Thursday, March 18, 2010

The trouble with being a music critic

"I didn't want to be a critic, in the strictest sense of the word. I wanted to write about music. I wanted to talk about music. I wanted to share every song I loved and discuss every song I hated. What I did not want to be was a pretentious, smug critic who writes year end reviews for famous magazine where you make not so much a list of albums you loved, but a sampling of bands and songs that prove your indie cred and show just how smart and hip you are, knowing full well that the majority of those reading your article will have heard of maybe two bands on your entire list."
So writes Michele Catalano in a post published today by the site True/Slant.

Michele's not alone. Remember the name Danny Goldberg? He was Led Zeppelin's publicist for a few years in the 1970s and was promoted to an executive position with Swan Song Records.

In 2008, he authored a memoir called "Bumping into Geniuses: My Life Inside the Rock and Roll Business." In it, he tells multiple stories including that of his short-lived and uncomfortable rendezvous with being a rock music critic. He disliked it for reasons other than the ones Catalano cites today.

Goldberg also shared that story last year when recording an interview for Carol Miller's syndicated U.S. radio spotlight on Led Zeppelin. Here's what he said during that interview. His story takes you through his the transition from being a rock critic to soon thereafter working as Led Zeppelin's publicist.

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"I never was really a great critic. Part of my problem was that I just didn't like criticizing rock musicians. I was too much of a fan. There was a time when I wrote a critical review of the Rascals. I loved the Rascals, but I said that their guitar player, Gene Cornish, was just twanging the guitar -- because he was just kind of an average guitar player compared to these amazing guitar heroes of the late '60s like Jeff Beck and [Jimi] Hendrix and Eric Clapton. So, he called me and complained about the review, and I felt terrible that I had hurt this guy's feelings. I mean, I'd seen his picture on album covers and he was part of this band that made these songs that I love like 'I've Been Lonely Too Long' and 'People Got To Be Free.'
"After that, I had a hard time writing anything critical, which was a real problem if you were a critic. The rock writers were getting more and more cynical and critical because rock radio was emerging as sort of the direct pipeline between the groups like the early Led Zeppelin and this mass, growing audience -- the equivalent of Woodstocks all over the country. And so, the critics decided their identity was more to be critical, to have standards to tell a subculture of, sort of, intellectual rock fans what was good and what wasn't. And although I loved being friends with a lot of these people, and still am friends with a lot of them today, I wasn't one of them. I was too much of a fan.
"So, P.R. -- public relations -- became a much better place for my energy because that's a job where being a fan is a plus instead of a minus. Soon after I went to work for a big P.R. firm in New York that wanted a rock 'n' roll guy in their employ, Led Zeppelin became a client."
There are more great stories like this in "Bumping into Geniuses," and a whole lot more in his radio interview. This includes recollections from Goldberg's days providing management to Nirvana about how big a fan drummer Dave Grohl was of John Bonham:
"Dave Grohl loves Led Zeppelin, and he loves to hear stories about Led Zeppelin. He just wanted to hear stories about John Bonham. My relationship with Dave Grohl consisted primarily of trying to think of John Bonham stories to keep him entertained. I think to this day if he could go out with Jimmy and Robert and Jonesy, he would do it in a minute."
At the time of this interview with Goldberg, Grohl's band with John Paul Jones, Them Crooked Vultures, had just been formed but had not yet been made known publicly.

Anyway, Michele Catalano starts off the piece on music criticism by mentioning Led Zeppelin in the first paragraph: "I needed for the world to know exactly what I thought of the latest Led Zeppelin album."

Well, Michele? Here's your invitation! What is it you'd like to get off your chest about Led Zeppelin albums? What were you doing the first time you heard Houses of the Holy? What memories and emotions of yours are attached to "Kashmir"?

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