Stylus Magazine: A Eulogy
I learned of Stylus Magazine’s sad news on the morning of Monday, 29 October. The reality of the situation took me a little while to register as I scanned the frontpage blurbs as I would on any other weekday morning. After a few more minutes, I finally returned to the little bar across the top of the page announcing, undeniably, that Stylus would no longer be publishing after Wednesday, 31 October 2007. A flicker of genuine grief rose in my chest, flashed red across my cheeks, wavered against slight self-conscious embarrassment, then sank quickly and heavily into my gut where it pulled and gnawed at the pit of my stomach for pretty much the rest of the day. Bells tolled. Black cats and Cadillacs increased in number. As much as I wanted to believe Stylus would take some kind of crazy, way-out-there Halloween feature just a step too far and fake its own death, I had a harrowing feeling that this was it. I somehow knew that as the days counted down, Stylus would not emerge this time from the quiet side of a hiatus leaner, meaner, sharper, and tighter than ever, as it had in the past. No, these were to be the final days before closing time.
In the waning hours of Stylus’s light, I realized how strong my relationship had become with what seemed little more than a pop page at the time. Would I have ever realized the extent of my affection for the site and its writers had Stylus continued to exist? No, I would have continued taking it for granted, cursing the reviews that countered my own feelings, peeking in periodically during work hours to keep an eye on fellow commenters, and slinging barbs and ill-formed ideology to elucidate chinks in every feature and editorial. I would have continued to only half-read reviews of albums that disinterested me simply because the band or album had a rubbish name. I would return to those same reviews weeks later after those previously rubbishy-sounding bands would come through town or play on an indie station and scorch my eyebrows right off my face. Without Stylus, will I ever enjoy another awakening to the Pissed Jeans Effect again?
Despite so many of Stylus’s writers having such a wealth of skill, knowledge, and nuance behind their words, none of them seemed to ever chase egos or claim badges of coolness. Though sometimes I was sure Dom Passantino and Alfred Soto were deliberately trying to intimidate anyone coming within 20 feet of a haircut. In the end, those patently uncool pieces were as marvelous as the ones that conjured images, provoked reaction, plumbed the recesses of the author’s imaginations, and challenged the limitations of conventional journalism: Stewart Voegtlin’s piece on Wold’s Screech Owl , Ian Mathers’ review of the Goslings’ Between the Dead, Nick Southall’s commentary on Bark Psychosis’s Codename: Dustsucker.
Nick was also responsible for what is considered the greatest piece of writing to ever grace the site, which went on to be included in Da Capo’s Best Music Writing 2007 and actually influenced a band in the creative process: "Imperfect Sound Forever". It is grandiose, but not inaccurate. Without it, 65daysofstatic would probably not have produced an album so, well, overwhelmingly big-sounding.
The greatest thing about Stylus was that the reviews and articles weren’t always the most compelling feature of the site. Unlike at least one other major player in the daily online music review world, Stylus reinforced its accountability with every digital letter by integrating a mostly-unmoderated comments section directly into the site itself. The comments page was simultaneously a playground for righteous, misrepresented, and slighted readers to vent spleen against the music and reviews and a place to offer words of praise and reinforcement in times of agreement. Stylus encouraged readers to claim a tiny slice of the site as their own and its audience duly left their [sometimes hideous, sometimes beautiful] mark and kept coming back every day for more. Editor-in-Chief Todd Burns created a kind of reciprocal relationship between the writers and readers with this addition of comments. He, perhaps unwittingly, created the environment for sentimental music freaks like me to end the life of the site sporadically welling up over the farewell articles.