Morning coffee and promo. These emails are an adjectival arms-race: this DJ is ‘unique’, that one ‘transcendent’, this ‘more than just a musician… capable of communion through sound.’ Wow. You left out ‘can walk on water and cure the sick merely by touch.’ Hyperbole is a PR’s job, but wouldn’t it be refreshing to read something like ‘he’s a nice bloke and he plays good records for a reasonable fee. You should book him’? A one-sheet that said ‘well, she rushed this – it’s not really as good as the one you liked a couple of years ago’ or ‘this has the same drum pattern as thirteen others you’ve been sent this week, but please listen anyway.’
Every now and then I gush at length about new records on my blog. But I’m lucky: it’s not my job. Well, not directly. I choose what to praise and if there’s nothing to heap superlatives upon I don’t have to write at all. And you won’t find me listing records I don’t like in Enthusiasm either. I’m a cheerleader, not a critic. I’m not afraid of being labelled a hater – thin-skinned, over-entitled Generation Y’s catch-all diss to anyone suggesting they might not be completely perfect. It’s more that writing negatively is a privilege that should be used wisely and very sparingly. Indulged for it’s own sake, it’s downright corrosive. Just look at the comments section of any internet site.
I learned this young. Weaned on the NME, whose reviewers demolished the bad in startlingly good ways, I arrived at college fancying myself to be the next Steven Wells and started writing reviews for the University newspaper. I gave a vicious rhetorical kicking to a bland funk band I saw play live one night. But when I got the paper it was my review that had been eviscerated. I called the editor, outraged, to be told he knew the singer was clinically depressed and it simply wasn’t safe to print what I’d originally written. Wasn’t safe. There was a person on the receiving end of the words I chucked out into the public domain. I had thought only of my own cleverness.
Sun Ra once admonished one of his band-members for labeling a pop record ‘some hokey shit.’ ‘That hokey shit is someone’s hopes and dreams, don’t be so hip,’ he replied. I hope never to forget it.