Everett True: Dispatches From 'A Fading Music Critic'

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Everett True. Greg Neate hide caption

itoggle caption Greg Neate
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Everett True.

Greg Neate

I'm a tastemaker critic. I lecture in music blogging. The title of my own blog is "The Life of Everett True as a Fading Music Critic," and within it, I feature a pleasingly random array of music discovered via social networks (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace) and the odd record-company freebie. There are plenty of links and shoutouts for others operating in similar networks. We're talking Town Bike, Las Kellies, Hello Cuca!, Super Wild Horses, Monster Women, Kitchen's Floor, Blank Realm, Pens. Don't feel bad if you don't recognize these names; that's what hypertext is for. The bands aren't there to prove my credentials. They're there because I like them. Much of the music featured on my blog is old, but new to me — calypso and Cuban doo-wop, bluebeat, ska and rare female soul — increasingly so, the more I distance myself from the mainstream (television and the U.S.).

On the blog, I mostly refuse to engage in dialogue with the music itself, because I feel blogging as a critical form does not lend itself to insight. Blogging feels more like a gateway, with immediacy, currency and discovery being the keywords. Also, I'm not being paid to write my blog. I write it because I still have the urge to dance and f—- the world whenever I hear new music I love, and I've never enjoyed embarking on discussion to the detriment of music.

Simon Reynolds recently wrote, "A lot of talk on the blogs, forums, etc., involves trading information, pointing out pleasures, the mutual burble of delight. It's in the spirit of Everett True's remark, 'I don't need to know why something is good; I just need to be told what is good and where it is.' And that is totally fine, a useful activity for fans who share tastes and assumptions; I engage in it myself. I would call it sub-critical, not as a dis but as an accurate description."

Simon is correct. I'm a sub-critic. I constantly refuse to step up to the plate and treat the mainstream with anything like the respect it thinks it deserves. Constantly. I prefer to choose my own paths, my own friends, my own Ways Of Listening. The music industry is only interesting to me as a model of How Not To Behave. That quote Simon references, it's taken from a fanzine I wrote 25 years ago, but it still holds true. You need to be careful not to be overly seduced by the power of your own words. (Although you should always believe in the power of your own words.) You need to remember why people read you — for the voyage of discovery, for the music itself.

I'm not an author. I'm not a journalist.

I'm Everett True, and in certain parts of the world, I'm considered an institution.

Here's a link to the most powerful blog entry I've written. Within 24 hours, it had spawned 740 online news stories, and forced all camps concerned to issue furious denials (mendacious, in one notable case). I also had the bonus of a warning letter from Dave Grohl's management. Did this have anything to do with music criticism or tastemaking? No. It was just a few well-chosen words in the right place (Twitter). It was a good example of the power of social networks, but not of the individual in Web 2.0 environments. And therein lies the rub...

Can a critic without a power base (a magazine, a "recognized" Web site), and hence without an audience, call himself a tastemaker? Some academics argue that music criticism is a dialogue between writer and reader, a performance. Is a performance still valid if there is no one there to witness it?

Does what I write have any impact upon an industry that has long since shed the need for dependency upon indeterminate outside factors such as quality? What need is there for tastemaker critics — they'd be called "experts" in other trades — when you can aggregate opinions from a thousand enthusiastic voices (bloggers)? What need is there for a music critic when you can log on to Amazon and read a thousand user-generated reviews?

Right now, from where I'm sitting: none whatsoever. Other critics might argue otherwise. But then, they're being paid to.

Everett True is a former editor of Melody Maker, VOX, Careless Talks Costs Lives and Plan B in the U.K. He has written for more rock publications than most people can name. He is the author of several books on rock music featuring Nirvana, Ramones, White Stripes and others, and was a key writer covering the rise of Nirvana and the Seattle scene in the early '90s. Nick Cave described one of his live performances as "more entertaining than Nina Simone," while Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs called him "the coolest man in England." The Gossip's members say he's the most important music critic of their generation. Everett True is currently a Ph.D. student at Queensland University of Technology, where he also teaches music blogging.

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