Critic or Fan? What the Fuck Are You?

Two things hit me today. Not the day you are reading this, but the day I wrote this, on Friday, the first day of April in our year of the dord 2011. See, I am cool enough to be friends with Chad Clark on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve actually managed to hang out with that guy in real life a few times and it’s always a pleasure because he’s totally articulate, compassionate and amazing and he talks about music both like a rabid fan, an amazing musician and an intensely focused engineer. It’s truly a gift to listen to him talk about bands he’s worked with, played with or just loves. I don’t agree with some of the stuff he says (I hate the Beatles, Radiohead is terrible) but I respect his opinions even when they clash with my own.

Oh yea, the point. The point is he posted on Facebook (yea I’m that cool) that he recently became aware of Pitchfork’s intense vetting process in which one becomes a writer. Now, I know it’s April Fools today, the day I wrote this, but Chad doesn’t strike me as much of a prankster. A good sense of humor, yes, but not one to be maniacal. So, since I trust the source and whether it’s true or not hardly seems to matter, I can only say that said vetting process explains why the writing on Pitchfork is so god damn robotic, academic and seemingly made by people who don’t really care about music. I always suspected that the writers there were über dorks who probably know what a pentatonic scale sounds like or can identify what types of amps are being used on the new Strokes album. And frankly, I have found almost all of it totally irrelevant to whether the music they are reviewing is good and if I would like it. It’s like reading a manual document or a fucking corporate memo on quarterly performance. I haven’t read an entire review on that site since they reviewed The Pupils album in 2002, which they gave a 3.0 rating because clearly, they don’t know how to enjoy music. Okay, maybe that’s opinion seeping in. Personally, I love Dan Higgs and more  so Asa Osbourne , so for me,t hat album is pure, lo-fi genius. I can understand why someone wouldn’t like it, but you can’t rate music in some cold manner. The shit is genius. There is no one that sounds like Asa Osbourne as a guitar player. No one else on this planet writes music like he does. There is not another lyricist like Dan Higgs. Just because it may not speak to you, doesn’t make it less than amazing.

Look, I like Kelly Clarkson. Mostly, her album My December is amazing. Most of the other stuff I could do with out, though I think she has a great voice. I got into her because Mike Watt played on My December. Surrounding this album was a lot of drama from her label about how it wasn’t a hit factory and Clarkson stood up to the establishment dinosaurs and put out the album anyway. It was the story of a strong, independent woman not taking shit from the established patriarchy. If I learned anything from Kathleen Hanna it was that shit like this is important. Also Mike Watt played on the album. The music, mostly, it’s just pop music. It’s all pretty standard, easy to learn, easy to play, easy to listen to. Even in the mist of all her heartache and bitterness is a pretty straight forward album. It’s not stretching my boundaries at all, but I truly and genuinely enjoy it. Ask Ari and Nolan, they will tell you that I passionately argue in favor of Clarkson and My December because I think it’s a great album with a great story. But it’s great because it appeals to me, not because any awesome musicianship.

It’s the critical ears of my friend that I hear most in response to my soapbox ranting in regards to this album. And I understand this. Just because I am passionate about my love for all things Clarkson does not mean I don’t recognize or understand the critique all the punks and weirdos I know have about the music, the method and perhaps even the message. Who cares about a rich girl crying about heartache in four-four time for 51 minutes and 39 seconds?

The other thing that sparked this outrageous rant that you are currently enjoying was an open letter from AV Club writer Steven Hyden to James Murphy of LCD Soundstysem. I like reading the AV Club’s reviews on music. I wish they too covered a wider variety instead of just the industry “alternative” and semi curious but all together bland pop icons like Nicki Manaj and Lady Gaga. But over all, there is a rabid fan and an intelligent voice in their coverage and reviews. Sometimes I wish I was more objective, more topical and a little smarter in my writing here, but you know, I’m just a maniac with a computer and internet access in the western world ranting in the wind.

Sorry, there was a point. I didn’t finish reading the letter, yet. I will. But Hyden surmises that Murphy is a bit of a hero to other critics because he was once a critic and then he went out and made music as the ultimate criticism. That doesn’t sit well with me. The best way I can articulate my distaste for this concept is that Murphy is a musician, an artists and someone compelled to create. In order to have gotten to that point he had to be a fan of music first. Not a critic. When dude was 10 he was probably into Technotronic and that’s all it took. Wham was my first taste. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” was my jam and since then I’ve gotten into Slices. It’s been a long, strange road with lots of different dots on my musical map. But it started with Wham and me singing in my bedroom. Wham, for the record sucks and George Michael never really wrote anything that stuck with me in life. But there was no critical ear when that shit hit the radio every 25 minutes. It stuck out to me when I was a kid. Murphy, for whatever first drove him, had the desire to make music. Sure, he may have a critical ear and the vocabulary to dissect music like a frog in biology class. But he’s not a critic at all. He was a fan and had a desire to create. Critics, I don’t really know what drives them. Perhaps it’s jealousy. I honestly don’t know.

I don’t consider myself a critic. I consider myself a fan of music. Even when I slag on Radiohead or PJ Harvey, it’s not because I think I have some smart ass way of talking about what I perceive as failures. It’s because I have been, am and want to be a fan of their music. Ok Computer was one of the best rock records of the last century and PJ Harvey’s sheer presence in modern culture is monumentally important. They just put out some albums this year that I really, really did not like. I don’t hold it against them (well with PJ I do a bit as the experimentation in other cultures in which she clearly had little grasp of was just in poor taste) because they’re doing the art they want to do. It just turned my the other way. It didn’t grab at my heart and soul strings and pluck and pull and stomp on those fuckers.

All of this kind of speaks to why I took a bit of a sabbatical from this here blog. I was just consuming music without totally enjoying it. Some of it more than others, but I don’t have much to say about Toro Y Moi’s new album Underneath the Pine even though I love the song “Still Sound”. The rest of the album is okay, I guess, but that song psyches me up so hard, makes me want to drink and talk to girls and swim in the ocean. I can’t talk about the new Darkest Hour album, because to me it sounds like their formula and most of the reason I am a fan is because they’re from DC and I remember them from when Schleibaum went to Mason at the same time I did. Darkest Hour, possibly ironically, holds a soft spot in my heart. But there isn’t much I can say about it. The new Mogwai album bores the shit out of me. That’s why I haven’t written about that one. I’m bummed out and disappointed by it, but I have no ill will towards Mogwai and they aren’t especially relevant enough for me to bother with my disappointment. I do want to write about the new Mountain Goats album, but I can only seem to listen to Pygmy Lush and Kelly Clarkson these days. So who knows. The point is, I am a fan of music, that’s why I rant about this shit. Because I love it so much. It’s a part of my life that holds monumental space. I love music. I love listening to it, playing it, writing about it, thinking about it. I don’t really care who cares about what I care about because I do. It’s the only reason.

So to all the critics, please, take a sabbatical, possibly forever. No one cares that you know some super geeky shit about music, especially people who really love music. It’s not that I doubt your sincerity and love and passion. That would be terribly short-sighted of me. But you’ve let your mind and intellect dictate your passions, and that shit just comes off as really snobby and shitty and makes you look like an asshole. And again, no one cares.

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