All of this began with an email from Van. Several emails, in fact.
Van and I have similar, but diverging, musical tastes, which makes sense because we have similar, but diverging, backgrounds – suburban males of about the same age, but differing in ethnicity and [likely] childhood economic background. Both of us attended college in the late 80s, both of us play a little bit of guitar (or bass, in my case) and have played with different bands. We tend to like guitar-based rock, although I (being a bit older) seem to have more of a fondness for “Classic Rock,” and Van seems to be more tolerant of non-guitar-based music than I am.
In any case, we are both rather open-minded in our musical tastes as they relate to popular music from the past 60 years or so (although Van – to my mind – really doesn’t worship The Beatles enough, so he can’t be all THAT open-minded). We’ve enjoyed discussing music over the past 18 months or so in which we’ve gotten to know each other.
One of our favorite topics of discussion is the relationship between music critics and music. Many of these discussions have originated as talks about the awesomeness of Van Halen. A simple précis of all those discussions would be the following: Music critics are full of shit. (Interestingly, googling the phrase “music critics are full of shit” only returns 88 results. Even more interestingly, only 82 of those results are from online forums dedicated to Rush.)
I must confess that the literary genre known as “criticism” has always seemed a bit silly to me. Whether one writes about art, movies, dance, literature or music, at its core criticism is merely one person’s opinions. That person may be able to beautifully commit to the page cogent arguments for, and impressive, well-researched defenses of, a position for, or against, the merits of a particular painting/film/ballet/novel or CD, but when it’s all boiled down the only thing a writer can truthfully say about a piece is whether or not they appreciated it. (I won’t say “liked,” as it is possible, I think, to appreciate something without really liking it. It’s how I feel about Bruce Springsteen, Derek Jeter, Fiber One bars, etc.) All the rest is just opinion – no matter how widely shared that opinion is.
So, for example, when all those lists of “Best Ever” are compiled for magazines, newspapers, and an endless string of VH1 programs featuring recycled MTV footage and “experts” no one has ever heard of, they are really just peoples’ opinions. Even if almost everyone agrees on something, there is no way to truly quantitate what makes art “good” or “bad.” So, the guy who says Kraftwerk is as good as The Beatles isn’t really wrong, he just shares a different opinion than me. And a billion other people.
So, anyway, back to those emails that started this whole thing. Earlier this year, Rolling Stone released its 500 Greatest Albums Ever issue. Van and I were unimpressed, to say the least. “Greatest? Who says?” (Okay, that question is answered in the introduction to the piece.) And secondly, by what measure?
This is my first post. I’d better stop there. I’ll have more to say later.
Happy MLK Day!