Conversations with The Alt Rock Chick, Part 2

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I'll always remember that beautiful smile.

I’ll always remember that beautiful smile.

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. 

Postscript

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,

Ari”

Conversations with The Alt Rock Chick, Part 1

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The picture that greeted you when you visited altrockchick.com will be vanishing soon.

The picture that greeted you when you visited altrockchick.com will be vanishing soon.

Unlike the first time I interviewed The Alt Rock Chick a couple of years ago, there were no complications or intrigue. She called me when she arrived in Seattle, gave me the address of the home where she was staying and invited me over for dinner Monday after work. I asked her why she wasn’t staying at a hotel on the company’s dime and she responded with some pique, “Because I couldn’t find a fucking smoking room in Seattle.” She explained she was staying in a guesthouse belonging to her Aunt Pug, a family member introduced in her acerbic review of Big Brother’s Cheap Thrills album.

After a choppy drive through the traffic that usually accompanies a rainy Seattle evening, I arrived in Ballard, a neighborhood on the upper west side of the city. The house turned out to be a smallish Craftsman with a small, covered front porch that allowed me to shake some of the raindrops from my parka before knocking. Just as I was about to announce my presence, I could hear her playing something on a piano, a jazz piece I couldn’t identify. I listened for a while, marveling at her obvious command of the keyboard, waiting patiently for a pause in the music. It came when she apparently missed a run, pounded both ends of the piano and shouted, “Fuck!”

She opened the door with a flourish and a smile, gave me a big hug and smack on my cheek, then led me into a cozy living room with a not-quite-blazing fireplace. She was dressed for winter in a full black blouse, a multi-colored calf-length skirt and short black boots; once again, I was struck by her beauty, grace and sheer presence—her personality fills the space without the slightest effort. The decor was nothing like the sleek and sophisticated furnishings of her old abode; the look was more “funky,” as if it were furnished with whatever was left over from a remodeling. I commented on the difference, and she explained that her aunt bought it years ago for her parents to stay when visiting. “They never really got along, so she stuck them on the other side of the lake with a bunch of second-hand furniture.” She pointed me to a comfy chair with an ottoman and while I unloaded my gear I confessed that I had been eavesdropping on her performance. She laughed and said, “You didn’t hear much—I’m really off my game and the piano is seriously out of tune.” I asked her what the piece was and she identified it as “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” by Thelonious Monk, from the Straight, No Chaser album.

She then asked if we could do the interview before dinner because she’d become accustomed to dining later in the evening since moving to France. I said that was fine. She excused herself and returned in a moment and returned with a tray of hors d’oeuvres. “To tide you over,” she explained. She again left the room and returned in a few seconds with two brandy snifters. 

“Close your eyes,” she ordered. “I have a present for you.”

I have to be honest and confess that I had a flash of hope that I’d open my eyes and she’d be standing there in leather lingerie, but in a minute or two I felt a heavy glass bottle in my hands. “Okay, open up!” she said, and there was a bottle of Calvados, an apple brandy from Normandy that I told her I’d been curious about. “It’s Pays d’Auge—the good stuff!” I thanked her profusely, probably in a lame attempt to clear the sexual fantasy out of my mind.

“Let’s crack it open,” I suggested, so she opened the bottle and poured us both a drink. She then placed the food near me, sat at the end of a mismatched sofa facing me, lit a cigarette and said, “Let’s rock.”

RM: I hate to open with a cliché, but you look positively radiant!

ARC: I should! I got fired today!

RM: Ah! Well, uh . . . congratulations!

ARC: Thank you!

RM: It’s kind of weird congratulating you on losing your job.

ARC: (Laughs.) Yeah, but it’s the best thing that ever happened to me! I kind of had a sense it was coming, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

RM: You’ll have to explain.

ARC: Did you read the post where I turned down their offer to come back to the States? (I nodded.) So, about a month later I got a call from the CEO’s EA saying that they wanted me to come to the home office for a meeting in January. I asked why, and she gave some bullshit about a strategy meeting. That didn’t make sense since we’d just had the strategy meeting in Paris, so I called her on it. She tried to explain that this was supposed to be a “deeper dive,” but her voice didn’t sound right—I don’t know—there was something in her tone that told me she was blowing her lines. My partner and I talked it over and figured that because I turned down the offer they were going to force me out—you know, the old “not a team player” thing. Sure enough, I went to the office this morning and they lowered the boom. It took every bit of fiber in my being not to giggle! I was thrilled!

RM: Well, I knew you didn’t want the job, but I hate to see anyone get canned.

ARC: (Shakes her head.) No, no, you don’t understand. They replaced me with a guy so they gave me a year’s salary so I wouldn’t sue them for discrimination! A whole year! Fuck, it’s like I won the lottery! (Laughs.) I thought they’d just tell me that I was gone when my contract was up, but apparently the legal department got paranoid or something. Fuck yeah!

RM: So, are you unemployed or are you finishing out the contract? What are you going to do next?

ARC: I’m getting paid, but I only have to go in on an as-needed basis. I do have to go back and tell my team that they won’t have jobs in a few months and that sucks. Those people have been great to me, and the timing is awful—the French economy is in the dumper right now. I hate to have to do it, but they’d rather hear it from me than from some empty suit from corporate. They want to relocate the European head office to Switzerland, but they’re going to have a bitch of a time getting out of France and it serves them right. The government will rake them over the coals before they go. I love socialism.

RM: And then?

ARC: We’ll move to Nice in April. The extra pay gives us a few more options and some more time to figure out what we want to do. I’m thinking nonprofits—“associations” in France. I’m really sick of business.

RM: But you were apparently exceptionally good at it.

ARC: Yeah, isn’t that something? I just find it so easy and so fucking obvious. It’s really not that complicated. What complicates business is egomania, not the work itself. Any moron could have done what I did.

RM: Well, you’re just full of endings lately.

ARC: What—oh, you mean The Alt Rock Chick.

RM: So, you’re really done this time?

ARC: With the blog? Absolutely.

RM: Any chance you’ll change your mind?

ARC: No, I’m afraid not. I’ve moved on.

RM: Now that sucks.

ARC: Aww, that’s sweet.

RM: Now that you’ve had some time to think about it, can you shed a little more light about why you decided to stop writing reviews?

ARC: Not much more than what I said in the goodbye message. I think I just got tired of hearing my own voice.

RM: So it had nothing to do with the stats.

ARC: Not at all. The number of hits doubled in 2014. I was almost semi-popular!

RM: Come on, then. There has to be more. Maybe that’s denial on my part, but I really loved reading your reviews. You made me laugh, you made me think about music in different ways and I loved the energy you put into the writing.

ARC: (Laughs.) You’re just full of sweet talk tonight, aren’t you? Keep it up and you might get lucky! (Takes a drag, puts out her cigarette and takes a sip of her brandy.) Look. You know I’ve never considered myself much of a writer. I’m glad I got to experience what writers go through—the moments when the words just seem to flow and the moments when translating thoughts to language becomes like a puzzle you have to solve—but I think my writing skills would be considered quite average in any era except this one. Anyway, I like doing and talking better than writing.

RM: But there had to be more to it than just “getting tired of your own voice.”

ARC: (Sighs.) I don’t think so. In any job, there are things you like and things that irritate you, but the irritations were relatively minor in comparison to the bullshit you face on a real job.

RM: Like?

ARC: Well, I’m an extrovert, so the lack of interaction was disappointing. One day my stats page caught my eye because it showed round numbers: 90,000 hits, 2,000 comments. In most blogs, those numbers would be reversed. And even though my hits doubled this year, the number of comments actually went down. For whatever reason, I couldn’t get people to engage in discussion, and I think I needed that to keep me going. Sometimes I felt like I was writing a diary in the dark. When someone popped in out of the ether to make a comment it was like getting a blast of oxygen. I wish it had happened more often, but it didn’t.

RM: What else?

ARC: Some of the comments were stunningly mean and hurtful–misogynistic, insulting, mean-spirited, very disturbing. One thing I learned is that most music fans are no different from football fans—you dis their team in any way and they get very aggressive. Or they’re like the Communists when they were in power: dogmatic purists on the lookout for any deviation from the party line. I could write a glowing review about an album, mention that I didn’t care for one song, and all I heard about was that one song and “What the fuck is the matter with you, bitch?” People! Musicians are not perfect! Fuck! You’d think I’d stripped them of their identity or something.

RM: Any other irritants?

ARC: I hated the time lag. I’d write a review I was really proud of, hit the “Publish” button, and no one would read it for days. I hate delayed gratification.

RM: (Laughs.) That was pretty obvious from your “touch of erotica” commentary.

ARC: (Laughs.) I’m sure my sexuality and the fact I integrated it into my reviews pissed off or confused a lot of people, but that’s who I am. Bisexuals tend to cause both genders to flip out and most men really resent a dominant woman despite popular fantasies to the contrary. One guy who didn’t like one of my reviews accused me of penis envy—that I wanted to be a man (Laughs.)! Shit, I wouldn’t want one of those silly looking things dangling from my crotch! Sorry—no offense. I think I wrote somewhere that I find penises useful at times.

RM: Thanks for the clarification. During the Great Broads series, you pointed out that music criticism is a male-dominated field. How much do you think that impacted your numbers?

ARC: Oh, it might have had something to do with it, but who knows? My numbers were down during that series, but I’m glad I did it anyway. I was blown away by how many of the women I reviewed suffered some kind of trauma—rape, beatings, homelessness, childhood neglect. That series wasn’t much fun, but it was educational.

RM: Last year you did volunteer work in a domestic violence center in the Ivory Coast—you said you might write about someday but you never did.

ARC: No, I didn’t. Neither blog was really a vehicle for that kind of thing. I spent hours talking about the experience with my partner and my mother, trying to get my head around it, and wound up at square one: the mix of male insecurity, male physical strength and a male-dominated society is a deadly combination for women. Even if I had a venue for that kind of writing, what would be the point? It’s going to take a lot more than a blog post to change centuries of male entitlement grounded in religion, tradition and law.

RM: When you decided to close the blog the first time, it was because you felt you didn’t have enough influence to help under-appreciated new artists. Did that have anything to do with your decision this time?

ARC: Not at all. I reset my expectations after that—actually, I reset my whole approach to the blog. When I started the blog I wanted to write about current music to support some of the Seattle artists I was following when I lived here. The only reason I started doing classic reviews was to fill the time between new releases that I thought were worth reviewing, and there were very few of those. After a while my desire to explore popular music history took hold, and so when I decided to continue, I made classic reviews the priority. My style had also changed—when I read my early reviews, they’re very short—they feel inadequate to me. Once I decided to be more thorough, I killed any chance I had of going viral and getting a huge audience.

RM: Why do you say that?

ARC: People don’t have time to read my stuff. They like short, punchy reviews full of shorthand comparisons to other artists that help them decide whether to buy the fucking record or not. All the blogging experts say, “Keep it short,” and I tried to do that at first, but after a while it felt like cheating. I suppose you could say I fucked myself by being stubborn about it, but I wanted to be respectful to the artists by giving their work serious and thorough consideration. Guess that made me a fucking dinosaur at thirty-three! (Laughs.) People today are too impatient and too instant-gratification-oriented to want to deal with anything that sucks up their time.

RM: Let’s flip the perspective. What did you enjoy most about the blog?

ARC: (Lights another cigarette.) Oh, that’s easy. I didn’t get many comments, but I had about ten or so regulars who wrote some absolutely brilliant and insightful stuff. It was wonderful to get confirmation that there are still a handful of people who love music and take it seriously. I loved it when I had a flash of insight now and again—that was cool, getting into that zone where the words just tumble off your fingertips. And when I got messages from artists who appreciated the fact that I really listened carefully to their stuff—that was very gratifying.

RM: Looking back at what you’ve accomplished, which reviews do you think were your best?

ARC: Robert, you know I’ve said that artists are the worst judges of their work, so I can’t answer that question. I’ll tell you which ones I had the most fun writing, though.

RM: Go for it.

ARC: Even though it was incredibly all-consuming, I loved writing The Psychedelic Series. I was really into that one, adding albums to the list as I went, shaping the whole—I really wanted to do the period justice. I can’t believe I started the series without even thinking about Woodstock, but I’m glad I did, because it was the perfect ending to the musical and cultural story lines and a gas to write. Uh . . . let me look at the album covers. (I hand her my MacBook and she navigates to site to view the rotating pictures of album covers at the top of her blog’s pages). Oh, The Shangri-Las. That was cool. Eddie Cochran—loved it. Hah! Herman’s Hermits—that one made me laugh. It really did drive my EA crazy when I’d waltz in smiling in the morning. The Early Girl albums were a hoot! St. Vincent. Definitely A Passion Play, even though it took a lot of work analyzing the score and story. Sketches of Spain and Monk’s Dream. Pleasures of the Harbor—I remember writing that on a Saturday night when my partner was visiting her parents in Madrid. Oh, yeah, Rancid—that was cool, reliving my punk years. Ah, poor Donovan—I really raked his ass over the coals and loved every minute of it! The Motown Series was fun, too. Really, I had fun writing most of them. (Hands me the laptop.)

RM: You mentioned several times in various posts that you had a long list of albums you wanted to review. Do you feel any disappointment that you’re leaving something unfinished?

ARC: Maybe a little, but the last time I looked there were still something like five hundred left! I knew I didn’t have it within me to pull that off.

RM: How did you choose which ones you wanted to write about?

ARC: That’s an interesting question—it changed over time. At first it was primarily instinct, but after a while I found myself avoiding certain albums because I knew that no one would bother to read the reviews.

RM: Why is that?

ARC: I learned pretty early on that the period that drew the most visitors was the 60’s. That was okay with me because I think it’s a fascinating and important era, but I’m not the kind of girl to stay in one place—I get too restless. The other pattern that was obvious had to do with contemporary reviews: I’d see a burst of interest when an artist posted a link to the review on Facebook. Fans would drop in to read that one review, then leave, so it was sort of like a sugar high but they didn’t stick around to read anything else I’d done. I really wanted to do more jazz, blues and British folk but those reviews drew almost no interest at all. One thing that really surprised me was that my reviews of 90’s and early 21st century music didn’t do dick. Progressive rock was another genre that didn’t do very well, which kind of surprised me, given all the geeks online. Anyway, after a while there was this weird dynamic between “give the people what they want” and my perception of artistic value that was always a push-pull thing.

RM: Where were you thinking of going next before you decided to end it?

ARC: I really didn’t think that much about it. When I hit the wall, I knew it was over, so I picked a few albums I wanted to do that I thought would give me a decent exit. I looked at my list the other day and out of all those albums, there is only one I regret not getting to.

RM: Which one?

ARC: The Romantic Moods of Jackie Gleason. I really wanted to review “Melancholy Serenade.” Am I fucking weird or what? (Laughs.)

RM: The erotic blog vanished, too.

ARC: Yeah. I’d been wanting to kill that for a long time. Tumblr’s a shit place for writers. I really wanted to engage people to talk about their sexual experiences and help them accept their non-standard impulses as natural and normal, but I never got there. I thought that writing about my sexual development would have inspired discussion, but really, people go to Tumblr to look at porn. I kept it alive by posting some of my better pics from my erotic collection, but like I said, I’d rather do it than talk about it.

RM: You mentioned that you’ve put a lot of things on hold because of the blog, so what are you going to do next?

ARC: I’ll be busy for a while just wrapping up work and getting ready for the move. I really want to take some acting classes—stage acting, not film—more for personal growth than anything else. We’ve talked about balancing our martial arts training with modern dance, so that’s definitely on the list. I want to take German lessons because the Germans dominate the Eurozone economy, and I think a woman speaking German is just as sexy as a woman speaking French. There are a thousand books I want to read—lately I’ve been reading a lot of Mario Benedetti, someone I’ve wanted to explore for a long time. I really want to get back to playing music—I’d like to take more advanced lessons on piano, and maybe switch from flute to oboe, or maybe the French horn. The possibilities are endless—there’s so much I want to experience and learn.

RM: Even with all those alternatives available to you, you must have gone through a period of grieving when you closed the blog.

ARC: I don’t know if it was grieving as much as it just felt weird. I didn’t know what to do with myself for the first couple of weeks—I had all this time on my hands! But there’s plenty to do in Paris and you can’t underestimate the healing power of fucking. One night after a scene, my partner got to talking and we calculated that every review took at least sixteen hours when you count research, three spins, writing, rewriting, writing again, editing, rewriting—a shitload of work. Anyway, now I have thirty-two hours of time every week that I didn’t have before, and it’s wonderful—but it did take some getting used to.

RM: So it was almost a full-time job. And you never thought of becoming a professional critic? Getting a gig with the big sites?

ARC: (Laughs.) Fuck, no! I would never work for that scum. Doing it for money would have ruined it. Ooh—that reminds me. Let me tell you about my McCartney experience.

RM: Okay.

ARC: When I saw Paul on his Back in the U. S. A. tour, he introduced a song by saying that after The Beatles became a studio-only band, they’d go into Abbey Road, record what they had and then they’d forget all about those songs because they never played them again. When he was prepping for the tour he rediscovered some of those tunes and decided to put them into the set list. Then he played “Getting Better,” and he looked like a little kid again—the angelic face and all. Well, when I was doing the blog, it was one review after another, so I never had time to go back and listen to anything—it was always on to the next one. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy just listening to music now—without thinking about it, without analyzing it, without trying to figure out the chords and time signatures—it’s been fucking incredible. (Waves her hands in excitement.) And you know what was really cool about this trip? I got to rent a car, and the first thing I did was plug in my iPod and drive down the road singing at the top of my lungs. Fuck! I hadn’t done that in ages! You can’t sing on the Metro! I’d forgotten what a great experience it is to drive and let it rip.

RM: I remember the post when you had to pull over and masturbate.

ARC: (Laughs). Yeah, I got some interesting comments on that one. I can’t help it. Rock, blues, R&B—the music triggers a sexual reaction. That’s partly why I love it so much.

RM: So what were you singing to in the car?

ARC: A few weeks ago I loaded my iPod with nothing but the newer albums I’d reviewed. I wanted to see whether or not I’d blown it—you know how sometimes you fall in love with something that sounds different and exciting and later you say to yourself, “What the fuck was I thinking?” (Laughs). That hasn’t happened yet—and a lot of them are even better than I thought. So, to answer your question, I was singing along with The Dahlmanns, Sasha Dobson, Beach Day, Sugar Stems, Brody Dalle—I love the fuck out of “Don’t Mess with Me” but I can’t replicate that growl when she goes into belt-out mode.

RM: You recorded that one snippet of your voice for the Peggy Lee review. I thought you sounded nice.

ARC: I’m crushed! I don’t want to sound nice, I want to sound hot! Really, my singing voice is too sweet—that sample was just something I did in the spur of the moment with no prep, but even with a warmup I still sound too pretty for my tastes. (Stands up.) Speaking of prep, I have to slip into the kitchen to do a little prep work or we’ll never eat. Can we take a little break?

RM: Sure—could we do the picture first?

ARC: Okay. I want to shoot it so people can see that my long hair is back. Some of my male Twitter followers were crushed when I whacked it off, and I felt terribly guilty about it!

RM: I think I can handle that. Lead the way.

(Part 2 tomorrow.)

What’s Wrong with the Stock Market

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47-Success-GraphIf you arrived here because you were looking for financial advice, forget it. I learned long ago that playing the stock market is no different from shooting craps or playing roulette in Vegas.

Experts will tell you otherwise, but an expert is nothing more than a flawed human being with a good publicity agent. The stock market is driven by fear and greed, nothing more, and investment advice is simply a collection of clichés that have gained the status of truth in the collective consciousness of the investing class.

Every week I update my Quicken accounts and watch my retirement accounts rise and fall based the whims of faceless investors and fund managers. This week I noticed a big chunk of money had vanished from those accounts, so I temporarily suspended my boycott of the daily news to find out what was going on. As usual, the explanation for my declining fortunes had to do with events completely out of my control, and said more about the current state of the U. S. A. than it did about my piss-poor investment strategy.

Yes, indeed, there’s something wrong with the stock market, but what’s wrong has nothing to do with financial values. The recent stock market mini-panic illustrates a serious disconnection with human values:

  • Oil prices plummeted, a blessing for millions of middle and lower class people who live paycheck to paycheck. The Dow plummeted as well.
  • The Russian economy tanked, a direct result of the economic sanctions imposed by The West on a corrupt, narcissistic, warmongering, macho jerk. The Dow tanked along with Putin.
  • The Dow finally rose on the news that The Fed wasn’t going to raise interest rates, ensuring that those with savings and interest earning checking accounts will continue to earn pennies a year in interest while paying exorbitant rates for the credit cards they need to make ends meet.

I first noticed this disconnection years ago when I learned that in the weird world of the stock market, firing lots of people was a good thing. Companies that announced major layoffs nearly always saw their stock value soar.

Until the recent fall, stocks were at all-time highs. I don’t think American society is anywhere close to an all-time high. Teachers are still horribly underpaid; kids badly mis-educated. A majority of Americans now believe that protecting gun rights is more important than gun control, ensuring that the massacre-a-day phenomenon will continue to run for the foreseeable future. The political system has collapsed; voting is rigged through reapportionment so that those in power stay in power.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a sick measure of a sick society, just as test scores are an absurd measure of learning. Both reflect a society that cherishes greed and competition while demeaning and diminishing the value of human life.

Substitute “The Dow” for “gross national product,” and Robert Kennedy’s quote becomes a painfully contemporary critique.

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play . . . It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning . . . it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

 

Meaningful Work

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The Adobe Image Library ©1998 Adobe Systems Incorporated Boy and girl hugging

A month ago, I received a nudging tweet from The Alt Rock Chick saying something like, “If you would get your head out of your MEANINGFUL WORK for a while . . . ”

I have been pretty busy for the last few months trying to transform an organization: improving leadership, cleaning up bureaucracy, resolving conflict and serving as a pseudo-therapist for employees who needed catharsis so they could move forward into the future.

I’ve done similar work with dozens of other organizations, but what makes this work so meaningful is that the organization is a nonprofit in the social services field.

The organization helps those who have been left behind or traumatized by life experience: the homeless, homeless children, domestic violence victims, dysfunctional families, laid-off workers. We serve primarily low-income families and a highly diverse population with a healthy number of recent immigrants. The mission is inspiring and the work the caregivers engage in is vital and intensely meaningful. My job is to help the helpers: the front-line people who work directly with our clients and their challenges.

What makes it especially meaningful to me is that absence of the profit motive makes my work so much more satisfying. The pursuit of profit is not only a relatively pedestrian activity, but it often contaminates communication within the organization and creates a constant conflict between the need to make money and the need to do the right thing for people.

Companies in the U. S. have pretty much forgotten about the need to do the right thing, as demonstrated by how easily they resort to cutting staff when they fall short of profit goals. Layoffs used to be a last resort; now they’re often the first resort. Impact of layoffs on the community—to say nothing of the impact on the employees and their families—is a consideration to be managed through spin and messaging. The “giving back to the community” programs in for-profit businesses are largely public-relations-oriented window-dressing activities.

Where I’m working now, doing the right thing for people is the first consideration. Due to the oscillations in funding, we have had to eliminate a few positions. Not one person has lost a job because leaders and HR get together and figure out where else a person’s talents can be utilized. We are cautious in adding staff, primarily because of the general dread of having to let them go: we only add when we’re sure the position will likely be there in a few years.

I have worked in many businesses and I can’t think of one where I haven’t experience some kind of value conflict because of the profit motive, the greed, the competitive internal politics or the power plays. Now I leave work at the end of the day in peace . . . and I sleep much better at night.

p. s. In case you haven’t heard, The Alt Rock Chick has ended her career as a music critic—very sad news indeed. However, she has agreed to do another interview with me when she comes to Seattle in January, which will appear on this blog in mid-January.