Jason Heller ponders Denver’s limp music stance
AND WRITES THE EVER-LOVING SHIT OUT OF MUSIC
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 01:10
Jason Heller, who writes for The A.V. Club and released his alternate history novel Taft 2012 in January, came of age in Denver in the early 90s.
The CD was king, the music industry was fat and happy, and what had recently been dubbed “indie rock” was at the peak of its influence. Working behind the counter at mainstay vinyl shop Wax Trax in Capitol Hill and playing in a host of seminal Denver punk bands like Red Cloud West, Heller saw the city evolve—even as the scene seemed stagnant.
These days, Jason Heller has harsh words for the timid and tame Denver music scene. “Every local band I hear is like some half-assed version of some band that was popular three years ago,” he said. “The reason any of these regional scenes get anywhere is because they’re ahead of the curve. Not in a calculated way, but just by doing what they wanted to do.”
After inciting the self-righteous wrath of the Denver peanut gallery with his acidic articles for the local A.V. Club branch—which just closed this summer—and Westword, Heller’s grown weary of the Queen City’s lack of self-awareness. “I think a healthy self-criticism is a good thing,” he said. “And that’s one thing I think is missing [here].”
Lest he be dismissed as a crank, Heller has undoubtedly earned the right to criticize, having paid his dues in sweat and ink. After living the High Fidelity life and contributing the occasional record review to the defunct The Hooligan, Heller was asked if he wanted to write about music by Westword’s then-music editor Laura Bond. “My first instinct was, ‘fuck no,’” he said. “I’m really not being self-deprecating when I say this... It did not occur to me that I could or would get paid to write music reviews.”
But the Westword gig led to his three-year position as editor-in-chief of the Denver A.V. Club, and to his contributing to the national publication, where Heller could explore the long view of pop culture. “We’re not there to stoke the hype,” he said of the site. “We’re also not there to backlash against the hype. We’re like the Barack Obama of music.”
Whether revisiting Jimmy Eat World or bonding with A.V. Club head honcho Keith Phipps over Judas Priest’s Screaming For Vengeance, Heller’s persona spills into what he pens, and his fiery wit and sour prose reflect a very liberal approach to writing.
“I think after doing music journalism for a while, you realize ‘I don’t have to stand by my fucking opinions,’” he said. “First of all, it’s an opinion, and opinions change…that’s natural, and it’s normal. There’s this weird idea that critics have to take stands and positions.”
Now 40 years old, Heller has the hindsight to wax philosophical on his past as enfant terrible. “I just did horrible, embarrassing, impulsive shit and put it on a page for everyone to read; now I’m a little more, ‘let me think this through before I say something,’” he said. “Not that I always do.”