Will XS prevail or fail?
Last night, ex-XS editor Michael Farver hosted the XS 25th Birthday Party Celebration.
He also called it “the Launch of the XSXperience.” To a gathering of some 50 XS employees and the artists they covered, Farver spoke passionately about reviving the South Florida arts scene we all built and patronized 25 years ago.
He’ll probably fail.
Not because Michael Farver isn’t dedicated and generous. He’s so both. But “the scene” was never either of those things.
I only worked at XS for three years, so my opinions and memories below might be way off. I’m totally cool with having those shredded and corrected.
As it was back then, it’s not about being right, it’s about provoking the right conversations…
1. “The scene” was so white
XS had two signature arts events, intended not just to promote the scene but expand it. Both succeeded at the first and failed at the second.
Farver created the amazing and annual XS Gallery show that exhibited the 52 artists featured weekly on the Gallery page. It was a clever way to open up the visual arts scene beyond the clique that controlled most of the exhibit space in town.
I created the XS Music Fest and insisted it feature 50-120 bands, limited to 20-minute sets at venues they don’t usually play at. It was intended to force as much local music in front of as many people as possible.
Despite our best efforts, we never really broke open those scenes. Most artists we knew were the same color, the same age, and the same political outlook. Why? Because…
2. “The scene” was so incestuous
When I became the XS A&E editor in 1994, I avoided the VIP rooms and just covered the culture. I fired freelance writers who had “their bands” and “their artists” – who they relied on for their social and sex lives.
I had my own (admittedly small) circle of friends and never dated a musician until I fell in love with the one I married.
(I always admired Farver because he was just as fair and open-minded, but from the other direction – while I avoided making friendships so there wouldn’t be conflicts, he befriended everyone equally. You have no idea how many hours and calories that burns.)
I split up my tiny budget and hired Jake Cline (alternative), Bob Weinberg (blues), Bill Meredith (jazz), Laura Sue Wilansky (acoustic), and Kate Raven (poetry). They all widened XS’s arts coverage way beyond what it had been.
You can criticize our efforts (because we certainly have). But each of those people – and maybe Farver, too – has stories about local artists losing their shit because XS covered someone who wasn’t properly vetted by the scene itself.
Not a week went by when we weren’t accused of “destroying the scene” because we were trying to enlarge it. That hurt Wilansky and Meredith, because they were musicians in the scene but not (at the time anyway) in the cliques.
For Jake, Bob, and me, it was more amusingly depressing than anything else. Musicians left so many profane screeds on my voicemail that I’d occasionally play them on speaker for the XS newsroom.
Especially when the XS Music Fest lineups were announced, bands would call to bitch:
Why weren’t we scheduled at 11 pm on The Edge mainstage? Because the band you chose SUCKS ASS, and they must be blowing Koretzky to get that slot.
(Jake Cline seemed to enjoy these calls even more than me.)
I was a news reporter for years before coming to XS, and I covered the Aryan Nation and the KKK, yet I never got so many threats as I did at XS – and always from those deep in “the scene.” From Marilyn Manson threatening to kill me to I Don’t Know drawing a swastika on my car window, I wasn’t scared or pissed, I was just confused.
(It’s hard to get scared of a death threat from skinny Brian Hugh Warner, and I Don’t Know drew the swastika in lipstick, for some weird reason.)
I also wasn’t offended because…
3. “The scene” hid its sins
A quarter century later, we forget why our local musicians and artists created their best work: to achieve commercial success that has since eluded most of them.
As long as it was growing, the scene had the potential to grow out of its problems. We could still dream of becoming Austin or Manhattan.
When that moment passed, only the problems remained. The angry ambition faded into gloomy bitterness, and finally into today’s droll nostalgia.
…But a revival might work
If Farver will succeed, this needs to happen:
1. We need to get younger. A couple years ago, for the 20th anniversary of the XS Music Fest, I told Jake Cline I was trying to revive the event. But with a twist: Book “old” bands from the mid-’90s playing alongside today’s “new” bands. I quickly lost my enthusiasm when I talked to some college-aged musicians who wanted their own stage time and didn’t want to share it with “has-beens.” Perhaps Farver has the patience and personality to crack that code, but I don’t.
2. We need to get hipper. A retro movement is for history museums, not art museums. It’s a tribute show, not a must-see concert. Besides recruiting young artists, the old artists need to create new work. And not just variations on their 25-year-old themes.
3. We need to create art for its own sake. There can’t be any illusions: 50-year-old artists and musicians won’t retire comfortably from all the commercial success Michael Farver will bring them. But it could be the purest “the scene” has ever been – existing just to be creative, communal, and fun.
Or it could revive the rancor and devolve into whininess. Can’t wait to see which way it goes, and I’ll gladly be a foot soldier in Farver’s culture army.
UPDATE: I’m an asshole, loser, and piece of shit. The South Florida music scene has spoken. Read all about it.