A sidenote on civility, and why we’re here
You might have noticed, if you ever turn on a television, that there seems to be a bit of a bullying problem lately. There were those six suicides which resulted from bullying. Today, the news was talking about a young boy bullying his diminutive substitute teacher. Discussion about this on CNN turned eventually to internet bullying – the thing which you can find evidence of in almost any comment thread on the web. Particularly when commenters are unfamiliar with the author or other commenters, it’s often all too easy for them to type out their frustrations and ire in needlessly strong words, to get it off their chest or to make a point which seems important in the moment.
Here’s the thing about the internet – we communicate without seeing each other. We don’t get the visual cues of body language, the auditory cues when the other person’s voice curls around the words they’re saying. The hesitation, the consideration, the motivation. These subtleties are all things writers study, things we develop an ability to navigate over the course of time, with the help of editors and teachers. It’s that which worries those of us who have studied and practiced writing for years, when we think about how others – who don’t consider or perhaps aren’t conscious of the nuances of language – now have this grand anonymous forum for dumping their unconsidered verbiage everywhere. There’s so much room for misunderstanding and contempt.
Which brings me to Grant’s recent post about Jesse Dayton. I finally caught up on all the comments this morning, and holy cow. I started to add my own thoughts to that thread, but decided instead to start a separate post.
My first inclination was to defend Grant as a writer and critic, such as he is or has been. After all, for most of my adult life, I avoided reading music criticism or reporting. I preferred to listen to music, see shows, and talk to the artists I knew. The exception was whatever appeared between the covers of No Depression, the magazine. This was chiefly due to Grant and Peter’s talent and discretion. (I don’t get paid enough to say this only because ND now employs me; rather, I work here despite my income level because of the opportunity it affords me to have some role in continuing that publication’s legacy.) So, as I said, my first inclination was to defend Grant’s skills as a writer. But that’s not really the issue here.
Someone called him a hack. Another on Twitter described him as an asshole. Come on, now.
(Hopefully he’ll forgive me for using him as an example here.)
Specifically to his post, it mostly seems like everyone (including Grant) feels pretty much the same way about Dayton’s work. He’s a remarkably talented guy, and he deserves a good career. That he’s not having the type of career Grant once imagined (wished?) for him is another matter. Not a negative thing at all, just the fact that things often turn out differently than you once thought. Perhaps Grant was even surprised – given the level of interest he once had in Jesse’s career – that JD has since fallen off his personal radar. But then, Grant’s a guy who moved out to Kentucky and started raising chickens and planting things, and stopped writing about music for his income, so there are other things to think about these days aside from where an artist he championed for a time might now be.
I personally don’t really care that he didn’t feel the need to do a Google search before writing this piece, because I understand how writing happens, and I know the difference between criticism and curiosity.
It’s not an academic essay; it’s a rumination from one single person’s memory and curiosity. We all have those things – memories and curiosities. Perhaps he figured some JD diehards would fill in the blanks in the comments. That’s the sort of thing which happens here, after all. But the ire? That surprised even me.
This site has been open for nearly two years and has inspired very few arguments like this one. Comments almost never turn personal here. Our comment threads have generally played out like little wikis, with folks adding to the discussion, rather than attacking the person who started it. That’s not due to anything we’ve done – y’all have pretty much self-regulated on that front, keeping things civil and smart. It’s been a trend which has surprised and impressed me. I hope it’s a trend which can continue.
We all have something in common here – we’re all real people with real interests, here for the same reasons. We have families and pets and lives, stresses, confusions, and aspirations. Music moves us all in profound ways, and we’re here on this website to turn each other on to songs, albums, and artists which others may have forgotten about, while others may not yet be aware.
There’s no need for personal attacks or name-calling. Aside from the occasional diversion, we’re not talking politics or other polarizing matters.
Of course, you don’t have to be a studied writer to blog or comment here. We don’t have any real requirements (aside from not posting spam, ads, or porn in a blog post). And, we encourage every voice and point of view – blog early and often!
I only ask that you help us not devolve into what so often happens on the web. If the bar for internet discourse is ever going to raise – and let’s hope, for the sake of the future of communication, that it does – then we’re going to have to get in the habit of resorting to civility, even when we don’t know each other. We have a choice between internet road rage or viral sympathetic consideration.
Feel free to debate, disagree, and share your passion here. Just first, please, consider that reason always wins. Take a moment to consider whether you would say the same to a smart stranger you just met at a concert. And consider that sarcasm is a thing which requires facial expression; it almost never translates to print, excepting the most talented humorists and authors.
(Also, by the way, the magazine didn’t go out of print because an audience disappeared in response to Grant’s – and other people’s – writing. The audience was there, and is here now. Read Kyla’s blog about what brought No Depression from its 13 years in print to this format now.)
It pleases me that so many people jumped into the discussion about Jesse Dayton – an artist who, despite his remarkable gift – isn’t necessarily a household name. No doubt it would please Jesse, too, to know that his fans are so fiercely dedicated. That’s what actually really matters here – that an artist of Jesse’s skill level has fans who will buy his records, go to his shows, and take time from their day to tell strangers of his work.
Speaking of which, here’s a video of Jesse working in the studio with Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash: