By Beppe Colli
March 7, 2003
years ago, the theatrical release of Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous started
quite a few heated arguments and appeared to open old wounds. Granted,
the noise could be heard mostly inside critics' circles - the general
press being for the most part happily unaware of the dramatic complexities
of the story. It was during this time that I happened to discover the
existence of RockCritics.com, where I had a lot of fun reading articles
about that movie. A site about rock critics! Very strange indeed...
And so this is how my exploration of the (mostly American) critics'
world really started. I read quite a few interviews with Very Famous
Critics (the likes of Marsh, Marcus, Christgau etc.), had the pleasure
of reading for the first time first-hand accounts by Paul Nelson and
Richard Meltzer, met again some guys from Musician magazine (J. D. Considine,
Charles M. Young), discovered quite a few names (and places) I had never
heard before. Good.
I have to admit that, over time, I started to get the impression that
a lot of "young guys" did not seem to perceive their position
in the larger scheme of things (i.e., "the industry") the
same way that I do: as a (potential?) source of problems. More like
"a job", really - warts and all.
Is there a better person to discuss these matters than RockCritic's
Scott Woods? So I made a mental note about interviewing him - as soon
as I had the right place to put the interview.
Though he appeared to be overworked, Woods took the time to answer the
questions I sent him about two weeks ago. And here it is.
I'm positive that I first learned about RockCritics.com thanks to
an article by Eric Weisbard that ran on Inside.com on November 7, 2000.
But your website had launched the previous March, right? How did you
arrive at the idea for a website like that?
Yes, March 2000. I stumbled into it, really. My friends Lucas Mulder
and Bryce Johnson, both of whom helped me put together my previous site,
Popped (which you can still find at popped.com, though I'm not involved
anymore), were thinking of domain names, then going ahead and registering
them. They asked me if I had any in mind for myself, and the only one
I could think of was "rockcritics.com." For some reason the
title made me laugh: I love to read rock criticism, obviously, but a
site devoted solely to this pursuit struck me as a little absurd. And
it still does, though I also think (hope) there's some value in the
idea too. As soon as I owned the title, I just set about linking to
anything I could find online to fill in the space. Which led to putting
up our own interviews. So it was name first, concept second.
Almost three years have passed. Do you think you've reached your
goals - and did they change, in the meantime?
Yes in the sense that I wanted to make a really strong resource site
that anyone interested in the topic would find useful or interesting
to read. In this, I'm fairly confident I've done something worthwhile.
(I keep saying "I," but of course, "I" couldn't
have built this thing into what it is without the contributions of so
many others - Steven Ward, Phil Dellio, Barbara Flaska, and tons of
other people who've sent links, ideas, encouragement, etc.)
No in the sense that it hasn't really developed into the type(s) of
conversation(s) I sort of imagined or hoped for - people talking back
and forth, arguing, etc. Also a disappointment in that the lack of "otherness"
bothers me - i.e., it's kind of an old white boys club in there. I know
this must sound odd coming from the goddamn editor! But the thing is,
I don't have time to be chasing down some of the people I'd like to
interview on the site (this is a hobby, remember), nor can I pay any writers to do it for me. If we really
wanted to do this site properly, we'd need a budget and I'd have to
quit my job, neither of which are in the foreseeable future.
Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous came out in 2000, and you put quite
a few articles about it on your site. What's your personal point of
view about the movie?
Disappointed. It had some sweet moments, but nothing stopped me in my
tracks - I saw it twice, hoping that I missed something the first time,
but no such luck. I didn't mind Phillip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal
of Lester Bangs - and some people who knew Bangs say it's an accurate
portrait - but I still think, in terms of looks and mannerisms, John
C. Reilly would've been a much stronger choice.
The "noise boys" and today's relevance of an oppositional
stance re: the music industry. Please, discuss.
Hmm, not so sure about "oppositional," but detachment is always
important for a critic: I don't mean detachment from the thing you're
writing about, but detachment from the providers of said thing
is, at least in theory, a great idea. I suppose as critics we are part
of what's called the "industry," but I still believe it's
important to pretend otherwise.
Two "nasty" ones:
In an age when one can download MP3s of practically any band, what's
the point in reading some critic's opinions?
Well, I think this very thing is turning consumers themselves into critics,
or anyway, blurring the lines between the two. And this is a good thing.
But for me the point of reading critics will continue to be the same
tomorrow as it was yesterday: to enlighten me, basically. Not to sell
me on something, though it can happen, of course.
In a video age where poor literacy is increasingly widespread, can
musical analysis in print still be regarded as relevant?
I'm not convinced the first part of your premise is entirely true. Without
having any statistics to back me up, I'm guessing that the internet
is actually increasing literacy - if not understanding, then
at least the reading part itself - but maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, there's
lots of sharp, funny writing about music these days; the mistake a lot
of people make is expecting to only find it on the newsstands. I read
more about music than ever before yet buy less magazines than ever before.
The best writing is in the chat groups, in the blogs, and in the self-made
online 'zines. That I'm aware of, anyway.
Not sure I answered your question!
Among the critics you've interviewed for your website, was there
one (or maybe more?) whose work had been very important for your development
as a listener and critic?
Obviously, I didn't interview Lester Bangs, but he was the first critic
I liked - by which I mean he was the first critic I actually identified
as a "critic" (I can't say I really understood his stuff when
I was 10 years old, though I was intrigued enough to keep working at
it). But the critics who really turned my head around at an impressionable
(teen) age were Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, and Robert Christgau, all
of whom I discovered in the late '70s or early '80s, when they really
did seem to preside over the whole ball game (which is not the same
thing as saying they were the only game in town, because obviously
they weren't). They don't hold the same almost-mythical status they
once did (I can now see more clearly just where and how they're full
of shit), but of course I'm thrilled that we managed to snag all of
them on to the site.
Are you happy with the feedback you get about RockCritics.com?
Yes! The fact that I get any feedback at all is incredible, really.
It feels good to know that people are checking the site out and that
all of this time spent isn't completely in vain. I do wish more people
would criticize the site, though - i.e., tell me what sucks about
it as well as what they like about it. I mean, I basically know what
sucks about it, but it's always good to hear this from another perspective.
(Plus there might be things I'd never considered.)
On the Web there are a few places (such as Rock's Back Pages) where
one can read a lot of relevant stuff from a long time ago. Do you think
that in twenty years' time they will have much to offer that comes from
today's press (or the Web)?
I think it depends where they gather material from. If they only pull
stuff from Rolling Stone, NME, Mojo, et al. then it'll be worthless
in my opinion (not that those magazines are in and of themselves worthless,
but they're hardly the be-all, you know?). Again, there's lots of good
writing out there, you just have to know where to look. A fast web connection
Of course, there are quite a few topics my questions did not address.
Please, feel free to add whatever you feel like here.
Okay, I hate to sound like a downer here, and maybe I'm just fighting
against one of the worst winters in recent memory, but the fact is,
I've lost a lot of interest in rockcritics.com lately, and it clearly
shows: I update the site less, I kind of have a who-cares attitude when
I do update, and I feel much of the time like it has simply slid
into irrelevance, or not-as-much relevance - assuming it ever had relevance. Truth is, I dread
updating the thing most of the time and I'm usually bored with the material
I come across, particularly pieces bemoaning the "sad state"
of Rolling Stone and/or Blender (God, people, give it a fuckin' rest
already, or please, take it beyond the level of Britney-on-the-cover-again-sob).
Some of this no doubt ties in with my own thwarted (former?) ambitions
as a music critic. I swear on a stack of Mystery Trains that I didn't
start this site to upstart my own career, but as I spend more and more
time doing this, promoting the careers of all these other folks, it's
hard to ignore the sad paradox that has sort of become my sub-artistic
life. All this time spent doing for others what I should, in fact, be
doing for myself. It's kind of sapped me of energy, to be honest. I'm
pretty certain I'll keep going with it for a while, but how much effort
I'll put into it remains to be seen.
© Beppe Colli 2003
| March 7, 2003