Writers' Bloc

The musical community fights for its writes in the language of newsletters. Words up!

Those were great and scurrilous times. Picture it: A roomful of upright, high-level journalists, circa 1985. Some are suffering oxygen deprivation to the brain from wearing ties (a malady common to newspapermen). Each is an individual, but all are locked in the ivory-tower, black-and-white mentality typical of newsroom employees at a major metropolitan daily. We're talking editors and reporters here. Proper professionals, indeed.

One of the dozen-odd people in the conference room is not dressed for the role, nor for the occasion - the weekly staff meeting of the Miami News features department. His hair is long and bleached the color of lemonade. His denim pants are so tight he can't smile without hurting himself, not that he has much to smile about. A cigarette dangles Bogart-style from his lips. Without removing the menthol from his mouth, he speaks. "What the fuck is this fucking fuckshit? You fucks don't know shit about fuck...." The room fills with a mix of nervous laughter and head-shaking weariness.

Jon Marlowe could get away with dressing like a metalhead, with spewing F-word eloquence, with living like a refugee rebel even though he was drawing a corporate paycheck. (One of the great and few pleasures I experienced while working at One Herald Plaza during the Eighties was stepping into an elevator full of Knight-Ridder/Miami Herald bluesuits standing next to Marlowe in his blouse/leather pants ensemble, and watching the expressions of the executives shift from freak-show grin to concerned grimace.) Marlowe was permitted his eccentricities for one simple reason: He was the best rock critic in the market - maybe the only legitimate rock critic to ever work these parts.

Good newspaper writing involves conscious manipulation of the audience. You figure out what you got storywise, then consider how to poke and prod the reader with structure and phrasing. That's the craft. The more reckless tossing together of heartfelt words into a newsprint salad - raw, soulful, and uncalculated - that's something altogether different. That's truth. Marlowe gave his readers truth, along with a worldwide, comprehensive, and insightful knowledge of popular culture, and music's place within that culture. When he vanished, former colleagues were deluged with queries as to his whereabouts. "Marlowe sightings," some legit and some not, abounded. To this day many still wonder what became of Miami's premier critical voice. But those seekers aren't looking hard enough.

On the cover of the December 1991 issue of Yesterday and Today Records News and Reviews appears this tease: "London Calling - And Jon Marlowe's on the receiving end! Welcome home, J.M.!" On page ten begins a package of Marlowe reviews of ten U.S.-neglected bands. Typically, Marlowe nails these albums' merits like a three-armed carpenter with a supercharged turbo-hammer. Typically, he rallies behind the underdogs, maybe spitting in the wind, maybe serving as prophet and visionary: On the Odds' Neopolitan: "`Wendy Under the Stars' has already made the Odds infamous. All the other sparkling pop gems found here should have made them famous."

On the Dogs D'Amour: "They could have/should have been the Black Crowes. Hell, they could have/should have been at least the London Quireboys."

And on hanging out in the downstairs pub of London's Columbia Hotel: "Phillip [Boa] has also come down with a sudden case of the `Steve Earle pondering blues': `How come nobody in America knows who the hell I am?' he asks his empty pint of Guinness. It doesn't have a clue. ...In the U.S.A. Phillip Boa is a non-entity. A less-than-zero. A third down and 110 to go."

When Jon Marlowe can be found in a local newsletter, you know something big's going down. And while as yet there's no American Association of Music Newsletter Publishers, we here at Trend Alert Central know a cultural phenomenon when it arrives in the mailbox. Among the local rock bands distributing newsletters are the Goods, Kniption Fit, Medicine Man, Lyrics for Lunch, the Spooky Kids, and Raped Ape. How do we know? Because that very list appears in an issue of a newsletter published by the band One.

One - one of the area's top hard-rock outfits - began issuing their ten-page newsletter three years ago, and, as vocalist Rian Gittman says, they've come to regret it. "It was intended to promote our gigs," the singer explains. "But we find more and more people know us from the newsletter, not the music. There are so many fanzines and shit out there, and they say, `I'll distribute yours and you distribute mine.' They forget that the only reason we do it is to get people to come see us play."

Funny, but One's newsletter is plenty more than an agate-type listing of upcoming shows: the "Poser Page," with photos of famous metal bands marred by the publishers' scrawls, and columns that range from cryptic to indecipherable to profoundly insightful and vitally important to the local rock scene. In the Christmas issue, the band listed "gay lovers we'd like to see," such as WSHE-FM DJ and local-scene hero Glenn Richards matched with Greg Baker. (My wife'd kill me!) In that same issue appeared "On the Trail of the Goodinos," which addressed the subject of Goods drummer Kasmir Kujawa - "His name is Kujawa. He is a murderous animal from the jungles...the only white son of South African cannibals" - and went on to mention the drummer's well-known fetish for skewered, barbecued human ears.

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