by TOM HALLETT
Howdy, music addicts—welcome to another installment of Round The Dial. This week, we’re gonna take a brief detour from the business of reviewing CDs (don’t worry, I’ll be back with a shitload of killer stuff next week—I’ll be checkin’ out brand new ones from The Black Keys, Ween, classic Bad Brains on video and some local treats, with lots more to come in the next month or so) and answer some questions about the ’Dial itself.
As you might imagine, with this column available on the web, I frequently receive letters, notes, threats and other various and sundry queries, questions and comments via e-mail. Bein’ as I have a free morning on my hands here, and I’ve recently gotten a few more e-mails regarding the column (most of ‘em good, which is always nice, but I sort of enjoy sparring in print from time to time), I thought this might be as good a time as any to address said missives. Hang on to your wigs, crank up the tunes, and read on ...
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Things sure have changed since we got kicked out
of high school." – Johnny Ramone
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Around the Dial” – The Kinks
DE-CONSTRUCTING THE ‘DIAL:
than print a whole passel of letters (some of which ramble on nearly as long
as yours truly does), I decided to bundle up the most pertinent of ’em
into general “Q-n-As.” Here are the results:
Q: How does one become a music critic, and how did you get into it?
A: Some people ask this question with an almost palpable sense of incredulity.
Since I could give a rat’s ass what these snooty ankle-biters think, I
tend to find that reaction quite hilarious and will usually attempt to irritate,
piss off or generally offend them even further. Others are genuinely curious
and ask advice about getting into the “biz.” Let me acknowledge
both camps here—first of all, I’d never willingly call myself a
“Music Critic.” Most folks who do refer to themselves as such are
the kind of people I try to avoid at all costs—both socially and print-wise.
Nope, there’s really no big secret or mystery to it, kiddies. Just about
anyone who likes music and can listen, read and write can be a critic. Don’t
let the shit-heels at corporate rags try to convince you otherwise—nobody
needs four years of deep study at a university to convey their opinions about
an album. Me, I just walked in off the street into the Minneapolis offices of
a now-defunct local ’zine (The Squealer) and told ’em I wrote about
rock n’ roll. Next thing ya know, I’m hangin’ out at Pachyderm
Studios in Cannon Falls watching Tommy Stinson and Perfect record the album
When Squirrels Play Chicken. Some folks are a bit taken aback by my writing
style, such as it is, but I’ve never given a good goddamn what people
think anyway—why start now? Frankly, as a fan, I myself was tired of trying
to muddle through insulting, smug, snide record reviews written by pseudo-intellectual
dorks—it’s an album, and your job is to let people know if they
should buy it or not, not to impress them with your stodgy command of the English
language. In other words, don’t use a fucking $20 word to describe a two-bit
Q: I’ve heard that there are some cool perks in the music writing biz.
Is that true?
A: Sure, there are some sweet bennies that come with this job, but my
first advice to anybody planning a career as a critic of any kind would be to
study something else as well, because chances are they’ll need a day job.
Simply put, the pay stinks. Also, by figuratively hanging your bare ass out
the window of a moving car when you print your opinions you’ll be opening
yourself up to just as many downers that come along with the biz—lunatics
who worship dead ’80s pop stars, stalkers, bunny-boilers, grifters, hangers-on,
and, of course, the artists you’re sizing up and judging. Diggit—some
of ‘em ain’t exactly thrilled when ya deep six the album they just
spent nine months recording.
On the other hand, I’ve met and partied with people whose albums I used
to buy when I was in high school or college, discovered and helped to promote
artists that are now popular worldwide, learned more about the inner workings
of writing, recording and performing music than I ever thought possible, and
been privy to backstage and after-hours hijinks so wild and debauched I’d
have to wait until at least 20 local musicians die of old age before I’d
dare to print ‘em. Gotta have a little honor between rockers an’
writers, ya know?
I’ve taken road trips with pilled-out, sexed-up, booze-addled indie bands,
worked in a recording studio for two years and cut my own EP, and held the late
Kurt Cobain’s little girl on my knee. In between it all, I’ve survived
on cheap hooch, discount cigarettes and Ramen noodles, slept on blow up mattresses,
couches and in the back seats of cars just to keep the frost offa my toes, and
came damn close to being consumed entirely by the whole tawdry affair; all because
I’m hopelessly addicted to this drug called rock. The bottom line is,
you gotta really, really, really love music to the point of lunacy to stick
with this gig. I’ve been penning this here column for 348 weeks or so—no
question I’m a lost fucking cause. At least I’ll go to hell in a
handbasket with a kick-ass soundtrack playin’ in my head.
Q: How did you come up with the title of your column and what does it mean?
A: Just take a look at this edition’s “Song Of The Week.”
I named the column in honor of the classic Kinks tune, which is all about what
Tom Petty more recently referred to as “The Last DJ.” Listen to
the Kinks song—you’ll suss my motives in no time. Even if you don’t,
it’s a tune you should know.
Q: What are your criteria for reviewing an album, and why do you print so
many positive reviews?
A: That one’s easy. Generally, I try to give just about everything
that crosses my desk a spin—the only real exceptions being already over-exposed
national or international releases and material I know up front that I either
don’t like (opera, modern Nashville hoo-ha, dance, modern R&B, gangsta
rap, and Britney/Christina/boy-band-type radio fodder) or know enough about
to speak with any kind of authority on. As for why I tend to print mostly decent
or glowing reviews, that’s simple enough as well. My primary focus here
is to expose great new music, especially great new local music. Though there
are several other sources in town (check the ’zine rack at your local
record shops, restaurant or watering hole) that pay special attention to hometown
releases, there’s no doubt that the musical talent pool in the Twin Cities
is much larger and more eclectic than any one weekly—or even daily—publication
could possibly hope to cover with any fairness. If I get a crappy local album
in the mail and it doesn’t look as if the perpetrators of said poo are
going to be any threat to local stages or music lovers, I’ll usually just
pass over it and let the wankers die a peaceful artistic death all on their
On the other hand, if a local or national act is on the receiving end of what
I perceive to be undeserved fawning and coddling (locally, it’s generally
because certain writers seem to only spare positive ink for “trendy,”
fashionable, or—let’s face it—“cute” artists),
I’ll dig in and give ’em a good sound thrashing right here on these
pages. Sometimes it’s really fun to take the piss with some stuck-up,
self-absorbed, narrow-minded dick-nail and expose them ole emperor’s new
clothes. God, I’m such a social fucking deviant. And it’s FUN!
Q: I’ve noticed you sometimes take a stand on political and social issues
in your column. I thought this was a music column!
A: Wow. You’re right! This is a music column! But guess what? If
you live in the real modern world and have a platform such as this newspaper,
where you can help to expose liars, fascists, fakes, phonies and tyrants, you’d
be just as bad as they are to NOT use the space to comment on such things. I’m
neither Democrat nor Republican, but I won’t sit idly by and watch the
travesties the current administration and its acolytes are perpetrating without
speaking up. So yeah, I make it clear I think Bush, Cheney and the whole good
ole boys gang SUCK ASS!! And before you start razzing me, yes I voted, so I
have every right to bitch. The only thing I hate more than politics are politicians—fucking
lazy windbags who fart through silk shorts while most people are starving and
on the brink of homelessness—ugh! I say put ‘em all on an island
with nothing but a case of rotgut whiskey and Paris Hilton’s debut album—if
they don’t kill each other, they’ll kill themselves. Good fucking
Q: I sent you a CD and press kit to the Pulse offices, and you haven’t
reviewed it as yet. What’s up?
A: If you send me mail at the Pulse offices, I might not ever get it.
I’m a freelance writer, and as such, haven’t physically set foot
in the office since around the turn of the century (yes, this century, smart-ass).
If I did receive your album and thought it sucked, I might have just ignored
it or sold it in a used record shop for cigarette and beer money. If you want
to be sure, drop me a line at the e-mail addy below. If you want me to directly
receive your album in a timely fashion, do the same and I’ll reply with
a mailing address for ya.
Q: Why do you have a “Quote Of The Week” and a “Song Of
A: I only started the Quote/Song of the Week deal a few years back. Mostly,
I just do it for the hell of it. There are weeks, however, when the quote might
tie into the rant/rave/reviews I print that time out. One thing I want to make
completely clear here (as several people have either posted online or sent me
e-mails on the subject) is that the “Song Of The Week” has absolutely
nothing to do with what’s popular, fashionable, hip, hot, cool, “in”
or “it.” I fucking hate all of that phony, posturing bullshit and
if you’re one of those people it’d be no skin off my nose if you
never read my column again. You suck, and I don’t need any new friends,
so fuck off. I print the “Song Of The Week” feature because that’s
the song I’ve listened to and enjoyed the most in that seven-day period.
I also do it because I’m hoping it will educate and inform or entertain
and amuse those readers who actually love music, not trends.
So no, The Band may not be all the rage in moronic modern-day discos or dance
clubs (which I’m certain must be as close to the gates of Hell you can
find), where $10 drinks lead to $100 hangovers, the men have greased-back hair
and sport khaki Dockers and itchy cell-phone fingers and the women all look
like they’ve just stuck their big fat rubbery lips inside a hornet’s
nest, but they made some damn fine music and rather than scoffing at it you
should try giving one of their albums a spin and see why Bob fucking Dylan loved
them so much. Shit, Dylan’s over 60 and still making great albums. What
are you doing—or not, as the case may be—that you have time to sit
around and complain about my Song Of The Week, ya rubber-necked little fart-sniffer?
Well, there ya go—most of the issues I’ve recently received mail
about are addressed above—if yours isn’t there, it’s probably
because your question or comment was so idiotic I couldn’t even make fun
of it. Seriously, though, I do try to answer any and all mail I receive, even
the negative jabs, so keep ’em comin’ and thanks a million for reading.
Knowing there are kindred music nuts out there who share my enthusiasm and love
for the art form makes this job more worthwhile than any of the perks I’ve
ever gotten because of it. No bullshit. OK, enough with the sentimental slop—I
heard some ‘shroomed-out hippies are burning an effigy on the beach tonight,
and I’m gonna be there when the campfire sparks set some stoned duffer’s
thinning gray locks alight. Whoo hoo!
That’s it for this week, folks. Tune in again, same pages, same time in
seven days. Until then, make yer own damn news.
If you have local music info/gigs/CDs you’d like to see mentioned in
this column, send replies to: Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com.