Publicist or Public Enemy: The Dilemma of a Small Town Music Writer

Image Credit: blog.cleanprogram.com
Brad on dilemmas like coddling versus critiquing in a small town like St. John's, especially when you're part of the scene.

I feel like I’m back at MUN, writing an Anthropology methodology paper. If you’re unfamiliar, the main fieldwork in the discipline is carried out through participant observation, where, as it sounds, you both observe and participate. You build relationships; you become engrossed within the very culture of what you’re studying. You try to become an insider.

Anybody who has taken any higher level Social Sciences courses has it beaten into them that true objectivity is a farce. One’s work is consistently filtered through your own personal lens, your upbringing, your own philosophies, the ties you’ve cultivated, and the values you carry.

Writing academically in such a manner forces you to acknowledge those biases; wherein I would say that I, Bradley Derrick Scott Pretty, am a Caucasian, Newfoundland born and bred, sometimes socialist / sometimes anarchist / sometimes nihilist / sometimes neanderthal cis-gendered male musician / artist / writer.

If you’re reading this, I’m likely your friend, acquaintance, or by now, mortal enemy. If you play music in downtown St. John’s, we’ve likely crossed paths.

I’ve been at it so long that I’ve built scores of meaningful bonds with a multitude of people. That’s the central thesis of what has turned into another wordy editorial. I already am an insider. I’m on the flip side of that objectivity debate; I have to become an outsider. And this is trouble when it comes to so-called objective journalism.

Full disclosure: I’ve written glowing articles on bands that are lifelong friends (Bridges), reviews on high school pals (Sonny Tripp) and roommates (Green & Gold). 2 of the 3 RPMs I chose to cover this past February were by friends. My own band was featured alongside articles I wrote.

I took up each of those tasks (and all my writing assignments) with a noble energy, trying to earnestly convey my opinions throughout each context. In hindsight, I’ve been kinder than I should have been to some, but never too critical.

Is this a problem?

Which begs further questions: What is the function of a local arts paper? Is the common criticism of coddling bands warranted? Am I supposed to tear into local art because there’s some sort of inherent expectation of journalistic integrity? Or am I supposed to celebrate the diversity, talent, and effort that this little enclave produces? The answer is obviously somewhere in between.

The self-serving socialite image is a real thing. It’s a fine balance, and one I’m becoming fine with. I believe there’s value in allowing those close to the creators to weigh in on art. I side with no one, I’m a fan of everyone, and I believe it’s in the best interest of a tight knit arts scene to both commend and constructively critique.

Sure, I write about my friends, but it’s almost impossible to consistently find worthwhile material when St. John’s is such a musically incestuous city. You might say I’m complaining about being social, and I would agree with you.

“Oh, look at Brad; he’s anguishing over the awkwardness of writing about his many friends. Complaining about being an insider and shit.” I mean no harm, I merely just aim to bring to light that in a city so interconnected, yet so isolated, it’s impossible to fulfill the prerogative of meaningful journalism without leaning on those who experience it at its fullest.

When it comes down to it, regardless of the bias argument, irony can sometimes make the best point: St. John’s music does rule, doesn’t it?

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