Rockcritics Bookshelf: Paperback Writer (w/guest correspondent, Richard Riegel)

Richard Riegel and I recently exchanged some thoughts via e-mail on Mark Shipper’s classic novel, Paperback Writer.

From: Scott Woods
Date: Wednesday, September 19, 2007
To: Richard Riegel
Subject: Paperback Writer (I)

Hi Richard:

Thanks for agreeing to chat with me about Paperback Writer. I’m interested to hear what you have to say about the book because you mentioned in your rockcritics interview what a big fan you were of its author, Mark Shipper. I’ll quote what you said in its entirety because it actually fills in a few details of this mysterious fellow you referred to [in an earlier e-mail] as the “J.D. Salinger of rockwriting”–in fact, I bet it’s the most detailed thing anyone’s ever written about the guy.

“A rockwriter who was as influential upon me as Lester Bangs early on, but who’s barely known now, since he left the field, was Mark Shipper–his Flash fanzine of 1972, which celebrated bargain bins and his (and Teresa’s) beloved Paul Revere & The Raiders, and brilliantly ridiculed all sorts of rockstar/rockcrit pretensions, was a major major inspiration to me that year. His later Paperback Writer and How To Be Ecstatically Happy 24 Hours A Day For The Rest Of Your Life books were just the kind of satires I would like to have done myself, if I’d had more time. Unfortunately Shipper vanished from the rockwriting scene in the early ’80s, but I still revere (so to speak) the sarcritic impulse he gave me back in the day.”

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Generous Critics

Last night I got into an interesting back-and-forth with my friend Matt on Facebook about Roger Ebert. Matt was arguing that Ebert wasn’t a “discerning (read: critical)” critic, which he later elaborated on by saying that he “gives positive reviews to a lot of dreck”; also, because “he has a sliding scale that reviews films relative to the rest of their genre”; also, because (and I didn’t know this) “he gave Godfather III a better review than Godfather II.”

I countered by saying that Ebert was a “generous” critic, an adjective I had to try twice to flesh out, as it just sort of came to (and made sense to) me without putting much thought into what it actually meant. Here’s me fumbling around for an explanation:

  1. “Granted, [Ebert] maybe comes across a little soft on TV, but I prefer to think of that as ‘generosity,’ which is something I never take for granted in a critic–someone who can see beyond the obvious. (For instance, I think he’s right in placing so much emphasis on actor’s looks; it’s an essential part of movies, and most critics are too ashamed to admit it.)”
  2. “I don’t really explain ‘generosity’ well: Ebert’s the sort of critic that is willing to acknowledge the good stuff you often get in bad movies. So, by pointing out something that works in an otherwise negligible movie (a particular performance, say, or some of the camera work–whatever), he may come across as not all that ‘discerning,’ or perhaps too easy, but in fact, I’d say he’s being more discerning. He’s digging further into the movie and looking beyond what is just plainly lousy about it. So he ends up sometimes saying positive things about second rate movies–but I don’t think that’s all he does, he also acknowledges what’s bad. “

To be honest, this was one of those arguments in which we were both probably over our heads a little. I don’t think either of us has actually read enough of Ebert to talk knowledgeably enough about him as a critic, though I’ve read enough of him to at least argue that you don’t really get the best of Ebert on TV, and that the Thumbs-Up/Thumbs-Down thing is the most meaningless and unfortunate aspect of that program (reducing critical judgments to grades is one thing; reducing them to either-or choices is ridiculous).

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Rockcritics Bookshelf: Capsule Preview Possibilities

Here are ten music books sitting on my shelf–some have been there for years–that I’m currently contemplating reading (or skimming really hard) so I can write them up and add them to the rockcritics bookshelf. There’s no way I’ll get through most of these anytime soon, so I clearly need to prioritize. Anyone have any thoughts about any of these? Which (if any) of these … Continue reading Rockcritics Bookshelf: Capsule Preview Possibilities

YouTube vs. wordpress?

Apparently, some people are having issues accessing this site, and it seems to be (potentially) because of the YouTubes I’ve been posting. Not sure if this is a problem specific to wordpress or if it’s related only to certain browsers, but for now I’ve removed the images from those posts and provided direct links to YT instead. If anyone out there is still experiencing issues … Continue reading YouTube vs. wordpress?

More Arguments In Rock Criticism

This one dates back two and a half years to Stylus, which features Creem quotes about Rock Criticism from 20 years before that. It turns out people were just as curmudgeonly about it back then. Only within the pages of Creem it’s more hilarious. Do look back, won’t you? Continue reading More Arguments In Rock Criticism

Quotes on the Auteur Theory

Two clips of various directors and critics discussing the auteur theory. Featuring Robert Mitchum, Frank Capra, Pauline Kael, John Frankenheimer, Peter Biskind, Peter Bogdanovich, Elwy Yost, et al. A fairly intelligently edited piece (cf. the back and forth sequence between Capra and Phillip Dunne), though no strong critical proponents of auteurism could apparently be bothered to chime in: the closest you get to Andrew Sarris … Continue reading Quotes on the Auteur Theory