Because some comments ARE better than others
2. Jealousy Denial
Do you know how many groupies I have ever met in my life? One. A vivacious 17 year-old redhead called Zoe who wound up managing the band she was following. A single musician gets to sleep with someone when (s)he goes out and pulls – just like anyone else. The rest go home to their husbands/wives, take out the trash, pay the bills and work ordinary dayjobs because almost nobody earns enough to do it full time. Most of being in a band is waiting around and doing band-related chores – the only ‘fun’ is the half-hour on stage after months of dull preparation. If you play enough gigs, they too become another obligation. I really don’t envy that at all.
So if I don’t envy the life, do I envy the talent? Sure, I’d love to be as gifted as JG Thirlwell, but those results don’t come easily, even to him: it took several years for him to really find his feet musically. The music he’s making now is the result of over 30 years’ hard graft and experience. Sure, he’s a clever bastard – but more than that, he’s getting out creatively what he’s put in. If I had to use a word to sum up my feelings, it would be ‘inspired’, because it demonstrates the possibilities that can be achieved when you really apply yourself. Listening to Thirlwell’s music makes me want to do better, generally, at everything.
Of course you’ll drive yourself nuts if you compare yourself to Johnny Cash: like JG Thirlwell, he was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. As a writer, you may as well compare yourself to Charlie Brooker, which is stupid because even Brooker himself can rarely match Charlie Brooker at his best. Have your idols, sure, and aspire and be inspired by them, but don’t bother to envy them. Remember: Lester Bangs is probably the only music writer from the 70s who is still remembered, but the thousands of long-forgotten hacks writing at that time still convinced people to buy music that moved them.
3. It’s a fair point … what DO we do?
Reviews. I avoid writing negative ones because I try to avoid listening to bad music, but I think there’s a solid case for having them. “What DO we do?” We criticise, for good or ill.
I still remember friends of mine raving about The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and wanting to walk up to each and every one of them and punch them hard in the face after reading it because it was just that shit. I left it on the train because I didn’t want to carry it in my handbag any more, like it would contaminate my makeup bag if I let it stay put. I wouldn’t have thanked anyone for saying it was good when it clearly wasn’t, and its sole result was to make me stop trusting those people’s opinions about anything else. I would have thanked anyone who said, “Look, it’s just the plot to Mad Max without punctuation or characterisation”, because that would have saved me the time and trouble of reading it.
Sure, I ought to regret some of my old fanzine writing. Reviewing a song called ‘It’s So Sad About Us’ with simply “it is, isn’t it?” could be viewed as unfair, but I could give you the one-sentence “it’s shit” review or the 200-word version. Dull, uninspired, derivative, passionless, etc. etc. I don’t need to break out the thesaurus to tell you to take a wide berth. Then again, I suppose, if I gave you a detailed description of everything that was wrong with it and you thought, “Hey, I really love bland, uninspired jangly shit”, it might be valuable to you as a consumer.
Yes, great music is more perspiration than inspiration, but a lot of people have sweated buckets to produce nothing but a sopping, stinky mess. You, as a reviewer, have a choice: either tell the truth or say nothing at all. Never, ever regret a review because if you’re going to do that, you shouldn’t be writing it in the first place. These days, if I only have a one-line mean-spirited pithy put-down to contribute, I’ll generally keep my trap shut – but that’s in the knowledge that someone might feel as cheated after hearing it as I did over that McCarthy novel. I’m still letting somebody down.
It’s all about trust. You should be able to trust me that I’m not going to diss a good record that I happen not to like as opposed to something I genuinely think is sloppy. Any critic worth a damn will do that for you. But you need to trust us that when we say something is good, it really is and you should hear it, and that means pointing out what ‘bad’ is, at least sometimes.
Good, but I don’t like it:
Just plain crap: