Comments & Consequences

The brutal August heat is beginning to subside in Middle Georgia, but the rhetoric is heating up. On the 11th Hour’s website, the current cover story— which I blogged about on Friday — an interview with the so-called “hipsters” behind Macon’s grassroots music revival, drew a couple nasty comments from an anonymous, disgruntled local musician. The responses were equally heated, and within 24 hours a cross-section of Macon musicians and fans had weighed in.

I know what you’re thinking. What’s the big deal? An anonymous writer leaves a nasty comment — the quintessential, ubiquitous annoyance on the web. Normally I would agree, but the fact that it touched such a raw nerve here speaks to a number of larger issues.

My initial reaction was annoyance, and I think it came through in the comment I posted. Who was this person to attack people who were trying improve a struggling scene? Even if he does feel left out — for whatever reason — wouldn’t he be happy that something was happening, even if he didn’t like it? My feelings haven’t changed since then, but I’ve begun to see some of the complexities that are bubbling under the surface.

I spent Saturday night with Clark Bush at The 567 for a concert organized by TheBlueIndian.com, and at The Mellow Mushroom, where we saw Citizen Insane, a talented Macon-based rock band. Clark, along with a number of other musicians, writers and fans, has been instrumental in bringing innovative music back to Macon, contributing as a musician, producer, sound engineer, and as editor — along with Citizen Insane guitarist Shawn Williamson — of a zine covering the nascent scene, Macon Noise. If you haven’t heard the diverse music they’re producing, I urge you to download a free copy of the double-disc album Macon Noise Volume 1.

Clark’s reaction to the comments — online and in person — came off as a  mixture of anger, resignation and indifference. Hinting that he knew who the anonymous poster was, Clark dismissed him as a naysayer as he adjusted levels on the sound board at The 567. Apparently, the same person made hostile comments over a year ago in response to an 11th Hour cover story on Denny Hanson, a local musician who can be heard on Macon Noise Volume 1.

The reaction lacked the visceral anger of some of his fellow musicians. It was more like the reaction I heard from people who have been around longer and have been disappointed before, and I think I’m beginning to understand why.

The city of Macon has been on a decades-long, start-and-stop quest to reinvent itself and the music scene has followed a similar course. According to sources infinitely more knowledgable on the subject than me, there have been a number of attempts over the last 30 years to reinvigorate the Macon music scene. The groups behind the movements were young, idealistic, and nearly always fizzled after getting things off the ground. The reasons for their failure should be clear to anyone from a struggling small city. Economic resources are scarce, people leave, they find a job, have children, and all of a sudden, the scene evaporates.

Anyone can see the potential for this happen to the current group of innovative Macon musicians, and I’m beginning to see the vociferous response to the online bully as a symptom of the unease this thought engenders. Why else would it matter what one small mind thinks?

So where do I stand now?

I’m anything but the impartial observer, as I’m sure you can tell, but stepping back as much as possible, I still believe this scene has staying power. As much as the naysayers would have you believe otherwise, there are a number of factors working to the benefit of Macon Noisers.

First and foremost, the music is strong and diverse. Anyone who claims that this is simply a clique of like-minded artists, should listen to the startlingly varied Macon Noise Volume 1. Similarly, the people behind the movement are just as diverse, and have savvily harnessed the power of new and old media to reach a wider audience: witness Macon Noise fanzine, the Macon Noise compilation, and the group’s web presence on Facebook and on supportive sites like TheBlueIndian.com.

Perhaps most importantly, the scene has the support and wisdom of those who don’t immediately dismiss the online critics. I was baffled when I saw that people were finding things to agree with in the negative 11th Hour comments — how could they do that and still call themselves supporters of a scene? — but I’m beginning to see their underlying logic. Maybe we need to look at past failures in order avoid the inevitable pitfalls, and maybe we need to take the opinions of the harshest critics at more than face value.

It took me a little while to figure this out, and luckily, people were way ahead of me on it. I still contend that the music makes the scene, but I’m beginning to see — with the help of a number of people — the circular, interconnected nature of a self-supporting artistic community. As I write this, a number of projects are under way that could make this the movement that finally sticks, by addressing a number of larger issues that have plagued past efforts, like financial support of artists, booking tours for Macon artists, and attracting out-of-town acts to Macon’s  (hopefully) ever-growing number of independent music venues.

I still can’t predict success with certainty, but I’m getting more confident by the day.

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