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Alternative Press editor offers disappointing analysis of scene culture

Elizabeth Fox

Issue date: 4/24/09 Section: Focus
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Leslie Simon, editor of Alternative Press magazine, decided to take on the difficult task of making an all-encompassing account of what led to the creation, evolution, and empowerment of music subculture supergroups. This project became her latest book, Wish You Were Here: An Essential Guide To Your Favorite Music Scenes from Punk To Indie And Everything In Between, released on April 7. Though the book features many contemptuous, entertaining remarks about the scenes themselves, it only does a fourth of its job of providing an analysis of the music behind the culture.

Simon's ethnography, organized and divided by location, starts off with a quick overview of the nature of a location and why an especially unique musical bunch emerged from there. These locations begin with the obvious (Minneapolis/St. Paul, Seattle, D.C.) to the unexpected (Omaha, suburban Florida), and cover artists as diverse as Cursive, Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, and Taking Back Sunday. But instead of doing a sharp, even analysis of the music itself, Simon delivers a satirical portrait of the scene's participants - basically, making fun of people based on the music they listen to. This is where the emphasis is shifted, and where the book begins to become less informative and more childish in nature.

More should have come from this book than simply extensive humorless generalizations. The focus on the actual music of some artists ranges from weak to nothing in comparison to the stereotype it's associated with - see the section entitled "Which Suburban Florida Scenester Are You?," where the heartfelt acoustic scenester is grouped with bands like Dashboard Confessional and Iron & Wine, and the punk scenester is ultimately associated with Against Me!. There are also points in the book where Simon goes on breathless tangents about particular artists, ranting about Underoath rather than giving post-hardcore pioneers Fugazi a second thought. For a book that claims to be an essential guide to punk, indie and everything in between, it fails to mention the most important punks, indie rockers, and in-betweens. Music icons such as Richard Hell, Thurston Moore, Colin Meloy, and Stephen Malkmus fail to get even a mention, which adds insult to injury.

I picked up this book thinking that it would be more of a Chuck Klosterman gem: an accurate and humorous collection of stories pertaining to one or more musical acts that is wholly informative and insightful. However, with a fangirl-like tone and a less-than-comprehensive knowledge of anything beyond emocore, Wish You Were Here is set out to disappoint serious music enthusiasts, and should only be recommended to those who have the musical sense of a 14-year old.
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    posted 7/24/09 @ 2:08 PM EST

    hahahahhahahahahahaa. understand that money makes the magazine go round, and people will pay money for an author to make them feel good about themselves. (Continued…)

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