The idea of the EMP Pop Conference, this year titled "Ain't That a Shame: Loving Music in the Shadow of Doubt," is simple: Gather some>"/>
The idea of the EMP Pop Conference, this year titled "Ain't That a Shame: Loving Music in the Shadow of Doubt," is simple: Gather some of the country's best music journalists (and novelists, biographers, day jobbers, and run-of-the-mill thinkers), present them with a theme, and let the words fly. If you're not a critic, conference fiend, or graduate student, you might wonder what exactly this involves, or why you should spend an afternoon listening to a bunch of smarty-pants talk about their papers. But if you enjoy great writing and appreciate music (combinations that are explored in enough ways this year to please any fan), the conference is an invaluable source of information and inspiration. If the following reasons don't convince you to check it out, it'd be a shame.
EMP's Pop Conference
Guilt and Pleasure
Rock criticism's power couple get their talk on at EMP's Pop Conference
By Rickey Wright
Billy Joel and Goldfish Sandwiches
Four artists share their guilty, and not-so guilty, pleasures
By Brian J Barr
POP CONFERENCE Experience Music Project, 324 Fifth Ave. N., 206-770-2702, www.emplive.org/visit/education/popconf.asp. $20/$18 EMP members for entire conference; $7/$5 daily; free Sunday. Thurs., April 27–Sun., April 30.
1. It's not just for music nerds. Well, kind of, but not just music nerds who've submitted papers. As a moderator this year, I'm a first-time attendee. Before, I was scared of the perceived academic environment (which academics will consider a form of discrimination), and afraid I'd have nothing to offer to the discussion. I was also afraid of falling asleep during a panel. I once attended a CMJ panel because Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo was scheduled to speak, but he canceled. Roger Miller, the frontman for Mission of Burma, a band I know nothing about, spoke for an hour instead. It was in a warm room, before noon, and I couldn't help but nod off. It's embarrassing, but this can be avoided by studying the program. You won't be forced into intimidating discussions against your will, but find a topic you're passionate about and you might want to ask a question or two.
2. In fact, the fifth annual conference may be the most accessible yet, with guilty pleasures on display from "Truly Outrageous: Toward a Defense of Jem & the Holograms," by Lizzie Ehrenhalt, to "Nickelback Appreciation Syndrome: How Shame Becomes Pride Across the Racial Divide," by Joshua Alston, to unsubtitled topics like "My J-Pop Problem—and Yours" (by J.D. Considine).
3. The keynote. Is there anyone better suited to lead the discussion than Magnetic Fields singer Stephin Merritt, who sang, "I could listen to my therapist/Pretend you don't exist/And not have to dream of what I dream of"?
4. Panels group three or more similar papers under titles like People Watching and Cringeworthy, but scan the schedule and there are more than a few hilarious combos. The Guilt Rock panel features Justin Moyer's "Doing It Yourself—Sort Of: Funny Money and Trustafarian Guilt in Punk Culture" (they've come to the right city), and Whiteness Studies offers Tom Smuckers' "Horrifying Whiteness: Lawrence Welk and the Carpenters" (uh, ditto).
5. On that note, diversity. This year's participants cut a broad multicultural swath, which shouldn't need to be pointed out, but in lily-white Seattle—and the equally white realm of music writing—it still does. With a minimum of 15 papers using race or racial tension as their context, there's a lot to be discussed, from Tyina Steptoe's "Confessions of a Black Dixie Chick" to Cecil Brown's "Richard Pryor, Music, and the Guilty Pleasure of Mick Jagger's 'Some Girls.'"
6. Female voices—another relatively small segment in music writing, though you wouldn't guess it from the many smart women participating this year. One exciting paper comes from MIT graduate Geeta Dayal, a Wire and occasional Seattle Weekly contributor, in "Shame on the Brain: Music, Guilty Pleasures, and Cognition," which may get to the source of why it feels so good to be bad.
7. Mini–history lessons. Learn the backstory of the rock opera, blues, queer punk, and more, as seen through the lens of stolen pleasures. Former Seattle Weekly music editor Michaelangelo Matos pays a visit with "A Double History of the Supremes' 'Love Child,'" which should weave together a meticulously firm grasp on the song's history with personal comment.
8. For those who didn't experience Nawlins' various guilts and pleasures in the 20th century, "New Orleans Trickbag: A Musical Remembrance in Film," curated in part by Tulane University, includes clips from its local music scene from the '30s on.
9. Schmoozing, plain and simple. Aspiring writers—get your asses to Seattle Center. Twenty dollars gets you access to everyone you want to freelance for.
10. These ideas, at their root, aren't just about pop music. As musicians use their art to communicate larger truths about themselves and the world, writers use the same cultural canvas to make their own statements. When they're discussing the things that make us laugh, blush, or scream with delight, they're part of our conversation. Whether you make art or art makes your life better, it's a discourse that's open to everyone.