Talking back: SPIN comes to Alaska

By Daniella Cortez

Last Thursday SPIN magazine posted a long article online from contributor Jeff Weiss. Last month Weiss and photographer Nathaniel Wood came to Anchorage from L.A. and spent four days kicking it around town and checking into the local music scene.

They talked to a lot of people, not all of who made it into the published article. There’s been some push back from Weiss’s article and a lot of mixed feelings from people both familiar with the local music community and outsiders who’ve never been here.

When the article first posted, Facebook and Twitter where awash with opinions ranging from standard back slapping compliments to the musicians who got mentions, all the way the other direction to complaints that the writer failed to recognize a person, place or idea properly.

Here are some of the comments I received when I asked people for their impression of the article:

Giovanna Gianinni, an Alaskan now living in Reno, NV said, “I am frustrated with his obvious attempt to analogize pre-conceived notions about the Last Frontier with Alaska’s music scene. It makes good copy, but it’s not necessarily the truth. I know it sells, because that’s what the rest of the world wants to think about Alaska. But how about telling it like it is, instead of raping your thesaurus, and write an article that truly highlights how amazing and vibrant Anchorage, Alaska, and its music scene is?”

Colleen Bailey, a local performer in Mad Myrna’s Diva Variety Show had a different point of view, saying, “I thought it made us sound adventurous, and made our music sound organic and collaborative.”

Ezra Gibson, another local who is originally from New Jersey said the following, “I enjoyed the read, but thought it was highly romanticized. The article implied that bands want to make it big, but I think people just want to make their art up here. It’s not a big dream to play Taproot. But, that’s pretty much what a successful local band does. And generally, they’re okay with that. Besides, everyone in Anchorage is small town famous.”

I grew up in Anchorage and started going to shows in recreation centers and coffee shops when I was 15 years old. I spent more than a few Saturday nights in the old Gigs Music Theater before it closed. I’ve seen bands form and break up, come and go for more than half my life at this point and kept tabs on what was happening locally with music even when I left state for the better part of seven years.

In the years I lived in Las Vegas I never encountered the kind of community in their local music scene that I have seen in Alaska. Perhaps it was because I was an outsider to them, or perhaps it was because we have something special here in Alaska that cannot be replicated in places that don’t share our geographical isolation.

It’s always hard to hear how someone from outside views your life, your friends and your community. The local music scene is filled with passionate people who throw their entire being into their craft. They attend college and work full-time jobs, they raise families and pour all their spare time and not a little amount of their own money into putting on shows and making albums.

It would be impossible for someone with no prior knowledge of Anchorage to come in for a long weekend and summarize even the last year’s worth of history we have, let alone decades of rich musical diversity. What I do think Weiss did well with this piece was give his honest opinion of the slice of the community he did observe, but make no mistake this was just a slice. This by no means encompassed the whole of what Alaska has to offer musically.

As someone who reports on the local music scene I can attest to how difficult it is to summarize our community. Even with the years of time I have invested and the advantage I have by being from here, it’s a hard task to accomplish succinctly. I have the luxury of writing for a local audience as well; I don’t have to spend paragraphs describing our beautiful mountains or squat, earthquake-resistant buildings. I can assume my readers are familiar with our surroundings and get right to the task of talking about the musician or music.

Writing is not always an easy task, distilling a lot of information into the constraints of a word count can be frustrating at best and maddening at worst. There is a delicate balance a writer must strike to achieve something that is engaging to read, distributes the necessary information and provides a narrative. We don’t all accomplish this in the same way.

I was one of the first people Weiss met with after he came to town, as the article mentions. We had breakfast at Snow City Café and chatted about the scene, the town and the crime rate. I found Weiss to be conscientious and interested with a clear love of music and people. He had been sent here on assignment with very little notice of the trip and only a cursory knowledge of what he was coming in to. The people he spoke to all gave him as much information as they could, passing on more names of people he should talk to. The amount of information he likely received during his short stay would have kept him busy for months conducting interviews.

Although I personally wish he’d been able to see the long list of local bands, musicians, DJs, promoters and supporters that we have here, I also know how impossible that would have been to accomplish in a short period of time. I also wish that Alaska didn’t need pages of flowery description to precede the actual meat of every story that is set here, but the truth is most long time Alaskans are a little immune to the charms of the scenery. The mountains are the mountains, the sunsets are just sunsets and we wanted to see our bands’ names in print in a major publication instead of hearing about the hick on the plane or (and this is partially my fault) the depressing statistics about sexual assault. But both of those things exist here and, in their own way, deserve to be acknowledged in the larger context of our nation.

The thing to take away from articles like these is that our far-flung community of movers and shakers has managed to get the attention of several national media outlets lately. In September the web series “American Hipster Presents” profiled a local band, an artist, a food co-op and a brewery. The TV series “Drinking Made Easy” just aired an episode filmed in Alaska earlier this year that profiled several restaurants, breweries and distilleries.

This SPIN article may not have pleased everyone who read it, but it may prove to be an inspiration for further inspection of our musicians and music scene. Alaskan musicians deserve a lot more than a single article or a handful of video profiles, and I have no doubt with the level of talent we have here that we’ll get more than just these ones. Though I hope that at some point the music becomes the focus of these national articles and quits being secondary to our “incandescent light” and quips about a half term Governor that is now nothing more than an “also ran” notation and reality TV star.

This just in: SPIN posted a follow up to their article that profiled a few more of our talented locals. Check it out here.

Do you have thoughts on the SPIN articles? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Daniella Cortez

About Daniella Cortez

Entertainment editor and your gal about town. Doing my best to bring you the highs and lows of Anchorage's arts and entertainment scene.

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