In an effort to increase student awareness of professors doing hip activities in and outside of academia, I sat down with a guy who has interviewed MGMT and hung out backstage with Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver. Part-time Assistant Professor Nick Courtright writes for Spin, the Austinist, assorted obscure and non-obscure poetry magazines, and probably some other publications that I could not find on Google. Regardless of the accuracy of these statements, I chatted with Southwestern’s very own roguish music critic/poet/pedagogue about how academia compares to the journalism world, the music blogosphere and its anti-capitalist volunteer ethic, and the popular conception of poetry’s irrelevancy.
Courtright:(gestures toward me with granola bar) You want half of this?
Dornon: No, I’m good thank you…So anyway, do you think that academia provides a more stable base for you than journalism?
C: Yeah, definitely. My love is teaching. After I got out of grad school I went and worked in a cubicle for almost a year and it was not for me. The forty-hour workweek was a backbreaker. So yeah, I have a huge appreciation for academia—it gives me the opportunity to work hard, to talk about things that I want to talk about, to engage people who hopefully are open-minded about learning things. And the great thing about being a teacher is that it’s a captive audience.
But as far as the journalism world is concerned, it’s just dicey and cutthroat in a different way. And it’s something I would grow tired of. Like when I was covering ACL for Spin, one of the pitfalls with that was that I was exposed to all these other people in the journalism world and a lot of them were just bitter. They were like “Oh God, I’ve gotta go photograph Pearl Jam, it’s gonna be so terrible.” You know, and I’m just like that sounds horrible. Thank god you don’t have to be in a cubicle or have a real job. I was surprised to see that in the journalism world. Especially music journalism, because that’s so freaking cool.
D: How do you feel about music journalism as a whole being dominated by the blogosphere and also the fact that the only music journalist I can name off the top of my head is Chuck Klosterman?
C:(laughs) He actually used to write for Spin, but then they fired him because they were aiming for some sort of homogenous voice rather than independently brilliant writers or whatever.
D: So they got you.
C: No, that was actually a huge problem because in the writing I do for the Austinist, I’m not edited. That’s why I think ‘pimp the Austinist’, because it’s a huge sort of venue and it gives a lot of cultural information. It’s just the pulse of Austin on a daily basis. I’ve been able to come up with the most absurd genre titles for bands, like the Dirty Projectors ‘deconstructed pointillist tri-harmonic hymns’. Writing for Spin you have to deal with editors who are gonna take a lot of the meat away. But as far as the blogosphere is concerned, I think that in general it’s the best thing that has happened to the music industry because now big bands like Grizzly Bear or Animal Collective or something like that, those bands had no chance ten years ago. Just the exposure is so widespread and it’s all free. You don’t have to pay to read a blog, you do have to pay to buy a magazine.
D: Ok, but the thing about that as far as your career prospects go, blogs obviously have to make money solely off of advertising and that’s already killing off the news industry, how do you feel the prospects are for the music blog industry?
C: I think that in large part the music news industry is going to continue to be run by volunteers. And I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about it. It’s one of those strange beacons of non-suckitude that we have in capitalism. It’s like Wikipedia. It’s not flawless but if you want general information on something, there’s not a better place to go. They’ve done all sorts of studies on incentives and incentives do not result in better work. They just don’t. Up to a point you need to have reward or there’ll be resentment. But for a music journalist, all the reward they need is a press badge, some decent access, an interview and some drink tickets. That’s going to get the people to care. The thing is, those people get to live the lives they want to live.
D: You also frequently are published in modern poetry journals. Where do you see poetry as a cultural artifact in today’s world?
C: Mostly irrelevant. But I love it. I think the defeatist attitude about poetry in the literary world in general is just such garbage. You’ll spend years in grad school talking about the end of art and how nobody cares anymore and how everybody just wants to watch reality television and all that. People are no less concerned with art now than they’ve ever been. People have always been preoccupied by things other than interpretative, artistically demanding ventures. People talk about the death of poetry and I see that as completely absurd because there are more books of poetry published now than ever before in the history of humankind. In addition to that, you go onto Facebook, there’s a massive network of writers and editors.
Poetry has a horrible reputation. People view it either as it’s taught in the American school system, this really arcane iambic pentameter and that stuff is probably about 87 and half percent irrelevant to the poetry that’s being written today. Or it’s taught as poetry as a way to cry yourself silly. This emo thing where your gonna wear the beret and talk about ‘the blackness of your heart as it pounds in the sidewalk’ or something like that. Or ‘she hurt me, she made my heart bleed and my soul aches for her’(both recitations should be read in absurd teenage poet voice). Then you’ll post it on your Facebook account and everybody’ll ask what’s wrong with you. And that’s not what’s going on. Poetry’s awesome.