Filed under: Methodology
While in the middle of giant collection cull, I happened upon a mis-filed Kim Fowley compilation and pulled it aside not only to correctly file, but to assess it for the first time since purchasing in 2003. On the way to the turntable, I flipped the jacket over to take a peak at what constitutes the anemic liner notes. What follows is exactly the kind of bullshit “detail” that will never make the notes to a Numero album:
This is real. Committed to print on the back of the Underground Animal LP jacket on Bacchus Archives in 1999. Yeah, it was eleven years ago, but there has to be some base level of standards for the presenting of historical content. The only time I want to see “Puffy” in the middle of a set of liners is when it’s a misspelling of a “Puff The Magic Dragon” cover by some Indonesian psych-garage octet. I mean really, this is embarrassing.
To all the future liner note authors of the world, I have a simple set of rules that we try to live by:
1. The documenter cannot be more important than the documentee. Putting yourself in the middle of a story cheapens the actual story. No one gives a shit about you calling every number in the Albany, New York, phone book to find Joe Smith’s deceased widow. No one needs to know what food you ate at your subject’s house.
2. Buy a Thesaurus. Time and time again I’ll read a set of notes that uses the same two adjectives over and over to describe something. Don’t be afraid of making someone look up a word they don’t know. Ever read Franzen?
3. Stay away from cliches like “What might have been…” and “If only….” Get rid of “if” altogether. Reality is reality, and speculation is for stock brokers.
4. Avoid pointless statements like, “His greatest influence was the Beatles.” There is no one on the planet making music who was not influenced by the Beatles. Ditto Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, or Elvis.
5. Read everything. Great writers, hell—adequate writers, like lyricists, are readers. Newspapers and magazine don’t count.
6. Let someone who doesn’t know shit about your subject read your work and decide if they understand the story. A good set of notes will give the reader a clear picture, not confuse or leave them looking up half of the names mentioned.
7. With the above said, don’t assume that because you know every meaningless detail about your subject that everyone else wants to. Unless you’re writing the biography of an important personality, the world can likely live without eye color and junior high school mascots.
8. When in doubt, refer back to Kurt Vonnegut’s Creative Writing 101 (where applicable):
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a sadist. No matter sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
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