Matt O'Neill

Is Collapse Board worth saving?

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By Matt O’Neill

As many will no doubt be aware, Everett True recently threatened (or promised, depending on your allegiance) to shut down Collapse Board if Maria And The Gay did not sell 25 copies of their debut album Greatest Hits Volume One by Sunday 13 November 2011.

In the interests of full disclosure, I didn’t buy the album. I didn’t even check it out. Why? Many reasons, I suppose. I’m sure on one level it was simply laziness. When it comes to checking out new art of any description, I am notorious for not really giving a fuck – both because I have more than enough music, movies, books and art to sift through already and because the definition of art of personal significance to Matt O’Neill has always proven surprisingly narrow. I enjoy a wide variety of music, movies, books and so on – but there are very few pieces of art I couldn’t live without.

Going with that theme, I also don’t place much stock in Everett True’s opinions on individual artists. I do actually trust his judgement – I’m quite sure Maria And The Gay’s album is an exceptional piece of work – but I don’t trust his priorities to align with my priorities. If we placed our music collections alongside one another, for example, I’m sure we’d find considerable overlap. At the very least, we would appreciate the other person’s likes or dislikes. I doubt, however, that there would be much overlap in regards to stylistic content among our favourite artists. As such, I don’t tend to seek out his recommendations (unless the description sounds particularly compelling to me).

Getting more philosophical, I objected to the somewhat limited definition of influence and quality. Everett basically claimed there was no point to this business if he couldn’t influence 25 people to purchase an album. I think, in today’s world, that’s an incredibly reductive look at the concepts of importance, influence and quality in regards to music and music criticism. I, for instance, did not buy the album. I do know, however, that when I am next in desperate need for some new sounds, Maria And The Gay will be on the list of acts to research – and I know there would be hundreds of similarly curious parties who will do similarly further down the line.

Mainly, though – I just don’t like being extorted. This is not a condemnation of Everett’s actions. It’s simply the way that I am and have always been. If someone attempts to exert undue control or influence over me, I will do most anything within my power to ensure they are unsuccessful – often to my detriment. I’ve long debated with myself and others over whether this is an admirable trait or stubborn, selfish idiocy but I’ve never reached a conclusion. Simple reality is – if Everett had offered me a million dollars to listen to that album, I would probably still have walked the other way. I’m just a control freak like that.

I did, however, find myself questioning just what Everett was holding over me (and others, of course). I like writing for Collapse Board but I have never needed it. I’ve worked as a writer for four years and my portfolio is packed to bursting point. My pieces for Collapse Board generally attract scant traffic and I know that many of my friends and followers actually think some of them are the worst I’ve ever written. My recent review of Ball Park Music’s debut album confused and frustrated most everyone I know. As a mere reader, I love some writers, despise others and am indifferent to most. So – why save it?

I know many of my friends (and no doubt some of my employers) would actually be glad to see it go. In the eyes of many of my associates, it’s an angry, confusing, unpredictable little pustule of a site – filled to bursting point with overly impassioned opinion, negative thinking, wilful contrarianism and cleverer-than-thou metacommentary. Even those who wouldn’t wish to see its end would probably be indifferent to its continued existence. So – why save it? Is it even worth saving? After a great deal of thought, I say yes. I’m sure it will continue to frustrate and annoy as much as it does titillate me but, regardless, I think it’s an important little blister.

Why? Well, it’s basically a question of realism. Realism and honesty. I’m not being romantic in my use of those two terms, either. When Collapse Board first started, I wrote a piece about the issues plaguing contemporary music criticism as an artform. At the time, I concluded the main problem was ultimately one of dishonesty. Too many critics and collectives continue to feel an obligation to incorrectly present themselves as authorities and institutions and, as a result, music criticism has become an inherently untrustworthy form of communication. Why believe anyone claiming to be objective and informed about what is ultimately a subjective and informal phenomenon?

Collapse Board does away with that problem. Oh, the writers still position themselves as authorities and experts – but I feel each and every one of us would concede we’re merely experts on the world as it applies to us on a personal level. That may seem like a nebulous or even a frivolous distinction to make but it’s actually one that is borne out by Collapse Board itself. As an institution, Collapse Board has never made a serious effort at positioning itself as an authority on anything. You don’t believe me? We published 14  different manifestos. In this very article you’re reading, I have submitted a piece of writing to a website that, by my own admission, I was more than willing to let drown.

You see, music is a messy, disgusting, frustrating, fucking stupid, illogical art-form. It doesn’t make a lick of goddamn sense. Now, it’s in our nature as humans for us to try and make it make sense – we simply cannot function in an irrational world – but we never will. With that in mind, the idea of writing about music being anything other than a complete cacophony of opinion, insight, idiocy and impressionism is patently absurd. Anyone who loves music knows that a life lived in the art-form does not involve scholarly contemplation and analysis. It involves desperately strangling the impulse to violently stab someone who disagrees with you – while they desperately attempt the same.

Collapse Board is that reality given life in an institutional form. Granted, it’s rarely pleasant. I cannot count the number of writers I have wanted to take to task after reading some of the articles on this site – from a measured, intellectual objection to the age-old infantile response of You’re just fucking wrong”. I am quite sure that I’ve inspired similar reactions in my peers. In fact, I would hope so. Now, some would probably still question why one would want to save Collapse Board? Why does a site being an illogical, contradictory mess of noisome opinions and ideas warrant its preservation? Well, there are two reasons.

Firstly, frustrated tolerance will always be the cost of liberty – and liberty will always warrant preservation. To put it more practically, I may despise sitting through endless reams and diatribes about Tyler The Creator but, if Collapse Board didn’t bestow that freedom to express whatever opinion in whatever way the writer sees fit, I would never have read Lucy Cage’s breathtaking review of William D Drake’s The Rising Of The Light or Erika Meyer’s bizarrely brilliant The Grunge Explosion. In Whales. Stomaching frustration is a minor complaint when it purchases insight into genius. Personally, I would tolerate a lot more in order to read a lot worse.

Secondly, we simply learn more from the process. At the end of the day, Collapse Board is a confederacy of many, many different dunces – and, with each dunce’s latest attempt to understand his or her own personal relationship to music, we are all of us enriched by a greater insight into music’s broader application throughout society. It’s the 10-thousand-monkeys-at-typewriters approach to music criticism. We don’t know what we’re doing and, for however long this endeavour lasts, we’ll be handing you pages and pages of complete nonsense – but together, eventually, we’ll create something wonderful. If not Shakespeare, then, at least Chaucer.

In short – Collapse Board: We Make the Mistakes So You Don’t Have To.

Related posts: a Saturday afternoon conversation about Collapse Board

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