Deconstructing Trachtenburg

"John Richards is the devil, John Richards is killing this town."
Is this "social commentary?" Or perhaps it's creepy paranoia, bordering on delusional? Or… just a clever publicity stunt by a bitter, frustrated man on his way out of town?

part1: How I became an Imaginary Girl

Sometimes real life is more astounding than fiction. Imagine this: the Three Imaginary Girls have been creating this site — a Seattle music and events community — to provide our silly little insights into the artistic happenings in our town. Then, just as we're preparing to launch the site, I literally become imaginary, thanks to a brash and disgruntled musician, a snippy reporter, and the astonishing power of a forwarded email. Confused? Allow me to explain.

A few weeks ago, the Three Imaginary Girls went to see the Trachtenburg Family Slide Show Players at the charming Victrola coffeehouse on Capitol Hill. We eagerly anticipated being delighted by cute tunes and vintage slides.

Imagine our surprise when we were instead unwitting participants in a most baffling side-show, with ringleader Jason Trachtenburg proclaiming the night as an "anti-KEXP rally." He continued on to malign the station (and, to a lesser extent, Christianity) with proclamations such as "John Richards is killing this city, Christianity is killing this world," during and in-between every song in the set.

That is, every one of the four songs we could endure. I can't emphasize enough what a horrifying, vulgar display of ignorance and hatred this was. So we heckled him, and left in haste. The Imaginary Girls don't like to dwell on the negative and insignificant.

I then wrote John Richards. After all, if someone were smearing your name publicly, wouldn't you want to know about it? I blurted out an email that mimicked the top five format John sends out to the Morning Faithful every day and called it, "Top Five Reasons why all KEXP fans should boycott the Trachtenburg Family Slide Show Players."

I told John my intent wasn't to distribute the email. The Trachtenburgs are small — and advertising their bitter crusade to the Morning Faithful mailing list, more than 5000 strong, would be more of an asset to their campaign than a detriment. But somehow, my email was forwarded — and all the way to the Stranger, apparently. So now I literally am an imaginary girl, or as Kathleen Wilson and Jason Trachtenburg referred to me in this week's front page Stranger article, "A woman who was angered by Trachtenburg's Victrola appearance."

Angered? That's a bit harsh. Perplexed is more like it. With all the woes of the world, why target a perfectly lovely public radio station as the source for the world's troubles? And further, why was this man who had little positive (or for that matter, rational) to say then given a public forum to relay his message? I never even forwarded my own email about the event because I didn't want to give him any more of the attention he was so desperately craving. But since Kathleen Wilson has taken it upon herself not only to spew this man's verbal spunk over the greater Seattle area via the Stranger, but also to somehow get a hold of and quote my personal email, I thought a retort was in order.

 

Social Commentary, or just Creepy Paranoia?

Perhaps I'm in a bit of a huff because I was there that night. After listening to an onslaught of insults directed towards something I care about, how can I help being indignant when I read this — and the comments are about me?

"And as far as [that woman's] reaction goes, if anyone feels passionate about something, it's fine by me. Social commentary, political satire, it's all part of our act."

Social commentary?!? Hmmm. Most people wouldn't consider chanting "John Richards is the devil" as social commentary; it's probably closer to slander. And writing that, "KEXP is on the take (PAYOLA)" on a public display is slanderous to the point of libel; I believe payola is a federal offense.

Note to Jason: This is just sanctimonious. Just because KEXP doesn't play your songs or promote your shows does not mean they are on the take. And besides, you're wrong about this as well. As I heckled to you that night, KEXP had promoted the very show where I saw you — numerous times, in fact. It's how I knew about it. So there!

And, as The Stranger accurately pointed out, the wackiness just doesn't stop with Jason. He continued on with:

"And she got really bent out of shape about it and decided she's gonna stick up for the corporation, stick up for Don Yates and the morning faithful and all that stuff, which is fine. If she feels a connection to that morning show, that's great. It's wonderful that people get something out of KEXP."

"It's wonderful that people get something out of KEXP…" Well, hot damn! It IS wonderful! Those of us who have attended any of the countless KEXP-sponsored events, or who have volunteered at the pledge drives, know about how joyously influential KEXP is. It's truly astonishing to see how much wonderment people get from this station, from the music, and from the sense of community KEXP promotes! What a daily gift it is, to be able to listen to this station, and I for one am so grateful to everyone at KEXP who makes this possible.

I know many, many of us feel this way. So yes, a little indignation is warranted when KEXP gets publicly insulted: and for me, it's directed at the Trachtenburgs, and indirectly, at the Stranger, for publishing Jason's rantings. Dare I suggest that his blame — and the publication of it — is misguided and unfair?

And to get technical, another inaccuracy: KEXP isn't a corporation, it's a non-profit organization. Not that I hold the belief that all corporations are evil, mind you — but since this is obviously another dig, it should be pointed out that it's also not accurate.

I've saved my favorite part for last:

"Jason fires back, "Yeah, I saw [the woman taking notes for her e—mail] and should have intervened but I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of expression."

Hold on for a moment while I….. bwah HAH Ha Hah HAH Hah!
*Phew*
{wiping tears of laughter from eyes}

I would have liked to see him try! {insert mischievous grin}

Apparently Jason is allowed to spout any negative opinions he chooses, but I am not allowed to write down what he says verbatim. How could he claim to believe in freedom of speech and expression, but still think he should have "intervened" here? I have no idea. But if attempting to "intervene" would have made him stop performing, I would have happily taken one for the team…

Oh boy. Why am I still waiting for this man to make sense?

Obviously I'm quite disgruntled with the Tractenberg's. I also don't hold the Stranger blameless in this affair. Want to know why?

Publicity Stunt — and who benefits?

The article is well-written and remarkably non-narcissistic, considering the author {mind you, this being said while pot is fully aware of how black kettle is}. But it's not impartial. It's insidious. It doesn't outr
ight attack KEXP or John Richards directly — because if it did, the town would be up in arms. But simply by choosing to print this article, the Stranger gave a huge public voice to a guy with a grudge, and in the process, spewed an unwarranted attack on KEXP. Why do it?

Think about it. Does the Trachtenburg Family Slide Show Players leaving town top the Seattle entertainment news for the week? I don't think so. But subtly bad-mouthing KEXP using Jason Trachtenburg's loony obsession as a thinly veiled guise… now *that's* good reading, right?

Even Victrola — the coffeehouse that unwittingly ended up the site for this great showdown — got unfairly accused of being, "passively aggressive and typical of Seattle to 'ban' a band that has announced it is leaving town."

What about mocking an establishment in the newspaper without ever confronting them to ask what they think? No one from Victrola was contacted for input, despite the establishment being referenced multiple times in the article. So now who's being passive-aggressive one?

When I talked to Jen Strongin, co-owner of Victrola coffee, she was anything but passive. She said, "…if we knew what was coming, we never would have scheduled such an event. Hopefully nothing of the like will ever happen at our place again, and if it does, we will be prepared to shut it down early before it gets out of hand."

She continued on to say that the Trachtenburgs had a show scheduled at Victrola for June, but that they called their manager to cancel that and any other shows in the future. "We know they are moving to NYC but felt that if they did come back through town on a tour or for some other reason (in the future) that Victrola was not the place for them to play."

"I think that is pretty direct and don't really know why Kathleen Wilson would consider this passive aggressive," she continued. "But… she never called to ask. And yes, that is frustrating & annoying."

I find the Stranger's willingness to publish this article likewise frustrating, because it seems more a publicity ploy than reporting. The Trachtenburgs have a whole slew of shows up-coming before they leave for the east coast; this article could be the greatest boost to happen to their career. Jason gets to publicly vent a personal grudge, piss off a radio station that has offended him — plus, he gets publicity for his shows. And the Stranger gets an article sure to ruffle the feathers of its readership — but not so ruffled that they can protest too loudly — as all the negativity comes through this eccentric musician. Sounds like a mutually beneficial plan to me. Perhaps Jason isn't as nuts as he appears.

Phew, I am nearly done with this rant. One final point: while I'm no local music expert, I have heard my fair share of bands, and the sheer quantity of talent in this city is staggering. I'm sure, as Jason self-righteously claims, that hundreds of talented bands in this city don't get airplay — but only because there would have to be limitless time to play all of them the amount they deserve. And frankly, after hearing the Trachtenburgs play a few songs (in-between the obnoxious rants), I wouldn't buy the CD, or listen to the songs on the radio. The show together, the slides, the kid… it's cute! It's really cute!! But without the visuals… well, I wouldn't seek it out. It's more schtick than band.

So if KEXP were to refuse to play or promote the Trachtenburg Family Slide Show Players — which, I would like to empathically state, they did not — but if they did, the fact remains that it's their perogative. That's what makes a radio station have a unique voice; the program manager decides what music gets conveyed to the public. Don Yates could have told the Stranger, "We don't play Trachtenburg Family Slide Show Players because we don't like their music." It's a perfectly acceptable reality; just because KEXP are huge supporters of local music — which they undeniably ARE — doesn't mean they're obligated to play every local band. With the musical abundance we happily have in Seattle, they must decide who gets airplay. And it is KEXP's right not to play a band, if they so choose. They own the station. That's just the way it goes.

No matter what KEXP plays, some bands and fans will be dissatisfied with the results. No matter what the Stranger writes about, some readers will find fault. No organization can be all things to all people. But a station like KEXP — one that offers so much to this community, and one that has taught this writer and countless others like me so much about local music — deserves to be extoled for their efforts, not maligned by a manipulative local media and musician. I hope that's what I've done with this story.