Random Play by Graham Reid

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Random Play: Nothing, if not critical

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  • Muriel Lockheed,

    Thanks for the that Stephen, have been reading Giovanni Fazio this am, you are right he is entertaining etc. I am delighted upon reading his second review on that link that the wonderful Wong Kar Wai has a new movie out.

    My fave film reviewer is Mark Kermode. A good film review written by someone whose opinion I have learnt to trust will always make me go to films that I otherwise would have been in two minds about.

    Wellywood • Since Nov 2006 • 44 posts Report Reply

  • dubmugga,

    I am a fan of 'if i got nothing nice to say i'll say something nasty' in the hope it's constructive enough to promote growth in the product /artist...

    ...spit it out lest you choke on it

    with hiphop though, you soon get the tag "playahater" or just plain"hater"...

    ...but if someone doesn't tell people how crap you think they are and all they get is the love, they tend to believe the hype such that delusions soon follow

    artists are pretty selective about the feedback they get...

    ...we go on about chopping down tall poppies as if thats a bad thing

    i think it more of a controlled burn off...

    the back of your mind • Since Nov 2006 • 257 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Nice post, thanks.

    As a sometime theatre reviewer and what I suppose was the scoopish equivalent of a section editor, I don't pretend to be in a position to play guru, but I have thought about some of these things.

    I try for reviews written for people who will never see the show - most of the readers, especially so for a web review of NZ theatre as opposed to say film. If you can describe what happened and what the experience was like.

    If that done well, I feel like that's what the crew - at least from an artistic rather than commercial point of view - want from a review too. I've know people to genuinely appreciate criticism as long as it makes sense in terms of what they thought they were doing. And doesn't do that painful thing of suggesting how it should have been different - there are always a million other possibilities, all could be good and bad and in my experience reviewers who do that aren't competent to make the suggestion.

    It's partly my personality - I can't decide if it's a failing or not - but I don't think this really needs the final good/bad kind of call. I'm not a stars person myself. Actually I rememember a brief period where Critic tries to institute star ratings where 3 was average. People became confused and angry.

    Anyway, If people can see what it is and how it was executed, they'll know if they'll like it or not. I prefer to rely on my theatrical experience in choosing appropriate details and describing rather than judging. Not that the opinion doesn't come through anyway, but it puts a paper wall between the 'fact' and the 'opinion'.

    Not that I always achieve something purely like this, or that I always think that would be a good idea - and I'm sure I've even things that I though made me sound cool a time or two - but I think it's a good place to start.

    Sometimes I expect this might make things look more interesting than they are, and I probably do ultimate say something is good easier than I say its bad.

    Dabbling in theatre and reviewing at about the same level in Wellington makes it difficult to aviod people you know. It helps that early on, when I wrote a Critic review of a theatre department (where I studied) production - which was somewhat critical of the whole approach - the guy responsible thanked me at his first opportunity. And again, I can take refuge in description.

    For all I know I may actually have erred as much trying to avoid favoritism - some of the people I know are very good at what they do.

    Another thing I've been lucky to have from some of my music reviewers - especially with the luxurious space available on the web - is education. An expert writing accessibly about a novel performance can leave you knowing more about the whole genre.


    Re the RSC, I don't agree with it but I can guess how it might work. If the paper is not in the habit of paying for the ticket then the reviewer surely want to make more writing the review than it costs to see the show. Unlikely here. And one would no doubt be looking at one's supply of free RSC tickets drying up for at least the near future.

    There's a lot to be said for media paying for stuff they review. I've read a memoir made it clear the Washington Post paid for their food reviewer. But I don't see that happening, for example, here soon. And if you actually are being honest and they'll still give you a ticket, everyone wins.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    Sally Can't Dance is not that good (it's not).

    Jesus, I pop out for a day or two and PA turns to pot. Where are the moderators when needed.

    Seems that its "back to the rain", always.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Scott Common,

    I meet Lou once, many years ago and he was utterly charming, but I watched him three minutes later utterly demolish another poor soul.

    I too have had a similar experience, I just happened to meet him through some friends at a party. I honestly couldn't think of anything to say to him so just ended up with, "so hows being Lou Reed working out for you then?" - which was apparently the right thing to say cause he found it funny and put the conversation on the right foot.

    Unfortunatly a good friend of mine was a bit less luck and eneded up being shredded by the brooding ones wit pretty quickly.

    Sorry not very on the point of critics - but couldn't help singing out that I'd survived a conversation with Lou Reed!

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 62 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Jesus, I pop out for a day or two and PA turns to pot. Where are the moderators when needed.

    I knew when I posted that there would be some mightily offended SCDer. I was, after Craig's post, trying to think of a bad album (with resorting to Metal Machine Music, which I love both for its concept and it's raison d'release) in the Reed catalogue. Live albums aside, there are few, but I guess SCD is to my mind, esp when you consider the albums around it, the slightest.

    I'm having trouble thinking of Lou's Tin Machine.....

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    My other Lou encounter, although it was not a meeting, was in a hotel room at the old Intercontinental.......


    .....it was a press conference circa 1977 and I went with my flatmate, Scavenger Johnny Volume, who owned a nineteen fifty something Les Paul Junior which Lou had sold in Auckland on the Rock'n"Roll Animal tour in 73, for illicit substances. Johnny had owned it for some years, and indeed had photos of it being played in Velvet Underground shows. It had also been used on various Velvets recordings...it was not just any guitar.

    So we went in to get it signed, and merged in with Tony Amos and other Good Guys, mouthing Hauraki. as we went it. John sat quietly in awe during the rather inane conference, waiting his turn. Lou had a guy videoing the whole thing on some large device and there were leads everywhere. At the end John got up and sheepishly moved towards Lou but tripped on the leads, pulling the power out and fell into Lou, who snarled "fuck off arsehole" as John pushed the guitar towards him. John mumbled, for some bizarre reason, "Pablo Picasso was never called an arsehole" and retreated, shamed....

    He dropped the guitar the next year and broke it beyond repair.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Damian Christie,

    I think its important to remember what your mum told you: "If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything". I was happy to remain silent on local musos if they were crap on the basis that I only had a limited amount of column space so why waste it on crap? Better to inform readers of what's good than slagging something...

    I tend to agree. I remember writing a book review for the Listener once, the book was awful and I took great delight in pulling it to bits. I submitted it, and Steve Braunias (who was books editor at the time) said that while it was well written, he wasn't going to run it because he'd rather use the space to recommend good books than slag bad ones.

    I still got paid, so I was happy, and that advice has stuck with me. There is so much dross out there (particularly with books and music, theatre is a bit different), what's the point finding a crap book and saying it's crap? The only exception I could see would be if there was an Emperor's New Clothes element to it, where the product in question was receiving far too much hype.

    One of the traps, I think, is that panning something can make for awfully entertaining reading.

    Yeah, it can, but it's awfully easy to be critical for the sake of it. It seems to me that a lot of younger writers/journos are keen as mustard to put the boot in, perhaps to make themselves feel smarter/better than whatever it is they're reviewing. However one should occasionally indulge oneself, again where the hype justifies it. I think the last time I did it was right here about one of the latest Star Wars releases.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1164 posts Report Reply

  • Damian Christie,

    Oh, and with regard to the RSC reviewers, I read about the critic-ban too, and couldn't for the life of me work out why no-one just said "f*** it" and reviewed it anyway. To draw a long bow, would they do the same if David Cameron said "no reviews of my leadership thanks"?

    And I agree with Lyndon: "I try for reviews written for people who will never see the show".

    One of my favourite reviews in NZ is Diana Wichtel's TV reviews in the Listener. You never have to see the show she's referring to and you'll understand exactly what's going on. The best reviews IMHO are those that are little works of art in themselves.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1164 posts Report Reply

  • Graham Reid,

    I shall weigh back in briefly to pick up a couple of points.

    Simon that was a very generous compliment and I appreciate it. It does raise the question of whether reviewers should implicitly or otherwise be helping sell tickets/CDs etc. I have noticed that younger reviewers/writers quickly fall for being cheerleaders of a genre or an album (remember all the dance music v guitar bands nonsense -- as if you couldn't like both?)
    I think I can honestly say I haven't ever tried to "sell" a record to anyone -- although often I would like that to have been a natural consequence of what has been written (If I liked something why would i not want others to share the discovery? etc)
    Equally however I don't think I have ever said readers should NOT buy an album. i have edited that out of some writer's copy because I genuinly don't think that is part of the critic's contract with their readers/the public etc.
    Someone mentioned putting "I think" into reviews. Nope, if it is under your name then that covers that one and when you have so few words you'll need 'em all.
    In that regard, the review space has shrunk to criminally low levels lately in most magazines/papers. An album in 250 words? Tough call, why back in my day you could do 500 - 600 or a whole 1000 word column about an album if you cared too. By the way Lou's comment was more blunt than that, I think he called Christgau (who has that absurd school repiort thing of A and B+ etc) a "toef*****".
    Stars? They are just a shorthand but I have always believed that if your review is clear then they aren't needed. but the public seems to like them. People only read and remember one-star and five-star reviews. If too much stuff gets three stars that is simply the bell curve at work I guess.
    You can also have fun with them. I savaged a Shania Twain album and gave it two stars but my final line was "a hit probably". (Tragically I was right on all counts: rubbish that went to number one.)
    Tall poppy syndrome? It's bullshit and has been used for as long as I can remember to stifle criticism in this country. Is the alternative to let people who have reached a particularly high threshold get away with nonsense -- or not feel they have to prove themselves anew every time? You are only as good as your last hit single, as they say.
    And paying for tickets? Yes I know the hand-in-glove that operates but it seems to me that if a theatre company or someone wants to say, "there's no freebies" the obvious solution is for the paper or magazine to buy tickets and send the reviewer along anyway, otherwise you are letting "them" dictate the ground rules for a game they aren't playing. (The critic is paid by the newspaper or magazine, not by the theatre company or record company).
    I recall some occasions at the Herald when some theatre group or director tried the embargo thing and we just paid and went about our critical business.
    So that's more grist to be milled . . . now I'm back to listen to more Spinal Tap to remind me of what I like and don't like about metal.
    Humour will out.
    g
    (And yes, I did like All Things Must Pass Simon. Although I trashed the third disc of jamming. Even back then I wasn't keen on those noodling jam sessions. Seems I remember it better than Ringo.)

    auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 45 posts Report Reply

  • Annabel McAleer,

    "Pablo Picasso was never called an arsehole"

    I am very impressed that at the height of his shame Simon's mate was able to quote a lyric from Jonathan Richman's 'Pablo Picasso'.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Simon that was a very generous compliment and I appreciate it. It does raise the question of whether reviewers should implicitly or otherwise be helping sell tickets/CDs etc. I have noticed that younger reviewers/writers quickly fall for being cheerleaders of a genre or an album (remember all the dance music v guitar bands nonsense -- as if you couldn't like both?)

    I don't think that's always a bad thing. The Burchill/Parsons etc raves about punk rock in the NME fired up kids all over the world -- as did a later generation raving about, well, raving -- and when I was at Rip It Up I certainly felt part of what was going on around me. But I think that only works if you're young. Going into fits of literary ecstasy about the latest single doesn't really work if you're anywhere past 30.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    And I agree with Lyndon: "I try for reviews written for people who will never see the show".

    I put it that way as wisdom passed on via a guy who went to a writing-for-students reviewing lecture from David Eggleton.

    The guy, incidentally, wrote game reviews for Critic. An expert and enthusiast who, it seems, now employs 14 people in his development company. I never had a console and I buy about one game a year, but I always read his reviews.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I never had a console and I buy about one game a year, but I always read his reviews.

    I hardly ever buy books featured in the New York Review of Books, but oh my, the reviews themselves make the most gorgeous reading ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Shayne Stuchbery,

    What has been cropping up in this thread again and again is the sort of relationship you can end up having with a critic, good or bad. It was always Grahams elsewhere review I turned to first in the Herald and the rewards were many. I had found a reveiwer who was finding what I was interested in. Good news for me. Good news for who ever Graham found.

    To put a slightly different slant on the whole thing I run a 'fancy' resort with my wife and we have needed reveiwers quite urgently lately. We approach writers and invite them to attend (comped of course) a program at our place and hope to goodness that they like it, because if they find even one negative thing to publish, it will make the decision for the reader- and the reader will go somewhere else. So we are really putting our heads on the chopping block, which means we have to really have a good product and service standard before we invite anyone near the place. See, it is a great way to market, but very risky. (working great guns so far though!)

    The critic putting the fear into the producer makes the production as good as it can be surely?

    That being said I think if I had to choose I would put in my vote for the 'if you have something bad to say, dont say anything' camp.
    Trouble is, where does that leave the over-hyped albums/restuarants/resorts etc etc that may very well need some balance? Its a tough one. The RSC situation is a bit cheeky I reckon. If I was thinking about going to the performance, the ban on critics would likely make me do something else. Ian Mckellan notwithstanding.

    I dunno, maybe give the overhyped a bit of a kick and ignore the rest of the rubbish. Everyone else will.

    BC, Canada • Since Nov 2006 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    Curses, I lack an "when Lou Reed and I" story. I do sometimes credit him on my presentations or reports as I invariably end up immersing myself in his music to get over those procrastination tremors.

    To the critics - it is worth writing about a book when the author is well known, even if you didn't like it. Saved me some $$s on the 2nd Vicram Seth novel. While I am sure many liked it the reviews followed up by a flick through in the library were enough to save me $30.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    The Burchill/Parsons etc raves about punk rock in the NME fired up kids all over the world

    I used to love the dramatic overstatement....Julie Burchill: The only records worth owning are the first three Sex Pistols singles and everything ever released on Tamla Motown
    .......

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Nobody Important,

    and everything ever released on Tamla Motown

    presumably not including ROCKWELL ~ Somebody's Watching Me

    or MICHAEL JACKSON ~ Rockin' Robin

    expat • Since Mar 2007 • 319 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    No, you miss the subtlety in the statement....Tamla Motown was up to about 1977...after that it was just Motown....ie all Motown releases after that date are shite too

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • dubmugga,

    if only they'd managed to hang on to 'the jacksons'...

    ...'destiny', their post motown debut and a precursor to michael's genius 'off the wall' is as outstanding an album from that era as any

    the back of your mind • Since Nov 2006 • 257 posts Report Reply

  • Nobody Important,

    I take your point Simon, but ...

    ;-)

    MICHAEL JACKSON ~ Rockin' Robin was 1974 (I believe) and on Tamla Motown.

    (Damn, and now its stuck in my head) (__tweeedlie dee__)

    expat • Since Mar 2007 • 319 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    NI...Ok fair enough, but quite a bit of the solo (and group) Jacko stuff from that era is pretty damn fantastic. Perhaps Jules had a soft spot for Rockin' Robin...at least it wasn't about a frigging Rat.

    Rob...just to be picky...post Motown debut was The Jacksons on Philadelphia International, produced by the mighty Gamble & Huff, followed by Goin' Places, both mighty fine. Destiny was the third.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Finn Higgins,

    I used to love the dramatic overstatement....Julie Burchill: The only records worth owning are the first three Sex Pistols singles and everything ever released on Tamla Motown

    I love reading that stuff from musicians, but I hate it from critics. For a musician a strong, defined standpoint on music and some passion is a good thing - it informs actually doing something. But criticism? No thanks.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 209 posts Report Reply

  • Nobody Important,

    at least it wasn't about a frigging Rat.

    OMFG - Ben is infinitely better than Rockin' Robin.

    (yikes, I'll stop here - I've just realised what we are arguing over!)
    (reminds of the time I haggled with a Balinese 8y.o. over a dozen postcards - she wanted 50ยข more than I was prepared to pay) (it seemed a lot more in Baht)(or whatever currency it was)

    expat • Since Mar 2007 • 319 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Nah, you gotta listen to the bassline on RR....

    And it's Rupiah...But I know plenty of people who, in their rush to barter have inadvertently increased the price.

    Finn...the thing is, as Russell implied too, these critics in this case were as integral to the punk explosion as any musician was.

    I'm not that not being a musician excludes one from having any passion about music. I don't mind somebody telling me something may well be crap. Viva le critics I say, including the snarly ones.....

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

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