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.
Yeah… well…. that’s just like your opinion man…
Well, from my experience Athens needs more critics willing to give the middle finger to locals they don’t like.
I have more than once offered that (unnamed local publication) reviews might be more trusted and therefore useful if they weren’t so often written by people “practicing how they always wanted to write record reviews” on national acts and then being sickeningly, spinelessly polite about local acts.
Somehow I feel like this all misses the point of the local scene- being supportive is good- but criticism- honest valid criticism- is better. Telling John and the Jackoffs that the Jackoffs are tight, John is horrid, and you are pretty sure that the Jackoff on drums should stop wearing those clever slogan tees is the BIGGEST FAVOR ANYONE CAN EVER DO for John and the Jackoffs. Honest feedback you don’t have to load a van and drive out of state to get could easily assist in making bands leaner, meaner and marketable beyond the local scene- and any angle for cutting corners and maximizing mileage at this point is in a band’s best interests.
It’s all well and good if you are only doing a townie in joke band for “your friends”- but I also would like the local pub to say “hey, it’s a shit pile and you might not get it unless you went to these guys’ old parties- but we love em” so that I can actually trust them when they are pushing me to go out on a rainy night to see “wistful, heartwrenching, tear drenched, angsty blah blah blah…something something…. inappropriate use of word ‘smoky’…. etc etc.”
I am losing focus on this… but somewhere in there is something to do with “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Not saying we should be hitting children- but do think bands could do with learning to take their lumps… or whatever.
Basically saying- Go Gordon. Say it like it sucks when it sucks like it sucks.