In which I muse about something which is hardly “news,” but never not a bloody distraction.
TIMOTHY WHITE: You spoke to me earlier, in the taxi, about the incestuous, elitist qualities of the British press as opposed to the rock-crit self-importance of some of the American press. Do you think the music press makes any significantly positive contributions to the overall environment?
ELVIS COSTELLO: If they’re not actually informative — which in different ways they are, I guess, on both sides of the Atlantic — and merely negative, then they set up something to work against. Fighting the American press is like disobeying your parents, because they’re so pompous. Critiques in the States usually have the tone of book reviews a lot of the time. In live concert reviews they treat you like opera!
“Mister Costello did this” …and so forth.
WHITE: There’s the famous instance of Meat Loaf being referred to in the New York Times as “Mr. Loaf.”
COSTELLO: [Laughing convulsively] Aaah! Mister Loaf! Mister Loaf! That’s fantastic! Mister Loaf! [catching his breath, wiping his eyes] The rolling buzzards!
– From a 1983 interview, originally Musician, I think, reposted on the Elvis Costello Home Page)
Couldn’t help but think of this 30-year-old conversation when I attempted to read Simon Reynolds’s recent piece on David Bowie in the New York Times.
- “In the video Mr. Bowie…”
- “Mr. Bowie’s strongest album in decades…”
- “For most of the 21st century Mr. Bowie had disappeared…”
- “The album… asserts Mr. Bowie’s continued relevance…”
- “Meanwhile Mr. Bowie’s stature…”
- “Mr. Bowie has always had an ambivalent attitude…”
And so on, and so on. And so on: 41 instances of “Mr. Bowie” by my “Ctrl-f” count, 41 instances of a word (granted, only a two-letter word, so 82 letters in total, plus an additional 41 periods, equalling, hmm, 123 characters overall) which could be dropped from the article entirely. Forty-one words, which, if mercifully dropped, would not only not ruin anything in the piece itself but would actually improve the tone, or maybe I mean the voice, of said piece considerably, by deflating its ridiculous (“they treat you like opera!”) ostentatiousness. (That it is Mr. Bowie and Mr. Reynolds we’re talking about here doesn’t help matters, I admit.) You might say that, as a stylistic (editorially-imposed) convention, all of this is irrelevant to the content of the writing itself, but if you believe that, you also probably believe that someone who doesn’t like distorted guitars can still enjoy a My Bloody Valentine or Sonic Youth record — you know, “for the notes.” I don’t mean to do Reynolds’s piece a disservice by harping on all this. Not that the Times loony editorial policy didn’t already take care of that for me.