As a critical reader and serious music fan, Orlando Weekly was always the city's gold standard in music journalism to me, and it was almost singlehandedly because of Jason Ferguson (OW music editor and columnist 2002-2008, ongoing contributor). Long before I got to know him as a colleague, years before I even contemplated doing this myself, he was the first local critic that struck me with undiluted honesty and truth.
One of the earliest, most crystal moments I can remember as a reader was some comment he wrote about Jason Mraz. Now, beating up on Mraz isn't difficult, but that guy was omnipresent at the time, and it was all fucking wrong. Ferguson's jab was brief and passing – he didn't expend many words just to undress a sack like that – but it was so incisive as to be jarring in the generally beige haze of music journalism then. I actually reread that shit aloud to my friends right there on the spot. From then on, I tuned in every time.
Though the Sword, Vietnam and Aterciopelados pop out, it's a little hard to recall all the bands he first clued me in on, no doubt a symptom of covering thousands of bands myself over the years. But above all the great recommendations he made, the most vital thing Ferguson did was act as a bastion and defender of the critical voice in art (something his Notable Noise column of Sept. 15, 2005, reasoned with beautiful and humorous flair). Be it in music, film, restaurants, anything, everything – I've always looked to opinion as the springboard to real discourse.
Although a longtime fan, it wasn't until I was a fellow music columnist (for Orlando CityBeat, the Sentinel's earnest but short-lived attempt at youth relevance) that I finally made Ferguson's acquaintance. We frequently ended up at the same concerts and so had countless hours of critical conversations about what we saw and heard. We never actively colluded, but we often found ourselves on the same side of music scene issues. He called it from his corner and I from mine at the same time, and there was enough general alignment that aXis Magazine snidely lumped us together as "Bao Ferguson" for a while there. It was like some two-headed hawk fighting on the same front, and it was quite a time.
I believe editorials are the best, most valuable thing that OW does. And Ferguson's work is music commentary par excellence. Instead of rote monkey reporting, his writing has always been rich in perspective, something with both eloquence and teeth. To scenesters clouded by hubris or partisanship, the words in his column were caustic. To clear-eyed thinker-readers, however, they were thunderbolts of straight dope. Many of the former perceived him to be hostile to the local scene, but they were bent by self-interest and fragility. Those with the capacity for honesty, however, could see his advocacy for this city plainly. It was something he expressed with at least as much gusto, clarity and frequency as any of his censure. Most importantly, it was the kind of tough, activating love that rightfully believes that holding our scene up to thoughtful, honest critique was the healthiest, most progressive thing to do to advance it.
If that sounds a little like someone you should know pretty well by now, well, I hope so. I've been yelling in your face almost every week for nearly a decade now and that's precisely the kind of ethos I try to continue here with This Little Underground in this same space, the one with which I was personally entrusted by Ferguson himself, where it all started for me as a local reader, at Orlando Weekly.