The Song Remains the Same
L.A. Weekly

The Song Remains the Same

At the very beginning of 2008, almost exactly 10 years ago, I placed most of my belongings in a London storage unit, packed two suitcases, and flew across the Atlantic to my new home in Detroit. After writing two books, about Michigan-spawned bands MC5 and The Stooges, and spending all of the advances on research trips, I had made so many friends there that, when I felt that I needed a burst of new energy, Detroit provided a comfortable new home.

Very quickly, I started writing regularly for the Metro Times, Detroit's alternative weekly. From the U.K., I was familiar with L.A. Weekly and the Village Voice, but I wasn't fully schooled in how important the alt-weekly culture is in the United States. The Metro Times provided me with that education. Covering the stories that mainstream outlets weren't covering and tackling them in a different way, I immediately admired how alt-weeklies gave a voice to the otherwise voiceless. It wasn't about scooping the dailies. It was about telling the human stories, perhaps in a long-form format, that weren't being told elsewhere. I was delighted when I was named Metro Times’ music editor.

When I moved to Colorado a few years later, I found in Denver Westword a publication doing much the same. In Patricia Calhoun, they have a badass editor who has kept that ship in order since its inception. Writing for Westword proved invaluable as I continued my own education.

It was with the alt-weeklies that I felt most at home. The hard progressive lean is in sync with my own personal politics, so for my entertainment musings to be alongside features and columns covering social injustice, corruption on a business and political level, the need for a national health service and gun control – it was and is the perfect fit, hence the awards that I won along the way.

I moved to Los Angeles (Eagle Rock, then Long Beach) in the summer of 2016. I knew how great L.A. Weekly was and is and, after many visits, I knew that I wanted to live in this region. In addition, my wife's multiple sclerosis was unfortunately progressing with the extreme Colorado seasons, and the more temperate climate in SoCal, combined with the fact that she had lived here before, made it a no-brainer.

Starting in June 2016, I was writing regularly for L.A. Weekly as a freelancer. My articles were, in general, receiving a positive response from readers and the editorial staff, and I soon felt a part of a bigger team. Meanwhile, I continued to write for Westword as well as the Tucson Weekly, OC Weekly and SF Weekly.

All of which is a long-winded but, I feel, necessary way to say, I'm not from here. I've moved around a lot, more than most, but I'm here now and I love it in L.A. (And by the way, I'm well aware that Long Beach isn't the city of Los Angeles, but even taking L.A. traffic into account, I have no problems getting around the place for work, concerts, etc.)

I'm not from here, but I choose to be here. I remember the dark days of the National Front in England, and I'm looking at Trump and Brexit now, and I know this: No narrative that begins with “They're not even from here” is coming from a good place. Literally, it's never happened. I live in Los Angeles County, I work for the L.A. Weekly, and I'll bust my ass for you. The same is true of those staffers formerly living in the O.C. (all now living in Los Angeles County as well).

That was true before the sale of L.A. Weekly, and it remains true now. As we all know, VMG sold L.A. Weekly to Semanal Media in November 2017. Since that day, information has been published, leaked and tweeted in dribs and drabs, some reliable and much of it not. When the news first broke, I was distressed. A lot of people had lost their jobs, and that's always horrible. Back in Detroit, the Metro Times had merged with another publication following a buyout, and I had been let go. It fucking sucks.

I do know that it's not uncommon for new owners to come in with their own ideas. That doesn't help the good and talented people who were suddenly without employment, but it was true in my case and it's still true.

When Lina Lecaro wrote her article for the OC Weekly explaining that, following her chat with Brian Calle of Semanal, she wasn't ready to give up on L.A. Weekly just yet, my own healing began. I too sat with Calle, as well as Lisa Horowitz, one of the remaining members of the presale editorial staff.

After talking to him, I knew that Calle isn't racist, homophobic or misogynistic. I might not agree with everything he's ever said, but the same could also be said of the former conservative, corporate owners. Horowitz, and also remaining listings editor Falling James (one of the best writers on the subject of music in L.A., by the way), were the real clincher, though. They've been through more than enough changes at the paper to know that the identity of L.A. Weekly is far bigger than any individuals.

Of course, I had more questions. But the one that I was really focused on was this: Will the traditional political position of the publication be shifted? The answer was and is an emphatic “No!” Of course not.

I've now held the music editor title for two months, and I can tell you a few things first-hand. If some of the financial backers of the purchase are conservative, they have nothing to do with the running of this paper. The previous conservative owners were a corporate entity, and I'm reliably informed that they made sure they had some input from time to time. I was told last year that the 2017 Coachella coverage was being micromanaged by corporate, for a start. So, from my point of view, if I was happy to write for VMG, it would be hypocritical for me to be unhappy to write for Semanal. Incidentally, the 2018 Coachella coverage will not have any corporate oversight. I’m calling the shots.

Not once since I have been here have I been even asked, never mind pressured, to write anything by a member of the sales staff, marketing or management (outside of, obviously, the editor-in-chief and managing editor). Press releases get forwarded, as is the norm. But nobody has ever said anything remotely like, “It would be good for us, for sales, for advertising, if you wrote about this.” As far as I'm concerned, the church-and-state wall is solid. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't.

A month after I joined the company, I was presented with my application form to join the union. This I promptly filled out and presented to our union rep. Yep, we still have a union rep, and the current union contract is being renegotiated. Contrary to popular belief. The whole “union-busting” narrative I had been reading about is untrue.

That brings us neatly to the names that L.A. Weekly staff and freelancers have been subjected to online. Some have been called “scab,” and that's unfortunate. Mostly because it's silly, and simply untrue. I knew this before I started work, but I did check with our union rep for my own sense of comfort. Sure enough, he assured me that the current staff have done nothing wrong and that the word “scab” is being horribly misused (it's a word that actually means something to the unions).

Personally, I didn't much care about the name-calling. I'm not playing victim. I'm big and ugly enough to take that on the chin. But we have 20-year-old freelancers receiving similar abuse.

I made mistakes. On a couple of occasions, I bit back on social media. I'm not proud — I should have stood taller. There was also a failed experiment that saw me trying to cover news as well as music, and that was never going to work. But the budget is strained as the new owners try to right this ship. I'm no longer on news duty.

As we move forward, I feel incredibly optimistic. I have a pool of 15 writers for the music section, 16 including myself. Do you know how many of those were NOT with L.A. Weekly prior to the sale? Two.

So 14 writers have just carried on as normal. The new people were brought in to cover glaring genre holes. But for the most part, the music section is being written by the same people — star-power names such as Lina Lecaro, Jonny Whiteside, Lily Moayeri, Paul Rogers, Michael Simmons, former music editor John Payne, David Cotner and, of course, Falling James. Plus up-and-comers like Matt Miner, Zoe Elaine and Shirley Ju. It's absolutely inarguable that we also lost some really great writers. As far as I'm concerned, that's the most unfortunate part of this whole thing — I would have relished the opportunity to work closely with some of the talented scribes who are against us right now. It's never too late though.

You might not like everything I or one of the other writers writes, but that's utterly subjective. And, again, it's largely being written by the same people.

The budget is smaller and so, for now, the quantity of content blasting out online isn't what it was presale. But I'm aiming to get out one meaty feature and one smaller piece (a video premiere or event recap) every day. Most days, that's what you get. It’s also vitally important to me that we cover as many of the genres of music going on in Greater Los Angeles as possible, created by people from all walks of life.

There are no shadowy crypto-fascists here. No Republicans trying to brainwash you with propaganda. No shady ethical violations. Just a bunch of people busting ass. Occasionally, we'll slip up and make mistakes. I apologize for all of mine. But we'll be working to ensure that they're as infrequent as possible. All we ask is your patience and support.

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