Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, August 31, 2005 6:23 am

Crit lit

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 6:23 am

I saw the Beatles on “Ed Sullivan” when I was 4. I got my first radio when I was 8. I started playing guitar when I was 13, joined my first band when I was 16, spun my first record professionally when I was 18 and sold my first music article when I was 22. As a performer, technician, reviewer and just plain fan, I’ve probably seen upwards of 500 rock ‘n’ roll shows, in venues ranging from the Milestone Club in Charlotte, Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill and Brewery in Raleigh to Madison Square Garden, the Dean Dome and Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. The best shows all had one thing in common: They brought the audience to a kind of ecstasy in the old-fashioned sense: the feeling that your soul has left your body — in a good way.

When you’re reviewing a show, especially for money, it’s not always easy to leave yourself open to that experience, which is one reason among several why I finally stopped reviewing pop music about 20 years ago. Another reason is that, even at the level of small clubs, performances were growing less spontaneous, more rehearsed — as if the acts had already fashioned arena-ready performance motifs and were just biding their time until they were actually performing in arenas. Yet another is that for whatever reason, I came to believe that it was pointless, if not absurd, to try to tell a bunch of strangers what kinds of music they should or should not enjoy. I still enjoy talking with friends (particularly Tony) about music I think they would like — we’ve shared enough musical transcendences in person to have a good feel for each other’s tastes, and we enjoy letting each other know about good stuff we come across — but I felt pedantic in the role of critic, and pedantry is death to good writing.

Few people ever get to be full-time pop-music critics. I never did, and to this day I don’t know whether doing so would have meant burning out on the gig even sooner, or whether I’d have found a way to adapt my aesthetics, mindset and writing skills for the long haul. And of those who do, even fewer do it for more than a few years. Something more urgent, if not more important, usually comes along to pull one away. So it was for David Segal, who reviewed concerts for The Washington Post for more than four years. He’d always wanted to live in New York, and the price of his opportunity to do so was giving up the music gig. He reflects on his experience in this article, and his description of the ups and downs of the gig is spot-on.

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