I’ve made brief mention of it in this forum, but never explicitly made known in a linkable, full-post form the horrible truth about another all-music blog that I used to helm from 2003-2006 called AGONY SHORTHAND. During its time it was, I guess, one of the “very early music blogs”; I know that when I got the idea to write online on February 5th, 2003 and posted this missive, I didn’t know of any others that I’d be interested in reading, and in fact can’t remember any others that were around at all, 11+ years later. It’s funny, there was an interview with one of the founders of one of the core all-mp3 underground music blogs not too long ago, can’t remember which, and he cited Agony Shorthand as a main “if that guy can do it, so can I” influence, which is flattering and illustrative, if only I could remember his name. The memory’s the first thing to go, folks.
To get out 4-5 sometimes lengthy posts per week, I’d take a self-imposed break from work, log on during my infant son’s three-hour nap, or take an entire Sunday night to write about virtually any and every music-related topic I was interested in. If I was listening to a CD in the car, I’d review that. If I felt that a record from Mike Rep & The Quotas, the Impact All-Stars or Can (for example) wasn’t getting its due, I’d write a full-throated defense. If I thought it was important to make a list of my favorite whatevers today, that was often a fine idea for a post. Maybe I’d just discovered YouTube for the first time. I probably wrote more raw content on Agony Shorthand that I have anywhere else, ever, and if it was often tossed-off and “bloggy” (i.e. without much quality control, like much of my writing), it also reflected one of those periods in my life in which I was deeply and intensely into music, letting the thrill of writing about it help drive my continued consumption of more, more, more.
My rapacious and unbridled male ego really got pumped on a daily basis when I’d see, around 2005-2006, that up to 700 people a day (“uniques”!) were actually clicking on the blog, with an average hovering around 500 at its peak. This is absolutely nothing by popular web standards, of course, and a pissant number even for popular music blogs today. Yet Agony Shorthand wasn’t exactly dealing with “Vampire Weekend” or “Arctic Monkeys”-level bands (to name two artistes from around that era whom I’ve never heard, but heard of). I couldn’t believe it was possible to reach an audience of that size with my mush-mouth music blather, and moreover, many of these folks were frequently commenting on the posts, sometimes to the tune of 60-75 comments per post. Again, that’s a ludicrously small amount of traffic and interaction by most standards, and I grant you that; however, nothing I’ve done since has even come close.
Given the lack of tools available within the then pre-Google Blogger platform, the site looked (and continues to look) extremely primitive. Early on, you couldn’t post pictures, and then once you could, they could only be one size – the original. This lead to some really ridiculously laid-out posts. My pal Rebecca from work, who knew her way around raw HTML, formatted the site a little bit for me, but after I stopped doing the site in 2006 and wanted to make some edits, and somehow pushed the site template fully over to the far left, creating the weird left-justified effect you see here. And I stopped working with Rebecca, and couldn’t ask her to help anymore.
Sadly, all the comments have disappeared, too. People would get really worked up about some of the stuff I’d write, and naturally, I did my best to throw my half-formed musical opinions out there and stake a claim to the truth, hoping that someone wanted to take frothing exception. There was an entire series called “Jukebox Jury” where I’d reevaluate some of my teenage 1980s favorite bands that raised some hackles. That was a ton of fun. I enjoyed “gently ribbing” ARTHUR magazine, here, here and here. And I enjoyed bestowing the “Overrated” label on as many sacred cows as possible, all because I’d decided I didn’t like them all that much (including The Monks, The Raincoats, Waylon Jennings, The Pop Group, The Dictators and The Homosexuals, the latter of whom I’ve subsequently changed my tune on).
Perhaps the most flagrant of all was a 2004 post I did, later removed (with personal apology provided to the aggrieved) out of concern for the sanity and paper-thin skin of its target. The post was a one-paragraph takedown of Chris Stigliano’s troglodyte Black To Comm fanzine and his pro-rawkin’, anti-homo views. Let’s just say that Stigliano was not pleased, and sent me at least ten unhinged emails in the subsequent 24 hours venting his supreme displeasure. He had a blog around that time – he still might – and nearly every other post for a period of time concerned the injustice of me and another writer’s having questioned his beliefs & writing style. It was the most one-sided “war” of all time, with my own manhood, beliefs and musical taste blown into smithereens by this man’s righteous and unslaked fury. He told me he wouldn’t stop his late-night typed assaults until he’d gotten his “pound of flesh”, and by virtue of his literally dozens of blog posts on the matter, and me apologetically removing my single post on his dumbo magazine a week after it was written, I think he may have finally received it. I sure hope so.
The whole Agony Shorthand blog reflected my obsessive and still-active need to catalog my musical thoughts and tastes, and was by far the most blog-like thing I’ve done before or since – even “confessional”, if only to a point and then only about guilty pleasures or bands that only a dope like me could enjoy. It’s hard to find the time and energy to write pieces like that now, and I think that the reason you see so many people (such as myself) gravitate to the Tumblr platform and to social media is because we can post song files or photos in thirty seconds or less and call it “a post”, feeling proud and satisfied that we shared something with the people that reflects our good taste and breeding.
There are pros and cons to be had. I wish I could have embedded song files on Agony Shorthand back then – I later started a blog called Detailed Twang that just gave them away – but I also wish the new platforms didn’t make us all so lazy and uncritical as well. That’s part of the reason I decided to put out a print ‘zine again, to help sharpen the critical eye a bit and to see if I could write about music in ways that didn’t necessarily have to include a band photo or a song file – just my own unvarnished prose, warts and all. It’s hard work, and a reason why if we see another edition of Dynamite Hemorrhage fanzine (and I think we will), it won’t be until later this year.
Finally, I was able to nab a couple of good email interviews on Agony Shorthand back then that I don’t want to necessarily be buried in search results and the effluvia of time. Here are some links to click on when you have a spare moment or two:
Interview with Alice Bag (The Bags)
Interview with Mike Atta (The Middle Class)
Interview with Mike Rep (Mike Rep & The Quotas)
Interview with Clint Conley (Mission of Burma) about Boston hardcore