My Progressive Rock Writing Philosophy
If youíve ever read any of my work in the past you may have picked up on the fact that I have a certain philosophy when it comes to writing about music.
And I donít mind telling you that sometimes that philosophy has gotten me in trouble. Itís amazing how many people infer offence when absolutely none is implied.
It seems that some things I say just rub people the wrong way. Oh well you canít please everyone.
In the past Iíve written extensively on what I feel is the misuse of terms like Ďpretentiousí , Ďcontrivedí and Ďself-indulgentí used mostly by the mass media but even sometimes within the prog community. At other times Iíve gone so far as to suggest that Iím not convinced that concepts of literary criticism necessarily have a parallel when writing about progressive rock. There are always going to be some who feel that UNLESS they say something critical theyíre not doing justice to the artist. Which brings up a final point Ė I am a firm believer in Ďthinking criticallyí Ė we do too little of this today, but I will argue that Ďthinking criticallyí is very different from just being critical or finding something in an artists work to disagree with.
But hereís the deal Ė I am one of the few (perhaps the only one) who feels that there is already enough criticism out there in magazines or on the internet. Especially when it comes to writing about progressive rock music, perhaps the most maligned and marginalised musical genre ever created. So Iíve made a conscious decision that for the most part Iím not going to contribute to that body of negative-opinion. This is not to say that I love everything I hear or listen to, on the contrary I donítÖIím just not going to be the one who ruins it for some else who might enjoy that particular style of music. Hey thereís nothing in any rulebook that says everything has to be ďmy cup of teaĒ so to speak.
This philosophy started with me way back in the late seventies and eighties, well before my own writing or the internet. I was reviewing new movies and music on the radio and I just wanted to be different. I come from that generation that was chided Ė ďIf you canít say anything nice, donít say anything at all.Ē So even back then I wanted to inform the listener not necessarily influence them. I think you can make up your own mind and you certainly donít need me telling you that the latest CD by your favourite band is crap, or is a rehash of something somebody else has already done a thousand times. Thatís not even what I would call Ďconstructiveí criticism. So early on my writing focused more on what was actually there than what I wanted or felt Ďshouldí be there.
My approach to writing CD reviews is pretty simple. When I get a new release I usually play it once or twice at home, then take it in the car with me (my job requires me to drive around a lot) and listen to the CD perhaps three or four more times. Then I let it sit a week while I listen to others things and then, bright and early Saturday and Sunday mornings I put the disc on and write the review while listening to it yet again. Hence much of the time youíll read about pretty much what Iím hearing at the time I write. Itís amazing how much you miss the first few times around.
Each review will be one that provides a little background on the artist to set the stage as it were and then provide some general impressions about the music. Sometimes itís easy to draw comparisons with other artists, but itís all done with the idea of providing the reader with a sonic landscape to help them hear in their heads what the music is all about. I usually, but not always stop short of pointing to specific sections that reference other artists or pick apart a song looking for influences. To my mind thatís simply a writer trying to impress you with their knowledge rather than helping you figure out what the music theyíre writing about sounds like. For me itís about a general feeling, a descriptive overview of the work including instrumentation or musical approach. All those other niggly bits Iíll leave for you to discover because thatís what listening to music is all about.
You know when it comes to purchasing CDís I rarely listen to sound samples, and Iíll tell you why. Generally Iíll read a few sentences that describe the bandís style and if Iím intrigued enough by that Iíll order the disc. Listening to even a little bit takes away from my first listen. For me listening to a CD is an exciting moment; putting it on, settling back and hitting play is still after all these years a real thrill. So when I write a review why would I want to ruin that thrilling experience for someone by saying something that will divulge too much information or take away from the pleasure? For me listening to the music is what itís all about.
But wait, I hear you say, Iíve read some things youíve written on-line or in The Progressive Rock Files that seemed pretty critical. Well you know thatís true. There have been times over the years where Iíve written things that looking back I wish Iíd said differently. Itís not that I disagree with the gist of what I said at the time itís just that there was probably a better way to convey my meaning. So, yeah from time to time youíll find things Iíd said that seem to contradict my philosophy, but hey Iím only human.
I hope this helps lay the ground rules for what you read here on these pages. I know some of you will appreciate my approach and some of you wonítÖand thatís fine.