Friday, October 8, 2010

Rock the Critics

A few month’s ago I blogged about Electronic Musician magazine’s new columnist, Steven Wilson, the knowledgeable, articulate and well-respected (if not wildly popular) founder of the British band Porcupine Tree and an emerging solo artist in his own right. Wilson had just begun writing the magazine’s monthly “In the Mix” column.

Now, only a few months later, Wilson has again caught my attention with something worthy of further comment and sharing. In his October column, he tackles the topic of rock criticism, i.e., writing about rock music, in another interesting and provocative column: “Everyone’s a Critic.”

In dissecting the state of music writing today, Wilson differentiates between real, informed, critical review and the endless noise afforded by our technology-endowed, anybody-and-everybody’s-a-publisher world. The singer/songwriter/producer recalls the history of rock writing and some of its high water marks, noting that “great music journalism is an art in its own right.”

Some of the most notable realizations of that art over the years can be found in the gonzo flare of Lester Bangs; the studied expertise of Robert Palmer, Robert Hilburn and Peter Guralnick; the literary allusions and aspirations of Nick Toshes and Greil Marcus; the insightful musicology of David Fricke, Timothy White, Bill Flanagan and Charles R. Cross; and the revelatory, along-for-the-party, rollercoaster rides of Nick Kent and Charles Shaar Murray ... to name just a few.

Who are today’s equivalents? Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, who jointly do the nationally syndicated “Sound Opinions” weekly radio program and podcast through Chicago’s Public Radio station, and Alan Light are a few who come to mind. But I’m hard-pressed to readily come up with many others. That’s not to say that they aren’t out there; undoubtedly they are. But, like music itself today, finding the glorious among the god-awful is no small feat.

Now, as then, Frank Zappa’s famous quote all-too-often still rings true. It’s something to the effect that rock journalism is “people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.” Ever the sardonic wit, that Mr. Z.

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