Life as an aging Rock Critic

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by PhilBorder, Jul 17, 2017.

  1. PhilBorder

    PhilBorder Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Sheboygan, WI
    I have no idea what these guys made or make (my guess is: not much and free promo stuff don't buy scrambled eggs), but apparently enough to at least keep Lester Bangs' cough syrup supply topped off. Anyway, came across Ed Wards blog, one of the few critics who seems to have some perspective on the whole messy outpout of R+R, and used to promulgate some all too brief but insightful artist profiles on Fresh Air. His review of Springsteen's "Born to Run" reissue is worth tracking down as a wise and remarkably clear eyed assessment what Bruce was and what he became. So, Ed's one of the better critics, deserves his own NPR (although the alleged 'public' seems to be getting fed up with its shenanigans) or SIRIUS or something show, and since you may have noticed there's not many print outlets for them anymore to at least make a meager living, some insights about how they might get by:

    City On A Hill: Changes, Part 1
    Stone Turntable and CWillman like this.
  2. Chemguy

    Chemguy Forum Resident

    Have always enjoyed Ed. Thanks for the link.
  3. Stone Turntable

    Stone Turntable Forum Resident

    New Mexico USA
  4. dance_hall_keeper

    dance_hall_keeper Forum Resident

    Pardon my naiveté, but is this the same Mr. Ward as this one?
  5. Fender Relic

    Fender Relic Forum Resident

    Central PA
    Oh, boo-hoo, maybe France will take him back if things are too tough in Texas.
    PhilBorder likes this.
  6. jimac51

    jimac51 A mythical beast.

    Fresh Air used his bits as filler on slow days .WHYY,Philly, is the public broadcasting outlet where Fresh Air originates. Current news reports reveal that their head honcho, Ed Marrazzo, is paid $757,164-a salary on par with station heads that contribute much more content to the pipeline like WGBH or WETA. Why? Marrazzo makes profit for a non-profit TV/radio operation. But one would think that a slow day on Fresh Air would be OK with Ed Ward just talking about rock,which he was doing anyway,would be OK. One of the contributors that Ward mentions,David Bianculli,did indeed get airtime to talk about his book and every time he shows up there is a mention of his many jobs that are revenue driven. I'm a longtime fan of Fresh Air,but something stinks behind the scenes.
    PhilBorder likes this.
  7. Vaughan

    Vaughan Forum Resident

    Oh dear.

    When I first got into Jazz I bought a copy of "The All Music Guide to Jazz". That was my Bible for quite some time. The pages curled, the spine cracked, the cover got creased. I lived with that damn book, constantly reading and re-reading. Just brilliant. But as much as I cherish it, it's clear that in today's market, there's no room for it. All Music is online, and nowhere near as useful, even though it does the same types of thing.

    Same with rock criticism. Or any criticism, really. Gone are the days where major media outlets ruled the roost, and were a go-to for reviews. Long gone. I mean, how many hours of TV does, for example, book criticism get in your part of the world? The Internet has killed all that.

    I don't know Mr. Ward, but it seems to me he's being overrun by technology. The world has changed, and writing books in the tradition sense has kind of lost its meaning. It's a shame, because real authorities on subjects are getting harder to find. In fact, people are far more critical of critics, than anything else. Also, the whole idea of smoozing with PR guys to get free copies of things to review has become meaningless. Copies appear all over the place now, pretty much straight away. We used to read about a ne album release, knowing it wasn't released until next week or month. Today, people basically know all at the same time.

    Writing just isn't held in such high regard, which is a shame.
    WilliamWes and Veni Vidi Vici like this.
  8. zphage

    zphage Beatard

    Bucks County, PA
    His book is great. I got it on tape/cd also it is probably the best rock origin story out there, as it plots year by year who was doing what. HE expertly gives the big picture by using small picture details. This book is all pre Beatles, dealing with rockabilly, blues, jump blues! Gospel, R&B, doo wop, skiffle, jazz, pop, country, etc., all the streams flowing into what would become rock and roll year by year starting in the late 40s up to before the Beatles. This is only Volume 1.

    TErry Gross/Fresh Air has always done a terrible job with rock and roll, she doesn't get it, she doesn't like it. I was looking forward to Ed's appearance, oh well. HEneeds to start making the rounds of the podcasts. HE has a great story to tell, and weaves the tale well.

    Get the book, get the tape, you won't regret it:
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2017
  9. Veni Vidi Vici

    Veni Vidi Vici Forum Resident

    Chicago, IL
    It's really nothing to do with the current president, or France, or Texas, that the millionth book written about the history of rock'n'roll went unnoticed.
    Cousin It, Fender Relic and zphage like this.
  10. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Forum Resident

    He wrote the first section of the Rock of Ages book that appeared in the '80s. His new book covers that same period. Not sure how different the writing is or how much more information is in it, but I didn't feel compelled to buy it to find out. If I can be convinced it's not just a retread of the previous book I would consider it.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2017
  11. Wombat Reynolds

    Wombat Reynolds Jimmy Page stole all my best riffs.

    Atlanta, GA, USA

    I dont care about music critics, never have. You havent lived until your own music has been skewered by a bunch of english lit snobs who never had the skills or the balls to even learn how to play.

    The only thing I ever needed from a critic before was, "if you like this band, you might like this one"... and you're right, with the internet, thats no longer required.

    Adios critics, I wont miss you.

    Except maybe Lester Bangs. He was cruel sometimes but often really funny.
    MoonPool and jay.dee like this.
  12. Colin H

    Colin H Forum Resident

    I've always been intrigued at how non-faction authors, especially, make a living - and I'm speaking as a non-fiction author (in the UK). In 1999, at the end of a period when I was a pro freelance writer on music - contributing to several British and Irish newspapers and several national magazines, and just about paying a mortgage (with a little extra non-music-related on the side) - I received a £5000 advance from a major publisher for a book proposal on Bert Jansch and the British folk revival. It took me roughly a year of full-time work, so I had to subsidise it/add to that £5000 from the profit of a house sale.

    I did something else for a living from 2001-2011, then took a voluntary redundancy payment, which was able to sustain me for most of an 18 month period working on a John McLaughlin biography, for which the advance was, again, £5000.

    The same publishing company then, a year later, very generously provided a philanthropic platform for a history of Irish uilleann pipers - a subset within Irish traditional music - a colossal work that was only financially possible through a UK arts grant (though acquiring it was very painful).

    I was intrigued, during the research for that, to find that Captain Francis O'Neill - a turn of the 19th/20th Century chief of police in Chicago who all but single-handedly rescued a great part of the Irish traditional repertoire from oblivion, along with providing posterity with a huge amount of information on 19th century players in his self-published 'Irish Music & Musicians' book - was writing letters to friends 100+ years ago full of sorrow that his work was costing him so much to subsidise and seemed to be ignored by many people who might enjoy it. I must say, I allowed myself a smile of recognition at that!

    From what I sense from publishers, the market for books on music/musicians is contracting - and the advances even from top level publishers just aren't realistic. I daresay there'll always be exceptions, but if you want to write a serious, substantial piece of work on a musician - outside a handful of bankable subjects/artists, I'm guessing (about whom plenty of books probably already exist) - I suspect the best way forward is to just do it yourself, find a way to subsidise it yourself. Even the days of £5000 advances - not great in 1999, even less great now - for books on 'second tier' artists, if you want to put it that way, are probably gone.

    I know one writer who was willing to take several years out of his life to create a kind of Rolling Stones equivalent to Mark Lewisohn's definitive Beatles trilogy. The publisher just couldn't get their advance ideas up to the level of even a living wage for the period involved. So the writer naturally withdrew, getting on with other (non-music) things (not that the world ever needed such a book, in my view).

    Serious history/biography takes time and somehow or another that time has to be paid for, even at a subsistence level - whether a publisher pays for it (now hardly likely) or the writer subsidises it themselves because it's a labour of love or they feel that, for the sake of history, the work needs to be written. That's the way I feel about it anyway.
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