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Look! Bird Dentures!

Sunday, November 5, 2006

See the dentures? No? Read on...

Well. Thirty-five comments on the singers we love to hate. And one from Mike Marrone. Smoked him out. He's out there, reading. And in a Sunday morning, Charles Kuraulty way, I'm reflecting on what's going on here. It's fun to riff on what you don't like; there are talk show hosts and columnists all over the world making a living doing that. The extreme expression of that "occupation" would be the sub-scum currently taking jabs at Michael J. Fox. It's so EASY to be snarky and snotty. And oh, do we love to read it and listen to it. Look at the tabloids reaching out for your attention as you stand in line buying frozen waffles and dishwashing liquid. Snarky and snotty is their stock in trade.

There are so many pitfalls in blogging, and the temptation to fall into snottiness is one of the big ones. That, and writing about your husband (kids, family, boss, client, work situation...substitute just about anyone or anything) in anything other than the most glowing terms. I guess it's a relief occasionally to be able to be snotty about SOMETHING, and The Loft's very occasional strayings from the Proper Musical Path that I, in my self-anointed harmonically enlightened state, think they should take seemed an easy and fairly harmless target.

And along comes Mike Marrone, a human being who, as Program Director of The Loft, has a lot of pride and hard work tied up in this (to me) previously faceless satellite radio station. He's out there, sincerely wanting to know how the music he programs is going over. Reading inconsequential blogs, and stung by the incorrect accusation that he plays, or has ever played, That Song Which Shall Not Be Named. (Not named, because the Ooooh Waaah Ooooh's are running through my head like pernicious sludge right now).

And I thought about the time a letter came in to Bird Watcher's Digest from a man who said he hated my paintings, especially the ivory-billed woodpecker cover, because it was just plain bad, like all the rest I'd done. Oh, and the male woodpecker, which had a big white cerambycid beetle larva in its bill, looked like it was wearing dentures. And I looked at it, this painting that had taken weeks to create, and the bird did look like it had false teeth. Ow. Maybe that guy was just trying to get a rise out of me. I didn't satisfy his desire. I just took the hit, but I still remember it, as I remember the occasional but often vicious attacks that came in once I started blogging. I remember wondering what my critic's product might be. Was he a painter, too? Did he write? Was he putting anything out for others to take in, other than bile? But taking criticism from the sidelines is part and parcel of creating a product for public consumption. A few people find it easy to overlook the fact that you're a well-intended human being creating this stuff that you're obviously hoping everyone will like, and they settle back in their lawnchairs and get out their pea shooters or their .410's, and they have a little fun with you, trying to get a lung shot.

So I thought about The Loft's DJ's and programmers, and about our shared admiration for so many essential artists like Ryan Adams and Wilco and Bryan Ferry and Mindy Smith and Damien Rice and Over the Rhine and East Mountain South and Iron and Wine and Ben Harper and Chris Whitley---the last eight being artists I never knew even existed until I heard them on The Loft. And now they're among my favorites. And what a gift that is! I know about these artists (and many others) and seek them out because Mike Marrone and his crew played them for me to hear. And I've heard incredible interviews with musicians by Mike and Graham Nash, and am privileged, through that, to know what David Crosby's been listening to lately. And went out and bought Shawn Colvin's new album on the strength of his recommendation. I can have great music streaming through my house, commercial free, all day. And there are human beings behind it, selecting songs they hope I'll like, interviewing musicians I can only dream about talking with.

And what did I choose to riff on? A couple of artists whose product I don't happen to like, just because it was easy and fun. I guess that's why they call it "making fun."

Yesterday, Bill and I sat at the Buckeye Book Fair from 9-4:30, stacks of our product out in front of us, pens poised, ready to sign. Hoping people would like it. A lot of people did. And then there were the ones who leafed through every page, studying, reading bits, and then put the books down again. And as I sat there with a set Mona Lisa smile on my face, reassuring them that not liking Letters from Eden was perfectly fine with me, inwardly I was yelling, "WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE??" Protest as we might about being creatively independent or cutting edge or fiercely self-expressive, there isn't an artist on the planet who doesn't hope that people like their stuff. That's me, Bill of the Birds, that's Billy Joel and John C. Mellencamp and Natalie Merchant; that's Mike Marrone, that's Michael J. Fox, and that's even Rush Limbaugh. Phew. Tough to put him in the lineup, but he's there, too. We're all putting out a product we're hoping people will like. (His just happens to be spew, and a lot of people seem to think it's the best spew around).

Mike Marrone, here's to you and your radio station. Here's to caring about your product. "Making fun" was fun, but know that I DO like your stuff, a whole lot. I'll never listen to it the same way again, and I'll get a rueful smile when I hear your voice, knowing that you heard mine, snarky and snotty as it was, and took the time to respond. Thank you for all that you do.


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