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Critical Mass

I made my bones as a writer doing music criticism – CD and concert reviews, previews, features, and the like – for a now-defunct “alternative” weekly. So I can vouch for nearly every word of this article over at the Ringer.

Negative reviews are not only far easier to write than positive, they’re also way more fun, especially when your target is practically begging for some comeuppance. I dunno; there’s just something about puncturing egos that makes you feel like you’re doing God’s work. Granted, it’s not like I was in a position to destroy anyone’s career. I was just a guy nobody’d ever heard of making less than minimum wage writing for a paper nobody ever read – but still. It felt good.

There were downsides, to be honest. I had to remove my number from the phonebook after a rather ominous and threatening call from someone who didn’t take kindly to my tone. Another wrote a complaining letter to the editor, calling me a “12-year-old boy with his pants around his ankles, screaming ‘Look at me! Look at me!'”

It wasn’t always so easy, though, to separate the sheep from the goats. There was the time Tony Levin – yes, the Tony Levin – sent me a preview of his upcoming CD. I…didn’t like it. And even though I still have a hard time thinking of a musician I admire more, I had to be honest in my assessment.

And then there was the local singer-songwriter whose heart was in the right place but whose music wasn’t anywhere close. My review let him down gently – so gently that he wrote me a thank-you note. That made me feel even worse.

Best part of the job? The scads of free music that record labels kept sending to me long after I’d ended my run as a critic. Worst? The smug self-righteousness that lasted even longer. (No, really, it’s true – I’m far less sanctimonious these days. Ask the missus if you don’t believe me.)



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