Meme of the Day: Readers – Who Needs ’em?

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July 24, 2009 by admin

“I had two kinds of letters that were very encouraging. The first kind of letter was from sixty-year-old housewives saying: ‘Jesus, you know, it really isn’t all that noise I thought it was. Thank you for introducing it to me, and Simon and Garfunkel and other pleasing things.’ And the letters from young people saying: ‘My God, I can’t believe it. I never thought anyone would understand. Wow, too much!’”
– Ralph Gleason, “Two Critics – Gleason and Marcus,” 1973 (publication unknown)

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“Indeed, the professional dignity of far too many rock writers is undermined by the knowledge that they’re not serving a defined readership or building a coherent body of work. Apart from realizing, in a vague sense, that the audience is young and intellectually disengaged, no one in the field seems to know who they’re actually writing for.”
– Gavin McNett, Feed, 1998 (?) (response to Jo-Jo Dancer’s “Rock Critical List”)

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PSF: Many times during then, you’d abandon conventional reviews and go into personal narratives.  Did you ever worry that it was something of a disservice to the reader to do this?
RM: I felt it was a GIFT to the reader.  At all times, I was ADDRESSING the reader.  I wanted to help readers pull the ring from out of their nose and realize…  Burroughs is always talking about Hassan I Sabbah, who said “Nothing is written, all is permitted.”  That’s really what I was telling readers, that you do not have to accept the hand as dealt.
Richard Meltzer, Perfect Sound Forever interview, 2000

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“In the Voice, I want to piss people off. Especially in the Voice. Since I started writing for that paper, I’ve always assumed that there’s something complacent about those readers. So yeah, I want to shock them. Besides, it’s interesting to talk about Venom in terms that somebody who reads the Voice might appreciate.”
Chuck Eddy, Nerve interview, 1986

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“The worst kind of censorship is self-censorship. At Rolling Stone, it was very rare that Jann Wenner would actually pull something from the magazine and replace it with a positive review — it happened to happen to me, but that’s fairly rare. Far more insidious is the writer knowing, I am going to get more work if I make my editor happy, if I make the publicist happy, if I make the artist happy, the record company happy — they have this long list of people who they’re writing for. And at the very bottom of that list, if they even make it at all, is the reader.”
Jim DeRogatis,  rockcritics.com interview, 2002

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“The source of the most harrowing, confessional feedback I get is that I do write about myself, and my own fears and hopes and epiphanies, in the course of writing about the music. Some weeks I’m much more of a diarist than a reviewer or a critic, and I think for people who want their lives and their music to mean something, my struggles sometimes resonate.”
Glenn McDonald, rockcritics.com interview, 2001

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“When Carola met me, she was impressed by how often I got into confrontations with people on the street.”
Robert Christgau, Salon interview, 2001

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“The [Creem] letters was always my favorite section, I wish I could tell you that we made them up, but we didn’t have to. I always was amazed how much sicker our readers were than we were.”
Jaan Uhelszki, rockcritics.com interview, 2002

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“At the New Music Seminar one year, when I was wearing a name tag, someone came up to me and said, ‘So you’re Jon Pareles. I never agree with anything you write.’ I shook his hand and was happy to meet him. For that guy, I’m a completely reliable critic; all he had to do was take the opposite of my advice. That’s fine with me. But I’d rather have my record collection than his.”
Jon Pareles, rockcritics.com interview, 2001

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“[Gloria] loved her readers, the young kids from small towns who were fighting the torments of puberty with 16 as their imagination’s guide and — thanks to her advice column, among other things — their lifeline.”
– Dave Marsh, obituary for Gloria Stavers, Rolling Stone, 1983

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“But frankly I don’t always know how much respect I have for the audience either – sometimes I wonder if they’re not getting exactly what they deserve. What kind of person, for instance, listens to those critics and spends good money on all that shit?”
– Lester Bangs, “We Are All Deadheads” (Music and Sound Output, April 1982)

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“There was only so much rejection of the mainstream possible if staying in business was a goal. [Trouser Press] unintentionally had a new audience — teenyboppers excited by our coverage of their faves but too young to share our sensibilities and our skepticism: one cover story on Duran Duran that attacked the band’s flaws caused howling letters of disillusionment and anger from kids who just wanted the good news on how cute they were. How could we put them on the cover and not worship them? It made sense to us — a big story is a big story, and a band is a mix of good and bad. Little did we know that no one else thought that way. These days, what serious publication dares think that way?”
Ira Robbins, rockcritics.com interview, 2001

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PSF: So you think you were entertaining readers?
RM: Absolutely. Educating. Entertaining.  Screaming at, sounding out, etc.
Richard Meltzer, Perfect Sound Forever interview, 2000

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“I don’t think when [Bangs] was writing, even when he was flying furthest afield, when it seemed like he was not saying anything at all about the record — when he was talking about himself — I think that eight times out of ten, the point he was making was actually profoundly fundamental to that record. He never had a disrespect for the reader to the point where… you know, Meltzer jokes about reviewing records that he never opened the shrink wrap… and that’s a fundamental disrespect to the reader. That having been said, Meltzer’s toss- offs about his bottle cap collection were probably a million times better than that Wishbone Ash record — whatever. But Meltzer has nothing but disdain for the Wishbone Ash fan, and maybe they deserve it, maybe they don’t.”
Jim DeRogatis, rockcritics.com interview, 2002

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“I edited Creem magazine for five years, and we had, like hundreds of thousands of readers who really dug it that we were telling Dylan and the Stones and all these people to go jump in the lake. They weren’t idiots that just swallowed any hype that was shoveled to them. I really — I hate that, that everybody thinks that, that fans are just morons that’ll just swallow any garbage. ‘Cause I think the kids are really sharp. I talked to this 13 year old, he called me up the other day, he wants to write a book about Blondie that — he was right on top of it, you know?”
Lester Bangs, 1980 (interview published in rockcritics.com)

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“If Smash Hits was basically useful, it also did its damnedest always to be interesting. Equal attention was paid to everything from the cover feature to the smallest picture caption. It was all given a character. Readers’ letters were scrutinized to discover who they wanted to read about and what they wanted to know.”
– Dave Rimmer, Like Punk Never Happened, 1985

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“When I was on Melody Maker, we always discovered that from the readers’ point of view, they were infinitely more interested in news and reviews and upcoming concerts than they were in think pieces. People would read about artists that they were interested in. It was unclear whether they were interested in reading intellectual think pieces about the state of music. I suspect think pieces about music would have to be considered more along the lines of think pieces about other art forms rather than in the context of rock journalism. In other words, if you take a good think piece journalist like Bob Christgau in the Voice, he would be read alongside other pieces about literature or art or theatre.”
Simon Frith, Perfect Sound Forever interview, 2002

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“Magazines perform a range of specific mediating functions. Reviews of recent record releases connect the audience to the music by letting its members know which recordings have recently been released and which ones they might like. These reviews also connect the audience to itself, expressing its musical standards and values. For a pop audience criticism is irrelevant, but for a subculture, such as metal’s, the values expressed in the reviews are of great significance. Criticism also connects the musicians to their audience, affirming, clarifying, and applying the standards that they share.”
– Deena Weinstein, Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture, 1991

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“Good rock critics, by and large, don’t honor the boundary between classroom and hallway. This puts us at odds with most editors-in-chief, department heads, and those horrible people, the readers. The rules have no intellectual validity; we’re not following them; and the reader who wants reassurance through us that he’s smart isn’t going to get it from us in the standard way, and the reader who wants reassurance from us that he’s real isn’t going to get it either.”
– Frank Kogan, “Democratizing the Intellect,” in Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough: Essays in Honor of Robert Christgau, 2002

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“I can’t avoid my readership. They’re here, and I talk to them and I run their letters, many of which say ‘Dear Moron…’ I want to have that conversation. I think that’s the thing that’s missing in the New York media establishment. I know, because I’ve talked to those people. They don’t give a shit, they don’t know who they’re writing for. They’re writing for each other. They’re writing to further their career, and they’re writing to impress each other, and they don’t know who’s reading their copy.”
– Jim DeRogatis, interview with Mark Athitakis, 1998

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“One thing that a lot of rock critics do when they start out is they start writing for other rock critics… And I find with young writers, there’s this kind of impulse to show what you can do and to show that you own a copy of…the Beastie Boys’ ‘Cookie Puss’ EP, or that you really know something about the MC5 and that you can really draw a line between them and a new Detroit band. In doing that, people forget that they need to connect with a reader. There’s somebody who actually just cares about music, who might not be a rock criticism fan, who’s picking up an issue of Rolling Stone, Spin or Blender, and really just wants to find out what something sounds like and whether it’s worth checking out.”
Nathan Brackett, rockcritics.com interview, 2002

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“But more than anything we want you to tell us what you think. Too often music criticism is a one-way street, with critics sitting on high and decreeing tastes and trends as they see fit. We have no interest in being tastemakers — we’re not cool enough for that, for a start. And so we open up every review, article, column and blog post on Stylus to your comments.”
– “Stylus Magazine Mission Statement” 2001

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“To Gloria, readers were just as important as stars.”
– Danny Fields, quoted in Dave Marsh’s Gloria Stavers obit, Rolling Stone, 1983

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One thought on “Meme of the Day: Readers – Who Needs ’em?

  1. Richard Riegel says:

    Hey, Scott, don’t forget CREEM’s legendary anti-elitist invitation to its readers, which ran near the front of each month’s issue in the early ’70s:

    “BOY HOWDY! DO IT? This is just to say we want you. That should’ve been obvious all along, of course, but just in case it isn’t here’s the deal: NOBODY WHO WRITES FOR THIS RAG’S GOT ANYTHING YOU AIN’T GOT, at least in the way of credentials. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be sending us your stuff: fiction, reviews, features, cartoons, stuff about film, ecology[!], books or whatever you have in mind that we might be able to use. Sure, we don’t pay much but then who else do ya know who’ll publish you? We really will . . . ask any of our dozens of satisfied customers. Just bop it along to us, at the address below and see what comes back your way (lots faster if you enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope). There’s really no such thing as an ‘unsolicited manuscript,’ you know, and if you have eyes to be in print, this just might be the place. Whaddya got to lose? Whaddya got?”

    The earliest issue I can find with this wording is June, 1971. Lester Bangs is listed as a staff member on the issue’s masthead, but he wasn’t yet living in Detroit at that point, and Boy Howdy’s populist rhetoric here has more of a Dave Marsh cadence to my ear. In any case, this statement had a huge influence on me at the time. I would stare at it and think, “I could do that too!” Unlike the San Francisco-based rockzine of those days, CREEM didn’t seem to have erected any sort of wall between fan and critic.

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