The Discography


This is almost total horseshit -  a lot of third-hand observations about social media, some of which are sometimes true about some things, wrapped around a really TERRIBLE example, a record that was the subject of passionate, sustained conversation among its main audience, with major ripples beyond. And maybe - just maybe - a 50something British white guy isn’t part of that audience, isn’t the best placed to judge how much “impact” the record had or how “important” it was to people. (Though simply by virtue of being on Tumblr this 40something BWG managed to twig that SOMETHING was up.)

No, the problem here - and I’m not even talking about Hepworth here, bad as the article is it’s a symptom, a symptom of something I suffer from too. An open letter to me, then.

The problem is that you hit a certain age and you stop doing the work. You assume that if conversation’s not happening amongst your ossifying set of professional contacts, it’s not happening anywhere. You imagine that your contributions are such that you will know what’s up by right, by licking a finger and sticking it into the air and sitting back down on your arse and re-typing something you once read about the internet.

Though, OK, “The revolution happened in distribution”, that’s a fair starting point. You can work from there. You can think about what that means for how stars present themselves, for how people become stars, for whether “singles and albums” are the best way of thinking about what a pop star does, about the art, the presence, “the content”. Though in this record’s case, there is content to spare. Maybe get specific and talk about how Beyoncé in particular is a really fascinating figure in this shift, coming up in the CD boom heyday and adapting (unlike almost any of her peers) partly by trying new things out.

What does it mean - just looking at the simplest, most public facts - that musicians dominate Facebook and Twitter fan scorecards, that music is so enormous on YouTube? You could take the analytic route - try and work out what the half-life of a song, or a video, is these days. Or you could take the journalistic route, find the people who Beyoncé means something to - something bad, something wonderful - and bloody ask them.

It’s not just lazy. It’s fine to get lazy. I can’t keep up any more, that’s just a fact. You don’t stop being useful - I hope! - you become more of a historian, turning your eye on the past a little more. Maybe use your experience as a scalpel on the times you lived through, not as a weapon against the present? No, fine, you don’t have to do that at all, if the present sucks people should say so. But not so ahistorically. When distribution shifts, exciting things happen. We can look at the history of radio, Dansette record players, sheet music, MTV, as evidence for that. Look for what’s changing. People aren’t mugs, or no more than they ever were. Look at why they care. Don’t trust yourself so much.

Better yet, you can read this. (And bravo to Tom.)


Jessica Herrera Photography

Just to note it for the record.

I wrote about the Prince-Warner Bros. deal for NPR.

Sheila E., “The Belle of St. Mark” (Warner Bros., 1984).





An Open Letter to Patrick Burke, Owner of Two Ten Jack


Dear Mr. Burke,

I have read your open letter to me and appreciate that it is considerably more thoughtful than many of the comments below my original story, left by people who clearly didn’t read my piece very closely. Unfortunately, I don’t think you read it very closely, either.

In the email to which you attached your letter, sent to Nashville Scene editor Jim Ridley and freelance contributor Chris Chamberlain — but not to me — you wrote, “Steve raised some interesting issues about this business, but he also said some pretty harsh things about me and my team.”

"Pretty harsh things."

What did I say that was harsh? Here’s what I said the only time I referenced you and your team by name: “The owners of Two Ten Jack, Patrick Burke of Seed Hospitality and chef Jason McConnell, are white. Executive chef Jessica Benefield is white.” Apart from that, I noted that the entire staff of your “authentic” Japanese restaurant seemed to be white, I described a bartender crushing ice and mentioned a maitre d’ telling me a table was ready. I counted the number of minutes it took for my party to be seated. If you find these words to be “harsh,” then I doubt you’d last a week in this country with a face and eyes that look like mine.

But let’s return to your letter.

"I obviously can’t completely empathize with you, Steve, or anyone else from a minority group who’s experienced prejudice,” you say. “But that shouldn’t stop me from working to share a love of Japanese cuisine with others. Should it?”

I never said it should. I never said that.

And that is what’s so disheartening about your letter, Mr. Burke. In my piece, I write, “To be clear: I have no problem with white people making Japanese food.”

That is literally what I said. So why ask me a rhetorical question when I’ve already answered it?

Elsewhere in your letter, you say, “The lesson Gary instilled in me was that ethnicity didn’t matter — anyone could make quality Japanese cuisine if they studied and worked hard enough.”

Again, if you’d read my piece carefully, you might have noticed the part where I say, “Food is culture. It’s transmittable.”

That is literally what I said.

My larger point was that yes, ethnicity shouldn’t matter — but for some of us, despite our best efforts, it does. We are despised, belittled, poked at. But I suppose I can’t expect you to engage with my larger point when you don’t seem to have noticed even the most basic ones.

There’s a word among people of color for when our views are disregarded and then told back to us as if we’d never considered them: whitesplaining. Oh, it’s a silly term, but you get the idea.

In your email you also wrote, “I’m hopeful my passion for the business I’m in is evident.” You know who else has a lot of “passion”? People who are … not well-intentioned. Let’s leave it at that.

I called for no boycotts in my article. I proposed no legislation. The only request I made of anyone was this: “Before you play the authenticity card, don’t forget who still has to live with the negatives.”

Don’t forget. That’s all I asked.

And in asking, I hoped you would consider how, in a city that is both booming and becoming increasingly unequal, presenting your restaurant as “authentic” and “the real izakaya experience” — the real experience — might be perceived by people who are despised, mocked and marginalized. I hoped you would consider what “the real Asian American experience” is like, and how your claims might sound a little discordant in that context. I asked you to check your privilege, but I didn’t ask you to wreck it.

So what, then, was your response, that you asked the editor of the Nashville Scene to print for all to see?

Your response, in essence, was to post a selfie.

For sure, Japan is quite conspicuous in the background, as are your non-white associates over the years. I especially enjoyed the story you told of the late Gary Flood, the African American sushi chef who was your first mentor. He seemed like a fascinating guy, and I wanted to know more about him.

But the real hero of your letter, of course, is you.

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Never been a big infographics guy but this came up during research and seems relevant anytime.


Never been a big infographics guy but this came up during research and seems relevant anytime.


Jessica Herrera Photography


Ekman, “Fuck Your Rock and Jack Your Funk” (Berceuse Heroique, 2014).