Why the New Yorker issued a correction about Juan MacLean's drug use

New Yorker corrections are almost as rare as World Cup Finals goals -- and at least as over-analyzed. The one they ran this past week, however, may be a first: it would appear that the New Yorker found itself in the middle of an ugly, decade-plus-long rock and roll feud. 

It began innocently enough: critic Sasha Frere-Jones penned a long-overdue profile of LCD SOUNDSYSTEM's JAMES MURPHY (sorry kids, it's behind the paywall). And, as all profiles of Murphy must, S/FJ's had to genuflect at the altar of Providence, Rhode Island's legendary SIX FINGER SATELLITE. Here's how he handled it:

After majoring in English at NYU, Murphy set up a recording studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn. In 1996, he became the live-sound engineer for a band called Six Finger Satellite. He developed an approach to live sound that he called Death from Above, and became close to a band member named John MacLean, now known professionally as Juan MacLean.

MacLean recalls that "we all had raging heroin addictions, and James was the guy caught in the middle of the chaos, the straight guy hanging around with these people who were a mess."

And here's the correction that ran last week:

CORRECTION: IN "Let's Dance" (May 10), Juan MacLean's comments about heroin use were wrongly used to characterize the time period when James Murphy was working for Six Finger Satellite. MacLean's remarks referred to a period of time several years earlier, and were not meant to exclusively describe that band or its members." 

Translation: the New Yorker regrets letting John MacLean describe the rest of his band as a bunch of raging heroin addicts.

MacLean has been very open about his past drug abuse. (For a longer account of the period described above by SFJ, see my 2005 profile of DFA Records and Juan MacLean, which includes interviews with MacLean and DFA label manager Jonathan Galkin, as well as a detailed passage on Murphy's work with Six Finger Satellite.) Here's how MacLean characterized his heroin use to Pitchfork in June of 2009: "When I was 25, I was in rehab for six months. At that time, Six Finger Satellite had just come from a long U.S. tour with two heroin addicts in the band, me and [bassist] Kurt Niemand. When we got home to Providence, the band literally threw our bags out the door of the van and kicked us out of the band. That's when I got myself into that program. Kurt actually died a short time after that from an overdose. It was a pretty intense time."

6FS was a chaotic band, and chroniclers -- even those of us who were around to see them perform in the early '90s -- have always had a hard time sorting out the chronology of who did what when. Murphy appears to have become the group's soundman around 1996 or 1997, while the period MacLean described in the P4K piece was around 1994 or 1995. MacLean left the band in 1998, but members J. Ryan and Rick Pelletier have continued to record and perform as Six Finger Satellite. My understanding -- from talking, over the years, to MacLean and to friends of Ryan and Pelletier -- is that there is still a deep rift between the two camps. 

Knowing that Juan MacLean was unlikely to have complained about being misquoted, I hazarded a guess and pinged him on Twitter. "Interesting correction in this week's @newyorker re: your bad old days. I'd guess the 6FS guys requested it?"

His reply: "Demanded, yes."

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