Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Important Announcement

By now you've noticed that there was no Weekly Whiskey episode this week, and that in general, Whiskey Pie has been seeing progressively less and less content over the past few months. There are many reasons for both of these situations though I'll spare you all the very personal ones that don't relate to the blog or my writing. Feel free to invent your own, too. I'll get to the point of this announcement in a bit. Just allow me some reflecting and explaining where I'm coming from first. Oh, allow me to go ahead and say "no, I'm not shutting down Whiskey Pie." Though the notion did cross my mind a few times over the past couple weeks.


I'm tremendously proud of the work I've done on Whiskey Pie over the past four years. I know it's a cliche, but I can't believe it's really been that long. I started this in...2008? Really? It's still a little surreal to me to think I've been semi-consistently updating a blog for longer than I went to high school or college. It's not even so much the fact I've stuck with this blog for so long, it's that I can look back on 90% of the writing I've done for this blog and I'm still pleased with it. I had written about music for six years, off and on since high school, before starting this blog and I really don't think I managed to produce quality work on a regular basis until I was doing Whiskey Pie.

The irony is that I think since those wild days of high school/college papers and pre-Whiskey Pie were more fun, for lack of a better term. This is something that occurred to me when I was editing Annotated Whiskey: Collected Pie Volume 1 (available now from Amazon!), too, though at that point it felt like  this was a positive change. Certainly my writing has become more polished and professional since starting Whiskey Pie, but it had also lost some of that spark of personality and "fun" in the bargain. My reviews now are perfectly fine. And that's the problem.

Well, that's two problems.

Problem one is that I don't want to be a review writer. I always thought of myself as a critic more than a reviewer, and I think my writing has become more formulaic and studious while all the "fun", personality, and criticism ends up in videos or my Essay stuff. I'm sick of putting scores at the bottom of my reviews and it's something I've wanted to get rid of for a long time. I want to be a critic, not someone doing to music what a meat inspector does when grading beef.

Problem two is that I don't ever want to be "perfectly fine" with my writing. I haven't been pushing myself or trying new things for far too long. I keep thinking back to the first version of my review for The Walkmen's Lisbon. I wrote a quick, rambling draft of it while very drunk one night and ended up scrapping that entire thing because I felt it was too personal and uninformative. I thought back to the shit I used to turn in to my editor at my college paper, and while it was a damn sight better than most of the writing in there, it was still the archetypal "angry young man who hates everything except weird/obscure music" kind of writing. I was never happy with my writing back then but it felt like so much more of a creative act with interesting results than it does now. The review I wrote of A Hundred Miles Off by The Walkmen was written under the same circumstances as my first attempt at Lisbon and I like it much more than the eventual polished Lisbon one because I wrote it to help explain my feelings at the time. It was as much a music review as it was self expression. But more importantly, I wrote it because of what the music made me think and feel. That was what I really wanted to express, not just that I was feeling confused and fucked up at the time.

I've been re-reading Lester Bangs as of late and it's got me to thinking about why his writing still resonates with me. It's ultimately because he's an amazing writer. Bangs could be writing about anything and it would still be good. He resonates with me not because he's a music nerd (he was) or that he's a better writer than 99% of the other music journalists/critics in history (he was). Rather it's because he put his passion and personality into his writing. I don't want to write like Lester Bangs, however, I want to write like Greg Lytle.

I don't know that Lester Bangs's reviews are especially useful to decide if you want to go buy Fun House by the Stooges, but then again, it's 2012 and you can go to YouTube and listen to damn near any song, ever, or download entire discographies of bands in an hour or so via torrents. I can inject more of my personality (or perhaps I should be using the more literary term, "voice" here) into my writing because I don't need to be a professor lecturing students about the latest Band Of Horses record. Anymore when it comes to music, the worst that can happen is you wasted three minutes listening to Adele on YouTube and deciding you'd rather stick with hardcore punk instead or some damn thing. I don't think the original version of my Lisbon review would've helped you understand what it sounds like or how it's different from their other records, but maybe it would in its own strange way. Also, those are things you can easily remedy on your own. Anyway, what I can do is give you my perspective on it, even if that ends up being a rambling piece that references how The Walkmen sound like The Band, though I've never actively listened to The Band, so The Walkmen sound more like my idea of what The Band sound like...but I digress.

I've been increasingly stressing myself out with Whiskey Pie, making myself feel bad because I don't update enough or that the Weekly Whiskey videos are always thrown together at the last minute. Yet in the midst of all this self-abuse it occurred to me that the videos felt more real and honest than my writing did. My videos look and sound like the work of someone who overcomes crippling self-doubt and apathy to talk out loud to a Macbook for 20ish minutes every week because that's what I'm driven to do. It's part of my passion (or my sickness, I suppose). I have to make videos where I talk about Frog Eyes and Animal Collective albums because...I have to. Since I live alone and have no pets, I must reach out to the Internet for therapy.

Yes, writing about music was a kind of catharsis for me, but it hasn't been for a long time. Especially over the past year, it's become more like an obligation or a chore. I found myself writing reviews about albums I normally would skip over only because I felt a kind of duty to put a score to something, not because I had anything I particularly wanted to say about said albums. Writing, or anyway writing like I have been, feels like a job to me, a job I increasingly put less time and energy into because I don't care much about the final product. I feel like I have all these artificial conceits and constraints I put on my writing for Whiskey Pie, and I don't need to. I could've said everything I had to say about the Wild Flag record from last year in two paragraphs but since it was a "review" with a score attached I had to come up with more to say.

I also often want to write about things that aren't music related yet I keep them off here because, hey man, Whiskey Pie is about music and music only, right? Well, it doesn't have to be. The blog may not be named after me, and it may originally have started with a second co-creator way back in 2008, but now Whiskey Pie should be thought of more like...the blog of Greg Lytle instead of a blog that I write for. I won't be writing some LiveJournal shit, though, so don't worry. Anyway...

Whiskey Pie is going to change. I'm not going to redesign the site because I can't be bothered, but everything else is going to change. Here's a handy list!

1) No more scores. I think the strict five star system is still the best bet if you must use a scoring system of some kind. But I don't have to, so I won't.

2) Content about other subjects! I did sometimes dally in videogames and movies in the past, but expect more of that and more other stuff, too.

3) I'm not going to differentiate between different styles of writing any more. I will still often be doing what read like reviews of albums, but sometimes I might just write about one particular aspect of an album, or one memory I associate with it, and so forth. I may write Essay-style pieces, or things in between a review and an Essay. One day it might be a couple paragraphs, the next it might be something super long about great albums to get drunk to.

4) Weekly Whiskey is sticking around but it will change, too. Since I broke my promise and took a week off before the planned break after episode 52, I guess I just need to bring changes to the show gradually as I've been doing.

5) I can't promise any kind of consistent update schedule. I will still be releasing a Weekly Whiskey video every week, but otherwise, I need to mentally free myself of worrying about what I'm writing and when it's good enough to finally post. If I'm feeling apathetic and uninspired, as I have been lately, I need to just let sleeping dogs lie, as it were. Whiskey Pie should be a...celebration, not an obligation.

6) I'm not going to try to "keep up" with new releases this year. By the end of 2011 it became apparent that I was reviewing albums out of sheer obligation because all the sites I read were doing reviews of them. So I did my reviews like punching a clock even if I didn't have a lot to say about them. Ironically enough, then, I had a lot I wanted to say about Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but I never did a review because my points were more like social criticism and open ended questions than the usual review writing I do. Without a score attached, though, I'd have posted a "review" in an instant. But I digress. I will still be doing a numbered "best of" list at the end of 2012, so never fear. Some traditions never die.

I guess that's it. Comment or email me if you wish. I will probably talk about this a bit more in the next Weekly Whiskey video.

-Greg Lytle

1 comment:

thevoid99 said...

Bravo. The star rating system or any grade is unnecessary. After what I went through in trying to write my review on The Tree of Life. I realized that ratings are irrelevant and the important thing is the review itself. You need the readers to read the damn thing and not have them worry about some stupid system. It gets confusing.

Improvement always to be the key in being a great writer. I want to get better and I still want to get to the point of topping myself.

I just finished an essay on Lars von Trier which is going to be published on Friday. There's still a couple of essays I'm working as one of them is on the movie Secretary where I'm now finding myself unsatisfied by it. I feel like I'm repeating myself and I need to change things up and just go right to the core of it.

There is always a need to experiment not just so that you, the writer, is trying to impress people but to find the better you. That is what I'm trying to do. Especially as I'm slowly working on my own script ideas.

Anyways, just take your time and create a new and improved Greg Lytle.