Today, Marketwatch media columnist Jon Friedman takes a look at the scourge of music critics–those elitist bastards who, as one can see by the sales records smashed by the likes of Lucinda Williams and Aimee Mann, control what sort of music gets popular–and their effect on the career of Steve Nieve, the Attractions keyboardist who recently wrote the opera Welcome to the Voice to almost no critical response. Friedman rants about the album for a bit, name-drops Robert Wyatt (!), and lets Nieve sigh about how there’s “no ‘Steve Nieve’ section” in the few remaining record stores that are left. Then, at the end of the column, Friedman drops this bomb:
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do music critics help you decide what’s good or are they merely blowhards?
WEDNESDAY PET PEEVE: Critics who care more about showing how smart they are instead of helping the readers understand the arts.
Well, you know, one of my pet peeves involves writers who are trying to big-up the work of artists they like, then take it as a personal affront when people don’t respond the same way. But nobody asked me.
Seriously, though–while Friedman’s column (which will probably reach a lot more people than a 60-word blurb about the record in Entertainment Weekly‘s ever-shrinking music section) is the first I’d heard of Voice, it’s a little bit of a leap to say that “blowhard” music critics who are only interested in “showing how smart they are” is the primary reason for the near-radio silence regarding it. Not that critics are completely innocent of that behavior, but there’s an elephant in the room here that Friedman’s gracefully sidestepping, and that’s the fact that Voice is an opera–sure, it’s one by a musician who has a devoted cult following, and it features some boldfaced names, but it’s still an opera.
You’d think a media critic would know that, as part of the general shrinking of music-writing space over the past few years, classical coverage has been decimated by newspapers and magazines in favor of music that “the people” (the elitist people?) want; the only new releases in that genre to get coverage on a mass scale at all are by pop stars like Paul McCartney and Billy Joel, both of whom appeal to the mass much more than even Elvis Costello. And really, an opera by Steve freaking Nieve–with Robert Wyatt getting top billing over Costello, at that!–would be catnip for these straw-man critics who are obsessed with the idea of peacocking their smarts, or at least their encyclopedic knowledge of early Attractions bootlegs, all over the page.
The chicken-and-egg scenarios that Friedman’s completely misunderstanding here–do critics write like elitists, thus alienating readers? do readers not care about music writing anyway, thus allowing critics to fall back on old habits? does the increased categorization of music mean that things that don’t fit into any one genre fall by the wayside? does the “please the reader” mandate in a lot of arts coverage now have the same effect? should some Pitchfork writer just give the damn thing a 6.1 so Friedman will quit complaining?–are legion, but they all boil down to one thing: He’s pretty much clueless. But hey, at least there are some people out there who think that music critics still matter!
Media lip service hurts a rock ‘n’ roll hall of famer [Marketwatch]