October 09, 2003

Interesting Vicodin Ramble ...

Interesting Vicodin Ramble About Rock Criticism and Other Sins: From rock critic Kate Sullivan. Here's a snippet:

i don't know how to explain it exactly, but i think the process of having to critique music all day for money fucks with the way you hear it. because critiquing music becomes tied to your income, and your sense of who you are in the world, you can easily lose track of the real reason people listen to and make music in the first place. music becomes a platform on which to prove your intellectual superiority, a tool for the construction of your ascendancy--you have to become superior to the music. i understand this because i am a critic, too, and a writer, and i do understand the necessity of "mastering" your subject before you sit down to write. when you sit down to write, you have to feel that you can "kill" your subject--you have to become its master, or you're sunk. or so the logic goes.

the problem is that you start to build a kind of resentment toward your subject--and why not? it's your adversary. you're the gay vegas guy in a codpiece and it's the white tiger. you gain all your glamour and mystique through the wild beauty of the animal you have tamed. you think those guys would be rich fuckers if they were working with carp? critics secretly know that their whole gig is based on someone else's glamour and power and freedom. and so they get a little baby chip on their shoulders, that just grows and grows--especially since most of them have musical yearnings of their own.

Sorta reminds me of the great Dr. Frank song "I Wrote a Book About Rock & Roll," off of Alcatraz, which you pop-punk-rock fans really should buy.

Posted by at October 9, 2003 02:15 AM

Could just be me, but I would ordinarily say that writers shouldn't quote writers who have refused to attend elementary grammar like caps.

(yawn) I just went another round on "Out On The Tiles" with an e-mail correspondent, so I'm in the tiger-taming mode this morning. (No codpiece, thanks. Where I come from, you rock-out with your cock out.) It could be pissed and moaned that I'd toss the dear Kate anyway, behind that, but that would be chippy. Know why?

Go read Mencken on Beethoven or Schubert. Kate's little metaphysical expropriation (inadvertant or not) of the topological classic "Flatland", set to cellular biology, really was adorably cute, but here was a writer -- a true critic -- who did not have to "fuck shit up". He knew what to raise, and how.

I'll give her this, though: she's right about the infirmities of critics today. The Crestomather of Baltimore once pointed out:

"All genuine music lovers try to make music. They may do it badly, and even absurdly, but nevertheless they do it. Any man who pretends to cherish the tone-art and yet has never learned the scale of C major -- any and every such man is a fraud. The opera houses of the world are crowded with such liars."

So are the public prints.

Posted by: Billy Beck at October 9, 2003 07:18 AM

If she didn't have such a good point, I'd agree about the no-caps, no-read thing. Darn it, I hate it when people put good content in ways that are demonstrably harder to parse than they need to be. (Mixed case is measurably better than either all caps or all lower case; telegraph companies established this way back when.)

The same problem affects every field, I think. Ebert's written well about how easy it can be to lose track of how everyone else sees films, and a bunch of my fellow authors have shared the problems they have just reading for pleasure or working out what the impact of a story is likely to be on people who aren't doing it for a living. I've come to think that there's real creative advantage in taking a sabbatical from all such activities once in a while, to regain the outside perspective.

Posted by: Bruce Baugh at October 9, 2003 08:04 AM

I direct lights for rock shows. Done it for more than a quarter-century. People in my business joke about being "ruined" for looking at a show, but nobody is really serious about it. "Perspective" happens when we see something really outstanding, and it's moments like Jonathan Smeeton's work on Peter Gabriel or Marc Brickman on Pink Floyd when the pro eye is a positive treasure: watching those shows, I would not have been an ordinary consumer for anything in the world, because I really knew what I was looking at, and that made it all the better by whole orders of magnitude.

To my mind, the real critic understands, first. Only at that point can he or she illuminate the value of something really valuable, which is what the initial impulse to that sort of work should be.

The larger point, to me, is that what passes for "criticism" now is far more often cynicism: it's not about values. It's about prejudices.

That's a whole different problem that no amount of "perspective" taken off the job can address.

Posted by: Billy Beck at October 9, 2003 08:41 AM

Zappa comes through yet again with his "Definition of rock journalism: People who can't write, doing interviews with people who can't think, in order to prepare articles for people who can't read."

Not that this fundamental truth ever stops anyone. One of Zappa's thicker bios is from a Adorno-addled deconstructionist. What's pathetic is that it's certain the guy actually feels FZ's talent. But the author's love for chatter actively dimisnished his capacity to share that gift. Later in his career Zappa was compelled to deal with some genuine, broadly-roaming journalists, and was not wholly unimpressed.

Posted by: cridland at October 9, 2003 09:55 AM

History of Rock Written by the Losers

Posted by: JFT at October 9, 2003 12:07 PM

What was it (fart) Billy was wanting to say? Got so caught up trying to sound smart he completely lost me (or was it just my interest?).

Posted by: Steve at October 9, 2003 01:03 PM

Frank Zappa was a rock critic pretending to be a rock star.

Posted by: emptypockets at October 10, 2003 03:07 AM

Sixty-five records, hundreds of concerts, some films, dozens of unproduced works... He was pretty convincing.

Posted by: Cridland at October 10, 2003 04:02 AM

Frank Zappa was a full-blown cultural critic who was also a rock star.

And perhaps the single most under-rated guitarist of his era, too.

Posted by: Billy Beck at October 10, 2003 07:20 AM

" the process of having to critique music all day for money fucks with the way you hear it"

Except that no one who isn't paid has to do this. Which is a deeply weird point.

I'm missing something. Are a lot of people paid to listen to rock?

This is a lot like listening to people who get a jillion dollars for launching missiles that ploink and make a million.

Wow, listening to music doesn't give you a free lunch. Holy crap, we must kill everyone involved.

What the fuck is this about? Nine-year-olds?

Posted by: Gary Farber at October 11, 2003 08:09 PM

But don't you critique music when you hear it, anyway? Navel-gazing can be so dull, dontcha think? So, sweetie, don't take the money.

Posted by: LuLyu at October 12, 2003 08:13 PM
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