The Express could say that Peoples Park should be converted into a parking garage with slave labor provided by the uppity folks at KPFA, and it would provoke less of an outcry than Arnold saying that Paul Westerberg was better than Paul McCartney.
A typical week for Gina would involve receiving a gift certificate for the services of Jack Kevorkian from a bunch of slighted Rolling Stones fans (yep, it really happened) or one or two letters making fun of her affinity for you-know-who. Everyone had different reasons for disliking her -- either she didnt get her facts right, or she didnt support the local scene, or she talked about herself too much, or she was too jaded and stuck in 1990. She did get letters of support -- but it was usually from the same guy over and over (thanks Keith!). Working at the paper at that time meant getting feedback from people at shows, on the street, or beneath the bathroom stall. You know Gina Arnold? they would ask. If they were female, then the follow-up question would be Whats she like? And if they were male, What does she look like? Though her column was first person, there was still a lot about her that no one knew. As much as people hated her words, they were intrigued by her. So its time to lift the veil of secrecy, throw open the tomb of mystery, peel back the shrinkwrap on the Nirvana bootleg that is Gina Arnold.
People would say to me, says Gina, nursing her new baby daughter, Why do I want to hear about your life every week? And I would say, You think I write about my life? Okay, what do you actually know about my life? And they wouldnt have an answer. I write about music and how it relates to things in my life, but very few people actually know me."
"That's the weird thing about having a column, though," says Clair. "On the one hand, you get hate mail and you sit back and say, 'Hey waittaminute buddy! You don't know me! How can you judge me?,' but then you remember that you are saying shit every week, opinions both kind and unkind, and you have to expect feedback. It's part of the game."
"Right," says Gina. "But you have to separate yourself from your writing persona. It's the column, not you." But still, with the amount of vitriol Arnold received, it had to have affected her. People didn't just attack stuff she said, they attacked her -- hated her.
"It did have an effect on me," she says with a tinge of sadness. "It did change me, I am different now, not the same person I was when I started. It gave my self-worth a battering, and I am much more guarded now. I've met people who've actually said stuff like, 'Whoa! I thought you were ugly!'"
"Why do you think people had such strong opinions of you?"
"I still don't really know. I could never ever predict what people were going to get angry about. I wish they would tell me what they didn't like -- after ten years at the Express I still don't really know. I do know that I got more shit for the bands I liked than for the bands I didn't like."
"Do you think that the fact you are female had anything to do with it?"
"I used to think that it really wasn't an issue," Arnold responds, "but lately I've been wondering... What would my career have been like if I had chosen the byline "G. Arnold"? Also, over time, the audience [at the Express] had defined me as a certain thing, and couldn't get away from that. I wanted to expand." (Now Arnold is employed by the company that owns the Metro in San Jose.)
Perhaps the only criticism that Arnold would agree with is that she is jaded and tired of the music scene. Nothing has really grabbed her in the last few years. But even in admitting that, she is a bit reticent. "That sounds arrogant and wrong, saying that the bands when I started out were better. Is that a bad thing to say?" But it might not be the simple fact that nothing is interesting to her; it might be that the age of the rock critic is in its twilight, and we are all just sitting around waiting for criticism's new direction in the 21st century. Everything has been said, compared, and contextualized -- what's the fucking point.
"I got involved [in rock criticism] at a fortuitous time," says Arnold. "I was really opinionated, and totally full of myself. 'Def Leppard? They suck! Chicago? They suck!' But U2 and REM were newish then. It was a good time to do what I was doing."
Lately Gina Arnold has been trying to move her writing into cultural criticism, instead of just music. But first and foremost these days, she is a mom. The conversation is punctuated by her baby's squirms and gurgles, which leads Clair to ask quite possibly the naffest question of her career: "So, has having a baby changed rock 'n' roll for you?"
The answer, predictably, is no. Gina has always been all about music, and nothing about music. It depends on which side you know.
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