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Dancing About Architecture

Dancing About Architecture

“Writing about music,” Elvis Costello once famously said, “is like dancing about architecture.”

His point being, don’t review my work, because you’re wasting your time, and by the way, you look stupid doing it.

Love you too, Declan.

An interesting discussion popped up the other day on Facebook about music writing, which is, after all, something I’ve devoted a chunk of my life to for close to 20 years now. The case in point was an acid-tipped review of the new EP from the Pixies, a band I respect but don’t follow. I feel no particular stake in how they are treated, in other words, but was nonetheless outraged to read the vicious attack they had undergone at the hands of a reviewer from Pitchfork, because, as I put it, “20 years from now, the Pixies will still be the Pixies, and this guy will just be some clown who worked at Pitchfork, the most notorious cesspool of angrily self-declared ‘music critics’ in the history of recorded sound.”

There is something of a code among those music writers who imagine themselves to be professionals at it, first articulated by Rolling Stone legend Lester Bangs, who allegedly told younger colleagues something along the lines attributed to him in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous: “Whatever you do, don’t make friends with the rock stars.” His point being that you should never compromise your objectivity.

Which is faintly hilarious when you consider that there are few acts in the universe more inherently subjective than explaining what you think about a work of art. You can muster this and that past example of work that you perceive as similar or related in some way for purposes of comparison, but in the end a review can only ever be YOUR OPINION.

The real question here, and the one implied by Costello’s dig, is why write about music at all?

And that comes down to passion. I love music, and love to write, and the day I figured out that I could indulge in both at the same time was a happy one indeed. Do I think my opinion somehow matters more because I’ve listened to thousands of hours of music and written 600-plus reviews? Nope. It might benefit from more experience and craft behind it than if you pulled the average Joe in off the street and asked them for 500 words on the new Jimmy Eat World album, but that doesn’t make it any more valid or true. It’s just one person’s opinion.

The thing that pisses me off about sites like Pitchfork is that they take pride in being mean; they are, at heart, bullies. If you take nothing else from chapter 20 of Believe in Me, take this: I don’t like bullies.

As I went on to say on Facebook, “I will never understand why people who clearly hate music that much would spend their time writing about it.” The motto on the home page of the Daily Vault reads: “Music reviews for music lovers by music lovers.” Just don’t call me a music critic. I’m a music writer, and I’m going to keep right on dancing.

P.S. It turns out after further investigation that the above quote has actually been misattributed to Elvis Costello for decades now and was most likely originated by comedian Martin Mull. However, I think that the fact that Costello was widely believed to have said it for so many years speaks for itself in terms of his attitude towards the music press…

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