Column 177: Goodbye Mr. Norman; Sigur Rós tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 6:25 pm June 11, 2008

If there’s one thing The Reader doesn’t do very well, it’s keeping its readers up to date as to who’s running the paper. Andy’s last issue at the helm of The Reader was a couple weeks ago. He’s now relegated to watching from the sidelines like the rest of us. He was always a good sounding board both for the column and for feature stories that I pitched to the paper. He also had the advantage of coming to The Reader from outside Omaha’s indie music scene, which gave him a more sober perspective about what was going on. Something tells me that when he returns to Omaha, he’ll do so a wealthy man, if there’s anything to this whole “Global Warming” bugaboo. Incidentally, no one has been named to Andy’s old position, and the powers that be at The Reader are still in the process of working out the details as to who will guide its music coverage going forward. Something tells me that you’re going to see some more changes at the paper in the near future…

Column 177: Parting Shots
Andy Norman exits stage left…

And so, we say goodbye to Managing Editor Andrew Norman.

Why, I remember first meeting Andy three years ago, only days after he left The City Weekly to take on the editing chores at The Reader. He was a wee lad, sprightly in stature with pork chop sideburns and a haircut that made him resemble a small, wide-eyed tree monkey or Frodo from the Peter Jackson film The Lord of the Rings. It seems like only yesterday that throngs of tattooed, ebony-haired groupies breathlessly yelled the battle cry “Save Frodo!” when Andy strapped on a bass with his band Jaeger Fight at O’Leaver’s. Writer, editor, rock and roll god. And now… now he’s gone.

Waitaminit. This isn’t an obit. Norman ain’t dead. I mean, his career might be dead, but he’s alive and kicking and living in Ashland… for now.

About a month ago, Norman, who’s been The Reader’s acting managing editor and ad hoc music editor (and, as a result, my editor) announced that he was leaving the paper and headed back to school at Michigan State, where he’s pursuing a master’s degree in “Environmental Journalism,” whatever that is. He’s spending his summer taking on the self-flagellating role of a construction worker, cooking in the hot summer sun, far away from the e-mail and the deadlines that will plague him for the next few years in East Lansing, Michigan, where he’ll also be the editor of his program’s publication, EJ Magazine.

But before we let him go, someone had to conduct the exit interview.

Norman, 28, took over the paper’s music section in 2005, shortly after the Omaha music scene had reached its zenith of national notoriety and began heading down the other side of the arc. A graduate of UNL, Norman somehow managed to know next to nothing about Omaha’s indie reputation or Saddle Creek Records. I still remember him asking who “this Bright Eyes” was. “The only thing I knew about Omaha’s music was that a lot of good punk bands came through town,” he said. “There was a lot of metal, and I suppose one of the first things I did was listen to 89.7 The River, which gave me a bad impression.”

Ah, the smell of bridges burning.

Anyway. Norman preferred the harder stuff, specifically bands like Lagwagon, Good Riddance, Operation Ivy, The Melvins, just about any band on labels like Fat Wreck Chords and Alternative Tentacles.

He said he learned about the local music scene by reading newspapers and blogs and by going to shows and talking to people. He discovered that Omaha and Lincoln are known for their artist-friendly venues, like Box Awesome, the Waiting Room and Slowdown. “Bands want to come back here because they’re treated well,” he said. “I don’t think that was always the case.”

Norman said he discovered a diverse music scene that included “good hip-hop and a strong DJ culture.” As for indie, he never bought into the standard definition. “I don’t think of indie as a genre, but as a way of doing business,” he said. “Record labels like Speed! Nebraska and Boom Chick are indie to me.”

So what was the biggest pain in his ass as music editor? Norman first pointed to the bands. “In a cultural scene where you deal with artists of any kind, you realize they’re often flakes,” he said. “It’s hard to get them to call you back or send you a photo. All we want is a decent bio, the actual band members’ names, a couple songs to listen to and a photo. It made your work a helluva lot harder if you went online and couldn’t find much about a band, or if they had a ridiculous Myspace page that took forever to load. That was pretty irritating.”

Another irritant was trying to find writers who knew about something other than the indie scene. Everyone wants to write about The Faint. Try finding an authority on hip-hop or country music. “Typically, people who could write were too tied to the scene,” he said. “They were either best friends with bands or in bands, and couldn’t separate themselves. Just as the scene grows and young kids need to start bands, there needs to be kids who want to write about music. Someone needs to document what’s going on.”

The most rewarding part, Norman said, was watching local bands put out albums and start doing “big things” like touring. “I felt proud to be from Nebraska and Omaha where all this stuff is going on,” he said. “I would feel comfortable putting music produced by Omaha and Lincoln bands up against music from anyplace else.”

He leaves this veil of tears bearing a significant amount of guilt — for not listening to stacks of CDs on his desk, for not going to enough shows. “I was never able to devote myself to the music editor thing,” he said. “My priority was writing news as far as (publisher) John Heaston was concerned. In my opinion, a music editor has to be fully engrossed in the scene.”

But there’s no time for looking back now. After three years, Norman said it was time for a new challenge. He moves away Aug. 1, and Omaha loses yet another valuable piece of talent.

“The coolest thing about the job was being this country kid from Imperial, a town of 2,000, and ending up in the middle of Omaha’s cultural scene,” he said. “I’ll miss working with the most creative, smartest people in town — the many writers and fellow editors and staff — being around that creative power.”

Ah Andy, we hardly knew ye…

Tonight at the glorious Orpheum Theater, An Evening with Sigur Rós. It’s the opening night of the band’s five-city U.S. tour, and tickets are still available for $30 from omahaperformingarts.org. Show starts at 8 p.m. I’ll let you know how it goes.

And a brief update on yesterday’s blog entry, Midwest Dilemma’s new album, Timelines & Tragedies, has climbed 50 spots to No. 112 on the CMJ charts. How high will it go?

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