Editorials — November 17, 2011 13:50 — 14 Comments

Seattle Music: Syked Out – Jake Uitti

Response to City Arts article by Jesse Sykes

Jesse Sykes is a wonderful musician, a wonderful singer. Somehow, someway she learned the art of music and how to project it and share it with others. That education, however, seems to have not been applied to all aspects of her artist-life.

In her recent piece for CityArts Magazine, Sykes lays down the idea that there is simply too much out there, too much music, too much access, too many people playing it, leaving the audience-individual with a harder and harder time to discern, noting too that there is a dearth in the amount of credible standard-bearers in the music world.

To me, this is Fold City Reporting[1].

“There’s a glut of music out there at our fingertips. Many think this is a positive thing. I disagree,” Sykes writes. To say there are too many musicians and too many songs points to a lack in Sykes; it almost sounds as if she wants censorship, as if everyone should get a Jesse Sykes musical driver’s license or else they shouldn’t be able to pick up a guitar or trumpet. Something about me: I have a tendency to offer homeless people money on the street, help them get some food, a drink, whatever. When people ask me why I do this, I say, “I wonder, as I hand over the bills, what I’m paying them not to do.” If it’s true that music is therapeutic and cathartic, then to say people shouldn’t be making music, or offering it, does not take in the idea of what might they be doing if they were not making songs—whether Sykes judges them as quality or not. Sykes would rather, it seems, have fewer options, fewer boats in the water so that her boat would stand out (presumably, she is not saying she is one of the masses who should be silenced, rather she is one of the quality acts). The goal of any person with ability, power and vision should be to take on the role of the rising tide that raises all boats, not the wave that crushes the weakly made.

“Following the law of supply and demand, overabundance diminishes the value of any one piece of music,” Sykes writes. In the back of my mind, I hear Uncle Scrooge: “Are there no prisons! Are there no workhouses!?” Sykes’ mentality here practically begs for an MTV sniper to come from the top of the Space Needle, picking off anyone who doesn’t know a Dorian scale. Diminishes? Does the number of Madonna songs—however you feel about her—diminish Mozart, Mahler or Michael Jackson? Or vice versa?

Her point that discernment takes longer now and is more difficult, is understood and well taken. But would Sykes rather have it easy? Does it not take work, sifting, effort, hours of time, to create a base of something worthwhile? As a musician, shouldn’t she know and respect that? And would she not have an entire city working at it rather than one record label or magazine or tv channel—why limit the number of “standard-bearers,” as she calls them? The number of participants matters only if you believe you cannot have a voice amongst the many.

There are too many MP3’s, her article practically shouts, which is ironic, because how many magazine and online articles can one find on the internet bemoaning the state of music, rather than bolstering the state of music, with the aim of pushing its musicians forward? Yet I, as the reader, still approached her article—despite the dubious title—with openness and, while the tone of my response may be on the harsh side, I believe it is the right kick-in-the-pants stance that someone so talented but also so seemingly unwilling needs.

Sykes criticizes Facebook, or the overuse of it. Facebook, like a guitar, like a knife, is a tool. It is used by people. If people did not exist on Facebook, statuses would not be updated. So shouldn’t the focus or criticism not be on the Web page, but on the people who use the site? People need to be taught, encouraged, loved. If artists have the energy to do so, this is how they should approach the so-called problem of Facebook.

Throughout the piece, Sykes continues to berate the quality of local music, “It should come as no surprise that the music seeping in is, in many cases, as uninspired as this ‘new’ scenery we accept.” This is the most bogus line in the whole piece. I don’t know with whom she hangs or where she goes to see music, but there are any number of bands and venues with killin’, positive, deep, intricate music. The Seamonster in Wallingford offers great music and service until 2 AM every night. Racer Café has The Racer Jazz Sessions, recently written up in The New York Times. Bands like Julia Massey and The Five Finger Discount and The Jesus Rehab get crowds dancing on a regular basis but have no record deal and not much money to speak of. Perhaps Sykes perceives the lack of inspired music because she does not know how to find it anymore, how to surround herself with it new night after new night. Perhaps.

In the end, Sykes wants to place herself—consciously or unconsciously—on the favorable side of the music scene. She is wonderfully talented. Yet the very idea of censored division, of lessening rather than increasing the boundaries, is deplorable. Especially in this normally passive-aggressive city of great talent and worth. What she screams to everyone, if they can hear it, is that she is unconfident that she can discern on a case-by-case basis. She fears being outside her comfort zone. She writes, “DON’T [believe] that every stone needs to be upturned, and that you need to love it all…” I disagree. Have love for it all, be curious. No one should be required to engage anything any longer than one wants, but to not want availability is, simply put, singing the refrain of the Fold City Choir.


[1] Fold City: A state of being defined by lack, self-oppression and ultimately the judgment of others.


Jake Uitti is the Managing Editor of The Monarch Review


  1. Eric C. says:

    Dude … your verbosity is killing me (“Yet the very idea of censored division, of lessening rather than increasing the boundaries, is deplorable.”)

    Deplorable? Your air of self-righteous indignation is.

  2. J. Carapelli says:

    The author of this editorial illustrates exactly, the lack of critical thinking that Jesse implored us to be aware of and fight against. So much so, that I’m not quite sure if the writer is intending to be ironic or not. But if I assume the latter, it seems Jesse’s only mistake was to not speak out sooner. If this ‘editorial’ is any kind of barometer for quality of thinking possessed by those that claim to love art and music, then we might be worse off than even she imagined. There are too many problems in this ‘editorial’ to respond to them all and the last thing I want to do is imply is that it should carry more weight than it deserves. But, I get the impression that the writer’s heart is in the right place, but his thinking is misguided. After all, he did take the time to write something, so it must have struck a chord, and well, as he points out, he gives money to homeless people (that’s not going to save him here). But, with these things in mind, if I can restrain myself, I’ll try to point out just a few of the most offensive statements.
    It is clear that Jesse is advocating criticism out of her love for music, yet the author claims that she’s advocating censorship–the two could not be more different. Censorship, as the author uses the word, speaks of communist governments, a higher power limiting access to resources against the will of individuals, when she’s clearly saying “limit ourselves”. The author apparently disagrees with the idea of self-limitation, despite that the foundation of democracy depends upon on a healthy diet of it—i.e., consumers won’t buy everything being offered with equal probability; but rather, they will be critical and discerning–whether they’re deciding where to buy their next slice of pizza or who should be the next President of the USA. And, democracy also assumes that consumers have fair access, but limited resources, so they will opt for the best they can afford. Giving money to homeless people is kind, compassionate, and I would argue, can even be an altruistic thing. Yet, although this type of behavior helps strengthens our social fabric, the fate of our economy and society (and therefore, the economy of the music business) rests on the assumption that people will be cautious and discerning of how they spend their resources, whether it be time, money, or anything else of value. What would society look like if everything, good bad or otherwise was free, or cost the same, and there was an endless supply? By imploring music listeners to be critical, Jesse is asking us to be responsible consumers, be discerning, demand excellence, and by so doing, increase the quality of music produced. Yet, the author says it “seems like censorship”, and not only defines it as such, but holds Jesse accountable for his erroneous interpretation. He says, “the very idea of censored division, of lessening rather than increasing the boundaries, is deplorable.” And then, making matters worse, he builds on his flawed claim to pass further judgment: “Sykes would rather, it seems, have fewer options, fewer boats in the water so that her boat would stand out…”. No, she is asking people to ‘raise the bar’ for what they’re willing to consume, which would only increase the amount of competition. The author immediately follows with the following; “(presumably, she is not saying she is one of the masses who should be silenced, rather she is one of the quality acts).” This is assumption is not only completely off-base (because of reasons stated earlier), but is so far-fetched that it borders on ridiculous. Are you serious? Jesse Sykes is that desperate, manipulative and stupid to try to persuade people to listen to less music to elevate her own? This is how she’s managed to produce the music she has and achieve her present stature? This would be the act of a criminal mind rather than a respectable artist who cares about the state of culture. Isn’t this what artists are supposed to care about? I would bet my right arm that Jesse would welcome more intelligent, thoughtful criticism of her music—this would imply, as she says, “that you care”, that people are thinking and are engaged. And, still more fallacious judgments ensue, “The goal of any person with ability, power and vision should be to take on the role of the rising tide that raises all boats, not the wave that crushes the weakly made.” Jesse’s trying to crush the “weakly made”? I think she would hope that this takes care of itself by responsible consumerism and having a discerning palate. She’s championed a number of younger musicians that she recognized as having talent and the intent to try to make good music (ask Marissa Nadler what she thinks). And, do you really think she should champion bad music made by untalented musicians that did not intend to improve? She’s not saying, ‘don’t make music’. Just strive to make good music worth being championed. The author then reveals what appears to be his true motivation for writing the editorial in the first place, and in so doing projects a heap of personal baggage onto her shoulders; “Sykes continues to berate the quality of local music”. Did she ever say that bad music was restricted to Seattle? Yet, she’s said many times (as she did in a recent City Arts interview), “there is a lot of great music out there”. I give her kudos for relating her personal experience—Seattle is where she’s lived for the last 20+ years. Would it be appropriate of her to talk about the state of music in Iowa (where she spends most time as of late)? No, not yet, but give it time.
    When I checked out “The Monarch’s” Facebook page, I saw the author received a degree in philosophy from a good school (another reason to give him the benefit of the doubt in my opinion). But, I studied some philosophy in grad school, and my understanding is that the whole endeavor is about being critical; critical of thought, in an intelligent, educated way, and that this process will elevate thinking, enlighten us, and therefore society. Jesse (who has an art degree) demonstrates her understanding of this concept by challenging us to do precisely what philosophers strive to do; to reach, be more enlightened, and thereby improve one aspect of our culture—in this case, the current state of music.
    And lastly, the clincher that made me decide to write this, “she is unconfident that she can discern on a case-by-case basis. She fears being outside her comfort zone.” This is coming from the ‘editor’ of the self-proclaimed “Seattle’s literary and arts magazine!!?? It leaves me feeling that the author is clearly suffering from a severe deprivation of the benefits that come from a good, old-fashioned, non-sugar coated, healthy dose of constructive criticism. But rather than thank Jesse for her sharing her insights, you say, “People (and I’m assuming the author is including himself) need to be taught, encouraged, and loved.” Well sure, but not spoiled rotten. The author says of his own opinion, “I believe it is the right kick-in-the-pants stance”. Wrong again. From where I’m sitting… it seems obvious who needs a righteous kick in the pants. But, keep your chin up; the most valuable lessons in life are usually the most painful.

  3. Sounds like Jesse has poopy pants because her last record didn’t break even and/or no one is going to her shows. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. What I think really sucks is that someone like her gets a public platform to criticize a huge, widely diverse, Seattle music scene she obviously knows nothing about. Or, to be fair, a scene she only experiences a small part of. I bet she has a day job too. I for one make my living (a decent one at that) solely as a musician. I know scores of people that do too! I am not famous, I play a less popular form of music, and I can make it happen. Why? Largely because of the fabulous environment the Seattle music scene provides. Quit your whining Jesse! As Dennis Leary said: “Life sucks, get a helmet.”

  4. uitti says:

    Look, all I’m trying to say and do in this piece is to promote openness and availability of expression, to allow instead of remove: an arms open and not arms closed mentality. if Jesse Sykes didn’t intend to come off sounding Fold City, as we like to say, then so be it, but she did sound that way to me, consciously or unconsciously. This has nothing to do with her character, per se, and nothing to do with her music, per se. she is a wonderful performer and songwriter, but it is our job here at The Monarch Review to mirror the culture in Seattle and elsewhere, and to me, as the Managing Editor, Jesse Sykes came across as preferring limits, not just of standard or quality (whatever that means), but of participation. and that is lame.

    • J. Carapelli says:

      I was with you until the “that is lame” part. Jesse is saying that she wants people to continue to demand good music; fight against the potential for it to become devalued unconsciously, because of the ease and abundance of access, and don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by the effort required to sort through what’s out there. And, if you’re the type that needs to sit with a piece of music for a time before it can really become a part of the landscape of your life, for it really to affect you, then don’t buy into the idea that you have to sort through everything out there. She’s (whether she’s aware or not) is referring to a phenomenon well known in philosophy, economics, psychology, sociology and ecology to name a few. For example –a recent study in Science (top science journal in the world as I’m sure you know) showing that access to Google is related to less information retention. The authors interpret this as being caused by the subject’s perception of the value of the information. They perceived the information (subconsciously) as expendable because they could access it anytime, anywhere. In other words, knowledge has become cheap and so when it comes, their less value placed on it than if you had to go to the library and sort through a stack of books (for example). Is this inherently bad? No, I don’t think so. But, it does present a new set of challenges–the ease of publishing information online, few filters, means there is an abundance of information ranging in quality from excellent to awful (& a lot falls into the awful category). A person seeking information has to learn that a) there is a need to distinguish good from bad, b) be willing to take the time, and c) be able to distinguish good from bad. I deal with this every day in the classroom; I have to teach students how to distinguish between credible and non-credible sources of information, and how to find the credible ones. The distinction is not always obvious–websites look credible when they’re not. You might claim that what Jesse is referring to is different, but it’s really not, a) listeners need to understand that much more so than in the recent past, it’s up to them to decide what’s good and bad, there’s a need to distinguish, no one is filtering it for you, b) it takes more mental energy and they have to be willing to dig–some will do it, some will settle for what they find easily. and c) they have to be able to distinguish good from bad. This, in my mind, is mainly recognizing that there are no filters out there. Just as there were filters for the quality of information–(editors, critics, reviewers that don’t exist often times with information on the internet) there were filters for music, so that what was available was on average pretty good–it cost a lot of money to make records and so more emphasis was placed on quality of the outcome, I would argue. Again, I’m not saying that this is a problem inherently (and I believe Jesse is saying the same thing), it just means that listeners will get unfiltered content and so they have to filter themselves more so than in the past. And, I would argue, if someone has to sort through a bunch of crap to find the jewel, fewer people are going to be inclined to this, myself included. This is a natural phenomenon as in life-history evolution–you have one pie that you have allocate pieces of to various aspects of your life, the more you spend one place, the less there is for other things. So, Jesse is just saying, don’t stop striving for excellence, don’t leave it up to someone else to keep the bar high…don’t settle for less, don’t give up. Her points are well-taken, based on exhaustively studied and debated natural phenomena and it’s difficult to argue her points without judging her based on her values (a big problem correct?). A debate raged (and continues to) in philosophy based on these same principles. Forgive me if I’m telling you something you know–in the 70s and 80s with fear of population explosion–one camp argued we need to limit ourselves or the world will push back hard, but only after much loss of life and a drastically diminished quality of life beyond restoration (e.g., Paul Erlich, The Population Bomb), while the other camp argued(s) that technology will save us. Don’t limit our resource use and human ingenuity will allow us to create more. Not only will this prevent a diminished quality of life (& loss of life), but improve the quality of life. Both positions are defensible and reduce down to values–whether or not you feel it is better to be conservative and try to protect what we value now or we should keep consuming, producing more and accept a very different future world? Generally it comes down to what individuals value in life–if you like things the way they are then you tend to go for the conservative stance, but if you like what technology has brought to human culture, then people tend to have the latter perspective. The foundational principles of the arguments come sociology and economics and this is what Jesse is talking about (whether she realizes it or not). It seems she’s pretty clearly square in the conservative stance, while you seem to be aligned with the latter–have faith, let it happen, and it will work out for the best. Music is just a metaphor as Jesse uses it. And again, it comes down to values. In my book this doesn’t make Jesse lame or you lame–but I would argue that Jesse is making sound arguments based on solid defensible, well-known principles, while your rebuttal was based on an incorrect interpretation and value judgments for which you lambasted her.

  5. martha says:

    as someone born in 1952 and having listened to and experienced a vast amount of music during my lifetime,i think there is something in music for everyone, and not everyone is going to enjoy or appreciate the same sounds, let alone have the same reaction. sometimes my appreciation for a certain band will be immediate and sometimes come only later after decades have passed. there has always been a time when someone has bemoaned the overabundance of crappy music, and i have thought at times, where has all the good music gone? As an artist, i purposely filter what i see and hear in order to be able to express my own voice and view , so i am not awash in too much input from without.
    I often remind myself as i listen or view the creative expression of others, that we all ‘start’ somewhere, not necessarily at the top of our potential.
    we all have the potential ability to ‘raise the bar’. It can be wonderful to witness the transformation of creativity, from baby steps to bigger ones. i think it is necessary to allow that in opinions, everyone has one and it is nothing to judge so harshly about. there is real growth always happening, if you allow.
    i happen to absolutely love the new album ‘Marble Son”.

  6. M. Owcharuk says:

    I forgot to add that no matter what the art form, no matter what the scene, the cream almost always rises to the top. Artists striving for excellence will get a return on their investment eventually. There has always been tons of mediocrity, there has always been an inundation of “sub-par” art (whatever that means). I believe discerning audiences are smart enough to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  7. Julia Massey says:

    Kudos to The Monarch Review for publishing what I consider the epitome of an outstanding editorial: a piece of work written from a specific perspective that ignites opinions in others.

  8. Mark Twain says:

    Oh, dear, we are all like that. Each of us knows it all, and knows he knows it all–the rest, to a man, are fools and deluded. One man knows there is a hell, the next one knows there isn’t; one man knows high tariff is right, the next man knows it isn’t; one man knows monarchy is best, the next one knows it isn’t; one age knows there are witches, the next one knows there aren’t; one sect knows its religion is the only true one, there are sixty-four thousand five hundred million sects that know it isn’t so. There is not a mind present among this multitude of verdict-deliverers that is the superior of the minds that persuade and represent the rest of the divisions of the multitude. Yet this sarcastic fact does not humble the arrogance nor diminish the know-it-all bulk of a single verdict-maker of the lot, by so much as a shade. Mind is plainly an ass, but it will be many ages before it finds it out, no doubt. Why do we respect the opinions of any man or any microbe that ever lived? I swear [I] don’t know. Why do I respect my own? Well–that is different.

  9. As for the discussion above, I had a hard time seeing where this came from in the “Sykes” article. She didn’t really seem to have an opinion she was confident in at all, and admittedly was struggling with how to make sense of the opinions she was having.

    In response to the opinions above I personally think that the ability for so many more people to make quality recordings and distribute those recordings, can only be a good thing. I look forward to people who have traditionally been doomed to playing music in their bedroom because of one reason or another now having the opportunity to express themselves, and I think it will only enhance the current musical landscape not water it down. I personally welcome the good with the bad or I should say “the music I like” with ‘the music I don’t like.” I am actually a little confused and bothered by the claim that some music is bad or good. Every person has an opinion on what they like and don’t like, but to claim that your opinion is absolute is a little silly. There is no secret formula and their is no gate keeper that decides what is good or bad. Well maybe there was a gate keeper and a secret formula we used subscribe to, but now the gates are wide open, and we all get to listen to what ever we want. I think that is awesome! If you prefer a gate keeper and don’t like this I recommend you check out Pandora, they will give you the latest “Up and Comers” at their discretion. I personally enjoy hearing my friends shows and recordings and reading friends blogs, but that’s my thing and my two sense.

  10. J. Carapelli says:

    are you fucking kidding with this statement, ” I am actually a little confused and bothered by the claim that some music is bad or good.”? Please tell me you’re fucking joking. Are you saying that there is no good & bad art? This is THE most offensive and hurtful (and ignorant thing I have ever heard in reference to art and true artists).

    I’ll appeal to sanity one more time–the problem with the editorial–and I can’t believe that it’s this hard to see–is that Jesse gave her opinion–she was speaking out for what she valued and she didn’t make it personal. It’s her fucking opinion. And the editorial response was PERSONAL–a thinly veiled character assassination. If you can’t fucking see that, I don’t know what to do. The editorial takes this, “hey, it’s all good!” stance to music, then attacks her credibility, saying things along the lines of, she can’t distinguish good music from bad., She’s just self oppressive and wants to inflict this on everyone else, she wants to sink all of the weaker ships,.., etc. SEE ABOVE.The author should be ashamed. And the only reason he’s not, is because there’s no one there to set him straight. Tell him right from wrong. In my book, when someone gives their educated opinion about something they feel passionately about, that they have devoted their lives to (not to mention that’s it’s logical, based on solid, well-known phenomena), and they’re met with a personal attack from someone who feels threatened by this, and even worse, carried out this passive-aggressive way–“hey I love her work, I give to homeless people (don’t attack me) but I”m going to make seriously hurtful, judgmental accusations. This is just wrong. Sure their are worse offensive in some ways above (e.g, Owcharuk) but these aren’t coming from an “editor” of some literary and art publication.

    It’s smoke and mirrors obviously and we all bought into to some degree. I’m out of here. I need to take a shower.. You people make me feel dirty.

    The editor wrote a personal attack that was biased and lioaded with personal baggage and it was uncalled for, unprofessional, totally fucking amateurish and IT’S “DEPLORABLE”. This an understatement. And Jesse didn’t deserve it.

    Wake up people.

  11. Jared says:

    J. Carapelli,
    My response to the opinion above was directed at you not Jesse Sykes. I agree that she was just expressing what she was feeling, and like I said, It didn’t seem like she even really knew what that meant or if it was right. At least she admitted that she didn’t know if it was right for “everybody”. I think that Jake’s points in general are valid too, but as I admitted above I didn’t personally feel like Jesse Syke’s was being as confident and absolute on her opinions as he believed she was. Double Kudos on the success the monarch review achieved with this editorial. I have enjoyed discussing this, read the Syke’s interview (which I definitely never would of before), and I have actually discovered that I like her music.

  12. Caleb says:

    The problem with most arguments is that they are not arguments. All too often, contentious conversation devolves into shouts and invective because the terms for the argument have not been clearly defined. I fear this is the case regarding Jesse Sykes’s original article, Uitti’s editorial and Carapelli’s responses. As a fellow editor, I was inclined, at first, to be glad that our Seattle arts magazines had sparked such heated commentary, but now find myself dejected by what I can only characterize as acrimonious bickering. This response is an effort to get back to (what I believe are) the good intentions of each party.
    If the issue is whether or not there is too much music out there, then there can really be no sensible argument. We are not going to change this aspect of our social reality, and Carapelli’s point on the matter is a good one: Sykes is encouraging a measure of critical analysis and discernment on the part of her friend. She is not encouraging censorship. Perhaps Sykes could have made this clearer, but the point should nonetheless be taken. In the process of making personal advice public, she may have revealed herself, to some, as elitist or snobby, and that point, too, should be taken. For some people the Facebook paradigm is crazy, and for others, it’s not.
    Uitti’s editorial was a personal and emotional reaction to both a perceived slight against Seattle music and a perceived attempt to limit music in some more general way. All of his jabs toward Sykes seem to be a direct result of these perceptions. Carapelli, after giving Uitti a thorough dressing down, was eventually reduced to exasperated profanities. This is a shame. Carapelli took the time and effort to address carefully the issues at hand, and received inadequate acknowledgement for this thoughtful engagement. A forum for publication and review such as this is dependent upon a higher degree of intellectual respect and reciprocity. This is as much my failure as anyone’s. I regret waiting so long to engage the discourse, and fear that even now it is a vain attempt to salvage a modicum of reason.
    At the level of Uitti’s arguments, my previous comment about the Facebook paradigm seems enough of a settling point. For some, it’s quite easy to navigate and acquire music, for others, the new ways are overwhelming and disheartening. For those that fall into the latter category, Carapelli’s comments can be quite useful in trying to understand why these overwhelming feelings are occurring, and what they may indicate in a larger socio-political sphere.
    At a fundamental level, all involved seem to share one thing in common; a belief that music and art are essential to the well-being of our social fabric. To keep this in mind, and to honor this shared value with keen critical thought, to me, seems paramount. At large, there are real enemies of the arts; pundits and politicians who do not share these values, and who would just as soon slash all funding for the arts. Within our arts communities, we may disagree and argue, but we must be clear about what, exactly, we are disagreeing and arguing about. Without these standards, we will never stand a chance against those that disagree with us not by degree, but by kind.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

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