Pop Philosophy

Gina Arnold; End of National Novel Writing Month

Poison penGina Arnold gives rock critics a bad name. She's the macaroni and cheese of pasta, the Dr. Kevorkian of physicians, the angel dust of illicit drugs. Or, perhaps more aptly, she's like a rock group that started out excited about its sound, got a little bit of fame, and then joylessly rode that fame for years, through reunion tours and messy divorce settlements and weak records.

Until Nov. 26, when she published an article in the New York Times titled "Rock Was Never Meant to Be in the High-Rent District," Arnold has been happy to spout off on a local level. She scripts a weekly column for the East Bay Express that, while it is supposed to be about local music, often delves into Arnold's Palo Alto upbringing and her brushes with indie rock stars from the '80s. Occasionally, she takes time out to ponder modern art, politics, or skateboard company policies, with all the journalistic insight of a beagle.

Unfortunately, her interest in music seemed to die around the time Kurt Cobain placed chrome to lip. Last year, at a reading from her latest book, Arnold admitted that she would rather be writing about anything other than music.

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But a reputation is a reputation. So, with the Times article, Arnold looks to carve out a new niche, possibly as the reactionary voice of the Bay Area cultural press.

Arnold's writing usually contains three main items: fuzzy data, oversimplification, and half-assed reasoning. This piece has all three, plastered together in a haphazard pattern. She claims that San Francisco "hasn't been a great place for rock bands to live and work since 1968," and that the only good groups to come out of the area since 1984 were from the suburbs. (I'm sure the fine residents of Stockton, San Jose, and Santa Cruz would be interested to hear that they live in the San Francisco suburbs; certainly, most people would be surprised to hear that one-hit-wonder Smash Mouth is a quality act.) As is her wont, Arnold ignores all the great, nationally unsuccessful artists who've lived here, perhaps figuring that any band that hasn't made it into Teen People just isn't important.

The slander doesn't end there. Arnold says that bands aren't much different from dot-coms, since both just want to get paid. Art, she insists, is merely a byproduct of capitalism. Events like the Take Back San Francisco rally are just ways for bands to blackmail the city for handouts.

Worst of all is her final summation that bands should just get over themselves. It's "the dot-comer's time," Arnold writes: Artists be damned until the Internet bottoms out. When that happens, she explains, the bands can move back here from Iowa and use the vacant cubicles as rehearsal spaces.

The deepest irony is that Arnold has, for much of the past year, lived in New York. She hasn't even been witness to most of the recent club closings, arts evictions, and police crackdowns (nor does she mention them). And with articles like this one, it seems unlikely that she'll be welcomed back with open arms.

Book dealLast Thursday night at 9:47 p.m., I completed National Novel Writing Month, having written my 50,000th word on the last day allowed. On Saturday, around 40 club participants met at a house party to compare battle scars, share 200-word excerpts (hung on clotheslines for better reading), and dance off 30 days of computerized confinement. A woman named Kat Audley expressed the collective feeling best when she walked into the crowded kitchen and screamed, "I wrote a fucking novel! Yeahhhh!" The next thing I knew, others were yelling too, and it became this euphoric chorus of pent-up adrenalin.

All the writers wore large name tags listing 42 possible items and situations their novels might contain. I checked off boxes for sex, alcohol, Ecstasy, stepparents, regret, epiphanies, phone calls, monkeys, hipsters, and food courts, while leaving the spaces for karaoke, Mormons, muscle cars, cowboy hats, and a happy ending blank (only three people wrote cheerful finales).

In the end, my story was nothing like I expected it to be. The initial idea -- one man's rise to indie rock glory -- soon gave way to a rumination on how your mid-20s are the best and the worst of times. And how being single is like being unemployed -- i.e., you'd enjoy it a lot more if you knew when it was going to end.

Throughout the night there was a palpable feeling of "What next?" Some authors were just glad to go back to watching The Simpsons on a regular basis, while others were considering turning their works into short stories, larger novels, or canary cage flooring. I haven't decided what to do with mine yet -- maybe, if I were to receive enough e-mails clamoring for it, I would print some excerpts here. You do want to see a monkey have an epiphany, don't you?

 
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