Ten years ago today I dropped my first blog post. It was a review for St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy. It wasn’t that good, but that was okay. It was okay because I had released something into the void for lost souls(and even not-so lost souls) to read. Read, judge, agree with, disagree with, stare at indifferently, or just skim and skip over…just so long as an eye or two came across my ramblings.
As soon as I hit that “Publish” button I felt connected. Connected to what? I’m not really sure. The outside world? The blogging community? The universe? Maybe all of those or none. I just knew that having my own little space to wax ecstatic about music felt right. It felt like I’d been long overdue to start a blog.
Up to that point my choice of expression was thru music. I’d played guitar since I was 12-years old, so the music bug had been with me since before middle school. I started writing songs at 19 and never looked back. Between five different projects I’ve probably self-produced and self-released a dozen or so albums. Writing, recording, performing, and producing a good portion by myself, while the rest being collaborative situations.
But mostly, it’s just been me in the basement writing songs and recording them to the best of my ability. But at some point the singer/songwriter thing faded a bit. I’d always been a writer; writing short stories, plays, and even poetry. I loved writing book reports. Delving into a novel and then sharing my thoughts on said novel; what was it about, themes, metaphors, etc…I liked deep diving into the world of the artist and trying to get at the heart of their creation.
Writing songs and melodies scratched that creative itch for me, but truth be told I think I always found more inspiration from experiencing art, as opposed to making it. I love making music, don’t get me wrong. But hearing a song that moves me, or an artist that sort of rewires my brain, that’s the good stuff. Even as a little kid sitting in the living room listening to The White Album spin on mom and dad’s turntable moved me. I’d get that little tingle on the back of my neck as “Dear Prudence” and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” played at beer night volumes. It was as if the synapses started firing in my brain and were sending signals to my heart telling that pumping muscle in my chest “Pay attention. This is for real.”
I felt music on a very emotional, visceral level.
In the summer of 2011 a friend who worked for a local entertainment rag wanted to post some prose from various fans of Wilco, in celebration of the release of their album The Whole Love. I said I’d write something on A Ghost Is Born. Another good friend of mine who was also a writer(as well as being an amazing singer/songwriter) had read that piece and encouraged me to try writing album reviews for that same local entertainment rag. I submitted a review and was soundly rejected. The editor said it wasn’t bad but needed some work. I may have been a bit to meta or something. So a couple months later I wrote another review for The War On Drugs’ Slave Ambient and submitted once again. This time the editor said “Good. Welcome. Send me an invoice for the review and I’ll pay you.”
So began my career as a music journalist.
Then my wife had mentioned to me about starting my own blog. I’d thought about it earlier in the summer of 2011 but just never looked into it. With this budding career as a part-time music writer it seemed like a good time to commit to some digital space in the internetsphere and create my own little spot for music writing and navel gazing. On December 8th, 2011 I pitched a tent at jhubner73.com and posted my first record review. It was the one that had been rejected back in the summer. St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy.
Regardless of how bad some of those first few posts were I hadn’t felt that elated about something in a long time. A freedom to jump on the keyboard and talk about whatever. Whether it be new albums, old albums, movies, stories from my own life, and odd complaints about random things, this was my spot where all of that could be expunged from my brain and I could then move on to something new.
I was happy just being able to release these stories and opinions through these digital pages and move on. I didn’t know who or if anyone was really seeing this stuff. It didn’t matter. That first year was a barrage of musical opinions, childhood recollections, and the occasional odd political rant. The political rants went by the wayside, but the music and personal stories continued.
At some point though other bloggers started following me. There was this community of cool guys and gals that were similarly lost souls like myself who needed a place to rant, rave, preach, perch, and just reach a hand into the void and see what grabbed on. I found some amazing folks in the blogging community, some still at it while others slipped back into the ether. Were they real? Or just some blog fever dream? Real or not, I liked getting to know them through their words.
Thankfully I’ve been doing this for so long and with such frequency that my writing has actually improved from those early posts about the downfall of soup being served on New Year’s Eve, getting fillings replaced, and ill-advised political rants. I want this space to be a place where I share about artists you may not have heard of but should hear. I also want to write about growing up in the Midwest, being a husband and dad, and yes about my own musical adventures. I want to have a place to go and share when I’m having a rough go with anxiety and sadness. Putting it out there and hearing from others that they’re going through it too helps. I don’t feel so isolated that way.
I’ve gotten to interact with artists, labels, like-minded guys and gals, and even a few trolls over the years. Trolls aside, I wouldn’t trade these connections for anything. I think I’m a better person for starting this site. I’ve become a better writer and more attentive listener. If I’m passionate about an album I will beat the world over the head with my love for that album. If you’re coming here you know what you’re getting into.
I’ve never been one to write about something I don’t like or I’m not passionate about. I’m more about sharing cheers than jeers, kiddos. This site isn’t about reviewing what’s popular. I was never into popular music, though that’s not to say that some music I love isn’t popular. I don’t think you need another review for an Adele album, or a Foo Fighters album on Complex Distractions. There’s plenty of opinions on those two. I want to tell you how much I love Paul Riedl and Tangerine Dream and Protomartyr and the fucking Police. I want you to know that Disasterpeace’s Fez score might be the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in a decade. I think Ari Aster, Paul Thomas Anderson, Nia DaCosta and Trey Edward Shults are some of the finest filmmakers making movies currently. I love Scott Snyder’s Batman stories. Probably more than Frank Miller.
These are the nuggets of information I want this space to be about. What I’m passionate about and what I think you should be passionate about, too. I want this little spot in the void to feel like hanging out in a finished basement, complete with bean bag chairs, analog Pioneer stereo system, a stack of records, a candle burning to cover the smell of weed, and a frozen pizza cooking in the oven upstairs.
That little spot of cool on a hot summer day where you can wax ecstatic about the shit that really matters; music, movies, books, hopes, fears, and maybe even work through some shit that’s been bugging you for awhile. Posters on the walls, ancient couches and La-Z-Boys where the dogs make their home, and as much craft beer or Hawaiian Punch you can drink.
I hope you keep coming back. It’s been a pretty amazing ride so far and who knows what the next ten years will be like. Maybe when I’m celebrating 20 years of writing here I’ll be posting my brain waves right onto the internet without typing, every house will have a zero gravity room, flying cars will be a thing, and Keith Richards may be dead(I doubt that.)
Regardless of what the future holds I hope we can be scared and hopeless together, spinning tunes until the alien overlords disintegrate us all. Right here, at Complex Distractions.
And now for your viewing pleasure, enjoy the first post I ever did post on this here site. My St. Vincent Strange Mercy review. The seeds of what would come are there, but still pretty rough.
Oh Annie Clark, where were you when I was fifteen years old? Were you that girl in second period study hall, wearing the Joy Division t-shirt and listening to Prince’s Sign of the Times on a Sony Walkman? Was that you in Ceramics class throwing an ashtray on the wheel? Or maybe that was you, sitting on the bleachers during football practice smoking a Newport and writing in your journal about setting the next cheerleader you saw on fire. That might’ve been you walking out of the girls locker room with an eraser burn on your wrist and a Roxy Music button on your stone-washed jean jacket. Was that you that sang Till Tuesday’s ‘Voices Carry’ at the talent show? Were you the girl that gave me the mix tape titled ‘Pixie’ in Mr. Jensen’s accounting class, with bands like Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Lush and New Order on it? Was it you that told me “Meat is murder”, while we listened to ‘Meat Is Murder’ in my ’86 Escort? And was it you wearing an Iron Maiden hoodie that told me Faith No More’s The Real Thing would blow my mind? And weren’t you the girl in the front row laughing hysterically when I saw Heathers by myself at the Center Cinema? I think you might’ve been that girl in my government class that went and saw Depeche Mode at the Coliseum and disappeared for three days, only to reappear and say that Dave Gahan kidnapped you because he got lost in your eyes during ‘Enjoy the Silence’. And if I’m not mistaken, I think you might’ve been the girl that sat in front of me in Mr. Fitzsimmons history class that not only knew who Robert Fripp was, but could actually play ‘Matte Kudasai’ verbatim. I believe you were the girl in photography that I asked to the prom in the dark room. And If I remember correctly, you told me you couldn’t because you’d be putting a hex on Todd Connors that exact night for breaking up with you to go out with some “blonde chud”.
No. That wasn’t you Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent.
You were only six years old when I was fifteen. You probably hadn’t even started playing guitar at that point. You had yet to master the bruising, gnarled guitar style you have mastered so well. The tight, funky rhythms and jagged synths that permeate the songs off your excellent new album, Strange Mercy, weren’t even a twinkle in your six year old eyes. Lines like “I’ve had good times with some bad guys” in ‘Cheerleader’ or “It’s a champagne year full of sober months” in ‘Northern Lights’ probably would’ve meant nothing to a little girl growing up in Dallas, TX. Little did you know, but you’d eventually share the stage with the Jim Jones-loving cultish Polyphonic Spree. And then play bass for Detroit’s own freak genius Sufjan Stevens. How would you have known that you’d someday write a song like ‘Chloe in the Afternoon’ or ‘Year of the Tiger’? How could you have ever guessed you’d become an indie rock guitar goddess, and sing with such sweetness and venom? No. It definitely wasn’t Annie Clark in sixth period creative writing, sitting in the corner alone reading Tom Robbins Still Life with Woodpecker and listening to Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets on a secondhand cassette found in her older brothers’ bedroom.
That was Cassie Hargrove.
You remind me of Cassie Hargrove, Annie Clark. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, Strange Mercy is a great, great album. I know Cassie would dig it. –J Hubner, December 8, 2011