Archive for March, 2003

March 31st, 2003 Comments off

A link posted today at led me to this piece by Marshall Bowden on Jazzitude. Bowden writes about a pair of recent incidents in which jazz players have written nasty letters to the editor in response to negative reviews of their music (one in JazzTimes, the other in a college newspaper).

As Bowden paints them, both cases involved degrees of failure on the part of the critic followed by explosions on the part of the musicians involved. Bowden’s take on the whole thing is pretty reasonable. In essence, he argues that critics ought not to write dismissively about music they don’t know anything about (can’t take issue with him there) or artists they’re predisposed to dislike (not sure I agree wholeheartedly on that one). But he also notes that the artists involved here (Al Di Meola and Russell Malone, neither of whom is my favorite jazz artist, but both of whom are unquestionably talented players) come off looking pretty bad in their letters by virtue of sinking to ad hominem attacks against the critics who’d slagged their work. In the end, he says, those attacks only make the artists look thin skinned. He’s right there. With a little time and a little restraint, both letter writers could have made better points about the qualifications of their respective reviewers (plus Di Meola’s letter makes him look like a gigantic snob, which isn’t going to win anyone’s sympathy).

Of course, I’m predisposed to view musicians who complain about criticism as thin skinned to begin with. But Bowden makes it pretty clear that Malone, at least, had good reason to be upset. The student journalist who wrote negatively of his recent collaboration with Benny Green, “Jazz at the Bistro,” admitted knowing little about jazz and made it clear she put no real effort into understanding the album she was maligning. Her (student) editor does himself no favors by standing by her expression of ignorance (apparently confusing, as many do these days, the right to free speech with an imagined right to make an ass of yourself without fear of being called an ass). And while I hope no one out there actually confuses student journalism with the real thing, I’m left feeling like this is the kind of person who gives critics in general a bad name.

Di Meola’s detractor, on the other hand, seems to me less deserving of derision. The guy’s biggest crime, it seems, is that he reviewed a record by an artist he doesn’t much care for in a genre he doesn’t much care for. There are problems with that, to be sure. I believe part of the job of a critic is to question how successfully an artist does what he sets out to do. That’s a pretty meaty task when you don’t care enough about the genre the artist is working in to be able to appreciate the artist’s goals. But the critic’s role doesn’t begin and end with that task. There’s the greater goal of putting a work into a wider context. And if your position as a critic is, say, that fusion isn’t a worthwhile mechanism for artistic expression, you need to be able to say so. Also, if your position is that Al Di Meola’s music in general isn’t worthy of consideration, you need to be able to make your argument for why that’s true. Yeah, that’s likely gonna hurt Di Meola’s feelings, but the critic’s job isn’t to protect the artist’s self image; it’s to serve the reader, either by helping him decide whether an album is worth the asking price or by helping him understand a record he already owns. A dismissive review like the one JazzTimes printed will never accomplish the latter goal, but it may very well get to the former. And that has potential value. Besides, here’s the thing: bad records get made and released sometimes. And the artists who make them certainly aren’t going to agree with the assessment of those records as bad, so there are going to be plenty of occasions when a critic and an artist are at odds. Bowden doesn’t argue against this, mind you. His contention is that the JazzTimes reviewer didn’t give Di Meola’s record serious consideration before slamming it. And it’s fair to make such a charge (though whether it’s accurate in this case, I can’t say).

I came out of Bowden’s piece thinking about the nature, purpose and utility of music criticism, which makes it worth reading from my perspective. You should check it out for yourself.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

March 25th, 2003 Comments off

So here I go. Blogging. ‘Cause, you know, everybody else is doing it.

Mostly, my plan is for The Moon Hoax to be about music. Mostly music. And football sometimes. Especially during football season. And since the mind will wander, maybe (probably?) other stuff too. But the plan is for music to play a big part.

I’ll definitely post links to my various music stories. Oh, right, failed to mention this (like anyone reading this doesn’t know me already): I’m a freelance journalist. I write about music more than anything, but I also do some pop culture stuff and some literary journalism.

I write a column for the Valley Advocate, an alternative arts and news weekly in Western Massachusetts (where I live). That column, which is called Bombpop is usually about music, though sometimes it can be about other stuff, mostly pop culture stuff.

I also write music features for The Boston Globe and a paper in the suburban New York counties of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam called the Journal News. And I’m a semi-regular contributor to the Boston Phoenix.

That’s the regular stuff in general anyhow.

I’ll get more specific as called for. Like, say you were interested in checking out the literary journalism series I wrote for the Phoenix last fall tracing a season in the lives of New England Patriots fans, you could go here. Or maybe you’d like to see my latest Advocate column, in which I run down some good recent record releases. Or the features on Calexico I wrote last week for the Globe and the Journal News. Or my recent Globe piece on tour-only CDs.

Plus, I’ll probably post some of my thoughts about music that don’t fit into any column or feature piece. Maybe mention some of the many records I like but don’t have a chance to write about in a newspaper. Maybe mention some of the truly awful records I receive but would never, ever write about anywhere else unless someone specifically assigned me a review (and then, oh, boy). And probably offer my opinions on everything from the ridiculous recent outcry against the Dixie Chicks to … well, whatever the hell stupid thing happens to come up next.

Plus TV, probably. And movies. And … aw, hell, who’s to say what. We’ll see what comes up.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Go read my friend George’s blog, The Bald Truth. Or Scott’s. Or check out the latest industry buzz at my regular stop, Romenesko. But come back later. Maybe I’ll actually have something to say.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: