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

By Jason Gross

  • Frank Ahrens: "Ink and Paper or 1s and 0s?" (Washington Post, October 15, 2005)
    Even if the Net kills off print media eventually, the newspaper vocabulary will be with us for years to come.

  • Don Aucoin: "The Rise and Fall of Pop Culture" (Boston Globe, October 11, 2005)
    Forget trying to be a cultural dabbler--the media landscape's too wide to even play Trivial Pursuit anymore.

  • Ben Brantley: "How Broadway Lost Its Voice to 'American Idol'" (New York Times, March 27, 2005)
    If you're wondering where all the B'way divas learned how to be empty prima donnas, look no further than the modern, hit version of Star Search.

  • Justin Davidson: "Taste: The Bitter and the Sweet" (Newsday, May 23, 2005)
    In a world where "everyone's a curator," "taste still matters" as taste-makers can have a powerful influence over what the general public hears about and may consume, be it in a concert hall, museum, or theatre.

  • Claudia Eller and John Horn: "This Just in: Flops Caused Box Office Slump" (L.A. Times, October 1, 2005) [Link not available]
    Think the music industry is ever going to get so frank about its own problems? "It's really easy for all of us to blame the condition on the theaters, gas prices, alternative media, the population changes and everything else I've heard myself say," said Sony Pictures Vice Chairman Amy Pascal, whose summer releases Bewitched and Stealth flopped. "I think it has to do with the movies themselves."

  • Patrick Goldstein: "This Year, the Safe Bets Are Off" (L.A. Times, January 26, 2005) [Link not available]
    The same thing's happening with major record labels as with major movie studios--less risks, more safe bets, less (or no) coddling of artists. This is exactly why indies exist and why they'll continue to thrive.

  • Adam Gopnik: "Dining Out" (New Yorker, April 4, 2005)
    How different is food criticism from music criticism? "All art, it has been said, aspires to the condition of music. But we want some of our art to aspire to the condition of background music. What makes Mozart, Vivaldi, the Beatles essential to our lives? Is it the hours we spend, scores on knees, listening in the dark? Or the hours and hours and hours we spend with them just on, wrapped around our lives--giving them some emotion to organize that they, miraculously, do?...Good cooking is beloved because, when it is good enough, it gives more immediate pleasure and then recedes more rapidly, more gracefully, into the metaphoric middle distance than any other cultural thing, letting us arrange our lives, at least for one night, around it."

  • David Honigmann: "The Futile Race to Offend and Be Offended" (Financial Times, January 24, 2005)
    An excellent argument about how religion can peacefully co-exist with controversial art.

  • Margo Jefferson: "Beyond Cultural Labeling, Beyond Art Versus Craft" (New York Times, March 22, 2005)
    The question of what is folk art and what is 'professional' art is becoming a passť argument. In the world of music, however, that debate still stirs harsh dividing lines about authenticity and art.

  • Chris Jones: "It's Getting Crowded in the Ivory Tower" (Chicago Tribune, May 29, 2005)
    He's a little naive about critics not being on any payrolls outside of their publication but how about this for a warning to his fellow scribes: "We don't matter much anymore. And that might just make us all better critics." Meaning that writers have to keep trying harder to earn the respect of their readers.

  • Anthony Kaufman: "Living in Oblivion" (Village Voice, January 11th, 2005)
    Reagan inspired a lot of great agit art; here's hoping that Bush II will do the same.

  • Al Kennedy, Yvonne Roberts, and Jane Rogers: "Belittled Women" (The Guardian, March 24, 2004)
    As they discuss womens' writing, three authors debate what should or shouldn't be the norm--saying that we shouldn't have to note 'women' in particular anymore, how they must expand their horizons, and also why they don't have to do that. Certainly applicable to other arts (music, you know) and hopefully will spur other like-minded debates.

  • Joel Kotkin: "Suburban Culture" (Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2005)
    The big city isn't the only home of the arts anymore. The 'burbs hearken where the inhabitants don't have to travel far for entertainment or worry about parking. But what's going to make cities special if they're not the sole proprietors of great art? Will the 'burbs then start turning into defacto cities themselves?

  • Leah McLaren: "Reading Books is Definitely More Fun Than Writing Them" (The Globe and Mail, July 16, 2005)
    Not exactly news to authors out there, but a very amusing piece nevertheless. "As my mother says, 'It's one thing to sign a contract. It's quite another to write the goddamn book.'" Also, "all you need to write a book these days is a computer and an enormous ego." Amen.

  • Andrew O'Hehir: "The Myth of Media Violence" (Salon, March 17, 2005)
    As the debate goes on about what makes kids go on rampages, big and small, the fact of the matter is that we honestly don't know yet, despite a few well-hyped studies, whose authors had to back-peddle a bit. Of course, facts don't stand a chance against the hysteric pandering of politicians on this matter.

  • D. Parvaz: "Confessions Of a Writer Who Didn't Pen a Memoir" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 29, 2005)
    Why silly, deviant behavior makes you a natural to be a confessional novelist. And probably a natural in other arts as well.

  • Aaron Rose: "The Kids Aren't All Right" (L.A. Weekly, October 28, 2005)
    Why isn't art today showing the right type of cutting edge and rage? Blame the schools who stress the classics and theory.

  • Jerry Saltz: "Seeing Out Loud" (Village Voice, December 16, 2005)
    Brilliantly lays out the ground rules for any good arts writer: "Having an eye in criticism is as important as having an ear in music. It means discerning the original from the derivative, the inspired from the smart, the remarkable from the common, and not looking at art in narrow, academic, or 'objective' ways. It means engaging uncertainty and contingency, suspending disbelief, and trying to create a place for doubt, unpredictability, curiosity, and openness." Also see his "The Emperor's New Paintings" (Village Voice, April 5th, 2005). Ripping on sensationalist Koons-wanne-be painter Damien Hirtz's exhibition: "Seeing Hirst rehash his old subjects in such pale ways is like listening to Paul McCartney sing Beatles songs in Wings."

  • A.O. Scott: "Where Have All the Howlers Gone?" (New York Times, December 18, 2005)
    An interesting argument that the lack of truly incredibly horrible art is a cause for alarm because that means that too many artists aren't being ambitious enough to risk abject failure. After all, sometimes such risks also pay off in great triumphs.

  • Rachel Sklar: "Jon Stewart Kicks Some ASME" (Fishbowl NY/Mediabistro, September 30, 2005)
    Forget Howard Kurtz--The Daily Show's Jon Stewart is the most astute, incisive media critic around today. And don't forget--he's a fake anchor.

  • David Sterritt: "Memo to Critics: Thou Shalt Not Groupthink" (Christian Science Monitor, January 7, 2005)
    Why do the same items keep showing up on year-end top 10 lists? "What concerns me is that there's so much agreement among reviewers, whose goals ought to include challenging one another's tastes, habits, and assumptions...We often challenge our readers, suggesting that low-grossing movies like Before Sunset and Maria Full of Grace are more worthwhile than lowbrow moneymakers like National Treasure and its ilk. I think we should do the same with our colleagues--following our own lights, disagreeing more often than agreeing, and remembering there's no scientific test to determine 'good' or 'bad' at the movies."

  • Unknown Writer: "'Amateur Culture' Set to Explode" (BBC, July 18, 2005)
    Lawrence Lessig is not just a seer prophet of the techno age, he's an ace term-coiner. Between podcasts and blogs, we now create our own culture and don't need any artists to make it for us. Whether we truly rise to the challenge remains to be seen.

  • Derek Willis: "How Technology is Changing the Way We Report and Write News" (CyberJournalist, October 14, 2005)
    Some novel ways that web writing needs to catch up with the technology that's already there, including inter-newsroom collaboration, smart linking, resource sharing, and other ideas that should become standard at all publications.

  • Steven Winn: "Endings Are a Catharsis. They Give Meaning to What Comes Before, and Change Us From the Way We Were" (San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 2005)
    In story, in song, on stage, on the big and small screen, we crave and expect a conclusion. How well (or not) this is handled can effect the rest of our experience with a work of art.


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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