My name is Charles … and I’m a music critic.
There, I said it. I don’t very often. Not because I’m not proud of what I do, but because it’s so misunderstood and maligned that it’s no longer worth my time and energy to get into that same discussion.
I’m joking about the 12-step reference above. I readily admit my addiction to music, and I hope I never get over it. As for my addiction to writing about it, that is receding.
After writing almost exclusively about music for nearly as long as the long-in-the-tooth Stones have been playing it, a couple years ago I decided that was enough.
I still dabble, but now other areas of life interest me more. This column inevitably has music musings thrown in because it so much informs and enriches my life, but the focus of Curious City is Santa Monica and its myriad quirks and riches.
I usually have referred, the last few years, to my work as that of a music journalist. Funny that that’s a safer choice, since journalism is so degraded these days. But when you say the word “critic” you can see people’s faces twist up a little and you can almost read their minds. And it’s not pretty.
I spend zero time considering whether or not criticism of the arts is valid and valuable (answered that one decades ago, and it’s usually an uninformed question anyway), but have always thought about how I and other critics operate. That interests me, and like any dedicated professional I’m always re-examining for improvement.
I used to have a publisher who thought music critics were overpaid, that it took much longer to review a movie. Just the opposite, if you do it right. I try not to make my final assessment and write the review until I’ve listened many times and that takes many hours, not to mention the research and playing certain parts over and over. I always figured the readers are forking over hard-earned cash for something they hope to enjoy for a long time, and some albums that sound great the first time have no depth and by the third or fourth listen you want to smash them (hard to do with a digital file, I know), so I want to offer an opinion on whether or not the piece holds up. Conversely, some albums have to grow on you, and sound so much better after you’ve absorbed them and found the nuance after repeated listenings.
That requires an open mind. Forget what you think you know, what’s there in the grooves? (Forgive my antiquated analog references, it’s too awkward to try to cover all the bases.)
All this pondering was prompted by an epiphany I had while pulling into the Ralph’s parking lot yesterday with the radio blasting. I switched stations and heard this absolutely scorching bass run in a wild instrumental section that I didn’t immediately recognize. No wonder, because it was a band I’ve never liked nor given much credit to, so I usually stop listening whenever they pop up. But with fresh ears open, there was no denying what Geezer Butler was laying down in the classic “Iron Man.” It’s not always been comfortable being a Black Sabbath denier all these years, but I had my reasons. Now, it’s not comfortable feeling like I may have missed something, and admitting it. Maybe it’s just that one riff, but now I will re-listen to BS with an open mind.
That’s what you want in your music critics. Knowledge, insight, openness, and no agenda except to deliver the most honest perception possible of the most ethereal art form there is. I try.
And I will try this weekend, and I hope you do too, to take advantage of yet another reason to be thankful for our fair city — Britweek. I’m especially interested in the Saturday evening performances by three British invasion stalwarts: Peter Asher of Peter & Gordon will host and perform, and Denny Laine (Moody Blues co-founder, and, yes, Wings) and Terry Sylvester (Swinging Blue Jeans, then replaced departing Graham Nash in the Hollies) and their band will perform “Abbey Road” start to finish. Sounds like fun, and possibly musically worthwhile too.
The jury is out
More accurately, I’m out of the jury. In the last column I wrote my fate had not yet been determined. The next day, I was tapped to take one of the alternate chairs, for consideration, because those and the 12 main chairs were being vacated like they were electrified.
Never having gotten that far in the process before, I don’t know if it always goes that way, but a few remarks by staff indicated they were having problems filling this jury. One reason was that this trial would last about a month. People who couldn’t plead financial, school, job, family or other hardship for a much shorter trial were now given passes by the judge.
A lesser reason was that the Goliath in this face-off was a true international giant, one of the world’s largest financial institutions. Hauled into court by a small businessman David, right here in Santa Monica. So many prospective jurors had mentioned their uneasy relationship with banks as a problem that by the time it was my turn I told the judge that I was struggling with the feeling that I couldn’t give a shred of credibility to any testimony coming from a “bankster.” (I didn’t use that term, but I do on a regular basis.)
“Hizoner” again declared that we weren’t trying to settle larger social issues here, just the merits of one particular case, and asked me to “please look at the defendant’s legal team and tell them you can’t believe anything their clients might say, under oath” — and I said I’m afraid that’s right. I’m very well informed on such issues, I said, and I believe the huge financial institutions have become so corrupt and criminally devastating to our society that they are now systemically delusional and incapable of recognizing the truth. Yup, that’s what I said.
I also answered the question about what I do by mentioning my column in the Daily Press. Not sure which of those two factors got me the toss, but I was thankful and relieved. I’m sure I’ll get another shot.
Next column I’ll tell you about the only guy you should trust your most expensive shoes and boots to, a well-disguised gem at the wrong end of Main Street.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.