Recently by Larry Blumenfeld
Have you ever felt the chill? You're fact-checking online like you do when you want to corroborate a cryptic fact or two, googling for a match so you don't have to change that sentence or, worse, fudge it. You click on a site you wouldn't normally visit, and then land on a sentence with a familiar ring. Then another. And another.
Wait a minute: This whole graf sounds like me, the next one too. Even the punctuation.
Turns out the entry for trombonist Glen David Andrews on the Last.fm site was stolen from a piece I did for the September 2008 issue of Jazziz. It wasn't the opening section or the closing part, just 266 words cut and pasted, hanging like a body part with no head, not to mention a byline or acknowledgement to me or to the magazine.
I'm sure many of you reading this have experienced this; I'm pretty sure more of my uncredited and stolen copy is out there in the digital clouds.
Now, I, like you, have come across uncredited quotes of my criticism, small details from my stories that were doubtful to have come from someone else punched into someone else's piece, even strings of word choices I'd agonized over, so I recognized them right off when I saw them.
I'd just never seen a sizeable piece of a story of mine, like a chunk of Gouda, up there with nothing else around it as cover, just stolen and offered up, before. Maybe I was just blind, lucky, or not that rich a source.
For anyone questioning the vitality, validity, or promise of music reviews, wondering how a letter grade might be equitable and meaningful or how a critic can, over time, tell a story with as strong an arc as narrative nonfiction, there was Bob Christgau's Consumer Guide. Once I understood not just what he wrote there but what he didn't, and I stood back and watched how the thing evolved and lived over time, I understood a lot more about diligence, dedication, concision and what not being a hack looks like.
My earlier post regarding arts news on the front page was, I believe, a bit misconstrued--I'm no purist when it comes to writing or reading about the arts (in fact, most of my own work on music during the past few years might reasonably be considered political stuff). Yet I'll not belabor the points I was trying to make back then.
I will however take note of arts news on the front page again (below the fold), in today's New York Times. It's a piece about the Lincoln Center Festival's presentation of "The Demons" this July. Since my wife is the fest's general manager (thus, I never actually write about the festival), this was much the dinner table talk at my home. And since this site's own John Rockwell was founding director of the festival (during a short hiatus from his long career at the Times), I figured the piece raised at least his eyebrows.
Patrick Healy's article is interesting not just for its placement, but for its approach to what is ostensibly an arts-marketing "hot ticket in town" story: Healy quotes at length folks who have purchased tickets (sort of like in those Broadway TV ads, only this time before the show has been seen, and with admittedly more substantive comments) and gets into the sticky business of box office politics (how many tickets go to institutional patrons and to press). I'm curious to know how all this struck our crowd.
I read the Boston Globe art-heist story with great interest and thanks, Laura, for posting it. But is this really an example of arts news making the front page? Or is it a really good crime (and forensic-science) story by a really good investigative reporter that happens to take place in an art museum. I mean it's a great story, well told, and I don't want to dampen either the fun or the serious business of it (those paintings are important and worth a lot of money). But let's say a survey was done of how often arts coverage made it to the front page of a major daily? Would you want this one counted? When I was reporting in New Orleans, I noticed that when a trombonist got arrested during a parade, he rated coverage. Same musician, leading a parade to his CD release party at a local club? Not news. I'm not trying to twist editorial logic: The news section is for news, the front page for big or truly fascinating news. But arts news is about arts, right?
Last thing I need in my life is another online platform for the musings in my head that I generally don't find the time to post in even my existing online platform. But when I lost Bob Christgau as my editor at the Voice I remember thinking--saying to him, actually, maybe-I'd write for you again on toilet paper in a dimly lit room. Well, Bob asked me to join the ARTicles community, which is a great deal more esteemed than two-ply-tissue and pretty well-lit, technologically speaking (yet the pay's pretty much the same).
The point is that what freelance writers like me like is a professionally mediated context that reflects well on our words and the presence of editors, or at least just writers and hopefully readers, that care about how those words are used and what ethics support them before we even get into what's good art.
So I'm in.
Reading Wendy Lesser's post in reference to Alex Ross's New Yorker piece on alternative spaces, I'm prompted to point out that even the spaces indelibly enshrined as the mainstream of this or that often started out as "alternative" ones. I was reminded of that last week when the Village Vanguard--the acoustically charmed, pie-slice shaped, iconic jazz club--celebrated its 75th anniversary. A short film by Deborah Gordon, daughter of founding owner Max and present doyenne Lorraine, focused on the joint's roots: established by literary types; placed on the map by a group of unknowns called the Revuers (actress-comedian Judy Holliday and the songwriting duo of Betty Comden and Adolphe Green); and home to performances by Lenny Bruce, "Professor" Irwin Corey, Miriam Makeba, Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, among others, early on. (At the party, Corey, who's 95, was as insightfully incoherent as a half-century ago; in the film, we got see Lenny Bruce as interviewed by Nat Hentoff, circa 1960s).