First of all, I want to thank Dave X for publishing our recent e-mail interview. I'll address some of his pre- and post-interview comments in a sec, but I do want to say that, positive or negative, his review of my work is one of the more thoughtful ones I've gotten. As musicians, we both agree that terminology can be the enemy, but he argues that from the standpoint of a reviewer it can be useful:
But let’s not get too cute with just calling everything “music,” either. When you take the word “jazz” away from Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Bill Dixon you remove one of the key tools listeners use to understand and frame this music.
I would actually argue here that removing the word "jazz" from the above artists can actually help listeners. If something is presented without the misleading societal stereotypes associated with it as a genre (as distinct from an artistic movement, but that's another discussion), it can give listeners for whom the word "jazz" triggers certain characteristics (or cliches) a completely new way in. What can be helpful is relating an artist's work to other artists' works, which Dave X addresses:
As amorphous as the word “jazz” can be (covering everything from Louis Armstrong to John Zorn!) it is still valuable; categorization can highlight the path of music’s development, and allow readers to use familiar artists as reference points for unfamiliar ones. We know Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis are not the same artist, but how does using one to partially describe the other differ from any other way in which humans approach an unknown? Don’t we always compare it to that which we know while learning more?
Using familiar artists as reference points for unfamiliar ones is something I have always been in favor of (despite the recent closing of my Using Familiar Artists As Reference Points For Unfamiliar Ones Ice Cream Emporium -- aka, UFAARPFUOICE). I also think that's something that can/should be used in place of terms like "jazz", "rock", "country" etc. Despite that, I still hold a grudge against the Option magazine writer whose review of Come's Eleven Eleven said that Come were a bit like the Faces. But the Faces swung and used, you know, DYNAMICS. Come did neither. Then again, I think Radiohead is kinda like a modern-day Faces, so I should probably just shut. the. fuck. up.
I was a bit disconcerted to see Weston’s appraisal of me as a shallow fellow, apparently more concerned with my popularity, and how it would be affected in relation to my opinion of his album ... So much for considering myself well-spoken! It’s obvious my point was missed completely– that there is a generalized fear among many reviewers of not wanting to be the “uncool” guy that drives tepid, wishy-washy writing. In a way, it’s understandable. Taking a strong stance against something has a way of backfiring on folks. Would you want to be known as the guy who passed on the Beatles? Or the guy who said Elvis Presley would never amount to much? Who wants to be Mr. “Shut up! You’re supposed to be a pop group!” Hornby? It is quite possible that every thoughtful critic wonders if a little more information would make the difference between understanding and failing to understand.
I didn't miss his point; I was just being a dick. I thought that might be (slightly) more entertaining than actually addressing his point. And he makes a good one, because jeez, I'm tired of reading music criticism by reviewers who are in desperate need of more information, that not just misses the point, but is kind of oblivious to it, proud of it, but still shakily confident -- like they know their premise is shaky but they're soldiering ahead anyway (like Mr. I Hate Recordings; or the point-missingest review of all, Leanne Potts' piece on Lynyrd Skynyrd's first record). And while I do feel that Dave X missed the point of my records, as I kinda said in the interview, I wouldn't know how to best articulate a "way in" to my records. In a way, I wouldn't want to be able to articulate that, nor would I want to impose that on a listener. But I appreciate Dave X at least trying to get to the bottom of things. It'd be nice to see other critics try that once in a while.
In the small discussion that follows Dave X's blog entry, he writes, "If a reviewer can do little more than react to a work on their own personal level, what is the purpose of reviewing at all?"
I've got a couple of Lester Bangs books that might answer that question for you.