Garrison Keillor vs. MySpace.com
MySpace Nation to "Prairie Home" Star: "Maybe You Should Try The Search Engine"
By Jim Walsh
Not long after my friend Brianna helped me bumble my way onto my MySpace account, I found myself sitting at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis with a female artist friend who was being interviewed by a fanzine writer/wanna-be blind-date.
My friend was doing all the heavy lifting, charming as ever, but the dude was flailing in the early rounds and up against the ropes. She's in her late thirties, a cabaret dancer and singer; he's in his late twenties, a computer guy, and he was losing her. Her real-world experience and class was trumping his D&D sweathoggery, and she was polite but bored silly: His screen-saver eyes and inability to make conversation with an actual live and in the flesh beautiful woman was getting the best of him. Finally, he came with it.
"I'm sorry I'm sort of out of it," he said. "I spent ten hours on MySpace today."
Ouch. Dude. Quicker than you can say "premature ejaculation," the sexual tension dipped from pulled hamstring to limp rubberband; I got up from the table and bailed -- sorry, doll -- because I couldn't stand to watch him fall into the quicksand of his own libido. I hadn't thought much about the poor sod since that night, until this past Sunday, when I read Garrison Keillor's Salon.com column, as published in the Star Tribune.
It's a semi-funny piece about how newspaper readers look so much "cooler" than on-line readers, and takes a shot at "[people who] sit staring at computer screens, sometimes with wires coming out of their ears, life passing them by as they drift through MySpace, that encyclopedia of the pathetic."
Fair enough. Another ill-informed off-the-cuff dig at technology and the isolation it creates, from someone who should know better. And while Keillor may be smart enough to know that "Garrison Keillor versus MySpace" is a potential ratings bonanza that would make for a hilarious little culture war (God knows we don't have enough wars -- cultural or otherwise -- going on nowadays), it seems to me that G.K. picking on MySpace is a lot like Donald Trump picking on the intern who fetches him his coffee and comb. (Keillor doesn't have a MySpace page, but this cat does).
Keillor's also smart enough to play the curmudgeon card to the hilt, so when he typed the word "pathetic," he undoubtedly puffed up and chuckled a bit as he padded his pipe and sat in his home library in white and snowy St. Paul. He probably tied up the belt of his smoking jacket, first edition of The Great Gatsby and the latest issue of Sven and Ole Jokes That Never Get Old at his elbow, snifter of brandy at the ready, knowing full well that some trendy knucklehead like me would sigh the sigh of the faux culture-war weary and take the bait and take up a defense of MySpace.
"Allright, I'll bite," chimed in Dustin Freeze late last night, in response to an email bulletin (your kid can explain it) I sent out to my friends (ditto) on my MySpace page yesterday. I asked them to comment on Keillor's crack, and to tell me what the underground community means to them.
"What keeps ya coming back is people's songs change, people's profiles change, it's like watching a social html painting," said Freeze. "Then there is the fact that the best way to find your friends is to look at your friends' friends. It's a dynamic that is socially empowering to idiots whom are not charismatic enough to meet and remember peoples' names on their own. It's like an existential mnemonic social iconography for the common folk.
"Never forget, Rupert Murdoch owns it all.
"This was just a whim responce. I'll stop now. It's my birthday for another 2 hours and I have more Summit to drink.
"Garrison Keillor's dismissal of this resource smacks of privileged elitism," wrote Dwight Hobbes about the essay -- which, tellingly on both sides, few MySpace nation citizens had actually read as of yesterday (and editors and publishers wonder why there's a sudden fire sale on newspapers.) "MySpace.com affords equal opportunity grass-root access to widespread exposure for writers, musicians and other artists who otherwise would beat our heads bloody against the mainstream's brick wall of petty, self-enamored exclusion. Keillor spoke volumes about himself, evincing ugly, ivory tower arrogance, with that graceless quip."
"Open letter to Garrison Keillor:
"On myspace I have:
"met musicians and discussed music with them
"met writers and discussed writing with them
"met philosophers and discussed philosophy with them
"met atheists and discussed atheism with them
"all of which has made me more confident and excited about my own music, writing, philosophy and the Universe we share.
"Of course some people are annoying.
"146M of anything can be annoying.
"But people are wonderful.
"Maybe you should try the search engine?"
Ms. Von Fate: "I just don't understand how anyone could actually think that walking into Starbucks unshaven, wearing pajamas and a raincoat, with several newspapers under their arm could make them look like anything other than a hobo. An eccentric hobo, perhaps, but a hobo nonetheless. Definitely not a mafia kingpin.
"Anyway, I personally use MySpace to keep in touch with friends who have moved away; long lost family members; and occasionally I meet people who have something brilliant to say that I otherwise wouldn't have had a chance to hear. The same goes for music. There are so many creative, energetic, unsigned bands on MySpace that it's almost hard to know where to start listening. So much amazing talent would go even further underground and under-appreciated if it weren't for MySpace. And that would just be... pathetic."
Barb: "myspace is connections, for me like meeting all sorts of people at the brick of the tv show northern exposure....my husband and i are getting together with a couple from indiana @ the birchwood cafe before cloud cult's cd release at first ave (whenever that will be)... myspace is all about lovely, simple togetherness on a bitter wintry day..."
Along with personal expression and a lot of the bad poetry, writing, and music that comes with it ("vanity press," to some; "one man's trash, etc." to others), MySpace serves as a marketing and promotional tool that has historically been the sole domain of radio, television, and newspapers. Most of that is now being bypassed altogether by MySpacers who have either grown sick of the molasses moves of the corporate middlemen/gatekeepers, or who have never dealt with them in the first place, growing up as they have in these truly DIY times.
Greg from Gin House Jed: "Like many other musicians, I have a MySpace page to supplement my website. I find the Myspace page more 'interactive' and have tended to direct more people there. Specifically, on the good side, Electric Fetus contacted me through my Myspace page and ordered 50 cds from me to stock the Borders Rosedale store when we played their grand opening in November. Also, being a fan of Robert Wilkinson, I went to his "Snaps" show at Kitty Kat Club last fall. Had I not seen that show posted on the friends bulletin board, I would have missed that show. In general, I think it's great for keeping up with the local bands, especially the lower-profile bands. However, if I needed Myspace to validate my existence or fulfill my life beyond that... hmmm... I'd be in trouble and I'd have to agree with GK..."
Kristi: "MySpace = another one of life's sweet little studies in human behavior. People are forever fascinating, with their goodness and creepiness shining through. We're all just living our lives, passing time. We just like to see other people's styles of doing so. There's something endearing about the whole set-up, the glimpse of a person's life and of what it is they're made. I swore I'd never be on MySpace. Now I refer to it as CrackSpace because I find I just HAVE to look. And as far as the new people I've 'met,' it seems to be similar tastes in music that have most often facilitated that connection. And amen to that."
E: "it has levelled the playing field between musicians, music critics and music fans. instant feedback from a show can be delivered from the observers to the performers and viceversa within seconds."
Jeremy From Earplug Radio: "It may sound strange but Myspace has become a viable marketing option. We have made connections in just a few short months with people that would have taken years in the past. Our marketing has been done exclusively on Myspace."
shugE: "I refused to participate in the whole myspace thing for a long time, and even now I still very much resent using something that makes money for the likes of Rupert Murdoch and many of the other evil corporate sponsors/advertisers. I had to create a page last summer because a booking agent refused to book me for a show unless I had mp3's .. that day. I made the page and now over half of my gigs are booked through myspace and I cancelled the expensive website I had in the works."
Fancy Ray McCloney: I've talked with George Clinton, and kept track of Little Richard through his band members.
"Plus discovered SO MUCH Good Music (I've bought many cd's of artist that I stumbled accross here).
"Best of all - I've gotten gigs based upon people finding me Here on MySpace. I'm talking $$$ - Comedy Gigs, Commercials, and TV Roles.
"Myspace: Gigs, Music, Comedy, Friends, Fans, Freaks, Writers, Road Managers, Blogs, Fan Clubs, Networking, Porn Stars, Events, Bulletins, and MORE!!!
"MySpace has been VERY_VERY Good To Me!"
Keillor should know that he can go on MySpace right now and befriend dead soulmates like Joe Strummer and J. Krishnamurti, and, call me pathetic, but I take great joy in the fact I can leave a message for T.S. Eliot and Emily Dickinson , and be damn sure they'll get it in the astral plane-tripping tin-can phone connection that is MySpace. (Dude, Virginia Woolf left me a comment the other day!)
Jim Meyer: "At my age, friends and ex-lovers have scattered from here to Pasadena to NYC. It's such a faster way to reconnect. Also, for the musical artists I seek, widely deemed irrelevant by the current power demographic the mainstream courts so desperately (talk about pathetic...has [Keillor] recently read the Mpls. based daily paper for which he jots...those opinion pieces I can barely get started), it has been a godsend in finding those who do art more purely, and are gratified by passionate single responses be they from Wisconsin, or Wimbledon.
"The ['pathetic'] statement is only true on the most superficial level. Also, it lets people be fun and wacky and silly in ways that are somehow rather hard to do in person. It's a weird kind of public privacy that lets people let down, where they might not if they met at a restaurant and felt they had to be polite or on point."
halle? : "myspace is the electronic ultimate zine. not only can we rely on blogs to keep us up to date with family and friends [er for those that take it seriously], but we can also connect with people who have the same extreme fetishes/interests that we may have once tried to hide and find an entire new community to connect with"
Pamela: "My best friend at college told me if I wanted to keep in touch with him after he graduated then I'd better join MySpace. Of course I did and was happy to find the added bonus of having an outlet for my writing. One year and 47 blogs later we're still in touch and I'm still in love with MySpace."
Electric Warrior: "MySpace is here because as peacocks we all need to flaunt our feathers somehow. Underneath all the pretense we just all want someone special to think we're cool."
Dozens of people emailed to say that they have fallen in and out of love on MySpace, had sex on MySpace, had epiphanies on MySpace, and met like-minded soulmates through this "virtual address book" and "electronic friend center." Spirituality pages of all stripes abound. Some have used it as a stay against loneliness, or a balm against the ache that comes with broken hearts, parents' deaths, divorces, and their own (sometimes well-documented) crack-ups, break-downs, and break-ups. In other words, it is often the human element stripped down to its rawest form.
Julia, a high school friend of mine from Minneapolis: "Maybe facebook doesn't count. but on both sites, i've connected with people i normally wouldn't. people i'm too scared to talk to at school. when everything got bad with my break up, i commented on a girl's site who was going through the same thing. she goes to my school. we started talking. she came and met me in real life with a rose. she makes me smile and we like each other a lot. it's scary...thinking of being hurt again but everything seems to be making sense.
"i think that sites like this are so much more than anyone gives them credit for. sure, complete internet life or relationships will never work in the end. but it's not about making your life on the computer, it's about expanding your horizons."
Which, ironically enough, Keillor has made a career out of doing for himself and his fans. Every day on radio stations across the world, Keillor delivers "The Writer's Almanac," a reliably inspiring celebration of art, artists, writing, and writers. Two days after his MySpace shot heard 'round the block if not world, he finished his installment of "The Writer's Almanac" with the words of Susan Sontag's son, David Rieff, who said his mother had "an unslakable kind of curiosity, of interest in the world. She is someone who can go to an opera, meet someone at two in the morning to go to the Ritz and listen to some neo-Nazi punk synthesizer band and then get up the next morning to see two Crimean dissidents."
Sontag would love MySpace. So would some part of Keillor -- the part, perhaps, that waxed nostalgic about Minneapolis's folk/blues/hippie scene of the '60s in his forward to West Bank Boogie. Because at the moment, a similar global boho community of loners, non-joiners, extroverts, introverts, party animals, and poets gathers at every hour of the day and night around the great electronic fire pit that is MySpace. It's all happening under the nose of the likes of Keillor, who has spent his life championing ideas, weirdos, and words, and who obviously loves to help writers and laborers of all kinds -- otherwise he wouldn't conclude "The Writer's Almanac" every day with his trademark-patented sign-off,
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.
Too bad Keillor is, or is play-acting to be, so out of touch he doesn't realize that for millions, MySpace is a good way to keep in touch. Plus you can be naked while doing so, which is always a good thing.
Jim Walsh can be reached at www.myspace.com/themadripple