But I think it's useful for any critic, part-time, full-time, or armchair, to consider the pervasiveness of reflexive vituperation, and to evaluate the usefulness of blithe disdain. The only pieces I actually regret having written were slams. Negative conversations are washed away by other conversations, by a walk home, by the rain. Negative reviews stick around, not on the disposable page, but in the collective memory, in the air. Though I always tried to focus on what I liked, I wrote a fair amount of venal bullshit in these pages and others. Some I meant sincerely, some was misguided humor; but a lot of it was just nasty, informed by a skepticism which had clotted and scabbed over into pompous, wrongheaded dogma. Of course, the regret comes partially from my experience of being in a band and getting some harsh reviews. But more to the point, I'm embarrassed for having let the self-appointed task of keeping up with music in print poison my perception to the extent that I felt compelled, by capricious attitudes I can't even remember now, to publicly piss on people's art--simply because, when pressed, I thought it wasn't good.
The job is not to judge. The job is to think harder. Most critics say their responsibility is to their readers; some believe it's to themselves and their almighty ideas. But the fact is that if you have the temerity to shout your argument out to the wide readership (apologies to David Berman), your responsibility is to the music you're writing about, and to all music. It's possible to get so wrapped up in good versus bad, that you miss all the brilliant, blurry distinctions between the two. In the gray areas we find new ways of perceiving the familiar, new contexts in which to challenge our assumptions. In a climate where standards are quick to become stricture, it's not only healthy to challenge those assumptions, it's irresponsible not to.