Monday, February 13, 2012

The Dime Squad #3: Jonathan Bogart

One More Robot Editor Dean Van Nguyen enjoys an e-mail back-and-forth with Nineties Hip-Hop Issue contributor and pop documenter Jonathan Bogart.

Can you remember the first time you heard hip-hop? What was the song that made you aware?

I don't remember the first time I heard hip-hop with any clarity -- there was never any head-turning "what is THIS?" moment, because I had heard it described long before I ever heard it. Because of my sheltered upbringing -- I was homeschooled for most of the 80s, and my parents were evangelical missionaries -- I'm pretty sure I didn't hear any hip-hop until 1990 or 1991, when I would have first been exposed to Christian rappers like dc Talk, Stephen Wiley, Mike-E, P.I.D. (Preachers In Disguise), and others I can't remember on a sampler cassette that filtered into our house from some kind donor. But it would have only been a few months later that I turned on local radio and heard "Ice Ice Baby," which was the first mainstream hip-hop I heard. I remember envying the kids at the Guatemalan school I was going to, who danced to "Ice Ice Baby" and knew all the words even if it was the only English they knew.

You're really well known and respected among music journalists and readers alike but, unlike many of your peers, most of your work crops up on very alternative websites and, of course, your many blogs. Was this intentional on your part?

Well, I've only been writing seriously about music for two or three years, and I think I'm about where that deserves. I don't try -- or necessarily even want -- to make a living writing about music, so I haven't pursued the kind of exposure or access that someone paying bills by their pen needs. I think of my peers as other enthusiastic amateurs; I've never even pitched anything that hasn't been solicited first.

I think I first came across you when I read your 'best of the decade' song lists of every era right back to the 19th century. I used to listen to those lists song-after-song. Can you tell me a little bit about that project and when did you become so enamoured by musical history?

The project actually started as a response to Pitchfork's 200 Songs of the 1960s feature -- and after doing the 60s, I realized that it was so much fun I wanted to do one for each decade. I've always been interested in history, so when I started becoming fascinated by the broad scope of music around the turn of the millennium thanks to the endless availability offered by Napster and the canon-making of end-of-the-century lists, it was natural for me to be as interested in the music of the Coolidge Administration as in the music of the Nixon, Reagan, or Bush II eras. (That's the 20s, 60s/70s, 80s, and 00s respectively, for non-American readers.)
Are you a big time music collector? I'm thinking about the piece you wrote for The Vinyl Issue. Also, it can't of been easy to Napster some of the tunes on your list like 'Russian Scissors' by The Oriental Orchestra or "Rock My Soul" by The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.
I've had my bouts of collector's fever; especially with older material, it's essential to be able to track down reissues on CDs and LPs. But there's more available online (or through certain ahem channels) than you might expect; the tricky part is knowing what information to trust. 
Finally, I just five minutes ago googled both our names and saw this: You call me "The Second Nicest Man in Pop Criticism". And Hendrik is #1! Care to comment on this travesty? I'd come after Hendrik's crown, but I'm actually too nice to do that.. 
There's such a thing as being too nice! You have an editorial judgment which makes you not a pushover.
haha. very flattering.

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