1. johngrant

    “Even at its worst, at its most vile state, negative music criticism can inspire artists in their resolve to make better music, to prove themselves, to not back down.”

    I certainly hope this is not true. If it is it would betray a self-destructive dynamic of dishonesty, nullifying the legitimacy of both. At least to my sensibilities; I love much music, and I detest much music, and I enjoy reading the impressions of others regarding both.

    I don’t know anything about Steve Almond, but I think you left out the critical element of his regret, “Fans don’t just sit there (as critics do) parsing the technical merits of a song. They bring to each song their own emotional needs: their lust and sorrow, their hopes and heartbreak.” Bingo.

    When I was 15 I loved the Doors. Their music appealed to some intangible but core desire in the adolescent me. Today, the Doors strike me as vastly and hilariously ridiculous. (My impressions of Lester Bangs have a similar history.)

    While I don’t agree with Almond’s dismissal of music criticism as “a pointless exercise,” I appreciate his confession about being dishonest, unfair, and part of trend in music criticism of dishonesty and unfairness – much of it simply to satisfy the self-importance and/or self-image of individual critics, completely failing to identify his place in that relational dynamic of music and listener.

    Hopefully, most artists can read criticism (good AND bad) as something closer to pointless than to inspiration.

  2. Leor Galil

    Hey John,

    Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and insightful comment, and I apologize for my delayed reply!

    Originally, I wanted to fit that quote into my piece, but as I wrote it, I felt that I would be repeating my points. That being that Almond doesn’t seem to consider that the critic is also a fan, that the critic also feels those same emotional needs.

    And yes, I agree that it’s great how honest Almond was… yet, I disagree with his gigantic blacklisting of criticism as a whole just because he went into the job with such a disdainful attitude. I’d say anyone with that attitude should reconsider their position much as Almond did.

    As far as the impact criticism has on music, I must simply reiterate my point that music is not made in a vacuum, and neither is music criticism. It’s great if an artist reads criticism and is unaffected by it, but, I sincerely hope that if a musician reads anything from a negative review, they’d come to create something positive out of it more than anything else (much like Chuck D did.)

    Thanks as always for reading and commenting, I really appreciate your input.

  3. savio

    “That a music critic must have ‘actual training and talent’ (musically, that is) in order to be able to observe the piece of music being critiqued.”

    Extremely naive, yes. What’s next? Expecting book reviewers to be able to read? Or movie reviewers to know how films are made and marketed?

  4. Leor Galil

    Your “argument” would work, except the analogy doesn’t bear the slightest weight. Maybe if you said “expecting music critics to be able to read” it would match up perfectly, but you didn’t because it doesn’t fit your rather unfortunate critique.

    Nice try.

  5. savio

    Interesting “answer.”

    Ohhhh-kay. You debated the need for a music critic to possess “actual training and talent” in music. In response, I debated the need for book and movie critics to have “actual training and talent” in their fields of criticism.

    I kept it simple and sarcastic–literature (ability to read), movies (basic knowledge of how films are made–movie cameras, editing, scripts, etc.).

    No, the details aren’t exactly parallel, but that’s perfectly okay. Do you know why? Because the literary device called analogy takes the form “A is to B as C is to D.”

    Astonishing, isn’t it? Now, let’s apply that wisdom to the present situation:

    A (knowing about chords and melody) is to B (music criticism) what C (knowing how to read; knowing how movies are made) is to D (book criticism; movie criticism). See?

    I guess it all starts with knowing what an analogy is. And how it works. Maybe that’s too much like actual training?

  6. Leor Galil

    If, say, this was the SAT and people would be given the choices between your analogy and mine, mine would be the right answer. Because it’s never about choosing the one where the details “aren’t exactly parallel,” but match up the best.

    And I didn’t “debate” whether or not a music critic needs musical training and talent: Debate would imply a conversation. Your sarcastic remarks are hardly furthering any conversation. The talent a music critic needs is to be able to write, and transcribe what it’s like listening to the music to the masses.

    Perhaps a better analogy for your case may be A (knowing how to read) is to be (book criticism) what C (actually reading the contents of a post thoughtfully) is to D (commenting.)

    Oh, but you’re right, that wouldn’t work. Otherwise, this “debate” wouldn’t be happening.

  7. savio

    Okay, I’ll concede this pissing contest to the biggest, um… ego. After all, my initial comment was terse and sarcastic. Plus, there isn’t much point discussing a literary device like analogy in the keep-it-stupid, blogger-as-God environment of T/S.

  8. Leor Galil

    I never meant for this to be a pissing contest: I genuinely enjoy when readers comment and point out errors in my argument. This one just happened to go a little overboard!

    And honestly, the environment at T/S is whatever you bring to it. If you wish to think of it as “keep-it-stupid” and only bring sarcasm to the conversation, it’s merely a case of self-fulfilling prophecy.

  9. keuka56

    Well, first of all, it’s whose, not who’s. Who’s is a short form of who is, as in “Who’s on first.”

    Second, you do not seem to know what an analogy is. The SAT question as to what is most similar tests the ability, for example, to see what category things fit into–to know that an epic is a poem, not a movie, a battle, or an historic event.

    An analogy is not a simple concept. It infers that one thing is like something else in a particular way, although not in all ways. Just now I read the title of an article which refers to Sarah Palin as the party’s Goldwater. She sure does not look like him or talk like him–but we get the point. And the title poses the question. as Sarah is to Goldwater, who is to Reagan?

    You are reducing the art critic’s role. I expect the dance critic in the New York Times to know all about dance–the history of ballet, the career of Merce Cunningham, the best young dancers with great careers ahead of them. I do not reduce the critic’s role to telling me how the dance feels. It is informed opinion I am expecting.

    A literary critic must be an intelligent and educated reader. The Amazon reviews of novels, for instance, are not literary criticism. Likewise, I assume that a music critic should know what music is. Music, not flashing lights, sexy singers, great costumes, “vibes” or whatever. Musicians should be judged, as it were, by those who know what it is to make music. That implies some training, some knowledge, some point of reference beyond one’s own feelings.

    Most artists I have known–musicians, writers, painters, dancers–are themselves very invested in studying their art. Their critics should be so as well.

  10. Leor Galil

    To quote verbatim: “a comparison between two things, typically on the basis of their structure and for the purpose of explanation or clarification.”

    I understand what an analogy is. The previous thread was simply filled with mockery and contempt, and honestly shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    And, I’m sorry, but it seems that you are reducing an art critic’s role. For some reason, you seem to equate “not having music training and talent” with being uneducated about music history. Your point about the dance critic is filled – never mind all your points – merely references historical contexts. My only argument is that a critic need not know how to play an instrument well in order to understand the finer points of history.

    Honestly, it seems that you’re arguing the same point as I did and normally do: That a critic must be learned. But you don’t need a degree in music to be able to read up on modern pop music history, to be able to recognize melodies (or, honestly know what a melody is: Anyone can figure that out), to be able to try and understand what the musician is trying to accomplish.

    Did I ever say that music is “flashing lights, sexy singers, great costumes, “vibes” or whatever…”? No. And that’s quite an assumption to make that someone without a training in music is only able to write about that.

    You can have all the musical training in the world and not be able to string together a coherent sentence. It’s a bunk argument at best, and it’s the same type of elitist remark launched at musicians such as Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix couldn’t read or write music, so does that negate his ability to play because he didn’t train in the “proper” circles?

    And thank you for the grammar check. I don’t claim to be perfect, and I’ll fix the error.

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