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Non-Music/Musical Stories:
Great Writing About the Other Arts

By Jason Gross

Even though these articles aren't directly about music per se, their perspective thoughts have a lot of bearing for any music fan nevertheless.

  • Sven Birkets: "Critical Condition" (Bookforum, Spring 2004)
    A literary reminiscence about the art of the Snark, "seemingly gratuitous negativity," examining where this came about.

  • Ty Burr: "The Promise and Peril of Movie Ratings" (Boston Globe, January 4, 2004)
    This applies just as well to the star-rating system for albums. There are perils involved for writers and readers both that are overlooked because it's so widely used. Burr realizes this and explains the traps here. Also see some interesting reader responses to a Guardian column (February 3, 2004) arguing the same topic: "Stars in Your Eyes".

  • David Edgar: "Where's the Challenge?" (The Guardian, May 22, 2004) and James Fenton "Down With This Access Pottiness" (The Guardian, May 29, 2004)
    The British government comes to grips with the idea that great art doesn't necessarily have to presage social change; it's possible to have art for art's sake, as they say. Edgar in particular is pretty snobbish about pop culture but the general sentiment and points are well-taken. Luckily, the American government doesn't have to worry about such a lofty debate--their idea of promoting the arts nowadays (via the NEA) is sending Shakespeare around to the great unwashed.

  • Patrick Goldstein: "Controversy is Like Manna From Heaven" (The Star, July 17, 2004)
    What media consolidation does to creativity and why controversy in the arts is shunned even though it pays off sometimes.

  • Nate Lippins "Shit or Get Out of My Face" (The Stranger, November 18, 2004)
    Not much smarter or shocking than the title but this bit of prognosticating about the upcoming cultural wars does include some sage advice near the end. "I think it's time to cast around for big ideas without easy answers, to avoid the most sophomoric impulses, or if you are going to indulge them, to really indulge them--take them to their illogical conclusions, pushing the mediums and messages in different directions to their respective breaking points...Artists, like everyone else, are about to endure a very hard time, but they have an opportunity to explore the immediacy between art and politics and, at their finest, use art to reflect the world in ways exclusive to itself, without resolution."

  • Frank Rich: "Bonoís New Casualty: Private Ryan" (New York Times, November 21, 2004) and Alessandra Stanley "Apologies for Everything Except Network Timidity" (New York Times, November 18, 2004)
    Since 'moral values' (whatever that means) played such a role in the recent U.S. election, weíre bound to get this issue fought about as in the days of PRMC, even if we still donít know what the boundaries are supposed to be. Thatís just the way that moral conservatives and the FCC want it-- broadcasters will cower in fear over anything they think might be offensive and yank it off the air. Forget that certain commercials crossed the lines for years and the rules are never applied consistently--this is still war. Rich's "The Great Indecency Hoax" (New York Times, November 28, 2004) also covers this hypocrisy well. And if you think it's confined to America, see Rupert Christiansen's "Censorship--Yes, But Whose" (The Guardian, November 17, 2004).

  • Scott Robson: "You Can't Do That on Television!" (New York Times, July 18, 2004)
    Understanding entertainment companies' uneven censorship standards based on "election-year grandstanding."

  • Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson: "Epic 2014" (robinsloan.com, December 2004)
    A peak into the media future, 10 years from now--some of it plausible, some of it not (the Times is a lot more savvy than he thinks), some of it already happening. Also, a curious cautionary tale.

  • Rex Smith: "Good Work Has Its Own Rewards" (Albany Times Union, February 2, 2004)
    Meant to praise newspaper columns that don't get cited for Pulitzers: obits, weather, community calendars. The same thought occurred to me about music columns that give out important info about artists, releases and labels without flair. We--not just writers but readers--need these badly, too, though it isn't often recognized or praised.

  • James Sullivan: "A Work of Art or a Harbinger of Violence?" (San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 2004)
    Rock, rap, and metal are popular scapegoats to explain troubled teens but what happens when literature becomes a potentially dangerous weapon? The questions it raises are about what constitutes reasonable concern and what's over-protective censorship, all of which is very tied to the related music debates. Carl Horowitz's "Teenage Wasteland" (Reason Magazine, February 2004) also deals deftly with this subject.

  • Renee Tawa: "Everyone's A Critic" (Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2004)
    While predictions of rock critics losing their gatekeeper status abound, the real wall crumbling is happening on the book front. Considering that Amazon moves a lot of CDs, too, how long before this happens with music?

  • Tom Walker: "How to Predict the Next Great Novel" (Denver Post Books, April 26, 2004)
    Basically, a lot of great classics didn't sell well in their time but were seen to sum up universal themes that transcended the moment and were later hailed by critics and studied by academics. A lot of similar criteria has been used to debate what a great album is: Pet Sounds, Forever Changes, Trout Mask Replica, etc.


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Jump to the section of your choice:

Introduction

1. Super-Scribing Awards: Best Writing of the Year

2. Superior Scribing Awards: Other Great Pieces of Music Journalism

3. Non-Music/Musical Stories: Great Writing About the Other Arts

4. Amazing Stories in and of Themselves

5. The Ignoble Prizes: Worst Music Writing of the Year