JUST WHO DO I THINK I AM?
Well, there’s a weighty question, eh? But let’s narrow it down.
I’m referring to questioning why any arts critic has the cheek to think their opinion of something as subjective as poetry, painting, photography, architecture, literature, film or music, is worth anything more than your opinion. Come on, you know you’ve thought that at least once, probably following a dismissive “hmpff!” as you disagreed with every word of some review and wondered how such a cretin could be paid money to spew such nonsense.
I’ve had this discussion way too many times, usually with friends or family who are honestly (if naively) pondering something that they probably just thought of, and without understanding they are repudiating my life’s work. They are usually not ticked off — more vexed, maybe a little righteously indignant, but as the discussion ensues I see them get more entrenched in defending this newfound notion. Because they begin to realize that what’s at stake is their heartfelt belief in the awesomeness of some favorite artist of theirs. They usually have some singer or band in mind that they adore, that they feel no elitist critic has any right to say anything negative about, because they are clearly awesome. Everybody they know says so.
Now you see one reason why I got away from this biz. People may sort of understand what lawyers do, or doctors, mathematicians, mechanics or jet pilots, and they know they couldn’t do it. You need knowledge, special training, experience. But give an opinion on music? Hell, they think, I can do that. I’ve got some really good opinions. (Everybody’s got one, as they say.)
If I’m lucky I can eventually get them to agree on a couple of things. One, that there is a difference between saying, I really like this music, and saying it has artistic worth. Thousands of people on their feet at the end of a show does not mean it was a great show. It means that fans of that performer, who invested time, hassle, emotion and the price of the ticket (sometimes hundreds of dollars), came determined to have a great time, and they did.
I saw a concert decades ago by the Lawrence Welk Orchestra (you see what music critics have to endure?) where the multitude rose out of their seats (with great difficulty, but they were moved, they were rejuvenated!), straightened up in their walkers, leaned on their canes, and gave Mr. Welk as much acclamation and love as Mick Jagger ever got. Was it music well-played, songs well-sung? Yes. All the notes were there. Was it art? Hell, no. It was champagne music. It was treacly, it was awful. But that crowd would never forget that show for as long as they lived (probably not that long — I have never seen so many medical personnel at a show, ever).
THERE IS NOTHING WRONG
With getting lost in music you love. I approve, wholeheartedly! Everybody loves some kind of music. No one should ever pass judgment on someone’s enjoyment of the music that moves them, gives them pleasure, speaks to their soul. Just — don’t — insist — that — it’s art. So, number two is trying to convince my questioners that enjoying the music is enough and they shouldn’t worry about what the critics say. (But… they do.)
Then I bring up someone going to their very first live music show. Do you remember
yours? Who was it? How old you were? Did you dig it? You probably did. It was the Best Show You Had Ever Seen in Your Life. It may have been Minnie Pearl, or Pearl Bailey, or Pearl Jam, but you couldn’t imagine at that moment the Rolling Stones or Berlin Philharmonic or Elvis being any better, more fun. If you see one show a year, and it’s one you know you’ll dig, you don’t have much perspective or experience. My daughter sees 150-200 bands a year. I’ve seen way more than 2,000, lifetime. (Yes, at 23, she will undoubtedly pass me.) That’s perspective. That’s experience. And that’s what a critic brings to bear when writing about art.
I mentioned at the beginning reading a review and disagreeing with every word. Fantastic! You have just found your perfect critic. You’ll know if they liked it, you’ll probably hate it, and vice versa. I’d prefer you wind up agreeing with much I write in this Noteworthy music column, but either way, let’s celebrate music and explore and forgoshsakes, get out and hear some live music, will you? You’ve got to work a little for it, but it’s one of the great gifts of being alive, and you live in an exceptional place for it.
RECOMMENDED (mostly): Bluegrass and classical gas, this weekend, all right here. Devitt Feeley’s Acoustic Carnival will be turning the grass in Reed Park blue this Saturday at 5 p.m., free. Should be great. Feeley’s got impressive cred, and I heard him a couple times at Ruskin Theater when they were playing their terrific musical “Sneaky Old Time.”
Classically, you’re covered both days, from the avant garde to the Russians. Saturday at 8 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church at 1220 2nd Street, the always fascinating, highly accomplished Jacaranda program launches its 15th season, exploring six themes: environment, power, solidarity, sensuality, science and identity. Compositions by microtonal pioneers Lou Harrison, Ben Johnston, Philip Glass and others are first up, covering environment. $45 general, $20 students.
Sunday night at 7, Samohi’s Barnum Hall, free, opens the 73rd (amazing!) season for our Santa Monica Symphony, featuring Lyadov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. They‘re an excellent orchestra but since I am not a fan of the Russian composers (go ahead, write me nasty emails) and less enamored of SMS since they turned hard right for a fundraiser (very successful, but at what price?) showcasing conservative star Dennis Prager, I’m not personally recommending this performance. According to NPR, Prager “often targets multiculturalism, Muslims and LGBTQ people,” and asserted that the AIDS crisis was “entirely manufactured by the Left.” Just three months ago, he said that “the news media in the West pose a far greater danger to Western civilization than Russia does.” Sound familiar?
LYRIC OF THE WEEK: “Love is but a song to sing, fear’s the way we die… Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another, right now” ― Youngbloods (“Get Together”)
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 31 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else
in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com