Ben Rubenstein has written a great piece over at PopMatters about the problem with being both a music critic and a friend of musicians. Call it the Stillwater Syndrome.
This is always a problem — as a critic, it’s your job to be honest and uncompromising. As a human, it’s your job to want your friends to succeed. And as a friend, it’s not really cool to point out that something your friend has devoted their lives to is complete shit — or even worse, dull.
This is a problem I myself have faced. I’d consider myself at least on friendly acquaintance with Mark Stoermer of The Killers — we’re not bosom buddies, I’ve never been to his house, but we always chat whenever we run into one another, and I like the guy. I’ve also never really made much of a secret that I’m not a huge fan of The Killers. (Even though I cover “All These Things That I’ve Done” live, because I think it’s a great song, and maybe someday I’ll post a recording here.) I don’t despise them, but I don’t really think Brandon Flowers deserves the critical acclaim he gets as a songwriter. They’re a good pop band, but that’s about it, in my opinion. And that’s the opinion of somebody who occasionally writes professionally about music, for whatever that may be worth.
I’ve never really discussed it with Mark, because I’d consider it rude. And I’m certainly very happy for his success. Seeing him at Live 8, standing next to, like, fucking Roger Waters, was beautiful. He’s a really nice guy and, I think, a good person, and an extremely talented guitarist and bassist. I always wish him well. (I’d like to see Mark fronting a band, myself.)
But I would be a hypocrite if I pretended to like his band more than I do, just because I know him and think he’s very talented. And I have a big problem with hypocrisy in myself. I fight to not be a hypocrite, as much as I can. I fail a lot, but I try. I do believe in tact, but I also only believe in being tactful to the point where you’re still telling the truth.
I fail at that, because I’m a coward and I want people I like to be happy. So there have been times that I’ve lied to musician friends. And I’ve felt bad about it, because I felt like I was betraying a principle I’d set for myself.
When I put out my album, I’m going to hand it off to a few people who are both friends and music critics. And I’m going to ask them — then and now — to do something that, oftentimes, I haven’t had the courage to do myself.
I want them to be absolutely merciless. I want them to tell the truth. Because I believe that my music, as much as it means to me — and as much as I want to be told that I’m a genius unparalleled in the history of rock — is only part of a larger conversation that we’re all having. Their job — and mine, when I’m wearing that hat — is to tell the truth. My job as a musician is to try to communicate. Sometimes those two objectives clash.
And I won’t hold it against them if they hate it. Really. But that’s not me being really enlightened or anything.
I won’t hold it against them if they hate it because I’ll know that they’re mistaken. Because it’s genius.
Every last goddamn note.
The spaces between songs? Genius. The way the CD smells? Genius. Pure, unadulterated human glory, wrapped up in a package of sweet, sweet musique.
So, you know, that’s okay.