by carl wilson

A Reality TV-style Challenge

Using this LimeWire post as your entry point, but being sure to read Jess Harvell's blistering Idolator screed and however much of the comments section you can stand, see how much music-blogorrhea you can ingest before you pass out. When you wake up, you will never want to use the Internet again.

John Darnielle's response calmed me down a bit, getting all historical-perspectivey. It is true that today's relentless Positive Energy is only the flip and decidedly preferable side of yesterday's Overwhelming Cynicism. However, I think the main conclusion to be drawn, despite all of last week's slapping around of the term, is that we would be better off to stop talking about "Indie Rock" at all, not only for literalist reasons (much of it is not independent and when it is, the thing that it is independent of is a music industry that's not particularly scary unless it's suing you; as well, a lot of it is not rock music), but because the use of the term invokes the image of an underground culture organized around music, which was once an extant reality but has not in fact been one for most of this decade if not longer. (Arguably there are current musical undergrounds, but indie is not one of them.) To clear our vision on that matter would be helpful in bringing down the reading on the Delusional Barometer a few notches.

As far as the state-of-criticism issue in general is concerned, John's final paragraph on LPTJ is very much in the sprit of the last chapter of my book, where I address this question at length, so I'll leave that for another day. Suffice to say that it is a reductive and much too easy answer to think that to reclaim a robust sense of criticism is to expend more energy on the pointing out of flaws, just because that's the literal meaning of "criticize." The ratio of praise to blame is barely at all germane to what makes good criticism. In any case, more specifically, dear Idolator, I really like you, but between this and last week's Oink merry-go-round, it does get mega-meta-grim around there sometimes. Thank you for relieving the gloom with that life-restoring Robyn video.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, October 29 at 4:15 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (17)



Regarding the "gel" question. Does anybody have any experience of this? Have you ever seen a band and thought, "well, they're mediocre, but give them some time, they'll be good"?

If it happens, I think it's very rare. But I'd like to hear about examples.

Posted by john on October 31, 2007 5:28 PM



To be fair, I don't think jess harvell was particularly saying bands today are lazy, or that they should work harder. I more took him to mean that they were getting exposed prematurely, before their sound could properly mature, or at least before it could gel.

Posted by andrew on October 31, 2007 5:16 PM



Vass ees dees hahrd vork uff witch yoo speek? Eet zounds ferry eddyfying! Goot for de soul!

Gee whiz, a professional critic dumps on a band making no money and nobody cares -- that's the culture! Someone calls bullshit on that, and you get called "dumb" (sure, sometimes), a bad writer (definitely!), and ignorant of hard work! (Uh, not.)

The common thread in the OA piece, SFJ's piece, Carl's reply, Jess's post has been: What's the matter with indie?

I not-at-all-humbly submit: One of the problems is the default assumptions that many writers and listeners hold that musicians are:
1) whores;
2) stupid;
and/or 3) generally not worthy of treating with the decency or respect that should be the bottom line of any human being.

This is NOT to say that musicians should be held exempt from criticism, but that saying a band is "bullshit" is NOT criticism. It's ugly-ass bullshit itself. Note that I did not say that Jess Harvell HIMSELF is "bullshit." I said his post was. HE said that that BAND was bullshit.

But people grip hard to this feeling that, goddammit, musicians are NOT worthy of being talked about with a basic level of decency.

And THAT is one of the problems of indie culture. Are you gonna be part of the problem, or part of the solution? Brothers and sisters!

And if you haven't read Wasik's piece, it's really good, and it pertains to all of this. Wasik describes how this band called Annuals got blown up by blog hype -- and were actually really good. Got a 1-page article in Rolling Stone mag, played Conan O'Brian's show, got a good slot at CMJ, and still, when they went back to their hometown, they were an opening act and not filling the house. And they were all still living with their parents! (Or maybe not all, but mostly if not all.) They weren't making enough money to live on.

Yeah -- hard work. It's a foreign concept all right. WhatEVER.

Posted by john on October 31, 2007 5:05 PM



I think with all the hype about technology opening the floodgates, and letting everyone get their music heard *now* by everyone, people get a little too swept up with something new and lose some critical faculty. By which I just mean that hype and excitement about the lowering of barriers has probably fed hype about particular groups.

Posted by andrew on October 31, 2007 3:53 PM



And BTW, it's not a "wish for musicians to play shitty gigs," it's something called (and I know it's going to be an alien term) "Hard Work" (alternately referred to as, "Paying Your Dues").

Used to be, people had to do this "Hard Work" before reaping the grand reward. The problem is that, in today's age, no one feels they should have to do any of that.

Posted by Ryan on October 31, 2007 2:49 PM



D.W., there's a difference between a negative opinion and calling a band bullshit.

F'rinstance, Matos saying my comment was badly written is fine (I wasn't going to cry, and I still like Matos as a person and a writer).

I'm not saying that negative opinions are "hating," I was trying to say that that is what Harvell was trying to say. Nobody gets called a hater for expressing an opinion that some musician is wonderful.

Posted by john on October 31, 2007 10:42 AM



> is exactly what was going on in Harvell's piece.

Well, OK, you got me with that quote. But I don't think that's the ONLY thing going on.

> Having *negative* opinions is called "hating" these days.

This feels like an old argument, but you seem to be edging into "don't express negative opinions because that's mean."

While I absolutely agree with Darnielle that "people tend to get infatuated with the sound of their own snarling," I'm also not ready to (to paraphrase him) throw out the honest-evaluation baby with the reflexive-snark bathwater.

Posted by DW. on October 31, 2007 9:58 AM



Forgive me, I don't know why I missed it. Harvell does have a substantive point to make that builds on the Wasik piece.

Wasik pointed out how the hype cycle chews bands up and spits them out in a matter of months.

Harvell adds -- and look, some of those bands aren't even good!

OK, got it now.

Posted by john on October 31, 2007 2:17 AM



well I'm not out to make anyone cry, but I'm going to disagree again. Jess isn't saying people are lying; he's saying that he thinks they're wrong. that's why he talks about the reasons he thinks the band sucks: because THAT'S HIS POINT. and yeah his tone is disdainful--he thinks the band is a bill of goods. was your tone altruistic when you on your blog called John Richards (I loved this line) a "novelty pimp"? given your thoughts on the matter, should it have been? should that have been the phrase Jess used instead of "some bullshit"? because it's the same thing.

as for "hating these days"--sorry, but I've encountered too many dipshits who've reflexively called me "a hater" for expressing any opinion whatsoever to take your word on that.

Posted by Matos on October 31, 2007 2:16 AM



Matos -- you're right, Harvell is making a distinction that wasn't in Wasik's piece: He is arguing that the enthusiastic people *don't mean it*.

If he's right (and I have no way of knowing, and neither does he), then that's wack too.

But you're wrong about his wishing that Black Kids were better. His rhetoric is so disdainful that it undercuts any altruistic notion he was getting at.

And you're also wrong that my comment is more knee-jerk than Harvell's piece. Writers feel free to dump on bands they happen not to like *whenever they damn well please*. That's what Harvell did, and it's weak.

I've already admitted my initial comment was badly written (if you say it again I'll cry!), but how's this for bad writing? "[H]aving opinions is called 'hating' these days."


Having *negative* opinions is called "hating" these days.

Calling bands "bullshit" *is* hating.

Calling bloggers liars may or may not be hating, but it's a very serious charge, and Harvell is so unsure of it that he doesn't even argue it. He only insinuates it. He doesn't like a band, and the praise others gave the band "feel[s] like people trying to save face." The rest of his argument is about *why the band is bad*. Who cares? The substance -- that the people who say they like it are lying -- he drops. That's weak.

I've never read the guy before, but this stuff is bad.

Posted by john on October 31, 2007 1:04 AM



the "wish for musicians to play shitty gigs" was no such thing. it's a wish for them to be readier for the spotlight than he thinks Black Kids are, before they're yanked into that spotlight. no idea what I think of this particular instance--haven't heard Black Kids myself--but your response is far more knee-jerk and badly written than anything in his Idolator post.

Posted by Matos on October 30, 2007 11:57 PM



Harvell said, "The feeling of being hyper-aware about looking like you're tossing around indiscriminate praise is . . . a worry among many writers, at least the ones with enough self-awareness to actually be concerned about such things."

D.W., "the apparent terror of some critics that somebody somewhere might think they're a rube if they actually show enthusiasm for something without qualifying it to death" is exactly what was going on in Harvell's piece.

People seem to feel he cares about the bands. Yeah, right. Cares enough to dump on them caustically. Cares enough to worry about not being seen as over-enthusiastic. Cares enough to wish they were working shitty gigs.

I'm sorry -- I know my initial comment was over-bilious and badly written, but Harvell's piece was wack.

Posted by john on October 30, 2007 11:23 PM



> "and now people will think I'm a dumb kid!"

This is only marginally a propos, but you've hit upon one of my pet peeves -- the apparent terror of some critics that somebody somewhere might think they're a rube if they actually show enthusiasm for something without qualifying it to death ("I like this, but don't worry, I'm not FOOLED by it or anything").

That said, I don't think that's what was going on in the Idolator piece.

Posted by DW. on October 30, 2007 8:36 PM



Seriously, what did Harvell add that wasn't in Wasik's piece? Besides the hand-wringing that maybe he's contributed to the hype-cycle too, and the stupid and embarrassing dig at SFJ? And besides the wish for musicians to play shitty gigs? Didn't Wasik's piece already show that hype-inflated bands are *still* playing shitty gigs? What's the worry? That bands *might make some fucking money*?

Given that, who cares if my "hating" on him was silly, mis-stated, or over-the-top? Wouldn't, by Harvell's stated standards, Harvell himself approve?

Posted by john on October 30, 2007 5:11 PM



That's the dumbest misreading of Jess's piece I can imagine.

Posted by Matos W.K. on October 30, 2007 4:40 PM



Jess Harvell's screed is a bunch of bullshit.

"Oh no! Oh no! I've been focusing on the positive! And the dumb kids are all focusing on the positive too, and now people will think I'm a dumb kid!

"I was trying to be positive but everything really sucks! Because that will be the cool thing to think now! (At least, I hope it is, because that is what this is about, hyping me! I want to be the taste-maker, and the taste I want people to feel is sour! Because the dumb kids have been focusing on the positive, like me, and I AM NOT DUMB.)"

What a jackass.

The thing that really got me, though, is this (the preceding was a paraphrase, this is a quote):

"a group (Black Kids) that should have been third on a five-band bill playing a small bar in a second-tier city."

Jess Harvell should be writing 2-sentence capsules for the listing sections of a small-college-town shopping flyer. Because he doesn't have the humanity or the imagination to do better. Because he just isn't good enough.

Look, maybe I would agree with him, maybe I would think that the band he's blasting is mediocre. I probably would. BUT -- playing 3rd in a 5-band bill in a 2nd tier city is bullshit. It means: Touring and losing money. Harvell is demanding the continued oversaturation of the market; demanding that bands continue to be paid nothing for playing; demanding that things Go Back To How They Were Before People Decided to Show Some Enthusiasm. Yuck.

What in HELL is Harvell saying that Wasik didn't already say 10,000 times better in that Oxford American piece? Except saying it a lot more meanly and self-aggrandizingly and self-dramatically and repetitively and tiresomely. Keep your self-pleasuring in your bedroom, fella.

(I made this comment mean because Jess Harvell asked me to and because Carl called me out on middle-class politeness a few posts ago. I hope Harvell likes it. And I hope he learns to write more engagingly and less repetitively. And, also, his dig at Sasha Frere-Jones's writing relevantly and revealingly and pertinently about his own band was one of the stupidest, most puritanical, most self-contradictory, most self-serving things I've read in a long time. That bit in SFJ's piece was great; Harvell isn't close to being in his league as a writer or a thinker or a humane presence. The disparity is seriously embarrassing.)

I did like John Darnielle's piece -- a lot. Thanks for that link.

Posted by john on October 30, 2007 4:04 PM



I thought Jess's screed was fantastic and long-overdue in this bland new world of "listen to this AMAZING new band" blablablablabla. It needed saying after a markedly terrible CMJ week (its original context, it should be noted). All the "ohmigosh lookit this awesome AWESOMEness" of most music sites feels like a roomful of toddlers screaming for a cookie. I've never wanted to use the internet again since about 2005.

Indiscriminate hype does no-one any favours, and Jess is right to point out that ultimately it hurts the bands -- they're washed up within 6 months when, maybe, they could have had a career.

Also, music writing, even on sites with editors - reached dazzling new levels of illiteracy this year. Guess there's no time in all that breathlessness to reach for a dictionary and find out WHAT THE WORD ACTUALLY MEANS.

Posted by spitz on October 30, 2007 10:28 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson