A couple of weeks ago I received an email from the blogger known as The Alt Rock Chick. We stayed in touch after our interview and her move to France, so it wasn’t unusual to see something from her in my inbox. However, this message took me by surprise:
Hey! Could you please take the interviews you did with me off your blog? Thanks!
I responded immediately:
She did not respond. I did as she asked and turned the interviews into private posts invisible to the public. I left another WTF message as a comment on one of her posts and that was left unanswered as well.
The following Friday I received a notification in my inbox that she had published a post entitled, “Adieu et Merci.” Having taken French in college, I know that “adieu” is very different from “au revoir.” This wasn’t “see you soon,” but “goodbye.”
I went and read her post and it was indeed goodbye. She announced that she was giving up blogging and wiping her identity from all the spots on the social media spectrum, leaving her site open for a few months to support some of the struggling artists whose reviews appear there. This time I emailed her another WTF comment and offered to archive her reviews on my blog. No response.
The rationale she gave in the post was that she hadn’t met her readership and follower goals. I had no reason to disbelieve her, but I sensed there was more to the story. When I interviewed her four months ago, the primary quality that came across was her passion for music, which she had displayed so freshly and insightfully in her writing. I recalled the words of a college professor who once told me, “Real writers don’t write for the money. They write because they have to write.” I thought The Alt Rock Chick simply had to write about music: it was in her soul. The spontaneous exuberance she displayed in her reviews made her writing exciting and alive. Reading her was an adventure in itself: her ability to integrate her interpretation of music with socio-cultural trends, personal experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of music and literature made for a very compelling and unique read. The combination of exceptional intelligence and shameless eroticism was also something special, for it represented a direct challenge to the stereotype that highly sexual women must be brainless.
The day after her announcement, I was enjoying a rare Saturday morning of nothingness when my cell phone rumbled, indicating a text message. It was from The Alt Rock Chick.
Got time to talk? I’ll call you.
I replied, “Sure!” In a few minutes I heard her voice: “Surprised?” “Flabbergasted,” I replied. So we talked, and I took notes—a habit I’ve picked up from years of people coming to me at work to discuss their problems. I had a sense that this was going to be a similar experience, so without even thinking, I started bullet-pointing her themes (the quotations in this story are approximations, of course).
The story she gave me pretty much tracked what she had written. What she had left out in her post was that her site had over 10,000 visits last month. I don’t think I’ve come close to 10,000 visits in a year. She insisted that the numbers were inflated by her recent tales of her erotic development (she’s as good with erotica as she is with music) and another couple of Kinks posts (Kinks fans are apparently a hundred times as engaged as the rest of the listening public).
“Yeah, but didn’t all that traffic result in more interest in you?”
“No,” she replied. “People come, look at the one post they’re interested in and don’t stay to read anything else. It’s the same when I do a post for a hot band like The Connection or Beach Day—the fans come, read the one post they care about and leave. They never comment, they never take a look around, they never follow me and they never come back.”
To borrow a phrase, this rang true for me. I just sighed, for she had touched my personal frustration with the majority of people in our world who are only capable of “just one thing” and have no interest in reading anything that might not confirm what they already believe.
“Well,” I said, trying to buck her up a bit, “I really didn’t like the part where you said you failed. You did some great work.”
“No, I did fail. I didn’t meet my goals. I had all these big dreams about wanting to become a real influence on the music scene and in the end I had barely six hundred followers—and most of them only followed me because they wanted me to follow them back.”
That rang true as well. The social media dynamic has little to do with authenticity. The number of followers is like a methadone fix . . . it makes you feel as if people like you and are interested in you, but it’s not the real thing. I find it weird that all but maybe a half-dozen of my Twitter followers have never read a word I’ve written. I tried to argue with her that the numbers didn’t tell the whole story, but she wouldn’t have it.
“Don’t you understand? This is embarrassing.” Her voice cracked on that awful word.
I tried feeding her the usual bullshit about how great writing is an achievement in itself, and again she cut me off. “Look, it’s over. I worked my ass off for nothing. No one gives a shit about me or my work, and it’s humiliating.” Again, her voice broke on another awful word.
Trying to shift perspective and back the conversation out of the cul-de-sac, I asked her a couple of things that were on my mind. Did the new job have anything to do with her departure? Were her sex posts attracting creeps? She laughed and said she could do her new job without breaking a sweat, even in the heat of a Paris summer. She said she had received a few creepy messages after sharing her BDSM adventures but was more concerned that after getting over 5,000 hits on her erotic posts she had only received one comment—about a grammatical error. We both had a good laugh over that.
Now that the tension had eased somewhat, I wanted to go back to the numbers. One aspect of her personality that many casual readers miss is that she has an intensely logical mind and extraordinary critical thinking skills, a personality feature that communicates the strength and toughness that probably led to her recent promotion to director of her company’s European offices at the ripe old age of thirty-one. In this situation, though, I sensed that the logic of the numbers was the façade covering deeper feelings of personal rejection. So, I confronted her on that subject.
“I don’t think this is about the numbers. You sound hurt and wounded,” I remarked.
She sighed and said, “It’s really about both. I am hurt and wounded, but I’m hurt and wounded because the numbers aren’t there.”
“Well, fuck the numbers. You can’t control that. Didn’t you love what you were doing?”
“Sure, but without the stats the blog is just self-indulgence. What’s the point of writing if no one’s reading you? It doesn’t matter how good I might be or how much I love writing about music if I’m writing in a fucking cave.”
“Maybe with a little more time . . . “
“I’ve given this blog forty hours a week for almost eighteen months. It’s a black hole.”
She sounded quite firm about her decision now. Although I think she’ll be going through all kinds of contradictory emotions over the next few months as she grieves the loss of her dream, I could see there was no point in continuing the debate.
“Well, I’d hate to lose touch with you—-can we still be friends?” I asked.
“Friends? I still want to fuck you. It’s going to happen someday, so you might as well get used to the idea.”
I laughed and said, “I haven’t checked with my wife yet.”
She said, “Hey, I do women. Just tell her I’ll do her after I’m done with you. She’ll have a great time.”
I laughed and artfully changed the subject. “I guess this means that I won’t be working on that compilation of ‘The Best of The Alt Rock Chick’ with you.”
She responded with a touch of bitterness in her voice. “Shit, no. If no one was reading me for free, who the fuck is going to pay for it?” I asked her about the possibility of archiving her posts on my blog, but it was pretty obvious she wasn’t ready to go there. “I’m too young to be into the posterity thing,” she explained.
We chatted a few more minutes, and I asked her if it was okay if I wrote about her departure and our conversation. “Oh, I don’t care—do what you have to do.” She took me through her plan to destroy every trace of her on the Internet, and I got the sense that it was something she had to do to deal with her embarrassment and to eradicate the source of her pain. Interestingly enough, I detected some ambivalence about removing the erotic photographs of her from the site, almost as if she felt the rejection of her writing was also a rejection of her right to express her sexuality. She did say that she was looking forward to recapturing her true identity after writing under an assumed name for so long. “It was weird being me but not being able to say it was me. I hated that,” she said.
That was understandable: it takes a lot of energy to hide things, and for a person so naturally inclined to self-disclosure, this must have been a huge drain on the spirit. In a tiny act of personal liberation, she told me her real name, after taking me through a long list of unpleasant things that would happen to me if I ever disclosed it. All I will say is that it’s a beautiful, euphonious name that fits her well.
When it was time to say goodbye, she ended her part in the phone call by saying, “I really appreciate how you’ve been there for me. And hey—I’m coming back to Seattle for a meeting this fall and you’d better be ready for some serious fucking!” I laughed and told her I’d block out my entire fall calendar. “I mean it,” she said. “Au revoir!” I’m glad it wasn’t “adieu.”
I’m disappointed, sad and pissed that another talented human being with a lot to contribute has decided to abandon the attempt to reach the hearts and minds of the reading public. I find it deeply offensive that someone who displayed both originality and courage felt invalidated for demonstrating those qualities. I can certainly relate to her feelings of disappointment and frustration, as I had high hopes for Ringing True that were crushed in a blizzard of public indifference. I hope she gets to the same place where I finally arrived: I wrote a damn fine book and it’s not my fault that the reading public consists of a bunch of vampire-obsessed, fantasy-driven, escapist morons.
That may sound bitter, but it’s a healthy bitterness. I hope she gets there because I think it’s the only stance that will allow her to get back to doing what she should be doing: using her unique voice to write remarkable essays about music, sex and culture.
I also hope she gets there because I am really going to miss her.