I’ve long believed that the worst writing in the world is rock-and-roll “criticism” ala Rolling Stone.
Part of it is the genre. It’s silly on its face to write seriously about an art form composed of danceable beats, catchy melodies, and lyrics about teenage infatuation designed to get young people to wave their fannies at each other.
First Nat’l Milaca General 300×250 Rail-top
Obviously there are great pop songs, songwriters and musicians, but we ain’t talking Shakespeare, no matter how often the comparison is made.
Rock critics suffer from one main problem: They are at heart slobbering fans, so their observations are warped by the binocular effect: Everything they see (especially if it’s created by musicians elevated to celebrity status by critics) looks bigger than it really is.
This morning, listening to a podcast of Fresh Air on NPR, rock critic Ken Tucker exemplified everything that’s wrong with rock criticism.
The dude’s so in love with Dylan and with his own ability to turn a phrase that he can’t see what’s right in front of his nose: That the music he’s praising is commonplace.
Here’s the opening lines, which he plays, then comments on:
I’m searching for phrases,
To sing your praises,
I need to tell someone,
It’s soon after midnight,
And my day has just begun
A gal named Honey,
Took my money,
She was passing by,
It’s soon after midnight,
And the moon is in my eye
Here’s Tucker’s take:
“Take, for example, ‘Soon After Midnight.’ The beauty of the song’s opening moments — the way the music rises up like mist to envelop the tender couplet, ‘I’m searching for phrases / To sing your praises’ — is something to be cherished. We are better human beings for hearing such music.”
Gag. Plus there’s the fact that the “tender couplet” (at least it’s better than “A gal named Honey/took my money”) is lifted from “Too Marvelous for Words” by Johnny Mercer and Richard Whiting:
To tell you
All you are
What’s obvious to non-Dylan-fans — and even rabid fans of his early music, like me — is that he hasn’t really hit anything out of the park since the 1970s. He’s become an average musician and an average songwriter, with a below-average voice (admittedly with lots of eardrum-slicing “character”), and way beyond average reputation padded by the Tuckers of the world who are constantly searching for phrases to sing the praises of the overrated celebrities of rock-and-roll’s Mount Rushmore.
To be fair, I’ve enjoyed some of Tucker’s pieces in the past, but this one is so hyperbolic it hurts.
Tucker keeps going:
“I have to grope outside of music to find expressions of thwarted love, of remembering painful stretches of life, as they are expressed in ‘Long and Wasted Years.’ The song describes love gone slowly, steadily more sour with a ruthlessness shaped by wit that reminds me of some of Philip Roth’s fiction, or of Philip Larkin’s poetry.”
Oh brother. Talk about groping.
Here are the lyrics, which are about as mundane as the previous. You be the judge whether Tucker can be taken seriously or is just another fan whose binoculars have turned Dylan into an undeserving lyrical god: