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In Defense of Pretentiousness

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

At this point in the writing process, I had effectively burrowed my way deep into my office, far from daylight. I had no social life, except the one I was constructing on the page while referencing my interviews with the women who were there. These were the people I returned to every day. They were, in the most one-sided manner possible, my only friends. So, I was there when a young woman named Corin Tucker played for the first time ever, beginning what would become a storied musical career. And I was there when she walked off the stage into the arms of fellow trailblazing musician Kathleen Hanna. As they held each other, I wrote, they wept. And then I wept too.As they held each other, I wrote, they wept. And then I wept too.

I wasn't expecting that. It had never happened before. I chalked it up to a lack of sleep and an excess of coffee (and, of course, good writing). But there was something else going on. While I openly admit in the introduction to the book that this is not my story — that I am late on the scene, extracting the stories of others to construct an untold history — there is a part of me that is deeply connected to what happened on that stage that night.

My second big cry showed me what that connection was. It was some months later, after I had finished the manuscript. I was giving the book a dry run, reading a couple brief passages in front of a friendly crowd at a Seattle bar. This being my first book, this type of thing was new to me. I had never presented my work to a live audience before.

As I read, my mind would slowly move from the page to what was going on around me, the fact that there were people in this room, listening to me read from a book that I had written. I could feel the emotion welling up in me, but I successfully tamped it down by focusing hard on the words in front of me.I could feel the emotion welling up in me, but I successfully tamped it down by focusing hard on the words in front of me. My first excerpt went without incident. I started in on a second excerpt, a section I chose because, for me, it contained a quote that captured the spirit of the story.

Halfway through this particular quote, I felt the emotion welling up. I focused hard on the words, but it didn't work. The thing I was trying to read as I choked back tears was the same as the thing I was feeling. I was overcome. I stopped. Started. Stopped again. Eventually I got it out, my eyes filled with tears.

The quote comes from Bret Lunsford, the guitarist for K's cornerstone band Beat Happening, reflecting on the moment 27 years ago that he was handed a copy of his band's first record, the first full-length vinyl release from the record label. In his words,

It was a dream come true. I think it takes a certain amount of bravery and pretentiousness to actually create something like a record. I had been, maybe, conditioned against pretentiousness, but I learned to ultimately rethink that. Yeah, there are a lot of annoying parts of pretentiousness, but without arrogance and ignorance, what gets tried? What attempts get made? I started to understand it as part of the search, part of the way that people motivate themselves to go beyond what they thought was possible.

What he said.

÷ ÷ ÷

Mark Baumgarten is a Seattle-based music writer. He serves as Editor at Large for City Arts magazine, and his work has been featured in Willamette Week, the Village Voice, Seattle Weekly, and Lost Cause magazine.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Love Rock Revolution: K Records and...
    Used Trade Paper $8.50

Mark Baumgarten is the author of Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music

One Response to "In Defense of Pretentiousness"

    Barbara July 13th, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Well written and true. Or,I assume it must be true, as I seem not to have acquired pretentiousness, or success. Mark's description of emotions in writing, and while in his first reading is wonderfully down to earth (as are his other blogs) and unpretentious.

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