What’s wrong with music journalism, part 1

NPR’s “All Songs Considered” explored an interesting theme in its show “Splitsville: Breaking Up With Your Favorite Bands.”

In it, music journalists Bob Boilen, Daoud Tyler-Ameen and Robin Hilton discuss bands that have gone awry, run so far adrift from what they valued as their key work that they dumped them.

The first song cut into was U2’s “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” Unanimously, they used it as an ideal example of a good band gone wrong.

Other bands they dismantled included Weezer, Sting, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Death Cab for Cutie and the Decemberists.

I have a love-hate relationship with music journalism. I often wonder if its practitioners know when they are being honest with themselves. Allow me to illustrate how this brings the profession down a peg every time it happens.

To music critics, Tom Waits is cool. Huey Lewis is not. But did you know that when Tom Waits is mentioned in a story there is a subtext?

Outside of how good Waits’ songs are, or how innovative his productions have been, invoking his name in a story is actually shorthand for “Dear readers and fellow music critics, when it comes to music, I understand and respect the music pantheon, and I know who falls where on the ladder of rock gods. So, you can rest assured. My opinions carry more weight because I know the secret handshake.”

Clearly, this has more to do with how the writer would like to be perceived than music. When it comes to cool, writers don’t always realize when they are writing to impress, or when their opinions are colored by context and culture.


About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
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