ON PRACTICE: Note from the Editor (Arthur No. 34, 2013)

Note from the Editor

ON PRACTICE

Let’s have a happy hurrah for Byron Coley, this publication’s longest-term continuous contributor, and as of right now its first and only Senior Writer. Coley earned this title the hard way, not just knocking out hundreds of column inches’ worth of learned music-art-poetry-film-comics-whatsit reviewage over the last ten years with Bull Tongue partner Thurston Moore on deadline for no pay, but also pinch-hitting on other stuff when ye young editor had yet again foolishly over-extended himself. (Plus there was that Yoko Ono feature that shoulda been a cover, back in 2007…) No one has flown the freak flag higher or for longer at Arthur than Byron…or done a better job of explaining why exactly that old flag was still worth checking out.

From what I can tell, Byron has always been like this. I first knew him by his editor/writer byline first, as co-prime mover with Jimmy Johnson of Forced Exposure, an irregularly published magazine that somehow covered almost all that was great and interesting in the ‘80s/’90s in a style/format that didn’t exist before and hasn’t existed since: a sweet combo of smart riffs, ribald japery, ecstatic poetics, subcultural scholarship and two bits of the old hairy shockola. The breadth of coverage, the depth of thought-feel about the subjects at hand, the high quality of the radar in choosing what was worthy of ink, the guts to run ridiculously long pieces regardless of overt commercial appeal, the relentlessly inventive wordspiel that flowed across page after black-and-white page…it all made each issue of FE a necessary acquisition. It was a lotta words to the wise from wise guides.

These are very different times than the ‘80s/’90s. No single independent entity today—certainly not this humble rag—could hope to cover the same cultural terrain as FE did with the same authority or insight, given the overwhelming glut of artistic production unleashed upon us all by our misguided computer nerd lords. You can’t keep tabs on it all. But what the hell. For the advocate journalist-scholar, there’s still the Basic Practice: find good stuff, tell other people about it. And don’t waste effort—try to be of positive use in times that aren’t so great. I know I’m embarrassing him into a startling new shade of pink-purple when I write this, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a more personally inspiring figure in America in this regard than Byron.

And there couldn’t be a much worthier, more overdue subject for an extended Arthur cover feature by Byron than Matt Valentine. In a way, I’m glad it’s taken ‘til 2013 to get round to covering MV, because now we get to view such a rich, extended life/art/career trajectory—that is, how his move from college to urban to rural locale has played out, and how a musician with such a singular vision, rooted in so many intriguing aesthetics, has found a way to persist, on his own terms, for so long, in such a trying period for working artists. In short: Matt’s cracked a lot of codes, and Byron has shared them with us with 202 footnotes that only he could write.

Jay Babcock

Joshua Tree, California

LOVE AND DEBT: Note from the Editor (Arthur, 2013)

Jack Rose got paid.

Note from the Editor

LOVE AND DEBT

Originally published in Arthur No. 33 (Jan 2013)

“Follow your bliss”… “Do what you love, the money will follow…” —probably the two worst pieces of counsel that can be given to a young person seeking career advice—unless the counsel-giver is a credit card company, in which case they stand to profit handsomely from young people going into debt while following their dream, expecting the money to flow right in.

Jack Rose, a working musician who died suddenly three years ago this month at the unfair age of 38, knew that this kind of life advice was utter horseshit. Nothing magically comes to you because you do what you love. It can be hard for solo practitioners to stand up for themselves, to merge commerciality and hustling with artistic creation and expression. But there’s no getting around it. Jack made sure he always got paid, and he was justifiably proud of it. Jack knew that you gotta get compensated for your work, or have another source of income that funds your labor of love, or else you go into debt.

I got Arthur into a lot of debt. Giving away the magazine for free from 2002-2008 while relying on revenue for the enterprise from advertisers didn’t work. There were never enough advertisers, and all too few of them paid on time. Arthur was always short on cash. Writers, photographers and artists labored for free. By the end of 2008, when Arthur ceased print publication, I’d worked my way into six-figure nightmare debt trying to keep Arthur going, becoming a constant walking bummer to close friends and family. When Wall Street brought the global economy to a halt in September 2008, it was impossible for Arthur to go on. We weren’t alone, of course—countless other folks saw their worlds collapse as the economy contracted that winter.

But Jack Rose’s world kept getting brighter. Not only had he found a rich artistic path to follow, one that so many of us were eager to listen to him tread, he’d figured out a way to pay the toll for the road. That said, Jack wasn’t ever just about himself. Quite the opposite: Jack’s tenacity at getting audience members to pay a pitiable cover charge for performing musicians at Philadelphia house parties was legendary. I found out later that this was not an activity limited to Philly.

Jack looked out for Arthur, too. In early 2009, not long after we put the magazine on hiatus, sweet Michael “Mountainhood” Hilde organized Arthurdesh, an impromptu benefit concert for the magazine in Brooklyn, produced by the wonderful Todd P. Jack was one of the first performers to donate his services. Jack not only played onstage that night—a set that, typically for Jack, shushed and awed and moved a crowd waiting for louder fare—but he also helped hustle stuff at the Arthur merch table, standing there next to fellow performer Peter Stampfel, perhaps the most effortlessly hip/soulful odd couple I’ve ever been lucky enough to gaze upon.

Four years later, we’re back in action. I like to think that Jack would be happy to see Arthur alive again, and happier that we are charging five dollars for it, so that contributors can get paid, and nobody goes into debt doing it. Lesson learned, Jack.

Thank you for supporting our efforts by paying for the rag you’re holding. It’s good to be alive again, doing something that we love.

You might even call it a collective dream.

Jay Babcock

Joshua Tree, California