Death to rock critics

What the digital age means to the jaded middlemen of the music biz.

IF YOU'RE AS smart as I am, then you know that the days of music critics are almost over. The columns of acrid opinions, slanted attacks, personal prejudices, and, oh yes, the blind devotion to regional bands and labels regardless of whether or not they blow dead goats—these pointless musings are on their way out. No, there isn't a one-way junket to a death camp or a new warhead that seeks out bitter husks of humanity. It's that thing that you can't get away from, that monolithic, lumbering baby that can't keep from putting everything in its mouth—the Internet.

Wait! Don't leave! I know. I hate it too. I hate the Internet. It's absolute crap. It's the case against free speech, human enlightenment, our evolution as a species, and hope for the future all rolled into one. The Internet has made porno boring, elevated jokes about poop to national notoriety, given my mom a free way to harass me about going back to school, and made drunken 3am CD shopping embarrassingly easy. It's a hopeless beast composed of tepid filth, lies, and idiocy, and is utterly useless except for one thing: free music.

I suppose I should unclamp my bite from the big dorky hand of the Web. It does feed me, after all. Every morning while half of Seattle is crawling through traffic in clean little cars, I'm crawling across my living room in dirty little boxers, fumbling for the "on" switch for my battered old computer, and powering the DSL modem even before coffee or a shower to make it at least appear I'm trying to telecommute on time. Yes, although there has been no Fox News special on me, I am a telecommuter, which means I sit around in front of a computer with a high-speed connection and try to show my sundry of walking bosses, uh, I mean "clients," that I'm worth the paychecks that might eventually end up in my mailbox. I work for people who've never seen my face. I can wear the same shirt every day, eat a six-pack of Black Label for lunch, listen to the same Blitz song 15 times in a row at full volume, and go out seven nights a week. All the benefits of being unemployed and none of the starvation.

"But Mark," you say through your rotten teeth. "What about the free music? Where does that come from?" Well, I'm getting to that. Every morning as I sort through the hundreds of trash e-mails with enticing subject lines like "Meet Women Now" and "Become Rich Instantly," I find one or two notes from people I know. And since I am an American male cursed to never bond with another man over anything meaningful, the notes usually involve music. Everyone knows how annoying it is for someone to say, "Have you heard the new Fecal Witch? Man, it's soooo good," the same thing they said about the Death Folks 19-disc box set that's cluttering your precious shelf space with its suckiness.

But when that same dork friend sends you an e-mail saying "I put two MP3s from that new Fecal Witch on my site. Let me know what you think," you pull it up in your browser, click on the song, and get about halfway through it before going "Yuck! This sounds like Sleater-Kinney!" and dragging it to the very appropriate trash icon on your desktop.

Instant access to MP3s is the best thing to happen to music since home-recorded cassettes started filling glove boxes and ashtrays in cars worldwide. Not only are you able to actually prove that the latest CD you stumbled upon is good, you're able to sort through the shit you would normally buy, take home, and develop intestinal cramps over because you just spent $13.99 on an album that sounds like Simply Red remixes.

Not only can you and your retarded little buddies trade MP3s back and forth, enough music from strangers is out there to keep you from ever needing to buy another CD again. Going to a site like scour.net or palavista.com will hook you up with whatever random song you've been singing in the shower that does not quite justify the purchase of the eight piles of shit that surround it on the album (Asia's "Only Time Will Tell" being this morning's example). Or some band you keep hearing about and want to check out. It's probably out there.

"BUT MARK," YOU SAY, tugging at the stylish blonde rat tail that accentuates your thick yet supple neck, "isn't this akin to stealing? Aren't we going to put these labels and musicians out of business?" I hope so. I'm not interested in any band that manages to make a profit. If that many people like them, they're doing something wrong. How many bands get better after they get huge? But my completely correct opinion aside, if a band is good, then trading MP3s is good for them, because more people will give them a listen, pick up a CD at the store, or see them when they roll into town on a rainy Tuesday night. If the band sucks, well, then everyone should know for free. And, as distribution of records goes digital, costs go way down and labels will have to rethink their roles. The little operations will thrive, while the painfully slow gears of huge record company bureaucracies will finally (hopefully) chew them up. Then again, I could be huffing a six-pack of dongs.

"But Mark," you continue, picking your nose with your thumb and rolling the booger between your fingers, skillfully flicking it against your signed photo of Rush Limbaugh on your grass paper wall, "how will this rid us of the plague of music critics?" Think about it. Music ain't meant to be written about, it's meant to be listened to, and as soon as it hits the ears of someone besides yourself, it becomes twisted and corrupted. The music critic now serves the purpose of sorting though hundreds of releases, finding the best ones, exposing the worst ones, and pointing you through the fields of shite so you don't blow your money or let a good one slip away. As digital distribution downplays the importance of the record label for manufacturing, and as distribution networks fall into piles of dust, it removes the critic as the middleman. Why on earth would you listen to me blab about the latest slab of hot plastic when you could listen to it yourself a week before my words are printed?

Oh sure, different Web sites will have "suggested listening," but hopefully no more than a few lines of text will accompany the link. And thus, writers like me will become more marginalized, more bitter (is it possible?), and more cynical as one of the few things we can do is taken away from us. Oh sure, we can probably keep up the scribbled death spasms for a few years, piling metaphors onto mediocrity in our dingy little offices. We can make little pathetic attacks from our Web sites (blindwino.com, plug plug) and heckle bands at shows with our dying wheezes; but as they carry our corpses through the swinging doors of the club, I daresay there will be more high-fives than tears.

 
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