I used to think all teenagers were like me: completely unmotivated and worthless. While my friends (who am I kidding: friend) and I would often dream up incredible ideas for fanzines, bands, and comic books, we possessed none of the skill or will to see them through to fruition. So naturally, when Sub Pop's regional publicist Joan Hiller and I were asked to teach a music writing workshop to teenagers last year at 826 Seattle, I expected similar lethargy. But upon the first free write of the three-day workshop—in which the students penned their thoughts on Neil Diamond's12 Songs—it was apparent I had vastly underestimated them.
Over the course of three weeks, Hiller and I walked them through the ravings of Lester Bangs, the tightness of Jon Pareles, and the variation in writing styles between Seattle Weekly and The Stranger. The students, ranging in age from 14 to 18, were possessed of unique writing voices already—and when they handed in their finished record reviews as a final project, we were stunned at the level of expertise. We received a 1,200-word rant on Disturbed, a concise meditation on why Weezer's Green was one of the greatest albums of all time, and a razor-sharp analysis of why it was OK to dig Bright Eyes. The one student who did not complete her assignment instead compiled a list of in-depth questions she would ask Sleater-Kinney if she was given the chance to interview them.
Last month, Hiller began hosting another music writing workshop at 826's Greenwood tutoring center, and she says her 11 students are just as impressive as last year's crop.
"I had this one girl, Julia, do a record review of Panic at the Disco," says Hiller. "And she wrote about the 'misogynistic meta-text' of the lyrics. Girl's in ninth grade and she's already smarter than me."
Hiller also noted that their ethics trumped those of us "professionals."
"I was telling them about how a lot of music writers will often read press kits and other reviews to get ideas for how to approach a certain record review," she says. "And when I said that, they were like, 'Oh, we're never going to do that.' They're just completely uninhibited and are all really brave writers."
The final project this time around was to write one positive review and one negative review, which Hiller will package in a fanzine format to be sold at 826's Greenwood Space Travel Supply Store (the store serves as a portal to the tutoring center in back). But the real treat this year: Hiller will read excerpts from their reviews live on KEXP-FM (90.3) at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, during DJ John Richards' morning show.
"We were hoping the kids would be able to go on the air and read themselves," says Hiller. "But it's a Thursday, and they kind of have to get out of school for that, so it was sketchy."