It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

The Daily Vault at 20

by Christopher Thelen

20_150Have you ever left a job that you really liked, and occasionally gone back to where you worked? Chances are, you felt a mixture of happiness to be back, sadness that you're no longer part of it, and confusion as to why you left in the first place.

Every time I type in the URL of this little website that I founded and launched 20 years ago, I have some of those feelings myself. Over a decade ago, when I was married and my twins were babies, I made the decision that I had to refocus my time towards my family and gave up ownership and day-to-day control of the Daily Vault; a few years ago, I left the review panel because I honestly didn't think I was pulling my weight anymore, and wanted to open the slot open to someone hungrier than I was at the time.

Do I feel sad, or wonder what I was giving up? Absolutely not. The decisions I made were absolutely right at the time.

In fact, the only thing I feel is a lot of pride – and not because I can stand there and say, “See that? I created it!” You see, I recognized very early into this site's existence that its success had less to do with what I did, and more with what the entire writing team did. If I didn't feel I was the best person to write a review of a disc whose style I wasn't comfortable with or the most knowledgeable about – not that it always stopped me, by the way – I had other people who were more than willing and much better able to pick up the ball and run with it. (I'm especially proud of the work that Jason Warburg has done since taking over ownership of the site – he's taken this into areas I never would have considered, and I'm convinced his vision and drive is what's brought us to this very special day in our history.)

I'm proud of what every single person who has had a byline featured here has contributed to our pages – and I sincerely thank them for helping to keep a little idea I had in December of 1996 alive every single day. I think it's safe to speak for Jason, my partner in crime here…but we're also proud of every writer who has used this site as a springboard to bigger and grander things – we're glad to have been able to be that outlet you needed.

In the beginning, I wanted to become a combination of the Roger Ebert and Cecil Adams of music criticism. I wanted Ebert's insight and knowledge intertwined with the absolute smart-ass attitude that Adams (and his editor, Ed Zotti) imbibe their column “The Straight Dope” with every week. In time, I learned to put my own voice and style into the reviews, all the while trying to follow the model I started with in my mind. I can't speak for any of the people I tried to emulate, but I hope I did them proud. (And if I didn't, at least I haven't heard from their attorneys.)

It does occasionally boggle my mind, though, that we're still here…and that's only because I look at some of the larger names in terms of music websites (most of them sales-based) who we've outlasted. Wikipedia has a love-hate relationship with us – they love to occasionally pull quotes from some of our reviews, or provide links to them, but they refuse to recognize us as a “professional” music reviewing organization.

Hell, we outlasted Prince – and long-time readers know my feelings towards him and his desire to control all news and media about him and his music. And, we outlasted Lemmy…that one still hurts.

A lot of things change over the course of 20 years. In that time, I've gotten divorced, been a single dad for the past three years, and have recently found love again, with a wedding set down the road in 2020. I've lost a lot of hair, and my waistline – well, let's not talk about that. I've moved from a rathole apartment in Des Plaines to an even bigger rathole apartment in Glenview, and then to my current home in Gurnee. I founded a mobile DJ business, which I just ceased operating.

I've seen my three kids grow up into fascinating individuals. I look at my son wearing t-shirts for bands like Motorhead, Kiss, and Iron Maiden, or I listen to my daughters take part in their respective high school and college choirs / choral groups, and I know that I helped to instill that love of music in them. And, honestly, it does my heart proud.

The music, though, is still my passion and my love. I might not be knowledgeable about all the music my 14-year-old daughter listens to, or any of the K-pop or J-pop my soon-to-be stepdaughter likes, but there is still music I hear which makes my heart sing, or brings tears to my eyes because of its beauty. My fervent hope is that I never lose that passion – and I don't think I ever will. It's taken me on amazing journeys throughout my 46-plus years travelling the planet – and I'm not ready to stop wandering yet.

And while I don't visit these pages every day – I know, blasphemy! – I am heartened to see that the writing panel will always have its work cut out for them. There are so many artists whose work has yet to grace these pages – and I'm realistic enough to know that we'll never be able to cover them all, though we'll try, and other artists whose catalogs are so extensive that good portions of their recorded works have yet to be covered herein. (The latter is something that is slowly being worked on, to the point that I was able to be lured out of retirement to help fill in some of the coverage holes.)

There is no way of knowing what the future holds – for this site, for any of us, or for the world. But it is my hope that on future anniversaries – the 25th, the 30th and the 40th, for example – I'm able to sit here among the thousands of reviews that dozens of people have written over those years, shake my head in amazement and say, “Wow… what a ride it's been…so far.”

And, to you the readers…“thank you” just isn't enough to say. Every single one of you – whether you stumbled onto these pages from another link or you found out about us through word of mouth, whether you only stayed for one review and were disgusted by what you read or you've been here through thick and thin, you all are the ones who keep this website alive, because you come back to read our review panel's opinions. Without you, we're simply spinning our wheels and getting nowhere. But you challenge us by encouraging us to look at albums in ways we never thought of; you recommend artists we may never have heard of, enlightening us as we try to enlighten others. And, yes, you even send us words of encouragement or thanks, and those all mean a lot to us.

The Daily Vault is, to me, akin to “The Little Engine That Could.” We shouldn't have lasted as long as we have, but we're still here, chugging along and chugging out reviews. Amazingly, the site is closing in on its 10,00oth review…and you know I'll be clamoring to claim that spot. (As Mel Brooks said in History Of The World, Part One, “It's good to be the king!”) And as long as we have writers who are as passionate about music as the original panel was, and we have readers passionate about music to continue to read, learn and even debate opinions, that 10,000th review will simply be another stepping stone for us all, into journeys still unknown.

Wherever they take us all, I'm glad you're with us for the ride. Now, please fasten your seat belt and return your tray to the locked and upright position… 'cause the ride is just beginning, and it's going to be a lot of fun.

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