Friday, September 14, 2007


Everybody loves to see justice
Done on somebody else
-- Bruce Cockburn, “Justice”

Start with someone who has difficulty parsing the English language, add some bits of willful misrepresentation, mix liberally with inflammatory statements, and top with a hazy love of all things Flower Power that can’t recognize the ambivalent nature of the Summer of Love. That’s a recipe for slander, and I got a big dose of it yesterday.

Okay, I’m starting off all wrong. I wish this didn’t bother me. I wish I could just shrug it off as a difference of opinion. But it doesn’t seem to be in my personality to be able to do that. Yesterday the new issue of Paste Magazine (with the fantastically bearded Iron and Wine on the cover) arrived. As usual, there are about a hundred pages in this issue. But within minutes, all I could focus on was the two inch by three inch text square in the Letters to the Editor section that vilified me for my recent column on The Summer of Love. In that remarkably small text box I was informed that “Andy Whitman” is a pseudonym for ultra-conservative G. Gordon Liddy, that I am ignorant, that I don’t understand irony, that Paste needs to find an editor to ensure that tripe like mine isn’t published, and that, thanks to my ill-informed tripe, the letter writer will be cancelling his/her subscription to the magazine. So a few hundred thousand people got to read that, if they cared to do so, and it was enough to keep me up for about half the night.

Look, criticism comes with the territory, and I understand that. I just wish the criticism was based on an accurate understanding of what was said. It's more than a little frustrating to be vilified for views I don't hold, and taken to task based on a woeful misreading of what I wrote. But beyond that, I spent a fair amount of time last night, tossing and turning, simply thinking through and praying through why I react the way I do.

It’s the injustice of it all that gets to me. Okay, I don’t like criticism. But I really don’t like criticism when it’s unfounded. If I screw up, then call me on it. I may not like it, but I’ll probably eventually come around to your point of view. But when you totally misrepresent who I am, and when you just don’t have a clue about what I’m saying, then it pains me, to the point of sleeplessness, to contemplate what is being communicated. I start concocting elaborate revenge fantasies involving grammar lessons, a flaming pyre of Paste Magazines at the feet of the heretic, Jimi Hendrix’s highly combustible guitar, and Allen Ginsberg thumping on a tambourine and chanting “Ohhhmmmm” as the spectacle rages around him. Burn, baby, burn. That was part of the dazzling, golden sixties, too.

And it’s all wrong, and I know it. I don’t want to respond this way. So I spent a fair amount of time praying for grace, for compassion, for forebearance, for the opportunity to impart some basic grammar lessons and principles of literary interpretation to … You see how quickly it goes awry. It’s a battle. I find myself angry. And I find myself praying all the time. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. But it’s so much fun being called “ignorant” in a national forum. It’s so much fun to read that in print at Barnes and Noble. I know. Most people won’t care. Most people I know won’t care. I understand that. But I think I need to pray some more.

Bruce Cockburn had it right. Justice is what we want to see inflicted on others, and the last thing we want to see for ourselves. So I pray for something that goes completely against my natural personality: grace. It's not deserved. That's the point.


John McCollum said...

Oh, holy cow. I read the first few lines and I thought you'd begun critiquing my blog. Thank God.

John McCollum said...

I certainly don't think you're ignorant. I do, however, still believe that you are fictional. If I could only get behind that pseudonym...

No. I understand. It's very difficult to be misunderstood, and infuriating to be misrepresented.

just scott said...

I think we need to consult Joseph Arthur for his opinion :)

Adventures with Us said...

I feel for you on this one big time and I tend to react the same way. You might just want to publish this in a response in the next months edition. It's too bad that the letter didn't have the guts to contact you first instead of airing it all out there in the public forum. Try not to let it get to you any longer. In the grand scheme of things one person's opinion doesn't matter. Well, we really know anyway who's opinion does matter. Also, I think you have a majority who enjoy what you write, whether we agree or disagree.

Rest easy and get some sleep....


by the way, I am really enjoying the Peter Case and looking forward to the Joe Henry as well...

Anonymous said...


you're an extremely gifted writer and you are just doing your job. i don't find your views particularly conservative. the writer of this letter obviously doesn't know where you are coming from and is just venting about something totally unrelated to who you are and what you do. i treasure your contribution to paste and to our collective windowframe. may your writing continue to be as brilliant as it has always been!

all the best,

john r. williamson

Anonymous said...

Dear Gordon (oops, I mean Andy),
At least they didn't figure out your real identity, Elvis (I mean Andy). And I'm confident that they won't figure out that you're actually an alien life form as long as they stay away from Area 51 (oops).

Karen said...

wow that sucks. i'm sorry that did that. i would have such a hard time handling that kind of criticism.

i have a hard time believing that due to ONE article this person is cancelling their subscription. i think they just wanted to sound dramatic.

you rock, andy. :)

just scott said...

I'm not sure what this actually falls under (and for the record I somehow don't see you anywhere close to G Gordon Liddy :) )
but I was wondering what you thought of downloading, giving away cds of artists you like to people you know, etc. I ask this in light of Epitaph's decision to pull its catalog from emusic the other day, including offshoots Anti and Hellcat. I know you are a big fan of Joe Henry and as I waiting for my downloads to renew in two days so that I could purchase his new album (out on Anti) the whole catalog was yanked. Emusic's CEO and President's response can be found here
Thanks for any thoughts Andy.

Andy Whitman said...

Scott, the link to the eMusic article doesn't seem to work, so I can't comment directly on that, but I will say that I take artists' ownership of their work seriously. I don't make copies of albums I like and give them away. And to make sure I maintain that seriousness, many of the advance albums I receive are watermarked, which means that if I do make a copy, the label will know about it. Since there are various FBI warnings emblazoned across these advance albums, I take those warnings, and my ability to stay out of jail, seriously as well. But I wouldn't copy them in any event. The bottom line is that I believe that musicians deserve to be supported, not ripped off.

That said, I like to share music with people I know, and I'm not averse to making compilations of some of my favorite songs. Technically, this is illegal as well. But if small record labels know what is good for them, and I think they do, they're not going to moan too much. These are artists who don't receive significant (if any) airplay on radio. They're not going to show up on MTV, and their songs aren't likely to be heard by legions of new fans on TV shows. They're just musicians struggling to get by.

Many of them are very, very talented. I love writing about them because they bring joy to my life, and if I can help them by shining my little light on them, then I'm truly happy to do so. Sometimes I'll throw one of their songs on a compilation CD and pass it along to someone I think will like the music. That's likely the only way that person will ever hear the music. And some deserving but under-the-radar musicians have sold a few albums that way. And that's the reason I do it -- to help worthy musicians sell a few CDs.

If the Feds want to come after me, they're welcome to do so. But no, I don't copy and give away CDs I receive, and in general I have a problem with illegal downloading and music sharing. Musicians have a right to earn their living, and I don't want to deprive them of that.

Anonymous said...

come now...isn't it just a little funny that a music critic is grousing because someone critiqued him?????

Andy Whitman said...

Anon, no I don't think it's all that funny. As I said in my original comments, I don't mind critique if the criticism is justified. But yeah, it sort of bothers me when when I'm stereotyped, insulted, and woefully misread. I'm kinda funny that way.

For what it's worth, there's a huge difference between critique and insult.

just scott said...

I didn't want to imply that you did copy and give away stuff, just wondered what you had thought of sharing in general...and how things like itunes and perhaps more importantly based on the artice, emusic was affecting the business and/or artists. However, I do think as a critic you are in a bit of unique position in regards to how much free stuff you get anyway, correct? Not to say that you aren't grateful, just in a different position than the general public.
Anyhow, I tried that link again, and it was working. Thanks again.

Andy Whitman said...

Okay, Scott, I checked out the link again, and this time I was able to read the article.

I think it's important to distinguish between illegal filesharing and services such as iTunes and eMusic, where people pay for the music. I'm in favor of the latter, not in favor of the former.

I assume the decision to pull the Anti/Epitaph/Hellcat catalog from eMusic was made for financial reasons. That's usually how that works. Significant price discounts (the philosophy behind eMusic) are only viable if you can sell in big quantities. You make up in volume what you lose in per-unit sales. But the artists on Anti/Epitaph/Hellcat aren't likely to sell in big numbers anyway. I assume eMusic was a losing business propostions for them. It's too bad, because I'm a fan of both the label and eMusic, but I can certainly understand the decision from a financial standpoint.

For what it's worth, the rumors of the demise of the record industry are greatly exaggerated. There are still many people -- artists and label execs -- who are making a lot of money off music. It's hard for me to be heartbroken because the biggest sellers are only pushing two million units instead of ten million.

I care about the people on the fringes, those who would be happy to sell ten thousand copies of an album. That's where the action is, and has been for a long time.

And you're right, I'm in a unique position because I receive a lot of music for free. I still buy music, though, and in my case I buy CDs and vinyl, because I like things like lyrics sheets and liner notes. I have an iPod and I use it and I like it. But you just can't beat a good LP gatefold cover.

just scott said...

Thanks for your thoughts Andy, I agree that those that are selling the least are indeed where the action is. I was wondering if you thought that that implications by emusic were true, in that fans of a label such as anti/epitaph/hellcat would be likely to go in search of the used cd market as opposed to that of itunes or forking up top dollar, as Joe Henry is not even someone that can be found at Best Buy or Circuit City (or you can through in The Weakerthans - one of my favorites - though you can find them at retail fairl easily) you are left with the options of the bookstores or indie-stores downtown where it is likely for them to be more expensive, much more.

I would think, just from what I have experienced that this would likely be the case with those interested in a lot of the stuff on Epitaph and Hellcat especially, as the idea of paying a buck a song on itunes doesn't usually fit so well with the punk crowd and such. Now I can see it being different on Anti where the artist selection is a bit more varied and tends to flow towards the indie side of things, and I think that appeals to a different crowd with different spending habits or perhaps even different income level. Just some thoughts. You can also contact me through my blog as Thanks again, Andy. Hope I'm making sense with my questions.

Unknown said...

Heather and I both got a big laugh out of that letter - We love it when someone is not only seriously misguided, but is proud to wave their ignorance like a banner. That's why we work on a university campus, I guess!

Don't take it too hard. There's some mean thing in the human heart that longs to bring down those we see as better than us. Look on the bright side - this means that you must be a celebrity!

- Paul and Heb

Julie Zickefoose said...

Dear Andy,

A letter came in to Bird Watcher's Digest once, complaining that they'd printed another mediocre cover painting of mine, complaining that all my art and writing is mediocre and that I don't deserve a national forum...I still remember it, and the scathing emails that came in from a hotmail account...and I wondered why this person was attacking me. If I'd had a chance, I'd have asked him what his product might be, other than hateful spew. Sad that the one negative overbalances the hundreds of positive letters, but human nature is what it is. Know that all of us who strive to put out a product are subject to occasional attack. Know that the attackers are probably unable to make a palatable product of their own, and operate from the sidelines of jealousy and bile.

"Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds."
Albert Einstein

I say, forget 'em. They don't deserve real estate in your head.