The SN keeps getting better and better, except for Roy
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And the January 07 issue stands head and neck above what’s come before it. The centerpiece is the Tori Taff cover story on EHSSQ. I would have preferred less fixation on profiling EH. He’s such a well-known figure by now that Taff struggles to say anything new about him and so must resort to dramatizing his management philosophy. This is interesting enough as inside baseball goes, and it certainly reinforces EH’s self-styled myth of himself as Gospel Patriarch to His Boys on the Bus. But a more balanced article might have told a much more interesting story about the group as a whole and tilled some new ground in the process.
Really, though, I’m quibbling, which is not a luxury one has historically not had with SN’s content. The piece is solidly written and holds your attention. And anyone who can spend as much time as Taff must have with guys as overtanned as this bunch and not make an orange-glo joke deserves … well, that takes an estimable gift that I don’t have. Anyway, Taff’s article is more evidence of the SN’s ongoing transformation. (More evidence: David Bruce Murray’s reviews will soon begin appearing in the magazine … I still think he gives too many stars to most projects, but any kind of genuinely evaluative system will dramatically improve on the artist-friendly “make a joyful noise” style “reviews” that the SN normally publishes).
And speaking of transformations, Jerry Kirksey earns all kind of respect and congratulations in my book for having done some honest self-examination and owned up to his own evolving values and rethinking of longheld beliefs. This is not ever easy to do and it gets harder as we age. And even harder for highly visible people in positions of leadership. Kudos to Kirksey.
But (you knew this was coming) what’s up with that enormous advertising section on new talent? At first I thought it was from some label purchasing space for its artists, but on closer examination, I think it’s actually SN-generated copy that groups could purchase to go in this section on young artists, alongside ads for their new product.
This is actually a good idea for a feature - the next generation of sg - but why sell the space? I assume the reason is that if the SN were to run the piece as an editorial product, they’d have to choose whom to select and whom not, and that would inevitably require showing preferences for some and not others or including everyone at the SN/Salem’s expense. And either way, that would probably mean lost revenue - either now or in the future. So, giving everyone the opportunity to buy space in the young talent special advertising section absolves the SN of appearing to make (gasp) any judgment of quality and nets them more ad revenue in the process. A flat fee is a very democratizing thing. And a smart move, really. A bit self-serving, and perhaps a purist would balk at how steadfastly the magazine refuses to bring its staff’s considerable experience to bear on qualitative assessment of artists, music, and the industry. But smart, all the same.
Randomly: I still don’t know what J.K. Stuffle’s doing in all the Perrys group pictures. Really. This isn’t entirely rhetorical. And how many consecutive months will Dennis Zimmeran use his Pacifically Speaking column to plug his own group? It’s “Pacifically Speaking,” Dennis. As in “the large geographical area of North America bounded on the west by the Pacific.” Not “Have I mentioned my group, The Watchmen.”
And then there’s Roy Pauley (You might want to use this brief intermission to go get a snack or something).
Part of me thinks he’s the kind of guy it’s best to ignore. But I’ve tried that and he doesn’t seem to be going away (tangentially: whatever happened to the “No, it’s MY opinion” tit-for-tat thing that the SN tried to get off the ground last year? Is that coming back?), so there you are. And here, in January’s issue, we have another Feat of Solipsistic Declamation from Roy “Stuff Was Better in the Past” Pauley. Does it strike anybody else as odd that “In My Opinion,” all the best of everything happened, originated in, or came out of the 1950s-60s? Or should I say, Pauley’s ever-more shortsighted memory of that time?
Honestly. This month we’re treated to the thousandth-and-first rewrite of Roy’s Favorite Topic: “your hair’s too long/short/messy and your clothes are too tight/loose/ugly.” This month’s subtitle: “clothes and hair were better in the past” (implication: gospel music was holier back then). Pauley’s preferred method of argumentation is to set himself up on the side of all that’s “appropriate” and “professional” and of the highest “quality” but without providing any kind of working definition for what he takes these vexingly slippery terms to mean, exactly. I don’t know if he refuses to or simply can’t, but no matter. Here’s the trick: Pauley then labels anything he himself finds personally distasteful as the opposite of “appropriate,” “professional,” and “quality” etc.
The cherry on top of all this is that, as always, a choir loft full of southern gospel’s great names - living and dead - are called upon to back up Pauley and his opinion. This month “Mom Speer, Lily Fern Weatherford, Eva Mae and Naomi Sego” are summoned up to bear witness to Good Ole Roy’s lonely stand against the insidious encroachment of morally derelict hemlines, sexually suggestive hair cuts, and other latter day sartorial sins against the white-robed mothers and fastidiously clothed fathers of gospel music’s long ago.
On almost any subject, this is Pauley’s signature move: wave a finger-wagging hand in the direction of the past’s most venerated figures – the Speers, the Statesmen, the Lefevres, the Weatherfords – and let the overpowering venerability of their collective reputations stand for Roy’s idea of quality, goodness and what it is appropriate in all matters of music and morality.
The trouble is that quite obviously these people themselves did not share anything like a consensus view of what constitutes – for them, personally – quality, appropriateness, or good music, except in the most general ways. And we know this is true because the music each of them sang - and, for that matter, the clothes they wore - was quite different in their own individual cases. Compare “City Coming Down” to, say, Rosie Rosell’s “Oh What a Savior” (since it’s such a hot topic these days). Or Brock Speer’s conservative attire and bearing to the Big Chief’s self-consciously cool-cat manner in dress and stage presence.
Now, when compared to EHSSQ or the Booth Brothers or First Love or whomever else from today’s young vanguard Pauley has in mind when he writes his manifestos on Christian costuming and cosmetics, these old people and their music and style may well seem more alike than different. But that only takes the measure of how much has changed in 50 years (the bouffant and the beehive are two very different hairstyles popular among gospel divas of the mid-20th Century, but they look equally ridiculous in hindsight). What that difference doesn’t mean is that Brock Speer and James Blackwood, or Rosie Rosell and Naomi Sego all represent, as Pauley likes to imagine, some unified, absolute and fixed standard of quality, excellence, and what’s appropriate.
And if anyone should know this, it ought to be Roy Pauley, who – as he never tires of reminding us – was there in these people’s heyday.
What Pauley seems unable or unwilling to accept is a fairly simple truth: something roughly equivalent to “time’s change” crossed with a little bit of “there’s no accounting for taste.” Follow along at home now:
- Exercise 1: If Ernie Haase and Signature Sound were to wear Speedos on stage, this would be inappropriate (though it would also likely redefine the idea of “hip,” I imagine, and people would definitely not be talking about their short ties anymore). Times change but not that much.
- Exercise 2: Whereas if one were to – purely hypothetically of course – look at Roy Pauley’s column photograph in the SN and find his super-coif, Aqua Net, Hold Tight pompadour hair style affected and preposterous, as though Benny Hinn met Steve French and started an off-the-rack hairpiece kiosk in the mall … well, now, that would just be a matter of taste, since Pauley’s hair is his bidness and his ideas and opinions are no better or worse for it. Hairstyles, like the times (and opinions for that matter), change - except maybe in Pauley’s case.
Back when the Singing News seemed to be under the sway of the Roy Pauleys of the gospel music world, “In My Opinion” fit right in and made quite a lot of editorial sense. It was no less infuriatingly solipsistic than it is now, but with J.D. Sumner on his right and Andrew Ishee to his left, Pauley was just one more cock crowing.
But in an issue like this one, in which Jerry Kirksey writes persuasively and evocatively about his own personal – dare I say, enlightened – realization that people who look and sound very different can share and communicate the same underlying values and commitments, Pauley’s one-note jeremiads about hair and haberdashery seem a touch enfeebled, his self-righteousness gone a bit stale. I’m sure Pauley is still popular among a certain bloc of readers, and he has every right to his opinion.
But as the SN elevates the level of discourse in the magazine, improves the quality of thought and writing, and generally takes things up a notch or two, Pauley’s column is, I suspect, going to increasingly look like an anachronistic sop to what Lee Roy Abernathy once called the “ignorant, jealous hearted backbiters” of gospel music.Email this Post