by Sara Sanger
For the September 10th issue of the Bohemian, I wrote an article about the background of Section M magazine, which covered the North Bay music scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As a former Section M staffer, I took pains to remain objective and not come off as as a nostalgia-drunk painter of sunny rainbows and pretty pink ponies.
But, thanks to a trio of letters to the editor from others who were once involved with Section M as well, I realized that my aimed-for objectivity came off to some as grumpy and regretful. In the article I characterized Section M as a "successful failure," which I do stand by, but I carelessly neglected to elaborate on what was successful about Section M. And I would like to do so now.Section M was fun to read. This is why I got involved with Section M in the first place. In 2000, I'd just moved to Sonoma County and ran across an issue at the Last Record Store. Some band called The Wunder Years was on the cover. Who were the Wunder Years, and who were these people so excited about some little band that they put out a publication dedicated to such music? The tone ranged from sprightly to snarky, but the passion the writers felt for their subjects, no matter how obscure, was palpable. You could live in Maine or Cyprus and have a blast reading Section M. Oh, and they layout was cool, too—edgy like a zine, but much more professional.There was nothing else like Section M. Even though it was not so long ago, back when Section M was around, there was not a vast network of blogs and websites where music fans could express themselves and learn more about the non-mainstream bands they loved. That made Section M exquisite and valuable, and it was treated as such by a fair chunk of its readership.
All of the things that may sound like criticisms--its inability to come out on schedule, the cheap ink that tainted your hands at the merest touch, the oftentimes esoteric choices of bands placed on the cover, the blatantly dysfuntional family atmoshpere endured and enjoyed by the staff members, the incessant ads of the band Unominame appearing in the buff, the indulgences taken by writers who related more about their efforts to procure an interview than the interview itself—were the things that made Section M great. They were also the things that kept it from being sustainable; if Section M had made money, an irretreivable hunk of its grit and appeal would have been lost. And so: Section M was a creative success, and a financial failure.
The few years I spent with Section M were some of the most intense and enriching of my life. Being with the paper was awesome, but not totally awesome, because sometimes it sucked. And nothing is worthwhile if it does not suck every now and then.
It was not my intention to sully the efforts that literally hundereds of volunteers and staffers put into Section M. I'd like to thank Dominic Davi, Kevin Jamieson, and Oona Risling-Sholl for taking the time to write to the Bohemian and round out the picture. Readers are welcome to disagree with my theories of why Section M isn't around today, but I am certainly not bitter about that period of my life.
These days I don't read too much about music—I find a lot of music criticism to be rote and predictable. Maybe I'm spoiled, but that's just fine with me. I have a trove of yellowing back issues of some dinky little defunct music magazine that I can read anytime I like.