#082: Millennials Could Never
I’m Todd L. Burns, and welcome to Music Journalism Insider, a newsletter about music journalism. I highlight some of the best stuff I hear, read, and watch every week; publish news about the industry; and interview writers, scholars, and editors about their work. My goal is to share knowledge, celebrate great work, and expand the idea of what music journalism is—and where it happens. Questions, comments, concerns? You can reach me anytime at email@example.com.
Today in the newsletter: Interviews with Clover Hope, author of The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop; North Carolina music expert David Menconi; and freelance writer Ashley Bardhan. Plus! A new edition of Notes On Process with Pitchfork contributing editor Isabelia Herrera, reading recommendations, and much more! But first…
“We’ve, Uh, Made A Few Modifications For Modern Audiences”
Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff explains how a Trinidadian communist invented London’s biggest party
Benjamin Poore celebrates classical music ushers
Various music writers talk about the reviews that have stuck with them
Uproxx has been publishing lots of great work during Black History Month
Kristin Robinson explains what the 2000s music toy boom can teach us today
El Hunt explores the world of music supervision
Saeed Jones on chosen families
Cian Ó. Cíobháin has found the fisherman who inspired Andrew Weatherall’s famed “Fail we may, sail we must” tattoo
Former Longreads editor Michelle Weber talks at length about editing
Andrew Unterberger interviews a host of adult album alternative program directors to see how the radio format evolved over the years
Q&A: Clover Hope
Clover Hope is a writer, contributing editor at Pitchfork, and the author of the new book The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop. Clover calls it “an expansive archive of stories that span decades, written by me but also told from the perspective of the women rappers themselves, as well as producers, stylists, peers, music video directors who've worked alongside them, etc.” (You can read an excerpt of the book here.) In this passage from our interview, Clover talks about how she wrote the book.
Conceptually, I knew I wanted to write about what each of the women brought to hip-hop as a culture and rap as a genre. My proposal focused around splitting the book into entries of varying lengths, with each of the entries having a specific angle. For Queen Latifah, I wanted to talk about her achieving longevity through film. For Eve, I decided to write about her bringing high fashion to hip-hop. For Cardi B, I wanted to write about her wielding the power of social media to star-making effect. Once I figured out an angle for each, I went about doing interviews and writing, rewriting, and rewriting. I wrote in batches, about 4 or 5 entries at a time, sharing with my editor along the way and writing/editing/revising over those years. I fine-tuned a lot up until the final hour of returning the final proof.
What's one tip that you'd give someone looking to write a music book right now?
Go beyond the call of duty when it comes to research. The facts you find that aren't readily available is what will make your work distinct and you'll never regret taking that extra step.
Notes On Process: Isabelia Herrera
The latest edition of Notes On Process is here! The idea of this column is pretty simple: I invite a writer to a Google Doc where I’ve copy / pasted one of their pieces and added a bunch of footnotes with flattery, jokes, and questions. They reply to my queries, and then we provide you with a link to the doc where all of our marginalia is visible. The goal is to provide a window into the writing and editing process, so that folks can see how great writers think about their work.
Don’t Give Up!
Liz Pelly joins Money 4 Nothing to chat about alternative platforms and possible futures
Trilloquy talked with Black historian Bill Doggett about diversity in classical music
Will Robin talks about his new book on Bang on a Can on the latest edition of Sound Expertise
Afropop Worldwide charts the Black history of the banjo
Name 3 Songs tackles sexual misconduct and accountability in alternative music
New Yorker writer Hua Hsu was the latest guest on Diversity Hire
The Wind has wrapped up its excellent first season
You’re Wrong About goes into depth on Tipper Gore’s battle against “porn rock”
Stuff You Gotta Watch
Storming Sarajevo, which follows the Desert Storm Soundsystem, has a near-mythical tang to it. When Glasgow raver Keith Robinson takes his techno rig to Sarajevo in the weeks after a ceasefire brings tentative peace to Yugoslavia, he and his pals are carried across unfriendly borders and enemy terrain by the breath of good fortune and their youthful invincibility.
The gang are brazen in the face of border guard trouble (nothing a little light forgery can’t fix!) and all smiles when their vehicle breaks down in sub-zero Slovenia. Somehow, they keep on trucking: past UN soldiers, down a treacherous mountain pass, and finally arriving in Bosnia in one piece. In Sarajevo they receive the warmest of welcomes, cheered on as they tour the city’s bombed-out streets blasting hard techno. Keith’s narration makes the madcap endeavour seem perfectly straightforward – everyone deserves to enjoy music, he points out, not least those in the midst of war (one which in fact had yet to reach its brutal nadir).
Much of this 30-minute travelogue feels either historic or nostalgic, from the images of war-torn Europe to the endless smoking of cigarettes. But what's particularly notable is the sense of freedom that drives their actions; an anti-authoritarian ethos that feels quite shocking now, and one which would lead Keith (who sadly died in 2017) to the French free party scene later in the '90s. Millennials could never.
Millennials Could Never
Q&A: David Menconi
David Menconi spent 33 years as an on-staff daily paper critic, with 28 years logged at News & Observer, out of Raleigh, North Carolina. He calls his newest book, Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk, a sort of farewell address to that life. In this excerpt from our interview, David describes the book and how he came to write it.
Much of my time and energy at the News & Observer went toward covering local music, as well as the larger state’s musical history. So I guess you could characterize Step It Up and Go as my farewell address to that time when I was in the trenches. I modeled it after Nicholas Dawidoff’s In the Country of Country, a 1997 book about the roots and history of country music with chapter-length profiles of major figures. And I used a structure similar to The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, with chapters structured thematically broken up by shorter “sidebar” bits within each one. Step It Up and Go covers about a century’s worth of history, from pre-bluegrass stringband music of the 1920s up to the present day.
How did you come to this subject for a book? What made the topic so interesting to you?
Journalism is the first draft of history, as the saying goes, which meant that this book was a natural summation and next step for me. I came to North Carolina in the early 1990s knowing a bit about college-radio acts from here (Let’s Active, The dB’s, Flat Duo Jets, Connells) and a few of the major figures (Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs), and almost nothing else. My first decade or so here, it was one case after another of discovering, “Oh, you mean Link Wray is from here, too? And John Coltrane? Thelonious Monk? Nina Simone?...” Over time, it seemed like there was a story here that one could tell, weaving all these different figures and styles together.
The Pudding has a fun interactive website where you can compare studio and live versions of famous songs
On his latest release, JPEGMAFIA called out former Fader higher-ups Eric Sundermann and Andy Cohn
Former Creem editor Susan Whitall will be inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame
This Twitter thread about the worst people folks have interviewed is… something
I Care If You Listen has announced its expanded list of contributors
Longtime New York classical music critic Peter Davis has passed away
Imogen Gorden Clark from Omnibus Press breaks down how to get a music book deal
Frequent music biographer Johnny Rogan has passed away
A Cause Worth Supporting
From Scott Crawford, the director of CREEM: America's Only Rock'n'Roll Magazine:
There are so many organizations worth donating to right now. These are truly surreal and unsettling times. This one I feel strongly about: Until Freedom. The organization is led by Tamika D. Mallory and its mission is “an intersectional social justice organization rooted in the leadership of diverse people of color to address systemic and racial injustice.” Please give if you can.
Q&A: Ashley Bardhan
Ashley Bardhan is a freelance journalist with bylines in Pitchfork, Tone Glow, and more. She’s a recent college graduate with a dual degree in Creative Writing and Brain and Cognitive Science. Lately, she’s been writing about Discord uwu girls, Long Island punk, and a video game called Sex With Stalin. In this excerpt from our interview, Ashley explains how she’s organizing her work at the moment.
I think I’m a lazy person by nature so I try to counteract it by being aggressively on top of things. I use a bullet journal, physical calendar, sticky notes, and my phone calendar (with alerts) to remind me of various deadlines and research goalposts. I also send texts to myself the night before with a list of everything I want to accomplish that day, work-related or not.
My inbox is always clean or else I want to throw up, so I have different labels that I immediately sort emails into if I don’t just delete them. PR emails go into my PR label, accepted pitches go into my accepted label, rejected pitches go into my “not now, maybe later” folder, etc. I have an ongoing list of pitch ideas in my notes app, and sometimes I just draft a pitch in my email to get my brain juices juicing. I also keep track of all the money I make in my notes app so I don’t get blindsided around tax time aka now.
Recently, I have been really into scheduling emails. Like I said, I think I’m a kind of lazy person, so I like to be at least a few days ahead of schedule to allow me to take my time and account for edits and unexpected new assignments, things like that. Knowing an email, usually containing what I hope to be clean copy, is just sitting in my scheduled email folder, not even needing me to send it off or do anything because it’s already done… exhilarating!
Call for Presentations: A symposium on carnival music will be held later this year
This website has some great resources for academics, including cover letters and grant applications
Call for Papers: Global Hip-Hop Studies is planning a special issue on Breaking and the Olympics
The Spaces of Musical Cultures: From Bedrooms to Cities conference will take place in March
Call for Papers: CONTEXT: Journal of Music Research, published by the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, is “especially keen to assist publication of work by early-career academics and postgraduate students”
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The Closing Credits
Thanks for reading! Full disclosure: My day job is at uDiscover Music, a branded content online magazine owned by Universal Music. This newsletter is not affiliated or sponsored in any way by Universal, and any links that relate to the work of my department will be clearly marked. Feel free to reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, it’s @JournalismMusic. Until next time…