Sunday, July 24, 2011

Breech birth

For those of you who don't know, I worked at Face Magazine, a wonderfully grimy music mag based in Portland, Maine, for four years in the '90s. The staff there had a particular term that has always stuck with me - whenever a particular issue seemed to take an extraordinary amount of effort and pain to bring into the world, they called it a "breech birth issue."

Graphic, yes, but it gets the point across. And last week's Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. column was a breech birth issue.

Here's what happened. You guys all know I'm really strapped for time lately. Between my Patch duties and my efforts to make my new house habitable, I'm left with only a few hours on Sunday to crank out my column. I don't get paid for this, and my actual for-money job has to come first, so if something happens, I need to drop everything and cover it. Happens all the time, and the few hours I have to myself each week seem to get fewer and fewer.

So I've found that it's good to do a certain amount of preliminary work for each column. I knew the new They Might Be Giants album would be coming out, and that I'd get it early enough to listen through it and write about it for July 20. I'd read a couple of reviews - always a big mistake - and I expected a certain kind of record: mature, simplistic, poppy. That would go nicely with Eleanor Friedberger's simple, mature solo debut, I thought to myself. And I drafted an outline in my head. I even wrote the intro to the column before hearing Join Us, the splendid new TMBG record.

The problem was this: Join Us wasn't anything like I expected. I was all set to compare it to the Barenaked Ladies album Everything to Everyone, as the point where they decided to leave their quirks behind and grow up. But it wasn't that at all. In fact, it was a celebratory example of how to grow up without losing any of the quirk and wonder of youth. It was mature themes filtered through that wonderful TMBG lens, with all its TMBG-ness.

But, strapped for time, I refused to hear that, and tried to review the record I expected anyway. I hammered at it until it fit the mold I wanted it to, and wrote a terrible, self-serving review that didn't capture the album at all. And I realized that on Tuesday, when I re-read it for the first time.

Needless to say, this is one of the worst mistakes a reviewer can make, and I couldn't release the column in that condition. It would have to be rewritten. And of course, I only had those few hours on Sunday free. Hard as I tried to squeeze it into the week, I couldn't. So I finally finished and posted it today, four days late.

As you can tell, I'm pretty ashamed by this, and I'm determined that it won't happen again. On the bright side, I think my new review captures Join Us pretty well. It's one of my favorite TMBG albums, so I'm glad I took the time to really review it, instead of just pretending. And I hope you all like the result.

Now, to write next week's column...


  1. I don't know if you still read this but I totally agree with your Field Music review. I really like the albums when they're on but I've had the new one for weeks now (thanks to a promo copy showing up in my local used record store) and have listened to it many times. I don't remember a single song either (from this one or any of the other three). Weird.

  2. I'm not a regular reader - actually, I found your "Tuesday Morning 3 AM" column today doing some web wandering through the lens of a band I've long identified with (Marillion, specifically H) - and I've just scratched the surface of this blog. The dedication you're showing with just this entry is commendable. If everyone in the world cared this much about one thing... I have no idea what would happen. Fun to think about, anyway. Best.

  3. Oh. I guess this was the last one. That's okay, too. It's like that with a lot of bands. You get there and it's already over, but it's still new to you, and there's so much meaning there. True of anything when you get right down to it.