My first book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This, has been getting really good reviews. Between the words posted on Amazon and the feedback I’ve gotten from friends who read it, I’ve managed to feel pretty good. I might have even got a little full of myself.
Getting major media outlets to review the book has proved to be a daunting task. So imagine my excitement when I learned that England’s Prog magazine — my primary lifeline to new and exciting music — agreed to donate a few words to my efforts.
I had known the review was coming for more than a month. And while I was certainly more than a little anxious, I was also more than a little confident. After all, people familiar and strange had been gushing over my words. I more or less assumed Prog would see things pretty much the same way.
The review, written by David West, came out a couple of weeks ago. I read it early on a Thursday morning. It’s a relatively short review, so I’ll share it with you here.
“A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears is the subtitle of Cedric Hendrix’s musical travelogue. A St. Louis policeman and contributor to Proglodytes, Hendrix’s book reads rather like a blog as he runs down the artists, albums, and record stores that have provided the soundtrack to his life. As much as he positions himself as a champion of the esoteric, his choices rarely hail from the furthermost reaches of the musical spectrum. His idols include King Crimson, Frank Zappa, and Radiohead — hardly struggling unknowns — and his section on jazz is devoted to Miles Davis. ‘I demand more out of music, because I’m listening harder,’ writes Hendrix, but often his observations state the obvious – but maybe that’s because he’s preaching to the choir with Prog and this book should land in less musically savvy hands. The American perspective on British artists can occasionally produce surprising results, particularly the idea that anyone might conceivably take offence at the lyrics of XTC’s Dear God. Hendrix’s passion for his subject is clear, even if he can be guilty of hyperbole when extolling the wonders of his heroes.”
I read and re-read West’s words, then I handled the review in the manner which any mature adult who had just published his first book would:
In my mind, West’s words ended my writing career before it had truly started. I couldn’t believe it. Reads like a blog? Nothing unfamiliar? Surprised by “Dear God?” Guilty of hyperbole? Are you kidding me?!?
There was no way I could hang my hat on this review, I thought. I wanted this review to serve as my entree into the European market. How the hell was that gonna happen now?
I spent the next couple of days stewing over West’s words. In the end, I decided I needed to defend myself. Clearly, West either didn’t read the whole book, or he simply didn’t get where I was coming from. In that mindset, I wrote an email to Jo Kendall, the Albums editor at Prog. Kendall oversees the critics, and I wanted her to hear my side.
Like any good editor, Kendall defended her critic. When all was said and done, I was suffering from a bad case of “lost in translation.” What I read and what I should have heard were two very different things.
“Reads like a blog” referred to the book’s relatable, non textbook-like tone. The “Dear God” statement was driven further home when I explained what I meant. It wasn’t a criticism. It was a curiosity contrasting the difference between the British and Americans where religion was concerned. And most British people knew about the bands I discussed, because Prog already covered a lot of them, so I could hardly be seen as “esoteric” in their world.
That’s when a rather large penny dropped.
Most of the bands I’ve gotten into are from England. Those bands don’t exist in a vacuum. It stands to reason that most of those groups spent years slogging away in tiny clubs throughout their own country before they were able to make it to America, where I got to hear about them. So sure, they’re cutting edge acts to me and other Americans. But to the British, that’s just another band they caught at the pub years ago!
What I had done was the equivalent of moving to Rome and opening a restaurant so I could teach the people the joy of Italian food!
If West had written something on par with, “Hendrix’s musical discoveries are more than familiar to us, but how he came to know these bands makes for an interesting tale,” I would’ve handled it better. But he didn’t, and there’s nothing I can do about it. That’s just the way it goes.
With the benefit of (eventual) objectivity, I was able to reach two very important conclusions. First, when I initially read the review, I was coming off a particularly grueling 70-plus hour work week. I was exhausted, and my brain synapses weren’t firing the way they should. I was in no frame of mind to digest a review. Secondly, I’ve been a police officer for 23 years. Our mindset tends to lean toward doom and gloom, regardless of the circumstances. Give us a chance to interpret something, and we will most likely see it in a negative light. That’s precisely what happened here.
In the end, Kendall expressed her support for both me and my book. She said I offered a valuable contribution to their musical world, and she eagerly anticipated my next project. We even discussed the possibility of me freelancing for the magazine. Things weren’t nearly as bleak as I initially believed. Of all the things Kendall said to me, what stuck out the most was a single, simple sentence: “We’re with you, Cedric.” That was good to hear.
I’ve learned a lot behind this experience. I understand how important it is to know your audience, and to see things from their point of view as well as your own. I’ve also learned the importance of reading things more carefully before assuming you know what’s being said. Most of all, I understand the importance of being objective and emotionally even-keeled at times like these. When I first read the review, I was “all up in my feelings,” as my daughter would say. That’s not a good place to be when reading a critique.
I stand by my work, and David West should stand by his. The only thing still irking me is the “hyperbole” line, simply because he’s calling me out for doing exactly what I said I’d do in the book’s introduction. I’ll get over it.
I’d be grateful if you got a copy of the book for yourselves, and reached your own conclusions. I’ve already begun “pre-production” for my next book, which I will eagerly offer to Prog once again for review. I thank them for taking the time to check out my first book. They certainly didn’t have to.
Now if I can only get some Americans to follow suit …
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Check out my new book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears. It’s available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine bookstores.
Congrats again to your book, Cedric. Allow to me to offer some unsolicited advise.
Writing a book in and of itself is a huge accomplishment you should be proud of, in my humble opinion. And while I understand that review didn’t come out exactly the way you wish it had, and I probably also would have been ticked about it, had I been in your shoes, I don’t think you should worry too much about the critics. I know, easy for me smartass to say that, right?
But with many critics, I get the impression they feel the need to say something really clever. Sometimes it comes out the right way but more often they end up saying something silly just for the sake of being provocative.
The fact remains that writing about music seems to give you lots of joy. Don’t allow any critic to take that away from you – ever!
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Ditto to what Christian said. And let me add what we all already know – once you put yourself out there in the public sphere, especially in a creative way, we leave ourselves wide open. Not that we shouldn’t do it – quite the opposite. But there will always be somebody who says “your baby is ugly” and so, thick skin comes in handy.
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Writing a book and baring your soul is hard. Writing 125-word book reviews can be done in your underwear while you vape some morning blue raspberry sativa and have a cup of Starbucks Via.
Writing a book is better.
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