So we won’t have Bill Wyman to kick around anymore [April 19]. No more “Evil Ticketmaster” updates. No more pre-Riviera Smashing Pumpkins interviews. No more “Rock as the Hegelian Weltgeist” bilge. No more “Cobain is righteous/Garcia is bogus” blindsidings. No more Chicago Rock Scoreboards. No more hangin’ at Lounge Ax . . . actually, that can be fun. No more WTTW embarrassments . . . hold on, San Francisco has a local PBS station. No more brownnosing the majors . . . well, he’ll probably keep that up on the coast. No more “I hate Lou Reed” rants . . . wait a minute, there’s always E-mail. . .
At first it was fun, those joustings Bill and I had in the Letters section of the Reader. Some notoriety, some laughs. But in the last year or so, something happened. I’d read Hitsville and mentally compose some rejoinder arguing how Bill was all wrong; I even typed two of them out. But most of my noodlings died dog-paddling in my brain, and I never mailed the two that I printed. I really just didn’t feel like it, and although I had recently had a baby and in that light the merits of Nirvana unplugged seemed less weighty, I don’t think it was me. Bill himself was still as smarmy and self-important as ever, but his subject matter had slowly taken on a decidedly irrelevant nature and seemed less engaging, less involved. Wyman’s last two columns are cases in point. Lounge Ax’s legal problems, while lamentable and worthy of reporting, are hardly cultural mileposts. Before that there was the interminable string of Ticketmaster/Rose Records/Tower Records columns that some letter writer properly disposed of with a succinct few words. When Bill did comment on some cultural passing, like Jerry Garcia’s death or Lou Reed’s new album, his writing was so hilariously skewed that it barely merited reading, much less response–unless, of course, you’re that Deadhead from Evanston and made good on your promise. Margasak had eclipsed Wyman as the local new rock maven, and services like Tribune OnLine gave readers an immediacy that Bill sorely lacked. Sadly, in the process, Bill became something of a curmudgeon, kind of like one of those geezer rockers he hates so much, and he seemed to retreat into a weekly billowing of irrelevance.
Now we lose his charm to San Francisco. Granted, his old pal and former Sun-Times/Rush fan Jim DeRogatis has dragged Wyman into the halls of Rolling Stone (ahh, the old “what you know versus who you know” thing), so you can now pay to read Bill’s opinions. But he did leave us with those last two paragraphs, his fond farewell to the city he loved. And was I surprised to see he thanked, among others, me! “The opinions I expressed . . . were frequently decried, often by letter writers and sometimes by colleagues. It is these people I wish to acknowledge and thank . . . ” All right. Well, you’re welcome. But wait, we move on to Bill’s “mission” as a writer, which is “less to provide coverage and more to engage people’s thinking.” I’m reminded here of a radio show a couple of years ago. Wyman and Aaron Freeman were waxing ironically on Elvis’s birthday, and Bill posited the thought that Elvis had no musical worth save a few singles from the 50s and that Elvis fans were either uneducated hillbillies or swinging cats in on the joke. A professor from Bowling Green who was waiting to join the merriment got on in time to rip Wyman apart. The prof, who was an Elvis fan himself, chalked off a whole bunch of great Presley tunes then questioned the background of any “critic” who could make such claims about his fans. While Freeman recoiled, Bill replied weakly that he said those things just to be “controversial.” An engagement of people’s thinking, perhaps? Actually, he’s more like Madonna in that stupid documentary, a role-player willing to say anything to stir stuff up. And, if I remember correctly, Bill wasn’t too kind to Madonna for that sort of behavior.
One final thing. “I don’t mean to sound flip about this, but any sort of reaction–positive or negative, in person or by mail or E-mail–to me has represented over the years a small vote of confidence.”
As Mose Allison put it, “Yeah, right.”