Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Critical Ass

One of the benefits of writing a blog, as opposed to writing a newspaper column, is that if you have nothing to say, there’s no editor yelling at you about deadlines or column-inches. If you’ve got nothing to say, you just don’t post. Newspaper columnists have to stare down that blank computer screen and put something together, even without inspiration.

Maybe we could be generous and assume that’s what happened with Philip Martin’s Critical Mass column in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But Martin’s famous in these parts for his pretentious bombast, and this column, a critique of Steve Earle’s new album Washington Square Serenade, reaches new lows for inflated bullshit.

Martin begins by telling us how stupid we are for trying to figure out who the greatest American songwriter is—then spends two interminable paragraphs discussing exactly that (he actually mentions Kanye West and Jerome Kern in the same breath). Of course he mentions a couple of people that you’ve never heard of (okay, maybe you’ve heard of Dan Bern, the greatest American songwriter, but I had to read his tiny little Wikipedia entry to find out who he is).

Then he spends the rest of the review telling us how much he really likes Steve Earle, even though Earle’s a jerk, and how you couldn’t blame him for being an ass at that one show that one time, and how he likes this album, even though it’s really just a throwaway, a space-filler that Earle slapped together so he could cash a paycheck. Obviously, Earle’s too happy to produce an album with just the right amount of artist-y angst to make it really worth a listen, as far as Martin is concerned.

The worst part of the review is Martin’s attack on Earle for writing about being in New York, when he hasn’t been living there long. Martin writes, without a hint of irony:
Frankly, Steve, I’m kind of glad the Bowery is now Nolita, because I’ve been on the Bowery when it was the Bowery. While I’ll agree with the implication that its a shame that CBGB had to go, an electro-gilded talking blues about how the city just ain’t what it used to be seems a little awkward coming from a newly arrived Nashville Cat. Just sayin ’ it doesn’t seem all that well thought out.
Hey, Philip! You forgot! You write for the ARKANSAS FUCKING DEMOCRAT! You know—the second-best newspaper in a one-paper town? How can you write for the same newspaper as Wally Hall and still look like the biggest boob on the staff? How can you badmouth Earle for playing the New Yorker while he’s in New York, while you’re doing the same damn thing from your couch in Little Rock?

At one point, Martin writes, “I like Steve Earle, even though I think he’s always secretly campaigning to be well thought of by a certain type of New York intellectual, the kind who listens to Huddie Leadbetter and The Pogues.” Are you certain, there, Phil? Maybe he’s trying to trying to attract those Little Rock intellectuals who listen to Dan Olney and Jay-Z. Or maybe not.

For the record--Washington Square Serenade is not Steve Earle’s best work. That’d be Trancendental Blues. But it’s still an excellent album. See, Philip? How hard was that?


PM said...


PM said...

"Insufferable asshole" seems pretty ad hominen to me.

Archaeopteryx said...

You're right. Uncalled for, too. It's deleted.

PM said...

No problem. And thanks. Dissent anytime.