The Ignoble Prizes: Worst Music Writing of the Year

By Jason Gross

  • Peter Maxwell Davies: "How Pop and Television Damage Our Culture" (The Guardian, April 25, 2005)
    Despite some sage words about how music education would help young people appreciate classical, this is the kind of elitist babble that drives most pre-pensioners away from the music. "In rare circumstances where this (pop) music does give rise to controversy, the lyrics are even more rightwing than our more extreme politicians, inciting racial or sexual violence." Does that mean that pop must be controversial to be good? Or that Randy Newman has incited riots and we need to ban James Brown's "I'm Black and I'm Proud"? A good response to this was Ian Bell's: "Did TV Kill Classical Music? Culture Isn't Dying, We're Just Not Playing By Old Elitist Rules" (Sunday Herald, May 1, 2005).

  • Krystal Glow: "An Intern's Internal Turmoil" (North Adams Transcript, April 22, 2005)
    Shouldn't her editors have just said to her, "There, there, it happens to everyone..." instead of printing this cry-baby tale of rejection? Not surprisingly, an anonymous editor printed the article without telling Glow, and then left the publication. As such, they really deserve this ignoble award instead of her. Glow herself had a thoughtful follow-up to this: "An Intern's Internet Odyssey."

  • Virginia Heffernan: "Look Back in Anger: A Punk History for the Pious" (New York Times, July 9, 2005)
    You'll notice other punk-puncturing articles in this section, also with little insight and primarily concerned with dissing the style. Perhaps it's only fair that since punk once pissed on society that it now pisses back on them.

  • Miles Hoffman: "Music Without Magic" (Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2005)
    He starts off fine, explaining the beauty of European classical music, but loses it when he gets to food metaphors and when he chides the serialists for being too challenging for their audience. Doesn't it occur to him that sometimes great artists stretch conventions? Should we also dismiss James Joyce or David Lynch because their work doesn't always have obvious signposts? The suggestion for a time limit on appreciating a piece is also horrendous, as if we have to stop re-discovering or trying to understand music after a certain point. The real test of his fogey ways is that he dismisses hope for any post-tonal music of greatness and can't name a single present composer who is worthy.

  • Josh Levin: "Rappers and Bloggers--Separated at Birth!" (Slate, February 23, 2005)
    Sure thing--all rappers wear gold chains, swear and roll around with their posses...Guess that includes Will Smith, the Anticon crew, the Coup, etc. right? Will we also see an article about how bloggers are like country musicians? How they're all uncouth, unwashed, loudmouths who aren't real writers?

  • Stephen Metcalf: "Debunking Punk--What the Clash Meant to Rock 'n' Roll" (Slate, February 22, 2005)
    How punk it is to say that the Clash weren't punk. Recycling England's Dreaming's sharp class analysis and ignoring the band's early output, this is one of those shocking-for-the-sake-of-being-shocking pieces. Just like the worst punk.

  • Andrew O'Hagan: "Noisy Public Displays of Compassion" (Telegraph, July 18, 2005)
    Granted that Bob Geldof sports a huge ego to go with his humanitarian impulses and most people who attend Live 8 will forget about the cause once the music ends but is the solution instead that we should all experience suffering in private?

  • Tom Scanlon: "Pushy Publicists Are Easy Prey for Teasing" (Seattle Times, June 10, 2005)
    How sad that a writer has to stoop to snarking on publicists for a byline. It's easy to spit on an article like this but as Triumph the Insult Dog once said about the press, "Making fun of them is like booing at the Special Olympics."

  • Josh Tyrangiel: "5 Great Albums With Foreign Accents" (Time, March 21, 2005)
    A primer for xenophobes. "The problem with world music is that it's usually impossible to understand the lyrics (although that hasn't kept Lil Jon from having a successful career). But if you want to enjoy one upside of the global economy, here are five albums by international women with something to say--in English, but with distinctive pronunciation." As Eldridge Cleaver would say, it's mighty white of him to be so generous to the poor, unenlightened folks.

  • Weasel Walter: "White cannibals--Get It Right: Don't Call Today's Dance-Punk Bottom Feeders 'No Wave.'" (San Francisco Bay Guardian, April 20, 2005)
    Justin Hopper: "I've never before seen such an astute and concise piece on why people fucking hate music writers. 1,000 words on why "you" are using the wrong words when you're talking about the bands you talk about. Don't get me wrong, it's fun to riff on the music you dig for a while, but how this fella got up enough bile to rant like that--then again, I s'pose there are people who can only discuss something in vehement-argument form."

  • David Yaffe: "The Last Temptation of Dylan" (Slate, September 23, 2005)
    Other than his botching of some of the facts, it's obvious that this college prof has an axe to grind and that Slate was only too happy to let him knock down an icon and throw some mud at PBS and Martin Scorsese while he was at it. Doesn't exactly make you want to read Yaffe's upcoming jazz book. Wonder how much bile and how many errors will be in there?

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  - 

Choose a Section


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