brazen sexuality (laughs). But the hardest thing I had to overcome was the simple truth that people are comforted by the music that is familiar to them and they cherish that comfort. No way was I going to win that one.
RM: I’m not so sure. Because of that desire for the familiar, change takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. You need patience; people need to find you; you need to let word-of-mouth do its thing.
ARC: I think I’ve given it time—I put three years of my life into this. Last month a reader commented that he noticed that I put a lot of myself into my work, and he’s right. It was a full commitment—I gave it my all. The blog was a major life priority and I put other things on hold to pull it off. But there comes a time when you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it, if you’re really making a difference or just indulging in fantasy. I decided that The Alt Rock Chick was never going to be a vehicle for change or for re-evaluation of common wisdom about music, and I didn’t want it to become a self-indulgent hobby.
RM: How many years did The Beatles toil in obscurity before they made it? Five, six?
ARC: (Laughs.) Oh, Robert, you can’t compare what I was trying to do to a phenomenon that spawned a cultural revolution. I’m not that narcissistic. (Laughs.)
RM: Okay, bad comparison. But I think you should give it a little more time. I really think you can make a difference. Everyone I know hates Rolling Stone and all those sites you mention. People want fresh perspectives on music, because even though the quality isn’t what it was, people still care about it—and a lot of people I know are exploring the past because what’s coming out today just isn’t very good.
ARC: (Lights a cigarette, takes a couple of drags before responding.) Everyone bitches about Rolling Stone but they still buy it. When I lived here, everyone bitched about reality TV but they still watched it. I’m too out of the mainstream—too unfamiliar. People don’t want fresh perspectives, they want to hear people who think like they think, who share their tastes.
RM: But . . .
ARC: Let’s agree to disagree and move on.
RM: Not yet. You know I want to pin you down about doing a book.
ARC: (Sighs.) I really appreciate your admiration and your support, but a book would be a hideous waste of time. No agent is going to want to read my stuff because I’m an anonymous nobody, so that means self-publishing, and as you know from personal experience, that’s a billion-to-one shot no matter how good your book is. The market is flooded with self-published authors and music bloggers, so why would anyone want to read a book from a nobody who already gave away her work for free? Maybe ten people would buy it, and two of them are my parents. You’re not being logical. Even if I gave it away, it wouldn’t draw much of an audience. Vanity press material.
RM: I’m well aware of the challenge—it’s just that I have to believe that quality can still rise to the top.
ARC: And I love you for that. And your mustache. But really, the hassle factor with a book is off the charts. The reviews only exist on the blog, so I’d have to copy and paste something like three hundred reviews, format the fuck out of them, organize them into something coherent, and then I’d get sucked into wanting to rewrite some of the early reviews and tweak the others and add a few to fill some holes—all to sell ten books? It sounds boring and unproductive. I did my thing, the public has spoken, and I have more important things to do with my life.
RM: You are one stubborn bitch.
ARC: Thank you!
RM: I could help with . . .
ARC: Robert, move on. It ain’t gonna happen. (Lowers her voice to do a Johnny Depp imitation.) Fuhgeddaboudit!
RM: We’ll see.
ARC: (Laughs.) You’re lucky I didn’t pack my whip collection.
RM: Like I said, we’ll see. Changing gears, though . . . any chance you’ll move back to the USA?
ARC: There’s always a chance, but I think it’s infinitesimally small. Europe would have to collapse. Barring that, I’ll tell you what—I’ll move back when Americans ban guns, outlaw football, stop believing that money is free speech, close all their overseas military bases, accept gay marriage nationwide, adopt socialism and implement a steeply progressive income tax that will rid the country of billionaires. And get religion out of politics. Think any of that will happen in my lifetime? (Laughs.)
RM: Pretty unlikely.
ARC: I really feel more comfortable in Europe, and I do mean Europe. I’m not particularly tied to France—I love it there, but I can see living elsewhere on the continent sometime in the future after my parents enter The Great Beyond. I don’t think that’s going to happen for a while because moving to France has rejuvenated them: I spent the holidays with them and they look ten years younger! Europe has its problems—the recovery has been glacial, and there are major issues with immigration and assimilation. But even with all those problems, socialism values people more than money and guns, and so do I. ‘Nuff said.
RM: What do you feel when you come back to the States?
ARC: (Thinks.) It’s not so much a feeling as a sensation. It’s very loud here. Noticeably loud. The sounds, the colors, the buzz, the television—it’s a very noisy place. It feels like everyone is crying for attention.
RM: (Checks notes.) This won’t be a very smooth transition, but I’m getting hungry. Let me get to my closing questions.
ARC: Good. I’m getting hungry, too. I get grumpy when I’m hungry.
RM: Take me through what you learned about music during your experience as The Alt Rock Chick.
ARC: That’s a pretty broad question!
RM: Okay. If you could summarize the last century of music in a paragraph, what would you say?
ARC: (Laughs.) On jet lag and Calvados? I don’t think I can come up with anything as clever as Miles Davis: “The history of jazz can be written in four words: Louis Armstrong Charlie Parker.” Well, Miles was right in saying that everything began with Louis Armstrong, and that outside of folk traditions, black music—blues, jazz, early R&B—is the source of pretty much everything we hear today, whether you’re talking about rock, soul or fucking rap and hip-hop. When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis made it popular, but the guys who really had the most influence were Chuck Berry and Little Richard—Berry because of his guitar and his lyrics; Richard because of his let-it-the-fuck-out energy. There’s almost an equation there: Little Richard plus Chuck Berry plus The Everly Brothers equals The Beatles. The way rock absorbed other influences over the years was a critical development that made it the dominant form of music for thirty-plus years, but every so often it needs to get back to its rough, raucous, sexy roots. That hasn’t happened since the mid 90’s with Oasis and the post-punk bands, so right now rock is in serious trouble. That’s sad, because rock is the music of rebellion, and we need more rebels right now. This world is becoming a health-Nazi, fear-driven, brain-sucking, follow-the-lemming-ahead-of-you bore.
RM: What else did you learn?
ARC: I have a deeper appreciation for Patti Smith’s influence—none of those broads in the early 90’s would have been possible without Patti Smith. My admiration for Richard Thompson and Ray Davies was already high, but it grew by leaps and bounds when I listened to them in the context of their times—I think Keith Johnstone said that to be an artist in this culture you have to be a very stubborn person, and both of them had that blessed stubbornness. I forgive Ray his have-a-good-time Arista period because what he did from Face to Face through Schoolboys in Disgrace was high quality and way out of the mainstream. June Tabor falls into that category as well—a stubborn, timeless artist. I’m delighted that many of the real innovators in music today are women—Amanda Palmer, PJ Harvey, St. Vincent—and there are some really talented women who deserve more attention—Sasha Dobson, Kimmy Drake, Sammy Witness, Kate Lynne Logan. That’s promising.
RM: Let’s talk about the artists you covered in-depth that you haven’t mentioned. The Rolling Stones.
ARC: Superb and thoughtful musicians for about seven or eight years. Pathetic now.
RM: The Beatles.
ARC: Impossible to assess due to the overwhelming adulation of the Baby Boomers. They had four-and-a-half great years and then went sour. While I think they were great during their peak and obviously influential in thousands of ways, I also think they’re somewhat overrated. If someone named Leo Bumblestilts had produced the shit McCartney, Lennon and Harrison did in their solo careers, no one would remember Leo Bumblestilts. They all rode on the coattails of Beatlemania, and still do today. Trying to critique The Beatles is an impossible task for Baby Boomers, as Mark Lewisohn’s incredibly biased biography-in-progress has proven. Calling “My Bonnie” one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll records ever is probably the most stupid comment I’ve ever read.
RM: Wait. Was that “Bumblestilts?”
ARC: (Laughs.) I don’t know! I made it up! You’ve got the recording—figure it out. I enunciate pretty clearly.
RM: You do, but I do detect a hint of a French accent now—a little more pronounced than it was before.
ARC: Well, duh!
RM: Jethro Tull.
ARC: Love Martin Barre. Ian Anderson is part genius, part maniac. Another stubborn artist.
RM: The Who.
ARC: Townshend’s ego kept getting in the way, but when they were on and kept their sense of humor, they were terribly exciting.
RM: The Moody Blues.
ARC: (Laughs.) My mother made me do them! I plead The Fifth!
RM: Any other artists you wish you could have explored more extensively?
ARC: I would have done more Richard Thompson: four reviews is pathetic. June Tabor as well. Uh . . . Lou Reed for sure. I had a few more Miles Davis albums lined up—I find his musical development terribly fascinating. Same with Monk. No one makes me happier than Monk. I would have liked to finish Cream, Hendrix and Pink Floyd, and I wish I’d done at least one Butterfield album. (Laughs.) Perversely, I could have done wonders with In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Even though my reviews of women artists didn’t do well, I really wanted to do more PJ Harvey, Ani DiFranco and the first three St. Vincent albums—-not the detour with David Byrne, though. I don’t think I would have done any more Joni Mitchell, as her work is terribly uneven and she overdoes it with the “je suis artiste” message. I really should have done more Robert Fripp. Shame on me for that. A very stubborn artist.
RM: Still no desire to go deep into Dylan?
ARC: No, but I do appreciate him more than I did three years ago. So much has been written about Dylan that I don’t think I could have added much of interest. I still loathe his voice, and when it comes to 60’s folkies, I’ll take Phil Ochs any time.
RM: So even with all this unfinished business, there’s no way we’ll hear from The Alt Rock Chick again?
ARC: Oh, I’ll keep posting some of my better reviews on 50thirdand3rd and I might review the new Rah Rah album when it comes out this spring if really knocks my socks off—but for all practical purposes, The Alt Rock Chick is on life support. I’d rather just be myself now—I mean, everything on that blog is me, but somehow it’s not me. Do you know what I mean?
RM: I’m not sure.
ARC: One thing that became more and more uncomfortable as time went on was the anonymity. I did it to protect my privacy and my job, but it made the experience feel strange and disconnected. It was like I had developed a second self; there was the real me, then there was this other person called The Alt Rock Chick who was me but not really me. Am I making sense?
RM: Go with that.
ARC: (Sighs, lights a cigarette, exhales, thinks.) I don’t know, it felt a little dishonest, disconnected . . . like I would “connect” (Raises hands to denote quotation marks) with people on the blog and on Twitter but never in an entirely satisfying, real way. There were good reasons to use the pen name—it preserved my integrity as a critic and maintained my privacy—but after a while it felt . . . draining.
RM: Well, now that you don’t have a job to protect and you’re not going to be writing anymore, why not let it go?
ARC: (Takes a drag, pauses.) Let me think about that. I just changed my last name, so I really don’t exist anymore. I don’t have a job to protect. I’m moving in a couple of months. Hmm. Okay, but let’s do this right. Give me the mike. (I disconnect the mike from the stand and hand it to her. She stands up, brings the microphone close to her lips, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.) Bonjour a tous! Hello, everyone! My name is Arielle Daniau, formerly known as The Alt Rock Chick. Merci et adieu! Thank you and goodbye! (Pauses, smiles, hands me the mike.) That felt good! Not quite the power of an orgasm, but satisfying in a strange way. The recording won’t be good enough for a podcast, will it?
RM: I doubt it. Too echoey.
ARC: Too bad. I nailed my line!
RM: I’m really going to miss you.
ARC: We’ll stay in touch. Come see me in Nice. May’s the best time.
RM: I’ll remember that. No, I know we’ll stay in touch—but I’m going to miss seeing that email in my inbox announcing a new review from The Alt Rock Chick.
ARC: (Sings in a lovely coloratura.) “To everything, turn, turn, turn/There is a season, turn, turn, turn.” Or I could sing, “We’ve had some good times, pal . . .” It’s been fun, a great experience and now it’s time to have other kinds of great experiences.
RM: Thank you.
ARC: You’re welcome. Thank you! Ready to eat?
RM: Sounds great.
I followed her into the kitchen and she waved me over to a small booth like you see in a diner just off the kitchen. “I don’t like people in my space when I cook,” she explained, “But we can still talk.”
We did a half hour of small talk that ended when she carried two plates of steaming tagine that turned out to be one of the best meals I’d ever had. She acknowledged my praise with a smile and said, “Niçoise mother, love Moroccan, no big deal.” We drank a wonderful bottle of Cahors wine she had brought from France and chatted about a variety of things. I observed at one point that I knew very few people who had gone through as much change as she had during the last few years. She laughed and said, “Yeah, but what helped me get through it was sticking to my priorities—sex, music and baseball. I wouldn’t have made it without MLB.TV.”
After we cleaned up, she made a pot of French press and led me back to the living room. Over coffee (for me) and wine (for her), we had one of those great conversations that cause you to forget about the clock, and wound up talking until well after midnight. We discussed poetry, literature, art, dance, religion, pop culture, baseball, sex (in the philosophical sense), family and her long-term commitment with her female partner. I asked if they had any thoughts of getting married now that France had legalized gay marriage, and she wrinkled her nose and said, “Maybe when we’re old fucks and have to protect our assets, but we’re not the marrying kind.” She also emphasized that neither her nor her partner consider themselves gay, but bisexual, and that society hasn’t really come up with a satisfactory solution for those who “swing from both sides of the plate.”
I wished I’d left the recorder on, as her views on life are noticeable for their unusual clarity—but I did manage to type out a few nuggets on my laptop. For example, when discussing religion, she said, “I don’t know how anyone living today can believe that those guys who started the major religions had a higher level of consciousness. How can you have a higher level of consciousness and view women as sub-human baby makers? How can it be okay to attack and enslave non-believers? And how can it be okay to ever believe that your culture or your beliefs are superior to another and that you need to convert the infidels? There’s more higher consciousness on display in a Star Trek episode than in any fucking religion.” On her sexual philosophy: “Not everyone is sexual or should be sexual, so even though I put it out there, I’m not saying that sexual pleasure is the path to enlightenment for everybody. My basic belief is that all sex should be freely and consciously chosen by both parties. Pedophiles and rapists are not only sick but fundamentally immoral, unethical beings.”
When I finally noticed the time and said I had to go to work in a few hours, she said, “Holy shit, I have to catch a flight in a few hours!” She explained that she had originally been scheduled to stay an entire week but once she learned she had lost her job, she moved up her departure. “I’m sorry I did that—I would have liked to talk some more,” she said graciously. At the door, she gave me a big tight hug and while holding me said, “I really appreciate your belief in me.” When I stepped back from her embrace I was surprised to see a tear or two rolling down her cheeks. “Come see me in Nice—that’s an order!” she said, laughing away the tears. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied, and as I drove off I saw her waving from the front porch with that beautiful smile on her face, a smile permanently imprinted in my memory.
As it turned out, Arielle arrived in Paris around 7 a.m. the morning of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I emailed her as soon as I heard about it and she replied over the weekend. Here’s an excerpt.
“I was sound asleep in our apartment when it happened, but my partner left work early to bring me the news. After watching TV for a while, it was obvious that Paris was going to be hell for the next few days so I called the office, told my staff to do what they thought was best for themselves and their families, then booked a train for Nice. I called the people in corporate and told them we had to delay the firing announcement for a few weeks, and they were okay with that. Paris is going to be on high alert for a while and we really don’t want to go back until that’s over.
“We participated in the silent demonstration today in Nice. There were some anti-immigrant rumblings in the crowd—this is the more right-leaning part of France—but for the most part people were simply mourning the victims and honoring freedom of expression. Very touching.
“If you decide to come visit this year, I’d suggest flying into Switzerland. The Swiss are probably the only people in Europe who haven’t pissed off the radicals—at least yet. I think the fear is going to linger here for a long time, just like it did in the States after 9/11, and once fear takes hold, you never know how ugly things can get.
“It’s all so silly, so senseless, so stupid. You were so right when you wrote that we have to stop killing each other before we can make any progress. So obvious a solution, but so elusive.
“Nous sommes tous Charlie,