October 10, 2001
P.O. Box 12078
Cincinnati, OH 45212
We have gotten many dozens if not hundreds of perplexed letters from fans of the band over the years that have expressed dismay, lack of comprehension, amusement, disgust or grave offence over things they have read on the Over the Rhine discussion list. And we’ve watched the list shrink over the years to a few hundred people while our other mailing lists or announcement lists have grown to thousands and thousands. Many of the people that took time to write, signed up on the list with great enthusiasm, and then felt they (regrettably) needed to move on for whatever reason. (99.9% of those who wrote wanted to make sure they could keep abreast of all developments with the band, they just didn’t want to do so through the discussion list.)
The common theme of all the letters has been, What does 99% of this stuff have to do with you or your music?
The people who have taken time to write want to know why we give “these people” an unmoderated forum in which they can bicker about religion, slander founding members of the band, flood e-mail boxes with the equivalent of off-topic inside jokes ad nauseum, “flame newbies” etc.
Our response has always been something to the effect of, Well, we don’t really take time to read most of the posts, and the discussion list is not for the faint of heart. Our hope has always been that out of relative chaos would come beauty, and maybe, even more importantly, friendship. And I point to Jay and Lindsey tying the proverbial knot as an example of a most wonderful flower that sprouted from such, supposedly, thorny soil. (Which raises the question of whether they are still on the list.) I also point to the “listies” going way out of their way to rendezvous with one another and share meals before and after Over the Rhine shows. That’s pretty cool.
That being said, it gets trickier when band members we’ve hired do check in on the disscussion occasionally, and then come to me and say, Linford, for God’s sake man, pull the plug.
I’ve put off doing so for some reason, but I do begin to wonder if this forum has run its course and needs to evolve into something else.
The urge to re-examine the Over the Rhine discussion list came to me when somebody sent me an excerpt (more or less immediately) following the events of September 11th in which one of the posts said something to the effect of “Well, it’s about time.” After I realized I was physically ill, it became one of the rare moments in the last ten years when I regretted recording a single note of Over the Rhine’s music, because my band’s name was loosely attached to that sentiment on a piece of paper that someone printed out and handed me. My first response was to respond with outrage, but then I reconsidered the wisdom of doing that, and tossed my letter into the digitial dust bin.
When much of the recording industry went digital, we musician-types discussed at great length ways to keep the warmth in our recordings. Digital recordings tended to be a bit thin-sounding, even harsh, and tended to lack the well-rounded sound of the analog tape recorders we had grown accustomed to. And those funky old reel-to-reel tape recorders were a lot more fun. They even smelled good.
I used to spend hours every week writing letters to friends. I would buy old stamps from the 1940’s and 1950’s at face value for the envelopes and pick odd paper to write on (discarded blue prints, the covers of vintage paper backs, scraps picked up here and there in my travels…) Or maybe I’d pull out the old Smith Corona my Dad had given me and clatter away–the bell ringing at the end of every line. When somebody responded to one of my letters, and I pulled one of their letters from my own mailbox, it would change the tone of my entire day if not week. They were little prizes, little pieces of humanity, cause for celebration. And I love associating handwriting with somebody. It says so much. The way people write is closely linked to their sense of humor, or the way they smile, what they care about. I was a fountain pen junkie. I loved having ink stained on my fingers.
I miss those days. E-mail is a whole ‘nother world, as my wife would say.
When we record our songs digitally, we jump through every imaginable hoop to keep our cd’s sounding as warm as possible. When I send an e-mail, I try somehow to keep some of the warmth of being human in whatever I send, and it’s not easy. The digital world, perhaps technology in general, can suck the warmth out of what makes us humans human.
I guess that’s my complaint about at least some of what I read on the discussion list on a regular basis: it lacks warmth. In a place where, theoretically, we’ve invested a few thousand dollars over the years to bring people together to discuss something as wonderful as music or art and how these intersect with their lives and beliefs, some of what I read on the discussion list is surprisingly, just so damn cold. I wish the tone of much of what I read was warmer somehow. I hope our music exudes a certain warmth, and I like to pray that it does.
And maybe that’s all that many of our fans have asked at the end of the day. They came expecting warmth and a community that could somehow celebrate and respect the diversity of the many people from around the world who have come to discover Over the Rhine’s music. To their surprise, they often found, well, something else.
And I think the list has weathered some storms. Maybe it’s hard to maintain equilibrium when people are constantly coming and going.
At any rate, offensive stuff aside, on behalf of the band and those who work for the band, let me just request generally that those who do choose to participate on the discussion list agree to love one another. Let’s be known, if we are to be known for anything, as a place where people can come to relate music to the whole of human experience, and do so with warmth.
When we started the band, we got in a huddle and agreed to play for anyone that would walk up the sidewalk and buy a ticket. Believe me, we never imagined the diversity of those that would do just that. We’ve played in dives, churches, street festivals, beautiful theatres, on breath-taking campuses (Kenyon College anyone), at folk festivals, hippie festivals. We’ve shared the stage with punk bands at the Daily Double in Akron, Ohio, as well as string quartets in Finland. We even played one high school prom. On paper, doesn’t it seem like a good idea to put all you folks (who are willing) in a room and get you talking? That was our intent.
So make friends. Respect one another. Laugh outloud, but enjoy the diversity of others. Be patient, good dog, y’know, stuff like that. Warm. Avoid, whenever possible, blasting off the verbal equivalent of a digitally-guided Tomahawk missile. These are human beings that we’re talking about.
The unfortunate reality of so many people leaving the list, is that much of the mail we receive directly should be on the discussion list! People write us and tell us all manner of stories, and ask questions that we never dreamed of. I find myself thinking, what a shame that more of this stuff doesn’t find its way to the people that stepped forward at one time and said, I’d like to discuss the music of one of my favorite bands. Maybe it’s time for some of you who have written us letters to come back to the list, or to sign on for the first time. Maybe it’s time for some of you who have left in disgust, to help set a different tone if you can.
Consider it an experiment whose days may be numbered!
And post away.