Ben Blackwell supports the Metro Times Press Club, even though he has a bone to pick with us

No news is bad news

click to enlarge Ben Blackwell. - Courtesy of Third Man Records
Courtesy of Third Man Records
Ben Blackwell.
When Metro Times editor Lee DeVito emailed me recently asking if I'd participate in this Press Club multilevel marketing scheme, I looked at my garage full of unsellable Amway and Party Lite castoffs and thought "THIS will make me whole again."

No, seriously, when Lee told me to write something about the mag and my relationship, I jumped at the opportunity. It was the first time in almost 17 years of on-and-off writing here that I was told I could write without a limit to my word count.

I'll be honest, I have quite a conflicted opinion about the Metro Times. From discovering it during my pubescent years and it serving as a veritable lifeline for my knowledge and awareness of anything and everything that would be populating my go-to venues like the Gold Dollar and the Magic Stick … each new issue was brimming with promise, with possibility, with potential. It was far more au courant than Orbit (a MONTHLY publication schedule?) and far deeper than the dailies (oh, how they tried).

Once I began the lifelong struggle of considering myself a "journalist," the Metro Times was that seemingly attainable goal in the distance. "I want to write for the Metro Times," I'm sure I probably said to anyone unlucky enough to have to listen to me.

Studying journalism at Wayne State, I was psyched to shadow then music editor Melissa Giannini for a day November 2001. The pile of free CDs! (I told her the Hives were gonna be huge, that she should review it; she didn't listen.) Cigarette breaks with guys who worked at Creem! Lunch in Greektown! An after-work loft party where I ran into professors of mine from Wayne! Seemingly barely any writing actually getting done! Trying (unsuccessfully) to sneak my underage ass into the Brendan Benson show at the Lager House that night! THIS WAS MY SPEED!

So a few months later, I submitted an article to an amateur journalist contest they had. Thought I had it sealed up. I'd actually been INSIDE their offices. I could, barely, string together a coherent sentence, which is not even necessary for rock criticism. How could I not win?

I did not win, and rightfully so. I recently dug up the writing that I'd submitted, and it's baaaaaad. Giannini got shit-canned not long afterward, and boy did she make the best of it. She's currently the features director at ELLE magazine and deserves everything she's worked so hard for.

About a year later, I started my own record label, Cass Records. Upon releasing the first two 7-inch singles on the imprint, an entry in the Metro Times' new Hit Singles column called out my "questionably titled, suburb-based label."

Never mind the fact that the label was based in Detroit, and pay no attention to the fact that the "retraction" was equally as shitty, blaming the fact that my residence and label HQ were only in the city limits by "one whole block."

That and they coupled the note with a picture of my head superimposed over a map of the city of Detroit.

Just ... classy.

So imagine my surprise when, not three months later, MT music editor Brian Smith (who I'm fairly confident was behind the Hit Singles sniping) reached out to ME and asked if I would consider freelancing for the paper.

The confused emotions, the uncertainty … I'd wanted to write, to get paid to do it, but this guy was just unnecessarily mean and he was straight from Arizona. I decided to put that all behind me and was delighted when MT ran a tour diary I wrote of the Dirtbombs' trip to Japan in January 2004.

I can't say that I wrote a TON for MT, mainly just record reviews and the occasional tour diary thrown in. But for me, it was an eye-opening experience. Once at a casual meet-up amongst folks who were writing in the music section, I was confronted by pure SHOCK from another contributor when he discovered I listened to the albums I wrote about multiple times.

"You don't?" I asked, bewildered.

"No. Listen to it once, read the press release — boom, there's your review."

That interaction scared me. I did not want to be reliant upon writing as a manner to make a living. I didn't want to write about something because I HAD to. I wanted to write about something because I HAD something to say.

So to this day, I am proud to only write when I feel compelled, when I feel motivated. And to keep people supporting the Metro Times is as worthy a cause I can think of.

Of course, there was also the time Mike Hurtt put my damn band on the cover! Sure, we'd been on the front of Real Detroit previously, but did anyone ever really give a shit about that mag? The Dirtbombs graced the front cover of the Metro Times in February 2008, and if I have any regrets, it's that in order to spice up the photo shoot, I started jumping in some of the shots. Or blowing my breath to create visible gas in the absolutely freezing Russell Industrial Center.

While all fun and games, looking at the photos now, I'm not terribly stoked to have my face obscured or my belly showing.

And a year later, I was moving to Nashville, sure to catch the Metro Times Blowout the night before I shipped out for good. A Detroiter through-and-through (I proudly displayed the Detroit map/my head graphic on the Cass Records website for years), the Metro Times website is still imperative for me to read on a regular basis.

My job running Third Man Records afforded me the opportunity to put out a scorching 7-inch by Detroit punk stalwarts Teener late last year. Where did I become aware of the band? An article in the Metro Times, naturally.

Don't take for granted the service an independent weekly publication serves for the community — local, expat, whatever. You will not know how good you've had it until it's gone. Doesn't matter if you think the content of the "News Hits" column is better served by moving the first "s" two spots to the right, or if you blush at their legendary escort advertising … Metro Times is essential. I'm a sustaining member of the Press Club and you should be, too.

Ben Blackwell is a drummer and co-founder of Jack White's label, Third Man Records.

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