What I’ve Learned: Eric T. Miller, MAGNET Editor-In-Chief (1993-Present), 46, Philadelphia

MAGNET’s editor-in-chief soberly reflects on what he’s learned over the past 25 years, 150 issues and enough alcohol to kill Guided By Voices

Eric T. Miller, 1993; 2004; 2018

My name is Eric. I’m an alcoholic. I had my last drink May 3, 2017.

I actually prefer the term “drunk” to “alcoholic” (fewer syllables), but I respond to either.

Most people in recovery don’t really like labels. Not me. I love labels—like Merge and Matador and Sub Pop and Bloodshot and 4AD and a bunch of others.

I learned more about both life and myself in my 29 days in rehab than I did in my 29 years of drinking.

One of the things I learned in rehab is that Ben & Jerry’s makes vegan ice cream, and it’s really good.

Unlike in the movies, they very rarely serve coffee at recovery meetings. Which is fine by me because I very rarely drink coffee.

Miller’s “fake news” desk, created for a 2000 MAGNET photo shoot by Dominic Episcopo

Everyone is addicted to something, usually many things. Most of them won’t kill you, though.

I’ve chosen to be open about my addiction and recovery for a couple of reasons. One is that only about 10 percent of people with substance-abuse problems seek help, many because of the stigma of being labeled as an addict. I’m proud to be a recovering addict. If my story helps to persuade one person to seek treatment or realize it’s OK to be in recovery or not relapse, I think I’ve made the right decision.

The opioid crisis we’re now facing is something that needs to be dealt with realistically. Right fucking now. If you’re one of those people who only starts to care about things after they directly affect you, don’t worry, that’s gonna happen soon enough: More Americans died in 2016 from overdoses (64,000) than did in the Vietnam War (58,000). Last year, about 25 people a week died from opioid overdoses in Philadelphia. Not only is this not going away, it’s only going to get worse and completely beyond repair.

Having a job that enables me to see any band I want for free in bars and other venues that serve booze, where pretty much everybody is drinking, certainly helped my frequent, excessive public alcohol consumption to go mostly unquestioned by others for my whole adult life.

If you read most of my Editor’s Notes over the years and didn’t have some inkling that I had a drinking problem, maybe you weren’t really reading between the lines and, often, the lines themselves. That said, they didn’t seem like cries for help at the time I was writing them, but in hindsight, I’m pretty sure they were.

When I wrote the cover tagline “A Decade Under The Influence” for our 10th-anniversary issue in 2003, I wasn’t just talking about music.

Issues #50 and #60 (10th-anniversary issue)

Writing about music is nothing like dancing about architecture. And using the words “music”/“writing” and “dancing” in the same sentence isn’t wise. Have you ever seen a music writer dance? It’s enough to drive a person to drink.

Speaking of music writers (and photographers): MAGNET pays so little that our freelancers open Gmail accounts just to eat the spam.

Bands reveal far more to photographers at shoots than they do to writers during interviews. One example: We did a feature on a well-known artist, and the angle of the story was how said artist was now clean and sober after years of abuse. This musician, however, showed up at our photo shoot in really bad shape after a very hard night of partying and asked our photographer to get some weed so said artist could smoke it to feel better. The musician’s handlers then requested that we not include this incident in the story, so we made no mention of it. Until now, though I’m not naming names.

If you want any access to a band on tour, you better become fast friends with the tour manager. On the road, the tour manager is god—a cranky, unjust god—and you’re usually nothing but a whiny, pain-in-the-ass heathen.

Bob Pollard is the greatest rock ’n’ roll songwriter of all time. That’s a fact that can’t be disputed. Do the math: He’s written more great songs than anyone else. Pollard is obviously guided by voices and, well, Guided By Voices.

As you might’ve noticed, GBV has been a huge part of the MAGNET story for all 25 years. I’m very proud of that. I hope Bob is, too.

Miller and Bob Pollard after the MAGNET Turns 21 show (and many, many drinks), with GBV’s Greg Demos keeping his drink safe between his legs

I think MAGNET is a great name for a music magazine. Everyone I started the mag with will take credit for picking it, but the truth is, no one really knows. It was one of dozens of possibilities, all listed on a sheet of paper. One by one we eliminated potential names, crossing them off until only one was left on the page. For something that meant absolutely nothing to me at the beginning, it means a lot to me now.

All music magazines say they don’t trade editorial for advertisements. I know for a fact that almost all of them are lying. I also know for a fact that MAGNET has never done that once in our 150 issues. The temptation for free money is, well, tempting, but once you go down that road, you’re never coming back. Besides, why would you want to work at a music mag if you couldn’t cover exactly what bands you wanted and/or felt needed to be covered?

I’m friends with many people in bands whose music I don’t like. I don’t like many people in bands whose music I love. Again, not naming names.

I remember the name of the first person who ever subscribed to MAGNET: Anna Bryant, from Atlanta. That’s all I know about her.

Just because you can write about music and share it with the world on the internet doesn’t make you a music critic. The same way that just because I can take your temperature doesn’t make me a doctor.

Nothing is off the record unless you say otherwise.

Issues #75 and #100

Looking something up on Wikipedia isn’t the same as fact checking.

When we started, I thought MAGNET would last six months, tops, so I’ve been almost famous for 24 and a half years more than I ever imagined.

Or maybe it’s all just been a dream, and anytime now I’m gonna wake up from it, in bed with Suzanne Pleshette, and resume my real life as a stammering Chicago psychologist.

Even after a quarter of a century of MAGNET, my parents still aren’t exactly sure what I do for a living.

My life’s work can—and will—fit into one large recycling bin.

Anytime I look at an issue of MAGNET, all I see are the mistakes.

If people think of MAGNET 100 years from now, it will probably be as that magazine that John Cusack was reading in High Fidelity. That is, if people in 2118 even know what the word “magazine” means.

John Cusack reading MAGNET on the set of “High Fidelity”

There are much more important things to read than music magazines.

Stealing music is wrong. Granted, this is coming from someone who hasn’t had to actually buy music since the first George Bush was president.

Speaking of presidents: We will not only survive but also thrive under a commander-in-chief as monumentally unfit for office as Trump, because we’re the greatest country on Earth.

If you hate Trump so much, stop just bitching about it and do something. Bitching about it on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t count as doing something. Being active on social media doesn’t make you socially active.

Once you can admit you’re not right about everything, you’ll realize how often you’ve been wrong.

I’d rather be happy than right, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Issues #125 and #150

It’s always an appropriate time to quote Leonard Cohen.

Tom Waits is the coolest musician on the planet. Men want to be him. Women want to be with him. Men want their women to be with him. Nick Cave is a semi-distant second. If he plays his cards right, Matt Berninger from the National might enter into this conversation one day.

The phrase “when hell freezes over” has been replaced in my lexicon with “when the new Wrens album comes out.”

My Bloody Valentine, Superchunk and Pavement (with Gary Young drumming), June 19, 1992, Ritz, NYC. A lot of people claim to have been there, but I really was. I have the hearing loss to prove it. But that wasn’t the best triple bill I ever saw. This is: Guided By Voices, the Shins and My Morning Jacket, Sept. 5, 2003, Trocadero, Philadelphia. MAGNET’s 10th anniversary show. One for the (all-)ages.

The band I regret most never seeing live is Nirvana. I had three chances and blew all three. I did, however, have breakfast with Krist Novoselic once. Because of me, he got a parking ticket. The Philadelphia Parking Authority doesn’t care that you smell like teen spirit.

On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia, even though it’s not always sunny here.

People in the city who ride their bikes on the sidewalk are borderline sociopathic douchebags. No exceptions. If you think you’re the exception, you’re an extreme sociopathic douchebag. If you ride your bike on the sidewalk in the city while looking at your phone, in your next life, you’ll come back as an ant who’ll die on the sidewalk in the city, crushed by the wheels of bikes being ridden by sociopathic douchebags looking at their phones. This is easy to remember: It’s called a sidewalk, not a sideride.

MAGNET fifth-anniversary show poster; MAGNET Turns 21 show poster

Meeting people is easy, especially if you’re walking a dog in the city. And especially if that dog is MAGNET mascot Higgins (R.I.P.).

Dogs are better judges of character than people are. If your dog doesn’t like somebody, you probably shouldn’t, either.

Here’s a game I play if I’m feeling overly good about myself and need to be knocked down a few notches. (It’s also fun to play with others while drunk, but then again, what isn’t?) I look up what each member of the Beatles had already accomplished by whatever age I happen to be and then realize what a loser I am.

If you aren’t a liberal at 25, you have no heart. If you aren’t a liberal at 35, 45, 55, etc., you have no brain. There are some exceptions, namely my father, who’s certainly not lacking in either the heart or brain departments and is, like my mother, one of the best human beings I’ve ever met.

My mom has had Parkinson’s disease for 35 years. She’s had breast cancer multiple times. She’s had her thyroid removed. She’s had myriad other health issues as far back as I can remember. And she’s never complained about any of it. So, yeah, my mom can beat up your mom.

Whenever I’m in a stressful situation, I pretend that I’m in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Once the theme song plays at the end, everything’s fine. Until my next episode.

Balance is the most difficult thing to achieve in life. It’s also one of the most important. How do you do it? If you know, please tell me. I have no fucking clue.

So what do I love about music? To begin with: everything.

Issue #1
Misc. press clips
More misc. press clips

The Back Page: Still Feel Gone

I don’t own a cellphone and can’t imagine why I would want to. I don’t spend hours staring at the internet, because the internet isn’t really there yet. Even though it’s 1993, I’m able to learn about cool new bands and keep track of when they’re coming to town. I go to shows and just watch them without feeling compelled to take a device out of my pocket and take photos or video.

It was during these forgotten, primitive conditions that I first encountered MAGNET. It was in a bookstore, and the issue I came upon had a short story about Uncle Tupelo, which was about my favorite band at the time. A few months later, I got an envelope in the mail at work.

It was from Eric T. Miller, the editor of MAGNET. It turns out the magazine was published in Philadelphia, my hometown. I was the sports columnist for a chain of suburban Philadelphia newspapers. Every now and then, I would mention a band in my column—Pavement, Uncle Tupelo—and Eric had recognized a fellow music obsessive. So he sent me issues of MAGNET, which was a little less well-produced than it is nowadays. It looked a little more like a really nicely laid-out zine, frankly.

I wrote back to Eric to thank him, and one thing led to another. Pretty soon, we were meeting at a show at Trenton’s City Garden. We hit it off, and next thing I knew, I was writing a column for the magazine. It was a fun time. MAGNET was writing features about the best bands of the era. Eric and I almost simultaneously discovered an Ohio band called Guided By Voices. We went together to a show at the Khyber Pass, then the best rock club in Philadelphia. We saw a skinny, middle-aged Robert Pollard acting out his arena-rock fantasies on the Khyber’s tiny stage. Those fantasies weren’t far off from my own teenage fantasies. Pollard and his band and his songs seemed like some kind of realization of those fantasies.

I loved GBV right away, but I could never have foreseen the way the band became identified with MAGNET or the number of encounters that link would create. I spent the rest of the ’90s and early 2000s going to GBV shows and rubbing elbows with Pollard and the rotating cast of band members. It was pretty great.

I’m thinking about all this because it all started a quarter of a century ago. MAGNET started 25 years ago. This is the 150th issue of the magazine. I’m still writing The Back Page column. The magazine is a lot slicker than it used to be, and the writing throughout is always really good. As much as the magazine has changed, though, it can’t compare to everything about the world the magazine covers.

This may sound like a complaint, and maybe it is, but I almost feel like we at MAGNET have become kind of like the staff at Downbeat or some other jazz magazine. We’re writing not about a current and vibrant art form, but more often we’re looking back on the happier past, when our music was fresh and new and exciting. When new artists are the subject, it feels almost like we’re fetishizing bands that make music that sounds like the stuff we loved so much from the ’90s.

Meanwhile, it feels like many of the current artists are trust-fund brats who have the money, time and freedom to dabble in cultural forms from a quarter-century ago. Picture some millennial opening a new bar that re-creates the feel and atmosphere of an old speakeasy, only with craft beer and a menu that includes locally sustainable meats and, of course, avocado toast. I might go in there and have a really good meal and a couple of drinks, but I wouldn’t be able to ignore the fact that it was a fundamentally artificial experience.

That’s how current indie-rock bands sound to me. Some of them sound pretty good, but they’re approximating a sound from another time. I saw dozens of bands in the 1990s—god, think of all the times I saw two opening bands just to get to a headlining band that I like—and one thing they almost all had in common was an authentic commitment to the music they were making. Maybe I was just a sucker and a lot of those bands were faking it, but I don’t think so.

Take a step back. There were bands in the ’90s that were doing their very best to recreate the sounds of bands from the ’60s or ’70s. I liked some of them, but there was that same sense of pantomime as we see so much today.

It’s tough. I mean, I would hate to be a young artist strumming a guitar in 2018. It feels like every chord progression and melody and lyrical idea has been covered and copied several times over. I’m not sure it’s possible for a band to sound as fresh and as original as GBV or Uncle Tupelo did to my ears in 1993.

And remember: I wasn’t a kid at that point. I was 30. I grew up going to see Bowie, the Stones, the Who and the Kinks. I had been a serious music fan for more than half my life, and I still got goosebumps the first time I saw GBV.

I don’t expect to have an experience like that again. Not now. MAGNET continues to write about worthwhile artists and to champion the few real standouts.

Hey, the staff over at Downbeat is always on the lookout for the next great horn player.

—Phil Sheridan

A Complete Idiot’s Guide To Guided By Voices: All 25 Albums Ranked

Because everyone loves lists, especially fans of their Uncle Bob

Not counting 1995’s King Shit And The Golden Boys (a rarities/outtakes collection) and 1996’s Tonics And Twisted Chasers (a Robert Pollard/Tobin Sprout “postal rock” effort released under the Guided By Voices name), Space Gun is GBV’s 25th proper album. To honor that arbitrary milestone, here’s a nonbinding ranking of them all. Disclaimer: A low spot on the list doesn’t mean the LP isn’t good. And remember: We are with you in your anger. —Matt Hickey

1. Bee Thousand
2. Under The Bushes Under The Stars
3. Alien Lanes
4. Same Place The Fly Got Smashed
5. Universal Truths And Cycles
6. Mag Earwhig!
7. Propeller
8. Vampire On Titus
9. Space Gun
10. Devil Between My Toes
11. How Do You Spell Heaven
12. August By Cake
13. Earthquake Glue
14. Isolation Drills
15. Half Smiles Of The Decomposed
16. Self-Inficted Aerial Nostalgia
17. Do The Collapse
18. Class Clown Spots A UFO
19. Sandbox
20. The Bears For Lunch
21. Cool Planet
22. Let’s Go Eat The Factory
23. English Little League
24. Motivational Jumpsuit
25. Please Be Honest