Profession: Critics
The famous escalating-insult crescendo of Waiting for Godot goes like this: “Moron!” “Vermin!” “Abortion!” “Morpion!” “Sewer-rat!” “Curate!” “Cretin!” “Crritic!” — the last spoken “with finality.” Some might argue that the cretin/critic thing is redundant, but many would agree with Beckett regarding the ultimate epithet. Our pockets leaking free tickets, our shelves piled with free CDs, our hearts filled with bile, and our thumbs pulled downward as if by gravity, we critics live to berate, deride, and put artists out on the street with all their furniture.

But is that really so? Without Shaw, would Ibsen’s “quintessence” have seeped into Victorian England? Without Harold Bloom, would Falstaff have garnered more respect than Rodney Dangerfield? Without Pauline Kael, would Last Tango in Paris have gotten squeezed into the same sentence with Le Sacre du Printemps? Without Jon Landau, would Bruce Springsteen have been the future of rock-and-roll? Without Variety, would anything be boffo?

The truth is that critics, though about as beloved as botulism (actually less, since reviewers do nothing to paralyze wrinkles), are as often advocates as attack dogs. Most of us love the arts we write about. I mean, who would want to spend a career enduring torture just to torture it back in print or on air? You could get lofty and regard critics as martyrs of sorts, suffering the sins of others — Barry Manilow, Chris Columbus, Neil Simon, Mitch Albom, Nunsense franchiser Dan Goggin — so that you can proceed straight to a prime seat in artistic heaven, without wasting time in the hit-or-miss, mediocrity-saturated purgatory in which we ply our trade. Or you could just think of reviews as the artistic equivalent of screening your calls.

— Carolyn Clay


Rock song: “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, Rod Stewart
Rod Stewart has been a whipping boy for 30 years, derided in the late ’70s for his footloose and fancy-free preening and the parade of blondes and the stomach-pump rumor (google it) and more recently for the Great American Songbooks and his American Idol night. Stewart’s swift and sorry free fall from beloved songsmith (“Maggie May”) and high-spirited carouser with the Faces to sordid sellout was crystallized in this kiss-off from Greil Marcus: “Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a talent as Rod Stewart; rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely.” Lester Bangs simply stated: “Rod Stewart now makes music for housewives.”

The real Rod rancor took root when “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” topped the charts for a month in 1979, giving disgruntled fans an even bigger target. But the song (which holds up better than the Rolling Stones’ equally trendy “Miss You”) is a sharp, streamlined, maddeningly hook-laden tale of a shy couple (“She sits alone waiting for suggestions/He’s so nervous, avoiding all the questions”) who surrender to the rhythm but might last beyond a one-night stand (“They wake at dawn cuz all the birds are singing/Two total strangers but that ain’t what they’re thinking”).

And it must be noted that Stewart was inquiring about the presence of sexiness on behalf of his dance-floor denizens. “It was frightening, stirring up so much love and hate at the same time: most of the public loved it; all the critics hated it,” Stewart said in the liner notes for his 1989 box set Storyteller. “I can understand both positions.”

 — Lou Papineau

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