Give Out: Pleasant Memories Of Culture Writing

Hannah Joyner
Apr 5 · Unlisted
The Forum Theatre, Melbourne 1929

‘I remember how mad I was on that day
Man, you gotta let it go before it get up in the way
Let it go, let it go’ — from Lil Wayne’s verse on Solange’s ‘Mad’

There is no point dwelling on negatives I suppose. Though I did have to write about the negative experiences from my time culture writing to remember that there were a lot of positives. The process emotionally feels kind of like composting.

It’s funny how quickly I forgot the reason I started writing about music / culture. It was to have some clips to show potential publishers — who I intended to submit fiction to — that I was up to the task of writing something. I went as the +1 to a Justin Townes Earle gig at The Forum in 2011. The +1 meaning I got a free ticket along with my friend who was reviewing the show. So I figured reviewing live music would be beneficial for more reasons than just having my name published, I could save money on shows and it would be something of a social perk.

It proved actually to be much more beneficial than I have otherwise previously implied. On top of seeing some of my favourite artists perform for free (GZA of the Wu Tang Clan, Justin Townes Earle multiple times, and Lauryn Hill to name a few), I got to inform the general public of my opinions on artists I loved. Hearing your opinion over and over gets tiresome after awhile, but when you see a great performance it is very enjoyable to try and capture that feeling in words.

Not to mention discovering new artists when they are the support act, or right at the beginning of their careers, or even just unappreciated and you want to champion them and raise their profile a bit. Growing up I listened to a lot of rap and hip-hop music, something my parents either tried to ban in the house or otherwise derided, and so it was very freeing to express my love and appreciation for these genres of music. And I’ll go further, because I previously mentioned my parents loved culture and this informed my early interests. What I didn’t say was that it was great when my parents and I both liked an artist, and I do still like the music they listened to a lot (Carole King, The Beach Boys etc.) but when it came to culture they didn’t like it was treated as though I liked something dangerous and ridiculous. As I write this, I am remembering one drain of a teenage afternoon playing a track of Eminem’s to my Dad who, under the guise of letting me state my case for why I thought Eminem was a talented artist, proceeded to shoot down every argument I made, and laugh at me.

I have read writers like Joan Didion, who say that writing is used as a means to find out what you think and feel, and I would add, in my case, that writing is for being able to admit your most personal truths. Especially when you’re not so good at speaking them out loud (and who is when being derided?). One of my personal truths back when I was culture writing would definitely be that rap and hip hop were not appreciated as much as other genres of music, and rap artists more often than not are portrayed negatively by the media. The pleasure I felt writing about hip hop and rap like great art — the highest art form , to me anyway — was equally as potent as the disappointment I felt when a pitch wasn’t successful.

Not to mention, I got to actually speak to a number of extremely talented artists, many of whom I admired. I mean, Joey Santiago, Big K.R.I.T, Billy Bragg, Justin Townes Earle, Peaches — too many to recall. A lot of the time you can’t put into 600–1000 words everything that you grasped from such conversations, and I still think of a lot of them. It’s kind of like having a memory bank of interesting points, and a lot of the conversations inspired other things I wanted to write about, and talk to other artists about. Of course, it was nerve wracking to talk to famous people too, and I don’t miss that feeling, but the feeling afterwards was always a nice one of accomplishment. There’s something about guestlists and call logs too that soothes me very deeply. The same with emails confirming I was to meet such and such film director in a café at the Sofitel, or saying yes to a 7am interview on Good Friday. Proof I was a part of something. I existed.

Even my bad internship had its positives in hindsight. Most importantly, recognizing bad editors, fake people, and what to stay away from. I bonded with other interns over this and they’re still close friends to this day. They introduced me to new music and art, and their artistic pursuits continue to inspire me. Yes, we all chatted too loudly, pranked each other, and messaged snarky things across Skype. Warm memories I will cherish forever.

The most positive memories I have though, was each realisation that I could do more for the piece I was working on. I could talk my way backstage to get a quote from an artist who I saw perform. I could talk off-hand and see if who I was interviewing wanted to follow my lead, or maybe they wouldn’t and that was just as revealing of their character. I could, just maybe, make an experience more interesting to write about.

For the purposes of this piece, I’ll go ahead and say I succeeded more than I failed with that, even though deep down I wish I accomplished more. I had fans of my writing, who wrote to my editors praising me for an album review, and many others who commented on my work positively. Even my failures were big and messy and at the end of the day, worth writing about. I really thought I was owed fame and fortune just for reviewing an alternative rap artist from Europe. I thought a film essay could break the internet.

I will never be that cocky again. That’s kind of a happy and sad thing to think about.

But like I said, there’s no point dwelling on the negatives. For every ‘Everything Means Nothing To Me’ by Elliot Smith, there’s an ‘Everything Means Everything’ by Lauryn Hill. Negative, and positive, side by side propelling me forwards to where I am now, which is still a determined creative person.

The Coffeelicious