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Cleveland Censorship?


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Being an artist, you get a certain disdain for "critics" over forty years in the business. Obviously, some are good (the ones that like you) and some are bad (the ones who don't). Just kidding.

Unfortunately, like everything else, criticism is often politically motivated. What publication the critic is writing for often determines, in advance, his critique. And, in the case of rock magazines, it's not at all unusual for someone who loves jazz or funk to be assigned to review a pop record.

So (and I speak from experience) Raspberries and Eric Carmen albums have been reviewed, over the years, by critics who hated the genre AND had a political axe to grind, because of the "posture" of the magazine they wrote for. When you spend two years of your life writing and recording an album it is very, very depressing when an influential magazine assigns a critic who doesn't "get" what you do, to do a hatchet job on your record.

Critics can be career killers. They SHOULD have a sense of responsibility, and a knowledge of what they're writing about, but they often don't. I've even read reviews that said I played songs that weren't played at a particular show, leading me to believe the critic wasn't even AT the performance!

All in all, I guess you just have to find a few critics whose opinions you trust, and stick with them. I guess having read a couple of nasty reviews of the 'Berries in The Cleveland Scene, written by a twenty year old whose favorite band was three junkies in a garage, and whose album no one had ever heard of, made me want to go find the punk and strangle him. The particular "critic" I have in mind listed his favorite band on his "Facebook " page. I looked the band up, and found Rolling Stone had given their album 0 stars. It just ticked me off that this little creep would be given the job of "reviewing" The Raspberries. :angry:

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Ah hah! I just figured out why Eric doesn't like me -- Maybe he thought my writing on Lionel was a hack job. Well, it wasn't meant to be. I just wanted Lionel to know that rap wasn't his thing and if he's going to write more music to write more pop which is what his older fans like. Now that I reflect on that writing, who am I to say that rap isn't his thing?

I enjoyed your post nonetheless, Eric.

First let me say I'm sorry you had a bad experience with a young and inexperienced critic. I don't blame you for being angry and upset with that young boy. It really makes no sense for magazines to send out young and inexperienced writers to write professional reviews, especially as you say, when they don't even understand or like the genre. Your post makes me want to go out and start a new magazine. It would be filled with positive enjoyable reviews, stories, and photos.

If I was a professional critic, the only genre I would probably have trouble with is rap. I guess I'd stay away from writing about that one, then.

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With critics, it depends on their experience, knowledge, degree to which they've done their homework, and, most of all, integrity. If they don't know what they're listening to or writing about, they should say so and just move on to something that's within their area of expertise. For example, in John Borack's (Popdude's) book "Shake Some Action", he makes no bones about various bands whose music he simply doesn't appreciate or get....and he spends no further time trying to analyze why people might dig them.

What he does spend most of his time on is trying to enlighten the reader about bands who generally aren't as well known as they should be....and, to me, this is what an effective music writer/journalist/critic should be doing.

And, IMO, being a critic of music, books, films, etc., is also an art form in and of itself when done creatively and honestly.

Certainly, you've got more than a few Lester Bangs wanna-be's or angry young critics who are pissed off at the world in general. As mad as they might make artists and other people, they are best ignored.....(if you can't strangle 'em!)

On the other hand, some of the old critics with beards who've been plying their trade for decades have also occasionally done a helluva job spreading the word on some of the artists who might otherwise be long forgotten, except in the eyes of their adoring fans.....

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I just caught up with this thread, and it's an interesting topic, one that's near and dear to my heart.

I spent eight years (roughly 1984-1993) editing a group of magazines that offered hundreds of music reviews -- all genres -- every month. So I can tell you from first-hand experience that writing reviews is as tricky as it gets. There are so many variables that the reader will just never know, but that would put a given review in context:

* What are the likes and dislikes of the critic of a certain album?

* How well does the critic know the artist?

* How much time did he actually spend with an album? A quick run-through on a Friday night is never as good as multiple (and attentive) listening sessions over a week's time.

* Does the critic have an agenda? (Is he trying to make a name for himself by being ultra-critical -- and being clever about it?)

You just don't know the answer to those questions when you're reading a review.... It's tricky!

In assigning a couple hundred CD reviews to writers every month, my staff and I tried to take care that the "right" CD didn't get into the wrong hands. We also tried to work with a steady stable -- critics whose likes and dislikes we understood.

Why send a Neil Young CD to a reviewer who hates :angry: Neil Young? We'd rather have sent it to an all-out fan and hope that he can step back and offer constructive criticism if necessary. The ideal, though, was somebody in the middle -- a knowledgeable critic who's not a hopeless fanatic but who also doesn't have unyielding biases against the artist.

We were very wary of the "Rolling Stone wannabe" critic -- the generation of music writers who grew up trying to emulate the top-dog RS critics, who (bless their hearts) were often pompous and self-righteous -- and often guilty of making themselves the most important part of a review.

We weren't perfect by any stretch, but we tried to pair reviewers with artists they knew well. We also demanded that they:

A) Be open-minded.

B) Avoid hatchet jobs written just for the sake of delivering a hatchet job.

C) Consider what the artist is trying to do with the current recording (as opposed to basing criticism on previous stuff; this is hard with "whipping-boy" artists, whether they deserve it or not, like Barry Manilow or Neil Diamond, etc., etc.).

D) Look for positives along with negatives and present both sides. We gave a 1 (lowest) to 10 rating for each CD for both performance and sound quality, which forced the critic to support his rating.

To that end, we sent a "reviewer's guidelines" sheet to each new critic. If I could find it, I'd share it with ya'll, just for fun.

Again, we weren't perfect but we tried to be fair and open-minded, traits that we thought were sometimes lacking in other publications.

That said, I would contend that Trindy's right: There are good and bad critics; knowledgeable ones and those who dash off reviews on the fly; some who have axes to grind and some who put careful thought into their words. And not all are failed musicians (though I did actually know some). No, the best ones actually love music and they love writing about it.

And Eric's right, too, when he says: "Unfortunately, like everything else, criticism is often politically motivated. What publication the critic is writing for often determines, in advance, his critique.... Critics can be career killers. They SHOULD have a sense of responsibility, and a knowledge of what they're writing about, but they often don't."

Put a lot of the blame for the latter on the editor(s) who made the assignment.

Ultimately, the reader of any publication needs to understand something very important (and a lot of people don't get it!): A review should be taken with a grain of salt. Use it as a guide. If you're a regular reader of a publication or site, pay attention to who's writing what. You'll know who the astute, fair-minded critics are -- and you'll pick out those who specialize in gratuitous slams.

For critics, it can be more fun to totally rip an album (fair or not) than to write a rave. So sometimes, they force it. And no critic, to be honest, wants to be known as a pushover. If he gives everything he reviews a 10/10, five-star, A+ rating, he won't be taken that seriously, will he?

So writing reviews, as I said, is tricky business -- hence the grain of salt.

There. Is my post as long as Trindy's?

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When I get a chance, I'll tell you guys a very funny story from my arsenal of "critic stories". It's fairly long, so I don't want to start it at this hour. A title just popped into my mind: "A Tale Of Two Critics." (or maybe, three).

I've often thought about compiling a bunch of my "life lessons" into a book.

This chapter would be under the heading "Interviews." I'm almost at the age where I can start naming names, but not quite. Some of them are still in the business, and you never want to make enemies in the music business.

Cardinal rule No. 1# Never say anything bad about anybody in the industry. Inevitably, they will fail their way up the ladder, and be in a position to hurt you. Sometimes they'll hurt you even if you DON'T say anything bad about them! Just because they can.

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I loved LC's take on this, myself. And I'd love to hear Eric's stories too.

I guess I look at it like this, Eric. When you get to know critics, and you get to know that some criticism from some sources is politically motivated, doesn't that actually make it easier to let it roll off your back? Doesn't it make it easier to "consider the source" and let it go?

I am absolutely sure that your work has been reviewed by those who never had any intention of liking it in the first place--and I even remember how my young little heart used to be wrenched out by some of those reviews! And it's got to be annoying to see people like that assigned to review your work time after time...and yeah, maybe some of them didn't even attend the performances they panned!

The question I have, I guess, is whether critics really have as much career-killing power as you assign to them. Maybe they did more so back in the day when music wasn't fairly cheap and easy for people to listen to themselves and decide whether or not they liked it. But today, damn...I can listen to 10 seconds of a song on iTunes, or go to a store and listen to any of the tracks on a CD in headphones, and decide for myself whether or not I like something, and if I do, critics be damned...I'm not waiting for some reviewer to give me an idea of whether I "should" like something or not. I'd rather listen for myself. The most a critic can do is whet my appetite or maybe sour it a bit, but that doesn't mean I might not listen to something anyway and like it.

To me, the reviewers of the 'Berries in The Cleveland Scene are not worth the effort it would take to strangle them. I doubt most other people think so either. I just see the majority of reviewers at that level as posturing hip wannabes who won't be caught dead liking some band that hasn't received the "stamp of approval for hipness" from some area well outside Cleveland (because one of the basic rules of many Clevelanders is: If it's from Cleveland, it is by definition NOT COOL unless someone from New York or Los Angeles says it is. THEN it's cool). They're also all about 20 years younger than me, with a sense of music history that probably doesn't go back any further than the death of Kurt Cobain, which happened when they were wee tiny lads and was the first tragic event they can remember in their young lives.

In short...I really don't give a damn what they think, and I don't waste time worrying about it. I don't know, maybe that's easy for me, vs. being you trying to sell tickets to a show in Cleveland. It just seems to me that when it comes to the 'Berries, anyway, you will never have to depend on these guys to sell your tickets. How many other local bands have the out-of-town draw the 'Berries have? How many are cited as inspirations the way you guys are?

If I were you, I'd think of that--not worry about what some snotty 20something guy, whose musical taste is in his mouth, says about you in Scene Magazine.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I always listen to the recoding and then make read what a critic says. Same with a movie. If I like it, I could care less what anyone says. But your right, it is unfortunate that some jerk can ruin a career.

Anyway,I remember Russ Meyer. I always enjoyed....how should I say this....well....his work. I could tell a very funny story about this, but it might not go over too well.

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