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[whitespace] Courtney Love
Airing her grievances for all to read, Courtney Love makes good use of the Rope.

Rope Burn

While Craigslist declines, Velvetrope sizzles with music industry gossip

By Gina Arnold

CRAIGSLIST.ORG is the award-winning website that bills itself as a Bay Area online community. For several years, it has, indeed, created a virtual world, complete with neighborhoods, politics and debates. Its bulletin boards provide users with everything from a job to a friend to a pet to a blowjob. In the past, Craigslist has been a useful way to find an apartment, sell a car or search for work. Ever since the economy went sour, however, Craigslist has become a creepier place to lurk around in. I first noticed when I started to look for a used car last February. I knew what I wanted: a 4- or 5-year-old VW. Craigslist has a car board that posts 100 new listings a day, but they were all massively overpriced. Everyone was moving away and selling their brand-new cars at practically brand-new prices.

Since that time, I have seen other things on Craigslist that have made me blanch, from new parents who want to sell the incredible surplus of crapola they bought for their newborn ("over 200 outfits!" wrote one such overspender) and who include caveats like "Don't try and cheat me: I know what these things are worth" to men who solicit free sex from women by writing long, sad screeds about what shitty years they've had.

Elsewhere on the site, someone posted a job request that said he was "bored" and would be happy to come over and try to fix your computer for $10 an hour. "I can't fix everything, but I'm willing to give it a shot." Can you imagine having a bored person come mess up your computer for you--while no doubt telling you all their problems? Elsewhere, a child-care worker posted a notice complaining that many parents who called her from Craigslist wanted to pay her as little as $3 an hour. Obviously, not everyone who uses Craiglist is a spoiled, petulant asshole, but there are certainly enough people in that community to make the entire website seem suspect.

It's really a pity, since Craigslist is, in general, such a good service, but, alas!, it necessarily serves a population with a high proportion of people who've earned too much and done too little for far too long. It also points out the fatal flaw in all online communities: if they work as they're supposed to and serve a really narrow audience, they can expose the foibles and personalities not just of individual posters but of an entire industry.

A case in point is the music industry, which has a number of bulletin board services that serve as a similar eye-opening window on the workings of their world. Probably the most revealing is the Velvet Rope (www.velvetrope.com). The Rope, as it's called, is used by employees of the music industry, both as a gossip line and a kind of informal marketing tool. In addition, posters can express their opinions about music and bands, as well as passing on information about job openings, business deals and scandals within the industry.

Lately the Rope has been haunted by Courtney Love, who has used it to air her grievances against surviving Nirvana members Krist Novoselic and David Grohl. Other topics include debates on Spin magazine's choice of the top 50 bands ever; guesses as to Grammy winners; and "flash" news items such as one that says that Paul Westerberg is signing to Vagrant, releasing a new record in March and considering touring and even reuniting the Replacements. (That last item is probably confounded by a faux "2002 wish list" in a Minneapolis paper; Rope's information isn't always reliable.)

"Ropers," as they like to call themselves, often complain that the board is no longer as insider-driven as it used to be. Instead, it's cluttered with lurkers who don't know the meaning of the name Jill Berliner (the lawyer representing Courtney Love in her suit against Nirvana) and thus don't access the more flame-ridden columns. And certainly lots of people who post on the Rope, particularly the artists, come off as prize jerks.

Nevertheless, I enjoy the Rope. It's very interesting, and besides, the intensity with which its adherents will debate certain issues, and the way they fly to the defense (or the castigation) of people in the industry, reminds me of why we all love music in the first place. Compared to Craigslist, it is a model of selflessness, a fount of passion and a damn good read.

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From the January 17-23, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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