Writing About Writers I

Hello! This is a very brief project I’ve been working on lately. I figured I’d pass on some knowledge about writers who have influenced and entertained me for a long time. Someday I may do pieces on writers of literature, but this series will only be about creators of media criticism, one of my favorite topics (obviously). I admire many of these people, and enjoy all of their work. I hope you’ll find a new favorite journalist in these posts! Today, I’ll start with the three most formative influences of mine. 

[The following was written before Roger’s peaceful, well-earned “leave of presence”, as it were]

Roger Ebert needs no introduction.

He is the patron saint and popularizer of most kinds of modern media criticism, especially his favored medium of film. But while everyone knows he’s great at writing reviews, fewer know about his exceptional blog. Here he ponders issues of life, love, religion, science, politics, and culture with keen wisdom, a deep compassion and more than a little humor and self-deprecation. He also maintains a feverishly productive Twitter account, making up for his lost voice by maintaining one on the internet. He posts interesting links and communes with his readers/friends. His influence on the world of literature and criticism is incalculable, and his partnership/rivalry with the also-deceased Gene Siskel is legendary. His humanism, excitement and wit is renowned by any good writer, and many non-writers throughout the world. He has nothing left to prove, and yet he keeps proving. 

George Starostin is the smartest, fairest, most insightful, and most easily readable music critic on the internet, and probably in the whole world. He is a thirtysomething Russian linguist and father, and has an intense passion for 60s and 70s music of all kinds.

His immense contribution to critical thought is a robust rating system which is an elegant, sensible, intuitive and well-balanced way of objectively and analytically assessing musical works. It’s not foolproof, but it’s easily the best I’ve ever seen.

It’s been said writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but he blows that old saw to smithereens. He’s found a way to make it axiomatic, inclusive, relevant and easy to understand.

George never talks down to the reader or loses himself in technical jargon. His style is remarkably conversational, and revels in displays of lightheartedness and wit. He can be guarded with praise, patient with failure, and knows precisely how to convey the way one feels and experiences music. His paradigm of writing about music is wonderfully broad, working in bits of history, personality, arrangement, trivia, context, lyrics, aesthetics, emotion, humor, and of course his own general opinion.

George Starostin is definitely the Roger Ebert of music journalism, and I recommend his work without qualification. The only issue is where to start, since he is also unbelievably prolific, with two enormous web archives to his name and new reviews posted daily. But I’ll leave that decision to you, since he’s always engaging and entertaining no matter what essay you pick. 

Mark Prindle is a knowledgeable and deceptively sharp music critic. But that’s not necessarily why one reads Mark Prindle. One reads him because he’s a relentlessly experimental, fiercely honest, and frequently hilarious writer. His musings are most definitely not for everyone, but for those with a tolerant mind and tough constitution, he’s a genius.

He has an appreciation for all kinds of humor, from dead babies to corny puns to bizarre references to stream-of-consciousness free association to postmodern anti-jokes, and blends them in to his reviews to make them distinctly personal and unique. Besides that, he will frequently use reviews as a diary, diverging hugely from the album at hand to expound upon his idiosyncratic, sometimes tragic life and habits. He’s anything but boring.

Delving into his work presents a portrait of a troubled, flawed, but essentially good and very interesting guy who loves music more than anything in the world (besides his family). He was a pioneer of internet criticism, with his site launching in the early 90s and active until 2012.

Be forewarned: Mark isn’t afraid to talk about ANYTHING, and this results in many tasteless, crude, obscene jokes and tangents. But rest assured; this style of writing may indeed not be for everyone and may go too far, but it is VERY clear that Mark is simply posturing ironically to mock such cruel, obscene viewpoints. It’s an ugly, hateful world out there, and Mark is simply turning its vileness into a ridiculous over-the-top parody, just as he would drag an unfunny pun into the ground until it becomes hysterical, or go on a huge rant about something in his life that culminates in a heartbreaking moment of sincerity, or criticize a mundane detail of an album before launching into a very sensible argument. His writing is very emotionally heightened and lively, and can go pretty much anywhere at any time, defying traditional review protocol and structure. Likewise, his ratings and artist introduction sections are knee-jerk and intuitive, very indicative of his unpretentious prose.

But all this is not to detract from his musical know-how. He certainly has preferred genres and particular tastes, but he’s commendably eclectic, with an enormous music library and tons of listening experience. He gets at ideas and makes cutting, brilliant observations that most reviewers would gloss over. If his humor isn’t your cup of tea, you should still check out his webpage for tons of trenchant insight and technical trivia.

After starting a family in 2012, he retired his site, freeing him up to chat on Facebook with friends and fans. With any other writer, I’d be disappointed with the end of such entertaining output. But Mark has revealed so much and given so much of himself over the years that I feel like I know the man personally. I don’t expect anything else of him; I simply wish that he continues to live a happy life and take comfort in the fact that his site still exists. It was one of the first that inspired me to get interested in music and think deeply about it. Thanks, Mark. 10/10.

 

Recommended reading: He has an enormous back catalog of varying quality/relevance/interest, so why not just start with the classic, safe option of the Beatles page?

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