This will be a blog, if it is a blog, about the arts, or more exactly my response to them. Whether I wander off into speculations about other matters, we shall see. I'm a baby blogger. And if the word "blog" means what Sarah Boxer suggested in her nice piece in a recent New York Review...
...of Books, then maybe this isn't a blog at all, formally speaking. It won't use blogospecific contractions, it won't hurl wild insults, it won't hide behind anonymity. Sarah says old journalists who turn to blogs usually betray their essence by insisting on a narrative arc, on proper grammar, even correct spelling. Maybe I'll loosen up, but right now I'm just an old journalist.
But with, I hope, something to say. I don't have a fulminating agenda, although all my professional life I have been praised and damned (even when I was a rock critic) for championing esoterica and talking over the heads of my readers. I have been so accused as a writer, an editor and a festival director. Now I propose to write the way I want to write, and let the readers be excited or confused or bored or annoyed or inspired as they will.
I resisted blogging for a long time; it seemed creepily self-referential, not to say onanistic. I decided to plunge in after being doubly opportuned by Doug McLennan, whom I like and respect, and by WNYC in New York, who thought a blog would complement a weekly arts-commentary radio show of mine that came to an end in May 2008. It was WNYC who came up with the title Rockwell Matters, which I liked well enough to steal for this blog.
What I propose to do here is say what I think. I like the idea of sweeping the reader/listener along on a wild ride joy-sticked by my own imagination, leaping from subject to subject, tossing in references that some folk might be inspired to explore. Of course, if they don't give a damn, then I've lost them: the trick to progressive leadership is not to wander too far out in front of your troops; otherwise, they cut and run, if they don't take you out first. But maybe here I'll quit worrying whether anyone is following.
I also want to put myself out there without the cover and the pulpit afforded by a big institution (the New York Times, Lincoln Center). I also want to express myself on whatever interests me, without being boxed in by a job (music critic, dance critic) or by the need to appeal to a particular audience. That may limit my readership to those who care enough about my opinions to log onto this site, and God knows how many of them are out there. But it will please me.
A nagging problem with mainstream print journalism is the continual need to coddle the reader - or coddle editors who blithely assume that their own limitations and prejudices speak for the reader. To be asked to tell the story of an opera every time you review a new performance, or to explain supposedly obscure references to readers who wouldn't be reading you if they didn't already know and care about the subject, grew real tiresome in the latter years of my journalistic life. What I like about the idea of a blog is that I can do my thing and others can jump on for the ride or not.
And if they don't? What is success for a blog, anyhow? Is it pugnaciously outrageous opinions or insults that provoke an equally intemperate response? Is it the number of hits, or comments? I hope this blog interests enough people to count as some kind of tangible success. But if it doesn't, tant pis (a phrase edited out of my latest book introduction as too obscure).
After a lifetime of the inevitable compromises inherent in a (series of) viable careers(s), this time I'm going to do and say what I want. So will this blog be outrageous after all? Probably not. A professional lifetime forms a persona that's hard to deny. I think of myself as common sensical. And I don't like to gratuitously hurt peoples' feelings. But as someone who has spent a life being swept up in the thrill of artistic performance (and my joy in the arts is more about performance than about the static visual arts), I want to share my enthusiasms, define my tastes and, I hope, galvanize readers (and listeners) to enjoy what I enjoy - and avoid what I've inadvertently stumbled into.
So we shall see how it goes, how it evolves, how people respond to it. Feel free to register your comments; I'll respond if I can. Blogging can be a dialogue, complete with links that ripple out into the ever-wider world of the Internet. Me, I like the idea of a monologue, unfettered by anyone's constraints. If this blog is still chugging along in six months, it may be something entirely different from what I envisage now. And that will be fine, too. Consistency, hobgoblins, and like that!
For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.