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Friday, May 21, 2010

This Is My Last Day at SF Weekly. Here's My Gushy Goodbye.

Posted By on Fri, May 21, 2010 at 12:25 PM

This is what I looked like when I started at SF Weekly. I had a great fake ID.
  • This is what I looked like when I started at SF Weekly. I had a great fake ID.

Well folks, this is it. After four years of working as SF Weekly's music editor, today is my last day at the paper. And since I've inherited all of my mother's sentimental genes, I'm gonna gush out a little goodbye here.

I've had a really great run at SF Weekly, with far too many "can't believe I'm being paid to do this" moments. That feeling was especially sharp when I walked into a hotel hosting a rock 'n' roll fantasy camp and reverted to my 13-year-old blushing self in the face of my childhood hair metal idol, Kip Winger

But I'd say my best memories were the months I spent with the musicians I wrote about for cover stories, when I was able to really explore their personalities, philosophies, and histories. I'll never forget the long evenings I spent with extreme acid enthusiast/13th Floor Elevators founder Tommy Hall as he expounded on the importance of psychedelic rock being truly revelatory (and some other stuff about the Roman Empire that I'll admit I only pretended to understand). Or the 3 a.m. drive Wallpaper.'s Eric Frederic and I took back from a Sacramento show where his band was treated like pop royalty; Eric told me about getting pissed on by the record industry when he was a kid, only to come back stronger (and much funnier). The Rosenthals are one of the most inspiring clans I have ever met. Each member of that family was a different tangent into a world of visual art, music, and film that you could spend days unpacking. I spent months, and that embedding impressed upon me the importance of putting as many creative accents on your waking hours as possible. (If only I hadn't given up aping Keith Haring after high school.)

These last couple of years have ushered in so many changes within the local music landscape -- among the biggest was the development of two giant destination music festivals in San Francisco, Treasure Island and Outside Lands. When Treasure Island was still in the planning stages, it was exciting going behind the scenes with the nervous promoters in Noise Pop and Another Planet. They took an underused patch of land with an incredible view of San Francisco, added a temporary Ferris wheel, and delivered one of the best weekends for indie/electronic music I've seen on such a large scale. Treasure Island Music Festival is still one of my favorite local music events. (And I can pretend to like Wilco a little more after seeing the band, a favorite of Noise Pop's Jordan Kurland and Kevin Arnold, with those two as part of my reporting for the article.)

For all of those cover stories, SF Weekly expected magazine-level writing and reporting, and it was a luxury to be able to spend so much time with people who are so uniquely creative. It wasn't easy, especially when you're the kind of person who has to transcribe every last interview until your collation of quotes has felled an entire forest. But I really love digging into storytelling -- both the musicians' and attempting my own -- especially at a time when music journalism is so often breaking down into bite-sized bits of rapid-fired and blogged information.

One of my favorite quotes about writing is something I read recently: "The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when all your arrows are spent." Of course, that's easier said than done, but my editors at SF Weekly helped me throw myself at my work. It's important to go deep from time to time, even when the process is difficult. I felt genuinely conflicted about that Tommy Hall article when he started spewing racist and homophobic banter, talk I not only found offensive, but also forced me to justify why I was writing about this artist at all. 

On a more personal level, I'm generally uncomfortable writing about the intimate ways music affects me, even though it hits different nerves all the time. But one of the most challenging, and eventually cathartic articles I published here was a column about Elliott Smith. I got Smith's posthumous New Moon disc in the mail at work, and when I started playing it, I suddenly burst into tears. The music reminded me too much of a boyfriend I'd loved most of my adult life, and I tried to make peace with that ex in that column in ways I never could in person.

There's a place for creative nonfiction in arts writing, of doing more than tossing off the hipster trivia and instead bringing to life the untold and under-told stories. (I'll forever be a sucker for the underdog/underground of any scene. Weirdos shall inherit the arts). The Weekly's staff of writers and editors pushed the way I write and the way I think about writing in ways I never expected. Working here was an education in more than simply critiquing CDs. And getting stacks of CDs sent to my desk every day. Which I will miss. I'll also miss the ways my editors, Tom Walsh and Will Harper, discussed the intricacies of quality writing and reporting.

I've taken great influence from the musicians I've interviewed over the years too. Ethan Miller, who fronts Howlin' Rain and Comets on Fire, is a true philosopher, and whenever we've talked about music, he's usually discussing progress as breaking with what you've grown comfortable doing. He's spoken often about making something that "tries to overpower, cannibalize, and destroy the last artistic accomplishment you made." If you're doing that, he once told me, then you're probably "on a good track to doing something daring." I'm a big fan of that idea.

So after being a music editor here for four years -- and a music editor at a weekly in Seattle for four years before that, and a music freelancer for years before that -- it's time for me to push back against what I've created so far and try something different. I'm excited to say I've taken an editorial job at the Bold Italic, which allows me to continue being creative about exploring San Francisco's arts cultures and subcultures, but through an alternate scope than I'm used to. 

I hope to always be involved with music, especially locally, so long as I never have to get up on stage, or learn an instrument. And I'll probably go to just as many shows -- only I won't have to wake up at 7 a.m. to write about them. 

So, um, well, I'm terrible at goodbyes, and I can make them too long sometimes, so I'll just end here with, See you around. Let's stay friends on Facebook. And if you're ever down, I highly recommend adding a little Touchy to your life. That dude was one of my most entertaining interviews at the Weekly, and I don't know that I'll ever delete him from my iPod. How can you get rid of a man who makes songs about the magic in homemade tortillas? I leave you with that thought.

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About The Author

Ian S. Port


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