Buffalo News on old vs. new rock criticism

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Sat Apr 24 06:27:34 CDT 2004

This has only slight Who but I thought it was a
brilliant piece I just had to share:
>From the Buffalo News at:

Top 50 list reveals tension over age and rock

News Pop Music Critic

Considering that, for the past several years, Rolling
Stone has buried some of the finest music journalism
and investigative reporting being published today
beneath covers celebrating the physical attributes of
scantily clad teen pop stars and forgettable
flavors-of-the-month, it's pleasantly surprising that
its recent "immortals" special issue has created such
a stir. 
In creating this issue celebrating the 50th
anniversary of rock, Rolling Stone assembled 55
artists, writers and industry folks to come up with a
list of "The 50 Greatest Artists of All Time." Each
was granted an impressive layout and an essay by a
prominent artist schooled in that particular
immortal's work. It's easily the most impressive issue
of Rolling Stone in some time. 
Naturally, not everyone agrees with the list. In fact,
one of the voters - Los Angeles Times pop music critic
Robert Hilburn - penned a column all but excusing
himself from the picks. 
Editor & Publisher offered a lengthy piece concerning
ageism by daily papers obsessed with the "aim at the
young 'uns" philosophy, widely accepted as the cure
for dwindling readership among youth. 
The "immortals" issue seems to be akin to Janet
Jackson's breast-baring escapade. Just as that fiasco
brought questions of indecency to the forefront, so
did the magazine issue push theories concerning age
and rock 'n' roll to the top of the pile. 
Hilburn's column reveals the crisis presently facing
music criticism, even if it had no intention of doing
so. "Hope I die before I get old," Pete Townshend
precociously bragged all those years ago, and
apparently, there are many here among us who feel that
this was no joke.

Fresh blood

Hilburn's beef is that the list is too predictable,
that there isn't enough fresh blood in the Top 50,
that those who voted are biased toward old guys and
gals. It's a tired list with too many of the standard
icons clogging it up, we'll paraphrase him as saying. 
He points to the fact that every artist in the Top 10
came to prominence in the 1950s or '60s. Hilburn then
goes on to claim that the list was not meant to honor
rock's elders for "helping to define the music," but
to "name the 50 greatest . . . and that implies
criteria ranging from sheer craft to originality and
Hilburn handily, if unwittingly, got right to the crux
of the biscuit. 
Here's the problem: As fewer and fewer young people
read, and newspapers begin laying off or "reassigning"
rock writers who hit 50 or so, critics have started
scampering like cockroaches toward a dung heap,
seeking to prove how "hip" they are. 
So it's understandable that Hilburn found it necessary
to insist that "Eminem, the brilliant if volatile
rapper, has had far more impact on pop culture than
Buddy Holly did in his day." Eminem, writes Hilburn,
"stands in no one's shadow today." 
It's no accident that Eminem is the artist Hilburn
chose as his example of the list's negligence. He is,
beyond any shadow of doubt, the reigning sacred cow of
pop music criticism. 
Eminem is commonly referred to as a genius. Let's see.
Marvin Gaye snubbing his nose at Motown and creating
the magisterial beauty of "What's Going On?"; Miles
Davis and Teo Macero working together to forge ahead
into cut-and-paste methodology and simultaneously
reconfiguring our notions of jazz. Muddy Waters
exorcising the pain of a sharecropper's life through
his slide playing. Brian Wilson stacking vocal
harmonies toward the heavens on "Pet Sounds"; John
Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison doing the
same on "Because." Public Enemy making rap rock like a
house on fire, doing for hip-hop what Davis did for
jazz. Bob Marley singing "Redemption Song." Radiohead
making "OK Computer" into a broken-hearted lullaby for
my generation. Bob Dylan reinventing himself on stage
every evening at age 62. These are the geniuses of
popular music. 
Eminem is simply clever. Talented, yes; irreverent,
yes; reflective of where our culture is "at," yes;
good at venting spleen through rhyme, yes. But a
genius? Please. Maybe someday. But not today.

Cultural criticism

It's a complex issue, primarily because the craft of
pop music has been devalued over time. Pop musicians
have become increasingly less skilled as writers and
instrumentalists. Some people will argue that Eminem
is as important an artist as, say, the Beatles, or Led
Zeppelin, or Marley, or Gaye. We'll see about that.
And at its core is the popular myth that rock and pop
are, and should be, young people's music. There are
simply too many examples of artists improving as they
age for this claim to hold water. 
The music itself is what needs to be examined, with
social and cultural forces treated as secondary
concerns. Since most rock/pop critics don't know how
to deconstruct the music itself, they're cultural
critics - not music critics. They write more about the
context of the music than the music itself. 
Perhaps that's why they all drool over Eminem - he
makes their jobs easy.

e-mail: jmiers at buffnews.com

Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Photos: High-quality 4x6 digital prints for 25¢

More information about the TheWho mailing list