Life on the Other Side of Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll
My father suggested that I write a cheerful and uplifting post. It was after I said I was writing about my experience at Outside Lands for my blog; it was after I told him that the majority of my diligently-taken notes during the festival were variations on “l hate myself and I want to die.”
“That’s not funny,” he said, laughing.
I wasn’t taking notes for my own edification. I was walking around with my little notebook and a handful of back-up pens because I was attempting to write about Outside Lands for Entertainment Weekly dot com’s music blog.
It was brutal.
A friend insisted that my troubles stemmed from the specifics of the assignment – three days of performances with three immediately-after-the-show blog entries to write — but I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s more like this: I have nothing even remotely critic-like to say about music.
If I’d actually written about Regina Spektor, I wouldn’t have written that “Begin to Hope” lodged knotty, bittersweet emotions beneath the floorboards of more conventional-sounding pop songs, as a reviewer in Pitchfork did. I would have written that every song reminded me of an iTunes commercial and that I spent most of her set wondering what happened to Feist. Instead of documenting the post-modern punk rock innovation of the Kills, I would have noted that the singer had excellent taste in footwear.
I managed to come up with 150 words on the Foos, but none of them were true to my actual thoughts during their set, which were mostly along the lines of “I sure could go for some Tator Tots right now,” and I was so uninterested in Sacred Cow Beck that I yearned for the days when he toured with a male go go dancer. I thought maybe I’d gotten the hang of the whole rock critic thing when Neil Young and Crazy Horse hit the stage; I was so blown away by their set that I didn’t even have that hard a time writing about it, although it required an early morning call to my friend (and esteemed writer) Vic Garbarini to do so. (It turned out that that the only people who thought his show was as brilliant as I did were guitar players, 14-year-old boys, and musicologists. A substantial percentage of the crowd that I said were going berserk with joy when Neil hit the stage actually left during his 18-minute opening song — which I reported as clocking in at 13 minutes — and rather than reveling in Neil’s one-note guitar solo, as I did, the vast majority of those who stayed felt like my cousin Rob. “I thought he was having a seizure,” he said.)
I was up until 8:30 on Saturday morning writing 600 words about Friday night. When I sent my piece into my editor, it was with an apology. “I’m sorry this is so late,” I said. “I’ll get it together tonight.”
I didn’t. On Saturday night, I was so exhausted that the only artist I could pay attention to was Metallica, and my notes weren’t exactly detailed — the most eloquent was “Metallica fucking rocks.” And, while I was duly impressed by the flame pots, pyrotechnics, lasers and fireworks, I recorded only that I had a hankering for a tiny Stonehenge replica and jigging dwarfs. (I wanted to know how many guitars Metallica had used during their 18-song set, and before I asked a lighting guy, I asked my cousin Rick. “Say that according to an uninformed source, they had 47,” Rick said.)
I turned in Saturday night’s post at 3:00 pm on Sunday. It was only 300 words and it took me nine hours to write. (I spent two of them on the phone with Jaan Uhelski, who’s a top-notch journalist, a Metallica expert, and a patient friend, and two of them crying.)
By the time I got to the site on Sunday evening, I was over it. That may have been why I hated arrogant fuck Jack White as much as I did, but it’s more likely that it was because his publicist wouldn’t give me a set list. Even wide awake, there’d have been no way I would have been able to tell which songs were from which of his musical incarnations — in addition to material from his most recent album, he played songs from the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather and something called Rome. Covering a Jack White show is a job best left to rock critics, which, I finally realized, I am definitely not.
I didn’t file a piece on Monday morning. I couldn’t. I had a bitch of a headache — probably because I’d eaten 47 cupcakes in the promoter’s suite — and all I wanted to write about was how miserable I was. I was concerned that my ineptitude might reflect poorly on Leah, my excellent editor, but I didn’t care about it reflecting poorly on me. I was a rock critic for 72 hours, and that was all it took for me to figure out that a) it’s the hardest music-related job there is and b)I’ll never do it again.
I will, however, go back to Outside Lands. My cousin Rick’s company, Superfly, promotes the festival, and at Superfly events, Farmans are everywhere. (I didn’t write about Outside Lands itself because, in an uncharacteristic display of integrity, I thought it was a conflict of interest.) I’m all about my family, particularly my Aunt Jane, who told me that I looked good – “not emaciated!” — and my Uncle Ed, who thought that Fitz and the Tantrums would have rocked a Bar Mitvah. Rick’s incredible — he’s the reason I’m in San Francisco — and Rob is hysterically funny.
So Dad! Take note! I may hate being a rock critic, but I love being a Farman, and nothing could be more cheerful or uplifting than that.