Nov 10, 2004

Compared to What?

Another sane, clarifying observation from music critic Alex Ross, himself riffing on a post by Terry Teachout, about the "myth of the 'same concert,' " which for my purposes here could be renamed the "myth of the same show." It's that old canard, Did that critic even see the same show? (Not to toot my own horn but this was roughly the premise of a duet sung by LA Weekly scribe Luis Reyes and yours truly at the 2001 Garland Awards, based on the Big River song "Worlds Apart": "At same show/But worlds apart.")

I defer to Mr. Ross:

"Every critic has heard numberless variations on the phrase, 'I don't think you and I were at the same concert.' ...Rather than accept the possibility of simple human disagreement, a certain type of irate single-space-typing listener prefers to deny that the offending critic was there at all. Which, in fact, is perfectly true. No two listeners are ever at the same concert. Each inhabits his or her own richly differentiated world. Two equally informed listeners may come away with a disparate set of sensuous facts...

Please note that I'm not espousing some facile sub-Derridean relativism. As a critic, I'm obliged to describe musical reality precisely as I hear it; I can't sway in the breeze of intermission chatter. All the same, I want to write a review that will be of use even to a listener who had an entirely different experience. This entails writing with a certain humble awareness that my experience is not universal, that my account will never be carved in granite. Criticism is at its best where confidence meets generosity. It's a tricky business: the slide into fake omniscience is deliciously quick. But I'm working on it."

As am I, in my own way. That "slide into fake omniscience" is considerably harder at 250 words a review than it was when I was head honcho at a certain newspaper (which for all intents and purposes has since become the property of a handful of film studio marketing departments, if I may say so). Personally I see criticism as part of a dialogue--a leading voice in it, perhaps, but all richer the more voices join the discussion.

Speaking of "working on it," I'm still working on my next Review of Reviews post, which will likely have to be inclusive of last week and this week. I know you're all on the edge of your theatre seats...

No comments: