Collapse Board manifesto number 9: Pitchfork, the betrayal of music & some great songs
by Everett True
This is where I put forward my own humble reasons for writing about music. And they don’t include Pitchfork’s inbuilt sexism or abject servility.
There’s only one inviolate rule. (This is an unfinished article, by necessity.)
It’s about the music. (It’s never just about the music.) Don’t lose sight of that. You get the music wrong, your readers will not forgive you. (You get the music right, your readers will not forget you.) Most people who read me do so despite my gregarious self-promotion. They read me (hopefully) first and foremost because I have a clue. Not much, just enough. An iota of respect. An ability to sort. Then, and only then, they stick with me because I have a style, a ‘personality’. (I am aware this doesn’t always apply.) I’m not scared to champion new artists, not scared to go against the grain, not scared to call time on bullshit. I would like to be loved but prefer to remain True. I don’t follow a consensus. The only history I’m interested in is mine. The only folk I care to cite are those who have a personal connection to me. (Doesn’t mean I have to know them.) I have a proven track record that can be easily verified. You might not agree with me but you sure as hell know what I stand for. Sometimes. (I like to catch folk off-beam, confound expectations, challenge preconceptions … have fun while I’m fucking.) I might try everything within my power to draw attention to my musical preferences and loves, to a degree where it becomes near-parody or incomprehensible or hype or embarrassingly self-referential but I do so because it’s about the music. I care to a ridiculous extent about the fucking music. I started writing because I wanted everyone to dance down the front of shows. I still write for that reason.
Maybe every music critic does. That’d be great. (Just a thought: these people who deny music writing the chance of contextualisation via personal experience … do they also only listen to music that doesn’t contextualise personal experience? How … um … interesting.)
Case in point: Andrew Mueller. Friend, travel writer, war commentator, Australian Rules Football fan, wit, raconteur, guaranteed to light up any room he’s in and annoy/enthuse in equal measures … but Bangs alive! His taste in music. It’s not something I check in on him often for … leaving Ed Kuepper and Straitjacket Fits out of this for one second.
Case in point: Pitchfork – you know what the biggest betrayal by Pitchfork’s editors is? They run with the crowd. They edit and commission and write by consensus. They leave no room for the maverick. They believe reviewing and writing about music should simply be shelf-stacking, accountancy. Do you think they use such a small font size for their reviews because subconsciously they’re embarrassed by the writing? The point size almost implicitly states: oh, please don’t mind us, we know we’re worthless. Don’t you think it’s interesting that the font size for the all-important grade, the only part of the review that isn’t written by the writer, is twice that of the actual copy? Definitely some Freudian stuff going on there. It’s all so polite, designed not to offend anywhere – whether the review is positive or negative, it doesn’t matter, I’m talking about the language.
It’s clear that Pitchfork writers know their place in the world: and RULE NUMBER ONE is that they know they are parasites. How many times do I need to say this? Criticism is only as parasitical as you choose to make it: it is only as parasitical of music as music is of life. By behaving like second class citizens, Pitchfork writers become second class citizens. And what’s even worse, is that so many other places are in thrall to the Pitchfork template – so, by necessity, watered down. All these people will thus – and rightly so – be treated as second class citizens: and their opinions that might have had some worth before now have little or none. For why would you pay attention to the word of a self-designated second class citizen? And so they actually fail to contribute to any sort of discourse going on around music, by ducking their main responsibilities, by being so cowardly and weak and vain. Because all they do is document and neatly stack away, mark – as if they have any fucking right to do so – and assess.
Frankly, I couldn’t give a crap about any of the above – they choose the style they want to write in, and the way they want to present the writing (where those revenue-generating scores take far greater precedence over any turn of phrase): that’s their choice. They and I see different here: I think music writing should entertain first and foremost. They think it should be subservient to music.
Whatever. Pitchfork’s failings in managing to make any worthwhile contribution to the discourse around music is not their main fault. Not at all. It’s not even in the way they deny women a voice even though women make up a very sizeable proportion of both their audience and the artists they write about. (Women just aren’t interested, don’t you get it Everett?) It’s not even the lack of individuality among their writers, the fact they’ve coagulated them all into one bigger, all-encompassing brand. Though that’s crap, obviously. It’s not even the way that Pitchfork have turned the alternative into the mainstream (that doesn’t matter: there’s always another alternative, another underground, to be found). Those are not their biggest betrayals. This is.
They have no fucking idea whatsoever about music. To paraphrase David Lee Roth, Pitchfork writers all like Bon Iver because Pitchfork writers all look like Bon Iver.
Second point. I was attracted to writing because I felt it was a more spontaneous way of getting my opinions and feelings across than performing on stage (say). You type or scrawl something down, publish it (back then, in print fanzines) – and it’s done! Yourself, laid bare: all flaws and frailties and humanity exposed. No hiding, just pure emotion and enthusiasm and hatred. (You can still do this even at major newspapers: indeed, some welcome this.) I FUCKING LOVE MUSIC BLOGS … or, rather (deep breath), the idea of them. It’s my initial reason for writing, distilled to the very essence: how much more spontaneous can you get than music blogging. You hear something, you feel something, you start typing away at your computer, 15 minutes later it’s online with a few video links attached for everyone in the fucking world to find if they so desire! How brilliant is that?
Maybe every music critic feels this way. That’d be great. And if it’s true, then perhaps they could all – as one – join forces and form a great upsurge/rising against their editors and publishers who are insisting on straitjacketing their passion, their craft, their art into such simplistic boundaries, such jargon-riddled language. When did music writing become accountancy? Which cunt did that? When I discovered music, writing about music and the music itself was inseparable – they complemented one another to such a degree that you couldn’t imagine one without the other. One informed the other, and back again. It wasn’t about pleasing your teacher and getting the biggest grade: it was fun and excitement and LIFE. It still is. It still is. But the consensus right now holds that this shouldn’t be so, that under no circumstances should the writing be more interesting than the music.
I used to be so envious of DJs. No longer.
Music criticism has been reduced to one very shallow function: to grade and describe music. The first is stupid, the second unachievable. A note here states that I should cite my recent Twitter ‘conversation’ with former Fairground Attraction singer Eddi Reader, intelligently-reasoned. I think she mistook me for someone else but that’s OK. I have to accept that comes with the territory. (Why? Do I hold Afrirampo responsible for crimes against listening that Phil Collins has committed?)
I think in my whole journey I’ve encountered great writers and bad writers… None of them knew how to do what I do.
I respect your right to find work analysing a process it seems you can only observe from a perspective of unknowing.
me, on the other hand, can tell you EXACTLY why Kylie is a shite singer. But excellent at marketing.
That’s not to say the second shouldn’t be attempted, just that – as Tamsin Chapman writes:
Plato, in his cave allegory, describes a group of people chained in a cave, facing a blank wall. The shadows they see projected on the wall from the fire are all they know of reality.
Another note states that I should cite Scott’s email about how Pitchfork editors hold long editorial meetings to determine the precise grade of each review … something which apparently started off as a joke … but we’ve wasted enough time discussing that band of second class citizens here.
Case in point. Ten great pieces about music. This changes every day. This was how I felt a few days back when I wrote draft 23 of this artcle.
People are starting to say that here on Collapse Board, we don’t like music. Really? Here are 368 recommendations from the past 10 months, knock yourself out. Do you think that all those videos constantly streaming at Pitchfork and NME and GENERIC MUSIC SITE are actual editorial choices, personal loves? Do me a fucking favour.
Collapse Board. We criticise because we care.