By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The room "J.R." writes his blog posts in is the new sanctuary of modern music criticism. There's an unmade mattress--no box springs, no frame--against the wall. Beer cans and cigarettes litter his desk. The walls are barren, but CDs and records fill the room, lit only by the glow of a computer screen.
It's here that I hand J.R. a CD so he can burn himself a copy--a thank-you gift for letting me come to his place near downtown Dallas. I wheedled to get an invite; this is the first formal interview ever conducted about his Web site (weshotJR.com), a modest--and wholly anonymous--daily screed about the ups and downs of bands, musicians and albums from Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton.
I had thought he was anxious because he wanted to keep his identity secret. ("J.R.," if you haven't guessed by now, is a pseudonym.) That's only part of it. "It's partially a fear, for sure, because I don't want to have to deal with people asking questions about it all the time."
People asking questions all the time? Isn't this just some dinky little Web site about local bands? Sure, and that's the real reason he's not keen on my showing up at his apartment. J.R. prides himself on his utter detachment from the world of local music, as he should: The site now racks up hundreds of weekly hits because music fans in town trust his voice. If he wants to trash a Dallas staple like the Deathray Davies, then whammo, the Deathray Davies suck, so sayeth J.R. If he loves a band, then it's a wholly genuine sentiment from an Everyman, not a journalist, a practiced critic or, worst of all, somebody with an agenda.
Since J.R.'s first post in January, his site has become a local stomping ground for musicians, writers and angry, anonymous posters who rant even more than the creator himself. Even better, he's but one guy in a rapidly growing collective of local music Web sites that scrutinize Dallas' music scene the way it deserves. National media ignores our bands--heck, local media does too. But people like J.R. --including Dallas hipsters, 40-something moms and a few in between--are making themselves heard in the most fierce, amateur and independent ways possible...much like the best bands in town.
Cantalini is a polite, unassuming and modest guy; born in Detroit and raised in Plano, the UTD psychology alum holds an office job at an insurance company's mental health division, and in recent years, he's also been a behavioral therapist and a middle school volleyball coach. He's not interested in making a big deal about himself, and he's a little overwhelmed that there's even this much to talk about: "No one that I work with knows what I do all day, that I blog and read blogs." But his alter ego, Gorilla vs. Bear, has quietly and quickly become one of the nation's top MP3 blogs--a Web site filled with hand-picked songs available for free download, the modern version of the tastemaker DJ with occasional news and quips mixed into the music.
"I get 5,000 to 6,000 unique visitors a day, which is pretty crazy," Cantalini says. "When I really think about that, it's insane. The fact that that many people read what I'm saying...which is basically a bunch of bullshit about whatever I'm doing, like the Mavericks or whatever."
Idle basketball banter isn't why they're coming in droves; his musical taste is. The man sifts through countless albums and MP3 downloads to post around 10 songs per week on his site, which he began in March 2005 simply because of boredom. Cantalini wanted to hip his friends to the music he downloaded during free time--"I just thought most of my friends listened to stupid music, watched bad TV, listened to crappy radio"--and a free BlogSpot account let him do just that.
During his high school basketball days, Cantalini fell deeply for "golden age" hip-hop (Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul), which became his gateway to all genres of underground and independent music through college and beyond. These days, GvB's variety, which stretches from country to dance and in between, is guided by only one unofficial rule: Smart wins out, whether because of inventive remixes, poetic songwriting, lush orchestration or simply a perfect level of poppy bombast.