Blogging the Dark Side

The Time Being is the blog of Australian musician Steve Kilbey, of the Church (if you know one Church song it’s “Under the Milky Way” from the mid 1980s). Since his brush with stardom with that single, Kilbey has had a rough go of things, including heroin addiction and a stint in prison on account of it. But he’s been back on his feet, recording, touring, being a doting husband and parent. And, let us not forget, blogging.

I wrote a while ago about Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Doll’s blog, which is an amazing piece of diary meets performance art, but Kilbey may have her beat. His entries are all in free verse, very heavy on the disclosure — especially of discomfort, sadness, all that bad stuff — and he weaves a prolific web of hazy autobiography and feeling that reaps dozens of comments on each entry.

For instance, here’s how he writes about trying to choose a name for a new record company in a section of a longer entry:

images :
driving thru the weird dry country
thru charming little hamlets (dahlings)
arguing about the name of our new record company
i musta thorta million names
i was saying the bloody street signs in the end
bing bing bypass records i’d hopefully suggest
after some real corkers like illumination records
had been given the thumbs down
um reduce speed records…
i got it
slow records!
no no
wombat mill records…cmon its….!
hours n hours later
every thing that everybody said
had records put on the end
why cant we call it fucked if i know records?
i dunno killa what do you think records?
hey do you know which way it is records?
sorry not me records?
i thought you listened to the guy records
etc etc records
its hard to stop once youve started records
and occaisionally this method does throw up some good ones
but itll just get shouted down in the tumult records
so only do this method by yourself
its not good to let em all in on yer secret source of material
but if ya keep yer eyes n ears truly open, lieblings
then youll find it everywhere
i promise you
yes i do

What’s amazing about it is how prolific he is, how well he builds relationship with his readers — creating an intimate environment of his own that they get to participate in by reading and commenting — and how willing to disclose he is, and, maybe most of all, how up front he is in writing about heroin and living as a recovering addict and trying so hard to disuade others:

i woke up early
the world seemed hyper real and hyper ugly
everything threatened me
or filled me with a vague fear or dismay
i felt so sad n hopeless
the world seemed black
this must be the world of the depressed person
oh pray you never have to visit here
everything hurts you
the sweetest melody
the touch of sunlight
the caress of water
the smell of clean food
everything is gross n disgusting
and my legs ached
and my arms ached
an awful awful awful ache
and my stomach was nauseated in every way
and i couldnt sleep at all anymore
sleep eluded me
and i was left up n alone
thru wee small hours that went on for ever
and all the time i knew that
one little sniff and itd all go away
and sure enough thats what i did
and it did
and then i was hooked
and it went on hooking me in deeper n deeper
and every habit was worse than the last one
yeah i tried to stop
and occaisionally succeeeded in stopping
from time to time
but always enticed back
never could resist a bit more
then i started shooting the stuff

You really can’t do justice to this blog with excerpts, you have to see the whole thing day in and day out to really get the effect of what Kilbey is creating here. It’s not for everyone, but it’s amazing. And so are the comments, for instance, some of what people say in response to the full heroin post excerpted just above:

well, yes. my brother Mikey just got outta rehab, this was his second trip, but for cocaine. he was calling me at 2 or 3 in the morning to tell me that the little people were in the ceiling and under the furniture, spying on him, so he couldn’t sleep.(I guess I told him one too many bedtime stories, and they all lodged upstairs in his brainpan, waiting.) Then the crazy violence, and of course all the extras you mention. my entire family (we can’t agree on much)got together for an intervention & I was the lucky sod they sent upstairs to drag Mikey outta his room by the hair. I think he is doing better this time. I love my brother. I hope he is ok.

Steve…I’ve never used at all…so I can’t understand the pain and horror. But I have lived life and I feel like I know a little about the strength of human spirit, hope and life….yours must be truely heroic. I hope and pray that all you want now is the pleasure of your muse, the love of your family and the awe of your true believers coursing through you everyday.

i guess most people have a story of sorts that they can relate to this one. i’ve never done anything like that, but i did have a husband that was such a fucking bastard that i began drinking heavily to “get away”…..and then i finally realized i wasn’t getting away anywhere but to even further down the hell hole, so i stopped. wasn’t easy, but just the same. our divorce was nasty, but not as difficult as putting down that bottle and not taking another drink.

like i said~~you’re an inspiration, steve. to have gone through that horror and come out the other side of the long, dark tunnel is amazing, to say the least. i’m glad you made it.

It’s almost like the music is the excuse for writing the blog, which has a life of its own.

Mourning Fans

In their constant frenzy to report on the really important issues, the media have been giving a lot of coverage these last couple of days to fans going to the internet to mourn she of the blond hair, huge smile, large breasts and empty head who died unexpectedly instantly transforming herself into a phenomenon more important than the continued violence in Iraq or build up to I don’t even want to know what with Iran. It seems like a good moment to reflect for a second on the value that online mourning can have.

My own experience with this came last May when Grant McClennan of the legendary Australian band the Go-Betweens died of a heart attack at age 48. The Go-Betweens had been one of my favorite bands for many years, and Grant left behind a huge catalogue of beautiful and strange songs. The suddenness of his death was heartbreaking. I never met him but it left me reeling for days and still breaks my heart to contemplate. The (official) Go-Betweens Message Board immediately shut down all other threads and opened a tribute thread. When they shut that thread down 3 weeks later, there were over 1500 messages, including several from other well known or influential musicians. I read through those and sobbed, but I also felt better to know that he had affected so many others at least as powerfully, and often more powerfully, and to feel the sense of communion with all the others in pain at his passing even though we were geographically so far apart.

Grant was only half of the Go-Betweens, and much as the fans mourned and felt so very sad for his family, we also felt beyond horrible for Robert Forster, the other songwriter and Grant’s almost life-long musical partner. There was also consolation in knowing that the online messages we contributed might offer solace to Robert, and indeed they did. After a few days he wrote:

Today I went to the website and read some of the magnificent tributes that have flown in for Grant. People for some days have been telling me of the beautiful things written there. And today I felt well enough and strong enough to go in and read. I thank you all. In time I shall read every one of them. I see familiar names scattered from our past. The vast majority I don’t know. All of you Grant and I have met through our music. Your words and thoughts I find very, very moving. I sense the love and understanding for Grant and his music, and I take the support you send to me to my heart.

It chokes me up to read that, and that kind of says it all about the power of the internet to connect artists and fans.

Zeromind’s Social Network Website

Metal band Zeromind have put out a press release claiming they are the first band with their own social networking site. I’m always skeptical of claims to be the first anything, but I don’t know of any other band sites like their’s (if you do please tell me!).

They’ve got the usual stuff about them — videos, news, forums, etc — but they’ve also got it set up with user profiles, user blogs, and are generally doing an ace job of putting the focus on the fans as individuals.

I’m of 2 minds about this. Heaven knows I can get as obsessive about a band as anyone. Just ask my 10 year old son who would be happy never to hear Madrugada again as long as he lives. But how much of your online identity construction do you really want to invest in one band’s space? The beauty of something like MySpace or MOG or Last.FM is that you can have your music-based profile where you show off that you’re in love with that one band the most, but you can construct yourself a music-based identity that is wider than that slice of your taste. What do you do when Zeromind put out a record that you don’t like? Or break up?

At any rate, the proof is in the pudding, and they’ve certainly got a lot of action going on there so it’s probably a model worth watching. If they really want it to take off though, they may want to speed up its load times. And be warned if you go investigating that you’re gonna get a really loud blast of their music out your speakers as soon as it does load.

Robert Jordan’s exemplary fan community writes about blog-reading fans of the terminally-ill author Robert Jordan. Jordan has been writing about his illness on his blog, and his fans have apparently gone above and beyond in supporting him:

Robert Jordan, author of the best-selling Wheel of Time series, has fans. And if you want to understand them, take a look at his blog. Since last spring, when he announced he had a rare blood disease called amyloidosis, Jordan, 58, has been chronicling his life-and-death struggle online. Whenever he’s well enough to write, he thanks the fans who sent care packages, and those who donated to the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., where he is being treated. Then there’s this: “For Jaime Platt and her sister, your offer touches me deeply. They were able to harvest enough of my own bone marrow stem cells that I don’t need marrow donation from elsewhere, but thank you very much. That was a kind and generous offer.”

His fans aren’t just offering body parts to him, they’re also connecting with each other:

In the Internet age, fans can engage with a book long after they’ve finished it. They go online, meet other fans and participate in role-playing games. There’s even a Web site profiling couples who have met and married because of the series. (One happy couple, Amber and Markku of Espoo, Finland, met in a “clan” devoted to the Wheel of Time board game.) Rabid Jordan fans know all about Harriet, his wife and editor, and they even sent her care packages when they learned he was ill.

I am sure much of this comes from the connection fans feel with his books and with him. But looking at his blog, it’s also clear that he’s set it up to foster a sense of community. The front page is a blog, but the header reads “Dragonmount, A Wheel of Time Community” and in addition to the blog is a prominent link to a forum where there’s loads of discussion going on. There is a gallery for fan art. This is an author who has given fans an officially-sanctioned space to connect with one another around his work, to be creative with his work, and added on maintaining regular and meaningful direct connection with them as well. It’s a good model.

Are women rockers better bloggers?

The Independent Online Edition has a piece up about Lily Allen in which they claim that women are better than men at using the internet to communicate with their fans:

While major record labels complain about the public illegally copying music online, female artists are proving better than their male peers at using it to communicate directly with their fans. And at the vanguard of this phenomenon is Lily Allen, the solo artist whose big mouth repeatedly gets her in the news.

Later in the article they say this:

Until recently, Pallot herself looked after her online presence, whether on her official site or others where she could promote her music and videos. She was responsible for putting tracks online, but also used the internet as a platform for communicating with fans. It is here that women seem to have the edge over male artists, as they tend to be more comfortable about being open about themselves through message boards or blogs.

Well, it would be nice if female musicians finally got the edge in SOMETHING, but given my modest familiarity with the research on sex differences in communication, I have to be a bit skeptical here.

What research finds again and again is that there are some gender differences. Think of men’s communication as one bell curve and women’s as another. Most of both bell curves overlap. There’s stuff on the tail end of either that is more likely to come out of one sex or another. But the overwhelming majority of our communication just isn’t as different as people like to imagine it is. It ain’t Mars and Venus, it’s Earth.

On the other hand, it’s been argued that from early on, we little girls get trained to attend to maintaining relationships while boys get trained to assert themselves and know more. So maybe there’s something to it.

What’s more, it’s well known that even when men and women act the same, they’re evaluated differently. The brilliantly assertive man is a pushy bitch. So maybe the unwritten rules of acceptable or appropriate blogging are different for male and female bloggers. Maybe women who don’t share their feelings when they blog are seen as holding out while men who do are seen as wimpy? Maybe women who talk about partying after the show are seen as floozies while men who do are seen as cool? Maybe women who do share their feelings are seen as creating meaningful connections while men who do are seen as needy?

I don’t think it’s true that men aren’t as good at connecting with fans through the internet than women, but it’s a provocative claim, either way.

What do you think?