I wasn’t sure I wanted to blog about this topic as it was sparked by Gene Simmons’ latest stunt to trademark the devil horn gesture, as I feel my response somehow dignifies his actions. At the same time I feel his actions, intentional or not, are something of a reflection of the current state of music. We saw this with the burning of millions of dollars worth of punk memorabilia with much of the same response from me. The publicity stunts provoke some thoughts as whether we’re placing our value in the right aspects of music.
While the case of the punk memorabilia was mostly about the commercialization of a counter culture that ironically stands against such ideas metal has veered more towards one of the other issues, namely with social stratification. Where in punk there’s need to be more punk than everyone else in metal there’s a need to be more metal than others. The ordinary metalhead manifests this with various elitism, but it ultimately boils down to being the first one to do it. Whether it’s the first to become a Children of Bodom fan or the first to hate Dragonforce being a “true” metalhead is about setting the trend or being part of the right trend. These comments aren’t new and can be found in any culture.
So what does this have to do with trademarking the devil horn gesture? One of the toughest things about art is making it relevant. When the art can’t be relevant I’ve noticed an artist will try to be relevant in other ways. The best ways to do this are through shock value or appealing to nostalgia. Gene Simmons is notorious for trying to be “the first” of things, and in this aspect tries to appeal to nostalgia. I suspect in this way he wants to ensure his music was / is relevant. Trying to trademark something closely tied to a community not only appeals to the shock value aspect but also to the sense of nostalgia by trying to cement his place in metal history.
While Gene Simmons did withdraw his trademark application (like we knew he would) the implications will live on. I’d say it has damaged his career, but this stunt will be forgotten until the next one occurs. The stunts will keep happening as long as the focus will be more on the image of music and less about creating music that meaningfully contributes. How to determine what is meaningful to a community, however, is another matter.
I know, I know. I should put up reviews or something if I’m truly back as a music critic. There was something I wanted to address as a critic, but never thought it was appropriate until now. Looking at Twitter I saw the twitterverse up in a tizzy about Kevin Smith’s latest remarks about film criticism at Comic Con.
I’m honestly confused why people are upset given his disdain of critics. Then again, I know people will be upset with what I have to say…
I agree with Kevin Smith.
I agree that even in music every piece of work has a place. I may not like it, but that’s not the point. The point I see as a critic is twofold: help artists gain a perspective about their work as an observer (let me have my god complex on this one, ok?) and gain perspective for the critic’s own work. That’s part of the reason I stress that I performed and studied various art forms. It’s not some equivalent of the the fake nerd seeking attention, it’s not just some establishment of my credibility, it’s to show I’m doing this too. When I was still working on my degree in Dance I applied not only what I learned from theatre and music and writing, but I learned why certain theories or ideas took precedence and weren’t deviated. I took that experience and applied it to my own work. Even though I didn’t finish that degree I still choreograph for myself. It’s part of the process for me.
I really think that’s why most critics got in a tizzy about what Kevin Smith said. It’s that idea that many critics don’t actually practice what they criticize. I don’t know how true it is, I haven’t bothered to look into it. In this age where it isn’t hard to comment on anything as long as there’s internet access and appear authoritative. I know people argue that critics are part of the PR for films, but I feel that sentiment is obsolete thanks to the internet. A professional critic is no longer necessary when a random guy can give a review of practically anything.
I think also they get angry because he feels they should pay to see films they criticize. I also agree with paying your way as a critic, because honestly I love music. I would probably pay to see these bands perform anyway. I don’t like people asking my opinion about something as a music critic outside of my blog. Giving me “special treatment” beyond those parameters gets sticky for me. There’s also the appeal to my human nature that since I’m getting this special treatment I’m obligated to give a good review. It also draws attention away from me when I pay, because the rare moments where I got “special treatment” made me uncomfortable. I don’t like people stroking my ego for a good review. I don’t like that bias because I want to give as objective and honest of a review as possible. It’s that type of practice that led to many a hiatus (I still attended concerts during those times too). I’d rather pay up front, review and enjoy the music, then maybe introduce myself just to get the band’s website . I’d rather keep music about the musicians.
That’s the real key for me with all of this. I don’t know why other critics pursue this, but I just want it to be about the music. If you valued my opinion enough to see something, cool. If I valued my observations enough to refine my craft, cool. If I managed, regardless what I think of a band, to fund music because I plunked down the five bucks for a concert, even better.