“there’s a whole lotta jesus goin’ on”;
It’s been a strange month for the music press. First Paste magazine asks its readers and subscribers to donate and save the magazine (I’ve never read it over here, but know it by reputation – a reputation so fierce that all your favourite bands have offered free music to those who donate). Then, closer to home, Plan B magazine calls it quits before falling advertising revenues drag out a long, lingering death. It wasn’t perfect, but it was ours, my partner in crime and I muse and mourn, and plot a tribute in the form of our own music magazine, only the Vivian Girls are sitting at the next table over and we don’t feel cool enough to go over and ask them for an interview.
Plan B contained all the passion and snobbery and sheer bloody-mindedness of the best and worst fanzines, only with the sort of photography and design and high-end print values that meant you could never bring yourself to throw out an issue when you were done. Although I know all too well the constraints of falling advertising revenue from the day job, it’s a loss that hits hard. Every day a hundred blogs and music websites spring up in the place of the magazines we used to collect, but there’s no replacing the smell of ink and the feel of paper. The other day, a friend alerted me to Refueled Magazine – as the self-professed “bible” of alt.country style it looks amazing, but you can’t flick through a .pdf on the bus.
From the delta blues to punk rock, the best music was born out of uncertainty and hardship. But when somebody as phenomenally talented as Kristin Hersh can’t make a living from the mainstream music industry, there’s something seriously wrong with it. Hersh set up CASH Music in 2007 as a way of distributing her music directly to her fans – every month or so, a new track is posted under a Creative Commons license and you can donate as you see fit. She embraces the social technology as a means of making her fans much more a part of the process than mere consumers and it works – although Monday night’s venue was comparatively small, the couple of hundred people there were devoted.
Live, Kristin Hersh is intense and enthralling. Although tiny in stature, her voice is as earthy and powerful as the Appalachian wind and seems a perfect medium on which to preserve the music of the region. She introduces murderous folk ballads wryly in between songs like “Your Dirty Answer” and the sparse, staggering “Your Ghost”. She even throws in a couple of Throwing Muses songs for an encore, much to the audience’s delight.
Also worth a mention: before the show, Stevie and I were interviewed as part of a research project on live music and its audience. The University of Glasgow study sounds fascinating, and I’ll be following developments with interest.