I was reading a music review in San Diego’s alternative weekly, City Beat, and the reviewer threw out a side comment slamming David Lee Roth. “Wow,” I thought. “A snide comment dissing the tits and ass obsessed lead singer of Van Halen. How appropriate. FOR 1986!”
It’s pretty obvious if you read most independent music writing, that rock music criticism hasn’t really changed in the past 30 years. It’s basically still selling the same narrative: underground, street-level artists who are a backlash against “the man” should be lauded, anything with a twinge of mainstream should be condemned. Any kind of musical exceptionalism — virtuosity*, real experimentalism — should be ignored.
* On a side note, I was looking through a copy of Ms. Magazine and they made a comment about Joan Jett being a “guitar virtuoso.” I mean, come on — I don’t think Joan Jett thinks she’s a guitar virtuoso. To label her as such is to deplete any meaning from the term virtuoso.
I, of course, have argued that the notion of objective music criticism — the idea that there are universal rules that can be applied to gauging the quality of music — is a farce. A person’s likes or dislikes towards music are a culmination of their experiences and perhaps behavioral tendencies encoded in their genes. Taste in music is like taste in food. You can read a 4000 word diatribe on why you shouldn’t like peanut butter, but it’s going to have no effect on whether or not you like peanut butter.
So as it stands, rock critics are maintaining employment by recycling the same arguments they been using for 30 years. Meanwhile, I toil in obscurity. This is clearly one of the great injustices perpetrated on mankind.