Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pazz and Jop Comments

I'll say something about the actual poll results at another time ... first, I want to share a few words about some of the comments, and this section in particular that I found sad and upsetting.

There was a lot of sentiment like this throughout 2008, the feeling that music was unimportant or insignificant compared to a veritable laundry list of more pressing and relevant concerns. I cannot in any way sympathize with the feeling of not wanting to obsess over music (and music lists) in light of the crappy state the world is in. I think the notion actually disgusts me. It's a cop-out, especially coming from music critics who are also supposed to be some of the most devoted music fans around.

I write about music because I love it. The fact that I could be doing more constructive things with my time is totally irrelevant. Music is entertainment. There are always better things to do with one's time. This will never change. This is hardly relevant to the need we have for listening to and enjoying music.

People are down on the music industry for a number of (totally valid) reasons: the sorry state of the economy, mega-conglomerates, dwindling opportunities for making a decent salary writing about music, etc. But the overall problem is not that music isn't culturally relevant, it's that people are looking for relevance in all the wrong places. Look at the parade of musical all-stars who performed in one of the many pre and post-inauguration celebrations. Now look at Beyonce getting the opportunity to sing in front of a slow-dancing President and First Lady, and breaking down in an interview afterward while explaining what the moment meant to her (and undoubtedly to the people who watched her performance in person or on TV). You can't tell me that music's importance is running on empty when so many songs and performers are now indelibly linked with one of the most inspired political sagas to come along in generations. But most critics will offer up a different narrative. On one hand, you've got Beyonce getting the chance to soundtrack the first few moments of the second act in the life of the most powerful man in the world, but on the other hand, you've got hundreds of critics ignoring the magnitude of that and claiming, instead, that formidable mediocrities like TV on the Radio are capturing the spirit of the times. It's rockism at its most pitiful.

Music is entertainment, and entertainment is a form of escapism. In the 1930's, people flocked to the movies to escape from their daily encumberances. The comic book industry also developed and flourished during that decade. The entertainment industry has plenty of cultural and political cache in troubled times because people will lean on it for inspiration and support more than they would otherwise. If that means that more people will find solace in Disney movies and stadium rock rather than critically-approved Indie Rock jangle #830, so be it.

My role in all this is to write and talk about the music I enjoy. Same as it ever was.

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