Too Famous To Get Fully Dressed

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I’m A Blogger, Not An Executive Producer

with 12 comments

A few years ago, I went to a large music festival in the States where I witnessed the frontman of some American indie band (whose name and music I’ve now forgotten) ranting about how people who drive SUVs suck to rapturous applause. The fact that many of the thousands there – myself included – had traveled there in some manner of gas-guzzling people carrier was neither here nor there. Everybody hates people who drive SUVs – it’s self-evidently true and we don’t challenge it.

The story came to mind over Christmas and New Years when I read a blog post by Handsome Young Stranger with the somewhat snarky title: “How to win friends and influence people.” The blog, without going into any specifics, said that Irish music blogs aren’t critical enough and basically act as PR outlets for the musicians they write about. Fair enough. A couple of days ago, Irish Times blogger Jim Carroll came back from his Christmas holliers and +1d it on his blog, adding that certain unnamed members of the music writing clique are band whores.

I thought it was funny because I’ve said much the same in the past myself. I think everyone has. It’s self-evidently true. It’s especially self-evidently true when you avoid going into specifics, and even self-evidentlier true when you imply you have an inside track on what’s really going on but you won’t name names out of respect or whatever. It may even be more self-evidently true than the existence of god. But is it actually true? And if it is true then why can’t you go into specifics – who is not holding up their end of the deal?

When I have something to say, I tend to just say it, regardless of the consequences. I’m naively, stupidly and possibly even self-destructively honest. That’s why these thinly-veiled allusions drive me nuts. They’re too safe and they’re too easy, and beyond hypocritical when your central point is that the music media lacks critical insight. Are there blogs and websites out there that aren’t pulling their weight critically? Name them. Is there a band whore on the block? Fuck it, call them out. There may be good reasons for not naming names, but then why rock the boat in the first place?

It’s just all very… vague, isn’t it? I saw people agree with the Handsome Young Stranger post on twitter and on their blogs, yet it seemed like a lot of people sort of read what they wanted in it and went away satisfied. Being vague and open to interpretation is great when you’re an artist, but if you’re trying to make a serious point then it’s probably the opposite of what you’re trying to do. I don’t read Irish blogs as much as I should, but amid the general Hype Machine buzz Irish music blogs in general are an oasis of insight and damn good writing.

Jim Carroll is a good writer who expresses uncomfortable and well-researched opinions. Nialler gets the community involved and serves as the best link between Irish music and international blogs. Nay McArdle digs deeper than anybody into Irish music and gives air to countless artists who could otherwise be cut off from the media entirely. Eoghan O’Sullivan has recently become as prolific as he is thoughtful. Hardcore For Nerds doesn’t write as much about music as he used to but I love that lefty punk vibe. Darragh McCausland is probably the best actual writer of the lot and he spindles together music and brutal personal honesty in a way that I wish I could.

Are they as critical of the music scene as they could be? Of course not. Should they be? Sure, if they wanna be.* Aside from Jim and Niall, none of makes much or any money from blogging. As Nay points out in comment #10 on Jim’s blog, everybody has their own reasons for blogging that reflect their own personality. I personally do it to promote myself (yeah, good job, right?) but most bloggers just do it to share the music they like with more people. Sometimes I read blogs that are all gushy about everything, and they remind me of those permanently jolly people I actively avoid in life, but so what? If I don’t like it, I won’t read it.

I can’t find the link, but Karl McDonald on twitter said he finds it difficult to criticise musicians when he considers many of them friends and associates. I can understand that. If a friend invites you over and cooks you dinner, you don’t turn around and tell them you find their food shallow and pedantic. (I might, but I’m not a very good example of a human being.) It’s just not done. He suggested some people might band together to create an anonymous blog so as to offer unrestrained criticism. This seems pointless – anonymity undermines how useful any point you make can be. To extend the metaphor too far, it’s like popping an anonymous note in your friend’s letterbox suggesting they use less salt next time.

I’m not going to sit here and tell any blogger they should start being more critical. It’s not their job to be critical. I will be critical because I am a critical person, not out of any duty of care to music scene or arrogant belief my opinion should mean something to the artist. I’m a writer, not an executive producer. If a band want to pay me a fee to come in the studio and say ‘that song’s good, this one’s shit, that one needs more glock,’ I will do it. I will Clive Davis that shit. If a magazine is paying me to review something, I won’t pull any punches. But on here, I’m a writer and I will write whatever I want to write.  I’m a rounded person (kind of) and my blog will reflect that I like some things and dislike others, and hopefully that means that when I enthuse about something people know that I really, really mean it. But that’s it.

Here’s Henry Rollins.

*I’m aware that asking and answering questions is an incredibly irritating writer habit. I don’t care. I’m trying to be emphatic.

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Written by Dave

January 6, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Criticism, Irish

12 Responses

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  1. I wasn’t actually suggesting that the anonymous blog was a thing that should be done, I was just kinda suggesting it as a thought experiment or whatever. It’d obviously be pointless because a) it’d take ten minutes to figure out who was involved and b) it’d come across as way too bitchy and end up having no real function.

    I just thought it’d be an interesting thing to suggest as a solution to not only the problem of criticising your friends but also to the problem of the blogger/curator building themselves a pedestal within a tiny scene.

    I still think it’s good that Lisa wrote the post and it’s especially good that Jim Carroll, as the de facto Dad of the whole micro scene, brought people’s attention to it. Jim made his bones doing criticism and makes his money doing it now, he didn’t come in the other way like a lot of people (including me) did. Jim blogging about it also kinda ameliorated the problem of people seeing the whole thing as shots fired at Nay, which it wasn’t.

    I understand that you and others have taken a “I will blog about what I want” attitude in the wake of it. I’m gonna blog about what I want as well. So’s everyone, unless someone was genuinely spurred into being the white knight of Irish music criticism by this. But if the newspapers and magazines give extra stars to Irish music and the blogs just post what they like, Irish music just feels like it’s sloshing around rather than actually going anywhere. Maybe that’s not a problem, but the whole thing’s too small for an actual Hype Machine-style approach to good bands winning out through consistent exposure, so it still feels like there’s a step missing in the whole thing.

    Karl

    January 6, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    • I can respect that, just the whole tone of the thing from both of them rubbed me up the wrong way, as if there’s something wrong with people not doing things exactly their way. White knight was actually the phrase I was looking for – as if our specific opinions are (or should be) far more important than they are.

      Dave

      January 6, 2012 at 8:38 pm

  2. The genesis of that blog post was me trying to write an end-of-year summary of Irish music, and throwing it out because it was skipping around the thing I’ve been thinking and talking about more than any album: there isn’t any long-form, deep, analytical writing coming out on Irish music. I didn’t mean that everyone currently writing should pack up and go home, but that there’s something else that needs to be there as well and maybe it’s new, extra people that do it (and maybe new, extra people read it, too). If there’s more thoughtful writing on Nadia Oh than on any Irish band (and there is, by miles), either there’s a void to fill or there’s really not much to say about the music.

    I can see what you mean by vagueness, but it wasn’t directed at one point or any one person, so there wasn’t a specific call-out to make, as useful as that would have been in writing the thing. It wasn’t meant to be safe or easy any more than it was meant to be brave. That’s maybe not something I should clarify because this has been a bit of a miserable shit-storm even without explicitly restating that I think that critical insight is almost entirely missing. Again, I don’t think anyone needs to stop what they’re doing at all, just that the kind of thoughtful, long-form, critical music writing that’s abundant (especially on the web) and that I most enjoy reading is nearly absent here, and I wish there was some because I’d love to be reading it. Not everyone likes it, which is a-ok, and ideally there’s a load of different roles and audiences anyway.

    ‘Criticism’ got interpreted somehow (and quite a lot) to mean negative commentary, which isn’t what it means in the context of writing about music/the arts, and it wasn’t what I meant.

    I wish I could have phrased it was well as Karl’s Hype Machine comparison above, and I thought Naomi’s point in #19 on OTR was on the money: “I mean that if 10 music writers all profess a liking for an artist, there should be that many examples of critical appraisal explaining why they’re worth the hype.” That would be really satisfying and great.

    It definitely wasn’t written with the intention to upset anyone, nor was it intended as a cue for smug agreement without any action. I don’t think the post achieved anything and I mostly wish I hadn’t put it up. I’ve been reluctant to drag it out any further but your post (and the comments you linked) were well-considered, so I hope I haven’t muddied things further by addressing a few points.

    Lisa

    January 6, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    • Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for commenting – I didn’t know if you would see this/respond, so thanks.

      I read all of your year-end posts and I really enjoyed them, which kind of made this post stick out even more and it’s a shame this has overshadowed all that a bit.

      I kind of get what you mean by ‘critical’ now – you mean (academically?) analytical work placing the music in a broader context socially, musically, politically, whatever? If so, you definitely could have picked a better word than critical. The way you said it, contrasting it to PR and the “here’s this, it’s good” thing gave the impression you meant it’s just all back-slapping and needs to be more balanced (or negative, as you say).

      In that case, Jim Carroll misinterpreted your meaning too, which is interesting.

      And don’t say the post didn’t achieve anything! It gave me the opportunity to climb up on my high horse, and that’s all that matters 🙂 And no, you haven’t muddied things further; I think you’ve cleared a lot up.

      Dave

      January 7, 2012 at 1:24 am

    • Also, can you explain the title? I know the reference, but it seems like you’re alluding to some sort of collusion without wanting to say it. I might be misinterpreting again but, like I said, it seems snarky.

      Dave

      January 7, 2012 at 1:40 am

      • Hi Dave. The title’s snark is entirely my fault – I had a bit in there originally referring to “remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language” (from How To Win Friends, which is surprisingly reasonable and non-phony), and I edited out that part. The allusion intended (but not really made) was that it’s totally understandable that bands would enjoy being mentioned and that the cycle would be band-centered, stuck around that point, but it’s a weird interpersonal situation instead of writing about the work.

        By ‘criticism’, I mean judging something on its merits and faults, with part of that including its contexts (which play into judgment – I know I’m *really* reticent to write about something if I don’t know the genre well or if I only get the political/cultural/etc aspect superficially, cos I can’t judge it against anything else and haven’t got an informed approach to it, and I imagine most other people know that feeling.) Given how much of this happens on one-person blogs, I’d add personal response to the scope of criticism too. So yeah, more balanced is what I meant. I didn’t mean being negative 30% of the time as a quota, or throwing everything at a band clearly just starting out, just not being softer because they’re Irish, or not avoiding pointing out that the second half of an album is awful even though the first half’s full of genius and the band’s great live, or at the very least not saying “this is good” without explaining why or how or what’s different to the last thing that was good.

        (I always seem to introduce some horrible grammar into comments, only seeing it after I’ve hit post, so here’s hoping I haven’t repeated it here…)

        Lisa

        January 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    • Hmm, that’s kind of what I was on about. I’m sure there are people who mark up Irish music because it’s Irish, but in general I don’t think it’s true. Irish music gets featured more because, being local, it has a better chance of being noticed by a blogger or journo or editor or whatever. There’s loads of great Irish music out there but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find. I’m sure there are loads of thoughtful pieces of Nadia Oh (I have no desire to ever read any of them) but that’s probably going to happen by sheer force of numbers.

      To be honest, I suspect the style of short-form blogging that somebody like Nialler (and me to a lesser extent) does might not have much of a future and that ‘curation’ (I agree it’s a bit of an odd term) will give way to more thoughtful writing. I do think you’re underestimating how much actual discretion bloggers/writers are showing in what to choose, but I can see your point in the lack of that particular type of long-form criticism.

      Also I think you and others like HC4N are doing great work on the more kinda scholarly approach, so it’s not like there’s no variety at all.

      Dave

      January 8, 2012 at 3:35 am

  3. Yo good to read this exchange (and thanks for the kindly compliment Dave). I agreed with Lisa’s post when I read it and stated this on twitter. I was quite surprised to see it being taken as a personal affront and the consequent bit of brouhaha about it.

    Anyway, I think that there is a fair point to be made about the lack of long-form criticism (of the interpretive, evaluative kind) coming from Irish writers (myself included) and relating to Irish music or, indeed, relating to any music. Like Lisa, I enjoy reading that sort of stuff and I do often remark to myself about there being so little of it on the Irish blogs and websites.

    With regards to how Jim and others may (or may not) have interpreted criticism to mean negative evaluation – well Lisa didn’t say it straight out, but the implication is surely that an honest, thorough, critic would have to tackle questions around music they don’t like or rate and the reasons why they don’t – especially if they were writing a blog that was keeping tabs on the artists that are receiving buzz. Lisa wrote questioning a mentality of “Here’s this, and it’s good” – and I think that little phrase was key to how some interpreted the article and Lisa’s intentions.

    Personally, I’ve resolved to review my 2011 in more critical depth than I usually do on the back of Lisa’s post. I enjoy a good critical read and I am reasonably capable of writing that way myself when I apply myself. It’s not really my blog’s M.O (which is a personal blog impersonating a music blog), but it is something I’ve started to enjoy doing on my podcast (plug!) and something that I will probably get more into now that I have mostly hung up my shoes for the various magazines and sites I used to write for.

    I’d still be too much of a pussy to call out an album as shit if I knew half the band…

    Glad this debate is happening. Over and out.

    Darragh

    January 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm

  4. I respect Lisa’s original post, but I did have something of a similar feeling of ambiguity towards it (which is why I think I only ‘liked’ it on Tumblr, which is the most basic form of interaction there). partly because I’d already sort of disengaged from Irish music this year, mostly due to personal circumstances and not listening to a whole lot of music generally – apart from one particular album which I scholarised the fuck out of – but it didn’t seem like there was anything that particularly grabbed me one way or the other, or at least not that broke through the threshold of interest; and thus returning to the ‘health of the scene’/state-of-the-Irish-musical-nation debate, which I was only ever tangential to anyway, didn’t attract me a whole lot. at the same time, I don’t want to be the person who gets tired and jaded and moves on, at least not while I still have a good deal of free time and interest, so it’s heartening to see others engaged here.

    looking at the comments as I type, I see four people, of whom I’ve met two IRL (plus the twin of another!) discussing a post which they’ve either inspired, written or are mentioned in – and myself – which makes me think there should be room to make this a good deal more sociable. like, why don’t we – and any others who come along – take up a table at a pub (or appropriate entertainment venue) to discuss this rather than a comments page? I think all of us are too independent-minded to form a cabal, but that’s no reason to stay apart either!

    addressing the point about longer criticism (the question of critical criticism goes round and round and I’ve never been that interested in it, cos I either write about what motivates me or what motivates me in what others choose to write about) I think there’s a slight flaw in that for us Atlantic-oriented English-speakers, the (rest of) ‘the Internet’ mainly means the US, and that’s where either a lot of these writers come from or where their attention is directed towards (equally from here as from, say, Australia). looking at all the fascinating discussion and dissection on Tumblr, it’s generally oriented towards that kind of canon – very little seems to me to be directed towards indigenous music such as we’re discussing. although that’s maybe on account of who I follow – jakec comes to mind as an exception, although he’s dealing with his own personal passion for Australian music in a lot of the same ways we’re going through here, i.e. anxiously – but in fact I detect something quite positive in the amount that is written: just not necessarily by Irish people.

    as Dave will know from his work on the excellent Sputnik site, there’s a lot of interest out there in alternative circles for a few particular Irish bands like Adebisi Shank or Fight Like Apes. just at the end of last year, I came across a pretty good post on the latter’s 2010 (to us!) album: http://newyearsfuckingeve.tumblr.com/post/15031771899/fight-like-apes-ice-cream-apple-fuck-unofficial
    which is short but still probably more interesting than a whole lot of what was ever said about the band here, my own efforts included?
    or there’s Katherine St Asaph’s I’ve-never-quite-worked-out-why really strong interest in (mostly female) Irish music: http://katherinestasaph.tumblr.com/tagged/Irish_music
    which also appears often enough on the (more pop-oriented) Singles Jukebox, which is probably exactly the kind of focused criticism that the Irish alternative scene generally lacks?

    Robert (HC4N)

    January 10, 2012 at 10:37 pm

  5. Robert, I’d be more than happy to meet up with like-minded bloggers as I have plenty of free time and have recently resolved to be more proactive in socialising IRL with good people I know from the web. Count me in to any potential get together.

    Darragh

    January 11, 2012 at 4:24 pm

  6. Best thing about the discussion that has sprung up is that it led me to evaluate what I’ve been writing and I think there’s some room to develop a better standard on Harmless Noise. I’d have to be some prick to read it and not take the points on board. It did seem to take a lot of talk to find out what those points were though.

    Worst thing is that the personal nature of music blogging has made it seem like people telling you how to run your own house. Too many hugs and not enough study…those are strict rules.

    Nay

    January 11, 2012 at 7:52 pm

  7. […] doing good enough. The tired argument began here, was picked up over here and counter-acted here. Jim Carroll wrote: “When you stick up YouTube videos and Soundcloud clips – especially […]


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