Welcome to a new weekly feature on Stereogum, The Week In Music Writing. Every Sunday morning, we’ll gather an unranked list of five recommended music-related pieces from the past seven days. We’re bound to miss an excellent article from time to time, so definitely leave links to others in the comments. This week, we kick off the series with a list of five must-reads from Maura Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Pitchfork, Rookie, and Mediabistro.
1. “Take A Bow” by Chris Molanphy for Maura Magazine # 7
Maura Magazine is the innovative new journalism project of former Village Voice Music Editor Maura Johnston. The magazine is available only via iPhone and iPad app, with weekly issues of long-form writing on music and culture. The layout is simple and sweet; it’s well worth the $2.99/month investment. Case in point: in this week’s issue, Chris Molanphy’s look into how the Smiths probably missed being major rock gods in the US by a matter of months. (An excerpt is available on the magazine’s site, but you’ll have to buy the issue for 99 cents for the rest.) Molanphy recalls hearing the Smiths for the first time on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack released in 1986, and spends some time considering the influence of that soundtrack. He looks at Billboard charts for other bands that were also on that soundtrack, the influence of alt-rock explosion that happened in the US just after they broke up, before concluding that had the Smiths stayed together for just an album after that soundtrack, their history could have been much different. “I came to the belated conclusion that the biggest mistake The Smiths ever made wasn’t breaking up,” writes Molanphy. “It was breaking up in 1987, because John Hughes almost made them rock gods.”
2. “Literally the Best Thing Ever: Stevie + Christine” by Jessica Hopper for Rookie
Last week, Jessica Hopper reviewed the reissue of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours for Pitchfork, giving the influential record a much-deserved perfect 10. This week she looked into a more specific aspect of the band’s dynamic, the friendship between singer Stevie Nicks and keyboardist/singer Christine McVie and how it managed to survive through the band’s tumultuous history. It’s partially shaped as a lesson in non-jealous friendships/girl-love for teenagers, but for anyone it’s also an interesting micro-history lesson full of tiny details of their friendship. Like how they dealt with their breakups during the recording of Rumours: “The ladies rented a condo overlooking the San Francisco Bay and retreated there while the rest of the band stayed up all night partying in the studio accommodations/rock & roll frat house,” writes Hopper. For the unfamiliar: Rookie is a magazine for teenage girls covering culture, arts, fashion, feminism, and more, and their sporadic music pieces (some of which are written by teenage girls) are some of the smartest around; essential reading for all music fans, teenagers and adults alike.
3. “Frank Ocean Can Fly” by Jeff Himmelman for the New York Times Magazine, February 7 Issue
In their February 7th issue, the New York Times Magazine dedicated over 6,000 words to profiling Frank Ocean. By the end, Ocean still seems like a mystery, but it’s a solid and detailed overview of his life story to date, from his childhood and early family life, to outlining his post-high-school years when he first moved from Louisiana to LA. The piece digs through Ocean’s past magazine interviews and his social media presence, and includes a fairly detailed look into the making of Channel Orange.
4. “So What Do You Do, Ryan Schreiber, Founder and CEO of Pitchfork?” Interview by Andrea Williams for Mediabistro.com, February 13
Mediabistro.com isn’t typically a place I’d head to for music journalism, but this week they ran an interview with Ryan Schreiber, which in addition including fun trivia facts (like that one of Schreiber’s idols is Patti Smith, and that he has a bad habit of buying T-shirts on eBay) it also includes a look at the roots of the site and the state of music journalism.
“Be willing to put in the work for a long period of time for just the love of it,” says Schreiber. “I find that the publications I tend to connect with most are ones that are, in many cases, written by a single voice, somebody who has a really interesting viewpoint or perspective.”
5. “Gratuitous Pictures of Your Grief” by Lindsay Zoladz for Pitchfork, February 11
It’s always refreshing when a piece of music writing takes you to an unexpected head-space. I have been really enjoying Lindsay Zoladz’s Ordinary Machines column for Pitchfork, on the intersections of technology and Internet culture and music, and couldn’t have ever predicted that reading through her most recent installment would leave me clicking through some website on virtual tombstones that look like it was made on Geocities in 1999. In her discussion of cult 1960s folk singer Judee Sill, who died decades ago, and time spent perusing Sill’s page on the website “Find A Grave”, Zoladz takes an interesting look into the ways technology has changed how we memorialize artists we barely know; and how the Internet’s role in the evolution of fandom has changed the way we grieve for lost celebrities. It’s a sort of uncomfortable thing to think about, but like with music, it’ sometimes for the best when writing can make you uncomfortable.
What’d we miss? Let us know in the comments.