Report from the New York Independent Book Fair Day 1

Today was day one of the New York Independent and Small Press Book Fair. Predictably, I spent too much money buying cool books that will now go in the ginormous stack of books I have yet to read. I attended two panels: The first was on publicity, and the second was a Q&A with Ian MacKaye of the band Fugazi. If, like me, you might wonder "why is a guy from some rock band doing a Q&A at a book fair," the answer is because he published a book about the band, and is in general one of the pioneers of the DIY (that's Do It Yourself) movement, running his own record label and self-publishing his own music back when that wasn't at all common. The two panels were interesting contrasts, since the publicists were (as one would expect) all about how to sell books, talking about how they work for months trying to get their books reviewed and one publicist (Sarah Reidy of Soho Press I think) talked about how she "takes bloggers to lunch." (Is it ethical for bloggers to let publicists buy them lunch? I don't know, but if any publicists are reading this, I like Chinese food.) Ian McKaye, on the other hand, said things like "Everything is being used to sell something else. Weekly papers these days are like advertising circulars with a bit more content." It reminds me of a guy I knew who worked in the publicity department of a small record label, and he tried hard to convince me that reviews were just another form of publicity. Of course, to a publicist, reviews are a form of publicity, but it's imperative that reviewers don't see it this way, because if a reviewer looses her integrity than she is useless as a reviewer. Readers have to be able to trust reviewers. More to the point, the reviewer's job, unlike the publicist's job, is not to sell you on a product, but rather to give you enough information about a product so that you know whether or not you want to buy it. This is a very, very important distinction. But to be fair, in the book publishing world just getting the name of a book out to people is a bit of an accomplishment. I don't envy book publicists their jobs.

But I digress. The Ian MacKaye Q&A was marred mostly by people asking him questions that had nothing to do with publishing or DIY and were instead about his bands and his music (including a long answer from him to a question about some controversy with Nike stealing one of their album covers that I couldn't have cared less about). I really would have liked to get a lot more from him about how to start a business with a DIY aesthetic, how to market products without subscribing to a culture that he thinks "is always trying to sell you something else" and what he meant when he said that "punk is the freespace, and it's been around forever" a statement that I thought was very strange and enigmatic. I would have asked him about these things myself but I didn't get a chance to. Maybe I'll send him an email.

Comments

I have a very cynical view

I have a very cynical view of Ian McKaye. That he's been successful at all has largely been due to the fact that he's been able to create a cult of Ian McKaye, so I'm not sure that his insights into DIY would be particularly useful. Do you know for example that the term and movement "straight edge" are based on the lyrics to a Minor Threat song? That's right, those kids with the X's on their hands are McKari Krishna's. Now, I like 13 songs fine, and there are other good Fugazi albums too, but they aren't THAT great. It's to the point that I'm willing to say that liking Fugazi and admiring Ian McKaye are lifestyle choices, and that McKaye has more or less made himself a brand name.

Which i find highly ironic given the thrust of his anti-consumerist rhetoric. Which is to say, i paid radiohead a pound for their last album, but last I checked, at 10 bucks a pop Dischord LPs and CD's were more or less the same price as any other catalog recording on any label, just enough less to give credence to McKaye's anti-corporate stance, but not enough to reflect the realities of what they COULD be sold for.

And I've always thought there was a very definite danger of the reactionary in mckaye and other's flirtations with libertarianism, see for example this goofy bullshit: http://www.worldoffugazi.org/index.php?option=com_fireboard&Itemid=28&func=view&id=409&catid=14. On the whole it's a political philosophy that seems to be so grossly ill considered that it lets anything in. Ian McKaye has built up a cult around himself, but he hasn't taken the time to teach his followers how to think for themselves. instead he makes pronouncements about what is good and what is bad and people take it as gospel. And as such you get admins on a fugazi fan board saying things like "Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich seem light years better than the other guys"

Which is frankly an insane statement.

Ian MacKaye

Actually, the straightedge thing came up during the panel. Hey said he didn't like the straightedge thing as a movement, that in the song he was just describing how he himself lived, trying to say it's okay to be that way. And he said a lot of people took the straightedge thing way too far, like some kid who tried to blow up a McDonald's or something, and what the fuck was that about?

But, yeah, straightedge kids are among the most fundamentalist, intolerant people I've ever met in my life, and the fact that MacKaye has inspired this kind of thing at all makes me skeptical. But whatever; like Dave Sim I respect the guy for doing things the way he wanted to do them and never compromising, even if like Dave Sim, I don't agree with him or many of the fans who take up his ideas. (Though granted, MacKaye has many more of these fans than Sim, mostly because Sim is clearly out of his gourd.)

1) Why is Ian MacKaye's

1) Why is Ian MacKaye's integrity based on the fact he has a sort of cult following based on one of his songs?

a) He didn't intentionally create the cult and has actually tried to distance himself from it.

b) The song the cult following came from is not based on some outrageous beliefs as in killing others or worshiping sheep, it is on not drinking alcohol, not smoking, not doing drugs and not having promiscuous sex. Because some have taken it to an extreme does not mean the original message was a bad message.

2) Fugazi is a GREAT band. I don't care as much for Minor Threat and I am not at all straight-edge, so you are incorrect in saying it is a lifestyle choice to admire him.

3) Ian didn't say that there should not be profit in selling records, just that the consumers shouldn't be gouged. $10 is a reasonable price for a CD and at the time he started that, the price of a typical CD was $22.

4) Why is Ian responsible for the political beliefs of one of the admins on a Fugazi fan site?

5) Ian sets a good example to his "followers" by doing things his own way and saying what he beliefs and sticking to those beliefs. Just because he gives his opinions on something or believes in something does not mean he forces or imposes those beliefs on anyone else.

6) Libertarianism is not "goofy bullshit", Libertarianism gives rational arguments for their positions, you may not agree with those positions, but they are not goofy. I don't know about Dennis Kucinich, but Ron Paul is a great man and IS the best presidential candidate I have seen in a LONG time.

I thought that the

I thought that the reviewer/publicist line was erased years ago. Are there any critics out there that you do trust? I can't think of any, but I can think of plenty who I think are insane, and that goes for books, movies, records, restaurants, university programs, cameras, computers, software, clothing, politics.....

Besides, most advertisements contain excerpts from reviews, so it would take an enormous amount of scruples (relatively) to resist saying something that might end up getting your name on a book jacket, or in a tv commercial, thus promoting yourself, and increasing your own earning power and job status. It's a two way street of backscratching.