Thurs-Sun April 11-14. For more information call 770-2675.
There's no way to say this nicely so I'm just gonna come out and say it: I hate academic music criticism. Fucking hate it. Just the thought of it makes me cringe, in the same way I cringe when I wake from a dream where I have to go through college all over again. That's why I've never been to grad school and why I avoid events like EMP's Pop Music Studies Conference like I avoid making out with boys with gigantic cold sores on their mouths--there's just nothing attractive about them.
That's not to take down the entire lineup of PMSC speakers, which includes musicians I worship, good friends I respect, Stranger co-workers I've only just met, ex-bosses I actually liked, and some smart people whose work I listen to or read. There will be people at this public conference this weekend who I may actually like to catch a show with--as long as we don't have to analyze the cultural significance of windmill guitar moves between sets. But Jeezus, 100 journalists presenting papers on music? Papers with titles like, "'O Secret Stars Stay Secret': Pop Music, Indie Culture, Modern Youth and the Shape of Contemporary Poetry," "Björk, Sibelius and the Idea of North," and "Imagination, Authorship and Participation: A Narrative Approach to the Study of Funk and Rock Music." Christ, when did rock become something we've gotta take this seriously?
Rock 'n' roll is sweaty, wily, irrational, and emotional. It's arrogant frontmen who wear their pants too tight, and driving guitar solos that give kids on acid their first orgasms. Listening to music is about getting crushed against the stage when a crowd loses its shit, going hoarse from screaming the words to a song, stealing a set list, catching a guitar pick, or camping out at a suburban strip mall for the chance to buy nosebleed tickets (back before the Internet). It's about lyrics that make you want to fight, fuck, cry, laugh, loosen up, or shove a lot of cocaine up your ass--depending on your tastes and your music collection.
Music isn't about getting serious with academia. The kinds of writers I really like--Mike McGuirk at the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Tanya Richardson at the New York Press, for starters--don't hide their metaphorical erections when a band gets them excited; they just write an article telling you to see the show or buy the record without all the theoretical baggage and critical posturing. Good rock writers capture the mood a band throws out and throw it right back at the readers, with something about the members of the band wedged in there for good measure. But academic critics? They have to throw in pretentious ideas, obscure references, and, often times, things pulled outta their ass last minute to explain why, say, the Rolling Stones are so much better than the Beatles. (Which they are, by the way.)
When it comes to rock, I like my criticism the way I like my music: hotheaded and visceral, without all the sociology, psychology, philosophy, and the other -ogy's and -ophy's of various musical styles. When I buy a book about rock, I'm not gonna reach for the socio-politico-200-years-of-struggle take on punk rock in the '70s, I'm gonna read about Iggy going skid row in Please Kill Me. I don't want to buy some ivory tower take on sex, drugs, and hair metal in the '80s, I'm gonna read Mötley Crüe's The Dirt. It's like this: If I'm turned on, I want a fuck. I don't want some necktie's take on why I like fucking. If I like a band's music, I want to hear the band. Or read a critic who can tell me about a new band in plain terms and spare me the recycled dissertation. I don't want a paper presented in a conference room about the intersection of the critic, the disenfranchised emo band, and the history of the industrialized nation.
And yet all these academic types keep tryin' to shove our noses in their little term papers. It's like once the Rolling Stones of the world thought they knew end-fucking-all about music, the critics became the stars and the scientists, presenting lectures on why we have this Thing Called Rock And Roll and making the whole business of music Too Fucking Serious. Rock (and I realize now that I'm cramming all the different genres into one, but for simplicity's sake I'm just gonna call everything rock) is spontaneous, energetic, and insane. Critical circle jerks (I've had the misfortune of attending a few) are all about panning for golden nuggets of insight, but really, why does someone who's studied music for 50 years know better than you why Led Zeppelin II is such a great album? Why do I? I don't. I just love music and you can tell me to fuck off with my opinions, that's cool, but I promise you I'm not gonna drag bands I like through academic mud. And when it comes to academic events about music, I'm sorry, but I've gotta say that I smell pastures of bullshit.
But Jeezus, I feel like I'm getting a little academic myself, taking up space to tell you why I hate academic rock criticism, so I should just shut the fuck up and let these PMSC guys jack off and if you want to be there lapping up the splooge, be my guest. But me? I'm gonna stop discussing rock critics and get back to talking about rock.