Super-Scribing Awards: Best Writing of the Year

By Jason Gross

  • Andrew Beaujon: "Body Piercing Saved My Life" (Alternet, June 1, 2006)
    From his book of the same title, an exposé into Christian rock's "not-so-seedy underbelly." Even more than the bands that build up their fan base through Christian festivals but go through (public) denials about their faith leanings (good for crossover appeal, you know), Beaujon presents this nifty bit of myth-smashing: "One of the funny things about being a rock journalist is that you quickly find out that the most restricted areas of venues are usually dumps. Dressing rooms, tour buses, and the wings of a stage are all stark exceptions to the glamour we assume cossets our rock stars."

  • Oliver Burkman: "How Many Hits" (Guardian, November 11, 2006)
    Acquiring the technology to determine if a song might be a hit could spell success for the industry, where money wouldn't be wasted any more, or help turn it into a colder, less human wasteland. There's compelling arguments either way but if all the cash-hopeful music that the majors (and indies too, don't fool yourselves) feed us is going to be based on a computer programs, I'll take electronic composers Jon Appleton and John Chowning who at least create computer-generated music from scratch.

  • Robert P. Commanday: "Come to the Aid of Music Journalism" (San Francisco Classical Voice, October 17, 2006)
    As you'd guess from the publication title, the subject is the dire state of classical punditry (or the lack thereof) but it's as easily applicable to any other kind of music writing nowadays. Where are the think pieces and investigative music journalism, he wonders. And the answer is...?

  • Robert Christgau: "Grant McLennan, 1958–2006" (Village Voice, May 12, 2006)
    In fairness, the Dean's written dozens of columns that would have been worth a citation here, but this tribute in particular was the best, most moving, and most appropriate that was written for the passing of a great cult hero. Go-Betweens singer/songwriter McLennan was by all measure at the top of his game, personally and professionally, when this sudden, unexpected swipe of fate took him away. As quoted in the article from a McLennan tune: "What would you do if you turned around/And saw me beside you/Not in a dream but in a song?"

  • Ted Conover: "Backstage Man" (Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 2006)
    The story of Stanley Booth's story of the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour, examined as history, sociology, memoir and autobiography, even including some music in there. Sounds like a wild ride, especially trying to keep up with Keith, but I wouldn't recommend it unless your doctor clears you first (and even then...).

  • Jason Cowley: "And the Winner Is?" (Guardian, October 22, 2006)
    A stalwart article about the system of awards in the UK arts, extending not just to music but also literature. And what do the prizes provide the winners? Fame, recognition, money--you know, all the crass things that a real artist isn't supposed to be concerned with. And surprise, surprise, one of many similarities between the different arts is that merit alone doesn't always drive the decision--there's a lot of politics involved, even in the 'fine' arts. It also provides some comfort for anyone not anointed by this committee or that society. Hey, you can toil away in ongoing obscurity with thousands of other losers!

  • Kandia Crazy Horse: "The Black Atlantic" (Creative Loafing, December 27, 2006)
    Meditating on the death of Atlantic avatar Ahmet Ertegun, way beyond any of the pious bio-checklists that otherwise marked his passing, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more personal or soul-wrenching (literally and figuratively) tribute to any deceased music industry figure (especially including James Brown, who still deserves a fitting send-off somewhere in print).

  • Jon Fine: "Rockers, Keep Your Day Jobs" (Business Week, February 6, 2006)
    With radio support gone, the era of arena shows mostly limited to AARP recipients, and online sales tied to singles instead of albums, rock is on the ropes yet again, but more so now than ever perhaps. How's this for an in-your-face moment of reality? "Rock hasn't minted a star with the pop-cultural legs of 50 Cent or Eminem in this century" (granted, this century's only six years old now). Also, he actually makes a decent case to be misty-eyed over Grand Funk and other 2nd tier best sellers of ye olden days.

  • Joe Gross: "Everything Louder Than Everything Else" (Austin American-Statesman, September 27, 2006)
    If you have the strange feeling that listening to your CDs hasn't been the same as listening to your old vinyl albums, it's not just because you'd don't have to get up to flip them over. It's also because the damn things are now being mastered louder than ever and louder than they should be. The end result is that the aural highs and lows are all flattened together and any sense of depth (not to mention drama) is removed. Yet another reason why vinyl is becoming so appealing to more and more consumers these days.

  • Philip Kennicott: "Music: Harmony With a Few Dissonant Notes" (Washington Post, February 2006)
    A documentary about orchestra members reveals that their lives ain't all money and glory. In fact, the players have to deal with a harsh, complex contradiction that demands total obedience even though they are trained virtuosos. "The darker message is that playing in an orchestra is so limiting that sane musicians need other outlets... It demands from those who make it essentially the same bargain that the religious must make with God: You submit and serve, in return for a deeper sense of participation in the sublime."

  • Greg Kot: "In This Digital Music Age, the Listener Is King" (Chicago Tribune, October 15, 2006)
    As comedian Andy Borowitz might say, the headline belongs in "Duh" Magazine by now but Kot has a good bead on how much has changed in the industry recently and how labels are scrambling to keep up. But with all the maneuvering of how to deliver music to consumers and still make money off of it, one thing hasn't changed. "Live music," said former Talking Heads singer David Byrne, "is an experience you can't digitize." Not yet, at least...

  • Armando Iannucci: "Classical Music, the Love of My Life" (Guardian, May 14, 2006)
    Looking through the eyes of his child, the writer/broadcaster reaches a great epiphany that a lot of knowledge can be a bad and inhibiting thing sometimes when it comes to appreciating music: "And that worrying was unneccessary, because labeling the music 'difficult' was a very adult way of categorising the music in the first place. He, not knowing much about chromaticism, harmony or serialism, nor anything about theory, had no reason to label what he was hearing as being significantly different from, say, Handel. It was just a very interesting, very alluring, piece of ordered sound."

  • Elton John, Jake Shears: "When Elton Met Jake" (Observer, November 12, 2006)
    Though he's been increasingly catty in his grey years, Sir Elton hasn't lost his spirit about his gay pride as he shares stories with Scissors Sisters' Shears. "I'm on the board of Amnesty International I can't just sit back and say nothing. It's not a gay issue; it's a human rights issue. I'm going to fight for them, whether I do it silently behind the scenes or vocally so that I get locked up. I can't just sit back; it's not in my nature any more. I'm nearly 60 years old, after all. I can't sit back and blindly ignore it, and I won't." And in a pathetic show of sensationalism and ignorance, a lot of media publications skipped all the gay conversation and zeroed in on EJ's comments on religion.

  • Alan Licht: "Genesis P-Orridge's Invisible Jukebox" (The Wire, September 2006)
    Licht: "Whatever you think of the guy's music (personally I lost interest after the early '80s) he's got a lot of knowledge and ideas to share... it was a 4 and a half hour interview, only about 15% of which made it into the print version." Thank God for the web.

  • Mary Carole McCauley: "Drawing Light From Concrete and Smoke" (Baltimore Sun, September 10, 2006)
    As the fifth anniversary of the New York/Washington terror attacks came, we were bombarded with images and memorial services trying to make sense of it all, as if that were possible today. This is the best article I've seen regarding September 11th and the art community's reaction. It's a very moving and wise piece of writing that gives a lot of perspective and has a lot of heart to it also.

  • Anne Midgette: "Even at Concert Halls, It's Location, Location, Location" (New York Times, January 3, 2006)
    Just seen a great, uplifting show? Maybe you didn't. The reverse is true too--a crappy show you just sat through might have been much better than you thought. It all depends on where you're experiencing the show, sound-wise and sight-wise. If only we could go back and relive each one in the optimum setting... Also worth mentioning is Midgette's analysis of Katie Couric's opening music for CBS News ("Katie Couric's New Groove," Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2006)--10 seconds with more historic weight than most symphonies hundreds of times as long.

  • Paul Muldoon: "Sillyhow Stride" (Times Literary Supplement, May 31, 2006)
    The Pultizer Prize-winning poet toasts his late friend Warren Zevon, name-checking John Donne, the Everly Brothers, Jesse James, Outkast, Brian Jones, Judas, Saint Ignatius, Stravinsky, Jackson Browne. Sounds like a cast of characters that Dylan would have assembled back in the day.

  • Prism DuoSport People: DuoSport Electronics website (2006)
    From the manufacturers of what's called "the worst MP3 player ever" comes a user-friendly site that boasts disposable Flash memory cards (just buy a new one then!), MP3-to-cassette transfer machines (to get around "Apple’s oppressive DRM system"), a lightweight player that's under five pounds, a home media center that controls your dishwasher, stereo and shades, a Swiss-army type player with "upgrades... to support any future formats that may arise," a battery charger that "has no power adapter and must be charged by another battery powered battery charger" and a special digital security system so "copyright owners can restrict the number of times a song can be played, the time of day that a song can be played, and the day of the week that a song can be played." Microsoft is very interested in their innovations and JT LeRoy has signed on as a spokesperson so the sky's the limit for this tech company!

  • Tricia Romano: "The Sober Hipster" (Village Voice, May 31, 2006), "Put A Cork In It" (Village Voice, December 20, 2006)
    By now, nobody documents the NYC club scene better than Romano. These two cover companion stories about boozing and sobriety in the nightlife world prove that, reminding us also of the precarious and yet promising state of Gotham venues and their on-the-wagon and off-the-wagon spells.

  • Hank Stuever: "25 Years Down the Tube" (Washington Post, August 1, 2006)
    A reasonable and spirited defense of MTV on its quarter-century anniversary. Not only does he find it a guilty pleasure even today, Stuever also understands why the channel was actually smart to abandon its video format and what its 'reality' shows say about MTV itself and pop culture. Of course, they had to develop some original programming to stand out, but how long can they stay on the cutting edge of pop culture when they're yoked to a 20th century format like television?

  • Adam Webb: "Making a Song and Dance" (The Guardian, May 25, 2006)
    Past the hype of MySpace (which didn't launch the Arctic Monkeys) and the lovely stories of online success stories, it's really business as usual in the music industry: build up a rep and get some attention and then get signed. The only difference: cutting out the original middlemen in the indie label world which once helped break some of the bands to begin with.

  • Roger Wright: "The Shock of the New" (The New Statesman, November 6, 2006)
    Regarding some of the mysteries about why classical unnecessarily scares music fans. Not only do you have to absorb it differently than other modern arts, which are more easily admired, even the terminology makes it seem like it's too much work and threatening to listen to and understand. As Alex Ross said to a group of classical writers: "I only wish there was something threatening about a bunch of schleppy people sitting around, listening to Brahms."

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Choose a Section:

  • Introduction

  • Superior Scribing Awards: Other Great Pieces of Music Journalism

  • Non-Music/Musical Stories: Great Writing About the Other Arts

  • Amazing Stories in and of Themselves

  • The Ignoble Prizes: Worst Music Writing of the Year