2007 Year-End Thoughts
or those of you who’ve been following Stylus’ year-end thoughts over the past few years, you’re probably going to be familiar with the backstory for mine. It’s a running thread. As one of our most frequent commenters slurred in 2005, ‘when Stylus goes MySpace.” That was probably Dom actually, using a pseudonym. In any case, another year has passed almost—my, gasp, thirtieth—and we here at Stylus are in closing-time mode, not only for a year quickly giving out to winter but for this little site we’ve run.
At the year’s start, I severed what I thought was the final thread of my life with my ex-wife. As the Minneapolis condo market began to sour, I was lucky enough to get out at the last moment. In the coldest weekend of January, I moved into an apartment a few blocks away, in the city’s Loring Park area. My heat, unfortunately, didn’t come on ‘til the next week so I spent a long weekend in sweaters and a Herringbone jacket, never more than two feet away from my space heater. The move was an important one to me though, as I was finally out of the home I’d shared with my ex. I was disconnected from the final part of my life, or so I thought.
Of course, as I found out in the coming weeks, I’d also see my ex more than I’d seen her in the past couple of years, but for courtrooms and chats over Bloody Marys or coffee about selling the condo. I’d go out to the corner store and see her in summer dress and sunglasses, long-legged and season healthy. Beautiful. I’d leave for work in the morning and bump into her finishing up her morning jog, recognizing her jagged, uneven gait from across the park. I’d park my car and see her own six cars down—her collegiate bumper sticker pasted in its back window. I began to think I’d made a mistake in staying in the neighborhood, as though cutting that final thread had only been a way of tying another, much closer bond. I was over her, right?
But then I’d see her. Maybe that’s inevitable. You overlook the nastiest of end-points; the things said in leaving and divorce; the way she wouldn’t speak to you for three weeks after walking out, you in that place and all its new quiet. You think of the other things, open-ended times, like when you were driving her home from D.C. after she graduated from college, and she spilled iced coffee all over herself. You had all day to drive, and she was soaked in milky drink. She should have been upset, quick to clean it all off. But she opened up in a great gasp of laughter that shook you both. Regardless, I felt guilty for still missing her, as though any rational human being should have gotten beyond that initial grip of absence. And yet all it took was a glimpse, the two of us alone in this summer morning park, to make it clear I couldn’t rationalize the way I still felt.
Summer wound past. I watched from my apartment on the park as the trees finally came to color, and as the grass then lost its own. This summer was one of Minneapolis’ hottest. A drought ran down its belly. The park was corn-stalk yellow by mid-July, only to be relieved by an October of dense curtains of rain. On a day in early August, I spoke to Stylus Editor-In-Chief Todd Burns, and immediately realized that the one most important link back to those years, the only one I’d perhaps taken for granted, was about to be cut. Burns was closing down Stylus. I was stunned, though of course I shouldn’t have been. But, in that odd second, I understood that the sale of my home was merely a marker, a symbolic shutting. The end of Stylus, a place I’d put so much into over the last few years, especially in that time post-crash, was a far more significant close.
My ex had actually helped me write my ‘application’; we’d sprawled across our rug, heads together and crossed back in the air, and sketched out what I realized at the time was a self-consciously arrogant missive. Take me or fuck off, but I think you’ll take me. I had never written about music though. I had never written about much of anything. I had read writing about music though. I thought it was a way to put my creativity into something almost patently a-creative, all that “dancing about architecture” horseshit come to mess. Really though, Stylus became a job I placed above ‘career.’ The reasons for Stylus closing were obvious, and I won’t get into them here. They were concerns I’d had myself. But when Todd told me it was over, I didn’t bother to argue or try to force a reprieve as he thought I would, clearer-heads-shall-prevail style. I knew he meant it, and I knew he was probably right.
Stylus, like most such ‘zines, has a message board. When the announcement came out to the staffers, shit went Black Friday. Staffers turned to getting something running that could be Stylus Version 2.0. Calls went out. Talks were had. But as the weeks went by, the focus changed to one of memory, nostalgia. I think most of us soon realized what I’d known all along: that Todd Burns was the only person who could actually have made Stylus so dependable, so Monday-through-Friday. Honestly, then, much of this essay should be a testament to him. He listened to far too many bad pitches of my own, too many ideas for too many columns that couldn’t possibly get past week-five. And then he told me why they couldn’t work (though the fucker also turned down some great ones). But more importantly, he gave all of his writers creative range and freedom, something not too many people in his position are willing to cede so absolutely.
Like any writer, I look back at some of the things I’ve written here with embarrassment, but the very fact that I could do so—that little of my own ‘prints and long-windedness was cut, that I was left to fend with my own mistakes—is a testament to Burns as a creative director more than as a typical EIC. For many that might sound like a critique. For me, a ‘writer’ who happens to find music writing fits his need for outlet more than, say, short stories, he was editor who understood and empathized with his writers more than he emphasized his own needs for “Stylus, my baby.” I’m not sure many others would have given the go-ahead to a piece like A Kiss After Supper—such a difficult, winding message-of-love but one of my most adored columns from the site’s history—and I’m damn sure nobody else would have published something like Stew and my piece on Kristofferson, something intended far more for the two of us and our untended, rabid tongues.
Before Stylus, I’d never have believed you could become so close to people you’d never met. In space that lacks physique, you kind of meet as avatars. The board was a way for so many of us to piss away empty time at work or late at night, to gossip and needle and call-foul at music, sports, our jobs, drinks of choice. I think we all came to a persona of our own more than perhaps we were ourselves. A dress-up, extroverted place for what I expect are really a room-full of introverts (spoken like one. . .) It was dreamspace, the most virtual of realities, but it was also a place where those of us who’d been around for a while began to feel we could come, first-coffee in the morning, to put some kind of steady perspective back in place. But it only worked because we came to know at least a bit of something about each other by what we’d read and written. There was a frankness gained by putting so much of ourselves in pieces about music—or pieces about music which often had nothing to do with music. We pressed and confined each other, in turns, with a challenge of putting something in writing, formally or informally. Often, we’d shape our pieces by thoughts we’d come to in discussion with each other—or by things we’d read on Stylus that day.
So secrets, let’s see. I don’t mind telling you that Todd Hutlock is the most obsessive record-collector I’ve ever known. I asked him last week just why the fuck he was bothering with A Bigger Bang. “It’s the only Stones studio album I haven’t heard,” he said. Now, that’s patently absurd, right? I gave up on that band in ’81. Didn’t you? But there’s something sort of charming in somebody so willing to stick it out, to lend an ear against his better instincts ‘cause the band once gave him everyday-spoil—though, of course, we (I) at Stylus had to let him hear about it.
Or that Josh Love, Ian Cohen, and Drew Gaerig might just have the best sports blog in them that you’ll never read. Or that Andrew Unterberger has the mind for pop-spoil and music minutiae, as we now know from his win at this year’s World Series of Pop Culture on VH1, that Hutlock has for records. Or that Nick Southall uses his digital camera to document his waking hours in a second-to-second manner. Like, erm, every fucking second. Or that Alfred Soto, behind that witty Miami academic, is one of the warmest, most-constructive readers of the site, from without or within. He was a child once (though he doesn’t want to talk about it). Or that Mike Powell really enjoys Trader Joe’s Greek yogurt for breakfast. With cereal. Or that Justin Cober-Lake has two of the most adorable children drawing breath—yes, fatherhood at Stylus.
Stylus is gone as of this Wednesday. Halloween. Nice one with that, TB, but smiles to you anyway, sir. For me, the place that had seen me through my late-twenties and so much sticky turmoil is disappearing. All of these people I’ve come to read, and then to mock and rib and laugh against in kind ‘cause they really do listen to say some awful shit sometimes (don’t we all), will scatter. And honestly, though in the past I’ve put perhaps too much of my own life in these pages—been perhaps too open and unreadably close—this piece is really written for my colleagues here at Stylus. I’m not ending this year in new love like the last. I’m speaking of an old one that’s about to run dry.
It’s closing time and I’m feeling, like the rest of us, pretty nostalgic. For the new ones—even though Dan Weiss loves FUCKING everything he hears and Patrick McKay keeps trying to convince me The Darjeeling Limited is anything but garbage—and those who have been so important as guides for Stylus—TB, Nick, Mathers, Love, Hutlock, Alfred, Mike, and the rest. Stylus will be for me a final removal from something I thought I’d ended earlier this year with a move to a new apartment in February cold. I think you’re still going to see a lot of us around, in various papers and non-paper places, but Stylus was the place we came for both twenty-page Radiohead threads and fake-industry-email stunt reviews. As it’s a bit too early still to wish you all a Happy New Year, I guess it’s got to be Happy Halloween. Or maybe just goodbye and goodwill.