Let’s Be Honest – January 18th, 2002
by Bing Futch
A blank page is a frightening thing, but probably no more frightening than the Truth. There are those absolute idealists who wear their halos with pride and pronounce that “the truth shall set you free.” What they don’t care to mention, however, is that freedom is a land filled with pissed-off people who can’t believe you had the unmitigated gall to give it to ‘em straight. When you think long and hard about it, the Truth is something that you can’t even accept from yourself, let alone your girlfriend, your family or the guy sitting next to you on the #30 bus heading for downtown, so those that believe in freedom via Truth are probably just saying that because it sounds good.
Of course, I’m over-generalizing. Once you’ve accepted the obvious about your own condition, it’s easier to deal with someone commenting that “you have a very large nose” or “man, what an unbelievably selfish prick you are.” Statements like the preceding just roll off of your back if you beat someone to the punch in the whole Self-Realization Department; a good argument for doing a thorough in-house cleaning before you start inspecting the dusty corners of anyone else’s existence and offering commentary. Then again, there are certain exceptions to this rule and professional critics get to sit under this shelter from time to time.
What’s the purpose of a critic, anyway? They’re the people who sit with furrowed brows and folded arms, judging the art of others while influencing the opinions of art-appreciators. Sometimes, they are experts in their field, undeniably fair and objective while possessing a flair for insightful observations and wise comparisons. This seems to be the exception, rather than the norm. Most critics are frustrated artists, embittered by years of rejection by the general public, their families, their lovers, their pets and of course, other professional critics. These bile-ridden blackhearts con themselves into cushy, high-paying jobs involving public critique and then unleash their hellish angst upon anyone unlucky enough to have them review their work.
I am not one of their kind.
Since getting into this sideline of business, first as a hobby, then as a profession, I’ve been of the mind that critics should really remain as objective as possible and remove themselves from the subject that they’re reviewing. Not accounting for taste, this is next to impossible but can be done as sure as eggs can be squeezed between the palms and not broken. (Try this at home, but not before reading plenty of scientific results studies.) The whole purpose of a review is not to inflict upon the reader ones own tastes and prejudices but to present an honest account of the pros and cons of any given piece of art, ultimately leaving it up to the general public to decide what they think. A good critic is merely a tour guide, suggesting what sights to see and what eyesores to avoid and there is no perfect science in determining either (just like there’s no accounting for taste.) In the case of music criticism, the critic is working as consumer advocate – attempting to aid the listener in choosing from a mind-boggling selection of CD’s, records, tapes and God-knows-what-other-kind-of-media now currently exists.
This is all, of course, highly idealistic.
As an artist, I’ve had my fair share of both good and bad reviews, some from people whose opinions I dutifully respect and a handful from those that I wish would go directly to Hell. No matter, like water off of a duck’s backside, I realize that my art is not made for public approval and therefore can not be validated or invalidated by the comments of any individual. It exists as an extension of me, no matter what. But the good reviews sure feel good and the bad ones sure hurt in tender, personal spots. Since I began doing concert and CD reviews for Ink 19 Magazine back in 1997 (beginning with the grand opening of the House of Blues on September 15th of that year), I’ve listened to literally thousands of hours of music, spent countless evenings bathed in smoke and sweat at local venues and have pissed off more than my fair share of musicians, but as Super Chicken is prone to expressing, I “knew the job was dangerous” when I took it.
For quite awhile on the scene, I supressed my own musical ambitions while working hard to act as a sort of Ambassador of Art, attending shows, grabbing stacks of CD’s and submitting my reviews to a number of different local magazines. With a twinge of dismay, I would accept the introduction of “Bing Futch, he’s a local writer” from Orlando scenesters as a way of paying my dues, all the while biding my time and waiting for the right moment to show my true hand. It was at some point during my brief tenure at Jam Magazine that it became apparent to folks that I actually did work on both sides of the press badge.
It’s a double-edged sword, though. As time ground forward, my heavy involvement with the local scene brought me into close contact with many of the one-time faceless musicians that I had been reviewing. Suddenly, it wasn’t just as simple as writing a negative account of someone’s music, no sir and no ma’am. Suddenly, I was running into some of these cats in clubs and they had a few things to say about what had been published regarding their latest “baby”, for good or for bad. This was happening more and more frequently, to the point where going out to a show meant keeping one eye on the stage while the other scanned the crowd for potential instances of stalkers and musicians “going postal on my ass.”
Eventually, it seemed that my music critic position was becoming a conflict of interest of sorts as I befriended more and more bands through frequent gigs and time spent hanging together on the M4 Radio show. Feeling that I could no longer give unbiased reviews, it was announced that my critiquing days were over. Sometime around the middle of the year 2000, I concentrated solely on writing feature articles and attempting to give exposure to the bands that I felt deserved it the most. Not that I’m any kind of scholar on the subject of local music, mind you, but an opinion is an opinion and besides: writing is good, silly fun.
Time slipped along in a jetstream and my involvment in the Florida music scene increased across the board, a column here, a performance there, until I had basically done what I’d set out to do in 1997 – carve my name across the collective forehead of Orlando. It had become a dangerous tap-dance on the razor-thin line between self-promotion and promotion of others, a division of ubiquitous local music support and the quest for recognition of my art. Realized within the electronic pages of Ink 19, this uneasy mixture of humility and egotism has wrankled the moods of some people, who wish I would just get hit by a comet. It seems like a reverse version of the put-upon, frustrated artist who turns to critiquing to score some low blows against an unsuspecting arts community; or it could just be jealousy. You be the judge.
On the other hand, my work (on both sides of the badge) has earned a great deal of respect from members of the local scene as well as from representatives from places both far and near, inside the Sunshine State and outside, too. While it makes me happy to know that people are digging my act, it also has resulted in such a high visibility that it’s made me somewhat of a celebrity, something that I’ve always craved, but never truly understood until now.
It’s a trip.
Like everything in life, there is a balance, a Yin and a Yang. If you’re lucky, that wheel spins so quickly that you cannot discern one from the other, good from bad, right from wrong, happy from sad and so on. In working to re-invent my own physical, mental, spiritual and social wheel, I’ve taken the bold step of attempting to become the proverbial “glass house.” A structure so completely see-through that games of “hockey rock” are not advised within its walls. Gladly and painfully taking myself to task for my actions, all of them, and applying brush to canvas, painting an eye-opening picture for any who want to view it, I’ve bled my soul on these pages and others, a blood that runs black and white. It’s been called “self-promotional propagandizing”, “shameless skull-duggery”, “brilliantly brave” and “boring as fuck” by my own critics, of which there are many. Interestingly enough, it seems that I’ve come full-circle round, so intensely that it’s not only my art that gets reviewed, but my life as well.
Take a trip down to the Self-Realization Department, sign a waiver, pick up a package containing bravado, guts, courage, whatever you want to call it, and then head back to the drawing board, that’s what it took and that’s how it goes. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I fashioned this simple point-of-view. I don’t give a fuck! That’s right. When it all boils down to the most staggering revelation of this lifetime, it comes to this: think what you want, don’t want what you think. If I can handle the scrutiny, then I’ll give as good as I get. It was at this point that I decided to damn the musical photon torpedos and warp speed back onto the course, Mr. Sulu. If my friends in a band couldn’t understand why I was calling their latest release “sophomoric”, then they didn’t have it in them to be hanging with me in the first place. I began reviewing concerts again.
Now keep in mind, loving readers, that I’m not a mean-spirited person and still consider myself to be fair, objective and without prejudice. I don’t have to like a band to give them a good review and won’t allow bands that hate my chicken-flavored guts to inspire me into a horrid review. It’s with that kind of attitude that I’ve slowly eased back into the waters of CD critiquing, which is what this whole damn essay has been leading to. If you’ve been reading “Dark’s Corner” for any length of time, you know that it’s been a-coming and now, it’s a-here. Of course, I’ll continue to paint within the Glass House, you’ll still alternately hate and love what I present and I’ll still cruise the clubs while on the lookout for admirers, stalkers and potentially explosive postal-heads. All while enjoying the music and dwelling within the heart of its mission: to unite, to educate, to lend insight, to inspire.
This is my resolution for 2002 and if I start to slip somewhere around April, give me a good what-for. Starting next week, I’ll be bringing back the weekly column, even if it’s a short one, just to stay on top of things happening in the Florida music scene. The format will vary, we’ve got some bugs still to work out with the server, but I hope to make good on the promise to offer snippets of music from various bands in this space. I’ll also be making a full fledged return to CD reviews and the first ones will appear here next week. Concert reviews will continue along with the occasional feature as well as the ever-increasingly voyeuristic intentions of yours truly. Like it, love it, hate it or loathe it, but deal with it. You clicked on this link, you have only yourself to blame or congratulate.
“You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.”
Be well, be wise and be wary until next week, my friends,