The other night I had an uncomfortable moment. I was watching a local Athens band and the overwhelming feeling I got was “This music is so mediocre that it renders the band completely irrelevant.” And then I saw a friend of mine and I went outside the club and said these exact words to her.
She kind of hemmed and hawed and “I don’t know-ed”. I felt bad at that moment because I think she was thinking I was trying to get her to agree with me. I wasn’t; I was just stating an opinion out of boredom and frustration and I don’t think she really shared my point of view, either. Which leads me to my next point:
For one reason or another its impractical or impolitic for a lot of people involved in the Athens music scene to really open up and say something is awful. I get that. Truly, I do. The scene, although perpetually pregnant with bands, is all still basically in a five-square mile area so there’s no avoiding them. Which speaks directly to this:
A big reason no one ever goes on the record about how certain bands in Athens are just terrible is out of politeness and social grace. I get that, too. There’s no use or decency in being cruel for cruelty’s sake and participating in scene shit-talking, while an old Athens tradition, is ultimately boring. The problem is that so many bands in Athens seem to always have this attitude that thoughtful, reasoned criticism is the same as shit-talking. In short, the scene is full of babies. Oh, sure, babies with college educations and, sometimes, jobs. But that all leads to the following:
Being your friend is not my job. My job is to critique your music and records. If I am already your friend then that’s great. If I am not yet your friend then, hell, let’s go get coffee. But us being friends or not friends or anything like that has no bearing on how I’ll hear your music. (An aside: I will admit, though, that the more familiar I am with the process by which you create your music the more that will affect how I wind up hearing it; That’s just unavoidable. )
Look, I love this town and this music scene more than I can say. And I know some people might even feel it’s a betrayal of the home team, so to speak, to engage in heavy criticism toward any Athens band. My feeling is the opposite: by allowing that each Athens band is its own special star and bundle of talent the soft-ball approach actually sucks the life out the scene. Again, cruelty is unnecessary, counter-productive and inevitably winds up as a personal attack and not an honest critique. Writers should never be cruel but bands should also understand that honest criticism isn’t the same thing as cruelty.
Before any of the regular commenters ask, no, I’m not going to mention any specific bands in this piece or tell you which band I was remarking about in the first paragraph. Why? Because it would be out-of-context and unrelated to an actual review of a live show or record and it’s not cool to just hang a band out to dry without going into details of why I felt the way I did. And I’m not about to spend all night going through the details.
So, yeah, this is the second post in a row on music writing and how it relates to the Athens music scene. You can bet I won’t approach this subject again any time soon.
It’s getting obnoxious even for me.