Monday, February 27, 2006

Village Voice: "E-thics"

(Revised slightly on 28 Feb 06.)

Mike Green (Her Hair Jelly, Prepared Party, Pre-Cave, Nest (adj.), Boat Of, Peach of Immortality, Wÿfe, Miss High Heel, &c.) only twenty minutes ago forwarded the link to Nick Sylvester's "E-thics" piece in the most recent Village Voice. Very interesting...

In researching his article, Mr. Sylvester contacted Marc Weitz at Menlo Park Recordings. He received my email address from Mr. Weitz.

(Note: To Live and Shave in L.A. have enjoyed an eleven-year relationship with Menlo Park. The label will soon release Noon and Eternity, TLASILA's forthcoming album. Constant readers are only too familiar with (im)pertinent background details...

I thought it might be illustrative to trace this still-esteemed alt-tabloid's (arguably) perfervid machinations... From initial contact to the Voice art department's last-minute panic (no photo was run, although I can't blame them for choosing the Cage pic) to flubbed publication, "E-thics" was a queer (f*cking) bird.

Here is the full text of email #1, a response by Menlo Marc to Nick Sylvester's opening query. Out of regard for Marc's privacy, I have deleted his comments (save for his thoughtful introduction). Nick's inquiry may be found beneath.

The email was sent 2/15/06; Nick's original dated from 2/14:

nick, let me introduce tom.. tom, this is nick.... tom's probably the best person to ask about this...

On Feb 14, 2006, at 1:27 PM, Sylvester, Nick wrote:

hi menlo park,

we're looking to run a piece on the new TLASILA, specifically how it fit into that hilarious mothers against noise website bit. hoping you might have a hi-res photo and maybe a few minutes in the next day or so to talk? lemme know what you think--hope to hear from you soon.

best,

nick

Nick Sylvester
Senior Associate Editor
The Village Voice
212.475.3333

---

Here is the full text of email #2, wherein I responded to Mr. Sylvester's inquiry. It was also sent 2/15/06:

Hello Nick,

(Hi Marc!)

If you should need to contact me about the new album, email is best. As we have no relation to the site you mentioned (apart from our apparently being listed on one or more of its pages), you'd likely do best to contact its creator(s). I won't be able to help you.

Otherwise...

Best,

TS

---

Email #3: to insure that I would not be misunderstood, I sent a second missive to Mr. Sylvester. Full text, dated 2/15/06, follows:

Hi Nick,

To clarify, if you're indeed "looking to run a piece on the new TLASILA, specifically how it fit(s) into that hilarious mothers against noise website bit," then I've nothing to give you. Neither the group nor the new album "fit" into that or any other website "bit," any more than Nam June Paik could have given you an objective comment about sales flyers emanating from Rudy's TV and Carpet Outlet in Albuquerque. It's almost heartening that someone's fumbling about with context, but ultimately, it's of little interest to us.

Limited scope, inaccurate characterization.

Hope this finds you well.

Regards,

Tom

---

Email #4, written 2/15/06. It's Nick's response to my second letter. (I've again deleted Mr. Sylvester's VV phone extension.) He evidences a flair for the risible...

lets leave rudys tv and carpet outlet out of this ok

thanks for the clarification. here's mine: several people have confirmed menlo park and/or TLASILA were involved in the mothersagainstnoise site. beyond just wanting to get my facts straight, i want to write how brilliant i found the whole ordeal, talk to you about some of the ideas i had and hear your own. to me this is parody, meta-guerilla, democratic in design (the website had something of a take back the internet feel to it, when everyone had a personal homepage and those little icons like under construction or netscape 2.0, etc.), representative of how i've always understood TLASILA, and indicative of much more in terms of music industry type stuff, artist/audience relationships, etc. i don't think you're giving yourself enough credit. when you have a moment, let me know if you'd like to talk (212 475 3333 x12xxx), and whether you can send a press photo of the band over here.

all best,

nick

---

Here's email #5, again from 2/15/06. My exasperation was palpable:

Nick,

Honestly, I have nothing to do with the site. I've only seen it once; Aida Ruilova sent a link, I looked around, and that was it. Rat Bastard claims to know who created it (some noise dude in WI or MN), but I've no idea. That was November. Chris Grier forwarded a later VV blog link in which someone maintained we'd been signed to Universal Vivendi (now THAT was funny), but since then, I've been otherwise occupied.

Re Menlo Mark's alleged involvement: again, no clue.

Hate to blow your lead, but those are the facts.

I don't mind chatting about other stuff, but I really can't help you re MAN. I'm not being disingenuous, Nick - it's another person's effort. (Besides, my musings on genre are well documented; my interest in noise is zilch. You should already know this about me. Why further flail a dead mule?)

If you wish to contact Rat, go to squelchers.com and click on the email link. He seems to have a bead on the author of the MAN site...

Yours,

TS

---

I wish I weren't so scrupulous, for I next erred. I rang up Nick at his Voice cubicle. As he seemed not to be able to understand that I had nothing to do with the site in question (nothing, twits), I felt an obligation to convey the information in a more immediate fashion. We spoke - amiably enough - for approximately fifteen minutes. The bulk of our conversation centered on TLASILA, Noon, aesthetics, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, genre, the various noise scenes, university, the supposed culprits behind MAD, etc.

Nick dashed off handwritten notes during our chat. (I heard what I took to be the sounds of pages being flung from their moorings. I'm uncertain if he recorded our talk, however.)

His Voice piece includes quotes rather rudely excerpted from our conversation, posited within slabs of not terribly subtle, innuendo-laden text:

"They also pointed out that, on the actual M.A.N. site, the only noise offender to have out-links was To Live and Shave in L.A. Universal Music, they concluded, had invented the M.A.N. website to create buzz for the band's upcoming spring release."

"Except that, according to Tom Smith, leader of To Live and Shave in L.A. and a 30-year veteran who famously played with Pussy Galore, Universal is not putting out the next TLASILA album; small indie Menlo Park is."

(Note: this information appeared on the Voice's blog pages well in advance of Nick's article. The steely-eyed among you will recall I refreshed NS's memory re the Universal claim just a few lines above...)

"It's really not me, I gotta tell you," says Smith over the phone. "But we deserve to be on a fucking major label. Fuck yeah. Give me the cash. If anybody needs to be on a major it's us."

(Note: these quotes - not entirely exact in themselves - did not abut consecutively. Sylvester employed a generous dollop of narrative compression. No big deal - it's standard for the industry - but it should be pointed out to you nonetheless.)

"So who's responsible? And for what? Smith denied a role in the spoof (though he does share a last name with M.A.N.'s founder), so did Menlo Park. Perhaps the mothersagainstnoise.org founders themselves just created this pass-the-buck drama to drum up interest in their own product: a free noise compilation, currently entering its second volume. Either way, when the agency disappears into the background, the product still remains, and that's the goal—even if Smith, currently an ethics grad student, insists, "I'm not at a point where I want to lie about this shit.""

Sweet.

Anyhow, we'll save the best, most incriminating bits for last. Nick sent a later email (dated 2/23/06) in which he asked for clarification regarding the school I attend:

thanks again for your help with the piece; just had one fact-checkingquestion--you said you're studying ethics, but at where? just wanted tosqueeze that in. hope all's well, nick

Please note my reply (also from 2/23):

Hello Nick,

I'm well, thanks. Hope you're doing well too.

Re education: I've taken a circuitous route. I dropped out of Valdosta State University (in Georgia) in 1976 when punk came a-calling; moved to NYC, then Athens, then DC, then Miami, plying various (anti)-musical trades. While living in South Florida (where we assembled TLASILA ca. '91), I was invited to teach a course on B- and Z-cinema at Miami-Dade Community College. The bug took hold. I lectured on film (sans degree) until '94, and really enjoyed the experience. (That's how I became friends with Doris Wishman.) Anyhow, TLASILA began to take off around then, so I put everything on hold. Finally, after the OHNE tour in 2002, I returned to my alma mater. (It would have been stupid to start again as a frosh after having earned enough credits back in the 1670s to be a junior at VSU.) Got my degree (Mass Media) in 2003; began the Ethics degree in January 2004. I'll wrap that up in May. I'm post-grad, and I've done the student teaching thing for a while. Want to go to grad school in NYC...

That's the long version. Valdosta State University. It ain't Oxford (or even Oxford, MS), but they've got an excellent philosophy faculty.

Best,

TS

---

I explicitly informed NS that I was post-grad, but not yet in graduate school. (I've taken the GRE, and I did quite well, at least for one with such a poor grasp of algebraic concepts, but I still haven't decided on my final ports of call. I've multiple disicplinary interests, and many options available.)

He ends his piece by fudging the facts on my university status (no big deal for some of you, perhaps, but why not get things right?), and implies prior to his wholly unnecessary lie (mis-statement, benign omission, unintended fib, whatever) that my (moral) agency is perhaps questionable. Ladies and gents, we call this a logical fallacy. An author establishes false premises, holds someone with no relation to the premise accountable to said premise, and then assails them for violating the precepts of the premise.

This omission - in and of itself not a David Irving-level falsehood - was crucial for the advancement of Syl's syllogism, his poisoned well, his inherently flawed argument.

Nick, you're a sniveling little cunt.

You have as much right to blather about ethics as I do to rave with "authority" about, hmm, The Killers.

(I could have gone with Arctic Monkeys, but I actually quite like them, Oasis/Franz Ferdinand/Strokes dullards that they perhaps privately are...)

Granted, your piece didn't inflict harm on anyone (least of all TLASILA - we received free press, etc.), and your assertions, while arguably snarky and insipid, were scarcely libelous.

I'm pissed because you appealed to our better nature, then fucked us for an idiotic punchline. You can't get much lower.

Why should I care?

I have an obligation to take you to task for not truthfully following through on the specifics of our discourse. I had nothing to do with the MAN site. I didn't find it relevatory, transgressive, or in any way eye-opening. Rather, I saw through it, and immediately discarded it.

Instead, you inferred an antipodal stance. Is "slack-ass" a required human resources determinate at Village Voice?

My comments on being signed to a major label were predicated with the absurd proviso that we receive "a billion dollar, non-refundable advance," and that we tour with U2. You rather conveniently failed to print this, seeing to blunt what I thought to be a throwaway remark and shift its significance into an altogether desperate realm. Yes, I do feel that our work is of sufficient originality, quality and nascent appeal such that any company insane enough to ink us to a deal would ultimately benefit from the relationship. My exact words were: "more so than those other idiots," meaning I feel that TLASILA would be a far more interesting mass media proposition than Fall Out Boy, James Blunt, or Joss Stone. Alas, I live in a dream. My band is but a blip, and no matter how good our next fifty albums might be, we will likely remain a sub-cult at best.

You, on the other hand, seem to have been huffing Pam from a brown paper bag when you slipped and fell on your keypad. Ethics demands more of us than an AskJeeves search.

Tojours,

Tom Smith