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Seeing Red Over the Blues

For City Link's venerable staff writer Bob Weinberg, it's bad enough that his biweekly column about all things bluesy and jazzy got yanked. But now he's got a noisy detractor -- oddly enough, with the same name -- bitching that his hasty exit wasn't graceful enough.

At the conclusion of Weinberg's final column on December 3, he thanked the folks who'd supported him during his eight-year tenure. A nice thing to do, right? Not every reader saw it that way.

"I'm extremely upset with you for making a point of thanking all of those who have supported the Blues in South Florida, with the exception of the City of Ft. Lauderdale, and the South Florida Blues Society," wrote Bob "Bluesbobby" Weinberg in a letter to the City Linker the following weekend. "I'm referring to a glaringly obvious and apparent omission by you of two prominent bodies in our community that have supported and promoted the Blues, probably more than anyone else." This particular Weinberg (who goes by Bluesbobby to avoid confusion with the columnist) is the president of the South Florida Blues Society.

Wow. Two Bob Weinbergs, both big lovers of the blues, and they just can't see eye-to-eye. What's the trouble? Why such a schism at the crossroads? Can't all these old white dudes just get along?

Turns out it ain't that simple. Dig deeper, and some pretty big issues divide the two Weinbergs. Bluesbobby explains: "He's into a lot of rootsy kind of things, and I'm not. I favor the Chicago electric blues. But that's just a matter of taste."

Well, that settles it. Talk about a classic impasse. Marriages have ended over less. Obviously, these two will need years of mediation to resolve their differences.

Bluesbobby's way of thinking illustrates the pitfalls waiting for those who pledge devotion to one genre. Lose the focus, lose the plot. Why, in such a relatively small scene, does such fundamentalism hold sway?

"It's like hip-hop," observes Fort Lauderdale musician and New Times contributor John Stacey. "Who's more down, who's got more street cred. Who wants to play that game?"

A casual reader of City Link could be forgiven for confusing the two Mr. Weinbergs, given their cultural overlap. But that would do them a disservice, says Carl "Kilmo" Pacillo, owner of Alligator Alley, who is adept at telling the two apart. "Bob Weinberg the writer is a nice, humble, earnest guy who knows what he's talking about," Kilmo explains. "Bluesbobby is a megalomaniac who doesn't."

For working musicians like Stacey and Pacillo, blues societies are an unwelcome intrusion into what's already a fractious and unstable community. And the two-year-old South Florida version (the SFBS) appears to have a lot to learn about the politics of inclusion, maintaining at least the appearance of modesty and playing well with others.

Stacey penned an angry response to Bluesbobby also intended for publication in this week's City Link's letters section. "Chastising the guy for not mentioning your little group in his last column seems the height of ingratitude," he wrote.

Yes, it surely did. And it was stupid and self-defeating as well. Is there any way to whine about your unrecognized hard work without sounding like a crybaby? Not really.

Bluesbobby's letter unfairly painted all 723 dues-paying members of the SFBS as accolade-addicted little cheeseballs like himself. "Maybe I went a little over the top, but it got everybody's attention," Bluesbobby told Bandwidth last week. And besides, he asked, what's the big deal? After all, Weinberg didn't lose his job at City Link. "He's still writing for the paper. He's just not doing that column anymore. Even as a farewell column, I just feel he should have recognized the blues society. I hope it's not taken as a personal blast against him. I tried to show my support, regardless of this particular issue. Maybe I overreacted, but it was just a gut reaction, basically, to the whole music issue."

City Link's December 3 music issue was intrinsically flawed, Bluesbobby insists. For starters, it included -- gasp! -- no blues. "I was really very disappointed with that entire music issue and its lack of attention to any blues musicians," he complains. "It talked about the kind of music that I don't know if there's an audience for. And there is a very definite audience for blues."

Huh? Come again? Bandwidth must have missed something. Now there are only two kinds of music, blues and other? And this guy seriously questions whether there's an audience for other? Did he even go to the music fest in Hollywood that night? Did he see how many people braved sub-60 degree temperatures to enjoy this weird, crazy, new, non-bluesy music? What universe is this Bluesbobby guy from, anyway?

The whole story is even more laughable when one considers that blues is a limited, limiting, and lumbering genre.

Sorry, Bandwidth needs to come clean about a few prejudices. Nothing against the blues, but it's more stuck in time harder than those mummified martians in Quatermass and the Pit. It may adapt, it may change, it may grow, but at the blues' present rate of evolution, it'll take thousands of centuries for it to do so. Maybe when harmonicas come with a MIDI interface. It doesn't help that its hardcore devotees wear blinders that prevent less-pure forms from entering the picture. Bluesbobby has taken this fanaticism to its illogical extreme. He's like a blues ayatollah.

This characterization perplexes President Weinberg. "I'm just a champion for the blues," he sputters.

Why, then, does his letter make him sound like such a champion for himself?

"See, I didn't look at it like that," Bluesbobby says. "I just felt very slighted." He insists he and the writer are good buddies. "How would we not be friends? We have the same exact name. Of course, I've had it for longer than him, because I'm older."

But the elder Weinberg's letter reeks of that upper-crust sense of entitlement without any proof of accomplishment. "I feel the SFBS more than any other organization is responsible for the rebirth of blues in this area," the missive reads. "Every blues fan should be as outraged as I am over this glaring, offensive omission, and should raise their voices in protest, when we unquestionably have been the single most supportive and unifying organization down here (according to all the musicians, club owners, and venue operators)."

Blues fans are outraged -- at Bluesbobby. "The audacity of being pissed because you didn't get honorable mention," Kilmo seethes. "Bob Weinberg [the writer] has done more for blues music than anyone else in this town. Have they [SFBS] paid any dues?"

With the blues, it's all about paying your dues. Long-time residents like City Link's Bob Weinberg, Kilmo, and John "Bonefish Johnny" Stacey have seen blues societies and city-sponsored festivals come and go. They've watched carpetbaggers and interlopers crash the party and mess up the limited resources for everyone else. They've watched the creation of steering committees and witnessed brazen power grabs and bluesless coups that have divided the rather small pie -- more like a tiny tart in a tinfoil tray -- that is South Florida's blues community.

It's a shame that City Link's Weinberg now lacks a public gallows to hang the SFBS. He has set up a weblog (www.bobweinberg.blogspot.com) to keep his information conduit open, though.

Yet, even there you won't find writer Bob Weinberg taking the bait. Mr. City Link isn't going to launch a counterattack against Mr. Blues Society, because he's a rare class act who takes care not to muddy his writing hand.

"It wasn't a personal slight," insists Weinberg the scribe. "The people I recognized in my farewell column are folks that I have known and worked with for ten years or more. Up until a year and a half ago, Bluesbobby was just an amiable guy I'd kid around with about the weird coincidence of two blues lovers sharing the same name in the same area. Of course, I wish the SFBS well and appreciate their hard work, but the organization was not foremost in my mind when I was tipping a hat to folks like Kilmo, Ed Bell, Dar, Kenny Millions, and Stan Waldman, who have shown an extraordinary commitment to blues and jazz for many, many years."

As anyone who knows Weinberg can attest, the guy's a softy. He won't even say an unkind word about someone who throws manure in his eye as he's being forced from the best job he's ever loved. Thankfully, his friends and supporters are unchained to any such obligation. But the columnist is understandably downhearted.

"It's particularly cruel to this particular genre of music," he says of his dismissal. "I always thought [covering blues and jazz] set us apart and gave us a bit of distinction, but obviously that's not a direction that the publishers are interested in pursuing." Weinberg even admits his column "skews a little bit older." Plus, it didn't help his case that the relatively narrow confines of our blues/jazz universe meant that one edition of the column was largely indistinguishable from the next. The insular nature of the scene meant the column read as though it existed for those who lived inside the same bubble. But no one would deny that he knows far more about the twin genres than any other writer in the area.

With media companies (including New Times) locked into an arms race for a younger demographic, walking, talking encyclopedias of blues and jazz music aren't exactly a white-hot commodity.

Yet I digress. The real issue here is the South Florida Blues Society's attention-hogging leader and his ridiculous assertions. To say that the City of Fort Lauderdale has done anything to "promote" blues music by shunting aside local musicians so it can bring down second-tier national acts to an expensive, uptight, and corporate-sponsored yupfest (The Sound Advice Blues Festival) is among the more asinine things I've seen in print.

Complaining in public because your efforts weren't immediately recognized by a well-respected sage represents a new extreme in arrogance and poor taste. But after slapping the journalist in the face, Bluesbobby actually has the gall to ask his members to petition City Link's publishers to bring back Weinberg's column. I guess he wants to get a few more swipes in.

It's bad enough to play a loud, off-key solo over the final fading notes of another musician's last few bars. But apparently Bluesbobby, in his zeal for genre supremacy, even overlooked the blues prime directive.

The one about paying your dues.


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