Writers' Bloc

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

"How often do you get to say what you want to say and nobody can rebut you?" Gittman asks. About once per month, which is how often One's mix of invective and hilarity arrives in the post. It costs the band roughly $300 per issue to reach approximately 800 readers. A little less than half that amount pays for the photocopying, the rest goes to stamps. Like most writers, Gittman is happy to speculate, and this is his opinion about the new plethora of written communiques: "There's so much lack of communication between us and the government that people are starving to find out what's going on. Like the Enquirer and the Star - it doesn't matter what you say, if it's funny or painful, people want it."

If the Goods' Kasmir Kujawa were inclined to rebut One's goof on him, he has the perfect forum. The Goods News, published in the mystical land of Sidville, includes guitarist Tony Oms's advice column, "Food for Thought" courtesy of Wheaty the Clown (which must be a nom de plume), and pieces by Leo the Cool Dog, social editor Billy Winkle, and the always-pertinent, environment-related essays of Breezy the Brilliant Tree. The group's Jim Camacho characterizes theirs as a "quarterly publication when we have the funding."

Broward's Kniption Fit take themselves and their newsletter, The Chocolate Milk Tribune, more seriously - sort of. From the "Ask Animal!" advice column in Vol. 4, Issue 5: "Dear Animal, Why roaches?" queries Sho'nuff of Miramar. Animal's response: "Dear Sho'nuff, Because crumbs."

Chocolate Milk is probably the most professional-looking local-band newsletter, but don't hold that against Kniption Fit. It includes high-quality half tones, lyrics from Fit songs, ad spoofs, a whole lot of pootin' references, cartoons, and, in one ish, an informative article headlined "The Psycho-Spirituality of Barnyard Animals As They Relate to the South Florida Music Scene." The bottom line on Kniption Fit's journalism: Cows rule! And the band, er, milks that theme for all it's worth.

On the national front, you'd think big-time publicists would catch on quick to the newsletter rage. P.R. flaks, after all, possess the abundant ego and excess verbiage necessary. However, few take advantage of the printed forum format. Chris Siciliano isn't exactly a flak, but he does send out a monthly newsletter called Chris' Cornucopia, which, amazingly, falls under the ultimate aegis of corporate behemoth Sony. Siciliano began his career at Sony (nee Columbia/CBS) three years ago as a college representative in New Orleans, moved to Atlanta as a regional rep, and is currently progressive music manager there. He works mostly with retail accounts, and says the newsletter "keeps accounts and stores aware of newer bands. It covers all the info, release dates, gossip, my perspective. The idea is that they'd be willing to take a chance [on stocking a release] if they've read about it, or know it's been on MTV, or find out about some of the band's exploits. It's always an incentive to check these bands out." He says the missive gets a solid response.

Bruce Polin is president of a six-month-old, Brooklyn-based operation called Descarga, which provides a mail-order catalogue "featuring the world's finest Latin music." In June he will begin bolstering the catalogue with a newsletter. "We've been getting such beautiful response" to the newsletter idea, he says. "It's about time. Things are just starting to happen for this music. The people I'm reaching with the mail-order catalogue seem to be starved for written information about the music and how it relates to their culture. They're yearning for more and more literature. I think there's a real vacuum. There are a couple of little magazines, but they're always behind the times by a few months. In America, Latin music has never really gotten the same media support as other genres. There is no machine working to support folkloric music. Yeah, you have your crossover stuff, your Gloria Estefans, but they're a part of the Anglo machine. For Spanish-speaking true listeners to salsa, they've never been hooked into the machine. Such loyal listeners feel neglected."

Polin's goal is self-containment with as broad a base as possible: subscribers will not only receive the Descarga newsletter, they will write it. "We'd like to have contributions from the people who read the catalogue and subscribe to the newsletter," Polin explains. "Stories about the musicians, the industry, or the genre of African-Cuban music in general. It'll be for and by the subscribers. What happens on the financial end remains to be seen. It's a new entity. But it is a way to reach consumers."

Whether national or local, the purveyors of newsletter wisdom and hoots could probably trace their inspiration to the "do-it-yourself" attitude that invaded the rock ethos a decade ago, when bands such as R.E.M. espoused a theory that essentially said, "If you want to be in a band, start a band. If you're not a musician but have something to say, start a fanzine."

Add that to the nature of life in the Age of Communication, and a boom in self-publishing is easily explained. Most of the modern glut of communication is of the electronic sort, which means it's ephemeral. A newsletter provides a solution to neglect and oversight, adds diversity of opinion, or, in some cases, a few good laughs from the stack of mail. It also provides something substantive that MTV, radio, and the nightly news can't offer. You can hold a newsletter in your hands, feel it, touch it, hold on to it. There's a sense of permanency, a weight of importance. It's not surprising or ironic that musicians - artists - gravitate toward the printed word.

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