What This Rock Star Did Was Inexcusable

Photo courtesy of Laura Snapes.
Last Monday, in front of a sold-out crowd, Sun Kil Moon singer Mark Kozelek, finished his set with a rant about a rock writer he's never met before. “There’s this girl named Laura Snapes, she’s a journalist. She’s out to do a story on me, has been contacting a lot of people that know me,” he said before launching into a song about Snapes. “Laura Snapes totally wants to fuck me / get in line, bitch…Laura Snapes totally wants to have my babies.” According to writer John Mulvey, who was at the show, Kozelek trailed off and performed two songs, only to return to the subject of Snapes, saying he was only joking before. She was “cute,” “sweet,” and “a good kid," he said, who had “written some nice things about me.” Nothing like having a rock star you've never met say truly horrible things about you in front nearly 2,000 people. You don't need to know Snapes to feel rage over this story. Unfortunately, she's not the first — or last — woman to be called a bitch. And the world of rock 'n' roll is still a very misogynistic place, where women still struggle to be taken seriously, whether they are musicians or writers, producers or sound engineers. In March, Anwen Crawford wrote the fantastic New Yorker article, "The World Needs More Female Rock Critics." In it, she discusses Jessica Hopper's new book, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, which was released to much critical acclaim this spring. Hopper wasn't kidding with the title — while there are countless anthologies by male rock critics, this is the first published by a woman — and Crawford outlines the various difficulties women music journalists have faced over the years in her article. The anecdotes she shares about Kathy Miller is just one of the startling stories in the piece: Kathy Miller, recalls being challenged by a male editor who assigned her to write about The Who and then asked for a blow job in return, saying, “What’s the big deal? You’re a groupie.” She replied, “I’m a woman who writes about rock and roll.” His answer: “Same difference.” Groupies have proved an enduring stereotype of women’s participation in rock: worshipful, gorgeous, and despised.

Kozelek had the same dismissive attitude with Snapes, from their first email exchange (he refused to meet with her in person as she requested) to his infuriating comments onstage. This isn't the first time he's made headlines for being an asshole (see here and here), but isn't it time we stop ignoring it? Or making the excuse that he's just a temperamental artist? Snapes thinks so. We chatted via email about the incident with Kozelek and what it's like to be a female rock critic in an industry that's still rife with misogyny. Her responses are both encouraging and inspiring, and it's empowering to know women like Snapes are shaping the future of rock journalism and not letting jerks like Kozelek get her down. What was your initial reaction when you heard from your colleague that Kozelek had mentioned you during the Barbican performance, calling you a bitch, saying you wanted to have his babies?
The knowledge that he had used violent sexual language to demean me to almost 2,000 people was horrifying. Especially because I knew I had done nothing to warrant it, and I recognized some of his lines from the answers I received (via his publicist) to the questions I had emailed. I was furious and upset - but when I came to write my piece, I was careful not to betray that. Female critics' (negative) opinions are too often stereotyped as emotional overreaction. Kozelek has a long history of making headlines for the dumb things he says on stage. Why can't we just write him off as a "troubled" artist?
Because "troubled" is a word used to explain away (usually male) artists' aggressions. It's a free pass that excuses their prejudicial behavior on the grounds of being "art." The finished profile is a great read. I appreciated that while you included your story in the piece, it was also a well-rounded profile that gave a lot of background info on Kozelek. It wasn't just some, "It happened to me" story. Had you written most of the piece before you heard about Barbican performance?
Thank you. I had filed a version of the piece based around the answers he gave to my email questions. About 70% of that made the final piece. When I found out what had happened at the Barbican, I contacted my editor at the Guardian and told him what I wanted to do. He was really great about it. Either way, how did those comments influence the piece. Did you think about just killing the story and giving him no press?
On Monday (the night of the show), I was torn between wanting everyone to know what he said and not wanting to become the story myself. I didn't want to kill the piece because I'm part-freelance and that's my rent. Ultimately, I decided that what he did to me played into a wider issue of how women who work in music/female fans are often treated/perceived, and that the best way to approach the issue was to be graceful where he had not been, and to write the story I had originally intended to, following it to the conclusion he created. Is this the most unpleasant experience you've had with one of your interview subjects?
Yes. Rock criticism — heck, rock in general — is a bit of an old boys' club. What kind of sexism have you come up against as you've carved out your career?
Only a few really overt things, thankfully, but what so many men don't realize is that their actions can be sexist without them even realizing it. It's such a misnomer that there has to be some woman-hating agenda there for something to count as misogynist. The incremental build-up of daily gendered micro-aggressions (and less micro ones) is a truly hideous thing to deal with, whether it's happening to you or your female colleagues. I've experienced both. Anwen Crawford wrote a great piece in the New Yorker in March — "The World Needs More Female Rock Critics" — that chronicles many of the obstacles women rock critics have faced. You could argue it's even harder these days, with so many jerks on social media. Do you think it's worth the hassle?
It's not a "hassle." Being a music critic who is also a woman (and not that I speak for them, but obviously I include trans/non-binary in that) is a joy. Cultural criticism — and culture at large — doesn't move on without our voices. For any budding female music critic who looks at this world and feels nervous, remember that for every loser up in your @ replies, there is a community of women — your peers even as you take your first music crit steps — who will support you and fight in your corner if anyone gives you shit. The multinational online community of female music critics is powerful and life-giving. Could you tell us a little bit about your career trajectory? What inspired you to write about music? How did you get the gig at Pitchfork?
I've loved music since I was tiny. In my early teens, I realized that interviewing musicians was a legit way to have a conversation with them. I got obsessed with music journalism: I did zines, wrote a lot for free locally and online, did a week's work experience at NME when I was 17 and started writing for them soon afterwards. Quit college after two years to work there full-time; got headhunted by Pitchfork as their first UK staffer; went back to NME as features editor; quit this April to go freelance, when Pitchfork asked me back as a contributing editor working across the site and our quarterly print publication, The Pitchfork Review. It's an inspiring place to work.

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