A Fond Farewell, and What Comes Next

After a little soul-searching about what to do after the end of PLAYBACK:stl, I went back to Laura and Jim’s example: follow your passions, and if something you want doesn’t exist, make it yourself.

It was 13 years ago that I got one of the luckiest breaks of my life. I had developed a friendship with Brian McClelland, a local singer-songwriter-guitarist-bassist (then of the Maxtone Four, more recently of Middle Class Fashion and Tight Pants Syndrome, and currently leading Whoa Thunder), first because he had made it his life’s mission to bring Canadian power-pop band Sloan to St. Louis, and second because he is one of the nicest guys in the universe. In September of 2004, he finally succeeded in bringing Sloan to town and was nice enough to let me be his “guitar tech” for the chance to hang around and meet the band (which I did, and it was amazing). After repaying my debt to Brian by helping him haul gear to his car, he gave me a ride back to mine. Brian interrupted an awkward silence with a heavy sigh and the observation “Man, I don’t know when I’m going to have time to review this.” Brian, you see, was the live music editor of a free monthly music mag called PLAYBACK:stl and even though he opened the show, he had foolishly agreed to review the headliner. There was another beat of awkward silence, but it was my turn to break it.

“Um,” I said nervously, “I can do it.”

I had been writing little CD reviews for my friends on messageboards, email lists, and LiveJournal posts for years, and had even written a handful of concert reviews for my college paper…surely I could write 500 words on my favorite band, right? Well, I did, Brian liked it so it ended up in the print version of the magazine, and after seeing my name in print I turned into a junkie I started asking for more, more, more. Soon I was writing fistfuls of CD and concert reviews every month and formed a friendship with the amazing pair that made the whole PLAYBACK:stl thing possible, Managing Editor Laura Hamlett and Art Director Jim Dunn. After a year of contributing music reviews, I was having a long (and, I’m sure to most people, uninteresting) conversation about comic books on the PLAYBACK:stl email list with fellow PLAYBACKer Bryan A. Hollerbach when Bryan commented that the magazine should have a comics section. “We should,” said Laura. “Jason, you’re in charge of it.”

Holy crap.

Thirteen years after that first review, I’ve since written hundreds of articles for the site. I’ve been privileged enough to write about music, movies, and comics that I love, and that I hated. (Oh, the ones I hated…my review of Sax Daddy is probably the best thing I ever wrote.) I interviewed some of my heroes, from Bob Mould (twicetwice!) to Marjane Satrapi to Henry Rollins (they gave me his direct office line…he answered the phone “This is Henry” and I almost died) to Erik Larsen to Flogging Molly’s Dave King to The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman (who not only let me interview him in person but also helped me scam a free dinner of Indian food off the owners of Star Clipper). I helped plan and run four editions of the annual PLAY:stl music festival. Along the way, Laura Hamlett taught me how to be a better writer, and her example helped me mentor dozens of writers into fantastic comic critics that I couldn’t be more proud of. Jim Dunn taught me the ins and outs of working for the web, how to properly format things to make sure everything looked perfect and professional, and also how to dig into the back end of the site to find out what was actually getting hits and ponder why (the latter probably much to his chagrin).

But the biggest lesson I learned from Laura and Jim was to follow my passions. PLAYBACK:stl was such an amazing venue because they would let you write about anything you were passionate about, whether it was tacking coverage of comic books (comic books!) into a publication about music and movies, or later crazy ideas I had, like serializing a 25-chapter book on the discography of Bob Mould. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect venue for the pop culture critic.

When it was announced that it was time for PLAYBACK:stl to say goodbye, it hit me hard. My work for the site defined the way I presented myself to the world so much that many people thought it was my full-time job. (I wish!) The knowledge that I could write about anything and everything and have an audience for it always hovered in the back of my mind. What would I do with that forum taken away? After a little soul-searching about what to do after the end of PLAYBACK:stl, I went back to Laura and Jim’s example: follow your passions, and if something you want doesn’t exist, make it yourself.

It’s with that sentiment that I announce the creation of The Arts STL, which you can find at www.theartsstl.com. Going back to the spirit of the original PLAYBACK:stl print magazine, this new website will be covering the arts (music, film, live theatre, prose, and, yes, comic books) with a special emphasis on things going on right here in our fair city. I’m delighted to be joined by a number of longtime PLAYBACK contributors, including Film Editor Sarah Boslaugh and her squad of film critics, who will continue to update you on the week’s new releases with some of the sharpest written film criticism around.

The website is live now, so please join us at www.theartsstl.com. As we build over time, I can only hope you find that we do the legacy of PLAYBACK:stl proud. | Jason Green

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