Dance (Do What You Wanna Do)

Billed as “Soul Underground”—on Times Square no less—the bohemian set was in full effect at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill last Thursday. As I walked down the rows of headwraps, sis-ters, and afros—the nicest smellin’ group I’ve come across recently—I kept thinking that despite music’s boundlessness, its factions can seem so small sometimes. By sight, you know this to be the ErykahBaduJillScottCommon crowd, “falafels” as my man Pop would say. I know music is all about identification, but my favorite moment recently was white kids moshing out at the Hammerstein Wu Tang show.

Things got started a little late so we were all funneled into a heat-lamp-red lounge where there was no hip-hop but the “originals” from whence the samples came. A subversive way around the “no rap rule” I’m sure. ‘Round midnight, and just after some crew from Queens got the party started, N’Dambi, former backup singer to Erykah Badu, hobbled to the stage, broke leg and all. Homegirl is a trooper and fly, because she still had on a fatigue mini with a lil’ split up the side. You know how Texas girls do—throw ya hands up and get the party started regardless. “I’m not complaining, I’m just tired,” riffs N’Dambi, and she ain’t the only one as it’s fast approaching 2 a.m. She be mellow and jazzy, singing ’bout karma and those things I like to hear. Next on is Jeni Fujita, who is actually Japanese when all this time I thought she was Hispanic (there I go), and then Fertile Ground, an electric collective from Baltimore who got me back up on the dance floor, the beautiful lead singer full of glitter and dance. They mixed it up crazy with salsa and reggae, and even a brass band set, complete with a ringin’ trombone solo appropriately tilted toward the heavens. People were smiling as they danced together to songs bursting with life. Alas, by 3:30, I was too tired to stay for the poetry, but I’m sure my sis-ters kept it going all night long. —Angela Bronner

‘Blender’ or Pulp Mill?

Hired and fired as Blender magazine’s reviews editor before the debut issue hit the stands, Keith Harris endured a tenure at the new addition to the Felix Dennis empire (also home to Maxim and Stuff) that was short but not sweet.

The New York Observer recently portrayed Harris as inexperienced and underqualified, but interviews with several Blender freelancers, many of whom also contribute to the Voice, SPIN, and Rolling Stone, said Harris clashed with head honcho and ex-Q editor Andy Pemberton over keeping style and criticism intact in Blender‘s 100-word reviews. (Full disclosure: This writer has contributed to SPIN and Blender.) “There was one huge blowout in the office,” said a contributor. “The writers were upset, Harris defended the writers, and he got fired for it.”

Neither Pemberton, editor Craig Marks (formerly of SPIN), nor Harris—previously music editor at Minneapolis’s City Pages—would speak to the Voice about the firing due to a contractual arrangement, but freelancers talked, albeit anonymously. In the incredible shrinking world of magazine journalism, they are loath to lose any future paychecks from Blender—which pays a dollar per word. Among the complaints: Wordplay was tamed, ratings were altered, and as one writer put it, “blows were softened.”

Pemberton’s M.O., according to writers, was to instill a breezy, reader-friendly voice, reflecting his vision of Blender as a populist music magazine. Top editing—when a higher ranking editor makes changes after a line edit—is not unique to Blender, as most major magazines practice it. But one Blender freelancer said, “Whereas SPIN is generic in a SPIN way, this is generic in an 8-year-old-can-read-this way.”

Other writers said negative reviews were killed entirely, or sometimes replaced with another, more positive review written by a different critic; several writers complained that ratings (based on a five-star system) were given without consent or approval. (At least one writer’s rating was bumped down.) All maintained that these changes happened after they had finished editing with Harris and attributed the final, mangled versions to Pemberton’s top editing. “I didn’t see the final drafts,” said one writer. “At some point Keith wrote me saying it was a bloodbath over there.”

“The work [Pemberton] did to my pieces—I’ve never been treated that way,” a freelancer said. “It’s like David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly. It was like that steak he puts into the transmogrifier. It looks and smells like a steak, but it’s not a steak.”

“I’ve had this experience before, where the copy just gets rewritten completely so that it’s unrecognizable,” said one writer, who called the final version of his review “racist and reductionist.”

SPIN reviews editor Jon Dolan explained that “top editing is done best when it’s quality control.” In many cases, top editing helps a magazine define its overall voice—and for a debut issue like Blender, which was pulled together in just two months, setting the magazine’s tone is doubly important. Said Dolan, who was Harris’s editor at City Pages before he left for SPIN,”You’re starting off with one idea, and by the end of the issue, you probably end up with another idea. You’re trying to figure out how to do something that no one’s ever done before—which is to create a post-ideological music magazine.”

But Harris’s pairing with Blender was a mismatch made in heaven: “Keith is a real strenuous rock critic, and I don’t think anyone at Blender would say they wanted that.” said Dolan. In retrospect, he continued, “I don’t think Blender would have been the best place for someone with Keith’s ethos.”

Explained Michaelangelo Matos, who had written for Harris at City Pages, “Blender isn’t a writer’s magazine, and it was a real mistake on their part to hire a writer’s editor. Keith is a writer’s editor.” —Tricia Romano

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