Tell Me What You See

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  1. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Devon, et al,

    Love the pictures, very arresting when you double click and they spill out all over the screen.

    Not sure where to put other comments but why not here.

    My life has become absurdly filled over the last decade or so. That’ll happen when you grow up and get married and have kids and a job and friends and brothers and, and, Rock n Roll. Still, as I like to say, everyone gets what they want (Well, I siphoned that line from Apocalypse Now but that’s another story).

    From reading your brilliant Magic Circles book I deduced that I’m either a year, or two years, older than you, approximately the same age for all intent and purposes, which made your Beatle book all the more arresting to me. There’s someone out there looking at this hurricane from the approximate same vantage point. Of course I was a little east of you, in Chicago, and can we ever really have the “same” vantage point on anything? No, still….

    So as I’ve slowly unpeeled the Bulldog Blog (How can you even inject the word Dull? Never. An attempt at unpretentiousness maybe? As a Beatle fan, you learn the fine art of going for the absolute pinnacle, the brass m-f-ing ring and yet doing so while navigating blithely past that annoying pothole), I saw the name Dave Marsh.

    That jagbag. Of course, I only felt that way when he liquidated one of my favorite acts. The rest of the time I marvelled at the sheer ORGANIZATION of The Rolling Stone record guide, which he basically willed into being. Before that book the Rock n Roll and popular music world was a hopeless jumble of product stuffed into bins at my favorite record store (remember those?). But they never had all the albums and they certainly weren’t ordered by release date. It’s absolutely mind blowing when I think about the complete compendium of Beatle product at the hands of my kids in our house when in comparison, I did not have a complete set of Beatle records until I was 30! Jeez.

    Anyway, there it all was, by release date, rated (Oh how I loved seeing those five stars next to my favorite picks), and with brief commentary to help put it in perspective. Wow, did that book explode my record collection. That’s when things really got out of hand.

    But of course, Dave Marsh was flawed and limited. I knew that even at the time. His complete dismissal of, say, The Doors, was simply too odd to look over. What could you do? You worked around it.

    One day I was bemoaning all this to one of my rock and roller friends and he said, “You’ve got to read Christgau.” So I did. More great stuff, more interesting insight. Certainly not as organized and as complete as Marsh but cool nontheless. Of course, reading Christgau was basically like reading Marsh but with the guys he liked or didn’t like. What to do when they simply didn’t get an act that you did get? Well, you bucked up your argument and learned to hold yourself in the pit when bullrushed.

    Later I found All Music Guide and I finally realized that this was how you do it. It wasn’t that I necessarily agreed with everything they wrote, I didn’t, but their “philosophy” around critical commentary was so much more obviously the way to do it. What they did was have fans of the artist do the reviews. Not “fans” like some goofy internet poster (cough), but a critic that was generally a “fan” of the music. They didn’t do this for all artists of course, but what do you do when, say, you love the Beatles and Sex Pistols and yet think Deep Purple and Metallica are bombastic crap? That’s a problem when those artists are selling millions of albums and have legions of fans. You can’t just say, “Screw them. They’re all idiots!” Well, you can, but the point is that by having someone that “got” the band, they gave context within the context. “Oh, yeah Deep Purple is great but this album of theirs was better than that,” etc. That was the way to do it and the more I thought about it, that approach put the dagger right into the ass of Mr. Marsh. For all Marsh’s railing against “pretension,” what AMG showed was that, uh oh, it was Marsh all along. He was the pretentious one!!! How pious that THESE acts are okay, but THESE aren’t. So decreed by me, Mr. Marsh.

    Ah, we learn. It still doesn’t change the importance of that book, nor does it undermine his commentary when he was on a roll. We go on. Thanks for bringing Mr. Marsh back. Hadn’t thought of him in awhile. I’ll have to reach up to my books above me and revisit the Rolling Stone record guide. I haven’t looked at it, man, must be 10 years gone by.

    Tom B

  2. Tom,

    I agree with what you say about “the context within the context,” and that bands should be reviewed by people A) who can write, and B) who are operating from a position of sympathy for their subject. It’s not a compromise of ethics or anything else if a critic is bound to give his or her faves the benefit of the doubt (something to keep in mind with each gusher of praise that greets the new Dylan product, however soft or marginal).

    Marsh did do a heroic job on the first Record Guide, and even more so on the second, where he did more of the writing. But he did more of the writing on the second because he threw out a number of major entries, written by others, that he thought rated certain artists too highly. The 1st edition Doors entry, fr’inst, was written I believe by John Swenson, who loved them to distraction; in the second ed., Marsh redid the canon himself, downgrading everything 2-3 stars so they didn’t have single essential LP left! I’m no Door knob, but even I would not want to be without the first album, LA Woman, and a solid greatest hits! Marsh did the same with, as I recall, Elton John; Elvis Costello; Lou Reed; and Neil Young.

    A problem I started having with Marsh is that he often has undisclosed grudges against the people he knocks. Check out Jimmy McDonough’s biography of Neil Young for some choice Marsh quotes regarding Young’s support of Reagan in his first term. Not that Marsh is wrong (peacenik Neil said some unbelievably coarse, even depraved things in the early ’80s about people with AIDS). But if he has an instinctive and ideological hatred of an artist, he should not rewrite the man’s corpus in the RSRG2, downgrading even Tonight’s the Night to four stars (I could be wrong, don’t have the book right here), and let the result stand as an objective call.

    But then Marsh shows up in ’95 joshing and riffing with Neil over a set of lyrics ( And then in 2002 knocking NY for his support of the Patriot Act ( Maybe these angers are forgotten more quickly in rock ‘n’ roll inner circles than we guess. Maybe Young is more of a dillweed than I thought …

    Speaking as a critic who has never become friends with a rock star (or had the chance), I think it’s best for the two camps to maintain a respectful, skeptical distance, not circle-jerk each other at the R&R Hall of Fame inductions.

    Anyway, not to make this a Marsh mash … or a Neil peel. Thanks for your response … dig the slowness … whuuu … ??

    Devin (with an “i”)

  3. Avatar Wolynski wrote:

    Great blog. Can never get enough of the Beatles. I lived at 40 Abbey Road.

    I used to peruse Rolling Stone record guide like mad, but the online Allmusic guide is the best. And, yes, all reviews, not just music ones, should be written by people who liked it.

  4. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Dave Marsh did give Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young five stars. He did, however, rip Young every chance he could. Marsh has always been at his worst when he has an agenda. His review of the Doors was so unprofessional that it was absolutely worthless. The first review was done by Billy Altman who was not objective enough to give a review of the Doors.

    His pro-agenda is even more annoying. I am a big Springsteen admirer but Marsh had no business doing his review as he is completely biased and became personal friends with Springsteen. His wife also worked for him. His reviews of Jackson Browne and Bob Seger have also not stood the test of time. Does anyone think that The Distance by Bob Seger is a classic album like Marsh said it was in 1983. Does anyone think that Lawyers in Love by Jackson Browne is one of the great singles of all time? Both are buddies of Marsh.

    I thought, however, that when Marsh did not have an agenda he could be quite perceptive and insightful. For me, his review of Lou Reed’s solo career was excellent. While I did not completely agree with his review of Elton John, for example, I thought it was well thought out and reasoned.

    As to the All-Music Guide, I like it for its completeness. I think, however, that its ratings scale on albums is meaningless because they tend to give most albums a higher rating than it should.

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