Saturday, November 10, 2018


The record review section of Rolling Stone turned 50 years old in 2017, and I'll admit from the first sentence that I haven't held the critical opinions in high regard for the better part of thirty years. I tend to question RSs motives in who they cover and the reasons for the favorable reviews so artists seem to get every time they release something. Music critic and pop cultural historian Jim DeRogatis, author of the Lester Bangs biography Let It Blurt, was once the editor of the RS review section and shared with at a book event that Jann Wenner, founder and very hands-on editor, decreed that there are artists who will never get a negative review, among them Dylan, The Boss, Tom Petty,...the usual suspects. I believe him, and I'm convinced Wenner corrupted the integrity of his reviewers; the section isn't a place of true criticism, the practice of discussing this at length, in detail, with the instance of rendering an honest estimation. It has been, for a long time, a tedious exercise in rubber stamping new albums with praise that rarely rise above the corroded cliches and platitudes that have haunted music reviewers for decades. 

There are notable exceptions, of course, chief among them Mikal Gilmore, a sterling prose stylist and a man given to nuanced consideration of history and tradition and contextualizes his praise against high standards. It should be said as well that the record review section was my most essential writing laboratory. As in the already mentioned Marcus, Bangs, Landau and RJ Gleason (and Robert Christgau at the now defunct Village Voice and Duncan Shepard at the SD Reader), these were my models for what I thought a fine critical prose should read like. For that I am grateful. That just makes it sadder to note that what was indeed the freshest and most invigorating forum for commentary has ceased to be a place for independent thinking and has become, in most part, a section of corporate shilling. 

Much of the decline in mass circulation criticism that , incidentally, gave an honest and considered evaluation of music, films and books could well be due to changing readership expectations; a cursory glance and a longer examination of the current crop of yammer among online internet outlets seems to require those would-be examiners of to have had a huge gulp of the kool-aid that's being served, no matter how ethically loathsome, and suspend critical standards as long as they draw a paycheck, replacing them with talking points and backstories agreed up between skittish media companies and the advertising and promotional departments of big corporations.I've suspected that if you treat an audience like fools, lemmings and immature hords addicted to fads and fashion, they will behave, in time, accordingly, accepting the faint shadows on the wall as the one reality their senses need to appreciate. Some of that, or maybe all of it, seems to be true. 

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