Monday, July 26, 2010

Public School Teachers Have Opinions About Music, Too

You know something that the Washington press corps and the Brooklyn music-crit cognoscenti have in common? They both get bugs up their respective asses whenever non-professionals decide to try out what they (Washington/Brooklyners) do. If you've been following this whole story about the backlash against Andrew Breitbart's recent hit piece on Shirley Sherrod, for instance, you've probably seen a few articles or newscasts to the tune of "disrespectful bloggers and anonymous commenters attempting journalism HARUMPH!" Or, to put it another way, you get a lot of tsk-tsking about the state of our current (admittedly mindless) political discourse from the type of people who assiduously avoid asking politically harmful questions in the face of two mounting wars, the type of people who furthermore have no trouble quoting anonymous hearsay from a few former journo pals.

Music critics are a similarly cagey bunch (in the sense of "this is my cage it is for me only get the fuck out"), especially in Brooklyn. Some strike me as little more than click-hungry starfuckers, as a matter of fact. And they seem to be more in the business than ever of mocking the opinions of average New Yorkers. This post isn't meant to name names (maybe someday I'll compile a list), but I'd like to point to a recent (admittedly jokey) example of this sort of tribalism here.

What we have here is a piece posted on Sound of the City, a Village Voice blog, written by critic Rob Harvilla, entitled "New York Magazine's 'Jukebox' Feature Returns To Mercilessly Antagonize Us Once Again." It's an insider-y thing about the return of a running feature in New York magazine in which three New York denizens/music fans are asked to rate recent releases on a ten-point scale. Needless to say, Harvilla finds the opinions of Mike the Lawyer, 31, James the Literary Agent, 60, and Nicole the Public School Teacher, 30, to be hopelessly banal:
Your answers are "Big Boi is probably the best M.C. in the game," "The whole album gets you up on your feet," and "I know that if I heard some of these songs in a club, it would put me in a good mood, ready to dance, because the melodies and beats are great," respectively. Further indignities are visited upon Francis and the Lights ("It put me in a let's-go-out-and-have-frozen-yogurt-and-figure-out-what- we-are-going-to-do-tonight mood"), Sheryl Crow ("The record made me feel introspective and positive about life"), and you, oh lover of half-literate rock writing, left with no recourse but to invent future very probably apocryphal New Yorker stereotypes: The Surly Hot Dog Vendor, the Gurgling Baby in a Park Slope Stroller, the Guy From the Bronx We Were Too Scared to Actually Talk To, The Otherwise Exemplary NYC Publication That Needs An Actual Full-Time Music Critic, Like, Five Years Ago.
Let's be fair: Harvilla isn't actually trying to imply that only those with proper training are allowed to discuss or write about music (no professional critic would argue something that pompous and self-aggrandizing! [wait never mind]). His problem would be, at least I hope, that New York Magazine has a New York Times-like problem of soliciting only the opinions and views of upper-class Manhattanites. On one level he could be arguing something important: that maybe the Features editors of metropolitan newspapers or magazines could look a little beyond their own communities, perhaps interview a 24-year old meat packer from Harlem, say, rather than another 60-year old literary agent. If this feature was more than a day old (and I know it used to exist in a different form), and that's the kind of thing New York kept doing, then there would be an excellent idea for a blog piece.

But that doesn't seem to be his main beef. His problem is with the opinions of the citizen journalists themselves. Voice critics may disagree with Plebeian #1's assertion that "Big Boi is probably the best in the game," and that might not be the kind of thing that would make it through the copy desk (and how could it be true, after all, if Drake's album just went platinum?), but it's not that absurd of a statement, and in truth he could probably make as good a case in the affirmative as any Rob Harvilla could in the negative. This is exactly the type of Armond White behavior that paints criticism as a whole in a self-satisfied, bitchy light. Mike the Lawyer might be a lawyer, perhaps even a rich, evil lawyer, but it says in the article that he got his ass beat for defending Pet Sounds, and in my mind that affords him more legit rock cred than writing for the Voice. More importantly, Mike, James and Nicole all seem to like entirely different kinds of music, which again puts it ahead, diversity-wise, of the Voice (certainly, Harvilla and co. would never describe themselves as mainly fans of "classic and indie rock").

They could be regular-ass white people with boring lives and boring jobs, but you can be surprised by how genuine and affecting boring white people's love for music can be, how life-changing it may have been in certain situations, even if otherwise they don't have the time or the compunction to constantly go to shows or decode the latest nonsense spouted by MIA.

In other words, Rob the Music Critic, 27*: I have no beef with you or the types of artists you like to listen to. And in truth I don't know much about "apocryphal New York stereotypes," nor am I much interested in finding out (when I go to NYU, I plan to cover my ears and scream loudly whenever the subject is mentioned). But I don't see how you can find Jukebox to be a bad idea in chrysalis. Citizen criticism is all over the Web: it's what you're reading right now. Some of it's getting to be pretty good. Some of it (gasp) could be written by lawyers.

*I made up Harvilla's age so I could put that writerly bullshit above. Sorry.

No comments:

Post a Comment