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.Email this Post