We are indebted to the magnanimous and ever energetic TOT (No War)
for this sterling link:
George Orwell on "Why I Write"
"Sheer egoism: Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
Aesthetic enthusiasm: Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
Historical impulse: Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
Political purpose: Using the word "political" in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude."
("Historical impulse" seems to get something of a short shrift, but Orwell concentrates on other fascinating insights about writing)
If you write about music, you'll eventually be asked to consider the interview.
The current grand master of radio interview reminds us we're not singing from the same songbook any longer. Proving turnabout is fair play, Chris Baldwin turns the tables on Terry Gross
"OK. After 10,000 interviews of our best and brightest, you obviously have a unique impression of American culture. Where do you see us currently?
I'm not good at making big pronouncements. But I think pop culture doesn't give the generational connection that it once did, or to the same extent--though I guess MTV might. Pop culture is so fragmented, so many subgroups within rock, hip-hop; so many channels on TV. When I was growing up, everyone was watching and listening to the same thing. Now the good news is we all have more choices, but the bad news is that we don't share the same stories and music to the same extent. I'm not complaining about diversity, but things are just different now.
Another thing: It's impossible to keep up with pop culture. Anybody can put out music or publish a book these days. Now you always have to struggle to keep up and just content yourself with the fact that there's always more there than you're ever going to be able to see."
Sarah Hepola labels her craft
Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., in a welcome role as Jiminy Cricket of the day, advises music critics to smile softly and carry a big shovel. There's more than that in his conscience comes a'knocking piece.
You may sleep better and awake refreshed after reading through the six think points in Lankford's "A Promo Whore Like All The Rest: When Good Reviewers Go Bad"
People have different ways of looking at and writing about music.
A formal mission statement from Hornby
"One can only presume that the people who say that their very favourite record of all time reminds them of their honeymoon in Corsica, or their family Chihuahua, don't actually like music very much. I wanted mostly to write about what it was in these songs that made me love them, not what I brought to the songs."
One facet of the fan/band perspective:
the theory on bands and the internet
There won't be any updates for a while due to an emergency. I'm sticking in some of my own writing here in case readers want to read some writing about music. Not drawn in any particular order or preference, just memorable to me today for one reason or another out of the hundred or so published in my favorite magazine of global culture... a few from each year there.
My first piece every published with popmatters, back in the day:
dick dale's social significance
Then a few like this and a few like that:
jimmy cliff's onomatopoetic use of percussive accents
patty larkin while surrounded by the arson squad
last balkan apocalypse
memories of watching joe maphis on tv
(I especially enjoyed writing this one, and a year later I received my first spontaneous email from a reader. Fortunately, he liked the article, too, and waxed downright poetic remembering Maphis himself).
charlie musselwhite's free concert in berkeley
johnny young, chicago style blues mandolinist
jessie mae hemphill, no one like her
jerry springer show inspires strange songwriters
(Sometimes if pop music is "derivative", there's a reason. Otherwise, you're just saying they remind you of the Beatles or sound like another group. Maybe they do ... but if they do, how is it they remind you of the Beatles and why might they doing it?)
OK, that's it for now. If you think you want to read any more of my stuff, go to popmatters, search my name, and read to your heart's content or until you are bleary, one or the other is guaranteed to come first.
A true genuine pearl embedded in context ready for receptive mimetic implant: "One of the functions of music journalism being to give the reader sufficient material with which to make their own mind up about whether they’d dig something."
Since our beloved blisshog has mentioned hipness, beatniks, and daddios in a way that finds a certain resonance in the core of my being, reminding me of an alternative to the usual literary suspects of that era, which is to be found in Kenneth Patchen's Journal of Albion Moonlight
. The longterm memory of which is still so very pleasant, I can suggest this reading for any turk young or old, or indeed to any who believe themselves members of any lost generation.
Prefering the real enthusiast to the theorist anytime, Mark Desrosiers has unearthed and provided a link to "The Next Level: Beyond Punk Rock" (Cheek, 2/16
) which details some musings about the intrinsic value of thrift store records, white lightning, and cheap harsh whiskey.
(corrected my spelling 02-26-03)
"According to music industry wisdom, however, inside every journalist there's a bootlegger trying to get out. Let's not get into how a mobile phone next to a speaker is going to achieve this -- paranoia produces scorched earth policies."
How it is Toby Mannning feels like a hunted man.
"You don't even need a license to write, you know? I cannot be arrested by the police for what I do on this page, no matter how terrible it might seem, no matter how much of a crime some might consider the leavings I deposit here. I am Immune From Prosecution. And I get paid for this crap. And that's pretty goddamn funny, sez me. And I got a pretty good sense of humor."
You can tell this
quote is from a really old article, can't you? But at the very bottom is a creepy brief explanation of how the entertainment industrial complex shapes its success. And I mean creepy crawly. Joe the writer saw it for a moment, what it really was.
More musings about writing the concert review.
An oldie from Ink 19, but likely still true.
His rock and roll lifestyle -- an embarrassment of riches
"The Faustian bargain of stardom used to be that, sure, you'd irreparably compromise any hope of unstressed, easy normality in life and love. But you would win the grail of immortality. Nowadays, with worldly pop success, you still screw up life and love (look hard for an apparently happy life among our pop Olympians) but get gypped on the immortality."
Death Before Disco: The Ministry of Rock sends an apolitical star down the memory hole.
"When you listened to Arthur Rubinstein play Chopin, you were no longer a liberal or a conservative or even an American but simply a breathing, sensate human being with a soul. Music lent you the freedom of your own mind. You listened to the Mahler Fourth Symphony or the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings, and it evoked scenes and visions of your own life and elevated these revelations into the realm of art."
–Garrison Keillor, Wobegon Boy
"The more pop culture gets stale and glacial, the more it loses its meaning, and the more the songs that you hear make no sense whatsoever."
Why do people still feel the need to rely on professional musicians for their protest songs?
"Do not try to 'discuss everything,' provide a label for everything, or feel you need to 'describe the ordinary'; instead, illuminate innovation, explain essential features, and help your reader understand what is most important or intriguing about the music."
to keep in mind when preparing a review of music.
But when the ordinary or the accepted social paradigm swamps the environment, the people, and the music, the real music disappears -- hopefully it goes elsewhere, but I think it likely that it just disappears.
Because of the stultifying atmosphere of music industry corporations these days, a job in entertainment now sounds about as exciting as taking over your dad's insurance business. In looking forward only to a career comparing actuarial tables, the social/business networks made by such personalities all express a similar ambience, which in turn ripples out and attracts only like kind.
Where I once lived, no one came to expect a decent show from foreign music acts because of the nature of the people holding the keys to the magic kingdom. The radio stations, the press, and all the venues were screwed down and under the hammy thumb of the people who owned the radio stations, the press, and all the venues. They booked in acts who played along with complete overcorporated control.
I remember in particular a one night stand in the 80's that was an expression of what was to become the constant paradigm. It was more like an ordeal, just the kind of sleepy toss-off gig residents grew to expect from visitors. We were accustomed to substandard shows from the slightly famous names. They’d stop over using the concert as a pretext, as a way to help pay their jet fare to the more lucrative weekends in Japan.
Predictably, their concerts were always the epitome of perfunction, a going-through-the-motion tour stop-off midweek. It's true that as the night wore on, the only thing of note were only a series of small proofs that booze takes its toll. The performances by all band members not just lackluster, but genuinely lazy and boozy-boy sloppy as the glitzy cast of over-rehearsed band players struggled to remember what over-rehearsed chords came next. Some might claim that only adds to the nostalgic charm as a bunch of money was
made, everyone partied like it was 1984, and (my best guess is) a tradition was born.
Despite the sheen, texture can be easily overdone. The music was so dense as to be armor-plated. Stuffy and stiff like an overembroidered curtain, the musical backdrop had descended. If there was any note or rhythm or squiggle that could possibly be stuck in, have no doubt it was there filling what the concertmaster had perceived as a hole. As a result, there was nothing to engage the listener. This was the first time I had seen a concert that looked and sounded as if it were shaped with MTV in mind, just washing out over what obviously was regarded by the concertmeister as the shut-up-and-just-buy-the-record audience.
Man, it was like the audience had been sprayed with stupid-gas. They were not exactly lapping it up, but certainly going along with the program with the idea of being invited back.
The audience was made up of people the likes of which I had never before in such plentitude in the area. The promoters must have culled the hallways of all the private prep academies and handed out free tickets. Hoardes of young overdressed folks decked out for their idea of a night at an upscale disco. The girls all dressed up in the latest Korean knock-off faux designer dresses and gowns while the boys all dressed exactly like the performer onstage in look-a-like jackets and nightclub costumes. After all, the radio buzz had encouraged everyone to dress in their finest evening wear, as if personal success depended on it.
The VIP/celebrity table was draped in a long white table cloth, and arranged as all the tables were to squeeze in more people by maximizing the number of tables in the room. Meaning if you wanted to watch the concert going on onstage, you had to keep your head cranked uncomfortably the whole while.
The people important enough to be streamed and directed to this privileged seating area included such luminaries as a DJ’s girlfriend who had just opened a Brazilian thong shop or a tanning parlor (I forget which, but that enterprise soon floundered despite the grand opening mobile broadcasts her boyfriend wrangled from the station). She, bedecked as she was in a strapless ripply-front bright white shift, was gifted with a CD in a longbox and a couple of different colored laminated squares which meant she got to go backstage both before and after the show.
Also present, the overstuffed and overcoiffed bloatboy who had just transferred in as the food and beverage manager of a prestige hotel, and who was influential. As a frustrated musician himself, he always arranged to make the the local performers wait for their money, presumably to help pad the cash flow for high-ticket tour bands like this, even though he knew how to obtain this room at a decent price. He, like all the other boys in the room, was dressed pretty much exactly the same as the guy on stage, but as bloatboy concierge had to dress splendiferously in his everyday job at the yuppie trap, during this his time away from work his chubby thighs were encased like sausages in designer denim to denote a more casual air while his puffy torso was wrapped in the top half of his Armani work uniform.
Papered as it was, with the free tickets (the expense of this show was at least partially underwritten by the malliable pawns who had actually paid their hard earned dollars to gain entrance to this private party disguised as a public event) going to persons of potential social usefulness or influence like bloat-boy, Brazilian thong-girl, and other mini-mighties among the mediocre corps of helpful corporate minions and drones, the room had all the charm of a yuppie clone factory.
Well, that was a boring blah blah asleep at the switch show performed at the absolute pinnacle of this artist’s national popularity. They were goin’ down the 20-song set list, just exactly as they had on every other stop.
I left the table, relieved to spend time in a long line for the bathroom just to be farther away from the what was going on onstage. And I returned just as the “new material” started rolling out in the second half of the set, which was so staged, stiff, insincere and souless as to be a genuine discomfort.
I left the premises altogether because I figured I needed some air or a pack of smokes. I then padded some time with a cup of coffee to regain any semblance of alertness after such a prolonged exposure to a mind-numbing display, and had my return almost perfectly timed to coincide with the remaining quarter which promised the end of the show.
When the MTV hits rolled out as part of the show’s finale preceding the staged encore, the audience was predictably on their feet swaying if not exactly prancing by their chairs at the long tables. They had at last recognized their tv tunes and responded in the only way they knew how, by acting exactly as was expected of them.
More than a few tears for real music of yesterday were shed, at least where I was sitting, but onstage the group tore through an abbreviated throwback set of MTV tunes as their encore, the assembled remembering their first 30-second exposure to the tv playing this song and now that one. The performance begged the question "Are you guys kidding?" or "When's your next gig?"
This was back twenty years ago, remember, and it's been going on like that pretty much every single day in every single city in the U.S. ever since.
Alas, no permalinks for Charles Deemer, working writer? Then he must be quoted here in entirety I'm afraid from The Writing Life.
Writing, art, music
The creative process in writing has complications as a result of a fact that differs writing from all other creative media: the language of analysis is the same as the language of creation, words. Imagine if musical criticism was delivered -- in music! Or art critics reviewed an artist -- by painting! Because we use words to discuss what is created in words, it's more difficult to get the same kind of distance that analysis obtains in art and music. Using words to discuss music, using words to discuss visual art, are one thing -- and using words to discuss literary art (also words) quite another.
This also puts false pressure on beginning writers. For example, as a matter of course, artists sketch before they start the "real" painting, and musicians as a matter of course fiddle around the keyboard or instrument, just goofing off, looking for a thread that will lead to something more than fiddling. Beginning writers, in contrast, take themselves so seriously in their first drafts! Few beginners approach initial writing as sketching or doodling or fiddling around. I think this is because the language of analysis is the same as the language of the art, not providing an obvious distance between the two acts.
The result of this is that beginning writers are too hard on themselves too early. So what if the first draft sucks? An artist doesn't worry about a rough sketch that sucks, a musician doesn't worry about fiddling around on the keyboard sucking. It's just fiddling around, after all. Beginning writers tend not to fiddle around. They tend to believe the early writing must be really good, really perfect, and if it isn't, they tend to get disappointed or depressed when there's no reason to.
I used to do this all the time early in my career. Then I had the good fortune to see some first drafts by famous, established literary giants and saw first hand how bad they could be. What a revelation! Faulkner sucked! Steinbeck sucked! What they did, is they took these terrible first and early drafts and kept rewriting them until they didn't suck. This was a great lesson in the creative process for me. It's one I try to instill in my students very early.
11:18 AM Thursday, February 06, 2003
More episodes in the constant paradigm. "The key to writing is not getting bogged down in specifics. Paint a hazy, creative outline and let the listener fill in the details. Vaguery is the primary tool of songwriters. 'I've seen fire and I've seen rain.' What the hell does that mean? But it works, it means whatever the listener wants it to mean."
A whimsical look at how one aspect of culture bleeds into the next, music and sportsmen, high culture and the community greens.
"I spent a lot of time playing in miserable places that were not a lot of fun. Somebody once said it is character building and I was like 'My character is just fine' "
Who said that -- jazz musician or weirdo? Better ask Marshall Bowden. Here's a review of his Quotable Jazz
Check out the inimitable Dáši Dvoákové. That's right, carry yourselves straight on to
Dasa Dvorakova's thesis, Ladies in Tune: Women in popular music, rock and academic writing on pop
. This one is definitely worth the effort.
Via our own beloved infant of Prague, Nárazník
Corporate Music Criticism: Send in the Clones
Two weeks after an interview I had with a particular "celebrity" was published, my publisher forwarded an odd e-note from a person I don't know who said he'd read the article. Why that person felt the urge to write to me was not easily understandable, as the article itself was genuinely forgettable. But his tone was phoney-friendly on the surface like a telemarketers, and soon became superior and quibblesome. While that reader wanted to strut his stuff and joust intellectually [maybe even be a smart ass] over word usage, it was obvious he took real offense in some way.
He said he thought I had done the interview subject a great disservice by not mentioning all the early buzz that publicity engines had generated that had him labeled as the hottest thing coming out of England [this was back before fifty percent of the world's current population was born]. And then, like an overtorqued control freak, he went on to tell me what I should have written instead, how exactly I should have said it, and quite naturally concluded that
would have made for a good article. He closed his email by saying he didn't understand anything that the interview subject had gone on about, either.
[I must say here, that last complaint is not my fault, that's how the guy talked and there simply weren't any nuggets in the pan.]
As that reader was also moaning I hadn't provided adequate coverage of the new record, I emailed him back and invited him to write a review.
Well, obviously the fellow who wrote in to complain regards himself as a smart and seasoned cookie [clue: he quibbles about definitions when he begins debate] and frankly a humble hack such as I should be honored he deigned to send me his comments at all. Because his considered email was like "free advice" coming from a person of professional standing, assuming of course someone wasn't actually paying him for his time, that is. He works at his own "image consulting" firm, one that at the time he wrote to me had some corporate arm (leg, foot, or other appendage) of United Way as a client. If a client has an image problem, he can fix it.
Understandable, that, as United Way in general is in serious need of an image uplift even now, years after their chairman was caught with his, um, hand in the till. United Way I suspect would prefer everyone forget about that
particular incident, which dragged their carefully crafted corporate-philantrophic image straight into the sewer with him. During the course of responsible reporting about that noxious event, which after all only exposed the seedy underbelly and mindset of some cultural subsets, the press among other things revealed the overblown extravagant salaries and pension funds these people granted themselves.
I happened to remember I've only mentioned United Way once in a public way; my comments were posted in a forum that deals with media issues [I'll update the sidebar soon].
United Way also happens to be a charity the celebrity (see above) had loaned his own image to during the years of the playboy philanthropic chairman (see below), but such coincidence is rampant in the world of some corporate music management houses.
I'm sure glad now I didn't mention the other articles about the United Way chairman in my original comments, the ones that alleged he made use of hookers, uh, models in Florida to soften up prospective corporate donors. I mean, I could have rightly been a lot more honestly outraged and vicious in my direct remarks, and totally unlike corporate cloneboys, hiding their marble sized mouse balls behind layers of corporate veils to toss oblique lobs.
This is exactly what I said about United Way in print:
the benefit of local charities
Any individual loss can be disastrous to a family or a community. When many people are lost, this has a tremendous longterm impact on the community. Almost everyone can imagine what would happen to our town or city if 4,000 people were suddenly swept away. That in part might be why so many people responded so generously.
Of course it can be disheartening when looking at the way that major charities malfunction when they promise so much. That's true even in the best of times. United Way, for instance, is quite adept at soliciting funds in major drives from large groups of people -- employees in unions, universities, corporations, municipal and state bureaucracies. United Way in being designated an approved charity makes donations easier for the worker through automatic payroll deductions.
People enter into this with the best of intentions. Remember that Americans are very generous people and 90% give to some form of charity yearly. The majority of the people donating are on the bottom of the pay scale pyramid because that's the nature of the economic pyramid. Nevermind the fact that most people don't qualify to even deduct their charitable expenses on their state or federal income tax forms.
I remember seeing some paycheck stubs from a lowly clerk who because of the high cost of living in that area donated what she could actually afford -- $3 deducted from her takehome pay and donated to United Way coffers each biweekly pay period
. Multiply that $3 by 26 weeks and she had donated a sizable amount to a single charity that year, a form of giving which she may have continued. Somehow that adds up to more in my mind than the donation from those mid-level employees with much higher earnings, who would offer a splashy single check of $50 or $100 as a one time deal.
The United Way national chairman within a few years was prosecuted for stealing, embezzling, skimming, um, misappropriating some $600,000 that year (all that could be traced and accounted for) to pay for lavish resort condos, liquor, and a mistress. To justify all that highscale living he might not be willing to pay for from his own six digit annual salary, he claimed these were necessary expenses in order to soften up prospective corporate donors. The United Way chapter in the state where I lived sued to have their 10% administrative fees returned.
Soon, a Good Will manager in California was exposed for skimming for just a year or two, and had walked away with close to a million dollars that was never recovered. There are sadly more stories like that, and they are always shocking and outraging when the people get found out. That's because most people are honest. When the people in charge of the charities forget their real duty -- they've betrayed everyone. This is in no way meant to bash the real do-gooders. But who can't help but remember the times when the charities were less than golden in their actions, especially when they ask us to give again. Once bitten, twice shy. And the truth of it is, a lot of these major corporate charities are much less than gracious when either on the receiving or giving end.
I find myself believing the old saying that charity begins at home. Lately, I like the idea of giving to the charities that have a tried and true record in my area. I'm lucky to have a decent press in town that keeps track of such organizations, and I trust what they have to say about this. These groups get either none or are allotted a very small amount from the big charities like United Way for example because United Way has so many charities to support under their umbrella. I feel my charity dollar here in the community has more strength.
I also remember a great story about someone who grew up in a struggling household many years ago and would not have eaten were it not for the bags of groceries delivered by a charity. He grew up to become a business executive, making a bundle when he sold his business. He created a charitable trust and now runs a philanthropic foundation, where he personally reads every request that comes in and they give out many millions every year on a case-by-case basis. If he hadn't learned about the goodness of giving early on, he might have turned out differently. In other words, you never can tell who might be on the receiving end this time around.
11-26-2001 01:08 AM [date and time of post]
Reading through that again, now what was so bad about what I said?
Yes, this is a long and boring post, if you've got this far, but that's what it's like dealing with any aspect of the corporate world, especially corporate music criticism.
Late Breaking News: 2/9/03, the United Way Polo Pony Scandals and more
Sounds like this year's United Way Robin Hood ad campaign has really backfired.
Wow, I didn't know the national CEO and two other officials stole from the charity to finance their trips to exotic foreign places, too, like "boat rides down Egypt's Nile River, and assorted other high-living -- some with teenage female companions." Did you? Sounds like whoever dreamed up that trip watched too many '80s music videos.
Unbeknownst to me when I made my original post, another United Way official just had a day in court for embezzling millions of United Way's dollars to buy herself a string of polo ponies.
While this article is lambasting cultural critics, major portions are transferable to the music critic.
Be aware of critical flaws
Followed by an assessment of how cultural criticism is used to play publicity games.
Jazz critic Marshall Bowden puts his mind to what he's doing, and ponders the meaning of it all:
Why Write About Music?
I'm thrilled -- he's just published his book, too, called Quotable Jazz
Check out some of his other writings at his own Jazzitudes
(and of course at PopMatters
Think this current era is way nuevo-wavo or too avant for the garde? We're going to look really out of it someday, too
Words and Music and War
If they've said it before, they'll just say it some more: Why People Hate Rock Critics
Overheated fan and/or musician response to criticism: Demonic possession, or just poor impulse control?
Siren Cristy remembers The Attack of the Rabid Fans aka Alan Merrill Hate Mail
Dan Heilman update on the current state of music journalism:
"Rock music criticism is alive and somewhat well on the Internet."
Everyone's a Critic
How to fall into music journalism in Thailand and thrive as the music scene improves, plus learn to drop names and recognize the importance of who you know and how it's put together -- all part of becoming a Thai rock critic
To wrap up, what would you suggest to a girl who's interested in becoming a music journalist?
How she'd go about doing it?
First of all ...
(Charlotte Robinson gets the low-down from Jaan Uhelszki in
Rock She Writes, Pt. II
"In a desperate attempt to simulate passion (and continue to stay gainfully employed), the overcompensating critic heaps praise on his subjects just to appear cool or 'with it.'
Rogatis sets a match to burned out music critics: Hope They Die Before I Get Old
A creative approach to those ubiquitous best of lists, feisty flak gives with the left hand and smackeths down with the right.
Got No Songs on the Radio: The Best Music of 2002 by Flak Staff