“What Does It Get You?”

(Please note: while this is a repost – the underlying observation is still the same – even if the Nickleback concert mentioned is from last year).

I’d like to talk a little bit about vehemence as criticism and the web.

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I’ve been exposed to a LOT of anger and negativity on the web recently and while it’s probably no more than usual but it’s still enough of a concentration that it’s disturbing to me.

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Article A: “theJoshGross”

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This showed up on a friend of mine’s FB feed with the caption “ouch!”

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I’m not a fan of Nickelback – but this is just lame.

This is supposed to be a pre-concert promotion, and instead becomes another nail in the coffin for print journalism.  After all, if newspapers are just going to print what reads like a glorified blog rant,  we don’t really need them as we already have an internet for snarky posts.

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Nickleback is making a living playing music that they want to play, which is the goal of almost every other musician I know.  And people are buying their music and going to their shows (in very big venues).

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How is crapping on their success or their fans cool?

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It isn’t.

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This is another example of some people believing that the internet is always the great equalizer, when the reality is that sometimes it’s the great diminisher.  Despite the author’s efforts, this review will galvanize the resolve of the band’s fans and will get other people to check out Nickleback online to see what the hubbub is all about.  The band will ultimately end up with a stronger fan base as a result of it.

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Heckler

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I don’t know how many of you have seen Jamie Kennedy’s Heckler film (it’s currently streaming on Netflix if you haven’t.)  There are certainly things in the film that are easy to dismiss, but if you dig your nails under the veneer, there’s a lot being said about art, opinions, the internet and contemporary criticism that are directly applicable to being any kind of artist (especially a musician).
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Rob Zombie is featured in one part of the film and shares the following anecdote:

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[The] first review that I remember getting with my band back in the day was, ‘This is the worst band ever.’ And the funniest thing…what turned in my mind back then 20 years ago, was that I’d read it and see the person’s name and go, ‘Wow.  That guy must be really cool and smart and hip…and I’m a F*ckin’ jackass.”  And then I met the guy and I’m like, “That f*ckin’ loser?”

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False entitlement and vindictiveness

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“I do think critics have changed from when I was first aware of them.   They seem to, earlier, have a sense of humility.  I think, like in so many place in society, there’s just too much of their ego.”

– Bill Maher – Heckler.

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There’s a huge difference between criticism and just being vindictive.  Heckler has an early scene where Jamie brings two guys backstage to ask about their “criticism” of the show.

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Heckler A: Umm…Where do you start? I mean….that was embarrassing to say the least.

Jamie Kennedy: How is that embarrassing?

HA:   It’s kind of hard to watch that kind of crash and burn.

JK:  What do you do?

HA: I’m an assistant to someone that has a lot of kids…

JK: So you’re a baby sitter?

HA:  Yeah…kind of.

JK: What do you know about comedy baby sitter?

HA: I like things that are funny.  I mean…

JK:  What makes you laugh?  F*cking baby farts?

HA: No…I mean…I would have rather heard that in your show.  But I would have rather sat through a Creed concert than that.

JK: You have f*cking balls of steel.

HA: Sorry but I mean…when you see someone just f*cking up and ruining everything, and you paid money to see it don’t you want to kind of say, ‘What the f*ck are you doing?’

JK: Can’t you have like any constructive criticism?

HA:  You want me to tell you like different jokes?

JK: NO!  Why are you giving me your opinion?  Because you want me to get better or because you want to just feel like, ‘Yeah f*ck you!’?

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Bingo.
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That hit the nail on the head.

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That’s about 50% of the forum posts I come across and about 30% of the FB threads I see lately.  It seems to be fueled by a bizarre sense of entitlement that seems to ask, “how DARE you expose me to that?”  These people then feel justified in going off on things 1.  because their delicate sensibilities have been overturned and 2. because they’re not held accountable for their actions.

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(One of the greatest moments in Heckler, btw, is when director Uwe Boll “invites” a number of critics who have trashed his work up to Canada to box him in a one-round exhibition match.  The critics that go talk all sorts of trash about his movies, and then the film cuts to Boll feeding all of them their faces in the ring.  The sight of one reviewer vomiting on the street post-fight while wearing a white shirt with “Hi mom” scrawled on it  was somehow incredibly satisfying and I think it was because these people finally had to be held accountable for what they said.)

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In the quote above with Jamie, I think he’s being a little thin-skinned (it’s also understandable given that this is getting caught on film after he just did a show).  I don’t think that you need to be a comedian to know what you find funny, but without every stepping on a stage and doing 15 minutes of comedy in front of a live audience, you’re not going to be able to give any kind of constructive criticism about what they’re doing wrong, other than say, “that wasn’t funny.”

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What I want to talk about is the anger behind this.  The righteous indignation that is required to completely eviscerate a band or player.

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For people who identify with the article or the quotes above, let me ask one question:

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What does being angry about that get you?

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Does it make you a better person?

Does it improve the lives of those around you?

or does it just make you angrier?

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Because, as John Lydon said, “Anger is an energy”

but it’s an energy that  feeds off of you.  

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(There is a lot in the world to be angry about, and for a number of those things, anger is the only appropriate emotion.  I just don’t happen to think that other people’s artistic output is one of those things.)

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Me and Lord Basho down by the Schoolyard

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People who know me in any capacity will probably tell you that I have some strong opinions about things and am not shy about verbalizing them.

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What many of those people don’t know, is that I had a major philosophical shift over the last 10 years that resulted in some behavioral changes as well.  Part of that stems from the passing of my father’s father.

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When I grew up, my grandfather probably loomed over me larger than anyone else in my life.  A large, loud and intimidating man,  he worked the first shift at GE in Schenectady, NY and then drove home to Mayfield to work at the Driftwood, the bar/beach that he owned and operated, until close for over 20 years.

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As physically intimidating and forceful as he was (in his 60’s, I once watched him dead lift an engine block out of a car and put it on a picnic table next to him to work on it (nearly breaking the table).  “It’s heavier than I remember”, he dead panned to me.) the disconcerting thing was that I got to know him in his “mellow years”.  During my teenage years, I would meet friends of his who would pull me aside and tell me that they couldn’t believe how mellow he’d gotten.  When I said that he didn’t seem very mellow to me, they would tell me various Leland stories like the one where he broke up a large biker fight in his parking lot by himself with a baseball bat.

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There were dozens of these stories, and they were all true.  My father referred to him once as, “a brutal man from a brutal time”.   Amongst his many professions, my grandfather was an undefeated amateur boxer who did multiple tours of NY in his youth, “I fought mostly’ rubes.   Big farm boys with thick arms and glass jaws.”  and stopped fighting because, “sooner or later you’ll take a hit and I was vain about keeping my looks”.  As a kid in upstate NY, I was in awe of him.

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Around this same time, I was fascinated by the Samurai and codes of honor and read everything I could get my hands on.  And hidden in all of the research I was doing, I found this pearl about violence that would ultimately resonate with me in a big way from Lord Basho:

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“Show me the man of violence who comes to a good end, and I will take him as my master.”

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Sadly, in the end this was true for my grandfather as well.  He had been ill for some time, but when my  father showed me a photo of him right before he had died, I was unable to mentally reconcile my memory of the man with the spectral figure I was looking at.

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The ravages of time (along with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s) had reduced him to a husk of his former self.  With a shock of white hair and his skeletal frame barely covered by a bathrobe attempting to shield his grey skin, his face was a mixture of confusion and fear.  He had no idea where he was or what was going on, and the glint of his eye (sometimes from mischief and sometime from anger), was now replaced with a dull terror.

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As my father showed me this photo, all I could think about was the Lord Basho quote.

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It didn’t end well for that guy, and to me,  he was superman.

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I started thinking about how I conducted myself and there were a lot of moments that didn’t hold up well under scrutiny.  I realized that a lot of that anger was just resentment.  I resented successful people who I didn’t think were talented.  I resented people who played effortlessly and never seemed to work at it and what wasn’t resentment was fear and insecurity.  I wasn’t sure that I was good enough or talented enough, or that I was making the right decision.

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I still had some childish thoughts that I was working from.

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So I decided to grow up.

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I worked on eliminating that nonsense and ultimately, I started developing strength through self-awareness and empathy.

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The more I learned about the bands I didn’t think were talented, the more I saw that they were talented in other ways and had worked hard to get where they were.  It also made me realize that I only saw one side to every story, and that no story in the real world works that way.  Beyond that, I realized that their journey had nothing to do with mine.

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When I took responsibility for my path, I stopped being emotionally tied to what other people were doing. (And if you have to go out of your way to sh*t on someone, you have become emotionally tied to what they’re doing.)

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You can travel on anger,

but if anger is your only fuel, you won’t get very far.

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And again, what I’m discussing here is vehemence rather than criticism.

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I think it’s important to remain critical of things that you experience.  All art work is not good.  All music is not good.  But I recommend that if you find something you don’t like, take a moment to determine what it is that you don’t like about it and use it to further develop your own aesthetic rather than trying to tear someone else down.

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If you don’t like bands, don’t listen to them.

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If you’re going to rage against something, rage against something worthwhile.  But despite what you may have been taught, sh*tting on other musicians for what they do doesn’t make you cooler.  It just makes you smaller.

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As always, thanks for reading.

-SC

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