Ten years after The Mountain Goat’s “Tallahassee,” Zach Baron returned to Florida with singer-songwriter John Darnielle to search for remnants of the album’s mythic inspiration. What he found is a lesson on people who make things, people who enjoy them, and the space between the two.
Breaking: John Darnielle—who moonlights as a reproductive rights activist—is still awesome.
Baron’s story made me wince in a number of places, but I really love that Mother Jones interview.
Oh man, this is the kind of thing that gives me conflicted feelings in a professional capacity. So let’s run a thing or two down in bullet points because I have WAY TOO MUCH SHIT TO DO TODAY to get into this deeply:
- Currently slightly in vogue in my field of graduate study (interdisciplinary regional studies focused on the U.S. South) is ~*the imaginary*~: not what’s actually real, present, and physical, but preconceptions and abstract conceptions about a place or places, and how these abstractions interact and influence the physical. (Alabama the physical: mountains up north, coal production, several interstates cut through, good cotton-growing regions, Gulf Coast, produced many of my friends. Alabama the imaginary: GEORGE WALLACE RACISTS MISSING TEETH CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT NASCAR GEORGE WALLACE LET’S HOPE THEY SECEDE AGAIN WHY DON’T WE SET SOME IMMIGRANTS ON FIRE SUNDOWN ORDINANCES GEORGE WALLACE AT LEAST MISSISSIPPI IS WORSE THAN WE ARE. For example.)
- I have thought several times that somebody (maybe me?) ought to look at Tallahassee as an expression of Tallahassee-and/or-the-U.S. South-in-the-imaginary.
- Baron’s article is about (though not only about) what happens when the imaginary clashes with the physical.
- But it’s not only about that kind of clash: it’s also about the imaginary-versus-physical clash of fan and artist.
- I have discovered recently that I have an increasingly larger problem with music criticism that prioritizes the fetishization of the artist over the artist-audience relationship.
- This is something that Baron does in this article. (GOD KNOWS he is not the only one who has ever done this; I can count on one hand writers who do not reliably do this.)
- I am also pretty uncomfortable with the way fans have acquired a pretty bad reputation within music criticism/with artists, even though it is sometimes (even often) deserved.
- If fan interactions are giving JD anxiety problems, something is wrong, and it is not my place to say what it is. I am grateful every day for his Twitter shenanigans, and based on his interactions there with folks I know, it seems like maybe the anxiety is manageable? Maybe. I hope so.
- But: the artist-in-the-imaginary, as a general thing, is not the same thing as the actual artist who sometimes has to seek treatment for anxiety. Fans don’t acknowledge this enough. Music critics and journalists don’t really acknowledge this enough, either. And if artists acknowledge this in print, they get read as assholes and they lose money, so they’re not going to do it unless they’re famous enough that it doesn’t matter if they lose money.
- SO: the clash between Tallahassee and Tallahassee is pretty similar to the clash between Zach Baron and John Darnielle, and somebody (probably me) needs to write this thing.
And in general people should be more responsible about their interactions with other people in general and artists they like specifically, and I do realize that saying this on Tumblr is like spitting into the wind, but you know, whatever.