Closing The Book On “Harp”

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Once again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe and Spin are given a once-over by an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles–or maybe even all of them! After the click-through, he thumbs through the final issue of Harp.

And so, fare thee well, Harp, published eight times a year since 2001 for those NPR/Whole Foods enthusiasts who keep up with modern bands. Harp is ceasing publication for the expected reasons: the March/April 2008 edition is its last.

Being that he never bought an issue before a few days ago, your Keyboard Krybaby often wondered exactly what differentiated Harp from that other similarly inclined and monosyllabically dubbed music magazine produced outside NYC. He can say that the mag under consideration this week is distinguished by the fact that a “harp” is a musical instrument that has been in use since antiquity, and not a substance that four-year-olds in nursery school are known to put inside their mouths instead of on popsicle sticks.

Near as KK can tell, Harp was distinct from Paste in that it assumed that their readers had a sense of humor (they might have liked Human Giant and Adult Swim, both of which are profiled herein) and might be interested in abrasive guitar music (Mountain Goat dude John Darnielle is played a 1977 cut by Rhys Chatham in an FOB “jukebox jury” piece, a Loren Connors reissue is assessed in the reviews section, the hipster-metal film Such Hawks Such Hounds is featured in the FOB), among other things. There’s little sense of the ponderous and defensive middlebrow Bobo-ism that afflicts Paste.

Nonetheless, this issue covers all the artists and records that every media outlet with an eye on the same demographic mutually agreed would be emphasized in late winter/early spring 2008: Kathleen Edwards, Jim White, Nellie McKay, Steph(e/i)ns Merritt and Malkmus, the Kills, that horrible Marah band, the Whigs, White Denim, Ghostland Observatory, the Waco Bros., k.d. lang, the Breeders, the Black Keys, a Q&A with Danger Mouse in which it is noted that he’s recently worked with “Susan Vega,” the newly recorded rendition of the immensely dreary Trinity Sessions, and finally, a review of–“gawd, we two are so debauched; let’s call our joint project something suitably roguish…like”–the Gutter Twins’ debut album, Saturnalia.

Now, the contents of this final issue aren’t particularly fragrant of despair; it seems like the staff was plugging away without much notion that they were about to lose their jobs. In light of the dutiful prose therein, the mag might have been more interesting to read if there was a stink of death afoot.

The folks who worked at Harp can perhaps console themselves with the fact that the new issue of Revolver runs with a very similar cover concept as their final issue. April 2008 Harp: Dave Grohl announces a run for the White House, and in so doing faces the camera in an Uncle Sam “I Want You” pose. May 2008 Revolver: Grohl and a constellation of hard rock elder statesmen like Serj Tankian and Davey Havok face the camera, each bearing the gravitas necessary to convince metalheads that this election is very very important indeed.

KK suspects that Revolver couldn’t have cribbed the idea from Harp (the issue under consideration was on sale beginning in February), and that in any case the cover concept of famous people encouraging reader participation in a representative democracy is hardly a new thing. But one supposes that Grohl’s minders would think it impolitic to have their client participate in two similar pursuits–that is, unless those minders had concluded that the climate for print media is so hopeless that no one should particularly care and that one of the mags was going under anyway.

Anyway, the Nicest Guy In RockTM sits with Harp editor-in-chief Scott Crawford for “Dave Grohl Rocks the Vote,” which KK is fairly sure was not one of the more demanding journalistic interlocutions of his career. He strolls through the interview with his characteristic charm (“what America needs: beer and barbecue”) and gets in a few licks at the current POTUS. But, as Crawford’s intro only notes in passing, Grohl is from the D.C. area and is the son of a Republican speech-writer. KK would like to know about what it’s like for a very famous rock guy to grow up around the seat of the federal government, and be one of many hardcore kids whose background is enmeshed with an entrenched, perpetual Washington establishment. Given that KK saw no mention of Harp‘s little “Grohl for President” stunt anywhere other than the mag itself, a frank discussion about an under-discussed aspect of D.C. culture (Harp was/is based in Silver Spring, Md., a satellite town to D.C., and you might think this subject would be one the staff has some insights on) would have perhaps been a better way to go out.

That piece leads “Rocks Populi,” which examines the politics/ rock intersection, ho hum. The various articles are not very funny or insightful, and labors under frequent and dated references to Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

Most of the scribbling in the final issue of Harp is manageable rock magazine fare. So KK wishes to stress w/r/t the following that he doesn’t relish kicking anyone when they’ve, y’know, just lost their job. But some editor or other didn’t crack the whip on one Rodger Cambria. This fellow attended last June’s Fest for Beatles Fans, evidently the gold standard in the U.S. for such events, in Las Vegas. Some 10 months afterwards comes “Don’t Stop Believin’,” a chronicle of Cambria’s trip and one that handily achieves the land speed record for the sheer abundance of cliches regarding the 1960s, the Beatles, and embarrassing hippies in journalism this year so far: not even the Sunday supplement of the Topeka Pig Testicle would publish this piece.

Mr. Cambria begins by comparing the sweltering Vegas June to “Hell,” and then continues through “I’ve always envied the generation who came of age in the 1960s… it’s easy to feel as if my generation has been slighted… there was a point in time when I thought Journey was the best band of all time”; through “I don’t know what’s more depressing: that my generation lacks the cultural and historical connection that unites Beatles fans, or that these refugees of the Love Generation [his description of the fest’s attendees] have had their noble revolutionary ideals diluted to such a point where they exist only on the fabric of a t-shirt.” Finally, Cambria is ejected from the Beatles Revolution Lounge for improper attire: “I was ejected from the revolution for wearing the uniform of the proletariat,” he writes. “Karl Marx would be aghast.” Perhaps, but it’s also possible that KM would think that Mr. Cambria is peddling some lazy-as-a-mufugger tropes and may have not one original thought in his head.

But dig this! Mr. Cambria and a bunch of other folks signed their names to what they wrote in the final issue of Harp. KK cannot say the same about hisself, and thus wishes well the Harp staffers and various freelancers who put their names on their work at a time when music magazines are, frankly, double fucked.