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Oh, Lord, not another snotty music critic.

People like Jack Sparks piss me off no end. For one thing, they think they can look down their noses at all the folks who like what K102 plays and act all superior, when in fact they're arguing about taste in the same snooty manner as the music critics who sneered at Journey and all the other popular bands when I was growing up. They told us ten years later that Cyndi Lauper was the true innovator & musician and this Madonna person was just some dancing fool who'd be forgotten in a few years once this annoying disco thing went away. Well, they were full of shit then, and he's full of shit now.

Which isn't to say that there aren't a few grains of corn in the turds he's squeezing out. It's obvious to me that Sparks knows his music history, almost certainly better than I do (not that that's any great achievement) because he can see very clearly the common roots of country and R&B, and the direct lineage from Hank Jr. to the outlaw country practiced by Willie, Waylon, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson (yeah, put that in yer blunt and smoke it, Kris Kristofferson) on up to Jason & The Scorchers and today's alt-country crowd that mostly hangs out in Austin. What he prefers not to see is the parallel line that the outlaws sprang from, parodied, mocked and paid homage to even as they rebelled against it, the Nashville Sound that comes to us from the Grand Ole Opry through Roy Clark & Buck Owens (yeah, that means Hee Haw) and Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette down to Big & Rich and all the other country/pop acts that make Sparks want to vomit.

Except he has his criticism ass-backwards, like most music critics who condemn bands for "selling out" and "going commercial". The industry doesn't raise bands to sell advertising, advertisers recruit bands because the music is popular and that popularity helps sell trucks and beer and yeah, pregnancy detection kits. Pitching those products to spoiled yuppie brats who don't buy them is a waste of time, but there's a lot of folks who buy Brooks and Dunn CDs at the Wal-Mart who buy all three (probably at the same time) so why not use the music those folks like to sell your product? You do have to have a modicum of smarts to survive in the ad business, after all. The same applies to the music business - if you keep shoveling out music nobody wants to hear, you're going to go broke, the late J. Kenneth Galbraith and Noam Chomsky's ravings about advertising and informed consent notwithstanding.

The bottom line is that not everyone who likes Brooks & Dunn is an inbred moron, and not everyone who likes k.d. lang is an enlightened genius. I once brought an argument over country music to a screeching halt by saying "'Bluegrass' is what you NPR listeners call 'country' when you don't want to be embarrassed in front of the other Keillor fans," and while I admit I was just being an obnoxious prick at the time, there's some truth in what I said. You can argue about the technical merit of one piece of music as compared to another, but for God's sake don't try and convince me that your obscure artist is better than my popular artist when all you've got to go on is a bunch of esthetic justifications that boil down to "I like this song, but that one sucks." I might have bought that bullshit back when I was nineteen and buying all the art-rock I could find that had any connection to Roxy Music whatsoever, but I'm forty-six now and not nearly so gullible.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 23rd, 2006 04:09 pm (UTC)
There is a constant dance between:
Good music is music I like

Good music is music that is superior by a standard set by the cognoscienti

I think we have to enjoy what we enjoy and work to educate our ears. I remember the first time I listened to Herbie Hancock. I couldn't stand him, but I continued to listen until I understood what he was doing.
Aug. 23rd, 2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
I'm willing to admit that there's aspects of modern jazz that I don't appreciate because I'm not willing to sit still long enough to learn to appreciate it, but I'm not willing to admit that it's inherently superior to big band or swing because of that.

Besides, the cognoscienti don't always know what they're talking about. It's hard to tell sometimes whether their tastes are legitimately derived from a solid base in esthetics or whether they're just goofing on people who don't have that solid base to work from.

"What is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good: need we anyone to tell us these things?"
Aug. 23rd, 2006 07:21 pm (UTC)
No, I'm not coming out 100% for the cognoscienti. I just think we have to keep growing in our appreciation of different kinds of music (hi and lo brow)
Aug. 23rd, 2006 08:13 pm (UTC)
Up to a point, yes. There's a lot of punk rock I can't be bothered with because it's just noise for the sake of noise, for example, and life's too short for me to suffer through that.
Aug. 23rd, 2006 08:47 pm (UTC)
agreed, but you can usually tell the difference between
I don't like it because I don;t understand it and
I don't like it because it's crap.
Aug. 23rd, 2006 06:46 pm (UTC)
I should dig out all the commentary on rockist vs. popist music criticism that was going around both on and offline about 2-3 years ago. You're definitely on the popist end of things. (in other words, yes, pop music does have value, even above that of 'most people like it'.)

...it's kind of like 'hard SF' vs. 'everything else', come to think of it...
Aug. 23rd, 2006 08:14 pm (UTC)
You can apply this line of thought to pretty much any field of art, really, because in just about everything from sculpture and painting to literature to music you have people who think they know better than you do what you should be reading/listening to/watching. I say it's broccoli, and I say the hell with it.
Aug. 23rd, 2006 08:57 pm (UTC)
You're definitely on the popist end of things

And BTW, that would be "papist". ^__^
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )



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