A few days ago Maura, one of the sharpest writers of the Internet age, delivered her farewell message at Idolator, which I had been visiting regularly since it began a few years back. She was the sole writer to have made it since the start, starting as the junior editor under Brian Raftery and taking over the main spot after his departure, and lasting through the site’s switch from being hosted on Gawker to being hosted via Buzznet, who are still in charge of the site. Two new writers have been brought on board following Maura’s departure.
I make no bones about the fact that I find this change to be for the worse, and neither will I hide the fact that I’m friends or professional acquaintances of nearly all the writers who had appeared regularly or semi-regularly on the site beforehand. I threw in tips here and there and was a constant — some might say all too constant — commenter on the site, but while I’ll allow for the fact that there’s a first time for everyone, the initial work that’s appeared on the site since Maura’s departure hasn’t compelled me to return, being little more than the dull restatement of received wisdom and wretched humor that trades in moronic stereotypes. And that’s a damn shame.
Allowing for the fact that I’m speaking of strictly Anglophonic publications for the rest of my piece: it’s been a little depressing to write RIPs for a number of publications that I contributed to over time — already done that for Stylus and Plan B in the life of my own blog, I should have done that for Metal Edge, and now I’m doing it here, even if things are going to continue at Idolator in a rather different way than before. Inasmuch as the message is that nothing is permanent, fine, inasmuch as it is that times being what they are means there’s less regular spaces to contribute thoughtful discussion and news on a formal (and, let’s not forget, paid) basis, it’s no surprise that the profile of those remaining spaces — such as Pitchfork, the Village Voice/New Times chain, the AMG — will increase by default. Meanwhile as long as sites like Freaky Trigger and The Singles Jukebox and similar ones exist (and yes, I’ll include ILM in that still), labors of love that measure their return in how they’re enjoyed and participated in rather than in ad revenue, the crackle of energy is far from dead. At the same time, especially with regard to Stylus and Plan B and now Idolator, one finds a slow limiting of a burst of spirit that had had a good decade-long run, of balancing out the passion of writing and thoughtful debate via the vehicle of music — and quite often the subjects under discussion reached far beyond the notes heard and the lyrics comprehended — with an appreciation for the here and now, that engaged with music that was six seconds old as much as it was six decades, and sought to do so beyond the realm of simple yeas or nays or presumptions of one particular style of music ruling over all else.
Perspective is perhaps all — all of those sites or journals’ writers and readers were perfectly cognizant that many other fora exist for these kind of debates, and that not every listener would wish to engage in music news and discussion in this fashion. What for some is a gripping, total engagement is for most others merely a very slight indulgence. But even knowing these all too obvious points it remains the case that to lose these places of focus, where much can be brought in under a wider umbrella, is to risk dispersement and lack of inspiration, or else demonstrable consolidation as writers find homes in fewer and fewer sites (no surprise perhaps that most of Stylus’s writers ended up at Pitchfork, for instance). It’s not come to this yet and hopefully never well but if an engaged — and, importantly, youthful — listener is confronted with an Internet of ‘music discussion’ that for the most part consists of seemingly little but random YouTube insults, pure gossip and snark for snark’s sake, set against increasingly dry as dust, decades-old approaches for ever more outmoded consensi (the Rolling Stone aesthetic seems ever more attenuated now), then one wonders what the impact will be.
Admittedly melodramatic as a vision, and perhaps simply reflective of what writer friend has terms the shifting of cultural capital away from music in general in this century. Yet the loss of Idolator — at least in its proudly thoughtful form under Maura’s guidance, where the obscure and the famous in music easily coexisted, where the insightful study of sexual roles and general stereotyping was constant, and where humor provided both the necessary slash of satire and the impact of a simply good laugh — shuts down an alternative, another spot to go to find more and learn more. That some enterprises are unsustainable is life, that so many seem to be going in these last couple of years is still depressing, that the latest should be one where so many good folks worked and contributed beyond the bounds of the basic brief, well, that just plain sucks.
Maura herself is regularly posting via her Tumblr site so check in for updates. Meantime, a number of regular commenters on Idolator have started a new joint blog, Chain of Knives, to send along stories and thoughts that fit into the spirit of the old site. I’ll be posting there myself as I can. And we shall see what the future brings.