Tuesday, November 06, 2007
R.I.P., Lester Bangs
The current state of music journalism leaves much to be desired.
Rolling Stone, once the standard bearer of the genre, a long time ago privileged (as they say in academia) celebrity coverage over serious analysis of arts and entertainment. And lately, it seems like every other issue of Jann Wenner's 40-year-old baby is a special issue, given over to endless lists and much smug celebrating of the mag's influence, etc.
(That said, good writing, and good writers, do occasionally slip into the pages of RS; the political writing, while clearly knee-jerking to the left, is generally sound, and so are the long feature pieces on non-celebrity subjects)
So who do I like lately? Try The New Yorker 's Sasha Frere-Jones and The Wall Street Journal's workaholic Jim Fusilli.
Larry Blumenfeld, Howard Mandel, Gary Giddins and Frances Davis, among others, write thoughtfully and insightfully on jazz and other subjects, for various publications.
Also on the blue-chip list are NPR's Tom Moon, formerly of the Philadelphia Inquirer; Gene Santoro (The Nation, New York Daily News); Greg Tate (Village Voice); and old standby Greil Marcus. I like much of the music criticism I read online at PopMatters, too.
Fusilli nails the cause for my unease with most music journalism: My expectations have simply been too high.
He writes, in a column that appeared Oct. 24: "As someone who grew up on Ben Fong-Torres and Cameron Crowe, who is now a notable Hollywood writer and director, in Rolling Stone and graduated to Whitney Balliett in The New Yorker as well as Leonard Feather and our own Nat Hentoff wherever they chose to write, I expect more."
Fusilli's column focuses on Blender, and the inanities of its "40 Worst Lyricists Ever!" list.
But along the way, he takes the time to nod to Paste magazine, which he calls "the best among American music titles." I'd disagree, slightly: No Depression, which covers a wide range of new and old music loosely fitting in the "Americana" category, is on a par with Paste. Fine writing on jazz often finds its way into Down Beat, Jazziz and Jazz Times.
So when it comes to high-octane music writing, it's still out there. You just have to look a little harder. The upside: In the Internet Age, it's so much easier to search out the good stuff.
(Token disclaimer: I've talked with, worked with or otherwise become acquainted with Blumenfeld, Mandel and Moon. I've contributed to PopMatters, Down Beat, Jazziz and Jazz Times; and I've participated in the Voice's Pazz & Jop Poll).