When I was first attracted to music journalism as a young pup in the ’70s, it was because of the record reviews in Rolling Stone, Creem, and other rags of the times. Back then, I viewed rock music as a force for good, and the pompous, over-wrought, snide, and often funny words penned by critics with obvious biases and out-of-control superiority complexes appealed to my own child-like sense of self-importance.
“Hey, David Bowie is changing the world, man, so we must have these manifestos to inform the people and scare the crap out of conformity!”
Yeah, I was thinking stuff like that as a teenager. I blame growing up in the cultural/political volcano of San Francisco in the ’60s. I wasn’t alone in this near-worship of rock journalism, of course, as many of the professional music critics who wrote for newspapers and magazines in the pre-blog era nearly became rock stars themselves—pampered, press-junketed, backstage passed, groupied, and simultaneously feared by bands and record labels. Wild times.
Sadly, some of the stuff written back then seems just plain awful in the light of today. For every truly crazy-smart writer like Lester Bangs, there was a boatload of arrogant, first-person reporting that a sane editor probably should have pulped rather than published. And, much to the bitter disappointment of my teenage self, rock music and rock journalism did not CHANGE THE WORLD. It was all entertainment. And commerce. And, well, yeah, a good amount of helpful charity events that continue to this day, and I’m certainly grateful for those.
But “professional music journalism” seems to have de-evolved to a level of relative disregard that no editor short of Nostradamus would have dared predict in 1972. Right now, it’s pretty much a community of peers that handles pop-culture criticism. (Perhaps it was prescient that the celebrated New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael stopped writing in 1991, before that web thing really caught on.) And, sure, a “professional” tag doesn’t ensure perceptiveness or writing chops—you could just be a bad writer with a job.
But I still believe that experience, vision, an awareness of history, and the ability to write compelling prose can be deployed to educate and enrich. Delete the “better than thou” egotism of the past—unless it’s a hilarious and entertaining application of haughtiness—and professional, well-edited writing should offer a depth and context that the dilettante blogger (even one with an audience) can’t approach. What do you think? School me at email@example.com.