“If you haven’t yet seen (insert any ultra-obscure band name) then you shouldn’t be allowed to tell people you like music.” Wow. Now who would write something as solipsistic as that? Your run-of-the-mill, alternative weekly newspaper music pundit, that’s who.
In an effort to eschew the popular trend of reducing pop music journalism to nothing more than hype-the-upcoming-concert interview and regurgitate press releases with a sanitized bashing of an overproduced Willie Nelson CD on occasion for good measure, alternative weekly music critics are sounding increasingly more snobbish and closed-minded than ever. And this is just as bad for music journalism, and more importantly, for the reader, than the soulless spin-doctoring being practiced by the majority of $5.95 glossies and major dailies.
In a cheap effort to maintain ultra-hip street credit, alternative weekly music scribblers across the country are opting to completely dismiss anything that sells 100,000 copies or more as bad. Then they label every emo/hardcore/grind band banging away in their hometown, or indie label outfit that has not been offered a deal from a major imprint, as globs of critical hosannas-worthy good. In the process, these pundits are patronizing their readership, and in the case of the quote that initiates this column, they’re going as far as to insult their readers. Which is interesting because, aren’t these the same “fools” the music critic is trying to coerce into embracing left-of-center musicians that usually do deserve media attention for their craft?
Such snotty “hipper-than-thou” Lester Bangs wanna-be writing practices serve only the writer, his/her five friends, perhaps a co-worker or two and some local musicians who are as equally closed-minded as their partner-in-crime, know-it-all, too-hip-for-our-world, critic. Because, in actuality – that is, outside the newsroom – regionalized ethnocentrism is tantamount to no press at all.
Readers with full-time jobs, and maybe a kid or two to support and raise, don’t have time to spend 13 hours a week at the local independent used-record shop seeking out the latest DIY local release and out-of-print Raincoats album so they can stay up to speed with the sharp-quilled music aficionado berating them for not being familiar with the line-up on the Kill Rock Stars imprint.
Alternative weekly readers, like the rest of the human race, are turned off by music elitists and will show their appreciation by proceeding directly to the back-page ads as soon as the snob-in-question’s by-line surfaces. Triggering feelings of foolishness in a reader, because s/he is incapable of rattling off the name Bad Religion’s lead singer, is not the way to get individuals with disposable income to boost the local and independent music scene to which alternative weekly’s cater.
A pop-music critic’s job is to enlighten, not insult; to educate rather than preach; and to critique by virtue of merit rather than association. There’s a flood of disposable waste drowning out a lot of talented artists not fortunate enough to have the financial backing needed these days to get a tune played on one of Clear Channel’s pop radio stations. These artists need to be given ink by publications such as the ones you grab for free on the way to the John Crapper. However, one must keep in mind, it is not the general public’s fault for not making household names out of Fugazi or NOFX – save the swipes for record-industry suits and do it sparingly; nobody wants to hear a writer’s whining echo in their head as they try to plow through a thousand-word column.
The sad truth of the matter is a lot of bands that critics drool about really aren’t that interesting for anything other than their cult following and the so-called hip crowd that they draw into the club. And any writer who buys into the mystique of a band’s underground reputation, rather than their ability to create stirring sonic pleasantries, is doing their readers a disservice on par with the pundit who heaps praise on Britney Spears so that they can get a pair of complimentary passes for an upcoming show to give to his/her daughter as a belated birthday present.
Being a music critic with chops and being a music snob with an unchecked capacity for cynicism isn’t the same thing – even if the publication the critic is collecting a pay stub from is of the alternative persuasion.
The esoteric and independent-minded artists need to come first in alternative papers not burdened by the “family paper” tag. However, this doesn’t need to be at the expense of alienating readers uninitiated to the indie scene, and it should also not translate to alternative weeklies being forbidden from celebrating the accomplishments of mainstream artists cranking out quality product.
Intelligent musings and opinionated criticism doesn’t have to berate in order to spur the general public off the beaten path of corporate, pop music.