I did not plan to write about this whole Chris Ott kerfuffle taking place today as I already went on a bit of a Twitter rant about it, but I keep making all these twitchy faces at my computer monitor and finding that I have more to say.
I wrote about music for MTV from 2009 - 2011 until I got laid off. I got the gig by way of a total crazy combination of luck and chance, a set of circumstances that couldn’t possibly be repeated no matter how hard I tried. The only reason that I managed to make it work was because I had decent writing skills and I’d studied a reasonable amount of cultural criticism in school. My background in music was sub-par at best and the majority of the time I was googling references like a maniac and playing an intense amount of catch-up (I bluffed my head off on more than one occasion), but I also managed to befriend a bunch of writers who saw that I was not a complete idiot and I had a fairly decent time in that two year period. There are worse things than being paid to go to 4 shows a week and listen to music all day.
I have my share of horror stories. The time that I got called a whore on Twitter for labeling an album the wrong sub-genre. The time that I was at a listening party and a very well-known critic grilled me about Pavement, literally sneering in my face when it came to light that I had not listened to them as a teenager. The time that I was at a CMJ party and a music blogger told me that I wasn’t a “real writer” because of the company that gave me my assignments after asking me, “So what kind of music do you like? Lady Gaga?” (And I actually do not like Lady Gaga. So.)
When I got laid off, I had a choice. I could scramble and fight to continue writing about music. It would have been difficult, but I could have pushed myself and I think that it would have been possible for me to eek out a living this way. I knew people who would have listened to my pitches, or at least have helped me refine them. I had a decent social meeting following and I knew some tricks that would have helped me build my audience. Not easy, but possible.
Instead, I chose to leave that part of my life behind. And while I still write about music occasionally on here and I keep tabs on “the scene” so to speak, for a long time afterward I felt very conflicted about those years and my decision not to continue; I felt like a failure because I was no longer fighting “the good fight.”
What’s interesting to me about Ott’s video is that some of his complaints coincide with the reasons that I no longer wanted to write about music. I grew to hate the incessant hype and the necessity of having to listen to what frankly amounted to a ton of terrible music so that I could “keep up.” If the majority of publications were forming an opinion about a band or an artist, then I had to be quick to form an opinion as well. And Ott is correct, more than 75% of the time it was kids who had 3-4 tracks on bandcamp and had never performed in front of an audience before.
Have you ever been to a show where it is so painful obviously that the band has barely rehearsed? I witnessed this at least twice a week for over a year. That doesn’t make you love music. It makes you feel like music is a drudging, relentless grind that has been sucked of all its joy. Once I left, I didn’t listen to anything but Fleetwood Mac for four months.
So I cannot say that I fully disagree with Ott. I do understand why he wants people to be more careful. Just because you have a synthesizer and a bunch of available roommates at your loft in Bushwick who can make an album, doesn’t mean that you SHOULD. I empathize with Ott’s cynicism and frustration.
This video also smacks of the low-grade sexism that was so common in my own experience i.e. older male music critic attacking younger female music critic for her “poor judgement” and taste.
In my opinion, Liz Pelly is a champion. She’s one of the woman who keeps going in the face of enormous obstacles. She certainly has my respect because she’s doing something that I could not. I gave up. She’s still going. Sadly, when you are a female music writer, pot shots like Ott’s are all too common and this was highly undeserved, not to mention an incredibly poor example in terms of establishing his argument.
I think that it’s very easy to attack anyone who writes (and bear with me here) from their heart. We’re never supposed to say this or address it directly, and yet we all have this mild obsession with the question of “authenticity.” We run that term into the ground and drag it through the mud and toss it around quite carelessly. Funny, isn’t it?
I believe that Ott (probably subconsciously) chose this example because it’s not that difficult to accomplish a take-down of a piece that shines with genuine passion and excitement for a scene and its potential, because those possibilities are new and vulnerable. Choosing to take a chance and write about them is riskier. Therefore, they’re much more subject to cynicism and apathy. And what continues to make me incredibly sad about this business is that instead of praising a writer for her well-structured sentences and thoughtful insight, she is lumped together with those blogs that relentlessly cough up mangled bits of press releases in hopes of looking trendy and well-versed. Her entire body of work was thoughtlessly pushed aside in one sentence.
And she absolutely did not deserve it.
And while I would really like to think that it had nothing to do with her being a woman… I’m just not able to get there. Because in my own experience, I was so often accused of being too sentimental and emotional (as if music were supposed to be approached with a clinical and scientific eye?) in my writings, too attached to artists (because apparently it is only right to bond with Stephen Malkmus?) and too foolish and silly for her words to gain merit, that I find it far too coincidental that Ott threw a female music critic under the bus.
So FYI, Ott. THERE’S DIFFERENCES between churning out press and taking note of details because you have developed a passion. Perhaps you should pay more attention. After all, it’s only the same that you’ve asked of others in this video.
And you, Pelly? You keep fighting the good fight.