“Paste” Goes Global

anono | July 28, 2008 10:00 am

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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he switches things up a bit and gives the latest issue of Paste a once-over:

It has been a standard practice of this column for Your Boy to assess music magazines other than the four regularly covered in this space every month and a half or so. This week, he’ll revisit one such publication for the first time, one that commenters herein have suggested should be apprised every month.

Clearly, YB no likey the issue of Paste he considered last year. He would have loved to read a magazine produced from a certain remove from the attendant preferences and biases of New York based-media professionals. But the mag instead embodied the preciously aspirational and “authentic” tastes of every Starbucks-, Whole Foods- and Wes Anderson-crazed “bobo” (you will forgive YB for using a term coined by David Brooks) in the land. That the issue in question contained some thunderously dreadful writing from an entertainment lawyer of some sort certainly did not alleviate YB’s misgivings. YB had one look at the June issue, which found Scarlett Johansson expounding on her “five dads” (Tom Waits, Woody Allen, Bill Murray, Bob Dylan and Barack Obama), and felt, frankly, ill.

But the fact that Paste now evokes the In Rainbows “pay what thou wilt be the whole of the law” strategy by offering subscriptions for whatever amount a reader might wish to surrender indicates a greater health and confidence than the average, failing music magazine can boast. (The issue YB purchased contains subscription cards offering 11 issues for $19.95, but not the free CD of editorially curated music many Idolator readers seem to value so much.) And YB has to say that devoting an entire issue to music and musicians from outside the purview of American and British culture, as the August edition has done, is laudable.

The issue is explicitly tied to next month’s Olympics in Beijing. In his introductory editorial, E-I-C Josh Jackson notes that he was born in Munich immediately before the games began there in 1972, then recounts becoming a fan of the Nigerian football team when the games came to Atlanta, which adjoins Paste‘s home base of Decatur, in 1996. He wants to “mark the occasion with our first ever International Issue,” he writes, going on to slip in his mag’s motto in the essay: “We set about scouring the world for signs of life in music, film and culture.” As YB noted last year, either Jackson is has been directed by his publisher to work his brand hard in prose, or he has an uncontrollable tic.

The cover image is an illustration of a generic Asian punk rocker. YB certainly understands that Paste risks much with this issue, and wouldn’t be surprised if a cover shoot of a flesh-and-blood artist was nixed in favor of an image that a casual reader would understand easily: “See, it’s about music overseas, and the Olympics are in China! Geddit?”

Similarly, the mag doesn’t take a hard line on the issue of how, perhaps, people of conscience should not countenance an event that takes place in a country run by a brutal repressive government that’s currently attempting to look tolerant in the eyes of the international community. The issue’s centerpiece, “Daydream Nation” by contributing writer (and Idolator contributor) Andy Beta, is chiefly concerned with how an American visiting professor of finance at Peking University named Michael Pettis has jump-started a scene in Beijing; where once bands therein, in the words of Pettis, “were ranked to the extent that they did good imitations of cool American or English bands,” he introduced a youngster named Zhang Shouwang to New York noise-rock, which led to his band Carsick Cars and other local artists customizing the likes of the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth for their purposes. YB is unclear as to why evoking VU or SY is any more respectable than the previously mentioned but unnamed templates, but he understands that Beta is describing the musical contours of Beijing’s underground scene. Fine.

Beta goes on to note the perils of mentioning Tibet (or Falun Gong, or the 1989 Tiananmen Square Fiasco); that Carsick Cars were prevented by authorities from opening for Sonic Youth in Beijing in 2007 due to the latter’s participation in 1997’s Tibetan Freedom Concert (why on Earth would SY be allowed to play in China in the first place?); and that Bjork’s onstage chant of “Tibet! Tibet!” at the Shanghai International Gymnastic Center in March prompted the government to clamp down on visas for visitors.

But Beta gives the final word to Brian Hardgroove, an awesomely monikered bassist for Public Enemy who suggests that the significant cultural exchange between American and Chinese musicians is threatened by such provocations. YB sees his point, but he wonders if AT&T, an Olympic sponsor that bought ads buttressing a musical map of the world foldout in this issue, would have preferred that the mag take a less critical posture on the Chinese government’s heavy-handed tactics. It well may be that Paste‘s braintrust believes that Chinese musicians should not be punished for their government’s intransigence by an artist boycott. But it is also possible that AT&T might advertise in the mag again, and to let Hardgroove have the last word suggests that the Paste PTB know on which side the bread is buttered. Of course, Mr. Beta can drop in here with a comment or two if he feels like it….

Otherwise, YB was keen to learn in the three other features about two musicians with whom he was previously unfamiliar: British writer Steve Turner tells the stunning story of Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier who killed Muslims in his native Sudan, but who is now a rapper based in London; and Pierre Ruhe profiles the genre-bending Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov. YB was also delighted to learn, via “Mad Genius,” managing editor Nick Marino’s profile on Baile Funk importer/latter-day Alan Lomax Diplo, that according to his college roommate, the profilee used to be a “white kid with dreads. And most white kids with dreads, obviously there’s something up with them.” Goddamn right there’s something up with them: They’re schmucks!

Some more notes…

1. YB would have thought it ballsy to include no content regarding American, Canadian or British artists whatsoever in this “International Issue.” As it is, it’s most convenient that recording in Mexico is such a key part of the narrative of the making of core Paste artist Conor Oberst’s new self-titled album: hence, a quick reminiscence on the sessions, “Conor Oberst’s Mexican Adventure,” is presented here as “an exclusive,” which it is not. Likewise, it’s good that Posies dude Ken Stringfellow has been fronting Norwegian scum rock band the Disciplines while he’s living part time in Europe: hence Jackson’s front-of-book quickie “A Long Way Home.”

2. Similarly, it’s advantageous that a major band for Paste happens to be from Iceland, thus Sigur Ros’ Meo suo i eyrum vio spilum endaluast can get the “Reckoning” review section’s marquee spot. But while the Hold Steady’s Stay Positive, Peter Gabriel’s Big Blue Ball, Stereolab’s Chemical Chords, and Ron Sexsmith’s Exit Strategy of the Soul have no such convenient position in this issue’s mandate, each record is tagged via its nationality. Because, evidently, America, the UK and Canada are not just the territories with which Paste busies itself, but are part of the world, maaaannn…

3. On page 72, Matthew Joynt scribes “Strategic Rupture: 40 Years of Tropicalia,” an essay regarding where Brazil’s signature insurrectionist musical movement has gone since 1968. Eight pages later comes Jesse Jarnow’s “Light as the Breeze,” which assesses Luaka Bop’s Brazil Classics at 20: Anti-Aging Solutions Revealed. There seems to be absolutely no reason that these two pieces should coexist in the same issue, being that both nominally cover the same subject.

Ultimately, it’s a fine thing that Paste encourages its readers to look overseas and past Wilco. Good for them. But YB wishes, perhaps foolishly, that the mag’s tone was not so relentlessly earnest and prissy. But perhaps Paste has loosened up since last year: YB was delighted to read the word “fuck” therein, instead of “f___”, as he did a year ago.