Respect Your Elders
If it's true that the president of the Sierra Club doesn't know why people want to save trees ("Looking a Little Green," June 19), we can hardly wonder why. It's perfectly obvious that he (like so many others) has become lost in a labyrinth. Maybe he's like that fella in the Hermann Hesse story The Journey to the East, nicely traveling along with his buddies on their sacred quest, only to become disenchanted and lost when his source of inspiration goes away and leaves him with nothing to go on but his own mere cleverness. Alas, the fella thinks the group fell apart, only to learn in the end that it was he who had fallen apart, not the group.

John W. Wall

The Name Game
"Sarah Vowell" is obviously Gina Arnold -- or, at least, someone lamely attempting to channel her literary persona. No, I've got it: Perhaps Johnny Angel is hiding behind a pseudonym and attempting to Roto-Rooter his blocked Lester Bangs-obsessed muse by parodying Gina.

"Suspicious Minds" (June 19) consisted of a weak (or nonexistent) premise spread thin over very white bread, with a tenuous and unsatisfying conclusion for dessert. Only Arnold could consume 10 paragraphs attempting to "contextualize" the significance of the word "wanna" in rock 'n' roll. I'm not sure what her angle was, but the result -- dizzyingly incoherent, phoned-in fluff -- was characteristically Gina.

How could it be anyone but Arnold? There're those little stylistic giveaways -- beginning sentences with "The way I see it," the clueless condescension (calling Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker -- former leader of Heavens to Betsy and role model to thousands, championed by Robert Christgau, Evelyn McDonnell, and Arnold mentor Greil Marcus -- a "nobody from Olympia"), the cringe-worthy metaphorical platitudes ("Punk was one big stomach growling, an intense craving for something better"), the crowbarred quotes from whatever rock book she's skimming this week -- these are all the warning signs that the reader has entered Gina Arnold's Zone of Bad Rock Writing. As Gina would say, "Let's face it": The Peter Principle applies to music journalism, too.

(Is it just a coincidence that irrelevant, grasping garbage such as this shows up in your pages mere weeks after best-friend-of-Gina Bill Wyman takes over SF Weekly's arts pages?)

Gina's unremittingly lame and willful ignorance of Bay Area music is already well-documented. You can do better; please try ... especially in light of the recent, glaring absences of Sia Michel and Johnny Huston.

Hey, Gina can't write very well, but at least she has no coherent ideas to relate ... just that very fuzzy, whiny, first-person-singular Arnold agenda we've come to know and despise. Please allow her to languish in Berkeley, where the East Bay Express still sees fit to give this syntax-challenged nitwit a weekly forum.

And if it wasn't/isn't Gina -- don't bother. Arnold's prose renders parody redundant. Put her on the payroll and be done with it ... or at least have the guts to print the stuff under her own name.

Paul Ashby
Potrero Hill

Culture Clash
This is to address Sarah Vowell's "Suspicious Minds" piece (June 12) on Gillian Welch's debut album, Revival. What Vowell describes as "the country equivalent of, say, a New Jersey punk band railing against Margaret Thatcher in fake cockney accents" is not only a fantastic album, but one hailed by the old-time and bluegrass communities themselves -- her songs have been recorded and performed by such bluegrass legends as Tim O'Brien, Emmylou Harris, and the Nashville Bluegrass Band. Their standards apparently aren't high enough for Vowell, whose only points of reference for music in the '90s are Moby and Kurt Cobain. It seems a shame to me that the piece portrays Welch as a poseur instead of a stereotype-defying role model. In her article, Vowell offers no alternative for what music a young, white, educated person should be playing, or what their motivation might be for this feigning of authenticity. She accuses Welch of being a "solemn culture vulture," her songs as being "subject matter trespasses," and Welch of having "a humorless reverence in her tone that no real yokel (or fan of yokels) would ever stand for." Vowell's use of the word yokel really sums up her knowledge or respect of this music. The stereotype of the toothless, illiterate hillbilly musician is one that bluegrass performers and fans have been fighting since The Beverly Hillbillies and Deliverance. If we are to follow her rule of cultural "authenticity," then who should play jazz, rock, blues, or salsa? The ideas and emotions expressed in music are universal -- isn't that the whole point?

Vowell, unfortunately, doesn't qualify many of her statements with facts; for example, "[D]ecades ago the great hymnal authors knew their theology" is little better than a wild guess at historical reference -- there were no "great hymnal authors." The stylistic predecessors of what Welch is doing are much more recent, and the Doubting Thomas comparison is a stretch to put it mildly. She seems more concerned with the fact that Gillian Welch went to the same school as Branford Marsalis than with allowing the quality of the music to speak for itself. Perhaps she would have been happier if Welch had never gone to school at all. No doubt then she would be hailing her as "a national treasure," a "stunning debut" with "elegant simplicity," or some other cliche to which she subscribes.

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