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.