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The Width of a Circle

In these uncertain times, of one thing I'm certain: This is the very last Bandwidth. Ever.

There. I said it, and I'm glad.

In the final analysis, mixed feelings abound, but the opportunity to write news and feature stories is too exciting to pass up. I will leave you in the capable (and soft!) hands of Ms. Audra Schroeder, who will move in, change the curtains, replace the toaster cozy, and begin filling this space with the aroma of fresh cookies and, I'm sure, a lot of love.

No longer will I have to endure record companies and their nefarious publicists. Dealing with these losers to snare all the booty (free CDs, concert tickets, etc.) may seem a small price to pay, but after nearly ten years of interacting with them, the scent of freedom is intoxicating.

Taking the endless phone calls from publicists peddling products they don't remotely care about, wondering if I've received X album by Y artist and if I'm planning to write about it will now be someone else's worry. Dealing with these shills has taken its toll. See, the amount of attention a record label slathers upon its latest release is invariably inversely proportionate to its worth. As proof, back in the day, I remember receiving no fewer than four copies each of Cracked Rear View (by Hootie and the Blowfish) and Under the Table and Dreaming (Dave Matthews Band). May I rest my case?

They inundate writers with this crap, then try to foist it upon the public for $15.99... and then they wonder why no one wants to pay for this shit anymore?

To become part of that business, even peripherally, is ultimately soul-draining. Worst is the nagging, suppressed notion that a music writer is, by default, just another mechanism for moving product.

During college, I worked in a record store in downtown Denver when Nirvana's Nevermind was released. There was a brief moment of optimism then, when it seemed the advantage might tip toward listeners. What wouldn't we give for another moment like that now?

Instead, things went the other way. Record companies began taking handfuls of musical acts and throwing them against the wall to see which ones would stick. And when the labels started treating their bands like disposable product instead of artists, the media weren't far behind.

Waking up and realizing you've been prostituted to advertise for Clear Channel is more than anyone should have to stomach. At what point does the business of marketing music completely corrupt anyone who touches it? When does it end? Too many music journalists are just salesmen, carving up markets.

One discovery that I found particularly distressing was the quantity of people in and around the music industry who simply aren't music lovers. Case in point: The former music editor of this very paper (whose column, Calibrations, preceded Bandwidth) would never speak to me after I wrote a column suggesting it was high time for Elvis to recede as America's sacred icon. Some folks just cannot stomach the truth: that Elvis was just a movie star, an entertainer. If he was such a cultural liberator, I ask, why are we so repressed?

Don't even get me started on the club owner who once banned the most popular act in town from his stage because one of its members dared to speak out about racism at the club.

Then there's the elitist us-and-them line of thinking: the narrow dictum that says there are musicians on the one hand... and then the rest of us. I once interviewed jazz drummer Billy Cobham, whom I'd formerly respected from afar. He actually had the temerity to insist that it had been scientifically proven that playing and listening to music in straight 4/4 time actually lowered one's IQ.

Perhaps worse are those for whom music is just a fashion accessory. To the scenesters -- an abhorrent thing to be -- it's all about the politics of exclusion.

To these folks, I submit: You simply do not like music.

Still, the Recording Industry Association of America remains the enemy. The thrashing of the massive, armor-plated stegosaurus' tail has never been as dangerous as it is in its death throes. To the tar pits, I say!

I conclude by thanking everyone who made this gig easier for me. You know who you are.

I must also (stereotypically) admit to a persistent, long-repressed desire to reinvent myself as participant rather than spectator. To that end, I conclude my final rant with a quote from legendary American composer John Cage -- one that rings just as true today as it did when he said it in 1961: "It is better to make a piece of music than perform one, better to perform one than to listen to one, better to listen to one than to misuse it as a means of distraction, entertainment, or acquisition of 'culture. '" See you around.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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