It has been almost six years since I first set ink to page and started writing about the Des Moines music scene for Cityview. It was my first paying gig since moving back to town, and over the years I have been given the chance to write about some genuinely cool stuff. But let's not bury the lede here: the time has come to walk away from Iowa's oldest independent weekly, and August 4 will be my last issue as the magazine's music writer.
It is a decision that I have been mulling for a few months now, but something that didn't really become crystallized in my mind until this past weekend, sitting on a curb, waiting for music to start on the Nationwide Stage at this year's 80/35 Music Festival: I love the friends I have made, and am highly amused by the people I've annoyed, but I The Time has come.
Critique is not something that you get into for any sense of ego. It is a thankless task; one that your employers will never view as particularly financially valuable, and one where your readership's loyalties will turn with the wind.
That last part, in fact, is the only real way you know if you are doing your job well: if you find the same people agreeing with you all the time on everything, you're probably stuck in the rut of your own desires. To that end, I have been a phenomenally successful writer. There is a long list of people in town who have told me to fuck off one week, bought me a beer the next, then gone back to telling me to fuck off. And I have taken every compliment and every piece of vitriol in the same stride.
Critique requires more objectivity than many people will admit, and at a much higher cost than most other sections of your daily newspaper. Because critique is the one quasi-journalistic profession wherein you might very well have to look someone whom you like very much as a person square in the eye, and tell them you didn't like their art.
That's a real bastard's job.
I like to think that I've done my work without getting personal. I haven't gone back and looked at all 900+ columns I've written for CV to check, but I can not recall a time when I levied a personal attack against anyone within the Des Moines music community. I've had some harsh things to say, and I've often done it in a very direct voice, but I've always done my level best to keep the commentary about the art, and not the person. Who knows. Maybe I failed at some point.
But when you do this job, you also steel yourself for the understanding that just because you do not get personal, that does not mean that people won't take the things you write very personally. Art is about passion. It does not matter if it is music, or paint, or words or film, people create those things from a place of passion and heart. And other people appreciate them from a similar lofty vantage point. So it is only right and fair that people would react to critique of the things they love so vehemently with varying levels of passion. I begrudge none of the angry words I've received, nor do I apologize for a single word I've written. I have never shied away from the responses to my work, and there are many of you out there who can attest to the fact that I'm always willing to jump into the lion's den, grab a drink, and talk to anyone face to face. But to anyone out there of whom I've made an enemy over these six years, allow me to say that any lingering animosity is almost completely one-sided.
So where do we go from here? Much to the chagrin of some of you, I'm not leaving town. I will continue to write about local music and art here on Culture Myth, freed from the constraints of deadlines and word counts. I will probably continue to review the occasional local CD here and there, but for the most part I imagine that critique will become a less and less common thing in my writing, replaced with a different brand of commentary. The last two pieces that I have written here are good examples of what to expect, though their frequency might kick up a little bit.
Professionally, I'm moving on. Still writing, just not as Cityview's regular music critic. I wish everyone there all the best, and I will always be grateful to them for the opportunity they gave me to shape my voice and cover a few of the things that I found to be important and worth talking about in Des Moines.
The city's music scene is in a better place now than it was when I got here. Don't worry, I won't try and take any credit for that. If I played any role at all in the scene's current health, it was simply by enticing one or two people who had never seen a local show to finally do so. Beyond that meager contribution, the rest has been up to you. So to the local musicians who have honed their craft and produced amazing work, I say thank you. To the venue owners and bookers who competently ply their trades and give the bands houses to play in, you have my admiration. And finally, to everyone who has ever bought me a beer or told me to fuck off (or, let's be honest, both), thank you for reading. The supportive tweets and angry Facebook conversations are the only ways my editors knew anyone was reading at all, and it was your sustained love/hate relationship that allowed me to write all these years, and to leave on my own terms.
It's been a fun ride, Des Moines. Hopefully, I'll see more than a few of you here. Mahalo.