March 16, 2000

Bully-ish on Music

When I was about 10 years old, some buddies and I were hanging around a canal ditch, having fun, looking for crawdads. Some older neighborhood kids came around on their bikes and started circling us and teasing us. I chose to ignore them and was bent over the ditch, trying to mind my own business, when one of them came up behind me and kicked me in. As I came up sputtering, cold, wet and surprised, I had just one question in my head: "Why?"

These kids were classic bullies. I'm not really sure why bullies do what they do. I think they are afraid of something and express this with power over those they feel are weaker. I learned from this experience that you don't turn your back on them.

Recently, the music editor of your paper wrote a scathing review of Dichromatic, a CD by the Surf Ballistics, a band on my record label, Hayden's Ferry Records ("Suffer Safari," Bob Mehr, March 2). He followed up with a column about nasty responses he got to the "Suffer Safari" piece ("Going Ballistic," March 9).

Bad reviews go with the territory in this business and don't bother me particularly. As Jerry Lee Lewis once said, "I don't care what they say about me as long as they say something." But in the case of this article, the writer took a nasty, almost personal turn and bluntly attacked the band and me. I was reminded of my experience with the bullies of my youth and was determined not to turn my back. Ironically, the writer, Bob Mehr, posed my question of the bullies back to me, asking why I signed the band, "Why?"

The main thrust of the writer's criticism seems to come from the fact that he essentially didn't like the style and genre of the band and therefore thought they and bands like them were worthy of this kind of attack. To me, this is a bit like the adolescent cry of "My crew is cooler than your crew, dude!" or "Aerosmith just totally blows away Quiet Riot!" Yes, Hayden's Ferry has been successful in the national arena with roots and Americana/alt-country releases. But my tastes have always been varied and open when it comes to music. Fortunately for me, the public's tastes are varied, too. It's nice to know Mr. Mehr liked the Sleepwalker record, but I would be committed to putting out their second CD even if he didn't.

The short answer to Bob's question about why I signed and have released two records by Surf Ballistics is because I like them. When their now engineer/producer Bruce Livolsi and I first saw them in my recording studio six years ago, the youngest in the group was 15 years old. All four of them were extremely talented and have continued to grow in talent and confidence ever since.

Hayden's Ferry doesn't dictate musical tastes to the band. Unlike the larger corporate labels, it is within this independent label's core philosophy to encourage the bands to follow their artistic vision. The fact that Surf Ballistics has a large and passionate fan base that extends outside Arizona is testimony to the fact that others like what they are doing. In addition, Surf Ballistics' first CD was one of our top sellers. We have supported the band from the beginning, partly because part of our charter is to support local music; just as important, this band has supported and is loyal to us. We work together to accomplish greater things. I do this with all the bands on the label.

The bully-like and baseless negativity of this and other New Times reviews is largely what I think has plagued the Arizona music scene for a long time. The New Times music editor stations himself on the landscape of Arizona music, wielding his keyboard/pen as a shotgun, taking aim at any critter that tries to lift its head up to the world. It is as if New Times alone determines what is good and what is not. As a town, we eat our young.

Perhaps New Times can take a lesson from Bob Mehr's remarks on Surf Ballistics' music, "if only they would use their talent for good instead of inducing migraines." Maybe we could develop a thriving music culture in this town instead of making it so hard for the bands to survive.

I take some comfort in one fact -- a fact that most writers at New Times find hard to accept and the corporation that owns them knows; most people don't pick up New Times to read the articles anymore, they pick it up for its advertisements of strip clubs, nightclubs, personal ads, and breast enlargement surgery.

In this business, we live by a couple of sayings. "Tomorrow is another day" is one. Next month's music editor may like Surf Ballistics. "What goes around comes around" is another saying I like. My older brother went out the next day and kicked the crap out of those bullies who kicked me in the ditch.

As for the follow-up column, I got a few (more) phone calls. I had to force my bony ass out to Circle K to pick up a copy of NT to see what was up, and I got a kick out of it. I think we can agree that the amount of press this situation has generated is more than a normal bad review deserves.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets