Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Been a While

I've been doing this and that. But now, thanks to magnanimous Blender, I'm in a fancy hotel room in Hollywood with nothing to spend the evening on. So I'm sitting her gazing at the view (dominated by a giant iPod billboard) and catching up on my repetitive stress injury. Seriously, why can't hip hotels have ergonomic desks for weary travelers? But the free cookies were nice....and I guess I'm supposed to be hanging around the burger bar looking for Ryan Gosling, not holing up and blogging like some sort of 21st century freak.

I do intend to walk down to Amoeba if I have time and look for something I don't even know I want. And maybe see a movie tomorrow after conducting my pop-star interview. I haven't seen a movie in ages, and the Oscars always seem so much more meaningful when you have an opinion. Aside from Brokeback Mountain, my "best picture" slate is clean. I think the only other nominee playing anywhere near Hollywood and Vine, unfortunately, is "Capote," which frankly feels like something best left for DVD. Maybe I'll just have to finally go look at my boyfriend Jonny in mega-huge Woody-induced cinematic glory. We'll see.

Last week I had a different kind of glamour assignment. Thanks to the kind and witty Thom Swiss -- whose students just call him "Swiss," like a sneaker -- I joined the always gracious Mark Anthony Neal and Jim DeRogatis, with whom I've tussled ideologically in the past but whom I do enjoy in person, in a seminar about the "criticalness" of music criticism. (Swiss is a poet, thus the pun.) Though I sat there and shared my opinions with the room like a regular blowhard, I was the one educated.

The crowd was mostly regional pop critics, from places like Fargo (yes, Klosterman's old hang) and Des Moines, and wow, is their reality harsh. We bigger-city kids can complain about imperfect editors and shrinking space, but I'm not sure my armor wouldn't have disintegrated in the face of what these soldiers handle. Totally CLUELESS upper management, with whom they have to regularly fight to get any pop coverage at all; lackluster performances from touring acts, who sure aren't saving their best for the middle of the tour in middle America; and worst of all, impossible deadlines forced upon them by editors terrified of the Web.

The latter came up late in the day, when we'd broken into small groups to discuss some samples of work the journalists had brought in. In the course of dissecting a piece on Brad Paisley, someone revealed that she'd reviewed the same concert, but had to retreat to a press box halfway through to meet her deadline. She couldn't fully see the stage from the press box, so she pretty much had to fudge.

Others chimed in about their similarly harsh realities. Some bring their laptops and hope for WiFi in the stadium or theater, typing away as the concert commences. Others actually have to leave the theater six songs into the show. Some disclose this in their reviews. Others don't. But across the board, they all share one reality -- editors who don't think it's a problem that their writers aren't fully seeing or hearing the concerts they review.

In what universe is this okay? Forget about thoughtfulness, which Mark not even facetiously brought up as an important aspect of criticism. How about actually witnessing what you're writing about. For Chrissakes, I know every newspaper in the country is terrified of bloggers stealing their thunder, but does anyone actually read a live concert review from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, as if it's a war report?

Listen, editors -- that's not how the artists treat these shows. With very little variation (Tori excepted, Goddess love her), mainstream and even major club artists play basically the same set every night. Now, you might say this calls into question the very need for live reviews. But I say -- this is exactly what makes your particulary reviewer important. Her perspective is what you're selling, editors. If readers have loyalty to newspaper-level arts coverage, it's to the voice of the particular critics they've learned to trust, or argue with, or just enjoy. Limiting her chance to really assess the show, not only by giving her no time to think about her opinions or her words, but by actually preventing her from complete attendance, is a foolhardy, shortsighted sin.

I'm proud of the people I met at the seminar, for fighting the fight despite these odds, and for caring enough to work on developing their skills and ideas in the face of virtually no respect. If writers ruled the journalism world, things would be so much better. But then, it's been this way since New Grub Street.


Blogger J.D. Considine said...

It isn't just "competition from the web." Having a laptop has also made meeting deadlines tougher, because corner-cutting newspapers no longer have someone on the desk ready to take dictation. Back in the olden days when I was reviewing for the Baltimore Sun, I frequently had deadlines that fell before the concert finished. But because I was working on paper, I could sit (or stand) and scribble while keeping an eye on the stage. No way you can do that as well with a laptop.

Not that any of this excuses the attitude of newspaper editors, of course.

1:15 PM

Blogger M said...

That's true about laptops, but a palm-sized Blackberry is a diff't story. Not that this excuses the attitudes of newspaper editors, either, and I do pray none are reading and getting ideas.

4:48 PM


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