In Which I Confess I Find the Oxford American Music Issue Unsatisfying

Granted, I’m not through the whole thing, but I eagerly await it every year and I am always vaguely unsatisfied in the same way by the issue itself.

See, here’s the thing.  The music is always so damn interesting.  It’s not always good, but it’s always one after another of “What the fuck am I hearing?”  And, in the best years, once the novelty has worn off, you’re left with some songs you want to hear for the rest of your life, like, for instance, “Grits ain’t Groceries.”  Will there ever be a day when you don’t want to hear “Grits ain’t Groceries?”  I hope not.

So I finally broke down and bought the issue last night because I couldn’t wait any longer and it is apparently never coming to work where I can steal it (though, you know, I say that and it will be here today).  And I sat in the parking lot way down by PFChang’s ejecting CDs from my car stereo while impatient shoppers honked and their cars steamed throught the streams of their headlights all hoping to get my spot when I left, if I left, and finally, I get the CDs in and I pull out and I’m listening.

And I’m thinking “Neko Case?!  What the fuck?  When did she become Southern?”  Which I believe would be the question on anyone’s mind when that song came on and yet, in the magazine, there’s a story about how her red hair is like foxes.  Fine.  And nice and funny about how the author gets self-conscious about writing about hair and foxes.  But it didn’t tell me what I needed to know at that moment, which was the answer to “Neko Case?!  What the fuck?”  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I went along with it, because I’m sure some fool somewhere thinks Tiny Cat Pants is a blog reflective of the life of some particular Southern girl and the blurring of that truth also tickles me.

But, more importantly–and granted, I’m not even through the whole first CD yet–was the bigger “What the fuck?!” moment that delighted me so much I was almost afraid to listen to it again for fear that it might not be true.

Ella Fitzgerald singing “Sunshine of Your Love.”

It sounds like the TSU marching band has crammed into a tiny jazz club and is trying to play nice, but what’s the use of having all those horns if you’re not going to hear the bite of the brass?  And then you have Fitzgerald singing like she might have used to have known all the words to the song ten years ago, but she’s going to have to fake it some.

But her voice!  Oh god, her voice is like smooth ice on a warming lake, just cracking and letting go of the shore.

And so, when you listen to it, it’s the sonic equivalent to that marching band setting out over that ice, which seems solid enough, but it’s March (ha!  March), so you don’t know and will everyone make it to the other side in one piece?

And they do!  And it’s just so fucking delightful.  And I listened to it twice and the whole way through I was like “What the fuck?  What the fuck is this?!”

I don’t know.  I came home and tore open the magazine and the story about Ella Fitzgerald seems to be about some guy and his lost love and there’s nothing about marching or ice or just what it means to listen to that song.

It’s fine writing, beautiful writing.

But, oh my god, it’s not about this song and that just seems like such a squandered opportunity.

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69 thoughts on “In Which I Confess I Find the Oxford American Music Issue Unsatisfying

  1. I popped in the OA CDs the other night when I had some people over and yeah, you’re right. There are all these amazing songs on there, but there’s always a WTF moment.

    I don’t know who is compiling the CDs anymore – Rick Clark (not the Red Door Rick Clark, another one), an East Nashvillian, and music knowledge guru used to do it… he’s all over the map in his tastes of music and his knowledge on the topic is wild…

    I can never tire of hearing Grits Ain’t Groceries – never. In fact, I am going to have to go find that CD now..

  2. I should say, in fairness to the guy who wrote the Ella Fitzgerald piece, that he does eventually get around to talking about the song. But I just am always going “WTF?” about so much on the CDs and I want to read pieces that will tell me what to listen for and why. You know, act like a tour guide to the song for me.

  3. I had a quick look at it a couple of days ago — aren’t there two articles on a lot of the artists this time around? Or was I misunderstanding something about the layout?

  4. Hey, guys.

    I appreciate that you are interested enough in The OA’s music issue to discuss it. I really do. But, geez, one thing I HATE–repeat: HATE–about blogs and blog responses is how half-baked the “critical thinking” contained therein can be.

    1. I would never–repeat: NEVER–publish any writer who critiqued a a book, movie, CD, article, blog, etc., before finishing it. Granted, Aunt B.’s first line is “Granted, I’m not through the whole thing….” But that’s not good enough. Just because you confess to an embarrassing fact doesn’t mean you should be proud of it.

    (Because I read Aunt B’s entire blog before commenting on it will somebody please give me a brownie point? Sounds like I need one.)

    2. Okay, Aunt B. and Betty don’t like the Neko Case song. But, folks, hello? There are FIFTY-SIX other songs to consider. Repeat: There are FIFTY-SIX songs to consider. This seems to be the gist of your argument: “Ah, two CDs. This guys can be queer at times. Oh look. Neko Case isn’t–in my view–Southern. The end.” Wow. The laziness of that approach is overwhelming ESPECIALLY in light of the fact that you all are slamming two OA writers for not getting to the heart of THEIR subjects. So this, great exemplars, is how you get to the heart of YOUR subject? You say two CDs containing FIFTY-SEVEN songs disappoint you because you don’t like ONE of the FIFTY-SEVEN songs? This is not a joke? This is how you really think?

    3. No need to speculate on who compiled the CD. Again: Engage the subject before critiquing the subject. It is clearly written on the back of the CD, where this data usually goes, that I (and my staff) compiled the CD.

    4. Just yesterday a critic from the Boston Globe told me that Jack Pendarvis’s article on Neko Case was “perfect…with NO word out of place.” This opinion is not proof of anything other than there are people out there who have different opinions about this article from yours.

    5. Finally: We are not trying to be perfect. We don’t expect everyone to love everything about what we do (Boston Globe included). But to zero on one or two songs out of FIFTY-SEVEN, and one or two articles out of dozens? (By the way, there are two articles about Neko Case. The other is by Greil Marcus.)

    6. With all due respect, I, for one, really am tired of the unthoughtful, quickie judgments one finds all too often on blogs. There is too frequently a stink of sour, condescending negativity that just lowers the conversation (and people) before even REAL ENGAGEMENT can take place. David Denby of The New Yorker has a book coming out in January on the subject of snark. I hope blogs engage it.

    7. By the way, if you don’t like THE OXFORD AMERICAN’s unconventional music coverage and interests, there are more predictable options available like PASTE and ROLLING STONE. They might be what you are looking for.

    Sincerely,

    Marc Smirnoff
    editor
    THE OXFORD AMERICAN
    201 Donaghey Avenue, Main 107
    Conway, Arkansas 72035-5001
    http://www.oxfordamericanmag.com

    “If you are willing to hurt enough, you can have it.” ——Larry Brown

  5. Oh, my god, Marc. I can’t decide if I’m hoping that this is really you or if I’m hoping that it’s an elaborate hoax by one of my readers designed to bring me some Christmas cheer.

    But, let’s just assume, for the sake of this conversation, that you are who you say you are and move forward from there.

    First, you most certainly HAVE NOT read my whole blog. You’ve read the whole post. If you had read my whole blog you would have seen that I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the OA music edition, as I do every year, because I love it.

    What we’re having here is an ongoing discussion about your magazine among a bunch of people who enjoy it and enjoy wrestling with the ideas in it. If you would rather people not enjoy your magazine and not look forward to it in anticipation and not wonder and discuss and worry about how they’re going to get their hands on the next issue, then you should continue to flounce around the internet showing your thin skin and your lack of ability to read closely when you’re feeling attacked.

    So, one, I’m not a writer critiquing your magazine. I’m an enthusiastic fan having a discussion with other enthusiastic fans. I am, I think it is obvious, so excited about the things the issue makes me think about that I am not waiting until I’m all done with it to discuss it, but am discussing it as I go along.

    Two, there is no Betty here. I believe you mean Beth. Also, Beth says nothing about Neko Case and my “WTF?!”-ing about her was only about why she’s in a Southern Music edition. If you had read as closely as you claim to, you would have seen that I said

    But it didn’t tell me what I needed to know at that moment, which was the answer to “Neko Case?! What the fuck?” I mean, don’t get me wrong, I went along with it, because I’m sure some fool somewhere thinks Tiny Cat Pants is a blog reflective of the life of some particular Southern girl and the blurring of that truth also tickles me.

    I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to read a language you’re obviously fluent in, but if you can read that and not see how tickled I am to find Neko Case on the CD, well, then, sir, I just don’t know what to tell you.

    Three, um, okay. But a man with the close reading skills you’ve demonstrated here today probably shouldn’t knock others’ close-reading skills.

    Four, I also said that I thought the article was beautifully written. So, again… ?

    Five, let me repeat I LOVE THE ISSUE. I like complaining about it. I like being surprised by the things in it. I like thinking about what I would do differently. I like thinking about what worked well. I love the music cd.

    Six, I’m sorry blogs don’t meet your approval. Should we send you flowers or candy to show how sorry we are that we’re not books or magazines? It’s a different form of writing. Okay, so it’s not for you.

    Seven, again, I like your music coverage. Seriously, how does attacking your fans win you converts? I’m engaged with your magazine. I’m talking about it. If the folks here want to participate in the conversation, they’ll have to go out and buy it.

    I have to give you public intellectual blowjobs, too? You’d think passionate engagement with what you’re doing would be enough, but I guess for some folks it isn’t.

  6. Blog posts are not (usually) criticism; criticism is not (usually found in) a blog post. They have different but overlapping audiences, and most regular readers of blogs (or of serious criticism) don’t mistake the two. We have here some discussion among three people, each of whom has indicated that s/he has bought or intends to buy the magazine, conversation which is cursory and incomplete precisely because the participants haven’t finished reading yet. Someone who knows the nature of blogs, who can run a search on the contents, who can even look in the sidebar to see other recent posts about this issue of the OA, might well figure that this here isn’t the final word on the topic here. (I share Mr. Smirnoff’s frustration that there is a larger audience for the immediate and brief than for the well thought out and extensively expressed, but blogging isn’t to blame for that, nor is blogging to blame for the collapse of advertising that has been making USian magazine publishing so difficult for the past decade.)

    Further, the reaction that has been expressed so far doesn’t seem (to me) to fall into the sloppy reading or sloppy expression traps, nor do I see any “sour, condescending negativity that just lowers the conversation” — except in Mr. Smirnoff’s comment, perhaps. And, for snark, one could look at his point #7, but I don’t think I see that much of it elsewhere in this post or the comments to it.

    The problem that I see is one that can be remarkably annoying to writers and editors, to be sure. There is a tendency (not only here, but in serious reviews and criticism of music, books, and film) to complain because the performer/writer/filmmaker didn’t make the film that the critic/commenter/complainer wanted to see. So we have B wondering why Neko Case is considered in a magazine that usually concentrates on southern music, and why the Ella Fitzgerald article doesn’t address the sound of the recording. And, I think, the proper response to that is “if that’s what you’d like to read about and want people to discuss, maybe you ought to write about it yourself.” I’ve certainly suggested that to people who want to know why I don’t bring up Topic A in my paper on Topic B.

    But I just don’t see, with all due respect, how what’s been written here merits a general condemnation of blogs, or specific complaints about what the participants have to say. And to suggest that the only possible reason a reader might not like something in this issue of the OA is that the reader really ought to be reading Paste or Rolling Stone is, um, not exactly elevating the tone of discussion itself.

  7. But NM! If I stop complaining that the world doesn’t work exactly how I want it to work and no one does things my way, what will I have left to blog about?!

  8. Things you like?

    Or, maybe, certain results of the institution of the Feast of Corpus Christi on social interactions and the clerical calendar of Toledo (Castilla)?

  9. dear Folks:

    You busted my chops for getting “blog” wrong when I should have said “blog entry” and for getting Betty’s name wrong when I should have said “Beth.” You’re right on those points and I was wrong.

    But I stand by my more important criticisms…uh…like the ones that were at the center (v. the periphery) of what I was saying. One of main criticisms was the fact that in critiquing just one song Aunt B. was ignoring more than fifty songs (and in critiquing one Neko Case article she was ignoring 50% of our textual presentation). In the face of these new words, I still find the original Aunt B. approach profoundly glib. A few other comments:

    1. I did not say ALL blogs fail to meet my approval. That’s a boring and unfair misreading of what I wrote AND meant. I said blogs “can” contain half-baked critical thinking.

    Guess what?

    I’m right; they can.

    2. I’m accused of having thin skin. Guilty.

    Guess what?

    You do too. (For proof, please examine your own shrill responses to my shrill response which was a response to your original shrill blog ENTRY.) You are critics who don’t like to be criticized. Apparently, only bloggers can say what they like or dislike about a thing; we hard-copy fools please more when we are silent.

    3. I am not trying convert you to the magazine. I’m arguing points with you. Just because you think I should “convert” you doesn’t mean I have to. I actually think I am showing respect by engaging you on your terms…although I now see that my failure to brown-nose is not going over so well…. Oops. My bad.

    4. I’m glad that you are finally buttressing your original argument with improved “specifics,” but please understand that to an outsider to your blog the original critique came across in too many parts as flippant, lazy, and unenlightening.

    5. I’m hardly going to apologize for having “specific complaints” of things I read. I care about this stuff and if I want to opine with specifics (vs. generalities?), I can.

    You all of course can ignore me, especially if I have failed to “convert” you.

    By the way, Aunt B., I would advise getting through CD #1 and starting up and finishing CD #2. If I’m not mistaken, there’s a treasure or two hidden amongst those Fifty-Seven.

    Sincerely,

    Marc Smirnoff
    editor
    THE OXFORD AMERICAN
    201 Donaghey Avenue, Main 107
    Conway, Arkansas 72035-5001

    Phone: (501) 450-3497
    Cell: (501) 412-2190
    http://www.oxfordamericanmag.com

    “If you are willing to hurt enough, you can have it.” ——Larry Brown

  10. Yes, Marc, let’s alienate a reader who likes your work, routinely reaches thousands of people a day, and actively promotes OA FOR FREE. Good plan.
    And by all means, rock on with your “I’m so smart that only the really sophisticated people like that dude from the Boston Globe get how cool I really am” thing. I can see how, in this economy and given your magazine’s history of modest circulation, that’s really going to work out for you.

  11. Sorry, Brigette, but my aim in this discussion has not been to curry favor with Aunt B. It has been to express my honest views. The magazine itself will win or lose readers on its own terms. (Or, I would argue, should.)

    If you stretch out Brigette’s argument to its logical conclusion, she seems to be implying that I should keep my big trap shut…out of respect for the fact that Aunt B. “routinely reaches thousands of people a day…and given [my] my magazine’s history of modest circulation….”

    But I prefer to speak my mind, regardless of the numerical consequences.

    Brigette, I’m sorry.

    And anyway, the reader I’ve alienated (if, in fact, that’s what I’ve done) was the one who had posted under a headline reading: “IN WHICH I CONFESS I FIND THE OXFORD AMERICAN MUSIC ISSUE UNSATISFYING.”

    With “friends” like that….

    :)

    Okay. I’ve had my long-winded say here. Happy Christmas and Happy 2009 to you all.

    Sincerely,

    Marc Smirnoff
    editor
    THE OXFORD AMERICAN
    201 Donaghey Avenue, Main 107
    Conway, Arkansas 72035-5001

    “If you are willing to hurt enough, you can have it.” ——Larry Brown

  12. Pingback: Check those Comments! — Sparkwood & 21

  13. Speak your mind by all means. But when what’s on your mind is the idea that only someone who finds Rolling Stone to be exciting journalism could find anything critical to say about the OA, that doesn’t leave any of us much space to talk about the music, does it? Sometimes people are known to talk about music over here.

  14. Let me elaborate:

    *the reader I’ve alienated (if, in fact, that’s what I’ve done) was the one who had posted under a headline reading: “IN WHICH I CONFESS I FIND THE OXFORD AMERICAN MUSIC ISSUE UNSATISFYING.”*

    So, one reader finds one issue not 100% awesome, and the mag’s editor goes off the rails. One reader–who has a ton of reach, who is almost always thoughtful and fair, and who likely informed a handful of people for the first time that that periodical even existed–criticized the publication in a mild manner. This is what is grounds for alienation and condescending admonishment? Wow.

  15. Brittney, nm, Aunt B. and Bridgett have pretty much said it all. I’m just going to look over this statement again …

    I, for one, really am tired of the unthoughtful, quickie judgments one finds all too often on blogs

    … and try to not choke too hard on the irony.

  16. This is what is known in the editorial business as being over-involved.

    With patience, then: Marc, your writers write for a public. I am a part of that public, as is Aunt B, as are we all. Having been an editor for a long time, I can opine that you are not doing your magazine or your writers a favor by trying to stand between them and their readership, intervening, insulting, and yes alienating people who are reading. That’s what your writers have yearned for — to have a group of people talk about their work — and you are fucking it up for them by making the discussion all about yourself.

    You had your shot to shape the reception of the work. You have done your job by getting their articles to publication. Now, for fuck’s sake, get out of the way and let them be received.

  17. Well, let’s thank the gods that he didn’t read the entry in which I said I was going to burn my copy of the OA, because I can only imagine the trauma that would have caused!

    But let me be clear, America, you should buy the OA Music Issue. I have listened to both CDs and they are, as always, fantastic and fun. I read the magazine on the shitter, so I am not all the way through that yet, but the articles I have read are well-written and interesting, even if they have shit-all to do with the music on the CDs.

    But, good god, whatever you do, don’t tell anyone you’re reading the magazine, or Mark Smirnoff is going to show up like some reverse Santa Claus and put a lump of coal on your blog.

  18. Thanks for all the advice, folks, but I give today’s “critical thinking” award to CeeElCee, for the classy non sequitur about The OA having been embezzled upon. Really enlightens the discussion, don’t it?

    SMIRNOFF

  19. Marc, your reputation for lack of business sense was already pretty well established before that post. Luckily, as Aunt B suggests, the innate quality of the material in OA withstands efforts (negligent, deliberate, or merely incompetent) to run it into the ground.

  20. Jesus Christ, I leave this post for two seconds and we’re talking about embezzlement and whether Smirnoff can balance his checkbook?!

    Don’t make me defend the man, people! Come on. Let’s keep it on-topic, which was, as you’ll recall, how much that Ella Fitzgerald song tickled the shit out of me, how I wanted to read an article about that song, and was sad that there was not one, whether it’s fair of the reader to criticize a text for not being the text of her dreams (especially if done in some snarky fashion), whether its appropriate for an editor to go all Axl Rose on the consumers of his product, and the ludicrousness of Smirnoff continuing to fight with me.

    Let’s keep to that.

  21. …regarding Marc Smirnoff’s comment about me (or Betty?) not liking the Neko Case song. I never said I didn’t like it. Hell, I’ve not even heard it.

    I was referring to every other OA Music CD I have. I let my subscription run out last year.

  22. Actually, Aunt B., to keep it further on-topic, the first part of your entry was on Neko Case and it was those comments that I critiqued; I said nothing about your reaction to the Ella Fitzgerald song or piece.

    Thank you,

    SMIRNOFF

  23. Yes, but we’ve already established that you misunderstood my squeal of WTF-ing delight as dismay and so I’m not sure what more there is to say about Case.

  24. Aunt B., the gist of my argument is that it’s unfair to call an entire issue or CD “unsatisfying” when you haven’t engaged the whole thing yet. (See: “In Which I Confess I Find the Oxford American Music Issue Unsatisfying” and “granted, I’m not even through the whole first CD yet.”)

    You and some of your readers keep failing to engage that specific criticism and instead too frequently have responded with off-topic abuse. Instead of engaging my main point, I am told that blogs don’t usually criticize (and since that’s so true it must mean my specific criticism can be ignored), that I am demanding uniform praise (or was it a “blowjob”?), that I think all blogs suck, that I’m a joke because I called Beth Betty and said “blog” instead of “blog entry,” that I am “ludicrous” because I have the gall to continue disagree with you, that I should shut up because other editors have been known to shut up upon publication, etc.; one critic went so far as to speculate that I might have “deliberately” run the magazine (that I deliberately founded) into the ground.

    It is true: I am more flawed than I would like to be. Plus: My magazine is not perfect; it too is flawed.

    Still, none of these other truths persuade me that you’ve “established” what you’ve said you’ve established (your proud assertion to the contrary). What I see established here is that some of you are as thin-skinned as me, but that you’d rather not tackle that.

    I thought I was being sound in my main point but clearly this is not the arena to debate it; there are other agendas at play here.

    Thank you,

    SMIRNOFF

  25. Now, wait a minute. I said that blog posts aren’t usually “criticism”: that is, they’re not (and not intended to be) fully worked-out final thoughts presented as a formal review. I never said that blog posts don’t criticize. I’m pointing out that objecting to a post that gives thoughts in process is as off-base as criticizing (for instance) a piece in, oh, a magazine of book reviews for not explaining the writer’s thought processes and how her/his evaluation of the book developed as s/he read it, cogitated, and pulled the review together. In neither case is that the purpose of the forum.

    If you want to point out why B missed the point of Neko Case being included in the magazine, or why the Ella Fitzgerald articles were the bomb, fine. But to say a person probably ought not blog about something she hasn’t finished reading? Silly. That’s what blogs are for, and if B likes sharing her visions and revisions, and her readers like reading about them, the purpose of blogging is served.

    Now then: B, what were the Fitzgerald articles lacking? Marc, why have the writers write about something other than the song on the CD? (That’s meant as a softball question, since I can come up with half a dozen reasons myself just typing this.) Please, let’s stop being so meta and get to the point.

    Now,

  26. I am still disagreeing, anonymous nm.

    I am still saying you can’t say for sure that a whole thing (“MUSIC ISSUE”) is lacking (“UNSATISFYING”) if you haven’t experienced the whole thing.

    If the headline and argument had said, “In Which I Confess I Find the Neko Case and Ella Fitzgerald Articles/Songs Unsatisfying,” I would have no argument.

    I fail to understand why you all can’t grasp this logic.

    SMIRNOFF

  27. Using Aunt B.’s logic I could say everything in her blog (the posts I haven’t read) are terribly reasoned because the one entry I saw today was terribly reasoned.

  28. I can grasp your logic. It’s just not very sound, Mr. “Bloggers lack analytical skills but I can’t seem to type my name in an appropriate combo of upper- and lower-case letters” Smirnoff. If a portion of an issue is so deficient as to cause extreme aggravation (say, as in the case of an article that has no discernible relationship to the song it purports to engage), the rest could be a holy and heretofore unknown blend of heroin and hot cocoa and yet never be sufficient to offset the ire. That’s not a judgment that you as an editor can make, but one that lies with the individual reader.

    I’d love to talk about something other than your wounded feelings, too. Since we have the editor on the line, why don’t you tell us something about the way you conceptualize the articles working in relation to the music. Do you envision them to be parallel? Contrapuntal? Have you changed your philosophy on this over the years?

  29. If Neko Case can be the subject in a southern music magazine, any relationship between title and contents is negotiable.

    I do want to say, though, that Jerry Lee Lewis is an inspiring choice for the cover. Every year I keep hoping he’ll get his due and be chosen for the Country Music Hall of Fame — he’s as much a killer there as in rock, and totally of and about the south. Of course, every year I keep hoping that Rose Maddox will make the Hall, too, and we all know how likely that is.

  30. As a longtime (10-plus years) subscriber to the OA (and one with whom B has corresponded several times about the joys and frustrations thereof, including the annual music issue), may I just say that this exchange has convinced me that I’m not going to renew.

    Like many things (writers, athletic teams, particular dishes, musicians, TV shows and film directors) to which I’ve remained loyal long after others have given up on them, I’m increasingly frustrated to find that the OA that I used to devour as thoroughly and messily as a good plate of ribs as soon as it arrived now sits on the nightstand or desk or endtable for several days, and in a few cases, weeks, unread. Is that a reflection of my evolving tastes coupled with my increasing lack of time for pleasure reading, or is it a reflection of the magazine’s evolution into a publication that doesn’t necessarily appeal to me?

    I think it’s a combination of both. That doesn’t mean I am condemning the OA; I’m just accepting that magazines and people (and their budgets, both monetary and time) change. My loyalty can only be stretched so far.

    To see such a virtually histrionic and ultimately insulting reaction to a legitimate, even if off-handedly presented, question and a handful of observations convinces me that my precious reading (and listening) time will be better spent elsewhere. There are so many more legitimate questions and observations presented in these comments that have been ignored in favor of a defensive posture over one or two points that it reinforces my decision.

    No, I’m not going to fly up and cancel my subscription as a result of Smirnoff’s comments. But they, coupled with my declining interest in the magazine, have convinced me not to renew when my subscription runs out next winter. (Please note that the “NEXT WINTER” part is important because of the increasingly frantic renewal mailings I’ve been receiving lately. Memo to the OA: Quit spending the money I’ve given you, including donations above and beyond the subscription price, asking me for more money. I know how that works, but there’s no need to pepper your longtime loyalists with more and more fundraising pleas when we give what we can.)

    Also, I must agree with B about the “Neko Case on a Southern music CD?” question. I had the same reaction.

  31. What a fuckin’ prick! One of the drawbacks to working in radio is that I sometimes meet people whose work I’ve admired for years only to find out that they’re assholes. I’m not going to name names, but one female singer-songwriter in particular sits atop my list of people whose work I can no longer enjoy after having real-life encounters.

    As a former subscriber, I’d like Mr. Smirnoff to know that his rag will go belly-up again if he’s waiting for me to buy another issue. Sheesh, Marc, I’d think you had better things to do with your time.

  32. And by the way, the claim, “I am still saying you can’t say for sure that a whole thing is lacking if you haven’t experienced the whole thing,” is just insane. As the end user of the product, Aunt B can say anything she goddamn well pleases about it. if you wander into a strange ethnic restaurant and order a plate full of food that disgusts you after the first bite, would you feel obligated to eat the whole thing before you judged it unsatisfying? Do you have to sit through all 87 hours of John Henry Timmis’ film, “The Cure For Insomnia,” before you can proclaim that it just doesn’t work for you?

    Hey Marc, am I allowed to say that I find it unsatisfying to know that the money I’ve spent on your magazine over the years has gone to support a horse’s ass?

  33. Wow.
    Mr. Smirnoff, as a fellow journalist I’m going to have to call BS on your reaction here even though you have the right to it. B. was giving a critique and instead of coming in here and going a bit defensive, another line of thinking might have been engaging a discussion with the folks here.
    I didn’t see Aunt B being shrill and you made catty remarks about “anonymous” nm. If you had engaged, you would know these two women know more about music than the average person.
    And being that I write for a living and blog for fun, this is the new world of information that can be a wonderful tool in helping us do better in our professional worlds.
    Let’s be clear, you have the right to your opinion just like everyone else, but blogs are a community to a large degree.
    Wouldn’t you want an honest critique from fans of yours instead of basically telling everyone they are wrong, you are right and then keep coming back here and nitpicking things to death?
    Editors, and I’m one, get negative feedback all the time and I know how tiresome it can be. On the other hand, having folks actually listen to what you’ve done and comment on it is the highest flattery I can think of.
    And if you want to know who I am as I’m not anonymous, email me and I’ll let you know. I’ve been a radio news director and a managing editor for nearly 20 years.
    Agreeing to disagree can open doors for further discussion.
    And many bloggers write for the joy of it, not for money or fame, but because they just love to write. As we are people who are paid to write, I find this joyous and lovely despite whom I may or may not disagree with.
    Good luck to you,
    T. Sharp

  34. As usual, ‘coma boils it down to the nitty.

    I neglected to note, in my lengthy bandwidth-consuming tome upthread, that I don’t respond to reader comments for my publications with “Oh, yeah? Well, you’re ignorant and uncultured! Go read the National Enquirer!” Instead, I’ve learned after more than 26 years in journalism to say, “Hey, we’re glad you’re reading! What led you to think that about x piece? Did you notice x? What would you suggest we do differently?”

    The readers are the ones who keep us going — online and IRL. If we don’t keep that in mind and respond constructively and wisely to them, we are toast.

  35. Beth, I was on a music list once where someone posted asking how to pronounce the name of some minor music figure who the poster had to go interview shortly, and within a short space of time the minor music figure popped up to explain the pronunciation. That was funny. It would be cool if Case dropped in, but I can’t figure out whether it would be better if she gushed over the OA pieces or complained about how she was being misunderstood and misrepresented.

  36. Oh my god. If Neko Case does drop by, I hope it’s obvious that I love her and I think that “Furnace Room Lullaby” ought to qualify her to be on any damn music collection she wants to be on. That song gives me the heebeejeebies like there’s no tomorrow.

    I just wonder what the rational for putting her on a “Southern Music” cd is.

    I mean, I could make up one right quick, but I just wonder what theirs is.

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  38. Well, I guess my ignorant bourgeoisie self will go ahead and renew Paste and not OA.

    Bless his heart, Marc Smirnoff has laid out a case study for poor PR, customer service and misunderstanding a medium of communication in the thread above.

    Someone needs to save this and teach it in class as what not to do.

  39. You raise a good point, mte. If they’re excluding all of the music getting made in Atlanta–so no Ludacris, no Outkast, etc.–from “southern” music, is it any great wonder that they’re having trouble getting a whole lot of non-white-guys to write for the issue?

  40. Maybe a better response from Smirnoff would have been to actually address the WTF moments discussed in the post instead of ham-handedly attacking and alienating everyone upstream and downstream of his comments.

    I take it Smirnoff considers Neko Case “Southern” because she was born in Alexandria, VA. Virginia was a Confederate State. The CSA = The South. Even if Alexandria is 6.5 miles from DC and 102 miles from Richmond, it’s still (barely) part of Virginia… Simple enough.

    Off the top of my head, Richard Hell was featured in an OA music issue because he was born in Lexington, KY — even though everyone that knows him would associate him primarily with the New York City punk scene. Smirnoff bends the “rules” like that when it allows him to cover an individual he finds compelling.

  41. grandefille has the right idea. Once when a newspaper wrote some unflattering things about a radio station where I worked, the staff was pretty upset, but the general manager shrugged and said, “Hey, as long as they get the call letters right…” At the station where I work now we regularly get calls from angry listeners who don’t seem to realize that what they’re really saying is, “I was so outraged by what I heard on your station that I could barely sit still and listen to it for an hour.” And we generally say, “Thanks for your input” while silently adding, “and we hope you hear something that pisses you off again tomorrow.”

    It sounds like a few of us here won’t be upset by anything the OA does in the future. I wonder how Smirnoff would have responded if John Grisham had raised the issue about Neko Case.

  42. I thought Neko got in there because she used to be sort of alt-countryish, in a Bloodshot Records sort of way.

    mte, indeed.

  43. mte & Aunt B.: Addressing the lack of southern dance and/or hip-hop, what do you honestly expect from a middle-aged white guy raised on rock music? His say is the final say; if he doesn’t like it, it doesn’t go on the CD.

    And maybe transplanting himself from California to The South carried over some preconceptions about what The South should sound like? Those preconceptions likely formed prior to the rise of the Dirty South hip-hop scene.

    And don’t forget it’s often an uphill battle to convince older white folk that rap music isn’t predominantly negative, violent, misogynistic, and shallow.

    The OA does (or did?) accept song nominations from readers. So if you have particular songs in mind, by all means, send them Smirnoff’s way.

    Finally, the next issue of the OA is slated to be “The Race Issue.” It should be interesting…

  44. Yes, but Think About the Children–do you not find there to be anything peculiar about the fact that you have, in five short paragraphs–most barely longer than a sentence–said more and more thoughtfully about the what and why of the OA music edition than the editor of the magazine?

    I find that troubling. I mean, I could sit here and argue that Case should be on the album because she’s almost singlehandedly revived the Country Death Ballad, but I’m not the one putting together the magazine.

  45. Wow. Just wow. Had no idea all this was going on here this week.

    For the record – although I know it was one of the Confederate states – I just don’t think too many people in the South really consider Virginia part of the South.

    Heck, as far as I’m concerned, Florida and Texas only count geographically. When people start talking about Virginia (or Missouri?!?!) being in the South, my left eye starts twitching.

  46. Yep, I used to think of St. Louis as the uppermost northwest corner of “The South.” Then I went there for the first time. It’s a great city and I have nothing against it. But the uppermost northwest corner of “The South” is Paducah.

  47. St. Louis is the southwesternmost corner of the old industrial northeastern quarter of the country. Or the Gateway to the Midwest.

  48. If they’re excluding all of the music getting made in Atlanta–so no Ludacris, no Outkast, etc.–from “southern” music, is it any great wonder that they’re having trouble getting a whole lot of non-white-guys to write for the issue?

    They had a great piece in the New Orleans three-years-after OA issue by a writer- turned-teacher (David Ramsey) who was exposed to Lil Wayne’s music by his eighth-graders. In fact, when I was reading it, I was thinking, “you know, this is the kind of piece that they ought to be including in the Music issue. Along with one of the cuts the writer mentioned, maybe ‘Duffle Bag Boy.’”

    But yeah, even as a middle-aged white gal raised on rock and with a frustratingly limited knowledge of Southern music, I know there’s plenty else out there worth consideration. Lord, they could have included Kanye alone and even dummies like me would be impressed.

  49. The Lil Wayne piece was pretty good. I remember it differently, though–that his students were surprised that he already listened to, and liked, Lil Wayne.

    But Lil Wayne’s not really appropriate for the music issue. His album was the top seller of the year, and it had three top 10 singles, at least. It’s sort of in the air–if you want to hear it, it’s not hard to find. It’s probably harder to avoid it.

    What I’d like to see in the music issue is Miami bass, or something like the Numero Group’s excavation of Florida soul on their Deep City compilations, maybe some of the ’80s hip-hop from Atlanta or Miami that never got airplay but influenced Lil Jon and Outkast, archival material that deserves to be unearthed. Not just another version of a song from a Big Star album I already have.

  50. Oh crap, should I be ashamed that I subscribe to Rolling Stone? Oh well, I’m not. Love their writing. Suck it, Smirnoff!

  51. Stumbled across this blog while looking for some new music. Sadly, the biggest lesson learned was that OA’s Ed is a douchebag. Scratch that onf off the list.

    But the blog? Rules. I will be reading many ENTRIES.

  52. 1. Sarcastro wins the prize for best comment lobbed over the fence.

    2. Virginia is a southern state, goddammit. Alexandria is in what I refer to as “Occupied Virginia” though, so I can understand the confusion.

    3. I abandoned the OA a long time ago with some considerable regret because I had loved it. When I stopped looking forward to it, I stopped subscribing. Good thing this was years before blogs or I might have assumed I could express my opinion about my dissatisfaction only to be presented with some half-assed argument from the editor about how I have no idea what I am talking about and couldn’t possibly be dissatisfied unless I kept subscribing.

  53. Wow…..

    This late to the party, I’m not sure I have much more gas to throw on this particular tire fire….

    I wish I had something teeth-gnashing to put into play here…something like My subscription to OA has become an exercise in diminishing returns. Truth is, I find something to enjoy in each issue. Some issues are more hit than miss, others more miss than hit.

    The music issue was always a favorite.

    My honest critical opinion was this one was subpar, but not without a couple of A-ha moments…for one, the aural crush I’d once had for Lucinda Williams came rushing back in a downloading frenzy, and I’ve got a wheelbarrow full of Clyde Edgerton on my Christmas list based on the story–he’s a guy I’ve wanted to pick up, but had never gotten around to.

    On the whole though? I can’t put a finger on this issue or the CD than that it feels rushed. I’m not a critical enough reader or writer–time prevents me. Gut reaction, though, says this was an issue/CD that is less quarky and eclectic and more scattershot and thrown together.

    Forgiveable, though. I’m fairly easy to get along with provided you don’t take the last beer.

    But you know? I’m a little offput and put out by Mr. Smirnoff’s response. Ms. Sharp hit the nail on the head….seems to me that this was an opportunity lost by the editor of the magazine. I see the word shrill popping up a couple times in the dialog, both for and against. I can’t much think of a better word.

    This one’s grating. I appreciate the honesty of the response, but can’t help but feel condescended to, as both a guy who tries to write on a website and as a guy who’s paid for the magazine either off the newsstand or (mostly) through subscription for seven or eight years now (however long ago it was I wandered across the issue with Space Ghost on the cover….)

    Tommy Acuff

  54. Marc, you cannot (repeat: cannot) ever win an argument with the Nashville blogosphere’s “playground gang.” These people have their tongues stuck so far up each others’ asses that it’s a wonder they can see their keyboards to type.

  55. I, for one, would just like to say that I truly appreciate the Oxford American Music Issue. I think the process of choosing songs and the artists who performed them. I love not knowing what to expect next, and those moments of surprise are the best.

    I find it sad that there is any argument going on. The magazine is a good one, year round, and the music issue GIFTS us with two amazing cds to enjoy. Let’s just take a moment to be quiet and listen to them. I did not find last year’s issue or cds to be subpar. At least one of us was happy. I listen to those cds through today, almost a year later, and not because I have to. I have an incredibly large and diverse music collection. I just keep coming back to those discs because I happen to like them a lot.

  56. Pingback: Fair Warning « Tiny Cat Pants

  57. Pingback: The 11th Annual Southern Music Issue of the Oxford American « Tiny Cat Pants

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