Amateurs write, like, prose

May 7, 2003 at 12:00 am

The “Everyone’s A Critic” contest exceeded expectations on all levels. We received more than 100 entries in the older-than-18 category, and a dozen entries from those under 18. The high percentage of quality work presented was damn near startling; many entries that clearly needed a good deal of work still had heart.

The subject matter varied. Lots of rants, musings and personal essays about life-changing musical moments under the umbrella of hip hop, jazz, soul, country, rock ’n’ roll and techno. One arrived handwritten on yellow legal paper. We received some poems. Fed Ex delivered a number of entries on deadline day.

There were fascinating submissions as well, some so personal as to allow a window into the private habits of the writer. It was heart — with knowledge, passion and voice — that we were looking for. We weren’t let down.

Those contest entries that came without the necessary information specified on the entry form were scrapped. Too bad, ’cause a few were worthy.

Many participants chose to write in the first person, which can sometimes work but too often renders the piece overly self-important or navel-gazy. Some managed to skillfully balance first-person narrative with healthy dollops of criticism.

Here’s how the winners and finalists were chosen. In the under-18 category I picked the winner and finalist. In the over 18-category, we narrowed the stack of submissions down to the top 50. The outside judges picked from those and I selected the top three winners from their picks.

Each of those now has an open invitation to pitch story and review ideas to us, an opportunity to flesh out their writing with an editor, and get paid for their work. All the winners and finalists will receive concert tickets and CDs. The winners and finalists (with judge’s comments) are published in these pages. Other runners-up will be published on the Metro Times Web site.

18 and older

1) Stephen Priest — “Quelling Springsteen’s The Rising.” This is music journalism, both determined and reasoned. Priest dismantles piece by piece, with eagle-eyed precision, a critics-darling of a record while managing to contextualize the artist’s career. He shows us in no uncertain terms that The Rising is not the American historical thesis other critics have led us to believe. He makes a methodical argument that could sway even the most die-hard Springsteen fan, which is no easy task. Certainly there are easier subjects to tackle. I also appreciate the overall organization of the piece and use of cultural references as a way to emphasize his points.

2) Noah B. Stephens — “White people, black music.” This writer exhibits a forceful voice with passion and lyrical skill. The writing itself has an unwavering cadence and meter — the words simply chug along — which helps underscore his themes of racism and its thread through soul music. By the end Stephens’ stance in inescapable, and his points will either enlighten, thrill or piss off the reader, which is the whole point.

3) Brian Blatz — “Heroes.” This piece just aches. It reads like good fiction. You can almost hear the Man In Black crooning faintly in the distance. Though this personal account barely fit the contest criteria, Blatz adeptly maps the limbo between who he is and who he once was, with Johnny Cash as a conduit.


Under 18

1) Dara Levy-Bernstein, age 13 — “Sound track to youth.” Bernstein has wisdom beyond her 13 years. It’s hard to imagine someone so young with such insight and command of imagery. Her piece is a portal into youthful alienation and its upside of intimacy, and how sadness and joy dovetail with music. We see her listening to Simon and Garfunkel at her grandmother’s funeral, slow dancing with a boy to Lennon’s “Imagine” at her own bat mitzvah and putting together her underground newspaper to a soundtrack of Wilco and the Libertines. Well done.



Dan Apczynski"Sunday in the park with Trey" — Rock

Erika Fisnar"Breathe" — Hip hop

Russell D. Brown"Phil Ochs — Rehearsals For Retirement" — Folk


The outside judges

Fred Mills, associate editor at Magnet magazine, and contributing editor at Ice and Stereophile. He’s a frequent contributor to Metro Times as well as Seattle Weekly, New Times, No Depression, Harp, Goldmine, Terrascope, Charlotte Creative Loafing weekly, and Stomp & Stammer zine in Atlanta.

Bob Mehr, music editor at Seattle Weekly. He held the same position at New Times Inc.’s flagship paper in Phoenix as well as for the Westwood One radio network. He’s written on music and pop culture for Spin, New York Newsday, Magnet, and MOJO among numerous publications.

Laura Bond, music editor at Denver Westword. Her writing has appeared in many places including Rolling Stone, Spin and Popsmear.

In the “Bubbling Under” feature that’s included, we decided the focus should stray from those artists and bands already blazing a national or international rep — the White Hypes, er, White Stripes, Sights, Paybacks, Fags, Brendan Benson, Dirtbombs, Lanternjack, Midwest Product, Slum Village, Kem, Von Bondies, Hentchmen, etc. Instead, we chose to encapsulate upstarts who are creating the sort of worthwhile racket that has a legitimate shot at accessing ears outside of the 313/ 734/ 586 area codes.

Finally, people are always asking me where good record stores are in and around Detroit. That’s always a difficult question to answer. So, we sent self-styled vinyl authority Carlton S. Gholz out “Waxing on Detroit,” to find the whos, wheres and whys on the local record shop scene.

Brian Smith is the music editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]