Saturday, July 4, 2009

It Always Used to Be Better

Picking up on yesterday's Angel of Rock post, with the idea that arts criticism is somehow in a state of crisis and quickly deteriorating...

Unfortunately, the full text of the article from the Columbia Journalism Review can no longer be viewed by non-subscribers, but the subtitle "Can arts critics survive the poison pill of consumerism?" and the quoted complaint by a critic that the world of rock music criticism is victimized by a high-school level competition to stay cool, is indicative of the concern being expressed. This feels to me like yet another one of the many, tired complaints being spurred by new developments (usually spurred by technology) by the "old guard" that (fill in the blank) is now going to hell in a handbasket (see "text messaging is killing interpersonal communications," "music downloads are ending musical creativity," "the designated hitter is destroying baseball," etc.).

In one of my former lives, I aspired to be a popular music critic. I even designed my own college-study program towards this goal: taking courses in journalism and music history and theory at the same time at Boston University. One of my professors at B.U. connected me with Steve Morse of the Boston Globe. Steve was passionate about music, and willing to speak his mind even when he was going against the prevailing "cool." But back in 1978, the Globe was one of only a handful of influential daily newspapers, and few of them had critics of his caliber covering pop music. Back then, even with pop magazines like Rolling Stone (Spin didn't even come on the scene until 1985), you could count the number of intelligent voices in the field of popular music criticism on two hands (with valid arguments about the last few fingers), and very few of us had access to more than two or three at any given time.

While it's true today that even stalwart publications like The Boston Globe are fighting for their own survival, and arts critics in such publications are being laid off left and right, what has emerged with the internet is access to many more voices. Now, some argue that this tends to drown out the "virtuosos" like Steve Morse (and I can just hear Steve laughing at being referred to that way), but at the end of the day, I prefer having more voices. I can use my own filtering system and seek out the voices that I personally find the most valid... just give me access to those voices, please.

At the heart of this argument is whether we are better served with a small handful of "arts critics" who are paid by a theoretically neutral media outlet, which is the old model, or an unlimited number of "amateur" critics who write or blog freelance for little or no money, but may be beholden to commercial interests or other pressures (such as the need to be "cool"). It should be no surprise which side of the argument a non-compensated blogger such as myself will come down on!

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Miss Hell has already waxed eloquently on this blog about the powerhouse pop of Fountains of Wayne, but in preparation of Tuesday's Cedar gig, I'm going to leave you with a YouTube preview from another recent acoustic show of a great song from their latest album "Traffic and Weather" with typically clever lyrics:


1 comment:

rickdog said...

Hey, what's happening with Nordic Roots, I hear that you're not hosting it anymore. A real shame.