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I Am Not A Critic

I Am Not A Critic

Of all the conversations I’ve had in recent weeks around the book I’ll be publishing early next year – My Heart Sings the Harmony: Twenty Years of Writing About Music – the single most challenging and revealing one has been about my visceral reaction to a label that many of my peers either quietly accept or willingly embrace.

I am not a critic.

Yes, I write about music. Yes, I assess the music against my personal tastes and historical body of knowledge, and offer an opinion about it. But I’ve never in my life aspired to the title of “music critic.”

Creating art is, in substantial part, a victory over self-doubt, a triumph over the voices—interior and exterior—that whisper in the artist’s ear, telling them “You’re not good enough, you’re wasting your time, no one will understand, you’re just going to embarrass yourself, give it up.” For any artist with a modicum of humility or self-awareness, these voices are a fact of life. Creating art requires a person to overcome these voices again and again—and that simple act of courage alone is worthy of celebration.

Here’s more in that vein, from the introduction to My Heart Sings the Harmony:

Whatever else it accomplishes, I hope this volume suggests something about the role music critics can play as a gateway for the audience to deepen its understanding of a work. That’s always my goal, as well as the reason why I still to this day reflexively—and not entirely rationally—resist the label of “critic.” While the second dictionary definition of “criticism” is “the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work,” the first is much less impartial: “the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.” To me, that suggests that the first obligation of a “critic” is to criticize, rather than to praise, or simply analyze, the work, and I reject that premise. My job is to narrate my experience as a listener, to explain how the work was received on my end, which buttons it pushed and which it didn’t. Any given review might contain both criticism and praise, but my default setting is positive, not negative. I do what I do because I love music, not criticizing those who make it.

That’s not to say I won’t give a critical review (in fact, there’s a whole chapter in the book devoted to them). But what excites me about writing about music and keeps me coming back year after year is the chance to celebrate what I love, not criticize what I don’t.

I call myself a music writer. You can call me whatever you want… just, please, not the “c” word.

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