EPISODE 7 (2004 – 2007)
Alienating our audience
Right from the beginning of this project, we knew we had to mind two major pitfalls. The first is preoccupation with trivia that’s only interesting to journalism nerds. The second is allowing aging millennials (like the author) and Gen Xers to hijack the narrative and turn it into a story about how much more fun and interesting they remember themselves being in their 20s.
This episode goes nowhere near either boobietrap, which feels like a good sign, especially when we’re this far along, right? Anyway, we’re about to find out what ever happened to legendary music critic Debbie Driscoll. Maybe you’ve heard the rumor that Amanda Palmer paid a hitman $250,000 of misappropriated Kickstarter funds to snuff the fearless snarksmith loose from the mortal coil? The truth of the matter is a lot less interesting.
DAVE WILDMAN (arts editor): We got all the press releases from everybody, so [Joe] Keohane came up with Defend Yourself, where we got people who were desperate for any promotion to submit themselves to just about anything to get in the paper. I ran with it and made it as filthy as I could. We had some good people: Bob Saget, Howie Mandel, Richard Lewis. Like anything else, after a while, it became a formula.
JOE KEOHANE (EiC): The Dig was brutally offensive at points. Somebody—it may have been me—wrote a review of a Barry Manilow Christmas album in which we likened listening to the Barry Manilow Christmas album to the experience of watching Santa fuck your parents to death. We’re like, “Sure! That should go in a newspaper! Put that in there!”
MICHAEL BRODEUR (music editor): The format we decided on was 150 words for good CD reviews, 75 words for so-so reviews, and then the bottom rung was 30 words to 50 words max. A lot of times CDs would come in, and going after, let’s say, a Christian boys choir or whatever you were reviewing was just so unnecessary and stupid that you almost had to inhabit another person in order to write a review. So I came up with Debbie Driscoll, who would just show up to hate things. I always got asked, “Who’s this Debbie Driscoll?” and I’d say, “I don’t know. She’s a freelancer. She doesn’t like much.”
KEOHANE: Driscoll wrote a really mean Dresden Dolls review; “They harken back to a better time when mimes were silent.”
SHAULA CLARK (managing editor): We’d get deluged in terrible CDs all the time. One of them was Beastwith2Backs; possibly the most atrocious and baffling music ever made. We became obsessed with it. I believe the guys in the band were pitching us to do an advice column for a while. That never happened, which I regret every day.
BRODEUR: This was a formative album in the Dig office. Debbie Driscoll reviewed it saying, “As cruelly bad as it is embarrassingly ironic, this music has to be the best argument against sex ever made.” The song “Snap Before You Fluff My Lady” was an official anthem of the edit staff. None of us could believe it when we heard it, but we listened to it about three million times.
KEOHANE: In the Media Farm column, we were so mean that it was deliberately unbylined, because we loved the idea of being so craven that we wouldn’t put our names on it, which was a predecessor to internet culture, sort of. We cared about media, that was the basis of it. But that thing was brutal to people.
BRODEUR: The readers who understood us were the people who heard a little bit of themselves in our writing, and in the grand editorial sense, Media Farm enabled the rest of the media to do that too. Everything we were saying was getting muttered under the breath of media organizations across the city. It just wasn’t getting printed anywhere.
LISSA HARRIS (managing editor): Usually Keohane wrote half to three-quarters of it and the rest of us would chime in.
JULIA REISCHEL (staff reporter): I had to write Media Farm once by myself. I remember sitting in front of my computer, just feeling this voice sweep through me, and writing this attacking, snarky, acid-tinged bullshit and not knowing where it came from. The spirit just possessed me.
DAN KENNEDY (Boston Phoenix media columnist): They came after the Phoenix quite a bit. We thought it was kind of funny.
JENNA SCHERER (theater critic): I can’t even believe a magazine called Stuff@Night existed, but there was something gross on the cover—some food that looked really unappetizing at some kind of festival. So Media Farm decided we should shoot a parody of it that was even grosser. We ran a photo of duck’s feet in a coffee mug covered in ketchup, and another of raw squid falling out of a wine glass. It was wonderfully disgusting.
BRODEUR: I think when we did things like go after the Improper or Stuff@Night and go to Chinatown to retrieve chicken feet just to make the most disgusting-looking cocktail imaginable and go through hours of work just to make the point that, once again, Stuff@Night put ugly food on the cover, a lot of that was for the evil self-satisfaction of being assholes. But it was also in the grander service of holding a mirror up to this ennui that had set in across every other publication. It felt like nobody else gave a shit, because they didn’t.
STEVE BARIL (sales rep): One of my advertisers back in the day was Boloco. At one point, I remember Brodeur did a roundup of burrito joints, and the same Wednesday the issue came out, I got a call from my contact at Boloco. He was like, “What the fuck was that? We spend money with you guys and your editorial is going out and slandering us?” And I’m like, “Yeah, that kind of sucked, huh? I’ll certainly bring it up and let everyone know.” And we had a general discussion about it, but it always should be a goal to keep editorial and sales separate. There were some fine lines, and when an advertiser got upset we kind of had to play nice with them. But Brodeur didn’t give a fuck, and neither did Jeff. He was just like, “I think that was funny shit, and we know there are people who do like Boloco burritos, so who cares?”
Coming Up: The genesis of the Gay Bash column, and the time we almost got the lead singer from Anal Cunt to write a romance advice column.
Barry Thompson lives next to a highway in the Allston/Brighton vicinity. He has written for a whole bunch of places, enjoys caffeine, and appreciates a good, hearty anxiety attack every now and again.