Pitchfork Hates Us: The influence of negativity

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A few days after our album launch I got an e-mail from Joe. “It's official. Pitchfork hates us. I'm moving to Europe.”

A bad Pitchfork review is bad business. We know it and they know it, they can sink a band over night. We got a five-point-oh right down the middle. Any other number would connote some kindof impact, positive or negative (both of which are quite welcome)—5 is a mark of pure indifference. It was clear this guy was trying to make a point. You can read it for yourself.

First I should say, this isn't gonna be what you think it's gonna be. Reviews are part of the biz and artists should take these things in stride, anything else would be ungracious. Do I refute his appraisal? No, not necessarily. We owe a lot to Clinic and that's no secret. But that's not really of interest to me. What interests me is this question of influence, and why it can elicit such a strong negative reaction in a critic.

It's not the first time an artist has worn influence on his/her sleeve; think Devendra Banhart and Marc Bolan, Cymbals Eat Guitars and Pavement, Ted Berrigan and Frank O'Hara, Foxygen and the Kinks, the whole “Psychedelic” movement and, well, the whole “Psychedelic” movement. Why, as soon as the connection is established, does the critic shut off to the content? When does influence become bad?

Influence is a requisite part of the creative process. Art is an evolution, nothing just sublimates out of nowhere. We stand on the shoulders of giants and we'd be foolish not to. One can only accomplish so much in one's lifetime, why repudiate the rich history of western music that's our right to inherit?

Though I do understand why we get defensive. Music reaches into a very tender place in the listeneryou don't want just any old sound poking around in there. So people get picky about what moves them; the brain is the gateway to the heart and we play games with the gatekeeper. Publicity, criticism, friendly recommendations, mood, trends, associative memories all play a huge roll in whether or not we 'let it in'.

When you allow yourself to be moved it's a judgment call. And no one wants to be made the fool. To let sound into your vulnerable being it can't be by the hands of frauds! Of course I don't think we're frauds, in fact I think we have a lot going on outside of sometimes sounding like Clinic, but that's a judgment call. I have obvious reason to be biased.

Business aside, it always hurts to get a crappy review. This guy really took it out on Ben, and he was pretty down about it. We were all a little sad about it, but that passes. The band, top to bottom, has been a rich and varied experience for all of us, and we're nothing but lucky for it.

I will say a very interesting (and quite challenging) read is Harold Bloom's “Anxiety of Influence.” Not exactly 100% pertinent, but I'd been meaning to read it for ages and this seemed like the perfect invitation. In a nutshell he posits that the influencer, influencee and 'the muse' (inspiration) have a kindof Oedipal relationship, wherein the present artist (the son) desires 'the muse' (the mother), and is jealous of the predecessor (the father) and seeks to destroy him. He sees influence as a kindof diminishing return (a “misprision”), and even goes as far as predicting the ultimate death of poetry… then it's all Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and other things I can't claim to have any authority on. Anyway if that sounds cool I'd suggest you give it a read.