by Jordan Green

News and views from inside the media bubble

Back to Square One

Ifound myself enthralled by Eric Ginsburg’s cover story, “A scene grows up,” in the Dec. 12, 2012 issue of YES!

Weekly. The story vividly brought to life a scene that I had the privilege to observe over a relatively brief period of four years, and contextualized a set of relationships that sustained it over its long arc. I have immense respect for people like Dudek, Crkt and Schroth who take creative risks in service of something greater than their personal subsistence.

Yet I find it a bit ironic that the demise of one of the Greensboro underground scene’s mainstay venues is laid at my feet. As one of YES! Weekly’s regular music writers from 2005 to 2009, seeking out exciting and new music welling up from the community was part of the job description, as far as I was concerned, whether it was a punk group playing in the kitchen of Fort Asshat or a go-go band at Club Zion. I think that all of us at YES! Weekly, whether we’re covering music or anything else, have tried to champion cultural labors that were original and innovative, that came from individual commitment rather than slick marketing campaigns. And when they succeeded, we felt proud to be a part of it.

I share Dudek’s attitude of wariness towards money, which is why I and other YES! Weekly music writers have always resisted having our editorial enterprise co-opted into a publicity division of the Carolina Theatre or the Greensboro Coliseum, with a nice, fat advertising buy as a silent quid pro quo (whatever advertising arrangements are made with venues, we remained blissfully ignorant so as to keep our motivations pure). As a newspaper interested in covering music, how could we not be at Square One?

And I’m not insensitive to the challenges of maintaining a struggling enterprise with scarce resources. Strangely enough, around the time of Square One’s heyday I was part of a collective operating Food Not Bombs’ kitchen out of St. Mary’s House. We had received a visit from the fire marshal and were very aware of the requirement to keep two doors unlocked and unimpeded for the safety of our guests. In the handful of shows that I attended at Square One it somehow never crossed my mind that there was a problem with the band being set up in front of one of two entrances to the venue.

And while I haven’t heard anyone substantiate the claim that a live-music review is actually what brought the venue to the fire marshal’s attention, I can’t say I have any regrets. We’ve spilled a lot of ink at YES! Weekly drawing attention to dangerous housing conditions and meddling by politicians and real-estate industry interests to water down regulations that protect tenants’ health and safety. I applaud the fire marshal for fulfilling his public charge by enforcing the code to prevent a potential tragedy and, yes, protect musicians and fans.

Again, I’ve been on both sides of the equation. When Food Not Bombs was facing eviction from St. Mary’s House and raising money to install a kitchen at the Hive (alas, also sadly defunct), I argued with my anarchist friends that we should absolutely abide by all city codes and not try to evade inspection to cut costs.

The attitude that it would be ideal if the press colluded in keeping the music scene a secret so that it didn’t draw too much attention strikes me as being a bit elitist, even if unintentionally so. If I remember correctly, Jack Bonney booked a number of shows at Square One as general manager of WUAG before his salary fell victim to budget cuts at the NC General Assembly. I don’t know if bands were paid through student-activity fees — the management model at Square One was a bit of mystery to me at the time. I do know that when there was a coverage charge, it was criminally low. And, of course, there was no bar to bring in revenue from drinks; brown-bagging a 22-ounce Heineken was one of the magical aspects of the experience. The point is all of us were having a great time at minimal personal cost due, at least in part and indirectly, to a taxpayer subsidy. So all the more reason why I can’t quite warm to the idea that this is an experience that should be reserved for the charmed few.

The real question is why Greensboro can’t sustain a quality, consistent venue for exciting, new music using a legitimate business — sorry — model. It’s romantic and rebellious to try to circumvent the money system, but people should be happy to lay some cash on the bar to support their favorite venue or shell out $10 to see a band they support. Perhaps smart, passionate coverage from the likes of YES! Weekly, the News & Record and Avant Greensboro could help build an audience to financially support such an endeavor rather than sabotage it.