On Music Critics

The role of the music critic is to explain why things you love completely suck. The internet hasn’t changed that —and if anything it’s made it worse.

It used to be that rock critics were fairly independent thinkers. They were forced  to come up with their own reasons why the music you like isn’t any good —but today everything is different.

Now there are a million people on the web reviewing music so all a writer needs is to do a Google search and presto! He finds someone to tell him what to say.

Yeah, that sounds harsh but think about it. In the old days ideas were not at your fingertips. If you wanted information you’d have to trudge out to the library or newsstand. Today? Endless opinions 24/7 —and if you don’t know what to think you can easily find someone who’s already thought it.

For example, Daniel Durchholz wrote in the June 1 St. Louis Post-Dispatch about The Decemberists recent album, The Hazards of Love:

It’s instructive, though, to remember that such works were used as punching bags by punk rockers, who pointed to their pretentiousness and self-importance as embodying the very antithesis of rock.

Hmmm… good point —but original? Here’s a quote from just a few days earlier:

Prog-rock and concept records and ambitious projects like this were kind of anathema post-punk. They were destroyed with the advent of punk rock.

That was from an interview with Decemberists front man Colin Meloy in The Decider, a Milwaukee based web site published by the same people who bring you The Onion.

Yes, ideas are hard. But today maybe not so much.

The Insidious Power of the Internet

Could it be that the world economic crisis has something to do with the internet?

Really, think about it.

The web has done immeasurable harm to productivity by offering something infinitely more interesting than work. The trouble is that people just aren’t paying attention to things anymore because there are too many online distractions.

Imagine if everyone who was supposed be keeping an eye on the subprime mortgages were instead managing their fantasy baseball teams, following eBay auctions, and goofing around on Facebook. Meanwhile the residential mortgage market was falling to pieces. Oops!

There was a time when you wouldn’t dream of sitting at your desk and reading the paper. That would have been seen as the the ultimate in F-you I’m Goofing Off At Work behavior. Today the internet is the new reading the paper at work —and it’s out of control.

And why wouldn’t it be out of control? Is your job really more interesting than things like Popeater’s list of Top Ten Twins? By the way Kim Deal and her sister Kelley of The Breeders are on there. At 48 they still rock  which is something I find very comforting. Here’s they are back in 1993:

Three Words Say It All

I can’t say I’ve ever watched even a minute of Good Morning America Weekend, but I’m a big fan of their Your Three Words segment.

A few years ago they invited viewers to send in videos featuring three words that express what’s on their mind. The producers take what folks contribute and set it to music —and the results are always really moving. It doesn’t hurt that whoever cuts these has great taste in tunes and they’ve  featured bands like Wilco and Blitzen Trapper.

This week they used The Felice Brothers new song Penn Station. have a look:

Ringing Ears, Smoke Machines, and Drum Solos

Do you remember you first concert? I do. It was a 1977 show by Todd Rundgren’s Utopia at the Calderone Theater on Long Island. This was the band’s legendary Ra tour, featuring a 20 foot gold Sphinx and lots of smoke and lasers. The highlight was Mr. Rundgren playing a guitar solo on top of a giant steel pyramid —and then tumbling through the air and landing on stage. It was awesome —and thanks to YouTube you can get a taste of what it was like.

It all came rushing back when I took my 13-year-old son Zack to his first concert Friday night. We went to see The Decemberists play at the Amherst College gym. Since it was general admission I led him to a spot against the barrier in front of the stage and imparted a little advice from the old man: “At a show like this you get right up front.”

Despite the smelly and annoying guy next to him, an atrocious opening act, and a long stretch of time on his feet he had a great time. I’ve seen enough concerts from Row Y or Section 301 to know that there is absolutely nothing like standing right in front of the band you’ve spent so many hours listening to on your iPod —or your turntable.

There were no pyramids or laser shooting Sphinxes but The Decemberists rock out live; they opened with the same song seen in this video from a performance in Austin last month.

Whipped Up

They had a giant garage sale to help fund my son’s eighth grade class trip to Washington. I hate garage sales —and friends this was the mother of all garage sales, featuring an entire school gym brimming with crap. Near the end, one of the organizers handed me a bag and told me to throw away anything that looked like garbage. “It all looks like garbage,” I replied.

She took away my bag.

All garbage except for one thing: a vinyl copy of Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

As a boy I spent many hours listening to Herb Alpert and gazing at the cover of Whipped Cream. To a sixth grader who was feeling the first stirrings of manhood, there was nothing more erotic than that album cover. I remember bringing it to school in a brown paper bag and letting my friends peak at it.

Naturally, when I spotted it at the garage sale I had to have it. I tucked it away in a secret place -much as I did at twelve-years-old-  and I was finally reunited with my boyhood love. Kids have all sorts of things to stimulate their imagination these days, so to them it would sound nutty to say I was obsessed with this picture.

It turns out that the model, Dolores Erickson, was three months pregnant during the photo shoot. I’m not sure how I would have felt about that at 12 —but I will say this: A CD of Whipped Cream would not have had nearly the same impact. And an MP3? None at all.