Photo by Maura Lanahan
I normally clap my hands together with glee whenever Henry Rollins' recurring column comes out on LA Weekly's website. His insightful, optimistic posts are anathema to cynics, an anomaly in these seemingly bleak days. But his latest stews this writer a bit.
Mind you, this is not a rambling "fuck the critics" tirade. It is, in his Zen manner, more of a suggestion to rock journalists than a decree. But in the article dubbed "The Failings of Music Writers," he gets a few things wrong himself.
The biggest kick in the gut is the generalization that "Rarely has one who writes about those who make it ever had to try it for themselves." Hmmm, Chrissie Hynde, anyone? What Rollins - and so many other artists forget - is that us music journalists are FANS OF MUSIC FIRST AND FOREMOST. We wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't crucial to our existence. I've also been a lifelong singer and guitarist of more than 15 years. Just because I don't have an album out or haven't graced the Hollywood Bowl doesn't mean I don't understand the intricacies of what it takes to write a good song. (I'm also musically educated enough to tell when an artist is phoning it in.)
And then there is that issue of "loyalty" as a fan, as mentioned on page 3. I'm not accusing Rollins of such, but there are many bands out there who expect unconditional flattery from devotees. In this notion, art just IS. And that's fine. But who's to say that the "average" non-journalist fan has any more or less right to dislike something new in a band's canon? (I mean, have you seen the vitriol on music message boards? Brutal! And this coming from "true fans.") Is it because us writers are exchanging our opinions for cash money that they are null and void? However, to us, our prose about your art is art, too. So if you're getting paid for your art, is your creation to be disregarded, too?
I do absolutely agree with Rollins' bewilderment at some critics' demeaning methods - he cites the media maelstrom surrounding Justin Bieber's onstage vomiting incident. I, too, don't understand why other critics take assignments they suspect they'll dislike - perhaps the enticement of being proven wrong and discovering a hidden gem? An irresistible vendetta? (This is separate from music features, which should remain objective.) I do try to decline coverage for acts I just don't jibe with, but I can't speak for my brethren. I just find it amusing that Rollins ponders this on LA Weekly's website - one of the most sarcastic alt weeklies around. Does he not recall their 20 Worst Hipster Bands list? Or the pugnacious Why This Song Sucks series?
I know that this article might seem defensive, but I just want to hammer home that music journalists are not "the other." We got into this industry because - like the artists - we eat, sleep and breathe music. We are fans - some of the biggest, in fact. (Full disclosure: I decided in my adolescence to become a music journalist so I could one day personally thank Billy Corgan for saving my life via his art. And thank the fates, I got that chance.)
Mr. Rollins, just as no one should stop you from sharing your opinions on politics (how often do you hear "just shut up and play 'TV Party'"?), we professional music fans should be welcome to share our opinions on art. Will we always be in agreement? No. Is our opinion any more important than anyone else's? No. But in speaking of this art form, we celebrate it. Because it IS.
- Melissa Bobbitt