Morast exits, stage right

If you’re part of the music scene in Sioux Falls, you’re not supposed to like Robert Morast.

If you fancy yourself a Midwestern intellectual, you’re not supposed to like Robert Morast.

If you’re a friend of the nightlife in Sioux Falls. If you’re a blogger. A message board troll. A hipster. A hip hopper. A local band not covered in the Link. An aspiring scenester. If you’re a skateboarder, a bar patron or anyone under the age of 40 who is desperately trying to be cool, you’re not supposed to like Robert Morast.

I am not supposed to like Robert Morast. I am supposed to pan his every word. I am required through my standing in this city’s social strata – as a young man with a love of music, friends in the scene and a creative-by-nature profession – to look at everything Robert Morast writes with an eye sharpened by criticism, to tear apart every sentence with vinegar-laced fury.

If you’re a living, breathing young person in Sioux Falls, you are supposed to wish Robert Morast away. And the answer to our prayers is here. He is going away.

So why am I sad to see him go?

When we moved back to Sioux Falls, fresh from several years of a near-daily Star Tribune fix, we subscribed to the Argus Leader. We read the paper from cover to back every day, loving every word Sanaa Abourezk wrote and grumbling over the lack of quality box scores in the Sports section. We were Argus-philes, for good and bad.

To us, the bad was squarely on the shoulders of Robert Morast. He was our whipping boy. He was to blame for every Argus mistake. We found him pretentious and pandering. He talked about himself too much and about worthwhile subjects too little. His opinions and interviews were too basic, his stands too weak. We rose up with both fists pounding, screaming for his head and yelling, “HACK! HACK!” whenever we could.

The thing is – he was never that bad. We, as many did, found ourselves caught up in the joy of having a local newspaper personality we could easily hate. Every paper needs one. For those above a certain age bracket, it was Randall Beck. For our generation, it’s Robert Morast.

In fact, Robert Morast has been a perfect local columnist – in fact, one of the best. His opinions aren’t based in what the general population wants to hear; instead, they provoked discussion and were unapologetically his own. Sure, every writer gets grating and self-congratulatory at times – myself included. It’s part of the job. You write from your own mind, and everything therein screams to be included.

He was barbed when he needed to be, probing when he was required. Morast had a style unlike anyone at the Argus, and was able to write not just about his small, structured station in life but about every single type of music that meandered through our dusty villa.

We want our newspaper columnists to mirror our every view. We want to see our opinions carbon copied in print, solid and scrapbookable, fresh for the fridge door. We want our local music reviewer to have the same opinions as us – to reinforce our own wary opinions. It’s the great paradox of alternative culture – the desire to like different things while at the same time wanting everyone else we know to like those exact same differing things.

Over the years, through a combination of better writing and time, Robert Morast became more likable. He probably always was. But we had always just slapped the blinders on and forged forward in a blind hatred spun together by what was the norm at the time.

It’s no secret that I’m not much of an Argus fan anymore. But though my friends seemed to revile everything Robert Morast wrote, I increasingly felt as though he was one of the paper’s few bright spots.

Sports writing is interchangeable. Politics repeats the same tune over and over again. But if you don’t think it’s challenging to write about both the most recent Modest Mouse show and a Chet Atkins concert – to bounce from an Elton John article directed at boomers to a Soulcrate Music preview aimed at us scenesters – you’re crazy.

If you’re anyone who’s anyone, you’re not supposed to like Robert Morast. The thing is, if you’re a fan of journalism that’s a little bit outside the norm, Robert Morast is exactly what you should like. And I’m afraid we’ll all realize that when it’s too late, after he’s gone, when a new replacement is having a hard time in the position, struggling to be our whipping boy and fighting against the rigors of a critical scene.

You’re not supposed to like Robert Morast. And he never cared. Truth be told, Robert Morast was probably more a part of the scene and this city than we’ll ever claim to be.

You’re supposed to be rejoicing right now. And I just can’t bring myself to do it.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 25th, 2008