Around this time of year, I’m usually unearthing my leather jacket from the season-long crypt that is my closet. I’m forgetting to send my mom a birthday card and cursing the ubiquity of pumpkin spice. I start to crave horror movie marathons, and turtlenecks, and potpie. But more than anything, at this time of year I am usually preparing for the once annual CMJ Music Marathon.
This very moment, I should be stuck on some letter in the alphabet, two-thirds of the way through with my yearly, militant, and self-appointed task of listening to every band and artist on the lineup, usually numbered at around 1,500 or so. I took special pride in knowing exactly how ninety percent of the bands would sound just by looking at their photos and witnessed a foolproof pattern that any time my assumption was wrong, I ended up loving what I heard. The element of surprise goes a long way.
Around this time of year, I should be compiling an overwhelming, archaic, and impossible calendar for the week of CMJ. One that suggests I can somehow manage between four and five shows daily, even though my record high was three, and I came down with a cold immediately after. The calendar would be printed, with handwritten information. “Must-sees” would be striped with pink highlighter.
And yet in the spirit of a fall that won’t begin-highs in the mid-80s today – it looks like CMJ 2016 won’t either. According to articles published by Pitchfork, Stereogum, and Brooklyn Vegan, the event’s 2016 existence is largely in question. As far back as April, Brooklyn Vegan posed the question: “Is CMJ happening this year?” Stereogum’s late August headline probed even deeper when it asked: “CMJ Sure Seems To Be Over. So How Come Nobody Is Talking About It?”
Naturally, I have some questions of my own. Firstly, if CMJ is happening this year, then why does the official website still have “CMJ 2015” emblazoned all over it, along with no lineup in sight? And secondly, what the hell are we supposed to believe when Time Out New York publishes an article that reads “The CMJ Music Marathon is probably not happening this year” as well as a “CMJ 2016 Music Marathon Guide” on the same day?
As it turns out, trouble has been brewing for a few years now. According to a 2013 New York Times article published the first day of the mini festival that year (very sensitive of you, NY Times,) the organization behind CMJ was facing a $1 million dollar lawsuit due to a failed merger with Metropolitan Entertainment. And that is just what’s keeping four days of new music bliss at bay this year: business problems.
But despite the pessimism from various news outlets, CMJ CEO Adam Klein is asking that everyone try a little tenderness and hold their horses this year. He expressed in a press release that he is “totally committed to protecting CMJ’s unique and ‘live’ heritage while adapting to the ever-changing demands of artists, fans, and the music industry. A little patience and a whole lot less wild and unsubstantiated speculation is what we need right now.”
But what about what music journalists need? Don’t we need four nights of nearly 1,500 bands we’ve never heard to lose our minds over every fall? Of course we do! I must be in full-blown denial of the situation, as I check CMJ’s website near daily just in case this is all some sort of lofty prank.
Leafing through my 2014 festival guide, which I have kept for reasons even I cannot fathom, I take note of the venue listings. Cameo Gallery: gone. Glasslands: gone. Spike Hill: Equinox. Trash Bar: run out of the neighborhood. There seems to be a whole theme surrounding the independent music scene in New York sometimes, and it’s not a hopeful one. While venues and bars reincarnate in more remote hoods, it’s hard to imagine what could possibly replace an event as essential as CMJ.
Like a mom that loves scrapbooking, I have kept all of my press badge lanyards over the years, a fact so dorky that it can only be expressed through use of the word “lanyard.” Without these badges, I wouldn’t have been able to see most of the gigs at CMJ…except that ¾ of the ones I select always end up being free to the public. “Ma’am, this show is free,” many a door person has scolded as I earnestly held the laminated card to their face. So thrilled I was about this event, that I would proudly take on the douchey, self-ordained responsibility of wearing my press badge at all times, even when it made absolutely no sense, like at AudioFemme showcases.
One time, in my fifth attempt to finally see Perfect Pussy, I wore my badge all the way up to north Williamsburg to an outdoor matinee featuring Protomartyr. There was no question in my mind that this was a CMJ event, as it was listed with the others. I waited in line, and gave ‘em the badge. “That won’t do you any good here,” the dough handler said gruffly. I slinked away outwardly embarrassed, but unwilling to hand over ten dollars to an asshole in a bad hat. A similar dilemma had transpired at Silent Barn days prior at a Sean Nicholas Savage show, but the resident hand stamper was more kind. Slightly.
If it weren’t for CMJ, I wouldn’t have discovered artists such as Cosmo Sheldrake, Kamasi Washington, Hooton Tennis Club, Phony PPL, Landshapes, Outfit, Tom Vek, The Dig, Money, or countless others. I first saw London trio Happyness at the marathon, and they have since become a favorite emerging band, and fantastic interview subjects to boot.
CMJ has always felt like my New York Christmas; a time of year I anticipate months in advance, and yammer on about like a grade school kid all throughout. It created a collective excitement and feeling of goodwill around the city, and fostered an environment that made me feel welcome and comfortable. I will always remember the showcases as being some of the few gigs at which I actually met people. By talking to them.
I don’t want to stress out Adam Klein. I don’t want to make assumptions, or be impatient, or god forbid insensitive. But as Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits ironically sang, “I want my MTV,” I will go on record as un-ironically saying, “I want my CMJ.” We’ve lost too many musical events and venues over the years, but losing the marathon after three decades might be the worst of it.
CMJ Music Marathon, won’t you please come back to us? Until then, I will continue to shamelessly wear my CMJ tote bag from a couple years ago, which is so grimy and frayed that even I, a person of debatable sanitary practices, question its public acceptability. Soiled though it is, it at least reminds me of the days when I could put on my leather jacket, curse the ubiquity of pumpkin spice, and then go see ten bands I’d never heard before.