Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Paste Magazine

Meet my friends.

A little over three years ago, my e-friend Josh Jackson sent me an e-mail message, which is how e-friends communicate. He wrote, "Hey, we want to start a magazine, and we want you to write for us."

Sure thing, I thought. It was flattering, but I didn't think much more about it. I knew Josh and his good friend Nick Purdy from an Internet discussion list, a couple of guys who discussed music as a springboard that often led to more intense, personal discussions about their families, their careers, their faith, their struggles -- in short, their lives. I liked Josh and Nick, knew they were big music fans, and figured that I would write an article or two for their photocopied fanzine that they would share with a few family members and friends. Josh had to nag me a bit to get that first article written because I procrastinated, but I finally turned something in to him, an article on Bill Mallonee's first solo album. And that was that.


A few months later the first issue of Paste Magazine showed up in my mailbox. With something of a shock I realized that this was the "photocopied fanzine" I had envisioned. Only it wasn't. It was a slick, professional-looking magazine, printed on nice paper, with color photos and an eye-catching layout, and a bunch of genuinely well-written articles on music, film, books, and popular culture. Inside was a CD that contained twenty-one songs from musicians/bands I knew and loved, and from musicians/bands I'd never heard of, and who turned out to be pretty good.

I'm still not sure that I've totally recovered from that initial shock. Maybe Josh and Nick haven't either. I know they worked 100-hour weeks before the deadline for that first issue, sleeping on couches in the office, because they had a vision for something a lot better than a photocopied fanzine, and a vision for engaging the culture as Christians. They didn't put out a "Christian" magazine. That was never their intention. But they put out a magazine that was true to its tagline: "Signs of Life in Music, Film, and Culture." By focusing on what was excellent, creative, thought-provoking, beautiful, challenging -- wherever it might be found -- they tried to raise the level of general cultural discourse.

There's some evidence that they're succeeding. These days, a little over three years after the launch of the magazine, they're printing over 225,000 copies per issue. Paste is in almost every Borders and Barnes and Noble Bookstore in the U.S., on airport newstands, in music stores. Josh and Nick are on CNN every week, hosting their own Paste Picks show, talking about the new music that most excites them. The New York Post and The Chicago Tribune have written flattering stories, and the Tribune named Paste as one of the world's 50 best magazines (#21, seven spots ahead of British music magazine Mojo, the magazine Paste has most tried to emulate). And last Sunday (8/14) the Atlanta Journal Constitution featured Paste and my friends as the cover story in its Arts section.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a personal stake in this. Since that first issue I've written more than 100 articles for Paste, They've attracted some big-name writers in the meantime -- the former editor of Rolling Stone Magazine, feature writers from Musician, Spin, The Village Voice, music critics from many of the major U.S. metropolitan newspapers. For whatever reasons, they keep asking me to write. I'd be a fool to say No. This is a gift of God, and I recognize it as such -- a big, fat present gift-wrapped with my name on it. It's provided an outlet to do what I love, to see my words in print on a glossy page, to meet and interview some musicians who have inspired me for years, and to be flooded with more free music than I have time to listen to. And it's opened other doors as well, like the opportunity to foist myself off as some sort of expert on musical criticism at college conferences. I am so grateful.

But I'm also just a fan. As a music fan who long ago felt abandoned by mainstream publications like Rolling Stone, with their focus on politics and Britney Spears' latest navel piercing, I longed to find a music publication that treated me intelligently, that assumed there was life and substance out there beyond the Top 40 and Total Requests Live on MTV. To that end, Paste fulfills two vital roles. It re-assures me that I am not alone in loving longtime favorites like Lucinda Williams, Bruce Cockburn, Buddy and Julie Miller, Over the Rhine, and Patty Griffin. And it exposes me to new music and new artists I otherwise might miss.

I am almost fifty years old. And I regularly encounter people my age, of my generation, who are stuck in their Woodstock timewarps, who lament the sorry state of popular music, and who long for the good ol' days of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. But for some reason I started paying attention to and buying new music when I was nine years old, and I've never figured out that I'm supposed to stop. Music is a source of life for me. It always has been. It thrills my soul. Paste is for people like me, and who look forward to discovering new (and healthy!) thrills on a regular basis. I am so proud of my friends. I am so thankful to be a part of their endeavor. Please do me the favor of reading the article above, and getting to know them a little better.






10 comments:

mommy zabs said...

Very cool post. Way to go Paste!!! :)

John McCollum said...

Love Paste. Liked the article, but was disappointed at the fact that they ALL think Illinois is the best album of the year.

Damn groupthink.

Andy W. Anderson, Ph.D Candidate said...

so does this mean that in 25 or so years, I can be famous too? Woo hoo upcoming middle age years!

Andy

Andy Whitman said...

Thanks, Elizabeth.

John, sometimes groupthink merely indicates what is obvious to everyone but you. :-)

Andy, yeah, fame is what it's all about. I believe that I am now known to more than 17 people worldwide. In exchange for this middle-aged fame, I have lost most of the hair on my head and some of my hearing, and acquired a potbelly that refuses to go away, no matter how much I exercise. An even trade? You decide.

Still, aside from the damn body, the middle-aged years are getting better and better.

sg said...

I was glad to find this blog! I was also stoked to see an article on Paste, a magazine that I've loved since it's first issue. My band was even on the last sampler (Pushstart Wagon). I've always associated Paste with quality and thoughtfullness. Yay Paste! Glad that they're growing.

By the way...I'm glad they like the new Sujan cd, but really, all FOUR of them?! Ok, I can't think of any other cd that qould qualify right now, but really, there must be SOMEONE else they could mention.
:)

Fred Kohn said...

andy-

i've also noticed the time warp thing of our generation- that only the music of our youth was worth anything. i've noticed a bit of it in me too. i have a theory that there is a bonding thing that happens in one's later teens to the music one happens to latch on to.

it's hard work to break out of this. but for some reason it's particularly hard work for our generation, and i'm not sure i understand completely why this is. maybe something to do with the political atmosphere when we were "that age." maybe the supposed egocentricity of our generation.

Andy Whitman said...

Fred, I think the reasons for the "Woodstock timewarp" are many and varied. Part of it is the normal changes that come with career and family. Most people have more free time in their high school/college years than they will have during the rest of their lives. And thus they have more time to pay attention to music, and their peers/friends have the same amount of free time. And some amazing synergy can develop. It's also the time when most people are most open and impresionable -- not so set in their ways. Hence it tends to be a time of musical exploration, and the music that connects tends to be held onto passionately.

For our generation, I think there are also other factors. For us, the best music of our youth also happened to be the most popular music. I started listening to music as a kid in the early-to-mid sixties. I turned on the radio and started paying attention for the first time, and heard The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, all the great Motown groups, Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, etc. It was a pretty great time to discover music. And as I got older, FM rock radio exploded, and it was an easy transition from the AM Top 40 to the new FM radio format, with its focus on artists like Van Morrison, Neil Young, Dylan, Jethro Tull, Yes, etc.

But it's been a long time since the best music has happened to coincide with the most popular music. There are momentary blips -- Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., U2, Nirvana -- but for the most part Top 40 radio is a vast wasteland filled with disposable one-hit wonders, pop tarts and robodivas, and gangstas.

In the mid-to-late '70s, freeform FM radio gave way to AOR radio and narrowcasting. I remember the moment quite clearly. In 1976 in Columbus, WCOL FM, with its widely varying musical genres and deep album cuts, went off the air, to be replaced by QFM-96, with a much more narrow playlist -- The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Rush, Boston, etc., over and over again, ad nauseum. And they're still doing it. They're not stuck in a Woodstock timewarp. They're stuck in a mid-70s timewarp.

So a lot of people simply gave up. The good music was harder -- a lot harder -- to find. Coupled with the newfound responsibilities and obligations inherent in career and family, it's not surprising that many people our age simply stuck with what they knew. Why check out that strange new punk phenomenon when Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" was within easy reach?

Here's the truth: radio and the big music labels long ago gave up on the Woodstock generation. It's a two-way street. Older people got busy, and had less time for music. And music -- at least big, corporate music -- simply wrote them off.

But good music never stopped. If you dug a little deeper, you could find it. For me the advent of the Internet was a godsend (this was in the mid-'80s, when pretty much the only folks using the Internet were telecom and government employees). But I was able to connect with other music fans, and on early newsgroups they talked about music -- talked about their latest finds, debated it endlessly, and generally remained passionate about stuff that wasn't played on the radio or publicized in the music media.

But here's another secret that the big labels absolutely do not get: older people buy the most music, by far, of any demographic segment. The big labels continue to cater to teenagers and young adults, but teenagers and young adults don't buy albums. They download songs to their iPods. The folks who buy the albums are the folks who are part of the Woodstock timewarp, who are well into their careers, who have the most disposable income, and who have figured out that there is still worthwhile music out there if they hunt for it a bit.

Here's a great article that explains the phenomenon quite well: http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/features/story/0,11710,1159112,00.html#article_continue

But the big labels don't get it. Albums like the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack and Nora Jones' "Come Away With Me" sold millions of copies, not because they were heavily marketed and promoted by the big labels and played ad nauseum on the radio, but because a bunch of forty-somethings passed along the word the old fashioned way -- by talking up the albums to their friends.

The big labels continue to lose money. They want to blame it on music piracy. And they're clueless about that, too. Screw 'em. They get what they deserve. Meanwhile, the "50-quid blokes" referenced in the article above are the folks who continue to buy the music. Magazines like Paste understand this. There are plenty of people out there -- hundreds of thousands, if not millions -- who are not going to settle for the Top 40/MTV swill shoved down their throats, people of all ages who want substance and creativity. Some of them remember when it was possible to find it on the radio, and some of them don't. It doesn't matter. There are many hopeful signs, not the least of which is that Paste Magazine continues to grow like gangbusters, and the big labels and MTV continue to lose audience share.

sg said...

Andy,

Your last quote was so interesting and insightful that it should be reposted on the main blog for those who don't know much about the "comments" section...

I'm reading the article now.

Chris Burgwald said...

Andy,

Thanks for introducing me to Paste! I went out and bought a copy after reading your post, the interview, and a couple of other things.

I love it! But I have a newbie question: how the heck do you get the cd & dvd out of their case!?!? I tried to remove what appears to be the perforated slot at the top, to no avail. I ended up cutting out the whole thing, cutting into the surrounding pages in the process! What too-simple-to-believe step did I miss?

Andy Whitman said...

Hi Chris,

I'm glad you like Paste.

I usually end up cutting out the plastic around the CDs/DVDs as well. I haven't figured out a better way to get them out!

Once they're out, I transfer them to empty hard-cover CD cases. Sorry I can't be of any more help than that. I agree that they're hard to get out without destroying the rest of the magazine in the process.