I am an outspoken critic of oh, pretty much everything. Tell me what you like and I will tell you why it sucks. Not in the reasoned, analytical manner of an actual critic, who will calculatedly dismember his prey via incisive commentary and crippling logic, employing obscure comparisons and censorious labeling to dash the hopes and dreams of budding artists or to apply a pneumatic bolt to the skulls of sacred cows, but more in the blunt, blithely confident way of a man secure in the knowledge that his opinions are the only ones that matter. And people love me for it! Well, they respect me for my directness and the strength of my convictions, anyway. Okay, probably some people don't want to kill me, at least not all the time. That's the price one pays for providing a public service though. If someone goes out in public engaging in some kind of blatantly provocative behavior like wearing a U2 t-shirt or reading a Stephen King book, they should probably canvass the area beforehand to ensure that no one of discernment and good sense like myself is afoot and ready to sneer at their ill considered choices.
I do enjoy reading criticism of the formerly described type, well-written, intelligently presented critiques, negative or otherwise, although it's of course more satisfying to see some deserving hack get justifiably lambasted. I once read a piece by Harold Bloom, one of my favorite critics, which actually made me feel sorry Stephen King. He was relentless, he was ruthless, and that man has got some deadly sharp critical tools at his disposal. G.K. Chesterton, he of the Father Murphy mysteries, is another; when not penning amusing tales of the owlish parson, he was a particularly cutting dismantler of other people's efforts to impinge on the literary landscape. This very paper has an excellent critic in David Yearsley, although I'm wondering if he actually likes anything. One must definitely admire the effrontery of going after Elgar and "Pomp and Circumstance" though. When things become so firmly embedded in the bedrock strata of canon that people forget or overlook the fact that they suck, or are irrelevant or hopelessly dated, it takes a bold and forthright hand to rip the gauze shading the collective perception of the world at large and say, See? Not so great.
I personally don't possess the skills, that surgical mastery that makes the effective critic so devastating, but that doesn't mean I am any less positive that only I know what is good and right, and the rest of you don't. It's not your fault, and don't beat yourself up about it; if you have a questions about the relative worth of any sort of creative endeavor, only ask and I'll happily put you on the right road.
I wish that I could tell you (for instance) why The Eagles should be stricken in toto from the record, its members publicly scourged and formally banished, but the best I can do is say: they're the Eagles, for chrissake. Because Don Henley. Because Glenn Freakin' Frey. Because Hotel California.
I can think of at least two instances where my passion for a work made me want to wax critical, one positive, one negative, and both perpetrated by the same person. Liz Phair's debut album, Exile in Guyville, elicited in me such powerful emotion that I wanted to extol to the world its beauty and wonder, but ultimately decided my meager gifts were unequal to its majesty. Then when she followed it up 10 years later with possibly the most egregious sellout in music history, her eponymously title major-labeled slab of shit-flavored pandering schlock, I wanted my disappointment known and documented, but could not find language vicious enough to express my profound and sincere hatred for the abortion she foisted upon the world. To give you an idea of the degree to which this bitch handed in her bona fides, imagine if Phillip Glass decided to get together with Taylor Swift to do an album of Chipmunk covers. Actually, that sounds pretty cool. Think about the Beatles using their classic anti-establishment anthem of proletarian empowerment to sell sneakers. Oh, wait, that really happened.
There is a quote which I've heard variously attributed to different people but which certainly originated from some spoiled, petulant musician lashing out in response to a bad review. "Writing about music," it went, "is like dancing about architecture." I get that he or she is trying, in their whiny, entitled way, to say that the constraints of one artform preclude using it to describe another. In a word, bullshit. My first thought on hearing it was, yeah? So? Dancing about architecture sounds great. So does thinking about opera or quilting about poetry. Degas sculpted about ballet, didn't he? Follow your art in whatever direction it takes you, only just don't be bad. Don't be The Eagles. Don't be Stephen King.
If you've been paying any attention at all, you know that I am a fervent devotee of the altered/augmented reality as engineered by regular and generous chemical infusions into my person. To those of you new to this space, before being locked up five years ago know that I had only a nodding acquaintance with sobriety. I only mention this to explain that depending on the type and amount of intoxicant absorbed, I am at times likely to reach a condition in which the acuteness of my critical faculties develops an inverse relationship to the level of my inhibition and when they reach, respectively, apex and nadir, it's Katie bar the door. What I mean to say is that in this condition I feel quite free to criticize anything or anyone who needs it, and damn the consequences. It's the cross I have to bear for being an anointed arbiter of taste and discernment.
I find myself one fine evening at a bar in downtown Fort Bragg in a condition of convivial brio, holding court in a room with a few close friends. The drink flows freely and the amphetamine in my system lends a galvanic dynamism to my drunkenness. I am an orator as fluid as Cato, a wit and sharp as Wilde, and obnoxious to a Gottfriedian degree.
We are discussing, oh, I don't remember. Let's say Quentin Tarantino whose name and work come up often in my discussions because I love talking about the films of THE GREATEST CINEMATIC AUTEUR OF THE MODERN AGE . (Yes that was a shot. Let me know if it finds its mark.)
The jukebox is on, but it barely registers against my sparkle and glow, that is, until I hear the ominous introductory chords that render my blood frigid, the harbinger telegraphing an upcoming five minutes of excruciating agony. Someone is playing in direct contradiction of acceptable public behavior, in violent opposition to the laws of theology and geometry, Hotel California!
I cease my repartee, stunned into silence by the gaffe. "You know," I say stagily, "a man works hard…" (I don't). "A man works hard every day and he likes to relax and unwind with a few drinks without fear of being assaulted by the absolute worst goddamn song in the history of popular music, am I right? The man can reasonably expect not to have to suffer in consequence of spending good money to drink in a public place, n'est-ce pas?" I looked around the room. "Well," I say, hoisting my glass high, "here's to you, whoever is responsible. I would probably recommend against the consumption of alcohol by someone with your degree of cerebral impairment, but I'm sure you and your keeper know best. Godspeed, and thank you for marring an otherwise pleasant evening."
I sat back down as a fellow on the opposite end of the room raises his glass and nods at me, clearly the culprit and obviously amused by my diatribe. "Dramatic much?" says a woman in my party.
"Ignoring their bad behavior implies tacit approval and I'm not about to let that one slide. Basically, the man's a terrorist, and you know what they say: if you see something, say something."
By and by the song runs it's dreary, dirge-like course and homeostasis is restored. The process of healing begins as we resume our conversation and replenish our beverages and gradually the evening regains its momentum. All is well until I espy, from the corner of my eye, the "gentleman" who I'd earlier fingered as the perpetrator sidling jukebox-wise in his flannel shirt and denim vest. He wouldn't, I thought to myself. He wouldn't dare. Unless — is this man a true varlet? Must needs I engage the rogue in an affair de d'honneur?
He makes a backward glance over his left shoulder in my direction and our eyes briefly lock. His mouth compresses, turning up just slightly, and his eyes narrow. Oh, there is mischief afoot and no mistake. I give a barely perceptible nod, as if to say: it's on.
He stands at the jukebox for several moments, idly tapping the glass as he considers his selections. Mind made, he punches in his choices and looks directly at me as once again that devil's arpeggiated b-minor chord violates the atmosphere causing my face to spasm and tic violently.
Slowly, I rise. This will not stand, I think. It ends here.
The fiend is headed in my direction, making his way toward our booth in an adagio saunter, challenge in his eyes. He stands before me, upper lip curling slightly, and puts his hands on his hips, pushing back the vest to reveal a gun butt. He's strapped! "I played it five times," he says in a breathy, villainous hiss.
One of my friends puts his hand on my shoulder. "Don't do it, man. It's not worth it!"
I shrug him off and narrow my eyes, meeting his challenge. We stand there, silent, motionless, for several minutes as I weigh the value of my life against the heinous crimes of this scoundrel.
All of a sudden the front door opens with a bang and standing there is the most fearsome twosome in the history of Fort Bragg law enforcement: Nick LaFazio and Karen Harris. They scan the room briefly and an innocuous looking young couple at the pool table signals the officers. LaFazio engages them in a whispered confab as Harris walks over and pulls the plug on the jukebox. One of the pool players points in our direction and the officers walk over to us. They brace the flannelated blackguard. "Hands behind your back. You're under arrest," says LaFazio.
"On what charge?" asks the perp.
"Assault with a deadly weapon, reckless endangerment of this entire bar, being an asshole, you name it. You know what you did."
"It will never stick," sneered the chump.
"Shut up," Harris said, clapping him in the back of the head with her Maglite.
They frog-marched the scumbag out the door, LaFazio addressing the barmaid on the way: "If we have to come out here again, I'm removing that goddamn disc myself! That jukebox is not a toy!" And with that they were gone, taking the malefactor with them.
We heaved a huge sigh of relief and high-fived all around. The couple from the pool table came over and said, "Sorry for interfering, but we couldn't just stand by and watch anymore. We had to do something."
"No, no you did the right thing. Thank you. And please allow me to buy you a drink. You've done us all a great service."
One of these nights, one of these crazy old nights, I may just encounter that desperado again, and the next time I may not take it easy on him. I might just take him down Seven Bridges Road and toss him off one of 'em, new kid in town or no. I don't know why.