First off, some clarification:
- Ed Bumgardner is a longtime Winston-Salem music critic, who’s currently writing for the Winston-Salem Journal’s weekly free arts and entertainment supplement, Relish.
- By “stoned” in the title of this post, I don’t mean stoned as in “under the effects of marijuana,” but rather stoned as in “pelted with large rocks.
As far as I’m concerned, arguing with critics about their reviews—of music, art, comics, movies, whatever—is usually pointless; such debates tend to devolve into basically “I liked this, and you didn’t.” However, Ed Bumgardner’s review of the Bob Dylan show I attended last Saturday exhibited such an egregious misunderstanding of the material being reviewed that I can’t let it go without comment.
Bumgardner complains that Dylan’s voice is “shot” and that his pitch wasn’t good. What makes these assertions so stunningly off-base isn’t a matter of their being false (or true); it’s that they betray such a radical and wholistic misunderstanding of Bob Dylan’s music. It’s like complaining that Jackson Pollock’s perspective is “shot,” or that the anatomy Picasso’s Les demoiselles d’Avignon isn’t good. To even voice such complaints demonstrates a broad conceptual mistake about the subject at hand. Similar bizarre critiques appear throughout the article, includung doozies like “pointless” reworkings of older songs and the like.
I think the lesson to be learned from this is simply, that as a critic, one should stick to subjects that one knows and appreciates. The critic in question has been kicking around Winston for a while and his musical passions were pretty clearly steeped in the late 80s North Carolina pop scene, and his current tastes—judging by his weekly review columns—still seem to favor this so-called “pop”* music pretty heavily. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think that, as a result, he’s clearly out of his element (and a bit pissy tone-wise, in my opinion) trying to evaluate the performance in question. I don’t read many superhero comics, or a ton of Manga, and so I certainly wouldn’t presume to write a authoritative review of those sorts of works myself—particularly one that happens to be one of the most challenging and quixotic of its type. Similarly, if one’s area of expertise is Let’s Active, XTC and Big Star, leave the Dylan review to someone else.