Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Re: Re: Pazz and Jop

Pazz and Jop 2010 is live. Here is my ballot: The album list is the same as the one I filed for Time Out, but the singles list is new.

Phil Freeman has written an interesting response to/critique of the whole enterprise. I attempted to post a comment, but Blogger rejected it on account of its length. I decided I'd go ahead and post it here. Check out Phil's post via the link above and read my response below.


Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Phil. A few observations:

Re: "Pick a niche and grind it out," I think the point you're trying to make is that nobody can be an expert on everything, no matter how hard they try, so in a sense the niche picks you: Whatever you spend the most time listening to and researching is your beat by default.

I attempted to grapple with some of these issues in a recent blog post, I Am Not a Jazz Journalist. In a way, my core argument was the opposite of yours—i.e., "Let's not build walls around ourselves"—but one of my conclusions was similar: Each person can only really specialize in at most two or three areas.

I guess for me—today, at least!—I'm okay with being thought of as a writer who favors jazz and various types of heavy/weird rock. But I don't see any need to set myself up in opposition to the critical mainstream. I'm not a pop expert, but I find myself keeping up with that world more and more (largely through listening to the radio while driving), and the fact of the matter is—just like when I was a kid listening to Kasey Kasem—I derive huge amounts of pleasure from the Hits, per se. This year, I loved Drake, Nicki Minaj and yes, a good deal of the Kanye album.

What I'm saying is that while each of us does in fact have to pick a niche simply due to time (and as you point out, money) constraints, I don't see why we have to build up walls to keep anything out, or draw attention to those walls if they happen to exist. If I'm predominantly a jazz and rock writer who occasionally ventures into the pop, hip-hop and indie worlds and likes what he hears, so be it. My year-end top ten is nothing more or less than a distillation of what *I* checked in a given year—no apologies, explanations, concessions or disclaimers needed.

If we're committed to this profession, we listen to as much music as we can, simply because we love to do so. I admire your critiques of the music-critic establishment, and I often feel a similar alienation, but I don't want to miss out on a great record simply because everyone else happens to be listening to or talking about it. Megapopularity or buzz is never a guarantee of quality, but it's also never a guarantee of a lack thereof.


1 comment:

Phil Freeman said...

Hank -

I meant to comment on your earlier post, but deadlines encroached.

My final paragraph, the one that contains the phrase "Pick a niche and grind it out," is intended as advice to anyone who's looking to try and make money by writing about music (as I've been doing since 1996). It's not listening advice. Folks should listen to as much music as they have time for. That's why I challenged my fellow critics to listen to Rotting Christ, Decrepit Birth and Ayumi Hamasaki - because I'd already heard the stuff they were praising, and I felt it was only reasonable that they expand their listening, and thereby maybe expand the discourse.

See, the problem you get when the majority of critics only listen to a few dozen "big" records - or only deem those few dozen records worthy of discussion - is that the discourse becomes shriveled and boring. I could talk about Kanye West if I wanted to - I haven't listened to the whole album, but I've seen his videos, heard his singles. Same with Drake, same with most pop artists. I don't drive or listen to the radio, but I still watch MTV on a regular basis. (I watch mun2 more often, so I actually know more norteƱo and bachata songs than rap songs, but that's a side point.) But pop critics don't pay any attention to non-pop music. My central argument re listening is that it's their loss for not being aware of the stuff in the margins, not my loss for being insufficiently worshipful of the major label players and their million-dollar marketing budgets.