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A Music Critic’s Response: Why One of Us Doesn’t Think You’re a Retarded Arsehole

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joanna-newsom

By Victoria Birch

Critics’ egos are generally happy to mop up all sorts of unqualified and unsubstantiated horseshit as long as it’s nice horseshit. The kind that says, “This is the best thing I’ve ever read in the history of people writing words and reading stuff”. It doesn’t matter if it’s generalised ill-thought out drivel, tell a critic they’re great and you can bet your ass not a single one of them will jump online to remonstrate with you about your rabid idiocy. [Damn, it annoyed me when people started saying how well-written my recent post on Udays Tiger was. It really wasn’t – Ed]

Litter our lovely space with your nasty knee-jerkery wrong thinking, however and you can expect the critic to tan your ignorant backside … with rules!

Wallace Wylie’s article was greeted with plenty of high-fives and general back-slapping. His skewering of the internet’s bottom-feeders (those who have the temerity to question our words but who fail to meet designated standards of rational and intellectual thinking) received an all-round thumbs up.

I may be the lone voice but I found the notion of a critic dictating how you can converse with him/her an incy wincey bit fucked. That, and the fact I didn’t buy his entire argument. Particularly these bits:

1. The ‘Hipster’ Problem

The only thing wrong with ‘hipster’ is that a moratorium on the term is badly needed. It’s become the beef jerky of insults; the juices are sucked dry and what’s left should only ever be used in an emergency situation. Let’s think of a shiny new pejorative that means the same thing. In my day it was ‘too cool for school’ (don’t use that though – seven-year-olds will kick your shins).

Accusations of being a hipster rattle critics because it’s a direct smack in the cake-hole. The erudite musings of a critic are just a smokescreen for their internal wrangling. “Do I really like this because it’s fabulous or do I like it because a) I’m the only person that’s ever heard of it and b) everyone else loathes it. I’m a tastemaker, right? How can I make taste if everyone’s beating me to the punch?”

Of course they’ll tell you they love things because they’re noble of spirit and immune to the vanities and vagaries that normal, weak people (i.e. you) are prone to. But they thrive on subverting norms. They may rail at the hipster accusation, but it’s more or less in the fucking job description. Unearthing new stuff and telling people about it; jumping ship when the bandwagon starts to feel the strain.

Of course we’re hipsters. We do our best to keep our hearts pure but don’t believe for a second that our desire to stay one step ahead of you is a figment of your imagination.

2. Jealousy Denial

Why wouldn’t we be jealous? We’re a faceless bunch of nobodies who constantly have to fish around for new and exciting ways to tell you about people who prance around earning money and stuff. They sleep with groupies; we sleep with the dog. They make videos; we make ends meet. Their ‘art’ will be accessed by generations; ours will be forgotten in minutes.

A critic will never move you like the musician. No matter how terrific their words are you probably won’t want to read them 15 times in a row (like my listening experience with this). [That’s an incredible performance you’ve just linked to, Victoria – Ed] Their review may enlighten, or educate or entertain but it probably won’t thrill you or make you want to dance or cry … or in the case of Johnny Cash, seriously give me reason to believe in the big guy upstairs.

We’re all a seething wreck of envy; some are just better at hiding it than others. Whether the review is good or bad it’s entirely accurate to assume the critic is in fact jealous of everyone they’re reviewing. And so we should be.

3. It’s a fair point … what DO we do?

Every time I write a less than complimentary review a small part of me jumps up and down and yells “who do you think you are”?! Here I am stringing 700 words together to castigate something that’s been painstakingly put together. It may have taken years to craft. Friends may have been sacrificed; personal hygiene forgone. Hell, it might have been thrown together on a laptop in one day – that’s still approximately 85 per cent more time than it’ll take me to dispense with the lot in one pithy mean-spirited put-down.

Whether anyone cares what I think is immaterial. I’m very much aware that there’s a big ole disparity between my efforts and a musicians. I get why people question the validity of what we do. That doesn’t mean the artist’s output is any good or that it should receive undue praise, but I do feel guilty about the imbalance and have no problem if someone wants to call me out on it.

4. The Whole Shebang

What really got my goat about Wallace’s piece is that he’s trying to shut down your right to irrationally vent about something you love. There’s only one rule you should ever abide by when it comes to interacting with a critic and that is DON’T … not with reason anyway.

Spit fire and brimstone, bile and fury. Throw blunt ugly insults. Don’t think about things or resort to intelligent debate. Wallace mocked those who are “high on anger and low on reason”. Who invited sodding reason to the party?

I get incredibly narky when anyone disparages Joanna Newsom. I adore her. Part of that adoration stems from the beauty and the poetry and the etc etc. But part of that adoration is heavily rooted in a particular time of my life when Have One On Me was ever present. It’s absolutely synonymous with unbridled joy and a particular person I’m besotted with.

The latter half of my adoration is totally lacking in ‘reason’. I couldn’t convince anyone of Joanna Newsom’s worth by telling them about that time in my life. It makes no sense to say “you have to listen to this because it’s evocative of something amazing that’s totally personal to me”. Still, I consider that element genuine and equal to anything I could wank on about regarding ‘interlocking rhythms’ and ‘poetic structure’.

If you bitch about Joanna Newsom you’re bitching about an artist I deeply admire. You’re also a skip and a jump from bitching about that someone who I’d scratch your eyes out to defend. I therefore have no interest in pontificating about Joanna Newsoms’ ‘art’. I don’t want to be reasonable about it. Most people don’t when you insult something they love. Which is why Wallace’s guidelines to help you engage better with critics is bollocks.

If I slate something you adore I expect a fight. I’ll take it on the chin. All your mud slinging, name-calling, anger – bring it on. Call me bitter and jealous. I’ll happily engage in the argy bargy because there’s the thrill that you’re interacting with someone who is low on reason because they absolutely give a fuck.

I’ll argue with you even if we both know we’re resolutely stuck in our respective corners. I don’t expect to win you over but I do want you to try and win me over. You won’t do that with reasoned debate but you might if you call me a twisted old witch. If you love something enough to be so angry that you lose all sense of reason, that’s when I’ll be interested in giving Memory Tapes another go.

Love of music can’t be reduced down to objective facts and sensible discussion. It’s totally bound up with the intricacies of who you are and if a critic says you’re not worth bothering with, I wholeheartedly endorse a lot less reason and a lot more fuck yous.

Hipster illustration: interrobangsanon

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