The little window: My brief period of freedom in the press

By Patrick Carr Patrick CarrI began writing about music around 1970. I was writing in underground-type alternative, hippie papers. In those kind of places, basically, you wrote whatever the hell you wanted to write. There was nobody to answer to. I graduated from that level of publication and moved on to the Village Voice. Where once again, there was nobody leaning on me to say this or not say that. I was the arbiter of what I wanted to communicate. I was my own editor. That’s not to say there weren’t editors at the Village Voice because it had good ones. However their function as an editor was to catch your screw-ups and to help clarify your rough spots; not to say, “I don’t like this opinion. Change it and write this other opinion.” Now historically speaking, it never occurred to me that I just happened to be writing in print at a very unusual and unique slice of time and space. It just so happened that at that level of American society in the early 1970’s, there was this little window open. This window had not been open 10 years before, or even 40 years before. I had no education in the history of the press or any context. I was a kid. In that part of the world i.e. the alternative press, the music press, in those years, I think “anything goes” was the rule, kind of across the board. As the decade progressed, there were two particular incidences that corrected my misinterpretations of my freedom as a writer in print. After I had been writing for the Village Voice for just a little while, I started writing record reviews at Rolling Stone, and various articles at the New York Times as a Features Editor. Once at the New York Times, I wrote a piece about a Linda Ronstadt album that included a review of her album and a little feature in the Arts and Leisure section. My conclusion was that this particular album was a retreat from the level of craft and creativity which had characterized her previous album. There were probably marketing factors in how to make this album, which weren’t present in the previous one. My conclusion was that it wasn’t as good as she could have done, and that it was a disappointment. Type. Type. Type. I send it into the New York Times. Expect to pick up the New York Times and read what I had typed. Low and behold, I pick up the New York Times and the final paragraph of the review is not my final paragraph. It’s somebody else’s final paragraph. It doesn’t say what I had said. It says this album is just grand. I found out later the person who had edited this piece was John Rockwell. He had just signed on as the Times pop music Editor-in-chief. He was just an absolute-stone Linda Ronstadt fan and he didn’t like my conclusion. He got out his editing scissors and cut of my paragraph. He wrote his own paragraph and stuck it in the newspaper with my fucking name on it. It was at that point, I quit writing for the New York Times. I had a very brief career at the New York Times. I mean I had a quick negotiation and said, “You can’t do that.” He said, “Oh, yes I can.” So it was bye. I bailed out on the New York Times. Exactly the same thing happened at Rolling Stone. It was a John Mayall record; very similar in context. I didn’t think much of that particular record. I thought it was kind of a dog. Exactly the same song and dance as before. I pick up a copy of Rolling Stone. There’s my name and there’s my review but there is somebody else’s words, coming to a much more pleasant conclusion. Alright. Bye-bye Rolling Stone. So I continued writing for the Village Voice and working at Country Music magazine; doing my thing, wherever I could do my thing. Those two incidences, I believe, were symptomatic of a general trend. What was happening was the people at the record companies were leaning on the editors of the newspapers magazines to do what they wanted them to do. The weapon they had to yield was advertising dollars and the editors were caving. They decided to play this game. That was Jann Wenner’s story at Rolling Stone. He made that decision. Whether or not he had to make that decision, I don’t know. I have always wondered what would have happened if Jann had said, “No. Fuck you. You want to advertise in my paper then you advertise in my paper. You want to find somewhere else to reach all of these incredibly loyal, affluent, record-buying young people. Go find somewhere else. You won’t find it. You’ll have to come back to me and when you come back it’s not going to be fun.” That’s not what he did and that’s not how the history went. I saw it all around. I saw this gradual power shift from the owners and the operators of the press to the owners and operators of the media companies, of the record companies, the movie companies and everybody else. The same kind of stuff was happening across the board. It just went on from there and look at where we are today in terms of print. Bye-bye.

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