Pinky Swear

A music critic's resolution for 2005

Last year, I wrote more than 37,000 words in this column space--that's the better part of a novel or, at least, one long-winded blog entry. Skimming over those columns is like watching the year in fast-forward: From the opening of Deep Ellum Blues to the closing of XPO Lounge, from a Q&A with Vinnie Paul to a report on his brother "Dimebag" Darrell's death. And while I cringe along the way at some of my bad jokes and question a few snap judgments, I'm glad to report there's little I regret from my first year in this gig. Basically, I just wish I were better. Those may be soft sentiments coming from a professional cynic, but hey--it's the new year. Where would we be without a few noble goals to shoot for and mangle, plunging us into an abyss of depression, Harp beer, late-night Jack in the Box and mayonnaise? Well, maybe this year things will be different.

1. Words, words, words.

Music critics sure can mess with the English language. We describe music as if it left scars: pummeling drums, thundering bass, blistering guitar. We manage to reduce music--that gorgeous, crackling art--to a 10th-grade algebra equation: "It's like Sonic Youth minus Wilco divided by the Pixies to the power of R.E.M." We don't mean to be such wanks; it just happens, a stumble on the way to capturing that elusive quality of sound and emotion. (And sometimes we're just hacks.) Oftentimes, I'll finish reading a particularly purple-prose review and think, "But what the hell did they sound like?" No doubt I'm guilty of the same. It's tough to convey the vibrancy and mood of a thing without resorting to music-critic clichés (catchy, hook-driven, sing-along) or sounding like you're studying for the SAT (jangly, lacerating, bleating). It's tough to point out the technical aspects of music without resorting to a discussion of gear-head mumbo jumbo and diminished fifths. Sometimes I listen to NPR album reviews and think, as the critic plays a snippet of song, "No fair--you're cheating!" Sadly, these columns come without MP3s attached, so I'm left to rely on 26 letters, strung together in imaginative ways. Someone once said, brilliantly I might add, that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture"--it's often attributed to Frank Zappa, although I believe it actually came from actor Martin Mull (!). At any rate, we're going to get better at dancing about architecture this year. Anybody know how to do the robot?

2. The old spice of life

Undoubtedly, the criticism I receive most is that I'm terrible at returning phone calls, and my credit card payments are always late. This is true. After those, however, the most common gripe is that the paper talks about the same bands over and over. These people invariably point out similar things: that Dallas is a big scene, that bands need to be nurtured, that I'd see a lot better if I could dislodge my fucking head from my ass (I'm paraphrasing).

I don't always like these letters of complaint, but I understand their frustration. These people love certain bands, or (more likely) they play in certain bands, and after all the hard work and humiliation, is it too much to ask for a few scraps of recognition in the weekly rag?

The truth is that I want more bands in the paper, too--baby bands and old faithfuls, hip-hop bands and country bands and rock bands and (yes) the Polyphonic Spree--and we'll keep struggling to find new entryways. I even have a few new ideas, about which I'll tell you more later. Of course, you may not like what we write about these bands, but hey, that wouldn't be anything new, would it?

3. More shows, less beer. More wit, less sarcasm. More "yes," less "no." And, of course, Mom, I'm going to quit smoking.

Well, that means I have roughly 36,500 words left to go. Oh, boy, wish me luck.

 
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