All Things to All People Vol. 5

Well, this blog is (at least) a day late because of all of the madness surrounding Black Friday. I'm pretty sure that the rest of the world thinks that Americans are completely insane, and I'm sure there are also plenty of punks out there who think that punk labels, distros, and stores that participate in it are ethically suspect, or at least have their priorities seriously out of whack. I definitely understand that perspective, but I also have a responsibility to myself and my employees to take advantage of the opportunity that Black Friday presents. Consumer psychology is a weird thing... I wish that it didn't exist and that people made all of their spending choices completely rationally, but that isn't the world we live in. The fact is that, for whatever reason, people's wallets are more open at this time of year, and the significant uptick in sales that we experience during the holidays goes a long way toward making up for the money we lose throughout the rest of the year. As I stated way back in Vol. 1 of this blog, Sorry State is not a money-making enterprise, but I'd really like it if it didn't lose so much of my money. Having Sorry State sustain itself at at least the break-even point would significantly reduce my stress level, alleviate much of the potential for burnout that I run the risk of every day, and allow me to contribute even more to the health of both the North Carolina and national/international punk scenes. If that makes me occasionally come off a bit like a scummy capitalist, then I guess that's something I've grown comfortable dealing with.

That line of thought makes me think of another issue I want to address: advertising in corporate / mainstream media. I remember the first time I experimented with running a Facebook ad. The telltale "sponsored" notice appeared at the top of my post and someone replied saying "sponsored post... gross." That really made me question myself and I didn't run ads on Facebook or other non-punk media for a long time. However, once the store opened and I started trying to reach people outside the punk scene I realized that Facebook was probably my best opportunity for advertising. Particularly this past weekend I've begun to notice lots of other punk labels and distros following suit. While I feel guilty every time Zuckerberg & co. suck money out of the Sorry State bank account, the fact is that Facebook advertising is so effective because punks look at Facebook. I think that Facebook basically sucks, but it's kind of a necessary feature of life in the internet age. I wish the punk scene didn't use social media as its primary means of communication, but unfortunately it does. I still advertise in zines like Maximumrocknroll and Razorcake, but I'm skeptical about how effective these ads really are. Instead, I think of them more as donations to institutions that I want to support.

In a way, the existence of this blog is a stab against punks' (and, indeed, my/Sorry State's) over-reliance on social media. It was born out of an impulse to do something that is mine, and mine alone. I don't have the time, energy, or expertise to effectively distribute a paper publication, but ideally this blog should do something similar by allowing me to write in a forum that isn't shaped by all of the oppressive contexts of social media or even the conventional blogosphere.

By the way, if you're wondering how our Black Friday went, I'd say it went pretty darn well. There were a few titles I ordered that flopped... why I ordered copies of the Goo Goo Dolls' A Boy Named Goo is beyond me (maybe because there's been so much talk about the band on Viva La Vinyl?), but I'm honestly shocked that the double LP of Zombies BBC sessions didn't sell better. We consistently sell new and used copies of Odyssey and Oracle, and a well-packaged, professionally sourced collection of vintage BBC sessions seemed like a no-brainer, but not a lot of people pulled the trigger. You can't win 'em all, I suppose.

For the past few days I've been reading the book Loitering: Collected Essays by Charles D'Ambrosio. It's really been knocking my socks off. Over the past few years I've discovered a passion for reading essays that doesn't show any signs of abating. I think that one of the thing that has made me so eager to read is the joy of discovery... there's so much stuff out there that I haven't come across. Despite having a PhD in literature I'm virtually ignorant of contemporary literature, so I end up getting book recommendations from a mish-mash of sources... articles in magazines like the Atlantic, things friends mention on social media, and even algorithmically generated recommendations like Amazon's related product feature or Goodreads' recommendations. I think that the latter is how I discovered D'Ambrosio, and reading the brilliant introductory essay to this collection gives me a similar sort of thrill as when I hear an exciting record that I've never heard before.

Thinking about my developing passion for the contemporary essay reminds me of a conversation I had late one night with a couple of touring bands who were staying at my house. Someone was asking about all of the descriptions I write for the web site... "do you really like all of the records you write descriptions for?" is probably the most common question I get about Sorry State. My stock answer is that my method when writing descriptions is to try to match the record up with the people who would enjoy that record the most. This requires a kind of psychological transformation wherein I try to get myself in the frame of mind of the person who truly loves this record. If I'm listening to the new release on Beach Impediment or Warthog Speak that requires me to become, in some sense, a perpetually angry, hard-moshing, finger-pointing hardcore kid that I might have been ten or fifteen years ago, but am not anymore. Similarly, when I listen to some new genre-bending experimental release I try to become the person who values originality above all else, who craves the new and the novel. I've become really adept at switching between these different modes, but it's a dangerous game... sometimes I feel like I can't remember what it is that I really love.

Anyway, what I'm getting at here is that one of the beautiful things about art is that is allows you to inhabit, to some degree or another, another person's subjectivity... to see the world through their eyes, to hear through their ears, to notice the things they notice, and to temporarily try on their assumptions, biases, priorities, preferences, and/or grievances as if they were a different set of clothes. The well-written personal essay sparks this process with a depth, intensity, and subtlety that I find endlessly gratifying.

I'll wrap things up with a note about music. I realized after I published my last entry that I'd actually written about Voivod in two consecutive updates. Ooops! In an effort to change gears, I'll talk about one of my other big musical obsessions of this past summer: Bloodbrothers by the Dictators. It's weird how an album that you've heard numerous times in your life can hit you all of a sudden with a completely different kind of impact, and that's exactly what happened with this record. A totally beat-to-shit used copy came in the store and I spun it one day and was just blown away. I've owned this record two or three times in my life, and somehow it always ended up in the sell pile. However, since my obsession with this record blossomed it's hard for me to figure out how I ever could have heard the song above (or, indeed, any of the half dozen other stone cold bangers on this disc) and not acknowledged it as one of the most perfect songs of all time. My only working theory is that the opening track on the record, "Faster and Louder," is kind of a dud... it's not a terrible song, but the hooks don't deliver the same deep gut punch as the stronger tracks like "Baby Let's Twist" and "The Minnesota Strip." Anyway, enjoy the track above... god knows I do.

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