One of the most paradigm-snapping effects of the web has been its effect on the complex relationships between artists, critics, and the broader audience. Music fans were some of the first people to hop online; I remember running across a fansite for Thin Lizzy as early as 1994, and a John Hiatt one, too, if I remember right. (Another site I can think of has been continuously online since 1994, making it one of the longest-running fansites on the web, ahem ahem.)
Not long after that, Amazon came around, and anybody could share their opinion on a book or an album - including the artist, in a now-redacted feature whose link-text read: "I am the artist, and I wish to comment on my recording."
This confused me then and confuses me now, because I don't understand why an artist would want to comment publicly on his work. Perhaps if there had been some vast and potentially damaging misunderstanding of a key plot point, one might wish to steer the conversation toward that area during interviews. Perhaps one might write and publish an essay dispelling some myths. But to post or publish online, spur-of-the-moment paragraphs - potentially in response to the reviews of fans, or, worse, casually interested people posting to threads on an online music 'zine? It seemed, and seems, rather crass. If your work is worth a damn, then it can survive a little criticism. It can even survive a lot.
The only thing that will tar it, in fact, is your insistence on trying to frame and reframe the debate in the terms of your choosing. "It is idle to reply to critics," wrote John Berryman in his introduction to His Toy, His Dream, His Rest: 308 Dream Songs. He was right, and he was using the word "idle" in its most damning sense. A letter to the editor correcting a misquoted lyric? Sure, fine; there's an elegant and classy way of going about that, even if the review were a scathing one: "While not wanting to appear bitter over a review that takes me to task for failings great and small, I would be a poor steward of my craft if I didn't point out that I never wrote 'This will be a very strong whore.' The line in question runs: 'This will be a very long war.' In the future I will refrain from entering the vocal booth until I have completely digested my dinner," say. Something along those lines.
But such is the nature of the web, and the perennial need of artists to know what others are saying about them, that things have come to this: artists posting bitchy retorts to critics in the 'comments' section of the very site where the review was published. It is a weakness of the medium, I guess. If a print publication runs a bad review, you'll have to write, sign, seal, stamp & deliver your wounded reply; there are numerous points along that continuum where you might stop and see how silly it's going to make you look to follow through on your desire (completely understandable, of course) to guard your own honor. And somewhere within that process, if you're smart, you'll realize that the best way to preserve your honor is to keep your mouth shut and let others share their opinions of your work. They don't like it? They hate it, and want to say so publicly? Well! Welcome to public life! If you don't like it, there are plenty of dishwashing jobs available! If you're all that angry, arrange for your label not to send them promos in the future. But pissing matches with the guy who wrote the review? Ones in which, God save us all, the dreaded "that's only your opinion!" last-gasp-of-a-defense card is played? Can we just not, please? Can we be a little more grown-up about things?
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