“No matter how iconic she became, Joplin was always judged as a woman: audiences embraced her talent but never forgave her for using it. Jagger and Lennon were met backstage by adoring fans willing to do anything for their company, but while Joplin had her fun, Echols describes a scene that typifies her frequent desolation: after acing her New York debut, at the Anderson Theater, Joplin found herself alone as her bandmates in Big Brother and the Holding Company went off to party. She wandered to a dive bar, where a journalist approached her; as she complained to him about the guys in the group, he “fantasized shutting her up with the ultimate put-down: ‘You forget you have acne.’””

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (Cyndi Lauper cover)


Elliott Smith died ten years ago Monday. This fact means a lot of different things to a lot of different people; for me, it means that it has also been just about ten years since the first time I published a piece of “music writing,” which is not something I used to put quotes around but now increasingly feel the need to do. I had been writing about music and pushing it out into the world through LiveJournal entries and self-made webpages for years and years before October 2003, but there was something about a byline, even just in a tiny liberal arts college’s tiny weekly student newspaper, that changed how I thought about myself—as a writer, as a person. It would not be entirely accurate to say that I was an Elliott Smith fan at the time of his death; I was more familiar with his general belovedness than any of his albums. That week I went to one of my first newspaper staff meetings and when the Arts & Entertainment editor asked if anyone had story ideas I chirped something about Elliott Smith having died and that possibly meriting some kind of tribute. The idea wasn’t to write the story myself, because I didn’t think I deserved to write it myself; it had more to do, probably, with seeming cool (and useful, and smart) to the rest of the staff, these people who I thought were so cool—they were all upperclassmen and knew their way around campus and had long-standing in-jokes and knew how to put together a newspaper, all of these things I was desperate to fathom and have as parts of my own self. I figured they already knew that Elliott Smith had died and that one or more of them had a wrenching, heartfelt ode set to run—but (not that I would have recognized or copped to this at the time) I just wanted them to know that I knew, too. Shockingly, they did not know, not one of them. And so I found myself in the position of having to explain not only that this person had died, but who he was to begin with. I left the meeting with the assignment. What I wound up writing was maybe an ode, at most half heartfelt and probably only wrenching because I had no idea what I was doing but was trying so hard to know. The newspaper was print-only then so it’s not online now, and even though it’s probably sitting in an accordion folder at my house or my parents’ house I haven’t yet felt brave or stupid enough to go dig it out. Having said that, now I guess I have to. Anyway, I am feeling pretty great about not lobbying harder to digitize the newspaper once I crawled my way up to editor a few years later.

It’s not entirely a coincidence that this week, ten years after all that, I sent some emails to a couple friends and a couple editors telling them that I think I am going to take a break from “music writing” for a while. This is not the result of some fit of pique; I’ve been thinking about it for months now. And with all the stuff coming up about the tenth anniversary of Elliott Smith’s death, I was thinking about him and where I was then, and that first “real” thing I wrote, which now seems to have happened on the far side of a vast gulf. Music writing hasn’t been the core of what I “do” for years—not since I was at Paste, really, and even then it was not all I did—but for some time it was the main thing and the thing that, if anyone knew of me, they probably knew me for that. I have been described as “a music writer” more than any other kind of writer, and for some time I thought of myself primarily as one, even when I was writing (as I still do) about many other sorts of things. In part I never felt like shrugging off the title even when it seemed misapplied because it was something I had wanted for so long and for so long never thought I would actually be able to claim.

Bonnie Prince Billy and Susanna Wallumrød, “In Spite of Ourselves” (John Prine cover)

Shovels & Rope, “Birmingham”

Cute kids, a lost dog, scrappy muddy rock & roll. Do you want to cry? Here.

Barry Manilow. Barry Manilow! When I told my mother-in-law that I was going to interview him, she shrieked. I am now considering making all career choices henceforth based on what will make my mother-in-law shriek. In the meantime, my story/Q&A—with Manilow and his long long longtime songwriting partner Bruce Sussman about the musical they wrote years ago, which is finally getting properly premiered at Atlanta’s Alliance Theater next month—is in the September issue of Atlanta magazine and online right here. It’s very pink.

No end of my love for Laura Veirs.

Well, this was fun! Aarik Danielson with the Columbia Daily Tribune interviewed me for a series about music writing, which I haven’t actually been doing a lot of lately, which may have actually been the only way I could answer any of these questions with any amount of coherence. Perspective! Sometimes it’s good to kinda accidentally make yourself get it. Anyway—thanks, Aarik.

“But of everything, he seemed most excited about those rain microphones. He’d finally got around to installing them, and they were already paying off. “A few weeks ago, the kids were in my bed,” he said. “Six in the morning — it was still dark. I said to Scarlett, ‘Is it raining?’ and she said no — which goes to show you really can’t tell. She hadn’t seen the trick yet. So I said: ‘Let me see. Let me turn the rain on.’

“And it wasn’t just sprinkling — it was storming. And she said the greatest thing — she said, ‘Can you turn the sun up, too?’ ”

White laughed. “I had a big choice there. Should I keep letting her think I have control of the weather? You want your children to think you can control the weather if you need to. At this point,” he said, “she still thinks I control the rain.”