February 05, 2004

They Wrote a Book about Rock and Roll

My band has never been featured, nor any of my records ever reviewed or mentioned in Rolling Stone or Spin. That's no big surprise. Ever since I've been paying attention to pop music, Big Media has always almost totally ignored the vast majority of the music I've been most interested in. It's just invisible. It might as well not exist. Imagine a person wearing RS/Spin glasses and examining your record collection. In my case, my best estimate is that around 20% of the records and CDs would be visible, and another 10% visible, yet fuzzy and indistinct (owing to having been alluded to or referenced in a cursory way by someone keen to show off their "arcane" knowledge); the remaining 70% would be empty, blank spaces, as though they had been magic-wanded/erased in Photoshop. Whatever the composition of your collection, if it has any MTX records in it, they would disappear. The glasses have been designed that way. Those bastards. ;-)

You might think: why don't they, like, just once, leave out the Hootie and the Blowfish review and use the resulting space for a couple of reviews of cool, not quite zillion-selling records? A bold move! When I was a kid, I used to think that way: imagine what it might be like if someone over there was cool enough to replace just a bit of the extensive Journey or Kajagoogoo coverage with some stuff about the Television Personalities. But that was stupid. You don't become the largest circulation music magazine in the nation by leaving out the Hootie and the Blowfish review, or replacing the extensive Journey or Kajagoogoo coverage with stuff about the TVPs. You just don't.

Yet, you can believe it or not, but for awhile there it was looking like Rolling Stone actually was going to print a review of Yesterday Rules. I mean, it was really going to happen. They confirmed they were going to run a review with a photo, and they even called our publicist to fact-check it (which impressed me-- I've never been fact-checked by a reviewer before.) In the back of my mind, I began imagining the wry, self-deprecating little phrase I would use when I linked to it. It was supposed to be in the issue with Howard Dean on the cover. But it wasn't. The reviews editor stopped returning our publicist's calls. We speculated, maybe a little desperately: there was maybe an outside chance that it had been bumped to the next issue. But no. The next issue came out. The review had been killed. And, thus endeth our hugely implausible Rolling Stone-covered career. I don't know why. I guess someone came to their senses just in time. These things happen in publishing. (Maybe if they had known how far down the charts Howard Dean was going to slip, they would have killed him, too. The cover story, I mean.)

What difference would it have made? It would have made none, probably. The conventional wisdom, borne out by my own experience in the second- and third-string publicity world, not to mention the fourth- and fifth-, is that reviews don't really do much to "move units." Advertising makes much more of an impact. However, I've never had the experience of being reviewed in a big deal magazine, so I don't know for sure. I imagine it might have made it just a bit easier to persuade other bigger publications to consider covering it, as they all seem to end up covering the same dozen or so records anyway. Indeed, that was what made the whole thing so astonishing. All I know is, as it stood, it was the biggest publicity success we had ever had; which is to say, it was the biggest publicity failure in the end.

Into each life, some rain must fall. I'm used to it, and it's really not that big a thing. In the end, it's a trivial matter that doesn't affect our game plan (to the extent that we have one) in any way. We put out records, we play shows, we sell merch. Time marches on. The main thing is: I'm hell of curious as to what on earth a Rolling Stone reviewer would have had to say about it. Somewhere out there, on someone's word processor, the answer presumably lies.

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 5, 2004 03:19 PM | TrackBack

rolling stone's decision to not run the "yesterday rules" review saved me a bit of potential embarrassment at work, as i would have most certainly wet my pants if i had seen that while on company time.

Posted by: resident jason at February 5, 2004 03:38 PM

Yeah, Jason, not to mention the fact that the Lord's natural order and the space-time continuum remains intact.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 5, 2004 03:54 PM

RS probably would've described the record as "Dusty Springfield meets Nirvana," but sorry that they bailed on you anyway. The MTX is kind of like the Washington Generals of rock.

Posted by: spacetoast at February 5, 2004 04:16 PM

Spacetoast, either of those formulations would work better as rock-critic-ese if you add "from Hell" or "on acid."

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 5, 2004 04:21 PM

I bet they found your weblog, poured over all the entries, and noticed your seeming endorsement of Joan Jett's deeming them "completely retarded."

And I think the currently popular review scenario suffix is "crash their tour busses"...

Posted by: Dave Bug at February 5, 2004 05:10 PM

Btw, I'm assuming you mean "in print" in Rolling Stone, right? It seems their site contains reviews of quite a few MTX records:

Presumably those reviews are taken from some other database, though I sure can't find any reference to another site/publication.

Posted by: Dave Bug at February 5, 2004 05:14 PM

Pardon me, they're pulled from the All Music Guide, I now see.

Posted by: Dave Bug at February 5, 2004 05:15 PM

Hmm, so how would that go, Dave?

"Think: Blue Oyster Cult meets Foghat on acid, if Robert Smith crashed their tour bus from hell. Metanymic slippage, included. Red House Painters, anyone?"

Something like that?

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 5, 2004 05:52 PM

Maybe "Yesterday Rules would be pulled from the fiery wreckage of Morrissey's acid-induced crash into Aerosmith's tour bus at the Crossroads."

Is there any consolation in having this URL?

The correct answer is no.

Posted by: Dave Bug at February 5, 2004 06:08 PM

Heh. Funny, I don't *feel* seminal...

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 5, 2004 06:13 PM

somewhere along the line, hootie and the blowfish
became the de facto shorthand for bland, mainstream
band. how did this happen? (why them and not dave matthews band?) and didn't they
outsell pink floyd at some point?
(that metric came from a Spin sidebar I read
in high school that was underneath another
sidebar deconstructing mentos ads.)
and didn't mtx get any tangential mainstream refs/exposure
around the same time jawbreaker had a minor
buzz bin bubble? my memory's fuzzy, and might be conflating zines/mags/rags.

Posted by: philip at February 5, 2004 06:17 PM

While we're playing this game, how about this one? The byproduct of an incedental meeting of Bob Dylan, Bob Mould, Dan Treacy, Robert Smith and Joey Ramone in an English pub. The anti Traveling Wilburies if you will....

Posted by: Channon at February 5, 2004 06:21 PM

I think the reason people so often connect Hootie and Rolling Stone('s shitty review section) with each other is that there was a pretty well-publicized controversy a few years ago involving those two... Jim DeRogatis (now of the Chicago Sun-Times), who'd been hired to restore some credibility to the RS reviews section, wrote a review panning the then-new Hootie record, it was killed and replaced with a more positive one, DeRogatis sniped about it in the papers and was fired.

On a more positive note, there's a nice review of YR in the new Magnet (which also has a big feature about Robyn Hitchcock, among others). There were a few things in the review that jumped out at me as weird, but I didn't buy the mag and I don't remember what they were.

Posted by: Hulka at February 5, 2004 06:39 PM

i would'nt worry too much, frank. if the review had been included, i don't think they would have been very accurate with their musical comparisons. They probably would have somewhere included the term "pop-punk" and lumped MTX with the sum41/good charlotte/whichever band is popular right now group.

Posted by: christina at February 5, 2004 06:45 PM

Hey, I still get good mileage out of those phrases.

"Dwayne's ears were ringing like doorbells from hell."


"Emily's apartment smelled like a tuna sandwich on acid." Eh?

Anyway, sorry about the Generals comment. What I meant to say was that the MTX is like the Washington Generals of *pop-punk*...from hell/acid/etc.

Posted by: spacetoast at February 5, 2004 07:25 PM

Frank, I very much liked the double entendre of the last phrase of your note: "the answer presumably lies."

Posted by: paul at February 5, 2004 07:46 PM


mtx being thrown into the rolling stone "reader spectrum" definitely sounds impressive, but most likely not that beneficial. i would assume that the majority of rs readers consist of pre-pubescent teens foaming at the mouth for risquť photos of mtv gods & goddesses. it may sound a bit corny and possibly absurd, but I think that the mr. t experience magically find the ears it needs to be in. I wonder if mtx's success would even fluctuate that much if you did have the extreme corporate backing that today's superstars have? would the masses "get" mtx? could they even understand the perfected, well thought out genius of each lyric? doubtful. so, they get justin tiberpond and we get dr. frank. but oh how i would love to have your eyes looking at me through heart shaped glasses while i stand in line at the grocery store.

Posted by: lukeblack at February 5, 2004 07:48 PM

Didn't RS originally position itself as the voice of the underground, I mean back in the late 60's, early 70's when they were publishing Hunter S. Thompson's (on acid) stuff? I guess they then became the mechanism for bringing the underground to the mainstream, and then became just mainstream.

Posted by: Nick at February 5, 2004 08:07 PM

Well, Luke, I don't really know anything about actual RS readership demographics, so this impression is no more than idle, biased, stereotyping speculation: but I'd guess that while they would very much like to capture a bit of the pre-pubescent teen audience, a formidable chunk of the actual audience is still middle-aged men. The foaming at the mouth for risque photos of mtv god/desses remains the same either way, however. The bottom line, though, so to speak, is that it does have a circulation of one million, so they must be doing something right for somebody.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 5, 2004 08:14 PM

Yeah, Nick, I remember reading the history of Rolling Stone magazine somewhere, and it was very interesting, full of craziness, intriguing characters, risk-taking, etc.. For better or worse, it seems to be a very different publication than it used to be. But aren't we all?

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 5, 2004 08:22 PM

Very Wonder Years of you. Or perhaps more Stand By Me.

In any case, I'm having a great time planting misleading and outright false trivia questions for bands I know and/or like.

Posted by: Dave Bug at February 5, 2004 08:28 PM

You nailed it, Dr. Frank - I've thought for some time the largest portion of RS readers are middle aged men still clinging to their subscriptions in a desperate, mid-life crisis-type attempt to appear hip. There's a guy down the hall who has his copies mailed to the office, and makes a point of leaving it sitting out somewhere prominently on his desk to make sure we all know he's still cutting edge and down with the kids. It's pathetic really.

Posted by: Emily at February 5, 2004 09:06 PM

Maybe one day, after Rhino has bought the Lookout catalogue and re-released many of the Lookout "classics," we'll hear a review of an MTX album on Fresh Air. This will kill two birds with one stone: "Mainstream" review AND an NPR appearance, all in one. Unfortunately, at that point, we'll probably all be in adult diapers (though, fortunately for resident jason, he'll be able to wet his pants without fear of embarassment).

I was disappointed to hear that the review was killed. I would've gone out of my way to find that issue of RS.

Posted by: sheckie at February 5, 2004 09:21 PM

One time, about six years ago I saw a small feature on the queers in a RS or Spin. Did that have any impact that anyone knows about? What about the big SPIN article on Screeching Weasel, the punk band that just won't break up, no matter how tough things get?

Posted by: Cody at February 5, 2004 09:23 PM

I don't like reviews...sure, they offer insight, but what makes a great record (to me) is that if it can stand the test of time. Putting out a review of a record in a limited time just doesn't cut it in my opinion. Just a personal thing though, I guess.

Posted by: Jesse K at February 5, 2004 09:28 PM

I thought that SPIN article (by the aforementioned Jim DeRogatis) was more about Ben Weasel's agoraphobia than the actual band. It was kind of sensationalistic.

I actually had a subscription to Rolling Stone at the time they ran the Queers piece. It was, yeah, about 1997; they'd been running a string of pop-punky features - I was shocked to see a Descendents concert review - but even more so to see the Queers mentioned on the *cover*, next to the picture of either Sheryl Crow or Liz Phair... "Jeez, this pop-punk stuff must be big time, if they can put 'QUEERS' on the cover like it's going to entice anyone."

Posted by: Hulka at February 5, 2004 09:34 PM

Hey, *I* donít even understand the perfected, well thought out genius of each lyric, but my money spent on a record is just as good as the people who do understand that genius, and I donít think we should exclude those who fall into the former category.

Dr. Frank may well be my own personal ĎIt Pays To Enrich Your Word Powerí Readers Digest Column, but in both his lyrics and in conversation, Iíve never felt like he was talking completely over my head, or talking down to me to reach my level of air-headedness. I donít think your average listener would either, and I think that those who might happen upon an MTX record will never be made to feel that they canít be a part of the Ďclubí.

-Bobby J

Posted by: Bobby J at February 5, 2004 10:09 PM

Bobby J - I enjoyed reading the beginnings of your tour blog, but it appears your comments are broken. At least, upon submitting a comment, it cleared the forms and no comment appeared.

Posted by: Dave Bug at February 5, 2004 10:50 PM

they are doing something for someone, but i don't know how "right" it is.

Posted by: lukeblack at February 5, 2004 11:09 PM

Hmmmmm. Thanks for the heads up, Dave. I kind of wondered why no one had posted a comment on my blog yet, but just figured it was due to my lack of popularity. I shall fix it tonight.

Posted by: Bobby J at February 5, 2004 11:21 PM

It took RS forever to recognize REM as a good band in the 80s, they didnt make the cover til 1987. It use to be that getting on the cover of 'Stone meant something. Now theyll put anyone on there (Clay Aiken, et al). Its a totally different magazine now, owned by a huge Entertainment Corporation. Its a long long way from John Lennon in the Army helmet to Clay Aiken in an open disco shirt. Gag me with a spoon.

Posted by: Mike at February 5, 2004 11:21 PM

Upon arriving home from my Oklahoma-California extravaganza, I was bombarded by several inquisitive peers. They demanded to know why my wife and I drove halfway across the United States to see Mr. T. (The gold-clad mohawk adorned television personality.) I straightened out the confusion and now wonder if MTX had made that Rolling Stone issue, would the same question have been asked? One million readers...... the lines of stereotyping have been blurred.

trip highlights-- mtx @ slims - rt. 66 wigwam motels Holbrook az. Two classics that make the world a better place and refuse extinction.

Posted by: lukeblack at February 5, 2004 11:34 PM

Oh well. At least now I won't have to buy a copy of Rolling Stone. That magazine makes me want to kill myself.

Posted by: Ted at February 5, 2004 11:52 PM

K. Cobain said something like "Every time i look at or read rolling stone i become so enraged i just end up tearing it in half"
It sucks, it's sucked since the 70s, and it will forever suck.


Posted by: Creem reader at February 6, 2004 12:41 AM

My heart grew heavy with sadness reading about what almost was. Then I felt bitter contempt toward Rolling Stone. But now that Iíve had a few moments to digest this tale of woe, I find myself wondering if a bit of MTXís innocence has been spared. Probably not. God knows the band deserves recognition and record sales beyond the current intimate circle of fans.

I remember the rush of excitement when I saw MTX on the cover of BAM a few years ago. A review in Rolling Stone might have been even more thrilling.

This latest setback should be a call to action. Iím gonna buy a few more copies of Yesterday Rules and challenge the rest of you to do the same. If Rolling Stone canít bring MTX to the masses, damnit, weíll just have to do it ourselves. Iím gonna be an MTX pusher man if only to preserve Dr. Frankís rightful place in rock history as a bonafide star. If we succeed, the royalty checks from Rhino will help fund Dr. Frank, Jr.ís college education.

Posted by: j. francis at February 6, 2004 01:48 AM

Maybe it's time Dr. Frank leaked the top-secret loincloth version of "I Fell For You."

Posted by: spacetoast at February 6, 2004 02:07 AM

Hey Frank i'm sure you could still get a copy of the review somehow, it would be pretty cool to post it up here and see what they were gonna say about it. Did anyone here actually get into MTX from the (paper) press? I did and I think i'm probably a minority, there was a tiny little feature in Kerrang in 1997 (which i will scan if anyone wants it) where they compared MTX to early Green Day.

Posted by: Danny at February 6, 2004 02:15 AM

Reading all of this just serves to reinforce what I've felt all along, and that is this: being an MTX fan is a bit like being that construction worker in the old Warner Brothers cartoon who finds the dancing frog in the metal box in the cornerstone of a demolished building. You find the frog, he dances and sings ragtime and minstrel songs for you, but it's ONLY for you.

When I used to wear my "nein danke" T-shirt, people would look at me and ask "what's that all about?" I'd tell them, "hey, look, this is the greatest band in the world. You've GOT to give them a listen. " You'd tell them that the music was more than music--it was a witty turn of the phrase, irony within irony, the most complicated of human emotions worked into a clever "song about a girl." You might even quote a few lyrics. That's when you'd get the half smile and the nod of pity, and there you'd have it, people staring at your croaking frog.

I thought maybe, just maybe Rolling Stone would hop on the bus and give us something like, "yes, your frog DOES dance, and it dances quite well," or maybe even (to use a different analogy) "I met your friend, Mr. Snuffleupagus. He's quite a guy." No luck.

Posted by: sheckie at February 6, 2004 02:38 AM

Screw RS.

Posted by: Amy 80 at February 6, 2004 03:05 AM

The following statement is made independently of the publishing of or failure to publish any MTX review, past, present, or future:

Fuck Rolling Stone.

Posted by: Dave at February 6, 2004 03:07 AM

i prefer their sister magazine/alternate publication stationary wood.

Posted by: lukeblack at February 6, 2004 04:52 AM

It's a shame a band like MTX isn't more widely know (but isn't that why we love them so much?) I do feel bad for Frank who is such a musical genius and has affected so much of the musical world. No bad karma intended, but Frank will be in Rolling Stone one day when he passes. His influence and musical ability will be celebrated, as it should be right now. I didn't mean to sound morbid, just being realistic to the fact that you don't realize how great things are until they're gone. Frank is the Picasso of punk rock.

Posted by: jordan at February 6, 2004 05:40 AM

I fondly remembering out beloved Frank being interviewed by Guitar World for a "Punk Rock Is Super Cool" article. If I remember correctly Frank was a bit upset with "skater-rock" bands. I believe the quote was "Normal people playing our music?"

Posted by: Josh Maxwell at February 6, 2004 06:17 AM

i will be honest, i didn't read all the replies. mainly because it was straining my eyes.
so, this may be a rather redundant and ignorant response.

the best advice is that of what i do in most forms of rejection: pretend you were unaware there was even an opportunity for rejection, let alone an actual rejection.

they say diamonds are a girl's best friend, but in most cases, denial is a lot handier.

and... mtx is superior, anyhow. do you really want to be covered in a magazine that regards britney spears as an artist before dusty springfield?

Posted by: nicole at February 6, 2004 07:40 AM

if they review had been printed in r.s., there's a good chance you wouldn't be happy with the description [even if it was meant to be complimentary], and you'd likely have a bunch of fans screaming that you'd 'sold out.' you can't really win either way.

sort of like the recent partnership between playboy.com and suicidegirls- some at suicidegirls.com are shouting, 'hooray! finally some real recognition for naked punk rock girls!' while others are complaining, 'how could you?'

Posted by: anne at February 6, 2004 07:44 AM

Well, other than being out $5 for buying a copy, I can't say any of us are worse off. RS is a bit more interesting this year -- as opposed to whenever I quit reading it, maybe 1984 -- and it was nice to see David Fricke has a little indie review section, and that they'll even review some Flatlanders in the sorta alt-country section.

But ... I would have to agree with a lot of the commenters that it doesn't matter a whole lot if MTX is in RS. Now, if MTX can get a nice little capsule review in Entertainment Weekly, or a song on a teevee show the kids watch (Frank, we have not discussed whether you like the teevee / film use of songs), then that might help the System.

You know the mag The Big Takeover, Frank? Of course you do. But what I mean is, shouldn't you be featured there, as a cover artist? Or Mojo. Or Uncut? Beyond that, I would think you should be written up in Paste, Harp, Tracks, etc. Yeah, they're aimed at 40-year-old record buyers, but that is our age group, too. No reason to turn dumb (or smart) at 39!

Anyway, the most interesting thing I learned from buying a Rolling Stone for the first time since 1994 or so is that Dave Matthews owns the label putting out "americana" or "roots rock" by My Morning Jacket, Patty Griffin, etc. Also, there was a funny article about this Treasure Island on the North American Atlantic coast, up by Nova Scotia. I read that in the waiting room while my wife was seeing the doctor. Pretty weird story.


Well ... I'll see you soon, and we can deal with such things with the proper booze. Keep rocking, as they say, and know you made a Jesus Killer of a record, and it is being heard in this household every goddamned day ... as it most certainly is being heard in thousands and thousands of other households, cars and tanks.

Posted by: Ken Layne at February 6, 2004 09:34 AM

To go along with what Nicole said...I agree. I always expect that I won't get what I really want so that way, I never have to worry about being disappointed. And if things actually do go nicely, it's just an added bonus. ;)

Posted by: Amy 80 at February 6, 2004 11:38 AM

Speaking of entertainment weekly, SW's "How to make enemies" was reviewed in it. When is Dirnt going to join MTX, anyway?

Posted by: Cody at February 6, 2004 03:26 PM

Speaking of entertainment weekly, SW's "How to make enemies" was reviewed in it. When is Dirnt going to join MTX, anyway?

Posted by: Cody at February 6, 2004 03:26 PM

I find it ironic that MTV likes to use snippets of MTX songs behind VJs and fashion show clips while I doubt they've ever shown an MTX video.

Then again, I suppose MTX gets paid for those snippets, while I don't think bands get paid for use of their videos, correct? Or is MTV not included in the estimated radio usage type royalty you've mentioned before?

Posted by: Dave Bug at February 6, 2004 04:20 PM

I hold the view that MTX's audience could be tenfold with the right exposure (not saying a RS review is necessarily THE most optimal channel for it.) There are simply a lot of people who've never heard of Lookout Records, MTX or Dr. Frank who would like the songs.

Posted by: JB at February 6, 2004 04:59 PM

Actually, Dave, MTV did play MTX videos in the mid-late '90s, though not often. If I have my facts right, "Ba Ba..." was played three or four times on 120 Minutes, and "...and I will be with you" was played once on 120 Minutes and once on 12 Angry Viewers (where it "lost" to an Ozzy Osbourne video.) I'm sure those few plays contributed to sales of those records, though I doubt it contributed enough to offset the costs of producing them. We don't have the resources available to make even a low-low-low-budget video now, much less promote it (which can be more expensive than the production), but I bet it would be much harder to get something like that played nowadays, even once. MTV plays even fewer videos than they did then, and pretty much no quaint home-made low budget "indie" ones (that I'm aware of.)

As for the snippets, they usually ask for (and get, obviously) a free license for a specified list of "shows." These "performances" do get logged and credited on your publishing statement (BMI for me). I believe it's like any other cable tv play (so not anywhere near as much as broadcast TV), but since they repeat those shows over and over, it does add up. The snip of "Ba Ba Ba..." from the Real World in 1996 still turns up on my statements. (By the way: theoretically, you'd get publishing royalties for the video plays as well, and it's probably a higher "full feature" rate-- i.e. something like $8 instead of $4 pr something in that ball park. So dudes like me get more from the snips than the feature plays. But we're not talking a lot of money at all any way you slice it.)

It's hard to know whether video-making is worth it, though all signs point to "no." If we had made one for "Naomi," say, and it had ever been played, we probably could have sold a lot more Alcatrazes. But if it doesn't get played (which is really totally beyond your control), you're out $10,000 in one shot.

On the other hand, the more stuff you do, the more chance your inept, retarded organization might have of blindly stumbling into some beneficial fluke. Which is what the Rolling Stone prospect could have kind of almost been, perhaps. One never knows.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 6, 2004 05:51 PM

You could just borrow a camcorder and film a cat dancing with a plastic bag for three minutes and have the band in the background. what would that cost? like 99 cents for a tape? and you have real artistic innovation to boot. i'd play it.
There's a show called JBTV in Chicago that plays a lot of "underground" type videos. I'll bet they've played MTX at some point over the years.

Posted by: Mike at February 6, 2004 08:56 PM

It's been a few years, but I was totally unaware that MTX had any videos until I saw "Ba ba ba ba ba" late one night on MuchMusic in a hotel room in Toronto. I don't have that channel back home here in Cincinnati, I hope they haven't wimped out like MTV2 did (it was strong at first). Anyway, is there any chance MTX will come to Dayton or Cincinnati this time around? (Cleveland is definately cooler but too far)

Posted by: Channon at February 7, 2004 01:29 AM
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