Question of the Week: Can Critics and Musicians Be Friends?

And could there be a difference between music critics and journalists in this respect? Either way, if it is possible, should it be?

4 thoughts on “Question of the Week: Can Critics and Musicians Be Friends?

  1. Ah, that’s the question, isn’t it? Mind you, I can speak only from and to my experiences as editor of Jazz & Pop Magazine, from 1967 to 1971, back at the dawn of time.

    And, in those days, we didn’t have a problem with it. Sure, we had journalistic ethics, involving perfect truth and transcendent beauty and no sucking up EVER, but we did not deem those parameters inconsonant with or forbidding of relationships with musicians, as friends, or, indeed, as bedmates, lovers and spouses. Hey! It was the Sixties! It had never happened before, and we were the ones making the rules.

    As a woman, one of the very, very few women in the field at that time, I was always keenly aware of behavior that might result in getting tarred with the groupie brush. However unfairly. The possibility was there forever and ever: you had a job that involved hanging out with rockers, going to clubs and parties, backstage at major gigs…naturally some cretins (including Robert Plant; see my post under Scary Moments) were gonna think you were part of the dressing room buffet, contractually provided by the promoter just like the M&Ms, and treat you accordingly.

    So it was twice as difficult for us; but if we conducted ourselves professionally, it was certainly possible to avoid that groupie stigma. I never had any sympathy or liking for groupies, precisely because their sluttish presence made it so much more difficult for women journalists to be viewed seriously, and I certainly never bought into the over-romanticization of their trip. Anyone who allowed herself to be handed around a band like a used Kleenex, and who settled for the roadie if she couldn’t bag the lead guitarist, was hardly a fighter on the frontlines of liberation.

    As for women who had real jobs in the music biz: well, who the hell else were we gonna date? Musicians dated critics, critics dated record company executives and other critics, photographers dated execs and musicians, publicists dated everybody. It was just dating in the workplace, like accountants going out with other accountants and bankers going out with other bankers. The only people we were around (besides fellow journos) were musicians: I’m only surprised there wasn’t more of it going on.

    Anyway, the only musician I ever got personally involved with was Jim Morrison, and few I think could blame me. And it was mutual (and I like to think few could blame him). To compensate for what I thought others might perceive as favoritism (though I was scrupulous in fairness otherwise), I sometimes was harder on the Doors than I was on other bands, which was just as biased and unfair as letting them off too easily for musical crimes and offenses. Jim just laughed.

    But, as I say, he was the only one, because…well, why does ANYone fall in love with the person they fall in love with? He was brilliant, gorgeous, talented, sensitive, generous and romantic. More than reason enough, and once I met him, that was it. The fact that he was a rock star was perhaps the least appealing thing about him, at least to me…it interfered with so much, sometimes.

    Other women handled things differently…looking at YOU, Linda Eastman not yet McCartney! And even Janis once remarked that women band members were the biggest groupies around, not excepting herself.

    But for the most part, we didn’t see any reason not to be casually friendly with the ones who were, after all, our sources. It’s very different today in many ways: you don’t have that nice easy air of comradeship and equality, for one thing; it’s all cold and corporate and triple-shielded by publicists and managers and the like. Though maybe with the rise of Internet music, it’s going back to the old format, a little, where you actually could just walk up to a musician on the level of Garcia or Hendrix, introduce yourself (or the flack would, and then clear out so you could talk in privacy and peace), and just start talking.

    I didn’t hang out, for the most part. I preferred to stay home and write reviews and features with minimal contact beyond one interview or backstage contact/interrogation. I didn’t WANT to be friends with them, and with the exception of my relationship with Jim, of course, and cordial acquaintanceship with a few others, I wasn’t.

    We weren’t there to be friends with them, as Almost Famous tells us. But that didn’t preclude friendliness…or even matrimony. I like to think that in my critic days I conducted myself like a lady and a professional journalist. And I like to think that the people with whom I interacted (Jim included) would agree…

  2. Wow, how do you follow that story?

    I am a local music critic in a pretty small market, so I see the people I write about all the time, we all go to the same shows and know each other and for the most part I am friendly with all of them, and good friends with a few. The ones I am close with understand there is a separation between personal and professional relationships. I come at writing about music in that I am more interested in the music itself rather than the people who make it. Not that rock biographies don’t make compelling reading or anything, but its not what I’m into doing, and that helps in maintaining friendships with people whose work I critique.

  3. Sure. Lovers, even. But as a wise friend (oddly, a music publicist) warned me, don’t also fall in love with one, especially if she’s the guitarist and songwriter, because you’ll never be the most important thing in her life. My friend was right.

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