I can handle constructive criticism. It’s the only way to grow and improve. But sometimes, a criticism — no matter how innocuous — gets stuck in the craw. Apparently, this has finally happened to me.
I recently posted about the first major review of my book. I mentioned that while I could handle what was said in the review, I was a little bothered by the critic declaring me guilty of “hyperbole” when it came to extolling the virtue of my favorite musicians. In the comments section, one of my followers also noted that I may go a bit over the top from time to time.
I completely get where these guys are coming from. Because of that, I have been giving more than a little thought to the way I go about writing about bands and their albums. After careful consideration, I’ve reached the following conclusion:
I don’t care.
Here’s the thing: I’m a music fan. For now, I write like a fan. I’m not working for any publication, so I’m not required to be cold and objective. If I’m excited about a band or an album, I will express that excitement in my words. I don’t see the harm. And I’m quite certain the musicians don’t mind.
The only reason the “hyperbole” line bugged me is because the critic was accusing me of doing exactly what I said I was going to do! Here’s what I wrote in the book’s introduction:
“This is a book written by a music fan for music fans. It will be positively inundated with my opinions and will annoy members of the ‘mainstream’ music industry from time to time. I will unabashedly gush over some of the artists I mention, because I am a fan and I adore what these people do musically. Sorry, but that’s the way it goes. It’s my book, and those are my rules. You have been warned.”
You’ll find that paragraph on page 10. So why would anyone be surprised by what comes afterward?
For the last 23 years, nearly all of my written efforts have been geared toward putting words on paper in the form of police reports. The work is dry, repetitive, and completely devoid of joy or imagination. Yet those words can ultimately send someone to prison, so I take them very, very seriously.
Writing about music is the ultimate respite. I’m not worried about a supervisor or watch commander altering my words to fit their narrative. I’m not worried about a prosecutor nit-picking over a phrase, putting the decision to pursue the case in jeopardy. I’m not worried about the Grand Jury being confused over the circumstances of the case and letting their personal biases influence their view of my writing. I’m not worried about a defense attorney doing his best to discredit my well-written report, because he’s had so many other cases dismissed because of badly written ones.
Writing about music renders me absolutely worry-free. I can use all the superlatives I want. I can dwell on any aspect of the musician or record I feel like. When I like what I hear, I can fawn over it. When I don’t like it, I don’t have to say anything at all. I can’t begin to tell you how liberating this is. So what if I lay it on a little thick?
If I get excited about an artist or an album, I want you to get excited about it, too. I want you to know how incomplete your music collection is without this particular artist or album. I want the musicians to know they are appreciated, and I want to enhance their bottom lines, which is a damned hard thing to do in today’s record industry. This makes it possible for them to make more music for us to enjoy. And that’s all I ever want.
With the exception of a small royalty from my book sales, I don’t get paid for my music writing. With a handful of exceptions, everything I have explored in music has been on my dime. I pay for all the records, CDs, box sets, concert tickets, road trips, hotels, and souvenirs out of my own pocket. I work a boatload of overtime at my day job to ensure I can do this. I am beholden to no one in the industry. This means I can say what I want about who I want whenever I want.
As a matter of personal pride, I stride to remain as objective as possible. But sometimes a chord is struck, and I feel the need to write a little extra to make sure my point gets across. So I may trade in words like “solid” or “competent” for words like “ethereal” or “transformative.” Words like that should tell you that I’m not only interested in this music, I’m excited about it! And you should be, too!
The day may come (and I hope it’s soon) when I start getting paid to write about music. On that day, I will dial it back a notch. I will write with a colder sense of objectivity geared toward publication in magazines and newspapers. But until that day, I will offer the sounds I love the affection I feel they deserve. For that, I offer no apologies.
Martin Mull once said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” I like to think this means said writing is a daunting challenge not easily undertaken by the faint of heart, because whose going to truly understand it? With this I wholeheartedly agree. So why not use any and all language available to get the point across when seeking an enthusiastic reaction?
So you’ll pardon me if I say Bent Knee is one of the most exciting bands of their generation, or Steven Wilson is one of the greatest musicians I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and hearing, or Frank Zappa is one of the great composers of the 20th century. I say these words because these artists hold a special place in my heart, and I want you to be clear on that. That won’t be changing any time soon.
So if you’re struggling to deal with my use of superlatives and you find them too hyperbolic for your personal tastes, I can only offer you four words of advice, where my writing is concerned:
Get used to it.