September 14, 2002

Battery Acid Blues: The Hopeless Wankery of Critics

Keir DuBois is rapidly running out of patience with the opinionated masses. (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 10/23/97).

Being in an unknown band is quite a peculiar position. “Unknown” is itself an inaccurate term for the band, since there are a large number of friends and family who know and love the music and support us no matter what. But in the eyes of the arbiters of cool in the music industry, we’re nobodies, just another half-assed garage band of white rock ‘n’ roll guys from the suburbs. We usually don’t mind this description, (except the half-assed part; we’re all proud of those) but we really don’t want to be confined by it. So, when we received our first real negative criticism, by one of our potential employers, it didn’t sit very well.

No, that’s not entirely true. Bryn, Adam, and Kevin (when he was still our drummer) really didn’t care. It doesn’t matter to them if everyone loves the Mojo Wire except for one little critic. I, however, for some reason take it personally when someone says a creation of mine “sucks.”

Let me explain further: This summer while we were shopping around our first demo tape to coffee shops and the like, the music director of one of these places actually went out of his way to call us up and tell us that he would not require the services of amateurs like us at this time or in the future. Now, one might think that this would be a standard sort of polite rejection, but the tone of this guy’s voice made it perfectly clear that he thought we were the kind of band that made him wish he’d never wasted his time with our crappy demo.

Naturally, when Bryn and Kevin heard this, they gave the universal sign for “wanker” and immediately forgot about it. Adam, who deals a little worse than they do with criticism, griped about it for about an hour and then let it go. As for me, the bureaucratic barbs of that coffee shop arsehole pissed me off for a whole week. Never mind that the guy probably would have been a lot nicer if we were a popular band. Still, I felt in a certain privileged company by letting him get to me.

For famous rock stars who are used to the adulation of millions of fans and the considerable power that such adulation allows, the naysayings of one small critic are probably like the bites of a gnat. However, that little gnat has the potential to really inflame the star, simply because it’s something that the star, for all of his supposed power and influence, cannot control: the opinion of another person. This vexes the star so much that he often feels like going after that gnat wth a cannon.

Rock journalism is full of gnats like these, but nowhere is as loaded with them as the British music press. English record critics are notorious for their desire to stamp out and abolish all forms of pretentiousness in the music biz. On the one hand, that can be seen as a noble cause, if only for the reason of deflating stars’ egos and reminding them that they might not be on the top of the heap for long. It is the stars’ decision whether or not to actually listen to and therefore pander to the opinions of these critics, and though sometimes doing that does indeed pay off in a good album, I’d like to believe that such a result is one of the artist making a conscious decision to create such a record rather than listening to the rants of bitter critics.

Conversely, the media criticism could just be jealousy on the part of the critics, who are stuck writing about the music when they’d rather be out playing and touring (or maybe that’s just me). What this means to the Mojo Wire is that probably three members of the band will deal well with more criticism that might come, and one, me, will fuss about it. It just really gets to me that some jerk who doesn’t know us and hasn’t seen us play can make the assumption that we’re terrible based on one or two listenings to our demo.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think I’ll care about critical gripes. Why? The rest of the band and I know that our tape is pretty damn good. Our friends know it. Our siblings know it. Hell, even our parents know it. They all know that we’re great and we show promise, even though on occasion Adam hits himself in the nose with the microphone, Bryn snaps his E strings, and I botch bass lines. They know we’re good, and we’re grateful that they’ll never let us become arrogant idiots.

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