Monday, March 17, 2008

Harp is gone. Read all about it.

Playing right now: a Classical mix to help Baby D sleep

I got an email on Friday that Harp - the magazine that straddled the line between independent, geek-centric music and all other forms of rock and pop that were smart enough to be covered - has gone the way of Creem. In other words, it has ceased publication. This hurts me especially because I was a freelancer for the magazine.
The reasoning was the one you'd expect, it wasn't solvent enough to keep it running any longer. (This is no industry secret, lest you wonder. The word is being made official as I type.) Besides, if I'm writing for a publication, it's destined to go under before too long. InPittsburgh? It died less than two years after I became a staff writer. Pulp? Took about two years and four months for that critter to get the rug pulled out from under it. If there's any lesson to be learned it, it's that good things never last.
Sorry I don't mean to be so bitter. And I don't mean to make it all about me.
Well, wait......this is my blog, so it IS all about me, at least for the moment, right? And I'm not about to bite any hands out there that have fed me, anyway. Harp was very good to me. You know what it's like reading people like Fred Mills for years and then have him become your editor? It makes you feel like you've climbed up another rung in the music journalism ladder. Gillian A. Gaar's name was usually just a few pages away from mine. And I got to sound off on a Barbara Manning box set in a major publication. You know how many years I've had to practice that? And it didn't look like a gush fest either. It teaches you something when you only have 200 words in which to do that too.
So thanks, Scott Crawford for founding the magazine. Thanks, Fred for everything. Thanks, Randy Harward for letting me move beyond just CD reviews.
I've never met any of them. Yet. Only communicated through email. It's ironic: I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, if I got more ambitious this year and took on more freelancing that more opportunities might open up and I'd be able to get myself to South by Southwest next year. (This year's installment just wrapped up over the weekend.) Then I might get to meet all those guys, since Harp has been involved in the festival the past couple years. Or at least they've had a lot of parties and written about it.
Not only is that not going to happen, but all those guys probably got word of what was going on right as SXSW was kicking into high gear. That must have been really demoralizing. Or the best reason to stay snockered all weekend. Or both.
There is something that I feel is at the root of Harp's demise that I do need to sound off about, and that's the fact that nobody reads magazines anymore. Nobody cares enough to shell out a few bucks to buy a magazine to keep music journalism alive. That's a bit of a stretch between two points, but it's true. Everything these days is electronic. And that's fine to a degree because there's so much information out there. But where are the tactile experiences of everyday life going? You don't read the paper because you get the information online. You don't need CDs because you've got the songs in the little chewing-gum wrapper sized thing or on your goddamed cellphone.
Sure, I know, we're older and we're too damn busy to take the time for a lot of these things. (I, for one, should be listening to a couple CDs of 50- and 70-minute jazz pieces that I should be reviewing) And it's easier to read this way, or listen this way. But we're missing out on a lot. I know vinyl will never come back the way it should, but there were so many tactile discoveries that went along with the playing of the album that added to it: "Oooh, that song's pretty long. That one's short. Wait, there are six tracks here and only five are listed." You can make those time discoveries with CDs - if they list them - but it's not the same. And a lot just washes over you when you just put on a disc and let it go. Now with iPods, you have your music everywhere, but you don't CD booklets to go through as your listening to add to the experience. Your visuals for Cat Power are the same as the ones for the Black Sabbath cut you have on it.
The same is happening with print media. Maybe the Sunday New York Times is the only thing that will survive the fallout. If it's lucky. Sunday is the one day that people find time to sit and read something. (On a tangent, I wonder how Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce's performances would have gone had they had all the headlines at their fingertips for easy access, rather than needing to spread newspapers out across the hotel bed and read the basic info of each relevant article.)
It all has me wondering what things will be like when my son is in high school. What kind of magazines will be around by then? Will I be waxing nostalgic about buying Double Nickels on the Dime my senior year and ranting about the decline of magazines and sounding like some out of touch old man? Will I be right - to anyone besides myself?
On the other hand, it was really hard to find a copy of Harp in Pittsburgh up until about two or three years ago. It's a real tragedy that it didn't make a bigger name for itself. I think it had everything it needed to do it: irreverance; love for music without being either smug or fawning; good layout; good sections that went beyond the typical rock mag standards.
Anyhow, I urge you all to go out and by a copy of the final issue of Harp. The cover has Dave Grohl on the front announcing his run for presidency. Yeah, you read right. What a great way to go out.
Cue the closing credits. If there was a song that would set the scene here, it would be Angst's "Some Things I Can't Get Used To" (from 1986's Mending Wall on SST).

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