I wrote this for a print magazine but it was rejected and I wrote something else for them so figured why not share it here.
Writing a column is a funny old thing. In the days when print was the be-all and end-all, being asked to write a column was akin to being given the holy grail. Or at least a map of sorts, a la Da Vinci code. Print space was and continues to be at a premium. And, while I have been fortunate enough to scribble many a column over the years, being asked to write this one has had me at sixes and sevens. The ‘column-writing muscle’ hasn’t been exercised in a minute.
After an afternoon spent wracking my brain for a topic, I, with some shame, turned to Twitter. A friend – she said I can call her Giselle – responded with “Beyonce is dropping, Kojo, we would like an article on her influence through the years.”
[Sidenote: I have never understood tweets being published as news. In my defence, this publishing of a tweet is about context.]
Anyway, Giselle is part of the Beyhive so I had to be very careful with my response, which was that Beyonce’s influence should perhaps be written by someone who has been influenced by her.
This took me back to a brief conversation I had with someone on music writing / journalism today. She was lamenting on how everything feels so competitive and ends up in heated debate, name-calling, etc, when writing about music and the people who make it. Everything in today’s music writing, which is as temporary and as fleeting as the music itself (yes, I have become that guy), seems to be about lists and ranks.
There was a time when I saw myself as the proverbial eclectic and slightly eccentric music writer inspired by the many who wrote for publications like Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Rap Pages, The Source, XXL and Vibe, which, at some stage, I had to get CNA in Maseru to order in especially for me.
I devoured the words of writers like Greg Tate, Mark Anthony Neale, Nelson George, Hunter S. Thomson, Doug Simmons, Cheo Hodari Coker, Danyel Smith, dream hampton, Elliot Wilson, Bill Coleman, Kevin Powell, Tracii McGregor, Miles Marshall Lewis and Michael A. Gonzales, to name a few.
When they wrote, they took you places, including into the mind of the musicians they wrote about. They created context. They shared their opinions which, even if you disagreed, you were open to because they, and the publications they wrote for, had built trust and rapport with you, as a reader, over time.
Music is subjective. Music is personal. Maya Angelou said, “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” Kahlil Gibran described music as “the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” And Dick Clark said, simply, “Music is the soundtrack of your life.”
I want what I read to reflect that, even with pop, yet so much of the writing is about numbers; albums sold or streams, how much money was made, etc. If it doesn’t shift that needle, it fades into oblivion quicker than it came out. Actually, even if it does shift the needle, it still fades.
Here today, gone tomorrow.
But there is a space for the alternative. There are many of us – I hope, otherwise I’ll look foolish at this point – who hanker for the depth that once existed before the lists, the clickbait, the breaking news about an artist breaking a toenail. There are those of us who want to read something and say, “this person gets it.”