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Hipper-Than-Thou Rock Critics


Andy Whitman
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Books & Culture currently features an article by Mark Gavreau Judge entitled "Please Flush: Why Rock Critics Need to Re-Read Lester Bangs and JP II." You can read the entire article here. Judge takes rock critics to task for their elitist attitudes. He begins his article:

"Let's impose a moratorium on rock critics. Now. A few months ago, I came across this line by critic David Dunlap, Jr.: "[The band] Windsor for the Derby has plenty of experience jumping subgenres

Edited by Andy Whitman
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I read that article in B&C, along with the review of Sufjan's music that appeared on the opposite page. I liked what both articles were doing. You are making a good point about not dumbing down music criticism, but it seems that that kind of talk about subgenres can be broken down a bit to help those who may not even know that there is a Manchester sound.

But you may be right, Andy. Before reading your post, I didn't think I knew what slo-core was, and I definitely did not know what krautrock was (it sure sounds German). So my first response to your post is that I'd be hoping for a few more textual clues in the review to help me know what a slo-core krautrock band would sound like. However, then I Wiki'd both terms, and found that I had a good feel for what that music would sound like after reading short descriptions of slo-core (bleak lyrical themes, slow tempos and minor-key melodies - from Wiki) and krautrock (experimental German music; think Kraftwerk and Tangerine).

So then the question is, is it good journalism to send readers to Wikipedia for more information, or is it better to leave them with a clear impression? Not everyone has to go to wiki for more information - I assume that Andy, Thom, and others would not have. However, if 98 percent of the world is lost with that description, maybe the critic is not doing their job (unless their job is writing to that elite 2% - and it may be).

I want music criticism that is not just focused on what the lyrics say. But my problem is, I have no musical background, no music theory to help me. I'm not sure how many music critics are talking about that kind of stuff anyway, but if they do, and I'm lost, it is either my problem (I need to get that background I don't have), or it is their problem (couldn't they do a better job communicating to those who aren't the experts?). I'm curious, Andy, if you read the review of Sufjan in B&C? And what you thought of it? I appreciate how they are not only talking about the lyrics, and despite my respect for Sufjan, find myself appreciating this criticism:

"This is precisely where Stevens' latest project, Illinois

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To answer your later question, Jeff, and so I don't have to quote everything, yes, I did read that Sufjan review. I didn't really agree with the author. I particularly disagreed with his statement:

"In short, there is a major disconnect between the subtleties of Sufjan Stevens the poet and Sufjan Stevens the composer. His music lacks the carefully modulated gradations of tone, meaning, and mood that distinguish his poetry."

Well, let's see: Sufjan plays banjo and guitar, features trombones and trumpets, uses counterpoint to great effect in songs such as "The Wasp of the Palisades," employs elements of funk and heavy metal, and frequently employs female backup singers who function equally as Phil Spector girl group and Greek chorus. I'm not sure what the author is looking for, but that sounds like "carefully modulated gradations of tone, meaning, and mood" to me.

I read that article in B&C, along with the review of Sufjan's music that appeared on the opposite page. I liked what both articles were doing. You are making a good point about not dumbing down music criticism, but it seems that that kind of talk about subgenres can be broken down a bit to help those who may not even know that there is a Manchester sound.

But you may be right, Andy. Before reading your post, I didn't think I knew what slo-core was, and I definitely did not know what krautrock was (it sure sounds German). So my first response to your post is that I'd be hoping for a few more textual clues in the review to help me know what a slo-core krautrock band would sound like. However, then I Wiki'd both terms, and found that I had a good feel for what that music would sound like after reading short descriptions of slo-core (bleak lyrical themes, slow tempos and minor-key melodies - from Wiki) and krautrock (experimental German music; think Kraftwerk and Tangerine).

So then the question is, is it good journalism to send readers to Wikipedia for more information, or is it better to leave them with a clear impression? Not everyone has to go to wiki for more information - I assume that Andy, Thom, and others would not have. However, if 98 percent of the world is lost with that description, maybe the critic is not doing their job (unless their job is writing to that elite 2% - and it may be).

I think it's a balancing act. I think the background information is helpful, but reviewers are often severely constrained by the length of the review. If I can only use 100 words to encapsulate an album (and that's not uncommon at Paste), I simply don't have an opportunity to delve into all the influences, let alone critically evaluate those influences. I can provide a snapshot, and sometimes "Mancunian-tinged postrock" is the best I can do. But sure, the more context a reviewer can provide, the better.

But it really does come down to knowing one's audience. I assume that people who go out of their way to subscribe to Paste, or buy it on the newsstand, are more interested in and aware of rock music history, and all its confusing tributaries, than the average American Idol fan. And I assume that even if they are unfamiliar with a particular artist or genre, they are interested in learning.

The same issues arise in any popular medium. A book reviewer could, I'm sure, confuse/alienate some percentage of his readers by referring to "the labyrinthine, Dickensian plot structure." To truly understand that statement, the reader would have to be familiar with the works of Charles Dickens. These kinds of comparisons, and the potential to alienate people who may not be familiar with them, are unavoidable. It seems to me that people have two choices: they can get upset and complain, or they can read Charles Dickens. It's the same with a music review. Reviewers should do what they can do to communicate clearly and insightfully. But they can't control the knowledge and familiarity of their readership with the subject matter. I would hope that next time Mr. Judge, instead of whining about music he doesn't know, might take the time to listen to some representative examples, and thereby better understand the review.

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So then the question is, is it good journalism to send readers to Wikipedia for more information, or is it better to leave them with a clear impression? Not everyone has to go to wiki for more information - I assume that Andy, Thom, and others would not have. However, if 98 percent of the world is lost with that description, maybe the critic is not doing their job (unless their job is writing to that elite 2% - and it may be).

This is always a challenge for me. On the one hand, I want to give decent definitions of the musical genres that a particular band is dabbling in. On the other hand, I don't want to define or summarize "shoegazer" or "slowcore" or "post-rock" or "glitch" in every single review that I right, lest I end up repeating myself all the time.

However, I don't want to make every instance of the word "shoegazer" a link to the Wikipedia entry -- that just seems way too over-the-top. That being said, the wealth of info on the Internet -- Wikipedia entries, MP3 clips, Last.fm, Pandora, etc. -- make it easier than ever for folks to find out more about different genres, even the really obscure ones, should they so desire. And I think good writers should do their best to encourage that sort of discovery.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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I would hope that next time Mr. Judge, instead of whining about music he doesn't know, might take the time to listen to some representative examples, and thereby better understand the review.

But Andy, don't you think that there ARE writers who delight in a certain snobbish style, whose reviews are more about showcasing their specialized knowledge than about the music? And if so, is it fair for him to criticize it?

I think there is a natural tendency for specialists to fall into a pattern of using jargon that can be incomprehensible to "outsiders." I hear it more than I read it -- often at gatherings of industry people or at festivals: men (usually), trying to one-up each other and impress anyone nearby with their vocabulary and breadth of knowledge.

The best reviewers combine keen insight with accessibility; that accessibility can be mistaken for simplicity, and no one likes to lose the approval of peers. But you've got to love the Greydanuses and Chattaways (and Whitmans!) who COULD fill their writing with obscure references and challenging metaphors, but who know how to make credible and compelling observations without doing so.

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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I don't know if this always the case though, Tim. I often read Kael, Sontag, Eco, and these sorts of critics with great delight. Such critics pepper their work with ten-dollar words and wry sorts of puns that a minority of their readers will actually pick up on.

But I have never thought that such writers are trying to show you how smart they are, rather they are excited by language and enjoy playing with it in their writing. Such writing often gets mistaken for elitist or jargonist when it is actually quite playful, innocent, and creative.

I always thought this was the case when watching Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot debate back and forth about music on a weekly show in Chicago. DeRogatis was always quite pleased with himself to be so smart and loquacious (a bad critic) while Greg Kot was just having a good time communicating about music (a good critic). Both would be using the same jargon, but in much different ways.

That being said, I prefer the jargon, as when it is properly employed I can read a review of a cd in about 10 seconds.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Guest thom_jurek

Books & Culture currently features an article by Mark Gavreau Judge entitled "Please Flush: Why Rock Critics Need to Re-Read Lester Bangs and JP II." You can read the entire article here. Judge takes rock critics to task for their elitist attitudes. He begins his article:

"Let's impose a moratorium on rock critics. Now. A few months ago, I came across this line by critic David Dunlap, Jr.: "[The band] Windsor for the Derby has plenty of experience jumping subgenres

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But Andy, don't you think that there ARE writers who delight in a certain snobbish style, whose reviews are more about showcasing their specialized knowledge than about the music? And if so, is it fair for him to criticize it?

Yes, I do think there are reviewers like that, and yes, I think it's fair to criticize them. But I think we should be careful to make sure that our criticisms are truly based on hipper-than-thou snobbery (which I despise) rather than an expression of our own frustration because of our lack of knowledge.

Nardis, for example, knows far more about "world music" than I do. She could, without a doubt, toss around the names of dozens of musicians/bands, compare and contrast genres of music I've never even heard of, and leave me thoroughly frustrated. But if she were to do so, it wouldn't be her fault. She would simply be sharing her knowledge.

The review that Mr. Judge objected to used terms like "krautrock" and "electronica" and, of course, our favorite whipping boy, "Mancunian-tinged postrock." He objected because he didn't understand the terms. Should the reviewer have clarified them? I'd say it depends. I don't know the publication for which the reviewer was writing, and I have no way to gauge whether those terms would have been understood by the majority of his readers. But I will tell you that I know what "krautrock" and "electronica" mean, and I have a fair idea of what "Mancunian-tinged postrock" might sound like, so I'm not all that sympathetic to Mr. Judge's criticisms. It really does come down to whether the review was appropriate for the general knowledge level of the readers of the publication in which it appeared. If it was, then Mr. Judge is simply acting out of his own frustration, and there was really nothing wrong with the review.

I think there is a natural tendency for specialists to fall into a pattern of using jargon that can be incomprehensible to "outsiders." I hear it more than I read it -- often at gatherings of industry people or at festivals: men (usually), trying to one-up each other and impress anyone nearby with their vocabulary and breadth of knowledge.

The best reviewers combine keen insight with accessibility; that accessibility can be mistaken for simplicity, and no one likes to lose the approval of peers. But you've got to love the Greydanuses and Chattaways (and Whitmans!) who COULD fill their writing with obscure references and challenging metaphors, but who know how to make credible and compelling observations without doing so.

You know, I appreciate that, and I certainly agree with you about Steven and Peter. I really do want my writing to be accessible. But there's a fine line here. I'm not sure what the "accessible" version of "Mancunian-tinged postrock" might be. Most people aren't familar with the various Manchester bands that made their mark in the '80s and '90s. The term "postrock" is equally problematic from an accessibility standpoint, and again most people will be unfamiliar with any of the bands who characterize the genre. There simply is no popular equivalent. Nevertheless, "Mancunian-tinged postrock" really might be the most accurate label for the music under review. It's like asking which Disney movie is closest to an Ingmar Bergman film. Sometimes there really is no widely known point of comparison.

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Using the Great Lester Bangs to beat on Anonymous CD reviewer X and his 200 words seems like brutal overkill. The fact is if LB showed up today readers would call him a long winded, digressive geezer and lazy editors would massacre his writing until it screamed "yes, I am a consumer guide..."

That said, I think that many of our young "critics" do tend to be over-enamoured with their own opinions and don't work very hard at trying to communicate effectively what a piece of music feels like -- their jargonist writing tends to be a function of their consumer narcissism.

What is objectionable about phrases like "mancunian post-rock" is that they are so unthinkingly borrowed from the language of advertising. You can say what you want about Ol' Lester Bangs, he wouldn't have been blurbable or successful on Madison Avenue. This is much in contrast to the average review monkey, who seems, at least to me, to be born thinking in glossy superlatives or their opposites, and which possess a fundamental monotony.

And as always: Good writers should read at least once a year, Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" which destroys with quick speed any rationalizations as I've seen above about the necessity for Jargonized writing.

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

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The review that Mr. Judge objected to used terms like "krautrock" and "electronica" and, of course, our favorite whipping boy, "Mancunian-tinged postrock." He objected because he didn't understand the terms. Should the reviewer have clarified them? I'd say it depends. I don't know the publication for which the reviewer was writing, and I have no way to gauge whether those terms would have been understood by the majority of his readers. But I will tell you that I know what "krautrock" and "electronica" mean, and I have a fair idea of what "Mancunian-tinged postrock" might sound like, so I'm not all that sympathetic to Mr. Judge's criticisms. It really does come down to whether the review was appropriate for the general knowledge level of the readers of the publication in which it appeared. If it was, then Mr. Judge is simply acting out of his own frustration, and there was really nothing wrong with the review.

To continue, there is nothing wrong with the long-term process of learning, via listening what these terms or any terms mean. We live in such an instant society, it often feels like there isn't time for learning something new. I'm only 27. I feel I have a reasonable understanding of popular music in the United States. Yet, this isn't something that happened last week. It's something I've been working on for nearly ten years. When I first started listening to independent music, I couldn't tell you the difference between Pavement, Sonic Youth, or Joy Division. Yet, because music was something I enjoyed, I worked at it. One of the most valuable excercises I knew was to read and re-read reviews of albums I already owned. By taking the time, I learned the vocabulary. I was able to make connections. After sometime, I could guess what "krautrock", "electronica", or even "Mancunian-tinged postrock" might sound like, if the terms were foreign to me, because I knew what Windsor for the Derby sounded like.

I'm still learning. Good music writing continues to challenge me. I may not always know what Mr. Whitman or Mr. Jurek is talking about, but they challenge me because, more often than not, I have some starting point. In ten, fifeteen, twenty years I'll have all the more perspective. That being said, it wouldn't be fair for me to jump midstream into world music and complain about how they're "hipper-than-thou" because I would have absolutely no background in the genre. If I wanted to gain knowledge, I would start by the one group or artist I knew and make connections from there.

Further, why complain about the writing for Windsor for the Derby? Windsor for the Derby? Really? If you're going to read a review for Windsor for the Derby, you're probably going to have at least a tiny amount of knowledge about the type of music they play. It's not like Windsor for the Derby is getting huge write-ups in magazines like Entertainment Weekly or Time. Windsor for the Derby is a niche band, with a niche audience, and more likely than not, the author of the review is a part of that niche and knows the nitch for which he or her is writing.

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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Yes, I do think there are reviewers like that, and yes, I think it's fair to criticize them. But I think we should be careful to make sure that our criticisms are truly based on hipper-than-thou snobbery (which I despise) rather than an expression of our own frustration because of our lack of knowledge.

I agree with this. Perhaps my own frustration motivated my original reply, because...

I had no idea, until reading this thread, that "Mancunian" meant "of Manchester."

...ditto.

I wouldn't mind more conversation about Lester Bangs, and that portion of the article. I know his name is thrown around, and I know what I learned from reading this article. But what do others think of his journalism? It seems that you could replace Judge's use of that particular review he quoted with one that we would all agree is over-the-top, hipper-than-thou-snobbery, and Judge is still making a point. Do you agree with that point? Should we be pining for music criticism that confronts the death-dealing culture around us? I don't like that Judge seems to group every critic together, as in "have become as similar as bowling pins." But I do like that he wants more for music criticism than what we find at Pitchfork.

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Using the Great Lester Bangs to beat on Anonymous CD reviewer X and his 200 words seems like brutal overkill. The fact is if LB showed up today readers would call him a long winded, digressive geezer and lazy editors would massacre his writing until it screamed "yes, I am a consumer guide..."

Totally agree. I think Bangs was elitist in his own anti-hero way-- and I say that as someone who enjoys his writing to this day. He may have been a brutally honest critic but he also rarely delivered what one might call a concise review.

I've never forgotten this Paste Magazine gem, which I posted on another thread a while back... A review of Beck's Guero--

Beck has to go out... and face a world that has spiraled deep into his frayed nerves, gawked at his misfortunes and appropriated his most personal musings for its own sundry purposes. It's an awkward spot, much like facing a friend who bore sober witness to a night of drunken mewling when you were at your most desperate.
wow.

I cant help but think that music critics often traffic in this kind of self-absorbed wordplay out of insecurity. They really don't understand music, either technically or emotionally and so they spin off into these convoluted tangents to appear knowledgeable. It's a crutch for some. The unpardonable sin for music critics today is to come across as outside the Pitchfork-flavored, indie loop.

Another thing to consider is that most of these music mags have to crank out hundreds of reviews per issue. When I was growing up, you opened Creem and got your ten or fifteen album reviews. It seems like reviewers try too hard to find a distinct voice among the hordes of critics.

[Added] For the record-- and this is not intended as ass-lathering-- I've never found Andy's writing to veer into this territory. He successfully tempers his extensive knowledge with a certain "bottom-line" quotient that I appreciate tremendously. I recall reading a Merle Haggard piece he'd written not too long ago (an artist I think he said he was not previously familiar with) and smiling to myself joyfully all the way thru it. Great stuff.

Edited by coltrane

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I wouldn't mind more conversation about Lester Bangs, and that portion of the article. I know his name is thrown around, and I know what I learned from reading this article. But what do others think of his journalism? It seems that you could replace Judge's use of that particular review he quoted with one that we would all agree is over-the-top, hipper-than-thou-snobbery, and Judge is still making a point. Do you agree with that point? Should we be pining for music criticism that confronts the death-dealing culture around us? I don't like that Judge seems to group every critic together, as in "have become as similar as bowling pins." But I do like that he wants more for music criticism than what we find at Pitchfork.

Re: Lester Bangs, I read his reviews for Rolling Stone and Creem religiously, often enjoyed them, and often was infuriated by them. But that was Lester Bangs. He was frequently a great writer, as in this little paragraph from a wonderful essay called "A Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise":

"Look at it this way: there are many here among us for whom the life force is best represented by the livid twitching of one tortured nerve, or even a full-scale anxiety attack. I do not subscribe to this point of view 100%, but I understand it, have lived it. Thus the shriek, the caterwaul, the chainsaw gnarlgnashing, the yowl and the whizz that decapitates may be reheard by the adventurous or emotionally damaged as mellifluous bursts of unarguable affirmation."

He was also bellicose, argumentative to a fault, a ranting boor, and a great lover of, first and foremost, all things Lester Bangs. I find it somewhat ironic that Mr. Judge selected him as the Shining Knight of Rock Reviewers because Lester Bangs often rambled for long stretches about anything but music. It seems to me that he is supremely guilty of the charges that Mr. Judge levels against other critics. That said, he was a very funny guy, and never less than provocative.

Re: "pining for music criticism that confronts the death-dealing culture around us," I would point Mr. Judge to Paste Magazine. Yes, I'm biased. But really, when a magazine's tagline is "Signs of Life in Music, Film, Books and Culture," don't you think that magazine might have something to say about "the death-dealing culture"? I'd like to think so. Most music-related publications are celebrations of hype, image, sex, misogyny, addiction, sex, corporate mass marketing, sex, degradation, fantasy, and sex. But I can think of several that are not. Paste, but also No Depression, Harp, Mojo, Uncut, and almost all of the reviews at All Music Guide. My main advice for Mr. Judge is to put down what he's been reading and seek out some quality music content. It exists. But he hasn't been reading it.

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Re: "pining for music criticism that confronts the death-dealing culture around us," I would point Mr. Judge to Paste Magazine. Yes, I'm biased. But really, when a magazine's tagline is "Signs of Life in Music, Film, Books and Culture," don't you think that magazine might have something to say about "the death-dealing culture"? I'd like to think so. Most music-related publications are celebrations of hype, image, sex, misogyny, addiction, sex, corporate mass marketing, sex, degradation, fantasy, and sex. But I can think of several that are not. Paste, but also No Depression, Harp, Mojo, Uncut, and almost all of the reviews at All Music Guide. My main advice for Mr. Judge is to put down what he's been reading and seek out some quality music content. It exists. But he hasn't been reading it.

Amen to that.

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Darren H wrote:

: I had no idea, until reading this thread, that "Mancunian" meant "of Manchester."

Ditto. And I listen to Lush all the time, and phrase "Mancunian-tinged postrock" didn't bring them, or anything else, to mind at all.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Using the Great Lester Bangs to beat on Anonymous CD reviewer X and his 200 words seems like brutal overkill. The fact is if LB showed up today readers would call him a long winded, digressive geezer and lazy editors would massacre his writing until it screamed "yes, I am a consumer guide..."

That said, I think that many of our young "critics" do tend to be over-enamoured with their own opinions and don't work very hard at trying to communicate effectively what a piece of music feels like -- their jargonist writing tends to be a function of their consumer narcissism.

What is objectionable about phrases like "mancunian post-rock" is that they are so unthinkingly borrowed from the language of advertising. You can say what you want about Ol' Lester Bangs, he wouldn't have been blurbable or successful on Madison Avenue. This is much in contrast to the average review monkey, who seems, at least to me, to be born thinking in glossy superlatives or their opposites, and which possess a fundamental monotony.

Goganesh nails it.

Criticism that is based on a consumer mentality is nearly always going to be boring as heck (Christgau gets away with it by being just a hilariously compelling craftsman of prose).

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When I read medical journals, I get frustrated when they use all of those complicated terms. Why can't they just say "a broken leg"? Doctors are such elitsts.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Are medical journals for patients, or for other doctors?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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The thing about specialized knowledge is that is is rather exclusive by definition.

If the audience is another doctor, then it might be perfectly reasonable to talk about a Subtrochanteric Femur Fracture with Surgical Fixation. But if you are at the doctor's office, then you might prefer 'surgery on your broken hip.'

In Judge's original argument, he seems to be saying that rock music is pretty raw, whereas the current discussion of it is sometimes highly refined. So maybe the question is whether a writer is choosing his words as descriptive agents or as a bit of show and tell.

And since criticism is now an art (subject to our criticism here and now), it's no surprise that we develop favorites. (So maybe Judge is fine NOT to like something?)

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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Most music-related publications are celebrations of hype, image, sex, misogyny, addiction, sex, corporate mass marketing, sex, degradation, fantasy, and sex.

This is a little off the mark. There's nothing wrong with music publications writing about image and fantasy, which have always been part of music culture. Despite our collective fetishization of "authenticity", it's not as if the heroes of the rockist canon don't also have carefully cultivated images. I mean, look at who's on the cover of Paste, this month: Beck. And sex and sexuality are an important part of human experience; popular music has always been a forum for exploration and expression of sexuality, and that's not a bad thing. The problem is the commodfication of sexuality, commodification of image, commodification of fantasy, which reduces everything to the logic of the market; instant gratification, a constant voracious appetite for every new trend, a tendency to exalt novelty over craft.

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I'm glad to see anybody, Christian or otherwise put Lester Bangs on the required reading list. The best art is dangerous and challenges our tightly held beliefs.

"I decided it would be a real fun idea to get f'ed up on drugs and go see Tangerine Dream with Laserium. So I drank two bottles of cough syrup and subwayed up to Avery Fisher Hall for a night I'll never forget".

Lester Bangs: I saw God and/or Tangerine Dream.

Psychotic Reactions and Carburator Dung. This train makes no stops. You will go insane reading Lester Bangs. You will walk the streets for days trying to figure out how much noise should be in the middle 8. You will worry bald spots onto you head. That much talent should never be introduced to methamphetamine.

The trouble with art, as with life, you have to work your way through the hyperbole to come up with a nugget as brilliant and shiny as..........

".....life is not an addiction; you've got it ass-backwards. Addiction is slavery, and I don't feel in bondage just because I have to keep breathing and eating a cup of yogurt once in a while to go on writing these words......it seems to me that there is a war on today ........it's the war for the preservation of the heart against forces which conspire to murder it......"

Lester Bangs: Richard Hell

There are some very good writers here on this board, and in print in other publications. Rant on, let it blurt, get it wrong, just don't stop trying to get it right. I have no idea how much self righteousness lies in my own heart let alone another persons.

It is the chance that we will wake up in the morning and discover some new and magical corner in ourselves and the world that surrounds us, that ought to inform and encourage us to keep doing what we do.

If the price of that ticket is "everything from slo-core to krautrock to electronica to its current flavor of Mancunian-tinged postrock". So be it. I have a dictionary and a cable modem and a curiosity that refuses to quit.

You all encourage me in ways you cannot imagine. Thanks

Mike

Edited by mumbleypeg

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Plato

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Are medical journals for patients, or for other doctors?

It's a fair reply, Peter, but part of what is driving my rather snide remark is this: Just as medical journals are, indeed, for medical professionals and for research, so a lot of music criticism is not for Joe Average in the grocery line who picks up Newsweek or Cosmopolitan. A lot of music criticism is written for people who are immersed in music and looking to be addressed as knowledgeable. In this era of the Internet, when music reviews are easily pulled from the context of their publication and passed around to everyone, the boundaries between the vocabulary of one community and the vocabulary of another becomes far more porous and difficult to distinguish.

Personally, unless it's obvious that the reviewer is just using as many big words as he can to throw around how much he knows, I find myself drawn to the reviews of those who *do* clearly know more about music than I do. That's why I'm much more likely to pay attention to a Thom Jurek review than something in Entertainment Weekly.

If the heavy vocabulary is backed up with valuable insight... indeed, if the reviewer seems to be *serving* rather than merely *spewing*... then I'll respect his advanced vocabulary and probably take the time to look those words up.

But it is important, before judging a reviewer as "elitist," to step back and consider the context of his review and the intended audience.

*By the way, I received an application for the FFCC recently from a critic who accused us of setting ourselves off as "elitists" because we refuse to preface our reviews with long, detailed lists of offensive content. He then went on to accuse us of failing to take into account, um, well, he listed about ten things that ended in "-ology." In other words, he accused us of being "elitist," but then went on to punish us for not being as elite as he was. (Frankly, I don't see many of those "-ologies" in his reviews either, but he was clearly trying to play some kind of academic card to put the rest of us down.)

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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...I find myself drawn to the reviews of those who *do* clearly know more about music than I do. That's why I'm much more likely to pay attention to a Thom Jurek review than something in Entertainment Weekly.

This comment really grabbed me, JO -- a great insight, I think. I suspect that nearly everyone reads just above their own level of knowledge and avoids (and scorns) material that is below their own level. Perhaps there is a clear proportional relationship between the depth of insight and the size of the reading audience (or viewing audience).

If 'everyone' has a base line of cultural knowledge, the biggest audience will be for the most basic content, and more challenging material will draw an increasingly smaller audience.

That's likely not news to anyone here, but your comment struck me because I recognized that my own appetite for cultural criticism has changed a lot over the years as I have learned and grown (thanks in large measure to A&F).

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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