NQC 07: On (not) being anonymous

Anticipating the bloggers roundtable later this week at NQC, I’ve been thinking a lot about the progression of averyfineline from the anonymous upstart pariah it was when I began, to … well, the not anonymous upstart pariah it is today. In some ways, I’m a little anxious about this gathering. For starters, Marty Funderburke could be right: such an organized, mainstream, corporatized affair could defang us, or at least buff away the rough edges that are key to good blogging. Or, as someone commented to me in email the other day, there could be an ambush laying in wait for us. That makes me giggle.

No, really though. My anxiety is more the product of a kind of wistfulness. For I rather see this NQC bloggers thing as the end of an era for me. Though I didn’t remain anonymous for long after I launched the site (I’m not nearly devious enough, I discovered, to really pull of a full-scale pseudonym, but if I did it all over again, I think I know how I could pull it off now), I have enjoyed a great deal of freedom to move around in the sg world unrecognized and unknown long after people knew my name, which is fitting since I am both unremarkable and a nobody, even more so when compared to the charismatic, electrifying, dazzling figures who take the stage on any given night at an event like NQC. After this week, that freedom will begin to disappear, however minimally, as a decent number of people who know people will see me and know me and in some cases be sure to point me out to everyone they know when I’m standing in line for a hot dog or whatever.

I don’t like anonymity because I’m ashamed of what I do here or because I’m afraid to put my name to it. Rather, I like it for the intellectual and expressive freedom it permits. I am not the first person to discover this. Anonymity has a long history in public discourse as a means of saying things that might not otherwise be sayable (think the young Franklin publishing letters to the editor as Silence Dogood). For me, though, it’s about the freedom from entanglements. Not having personal relationships with people I write about, not knowing their names and exchanging pleasantries (or unpleasantries) with people that is so much a part of the southern gospel culture of Christian fellowship is freeing to me. A lot of people say that this distance is a cop out, a way of rationalizing my propensity to “tear down instead of build up.” But of course I don’t see it that way (and obviously a lot of other people don’t either, given how many regular readers come back to this site and how many emails I get every week from people who bare their hearts and souls to me, often to degrees that are very uncomfortable and unearned for me, but do so - I think - in no small part because I’m not a mainstream well-known regular in gospel music circles).

I don’t need to get to know people I write about personally. I have all the friends I want, thanks. And besides, getting to know artists might disillusion me and my experience of the music (certainly it’s hard enough to forget some of the stupid things your favorite musicians and artists say from the stage or write when they’re not singing, especially when they start talking politics). What I find alluring about southern gospel is not the personal or private lives of artists but the personality that comes alive on stage, the persona who is a product of the live performance. The artists who insist that you really need to know their heart to get their music often (though not always) haven’t figured out how to create music in a way that transcends the level of mutual flattery that prevails between professional musicians and their fans.

But this assumes there’s a difference between the public and private persona of the musical performer that a lot of southern gospel types refuse to grant. I’ve always been curious why that is, why so many artists and fans fear the idea of the performer as an artistic construct. Perhaps it’s because this idea seems to conflict with prevailing notions from evangelical religious culture that equate “authenticity” with “constancy,” … spiritual constancy, never wavering in belief, God is the same yesterday, today, forever.

Could be. I also wonder, though, if it the fear of “artist as construct” doesn’t arise from the same place as the fear of the anonymous critic or commenter that my site brought out in so many people and still does, to some extent. A friend of mine remarked the other day that the gospel industry resists anonymity so strongly (“why don’t you have the guts to put your name on that?” or “I ignore all comments without a name” etc) because so much gospel music revolves around affective bonds and feelings of attachment toward particular personalities more than it is a careful assessment of the comparative merits of anyone’s art and ability. “The industry pushes people like you out in the open,” my friend wrote, “so they can try to lasso you into their camps,” … or create a bond of Christian fellowship, I replied, and so spiritually muscle you into being nice to them.

But of course often these relationships between artists and audience are constructs of commercial gospel culture just as surely as the Gerald Wolfe who everyone loves on stage is not exactly the same guy who grills out on his backyard or mutters in frustration to himself when the Christmas tree lights won’t all work and it’s impossible to know which of those bazillion bulbs is the culprit. That doesn’t make the bonds that many fans feel with their favorite performers any less meaningful, nor does it make Wolfe a fraud for not belting out his Christmas-light frustrations in operatic baritone on the living room floor. It ought to make you suspicious, though, the next time someone starts howling about the evils of anonymity or cruelness of music criticism or cultural commentary from “a nobody.” Usually, the howlers don’t so much care about knowing who the person is. Rather they just want to sweet talk the person into saying nice things about them, or at the very least, to strong arm whomever it is to shut up.

So I’ll miss the days of being able to walk through the exhibit hall at NQC and count on one hand the number of people who know my face. In fact, I’m deputizing friends to get the product I want from different booths, and I think I can live without pulled pork and fried catfish in the dining area. The nachos and ice cream from up in the nosebleeds concession stands ought to be fine. Nothing says “I’m just your average nobody” like standing in line for Ehrlers whilst the Pfiefers go flat on the horns and Martin Cook hammers out another intro with his knuckles.

As Howland might say: man, I miss the Thrasher Brothers.

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Trackbacks & Pings

  1. NQC 07: Anonymity is not for me | www.southerngospelblog.com on 11 Sep 2007 at 1:15 pm

    […] This morning, Doug Harrison wrote an interesting post about the advantages of anonymity. Even though we know his name most of us do not know his face. He is concerned that the bloggers conference will increase his public profile, and that people will start recognizing him. He says that his style of writing is best done by someone who does not know the people being discussed, and he’s probably right. […]


  1. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    The solution isn’t that complicated. Just wear the bag to the meeting already… :o)

    Seriously, this is one area that’s going to be interesting for me to observe…how and if any SG blogging habits change or adapt after a few people meet face to face for the first time.

    As for the anonymity issue, I do think your argument is somewhat of a cop out…Ben Franklin’s precedent or not.

    My approach is from the opposite angle, I suppose. I WANT to get to know artists. Is my opinion influenced by my relationship with artists? Sure, it is. That doesn’t mean I will go out of my way to paint a rosy picture of everything that artist does, though.

    If I know where the artist is coming from via knowing their personality from having met them, then I believe I can be fairer in anything I might have to say about them that could be considered critical.

    Granted, my approach won’t generate the most controversy, since it’s less speculative by nature…

  2. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    The flow of the commentary reminds me of someone I see at the end of a national weekly TV news show.
    So, I have a question for you.
    Are you the script writer for Andy Rooney?

  3. Chuck Peters wrote:

    Following the bloggers’ round (or square) table.. I am hoping to have Doug’s photo on the front of http://www.southerngospelreporter.com,.. maybe sooner.

    So many people have asked what he looks like..

    Wonder why?

  4. Kyle wrote:

    If anything, I would think that anonymity just adds to the possible hostility a group would have. The joys of the internet. One person can anonymously attack a group, and the group, who has no idea who this person is, can attack back without fear of consequence, simply because they don’t have to see a reaction. If someone can’t see what the other person is doing or how they react, then it must not be happening (or at least, you don’t have to deal with it).

    Now, the question arises….would you be able to discuss these same issues with these same people face to face? Granted, I’m relatively new to the blogging community, but I make it a point to try to write about ONLY things that I would feel comfortable talking to the artists about directly. On a few occassions, I actually HAVE spoken to the artists directly about some of the issues I have addressed, and always with pleasant (and through-provoking) results.

  5. Kyle wrote:

    To add to the topic of the results of a roundtable, it may dilute blogs somewhat, but what I would love to see more than anything is for artists to see just how much of an influence (whether they want to admit it or not) these blogs have on SG, and in turn, start blogging themselves. I know we have some producers and songwriters who blog on a regular basis, but let’s see THE ARTISTS do some blogging. And not just the standard “e-newsletter weekly update.”

  6. RR wrote:

    If any of you see Doug in the line at a hot-dog stand, please take his picture and publish it for the rest of us. :-)

  7. Daniel J. Mount wrote:

    #6 - Unfortunately, my camera’s broken. Sorry, folks!

  8. craazyjoe wrote:

    ….pretty self-indulgent article…oh well, it’s your site, you do want you want!!…and again i say, man i miss those thrasher brothers!!!….

  9. Trent wrote:

    A little off-subject here, but somebody told me there is a Thrasher Brothers recording where they sing “The Heavenly Parade” backwards. Can anybody validate that?

  10. John wrote:

    Trent, I think the song the Thrashers sing backwards is “Jacob’s Ladder”.

  11. quite one wrote:

    anyone seen young harmonys super spiritual booth space? how ridiculously stupid. it looks more like ‘look how rich we are

  12. DM wrote:

    Well, we have been missing The Thrashers for a long time. Those days are over. I miss Wendy Bagwell.

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