Thursday, February 23, 2006

Three Reasons Lomax's "Band Suicide" is Bad Writing and Why it Matters

I've seen some encouraging threads and other musician blogs about this article so I'm going to expound on my original post.

Three Reasons "Band Suicide" is Bad Writing:

  1. It's Truthiness. The full title of the piece is "Band Suicide: Why so many Houston music groups self-destruct right on the brink of having it made." You get the impression you're going to read about at least a few groups of close musicians, probably friends, and how their common dream fell apart. What you get is the story of one Houston player trying to make a come back by fabricating a band made up of players that aren't from Houston. Your expert witness is also a fabricator. Tom Bunch is a promoter and spin artist (read that negatively if you want). Ultimately the article is a fabrication. It's an opinion piece passed off as news (and I believe it was printed in the News section of the Press not the Music section). Lomax shapes this story to what he wants to say about the "Houston Scene" without giving any credible examples or even a good reason for doing it. Sure, there might be a story in Hagaa's aggressive attempt to make something happen for himself but in truth the story just doesn't have the angle Lomax presents.
  2. It lacks historical accuracy or authority. Like him or not, Tom Bunch is a polarizing figure in the Houston music business. To pass him off simply as the "real deal" is naive. To put in his quote that Sprawl was "just okay" is amateur. I blame Lomax for that because Tom Bunch may have said it but Lomax doesn't back the quote up with anything. It's just kind of plugged in there like a bullying punch in the gut. It doesn't have any meaning other than to be hurtful. The history behind it is that Nick Cooper of Sprawl was essentially a rival of Tom Bunch if not a bonafide enemy. In the 90's both Nick and Tom could pack a house in Houston any day of the week. Sprawl consistently sold out places like Fitzgerald where they could pull in over a thousand kids even on a week night. But Nick's scene was organic and decidedly DIY. Bunch opened the vacuous obviously money driven Vatican. The editor of the fourth largest city's leading alternative press shouldn't present such a one-sided case and casually slight the biggest act on the Houston scene in the time Lomax is referring to. Sprawl was also highly involved in the scene not just for their own good. Sprawl was committed to the bands they liked around town and they liked a diverse bunch not just funk. The players are still in the community doing good things too.
  3. It lacks expertise. So one argument people have been using against the Lomax piece is that his idea of "making it" is distasteful. Well let's assume for a minute that we all believe in Lomax's idea of "making it" which he implies is the Big Time-LA Style-Major Label-U2 idea. Okay fine and your argument is that the Houston scene screws people's chance of making it. Where has Lomax been for the past ten years or so? You don't have to be the music editor for the largest alternative press in the fourth largest city in the country to know that the industry is in crisis. You just have to read Business Week. Arena rock is now a form of corporate executive entertainment, and musicians are better educated to steer away from the illusion of a major label deal. Major labels don't even sign acts unless they've worked hard on the indie circuit, touring and what not and made it clear that they are a bread winner. In that way Tom Bunch has it right. He said he wouldn't work with Hagaa until he actually had a band. Lomax should have gotten a clue right there that his angle was wack.

So I didn't want to make it personal and why should I? The Houston Press was always nice to me. de Schmog won lots of awards and got good press from HP and Public News. But if I did make it personal I might remind everyone that John Nova Lomax is the grandson the most influential collector of "local music" in the world. Allen Lomax dedicated his life to capturing the essence of place through sound. His grandson is telling Houston kids to seek their advice from an LA Music Industry Webzine. What is JNL's mission in life? If you ask me, he has Cameron Crowe fantasies.

So why is it important?

I spent ten years in the Houston music scene. Throughout that time I always heard lamenting about the lack of a scene and whatever. I remained a staunch defender as did the Sprawl guys and most everybody who was actually doing something. The biggest fault I always saw in the scene, if you want to call it that, was that the press would fall into this trap. At the Houston Press specifically, they would continually hire these freelance writers who hated Houston, knew nothing about it and were just using the job as a stepping stone. When de Schmog went out on the road I started seeing that this is a culture that can actually be changed and it can start with the way you tell the story. A good music editor would find importance in the fact that he is writing about a specific place and respect that place. For better or worse s/he should present the best of the culture as what it is in that place and time; respect his audience's intelligence and desire to be a part of a culture, not lectured to or pitied. What Houston got is a damaging senseless article. What it deserves is a good music editor.


Ramon Medina - LP4 said...

Ha yeah I agree that the central Thesis to the article was pretty wrong-headed though, I'd argue, not malicious in intent.

John Cramer said...

Hey Killian, John Cramer here. I like your comments on the whole 'Band Suicide' affair. I personally found the Bunch Sprawl comment a bit off balance, but it's interesting to hear of the friction between Bunch and Nick Cooper.
I think that if Haaga wants to catalogue Dead Horse flotsam, it's neither here nor there. I mean, I don't personally see the point, but whatever.
I think the entire point of the piece was for Lomax to take another stab at his friend's creative identity for public consumption. He has been a cheerleader and champion for Haaga since his 'band' began it's life. That doesn't particularly bother me either, but what does is the fact that he chose to cloak an article about his buddy in the guise of a lament for all the local bands who can't catch a break. Except, of course, that he cites no one other than Haaga! And besides, to me Sprawl was enormously successful on their own terms, as was De Schmog, and the Guiness Lovers. I could include tons of other locals like Sugar Shack, Charalambides, Linus, Dry Nod, the Keenlies etc...
Houston is a fine experiment. It has a strong 'scene' all its own. And what we don't need is orange shoes, and self-congratulatory promoters bent on kicking us for not being marketable. Fuck that.

So, how's Chicago? I know we barely know each other, but your blog has made me realize that I regret it.

Kilian said...

Hey John Cramer! Good to hear from you and good words.

Yeah the reason I stuck with Sprawl as an example is because they were mentioned in the article and also because Sprawl saw the writing on the wall years ago and went DIY. They had their moment in the sun and they have themselves to thank for it. You know, what would all of Hagaa's work amounted to if his stars had aligned? A moment of glory perhaps but if the White Stripes can't sell a second Major Label album why should anyone else? More likely Hagaa's trip would have ended up like Mary Cutrufello's. Remember her/where is she now? Yeah she's from Houston and a few years back she got a Major Label record deal and played on the Tonight Show. The Lomax dream! Didn't see her mentioned. Just part of the why this/why now? question about Lomax's piece. I'd also like to more forthrightly mention Fatal Flying Guilloteens. Them boys are on a roll. They just got signed to French Kiss Records (album out this summer), a national label that puts out Les Savvy Fav and the Hold Steady to name a couple. FFG puts on an amazing Rock and Roll show. Their success is due to a real band comradery and the hard work of touring. And guess what? They're from Houston!

Also in the name of forthrightness...I linked this in my blog. It's an article that came out in Business Week the week before Lomax's piece. Here's the first few lines...
"To quote the sages of AC/DC, rock 'n' roll ain't noise pollution. And now it ain't that good a business, either.

In 2006 the mainstream rock act that reliably sells platinum, or 1 million copies, is an endangered species. Subtract those established in eras just past, such as U2 and Green Day, and the population shrinks further. This is a relief to savvy listeners -- thousands of independent-label flowers now bloom -- but it's hell on major record labels, which still need massive sales from franchise bands."

Okay enough of that. Chicago's cold! But things are good here. I'm playing music, actually in a couple of few projects. It's hard though for an old timer like me to break into a new music community. Chicago, like Houston, is a welcoming city though. At least in my band churchbus I'm not the oldest player. Not that it matters because the oldest player in churchbus, although he just turned 50, is like the most energetic guy. He's been playing rock and roll since the 70's. In 1978 his band the C*nts released what is considered by some to be the first punk rock single out of Chicago. When we were first introduced, he said to me "you're from Houston? I love Sugar Shack!"

Keep on rockin' on.

Kilian said...

And a BIG hello to Ramon too!

Ramon Medina - LP4 said...

good points all. I think John's gotten to the root of the problem in that truthfully the article is about Lomax lamenting a band he really loves and makes a mistake in expanding Lomax's disappointment [which derives from Lomax's expectations and not necessarily Haaga's] to all of Houston.

Anyhow, glad to see you blogging I now have you linked on the LP4 Blog so I can easily read your latest musings.

Rock like Dio my friend

Justin said...

I should point out that Brian McManus, who fronts the Guilloteens (and who are indeed awesome) is a regular contributor at the Press and because of that, there is no shortage of ink on them.

Also, I'm not sure John Nova is the grandson of Alan. I think he might be the great-grandson of John Avery, whom you might remember was the first Lomax to do the field recordings.

Kilian said...

I didn't know that Brian wrote for the Press or that the Press wrote about FFG. I actually did a google to find out before I wrote what I wrote and nothing about them in the Press came up.

I do know that Brian wrote me a three page fan letter when he was in high school. Kewl Kid, good taste!

John Cramer said...

Wow, you get fan mail?! I love you.

FFG doesn't get a ton of play in the Press, but again to my original point about the whole pal angle.

Chicago, cold? Who'd a thunk.

Justin said...

Check it. Written by Brian about Brian. I found like 35 other mentions and another piece written by Kwame of Freedom Sold fame. Also there are quite a few mentions of Brian's other project, Filthy McNasty.

But yeah, John, it would seem that if you don't know somebody at the Press, you don't exist.

Kilian said...

Brian's Road Trip Journal is HI-friggin-larious. OMG I'm LOL over here.

But it doesn't steal from my point that Lomax wasted trees so he could wank off in the Press (that's what blogs are for).

Look, Michael Hagaa doesn't even make pretenses to calling his project a band. He calls it a "solo project." It's on the web under his name and it's on MySpace under his name. It's just irresponsible journalism.

Tom Bunch and Michael Hagaa (no offense to Michael Hagaa you can insert Nick Cooper, Richard Tomcala, Bliss Blood or me for that matter) representin' in 06. Agh.

Believe me I could go on forever trashing this article so don't keep feeding the fire =)

Thanks for being such a diligent spelling and fact checker(no sarcasm intended).

Excuse me, it's saturday night and I must now go forth and rock for the people.

Peter said...

I value the opinion of Lomax, and to say that a band is "okay" as Bunch said, isn't necessarily a bad thing. There's many levels of "worse than okay" and opinions tend to be personal anyway. I would be pretty content if Bunch said my music was "okay" actually; Toadies and Surfers made it pretty far. Also, where's the facts to back up the person who asserts that Cooper and Bunch were rivals (paraphrased), or should we all just know this history?
The point here is that Lomax uses Bunch as a source because of his success with Toadies and Butthole Surfers. Certainly Lomax should have cited other examples of Houston bands with suicidal tendencies (no pun intended) aside from just Haaga's experiences. My opinion is that artists in the Houston scene just don't give a damn about catering to main stream hype, and I'm grateful that we have a forum (if trendy) like myspace to get some of this great artistic expression out to those who appreciate talent unbiased by the almighty dollar.

Kilian said...

Hi Peter - Thanks for the input. I value Mr. Lomax opinion too (and recognize his influence) which is why I was upset with this particular article.

My point in bringing up the rivalry was to demonstrate that both sides of the argument are not being equally represented in a piece that is being passed off as "news." Cooper was Sprawl's player-captain. He played drums with Sprawl and managed their business affairs. Sprawl was outspokenly DIY but they weren't business incompetent. They had big shows, traveled the country, and sold thousands of cd's, t-shirts, tapes, etc... Their diy message would have been a nice counter view to Bunch's "LA" view. But Lomax doesn't allow the other side a voice - just as he didn't allow the players in Hagaa's solo project a voice in this article.

How can you talk about "Band Suicide" and only hear from one player?

Speaking of MySpace, someone on Hagaa's page commented that it wasn't band suicide it was band murder and Hagaa murdered it. There's always more than one side to an argument.

I hope you're right in that Houston groups don't cater to main stream hype but of course it's a generalization to say anything like that just as this article was a generalization of the business and like you said didn't even allude to any bands as the article title would suggest.

Right you are too to put your music out there in places like MySpace because the industry is changing. Myspace, music blogs ,etc - they can do a lot for a musician. DIY is more and more a common practice. Hagaa should put his stuff out there like Devin Davis (see post above) and let the People decide. Clap your hands, say yeah.

Peter said...

Killian, I don't have much to say in response to your comment. I think we basically agreed on most things, the important being that it's just not representative journalism to take one particular person's experience. What I did want to mention was for you to explore the music of the bands from houston who's myspaces are and if you would like an example of some Houston talent (in my humble opinion). Bear in mind, though I myself am a musician, I have no affiliation with these guys, if that tells you anything. It should however, go without saying that H-Town is definitely one of the larger players in the rap scene. Too bad the only medium we have for the more obscure music is at KTRU.

Anonymous said...

It might be worth noting that the folks who are really dissed in Lomax's piece are the young musicians who were kind enough to help Mike put his solo act together. These guys are incredibly talented musicians and they ARE young, with original projects of their own that they work hard on and believe in(y'all should check them out: middlefinger, 30 Foot Fall, Three Fantastic, The Rachels, Clouseaux, Les Saucy Pants , to name just a few).I know these guys and I can tell you that none of them ever promised Mike that they were in it for the long haul, and I'm pretty sure that Mike was aware of that at the time. Let's put some credit where some credit is due: WE, Mike Haaga included, are all lucky to be working with THEM. I think the article is weird and I can't understand why it was put in the news section either, but the saddest thing about it is that it makes Mike Haaga look like a complete dick. I know that Press music editors are notoriously ornery, and that Lomax may just be trying to live up to the legacy that Brad Tyer left for him, but I'm sure that he couldn't have meant his article to damage Mike's image so much.

Brad Tyer said...

Jesus H. Christ...I would like to thank everyone here, friends and strangers alike, for reminding me why I (mostly) quit writing about music.
Can it really be that what Tom Bunch thinks of Sprawl is still news? Is calling them "okay" such a horrible dis? Any more than the barbs being aimed at Haaga ("not to my taste," "I miss deadhorse," waaah...) Or am I to understand that just because Sprawl was popular, they're unquestionably great, because if that's the criteria we're suddenly using...
On the other hand, has anyone asked anyone in the Butthole Surfers or the Toadies what they think of Tom Bunch lately?
Is Lomax, who's a far more conscientious observer and lucid writer than he'll ever be rewarded for (low blow, Killian, my friend, and unjustified, especially coming from a self-proclaimed journalism major who tries to shame his target by comparison to his ancestors, and then gets his family nine kinds of wrong), allowed to float an arguably flawed thesis for discussion, or did no one here ever take anyone's $5 cover in exchange for a set of shitty songs badly and probably drunkenly played in the name of supporting the creative process?
And just who the hell are all these unnamed "careerist" music critics stepping-stoning to godknowswhere? If Killian can move when circumstances demand, or even just when he wants to - and that's every fucking bit his right - then a music writer, or even just a writer interested in music—at least until sniping musicians beat that interest out of him—sure as shit ought to be able to move wherever his or her opportunities take them.
Christ, nothing to get the famously supportive Houston scene up in arms like a great record someone ELSE made... even worse if someone who's made it their job to pay attention likes it...then it's obviously a personal favor among insiders, so the DIYers can bitch and moan about being left out in the cold.
Fucking amateur hour.
And who's this anonymous twat calling me ornery?
Kisses from Montana,

Kilian said...

Hi Brad - First, big hugs. Miss you freakazoid.

Can't say the Mountain air has left you cold my friend =)

For the record I wasn't pointing fingers at you when I made reference to hired guns at the Press.

Speaking of amatuer hour, how is the Missoula News treating you? If you think that article ain't shite for any number of reasons, then all that cow poop has drained the oxygen from your head.

And yeah what the hell are Bunch, Sprawl and Hagaa still doing making news in Houston? And why do you and I care?

Brad Tyer said...

And big hugs back, of course. I just happened to be in Houston last weekend for Jennifer Mathieu’s wedding to Kevin Blessington and stumbled into the shitstorm. Nodler told me there was a Lomax response on yer blog so I checked it out. And yeah, there are some gaping holes in that article, but whatever, we’re all shooting for 10% at best, especially those of us working for a living. It’s the responses that get/got my blood boiling. But hey, you’re correct, it keeps me warm at night here in the land of fog and snow.
And for the record I didn’t think the careerist finger was pointed at me, but in fairness I think my same defense should apply to anyone else who gets shuffled through there – mostly I just hate to see this degenerate into this name-calling crap about who is and isn’t local enough to get a fair hearing. That’s a bullshit criteria and oughtn’t be stooped to. And the article may or mayn’t be shite, but even so, to respond to a shitey idea with a personal attack bespeaks a personal issue with the author unbecoming, methinks. Attack the idea if you like, and boom: we’re having a discussion. But to rake Lomax over the coals for being a shitty writer, an out-of-town poser and a crappy, even HARMFUL music editor is, whatever his occasional failings — and we all have them — untrue and unworthy on three counts. I’m here to step up for the scribblers.
I also think there’s an unfortunate tone of glee seeping through this discussion about the failures of Haaga and anyone else whose idea of making it dares to differ from the DIY handbook. Haaga’s new one may not be to your taste – it’s not to a lot of people’s taste, sniff sniff — but dude, it’s also a hell of a lot more than just “well-produced,” and that’s a crappy dig at a fellow toiler. Also, why so happy to see Mary Cutrufello disappear? What harm did she ever do you or anyone else by having a different dream?
But back to amateur hour (ouch, dude, when’d you get that edge?), the Missoula Independent (missoulanews is the website address) is keeping my head above water —and it is (he says proudly) a hell of a lot better paper than the Houston Press — but it’s going on three and a half years now, and that’s a whole lot to take of anything. Maybe I'll mellow into it yet—I've got no plans to be elsewhere in any case.
But finally, yes, who can believe we’re still talking about this stuff? Thank god we don’t have even the shadow of a music scene up here. In Missoula, it’s all about snooty writers instead.
Come visit and I’ll buy you a beer and calm my ass down, eh?
Best, as ever, bt

Kilian said...

Brad - Pardon my dig about your new gig. Of course I was only snapping back and fully respect your writing capabilities...especially as the music editor who once assigned (and then refused to run) the one and only piece I ever contributed to the Houston Press. (25 words on a 3 CD Mexican Sons Anthology, gimme a break!) Remember how I found you after so many years? By googling John Steinbeck's ruminations on Texas only to find a nice little article you wrote in the Missoula Independent. That was pretty cool.

It's not personal between me and Lomax. Not at all, in fact I've been meaning to send him a Texas Guinness Lovers CD from the New Year's Eve show just as a friend because I happened to notice that his MySpace Top 8 (jesus that's a dorky thing to write) has a lot of the same peeps as the TGL MySpace including Bob Wills and St. Patrick. I didn't mean to question his Houstonian-ness either although he sure wanted to defend it, sheesh.

I don't have anything against Hagaa nor am I a raving Sprawl fanatic. Both artists are in the crossfire so to speak. I only mentioned a minor criticism of Hagaa's new work in a personal letter to Lomax because it's purported genius is Lomax's only defense. I tell ya when a music editor hands over the reigns so one artist can whine in public about his compadres, it doesn't exactly make this citizen want to go out and buy the record - not to mention he makes Hagaa out to be a moping mess by the end of the article (not that Hagaa's doing such a great job of cleaning up his image, posting his new demo "Pissing on a Dream" on MySpace...good grief guys get on with it).

I don't see how my Cutrefello example can be construed as morbid glee. I find that you seem more defensive than most about even the slightest mention of critical opinion for artists or writers. That's pretty thin skinned for a writer (and a snowbound hermit hehe). Although I'll give you that I was a bit harsher than needed towards Lomax and I tried to make up for it in my letter back.

You offer the article up as a discussion and I turn the discussion around and say this to you - forget about the bands, what legacy of tasteful and intelligent rock criticism has Houston produced? Why can't Houston sustain a good writing culture? Let alone a good rock label, paper, managers...

I'll take you up on that drink and hope that you will do the same - our house is always open to you!

Brad Tyer said...

No pardon necessary - its the same thought that keeps me awake way too late at night. As for the aborted review, pretty sure that was for Sidewalk, and here's hoping I'm a better editor now than I was then.
And I'm glad to hear it's not personal tween you and Lomax, cos you're both good guys, good intentions, and talented to boot. There's too much crap out there to rage about without dragging to good ones down with the ship, nevermind the arguable merits of any one particular article, or song for that matter.
I certainly don't want to get into defending Haaga or his current scenario - any taste that isn't wildly personal and subjective doesn't deserve the name, I think Kenneth Rexroth once rightly wrote - and if he's shitting his own nest with the griping that's something he'll have to deal with. I don't expect my artists to necessarily be nice guys, though it's alaways a treat to find one who is.
And with Sprawl, hell, I'm as big a fan as anyone, shy of all the 17-year-old girls that used to tag along after them, but I guess I'm still responding to your allegation that Lomax's Bunch quote on the subject was somehow unfair. I just disagree. I don't think it's unfair or particularly harsh, and certainly not attributable to malfeasance on Lomax's part.
As to morbid glee, well, that's what it looks like, like these folks somehow got what they deserved for taking a different route toward their, umm, bliss. I object cos it's a big world, and there's alot of ways to get wherever you're going, and I always thought it was in the correct rock and roll spirit to do it one's own way. Gratified to hear the glee is my misinterpretation.
And hell, I'll cop to thin-skinnedness. It's always that way with fucking critics, no?
Finally, what legacy of "tasteful" and "intelligent" rock criticism has Houston produced. I'm not even gonna swing at that softball, but I'd hazard it's no worse than what most American cities have enjoyed in that particular sub-niche, publishing and music-biz strongholds like New York and maybe LA aside. And while I'd argue that Houston has indeed at various times supported a vibrant writing community, I'd also argue that community is the wrong measure. Artistic endeavor - writing and music both - is primarily, with exceptions, an individualistic pursuit, and the doomed but insistent impulse to force it into a communal aggregate is probably the biggest flaw of John's article, and every other "what's the deal with the scene" article ever written, all those I tiresomely wrote very much included.
And with that, good sir, I think I'm gonna stop writing about music again and get on with it. Thanks for the conversation and look forward to seeing you somewheres down the line. bt

Anonymous said...

yo guys - hey brad, I'm the twat that called you ornery, and you know it's true - you suck harder for being in texas and not coming to see me. marianthe.

brad tyer said...

Oh cripes. I shoulda known that'd come back to bite me on the ass. Hey Mo. Sorry I missed you, and almost everyone else, but in Friday night out Sunday afternoon for a Saturday wedding didn't leave me a lot of room to maneuver. What's yer email so I can harass you off-line - I never get responses anymore from the addresses I've got for you guys. Much love in the meantime, bt