Music » It's Who You Know

It's Who You Know

Steve Albini

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For a person whose prevailing psychological condition teeters with equal consistency between states of paranoia and anxiety, there are very few irrational fears in my life that stick out as being particularly head-and-shoulders above the teeming masses. There are two, to be absolutely precise: one is raccoons, the other is Steve Albini.

The reasons for this latter uneasiness are as silly and ill-defined as the "irrational fear" characterization implies, but it's not entirely without base—producer/musician Albini has a well-documented history of being one of independent music's most outspoken (ahem) characters. Depending on your opinion of the man and his music, Albini's frank disposition translates to either that of a forthright social critic or an insufferable asshole—but in either case, it's safe to say that most people would do best to avoid the business end of Albini's rather spiteful judgment. Personally, I'm fascinated by a great deal of Albini's output—the music he's written and recorded as much as the bitter, phallus-fixated tirades published under his byline—and in spite of some misgivings, I generally admire the man and his work. So why would the very notion of a rather diminutive, bespectacled man in his 40s frighten me so? I think a better question is, why doesn't he frighten you?

When word hit some months ago that Shellac was touring again, my Albini reflex was suddenly sent gagging. I mean... I can't write about this guy: First of all, he was known in his angrier days for simply destroying music critics with his seemingly limitless vitriol for anything he deemed pandering to commercialism—a task I comfortably perform in these pages on a fairly regular basis. Plus, his years as a journalism student (!) at Northwestern left him something of a stickler for grammatical irregularities, of which I am regularly prone. Put simply—I am a complete fraud, and one false move under the watchful eye of Albini would be more than enough to expose me as the weak-willed, no-talent industry shill that I have undeniably become.

My solution was a stroke of genius: I'd just invite Albini to author one of our semi-regular celebrity editorials—skirting the impossible task at hand, while no doubt leading this week's section off with some brilliantly caustic tirade about M.I.A. or whoever. Unfortunately, Mr. Albini—no doubt seeing through my thinly veiled charade—never responded to my request.

And so, in the bottom of the 11th hour, I finally faced my looming demons... in the form of the journalistic handjob of a story that precedes this column by a couple of pages. And you know what? I feel pretty good about myself. Now if only I can deal with this fucking raccoon problem...

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