(originally appeared in Jeremy Gloff’s WordPress Blog – June 25th, 2010)
Throughout the twelve years I’ve lived in Tampa I’ve written a series of essays and blogs reflecting my current thoughts on our city’s creative scene. These blogs varied from being hopeful, disillusioned, championing, questioning, and motivating. For better or worse I’ve always accepted Tampa’s scene for what it is: a small scene that at times can be wonderfully grass roots and charming, and at other times can be downright dreadful, cliquey, and narrowminded. Just like every other small to medium sized city out there.
My motivation behind writing those prior pieces was generally to light a fire under people’s asses. They were a call to arms and a call to assistance. Little did I ever expect when I arrived in Tampa from Buffalo twelve years ago that I’d fall so deeply in love with this dirty yet gorgeously quirky place. Over the years the hidden strangeness seeped into my blood. Now, as I wait tables at work and even consider leaving the area I have to run into the stairwell to secretly break into tears so people aren’t witness to my vulnerability. This has become home. This city is probably the only place I have ever truly been happy in my life. The thought of ever leaving here…my cheap apartment…my wonderful job….my wonderful fucking friends…is heartbreaking and leaves me literally gasping for breath in a bathroom stall so no one can see me.
All this said, over the last three years I’ve become increasingly depressed regarding our local scene. Where I once believed and championed I then began to become cynical and hopeless. In the process of this transition I began to lose ambition and the drive to further my “success”. I have released a total seven albums since moving to Tampa. Perhaps my early work here was a bit unrefined and shaky but I am confident that my commitment to improving myself has been reflected in my recordings. It is a musician’s hope that their fan base grows with them. Sadly, as I take stock of my output in Tampa, I am skeptical of believing that I’ve truly acquired a fanbase. In truth, I wonder if any bands in Tampa really aquire a huge fan base outside of their friends and friends of friends.
I think back to when I lived in Buffalo. As much as I was unhappy in Buffalo and get chills at the prospect of ever trading back my Cuban Sandwiches for Buffalo wings…I can safely say that Buffalo kicks ass at supporting their own. While the scene there, like ours, is small there is a comradeship and interest in supporting live music. Buffalo is as proud of their Ani DiFranco, love her or hate her (I hate her) as they are of their Bills and their Beef On Weck. Sour grapes aside, outside of niche crowds it does not seem the general public of Tampa really celebrates anything creative about the area.
Naturally, there’s the apathetic stance of “just accepting how things are” and carrying on. There’s also the option of being the starry eyed optimist who eternally hopes “things will change and get better”. And then what if they never do, and then you are fifty five and you look back and say “ah, oh well.” Now won’t that be a bitch? I’ve taken both of the above stances during my time in Tampa.
It’s dangerous to be lackadaisical about acknowledging your instincts. If you feel misgivings about a scene…the only way to improve anything is to express these misgivings. I’ve done this many times in the past. I truly feel with regret that overall, my interest and enthusiasm in improving the quality of the Tampa creative scene was sadly not shared. Without a doubt there’s many many many great people who contribute their patch to the Tampa cloth. In my years of living here I’ve known many great promoters, DJs, writers, musicians, artists, and I consider many of these people friends.
Dangerously when a scene is small enough that everyone is friends it makes it sticky to speak out if you don’t feel people are doing a good job. It’s very thin ice to separate a person from their passion. And so another vicious cycle reveals itself. A scene can never improve if people aren’t able to express what they find lacking in it. Or, what I fear is truly the case, the general public is too lazy or indifferent to have an opinion about it.
A lot of people have left Tampa in the past few years. At first I was one of the most vocal people to discredit this decision. I felt very strongly about the need to cultivate and love our own local scene. And as I kept believing one by one a lot of Tampa heavy hitters left the area. While at first I found it trendy, weak, and bandwagonesque to flock to these so-called golden creative meccas (NY, San Fran, Chicago etc) over the last few months I’ve come to a better understanding of this decision.
Using my own career as an example I’d like to highlight the struggle of being a creative person in Tampa. Certainly every city has its difficulties. And certainly I am aware that the press has been very kind and consistent about covering my events. I know I am one of the more successful local personalities. However, it’s heartbreaking to realize that where my career stands right now at this very moment, it is absolutely impossible for me to be any more successful in the area than I am right now. This is a fucking heartbreaking and bitter pill to swallow. So one is faced with the following options. Leave. Keep this as a homebase and fuck the local scene. Or be content with the level of success one is currently at.
In only my personal case, these are the reasons I feel it would be impossible for me to be more successful in Tampa:
1) Radio stations do not champion their local acts. WMNF (and particularly Flee) always played a track off one of my albums the week of release. But regardless of the quality of my work, one of my tracks was, isn’t, and never will be put into regular rotation. Without the motivation of the possibility that one can have a hit on their local independent station, the whole music community takes an apathetic stance towards their stations. When I first came to Tampa I used to put fifty of my CDs in all of the WMNF DJs mailboxes. One track got played one time from that album. Later I was more selective over whose mailboxes got my CDs. During that promotion I was played zero times. On my most recent albums I’ve reduced my WMNF promoting to only Flee, who was kind enough to give me two on-air interviews.
Following the release of my albums, however, my tracks were never put into heavy or permanent rotation. I do not take this personally because to my knowledge, no local acts are put into heavy or permanent rotation. With no radio success to aspire to or hope for, what does the local musician have to hope for? Perhaps unfairly I write off the entire rest of the area’s radio stations to be corporate and untouchable.
2) It’s nearly impossible to get a following outside of your friends, and even that’s a hard one. I remember sitting at Starbucks with some of my best friends a few weeks ago. I told them about some of the venues I had upcoming shows at. These friends immediately told me they wouldn’t be coming to the show because they didn’t like the venue. A few weeks later, playing a different venue, a different sect of my friends said they would never step foot in that other venue. And here lies the problem. I’ve found that your friends won’t follow you where you play…you have to book where your friends will go. And that sucks. Vicious cycle number one thousand. If you don’t book the venues your friends prefer you end up with an empty room. Once you have an empty room you get a reputation for being unable to draw a crowd. Being that the general public would prefer to get their photo taken in the Czar bathroom (and I do love everyone at Czar, no disrespect) rather than embrace local music (how passe), a Tampa musician is basically reliant on the attendance of their friends. After twelve years of working in the area I have no accumulated a following outside of my friends and acquaintances. To be fair, maybe it’s just because my music sucks and that’s why I have no following. But being more objective, I am hard pressed to think of any local act whose draw (outside of huge release parties and events) is larger than their friends. Being a hopeful musician this is discouraging as a motherfucker.
3) The club DJs do not play local music. When I did my dance album it was such an exciting thing to know my songs were being played and danced to a clubs in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Atlanta. Bless their hearts, I am friends with a lot of the local DJs. Sadly enough, even my friendship wasn’t enough to get my shit played here in Tampa. I do not take this personally. No one local is played. Even more discouraging is knowing that no matter how good the material would be, I truly believe it would be impossible for a local artist to get one of their songs in regular dance rotation. Which makes for a fucking dreadful truth. Local scenes are cultivated from the ground up. The musicians make the songs. Then the press writes about those songs. Then the radio plays those songs. Then the DJs play those songs. Tampa has musicians, and DJs, and radio, and press. Not only in the case of my career, but I speak on behalf of anyone trying to create in the area…for the love of God why didn’t we all support eachother? When the DJs refuse to stand behind and take a chance on something local…they are essentially putting the pause button on the cultivation and growth of the city’s cultural spirit. I am smart enough to know it’s a money game. As witnessed by my own eyes, it seems the Tampa public is perfectly content dancing to Miley Cyrus and that “Shots” song. The DJs aren’t going to challenge these crowds. So then what?
4) The press in Tampa is hit or miss. After years of experience certain reporters and publications have revealed themselves to be more supportive than others. By far the best local journalist is Jay Cridlin. Cridlin’s coverage defies borders, cliques, and boundaries. Cridlin seems to view the area with the appropriate wide eyed lense. On the other hand, a personal email and package to other papers were both ignored and unanswered. TBT, Friday Extra, and St Pete times all ran stories with large photos of me. I am appreciative as HELL about this. I take nothing for granted. Inconsistent is the fact that Creative Loafing didn’t even run a one sentence blurb about my show. And that sucks. I am a hard working contributer to the patchwork quilt of our area. I air these gripes because I have heard them expressed by other people. Depending on “scene politics” and “who is friends and enemies with who”, certain publications pick and choose who they support rather than providing an unbiased and broad coverage of this sometimes pretty exciting scene. I am also sad to report that despite writing my Dear Gloffy column for REAX for free for three years to this day I still have yet to have any of my actual music written about or reviewed in the paper or website. Laid out flat, a scene is somewhat dependent on the press coverage it gets. I’ve known certain visual artists and musicians who were snubbed repeatedly, despite their talent and consistent participation in the local scene. Eventually these creative people lost faith in the press, lost interest, and gave up. If you know that the press isn’t going to give you fair coverage, really one is only left with the option of going to a place where they will be covered fairly. One again citing my experience growing up in Buffalo…ArtVoice was very comprehensive and boundary-less when it came to their coverage of the local scene. All gripes aside, there ARE some people in Tampa who are great at their coverage. A half dozen or so people come to mind. I am appreciative of all you’ve done for me.
Since living in Tampa I have seen very very very few musicians ever grace the cover of local publications. A couple years ago I remember one local musician getting a cover. This same musician later stated they would have preferred to be on the cover of an Atlanta magazine. Fuck, I’d have been happy if a Tampa magazine ran a fucking one line blurb about my release party at the RITZ.
Wouldn’t musicians and artists work harder in the area if they knew there was at least the OPTION or POSSIBLITY that they could get a cover story? Since basically it is assumed and accepted that the press will never give us cover stories, we don’t even try. We no longer care. And people just keep moving away because of this.
I no longer have the energy of the interest to “try to make things better around here.” Sadly enough, I just don’t care anymore. I’ve given it my all and the results were some great music, some cool friends, and some fucking great great times. I know I’ll never get asked to play Tropical Heatwave or get invited to rep Tampa at SXSW because I don’t have a beard. Perhaps it was to my disadvantage that I flamboyantly hosted a lot of fun events — perhaps I lost people’s ability to view me as the serious musician that I am.
This year I’ve written to about a dozen local promoters, photographers, videographers, other local musicians about collaborating. No responses. Maybe I smell bad. Maybe everyone thinks my music sucks. I don’t think so though. I just think people are lazy and unresponsive. I take some responsibility. I know from album to album I change genre so maybe promoters have a hard time knowing where to put me. I would have loved to opened for a band like The Black Kids…a huge show that a lot of kids will come out for. It would have been great exposure to a local audience that would never see me otherwise. My newer dance/high energy indie music would have been a great fit.
So what prompted this whole stream-of-conscience rant. The fact that Flee got fired from WMNF. In a local scene that often felt hopeless, Flee was one face throughout my career who was consistent and genuine. Not only at my event, but at many many events. If there is one fucking person who truly had a passion for the local music scene is Flee. His enthusiasm and drive to work against the plaguing apathy is so fucking respectable and necessary. For WMNF to fire Flee is not only a slap in the face to Flee after all he has done for them, but it’s a slap in the face to the whole fucking music scene. While the rest of WMNF was who the fuck knows where, Flee was out in the field soaking in the local music, playing the local music, loving the local music, staying up past his bedtime to make the local musicians feel like they fucking mattered, and providing a smiling public face to associate with WMNF.
I am not allowing comments on this piece. I don’t even care to debate anymore. To all parties reading this, don’t take it personally. Every single person in Tampa I know, I love you, and I have made peace that the way things are done here, they are going to stay being done that way. I have no interest in discussing how things can get better. I am looking at options when my lease runs out in April.
My twelve years in Tampa have been the best of my life. Should I leave here in April I will most certainly come back. Maybe years later. Maybe two weeks later with my tail between my legs. But as it stands, I wish to search for a city that steadily and consistently plays their locals acts on the radio. A city where the club DJS take pride and interest in the music that is being made in their own back yard. And a press that will sometimes give their cover to local people who are working shitty jobs to create art that is homespun and homemade.
St Pete even recently seemed to have an upsurge in creativity that quickly dwindled into in-fighting and gossip from what I hear. What a fucking shame, but not surprising. If only the big picture prevailed.
In conclusion my friends in Tampa are truly the best people I know in the world. I cry (for real) every time I think about being apart from them. But even more unsettling is knowing that staying here is accepting that there’s only a certain amount of support someone creating locally will get. To all those still fighting the battle, I salute you and I hope you keep it up. Tampa has the potential to be wonderful.