Steve Lemcke: The Man. The Myth
For three years UVM grad student Steve Lemcke has covered the local music scene for Vermont's largest daily paper The Burlington Free Press. Love him or hate him, if you're a Vermont musician, every Thursday you read him. Our own Dr. Lex interviews the shadowy figure at the back of the club and finds a genuine music fan who happens to have the best circulation in town.
Steve Lemcke doesn't spin dope beats. There is never a line outside of Pure Pop at midnight waiting to pick up tickets to his Highgate show even if there were to be one. In fact, most people in this fair city who have heard rumors of his existence wouldn't recognize him if they saw him in person. Mr. Lemcke doesn't play drawn out solos with a vacuum cleaner. What he does do however, is write the local music review section for the Burlington Free Press, the in-town arm of the steely Gannet publishing fist of love. This occasionally gets him in a little trouble.
Steve inherited his role of reviewer at the Freeps from Brad Searles, whose name should sound familiar to y'all, as he has been in nearly all of the crucial alt/pop bands this town has ever been home to. A few short years ago, Searles decided that he had too much on his plate at the time to continue writing the Freeps column. Enter Steve Lemcke. Now, it is not my job to make any judgment call as to Lemcke's qualifications for the job, as it would obviously violate the journalistic credo that I so dearly adhere to. Whether or not certain local musicians occasionally call for the head of Steve Lemcke is also of debatable significance. What we all really want to know is who the hell is this guy, and do his opinions hold any force in the local music media?
Steve is acutely aware that he has somewhat of a reputation for being, in his own words "...a little too pointed in his criticisms." However, he believes that he is only being constructive with these critiques, and understands that any review is the product of individual taste, so is therefore highly subjective. How he views his role in the overall creative process of the artists he reviews may actually shed light on the view that Lemcke takes of music media in general. He states unequivocally, "I'm not asking people to agree with me, I'm just asking them to read it. My skin has toughened, and I am less afraid...I won't pull as many punches."
Lemcke believes that the critics play an important role in the overall creative development of the artist in general. Steve is justified in saying that what he offers the musicians on this, an extremely small scale version of a much larger and often harsher music industry, is a good introduction to the critical process. This ultimately, in Lemcke's opinion, becomes an important part of an artist's development, like playing before your first audience consisting of more that your sister's drunk friends or reading that first review of your own released material. So it can be important for the reviewer to call them as he sees them, while at the same time understanding the artist's newness to this process. Sometimes, for the local reviewer, this is like dancing a ballet in a field of land mines.
And what of the relationship between the reviewer and the reviewed? In a city as cozy as ours, it is entirely possible that the reviewer will often enough be faced with the daunting task of reviewing music made by...(gasp) an associate, or even a friend. Lemcke sums up his experiences in matters such as these "It's a weird one in a town as small as this, but I know I'm gonna try not to let the fact that I'm gonna see somebody next week affect my review, which is as valid as...the next guy." Is this what makes him occasionally "controversial?" The approach seems valid to me. I know for a fact that Thursday's weekend section in the Free Press is lustily looked forward to by more than a few of the town's musicians. Steve explains: "To look at it cynically, going out to see the bands and saying 'hi how are ya, I'm watching your bands' maybe gives the groups a better sense that I am an interested observer and not merely judging them from a bubble or judging from on high or from an isolated position. But granted I can't go see every band every day, 'cause there's an awful lot of bands in Burlington."
But does this music made in Vermont matter? Are we living in an actual cultural landscape, or a manufactured one? Lemcke levels on this issue somewhat sarcastically. "In the ten years I've been here, Burlington's always you know, just about on the edge of something big...a burgeoning flower." Yet Steve believes the music culture here is valid and deserves to be continuously put up for consideration, whether in the press or in the record stores.
But does Steve Lemcke ever actually listen to this music on his own time? Yes. He sometimes does, but is certainly reluctant to admit his favorites, as one could guess. All in the interest of scene diplomacy of course. Plus it's his own damn business. It's Lemcke's job to write about local music every week, and it is obviously a job that he enjoys. What about the accusations about "scene nepotism?" Mr. Lemcke seemingly believes that the entire scene is not, cannot, nor probably ever be, a giant happy family. But he did say that if you and your band sit around bitching about how Good Citizen magazine or any other music-press related mechanism in Burlington never seems to write about your band, than you just aren't trying hard enough. The music media press cannot possibly manage to cover every single band in the town at once, but these local media channels are there for everyone's consideration and/or contributions, thankfully. Lemcke's role is an interesting one, and he approaches it as no less than a necessary part of the cultural media in the area.
With no plans to stop writing his column in the near future, Steve Lemcke has weathered an initial storm of criticisms, and stepped into the warm light of praise. Having quite a few local bands come and go and a bucketful of member changes in even the most long standing groups, Steve Lemcke may have established himself as somewhat of an institution. His opinions are definitely his own. He makes no claims otherwise. Sometimes I think that he has no idea what he's talking about when he does a review. But that's the right I reserve as a reader, and the right that he continues to exercise as a writer. So listen up rock and/or roll bands out there. There is a solitary figure standing at the back of the club, watching you tonight, and his pale shadow falls hard across the dance floor. You have no power against him, he is as timeless as the music itself... He is Lemcke and he reviews you.
Dr. Lex is the man. Without a doubt, he's it. He wrote about Burlington's incestuous music scene in Good Citizen #6 and he created the board-game Six Degrees of Denny Donovan. We're kidding about that last part.