Being a critic is a hard gig. People have a hard time with a little criticism. When you don’t see things through rose-colored lenses, you’re a Debby Downer or a glass-half-empty or whatever. The trouble is that we don’t live in a black and white world where things are simply good or bad. There’s a ton of gray in between that needs to be acknowledged. Of course, if you’re the one who does the acknowledging, you’re a wet blanket, stick in the mud…You get the picture.
Life and art are not all puppies, unicorns, and rainbows. Critique is a part of experience. Just because we try to ignore the blemishes doesn’t mean they’re not there. Ignoring the imperfect makes it tough on those of us who can’t ignore it. We are ostracized for not seeing double rainbows and made to feel guilty for ruining everyone else’s buzz. However, what critics are doing is trying to make sense of an insane world and hopefully connect with those who feel the same.
I’m not here to piss on your parade. I just like to discuss the pros and cons of food, drink, locations, people, art, etc. It’s all beautiful in its imperfections. I thrive on this. Imperfection is real, concrete, authentic. Let me have my reality.
From where is this coming?
I used to write a blog called living in misery. You may have heard of it. The name came from a pun I created in fifth grade to remember my states and capitals. It has little to do with my feelings for Missouri and, specifically Columbia, but there are connections. I won’t lie. It was difficult moving here and when I complained, no one would allow me to express my…well…misery. All I wanted to do was work through these experiences in order to make some sense of it. Could it have hurt my friends and acquaintances to wallow a bit with me, to not make me feel like such an outsider? The answer you’re looking for is “no.” Join me in my sorrow and I’ll have your back when it’s your turn.
The crazy part is that I often try balance the positive with the negative. A brewer might drive me crazy when he plasters Comic Sans all over his labels, but I will still proclaim his beers to be among the best in all of craft beer. An album may have a terrible closing track, but the rest of it could still be stellar. Our town has this great documentary film festival, but sometimes it’s a little overcrowded or it tries too hard to come off as apolitical. I love all of these things and just want parts of them to be better. Unfortunately, my detractors only see the negatives. They wonder why I hate that beer, won’t listen to the album, and refuse to attend the film festival. It’s as if they can’t imagine someone liking something without thinking that it’s perfect.
What’s really difficult to deal with is when I am in agreement that something is great or good, but when I mention that one chink in the armor, I’m suddenly seen as a traitor. Take the town in which I live. Columbia is your typical midwestern college town, a bastion of liberalism tucked away amongst a sea of conservatism. However, it’s got issues. There’s uncontrolled suburban sprawl; city government just made a turn for the conservative; it’s rather segregated, etc. These things are not unique to Columbia, but whenever I acknowledge COMO’s shortcomings, people are all over me. I get the “It’s a great place to raise kids” when the schools are broke and lack of diversity is stifling. Upon pointing this out, I am automatically thrown in the same pot as Nazis, pedophiles, and Jayhawks. It’s not like I don’t like some things about COMO; it’s just that I don’t think it’s Nirvana and actually prefer larger, more diverse cities. The fact that I disagree doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means that we have different opinions and values. It’s OK.
The point is that just because I see more than puppies, unicorns, and rainbows (if I see them at all), doesn’t mean that your [favorite thing] is bad or has no value. Conversely, just because I don’t agree 100% with your assessment doesn’t mean that my critique has no value either.
The reason I blog is to be a part of a conversation. You can join or not, but realize that I won’t always love the same things you do. And just because I critique doesn’t mean I think it’s all bad.
Now that that’s out in the open, it’s time to get back to some bloggin’. There is a record review in my near future (among many that I’ve somehow skipped), but I’ll conclude with some thoughts on two shows about which I have mixed feelings.
Last week, I saw The National in STL. Despite proclaiming their album among the year’s best months ago, I sort of expected this show to be boring. While the material is strong, the images conjured of a live show were not promising. I was wrong about this as The National put on a solid show, playing all the songs we wanted to hear. While it was good, it was not great. I was probably in the minority on this opinion, but I stand by it. They’re not a really excitable band and they don’t play the most excitable music. In fact, The National are a bit brooding. They’re an excellent band, but they don’t put on a punk rock show. In fact, it seems the most excitement happened as frontman Matt Berninger walked out into the crowd. It was a bit premeditated, but it certainly did the trick for most in the audience. Still, it was a nice show.
Just last night, I decided to check out the Mountain Goats at the urging of friends. Let me just say that I get why people love the Mountain Goats. John Darnielle is an engaging, emotive singer/songwriter. People knew his songs by heart and he certainly enjoyed performing for his audience. That said, it was a little too earnest for my taste. There’s a reason I don’t attend singer/songwriter shows or play the shit out of the Indigo Girls. Maybe I missed something, but the Mountain Goats are not what I thought they would be.
OK. That felt better. Tear me up in the comments.
1I use this term lightly, but it seems to be the most accurate term to use when describing what I do with blogs.
2I use this term even more loosely as this blog is certainly not a “gig” in any way. It’s a hobby and should be treated as such. It has no influence or bearing on your experiences.
3I recognize that I too struggle with the criticism, but I look at this more as a way to stand up for myself. I catch a lot of shit for the blogs I write and most of it is never published in the comments. I typically get bombarded on Facebook or in-person. I don’t deny your right to criticize; I’m just refuting your claims.
4There are many interesting metaphors for being critical/negative.
5Although, I suppose art could be.
6This is similar to the idea that many of us prefer sad songs because they comfort us in letting us know that we’re not the only people who feel that way.
7I prefer using “piss” over “rain” in this analogy. It’s more potent. Rain feels passive.
8Most of you followed me from that old blog to this one. So, you don’t need to respond to this point.
9This is debatable in that it’s relative. COMO is as liberal as possible in middle Missouri. It’s not San Francisco liberal. Hell, it’s not Orange County liberal.
10This is an interesting point. Many COMO-lovers will admit this but claim rich diversity in the same breath. Sorry. If your community is segregated, diversity is not your strong-suit.
11There isn’t much difference between these three in COMO. In fact, the latter might be the least desirable.
12I will say that the show gave me a reason to revisit The National’s entire catalog, one I’ve admittedly neglected for the most part.
13I forgot to mention that Owen Pallett opened and did not disappoint. He’s like a good, stripped-down version of Andrew Bird.