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Author Archive: "Mark Baumgarten"

In Defense of Pretentiousness

I didn't get into writing for the crying. It just happened.

The first time was near the half-way point of my book, Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music. I was writing about the International Pop Underground Convention, a once-only gathering in Olympia, Washington, put on by K Records in 1991 and attended by underground punk bands of widely different stripes from around the world. It was a celebration of the successes won by a scrappy group of young musicians who had built a conversely vast and intimate culture.

The first night of the Convention was devoted to women. The organizers — K Records founders and the heroes of my book, Calvin Johnson and Candice Pedersen — proclaimed the night Love Rock Revolution Girl Style Now and invited any woman who felt so inclined to take the stage. There, in the old Capitol Theater in downtown Olympia, women from Washington, D.C., Olympia, Sacramento, and Portland gathered in a safe place to play. A few were performing in front of a live audience for the first time ...

Books That Sing To Me

No one asks me about literary influences.

The assumption, I guess, is that the catalyst for my book, Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music, was the music created by the spirited Olympia label. That makes sense. I can understand a reader or reviewer believing that I am simply a huge fan of K Records, and, therefore, I suffered the slings and arrows of authorship in order to spread the gospel of the label. That happens. But that isn't my story.

Words are not a means to an end for me. They are the end. If you were able to jack directly into my brain and download the tangled particulars of songs, musicians, and distribution deals contained in the book, a big part of the story would be missing: mainly, the story itself.

I did not write this book because I am a fan of K. There is music I hold in higher esteem. If this project were based on my music fandom alone, my first book would be about Bob Dylan. There are already ...

When the Tape Recorder Turns

Why do we ask each other questions?

"To get answers," is too vague a response. There is no hint, in that answer, of motivation. And there is always a motivation, most often self-serving. So why is it that people, like myself, choose to sit down with a perfect stranger, turn on a tape recorder and ask often meandering, sometimes halting, almost always unnecessary questions?

There is a belief, amongst journalists, that we are just curious creatures in search of the truth that will set society free . Maybe. Or maybe we have just managed to turn a selfish tick into a payday, and, in defense of that indefensible act, we claim a higher purpose.

"Where is my baby?" That is a question that needs an answer. "What music were you listening to when you decide to start this record label?" That is a question that does not. That question could go unanswered, and the world would continue to spin, almost completely unchanged. So why ask it?

Joan Didion famously wrote, in the first line of her essay collection Continue »

From Byline to Book

Firsts, by nature, are fleeting.

By the time a human being arrives at age 33, as I have, a good many have gone under the bridge. Long ago, I swam in my first ocean, summited my first mountain, set foot in my first foreign land. My first kiss — along with most other romantic milestones — has passed. I have, consequently, already suffered my first heartbreak, smoked my first smoke, drank my first drink. I danced awkwardly at my first rock concert. I cried unexpectedly at my first funeral.

These firsts are common, a natural part of most modern lives. Those are the things that make me human, but they don't make me me. There is another tier of firsts for people, specialized to their calling in life. Athletes have a first win. Carpenters, a first cabinet. Priests, a first mass.

Writers have their own collection of firsts.

Some of these firsts are not unique to writers, though writers are more likely to take note of them. Many people have received a first laugh from a story they have written. Mine was from Josh Abbott, in response to my ...

On Putting It Off

This summer is much different from last.

Last summer on this date, I was procrastinating in some way or another. Rather than get to work writing the history of K Records, I willfully entered into draining debates about our nation's debt ceiling. I also went to a lot of baseball games, which, if you know anything about the Seattle Mariners, you'll recognize as a very serious cry for help. And it was around this time that I built two bookshelves for my office. Both are dyed red and hang a foot from the ceiling in my office, a place normal people would never think to put a bookshelf.

In order to know exactly which books to put on those two small shelves, I emptied all of our large shelves and piled a lifetime of books on our living room floor. Then I sorted them, first by genre and then by author's last name. Then I methodically pulled out those I deemed "most influential." On one of the new shelves, the one immediately above my desk, I put the books about music that I love most. On the other, ...

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