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Mar. 18 2010 - 4:34 pm | 890 views | 15 recommendations | 20 comments

When is a music critic not a critic?

A long time ago – we’re talking early 1970s –  I wanted to be a music critic. I wanted to write for Creem or Rolling Stone. I needed for the world to know exactly what I thought of the latest Led Zeppelin album.

Many years later my dream sort of came true. I was asked to write CD reviews for a very small, local entertainment zine. My first assignment was reviewing Sugar Ray’s debut album. I panned the damn thing in brutal fashion and I was summarily fired. I learned a little bit about the relationship between record companies and struggling music magazines that day.

I also learned that I didn’t want to be a critic, in the strictest sense of the word. I wanted to write about music. I wanted to talk about music. I wanted to share every song I loved and discuss every song I hated. What I did not want to be was a pretentious, smug critic who writes year end reviews for famous magazine where you make not so much a list of albums you loved, but a sampling of bands and songs that prove your indie cred and show just how smart and hip you are, knowing full well that the majority of those reading your article will have heard of maybe two bands on your entire list. Those reviews make me wonder if indie music is like a dog whistle and you can only hear it if you’re wearing an oversized sweater, black rimmed glasses and a permanent, ironic smile.

I no longer wanted to be a critic because I did not want to join the ranks of people who use the word IMPORTANT in any list title. Just because you think it’s important doesn’t make it so. Maybe you believe that Nevermind was the Most Important Record Ever because it paved the way for all the grunge bands that followed, but there are millions of people who hate if for that very reason.

I tried to hunt down music critics that wrote the way I wanted to write about music.  I wanted honesty. Don’t give me some standard claptrap as to why the Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main Street ranks right up there with the discovery of penicillin. Be honest. You love the album because it’s what was playing on the stereo when you finally got that goofy looking chick from the record store to make out with you. I can get behind that. That’s important. Setting industry standards and enlightening legions of 12 year olds with guitars takes a back seat to flashbacks of finger banging MaryAnne Brady every time you hear Tumbling Dice.

Just once I would love to see a critic put something totally mainstream on his “best of” list amidst all the earnest, self-aware bands. Like, right in between Songs Written on a Bleak Afternoon in Prague and This Album Title is Really an Obscure Reference to a 13th Century Philosopher, there would be the latest offering from Nickelback, with the explanation that it makes the critic feel like a pre-pubescent boy just discovering his dick, and he likes that.

And all this is just part of the reason I’ve written hundreds of posts on various blogs about music. I want you to know how every song is a moment in my life. I want to share all the songs that are entwined in my memories.  I’m not going to sit here and tell you why you should like this. I’m just going to tell you how an album or song made me feel. I’m going to tell you what I was doing the first time I heard the Police and how the soundtrack to Jesus Christ, Superstar changed the way I think about religion and what I was thinking the first time I listened to Black Flag’s Damaged.

I set out on this goal to relive entire music collection as opposed to reviewing it. I’m doing what I always wanted to do were I to become a music writer; discussing the emotions and memories that are involved with each selection.

I don’t want to be a music critic. I just want to talk about music and share the music I love and certainly not look down on you because you don’t like it. Just hope that you’ll listen or read.


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2 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 20 Total Comments
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    I’ve been following Michele’s stuff for awhile now and she seriously knows what she’s talking about Conglaturation on the column!

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    What I like most about what I’ve read of your opinions, here (so far) and elsewhere, are the snapshots of time you attach to the music you are SO passionate about. Passion for or against, no matter. Passion for music and the ability to articulate it is an enviable gift.

    I’m buckled in. Hit it!

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    God, I’ve written so much pretentious bullshit over the years and gotten so far up my own ass that it’s always great to read something like this and remember why I started doing it all in the first place. Thanks for always being real, Michele, and helping me (at least try) to do the same. Great debut. Can’t wait to read more.

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    Michele, I love that you talk about music like a fan, not a critic, and that your writing is accessible for people like me who don’t really know much about music. I learn something new every time I read you, and look forward to continuing my music education in this new venue.

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    Congratulations to True/Slant on scoring one of the best music writers on the web.

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    Anytime finger banging gets mentioned in the first post, I know I’m going to love all the rest.

    Keep on keeping it real, Michele. You’re the best.

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    Michele! You are awesome. You take music back from assholeville and make it fun again. Straight out the gate, this column is solid gold. Thank you.

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    It’s hard for ANYONE to be honest that they like Nickelback, but I see what you mean. Gone are the Lester Bangs but thank god there are writers who appreciate music of your ilk.

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    You seriously ARE amazing, Michele.
    True/Slant really hit the jackpot with you.I an relate to everything you write, whether or not I fully agree (but usually do.)

    Looking forward to more and more!

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    You know how much I love your reviews! I enjoy talking about how someone impacted music, but I’m totally on board with that taking a back seat to what the music means to you.

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    I’m right on board with your philosophy. What is music if not experience? I think Hendrix would agree if he were here.

    I’ll definitely be following along. Congrats!

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    Is it strange that I thought I was one of a very few people that connect to music in this way? Maybe you’re just one of the few, or maybe there are a lot of us out there. Regardless, I appreciate that you speak my language when it comes to music and its surreal ability to be a conduit for time travel. It has always been amazing to me that music can instantly put you in a moment decades ago, complete with sights, sounds and feelings.

    Nice to see (as with your tumblr posts) that this will continue to be an outlet for you. I’m looking forward to it.

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    Awesome. This is going to be great.

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    I’m tuned in and ready to go. Lets do this thing.

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    You didn’t use the words “dystopian” or “misogynistic” in this review. You got a lot to learn about music reviewin’, baby.

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    Sooo, what does it mean if my favorite album is the soundtrack to 13 Going on 30? WHAT.

  17. collapse expand

    Great post!

    I can’t believe you’re a fan of that life changing album – ‘This Album Title is Really an Obscure Reference to a 13th Century Philosopher’. Although I admit I liked their earlier stuff more such as ‘Descartes me around while I bang a saucepan proclaiming my self importance’.

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    About Me

    Music is my true passion. Listening to it, talking about it, writing about it. Definitely not playing it.

    I live on Long Island. I have two kids (17 and 20) a dog (a miniature schnauzer) and a boyfriend (a transplanted Californian). We all aim to move to California one day. I take pictures, I write stories, I eat sushi and I play video games.

    I'm @abigvictory on twitter, destroy_oh_boy on last.fm, MCThumbtack on Xbox Live and if you look me up on Facebook I'll friend you, but ignore your Farmville requests.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 128
    Contributor Since: March 2010
    Location:Long Island

    What I'm Up To


    Currently working on processing  1,074 photos taken on a 2 1/2 day trip to Disney World.