October 16, 2008
Musings on Music Writing and Everett True
Pig City author Andrew Stafford interviewed Everett True before an audience at Brisbane’s Barsoma last week, and I was one of the nineteen in attendance. True incurred the wrath of Australian mainstream music fans in August, upon which I commented at the time. The event was held as a pilot for QMusic‘s proposed series of music-related public interviews, and while it was poorly attended, I have a feeling that this was due to minimal promotion on QMusic’s part. Some retrospective Googling uncovers that a few sites picked the event up, but it still flew under my radar; evidently, I wasn’t the only one.
During a Q&A discussion about critical discourse within music writing, or the lack thereof, one audience member asked the group how many writers from Brisbane’s local street press were in attendance. My hand was the only one in the air, which he then used to attempt to prove a point about local writers’ general apathy, or something. But dude, come on. I only found out about the event after being nudged by a fellow FasterLouder writer.
Everett stated in his characteristically humorous, self-promotional manner that his goal as a writer is to make everyone jealous of Everett True, and to make people talk about Everett True. In his words: “if you’re not writing to be read, then why the fuck are you writing?”. He and Andrew spoke about street press audiences, critical discourse within music writing, and established that all music writing is inherently subjective, which is something I’ve long since realised. It’s foolish to ever attempt to hide behind the veil of objectivity when discussing music you either do or don’t like.
The interview and resulting discussion certainly prompted internal debate regarding my writing method and purpose. I came up with a few answers, but I expect more to reveal themselves to me in time.
I review concerts primarily for free entertainment, and because live music is the most exciting and readily available form of public entertainment I’m comfortable with. The fulfilled expectations, the brilliantly unpredictable deviations from the standard rock ‘n’ roll script: those are the moments that excite me. There are loads of bands – local, national, international – with whom I’ll happily share my evening.
Of late, I’ve become more concerned with sound dynamics and artistic merit than a conventionally ‘entertaining’ performance, which often translates to the musicians occasionally ambling around stage. This may be simple subterfuge on my part, as I’ve recently become enamored of enormous-sounding shoegaze-type bands, though as ever, I still find the time and place for tastelessly entertaining bands – Bluejuice is the example that springs to mind.
I write about these events because I fucking love them. There’s also the attached personal challenge of whittling several hours of physical and musical theatre down to a few hundred words.
Audience has never been a huge concern for me, and still isn’t. My first reviews were for the eyes of my family and a few close friends; I’ve since become happy to let my articles stand alone, without the need for self-promotion. I update my LastFM journal with a copy of each review as they’re published, which allows fellow event attendees to read my words if they’re so inclined.
But by and large – though I still share published work with my family – I write for myself. Freelancing, as it were, though obviously still subject to the discretion of my editors. I know that my articles get glanced at in print by bored commuters, but the web audience is entirely different: they’re there because they’re interested enough to click.
It’s essentially a thankless job, which I am completely comfortable with. I know the nature of the game that I volunteered for. Not just anyone could do this, as most people don’t care enough to put pen to paper.
I really enjoy thinking about the historical impact that I’m having, though mostly on a personal level: words written at a particular time and place, when linked with my personal writing, will provide a rich tapestry of experiences upon which I’ll reflect fondly in my later years. The same principle applies for the artists I’m writing about. I like that my words capture a snapshot of an artist at a point in their career.
Maybe my sense of realism is unique among music journalists, I don’t know. I’m constantly mindful of the responsibility attached to my words, which are attached to my name.
But to return to my core purpose, free entertainment: all of my work up until this point has been to make a name, carve a niche for myself among my editors, so that I’m more likely to be chosen to write about the artists I want to see.
I suppose that I’m a faker, somewhat, because I wouldn’t write about bands if I wasn’t required to. I didn’t review the handful of shows that I paid to attend this year. I certainly enter a show in a different mindset if I’m reviewing, notepad in back pocket. Fewer beers are often consumed. Which is not to say that I enjoy myself less if I’m reviewing, fuck no; it’s just that I’m more mindful of my peers, my surrounds, and the context of the performance.
All of these ruminations spring from the fact that my music writing is a hobby, a personal passion. The thought of pursuing this as a career has not seriously crossed my mind in years, and funnily enough, not at all during the sixteen-odd months I’ve been a paid music critic.
While following the discussion between Everett, Andrew and the vocal audience, I reflected on whether I was being critical enough in my writing. Whether I was producing memorable words; or offending enough people, if I were to subscribe to Everett’s shit-stirring journalistic methodology. His goal was, and is, to be memorable, perhaps because the inverse possibility would be financially unsustainable.
I think that there’s an inherent sadness in being known first and foremost as a music critic. I mean, fuck, you sit around listening to bands by day and stand around at night watching bands, actively analysing their sound and craft for perceived weaknesses. Stewing on appropriately clever ways to judge their artistic output in a snarky or humourous manner. I know, because I’ve been there. What kind of profession is that?
I disliked how Everett spoke of the lack of critical discourse within music writing; that is, that there’s not enough writers out there sticking the boot into subjectively crap performers, as if it’s some kind of Herculean effort worthy of merit to chastise sub-par musicians. Because I get this picture of a middle-aged, wizened journo spewing forth bile onto his keyboard in the middle of night, this bitter, repulsive person, and I think – fuck that. My imagination may get a little carried away at times, but that image scares me a lot.
Of course, I’ve been concentrating on the negative side of music criticism, as that’s my first connotation. Its antonym is praise, which is what I tend to dole out in my music writing, as I tend to only see artists who I like. And that’s to my advantage, as like I said, music writing – while an undeniably strong passion of mine – is still a hobby. I can’t help but admire those who dedicate their career to writing about music, as they have more energy than I.
I’m simply content to keep carving my niche, honing my craft, within the small pool of Brisbane music journalists. Memorable? Maybe. Honest? True.
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