so, amidst all the chaos and disorder that reigns in the post-internet culture that we find ourselves occupying at the moment…as newspapers close or retreat to online-only editions (i’m lookin’ at you, rocky mountain news), we’re looking around us and seeing that, true to the words of The Prophet Zimmerman – “he who is not busy being born is busy dying.”
newspapers, magazines – print media in general – have been on a slow, steady downward spiral with the advent of the internet, and when you factor in the attrition of readers who’ve jumped ship to online equivalents alongside that rueful combination of arrogance and delusion that seems to affect many businesses who wait too long to try and remain relevant in this day and age…
…well, it doesn’t make for a very positive forecast.
the latest apparent victims of this sea change would appear to be radio and records magazine, published since 1973, and – the loss closer to home – lydia hutchinson’s labor of love, performing songwriter magazine.
yes, it’s true…after sixteen years in print, performing songwriter is calling it a day.
to hear that radio and records would be stopping the presses was something of a headslapping, V-8 moment – well, of course, they’re closing! the very title of the magazine screamed irrelevance! no one listens to conventional radio anymore, and no one buys music anymore!
it was a moment akin to hearing that the typewriter quarterly would be ceasing publication, really.
performing songwriter was another story, though. we’ve all borne witness to the problems that paste is trying to weather…and we all watched sadly as no depression succumbed to the online-only solution…but i thought that the community that sprouted up around performing songwriter would be the difference for this particular mag.
that is, until i took a minute to think about a few things that hadn’t occured to me.
they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but those who say such things beg that we pay attention to the exceptions and not the rules.
all you have to do is look back at the covers of performing songwriter over the years to see where the shift started to occur that would alienate the very community that i perceived to have their backs.
i was a subscriber for three years…and they were good years. i saw jewel on the cover, jackson browne, shawn colvin, james taylor…the indigo girls were on the cover of the issue that contained the glowing review of my mutual angels album…i read about marc cohn, sarah mclachlan, david wilcoxs’ brilliant articles on songwriting and creativity…
but they lost me. somewhere along the way, they lost me, and i never really thought about it until i heard they were closing.
the magazine became, for me, analgous to a relative that i’d moved away from – someone who was really great to grow up around, but who’d changed significantly enough that you both realized that your best years were behind you, and you were forced to accept that who they are now and who they were then were two different people…and you had to get on with your lives. amicably, yes, but with a twinge of regret and nostalgia.
i have my doubts that i’m the only person who felt estranged from PS over the years. when the coverage turned from master songsmiths like carole king and john hiatt to modern fluff purveyors like alicia keys (who graced the cover twice, in 2005 and 2007, the latter containing a bonus article on that legendary master of wordcraft, kid rock), a lot of the folks who put performing songwriter on the map simply tuned out.
maroon five on the cover in 1997 turned out to be a harbinger of things to come. later, we’d get covers featuring jimmy jam and terry lewis, mary j blige, lionel richie, david bowie…with insighful articles on such master songwriters as….
…nikki sixx of motley crue.
nay, i shit you not.
those of you who know me know that i’m not a folk nazi, and i don’t think anyone ever thought for a minute that PS was going to be a single-minded celebration of singer/songwriters…the audience is too small and fragmented to support a publication as openly ambitious as PS was. when i fell in love with it, i foresaw it growing into a magazine that would eventually bring together disparate songwriting communities from various genres with an emphasis on artists whose persona emphasized their songwriting chops. i could easily digest an issue with room for roseanne cash alongside marc cohn alongside gillian welch alongside ben harper alongside ben folds alongside marshall crenshaw alongside erykah badu alongside ron sexsmith…blah blah blah.
but…lionel richie? come on, now.
from glancing over the covers of the magazine from front to back, there appears to be a trend of pandering for the sake of selling magazines to people who had little or no interest in the core group of artists that were initially part of their platform – which is fine, but to believe that you would be pulling converts over to the publication on a long term basis by featuring artists so far afield of their primary demographic as some of the folks they put on the cover in recent years is…well, far fetched.
in that respect, it’s only fitting that such a heralded, legendary songwriter with a decades-long lineage of timeless classics to their resume as pink, no less, should grace the cover of their final issue. it’s an almost blatant-yet-subconscious nod to why they should call it a day in the first place…never mind the additional coverage given in their swan song issue to such songwriting giants as…mick fleetwood? seriously?
still, as far afield as they wandered over the years, losing performing songwriter will create a void that losing an industry ragsheet like radio and records doesn’t really hint at. from all appearances, the magazine was on solid ground from a financial perspective – they didn’t resort to the public pleas for reader assistance that some other music magazines have had to resort to, nor did they opt for the online-only status that others adopted.
they simply pulled the plug.
perhaps it was a “beat the economy to the punch” thing, perhaps the publishers were just ready to give the magazine the kevorkian treatment before old age did it for them, or maybe they just felt – as i’m finding that i feel – that they shouldn’t be capable of sleeping at night after such a dick move as putting pink on the cover of a songwriters’ magazine.
sometimes, when you’ve lost your way, the best thing you can do for yourself is to simply stop walking.