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Thursday, March 22, 2007

New Eyes Open

Judd Apatow, writer/director of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Freaks and Geeks, and The Cable Guy, has a great take on dealing with bad reviews and good reviews. As someone who has received praise and scorn for his various works, Apatow speaks from a lot of experience. If anything, the lesson learned is that you shouldn't take bad or good reviews to heart. This is a concept I've been working on, especially with the part about not taking good reviews to heart.

I won't lie: I like getting compliments. Getting complimented on my writing, work ethic, drumming and so on is a nice pat on the back. In some ways it feels like vindication for what I'm doing. But I've learned to not place final judgment in the hands of others. Plus, as a critic myself, I understand the other end of the spectrum.

The job of the critic is to give an informed opinion. Just because a critic liked one thing from you doesn't mean he/she will like the next thing from you. Sounds basic right? Well, I don't think a number of people understand this. If anything, a lot of people want critics to agree with them. Praise sounds better than scorn, right? To be fair is to praise, right? Nope and nope to both.

For critics who write for publications that have a large amount of readers (ie, newspaper, trade magazine, online publication and so on), what is said can turn the tides either for or against some piece of work. It happens all the time, but believe me, there is no planned united front for or against anything. Case in point: the Stooges' The Weirdness has been trashed by a number of critics lately. It seems like critics are ganging up on the band and aiming to write the most vicious things imaginable. Was this planned? No. Should the band cancel their tour and run away? No. Because this is nothing new for the Stooges. They were highly disliked when they were first together. This may not be so well-known, but it's true. If I remember correctly, a review in Rolling Stone ripped Funhouse apart. Now, Funhouse is considered a classic for many fans and critics.

Something that should reiterated is how the critic really speaks for him or herself, not for the whole publication. It's not like the editor-in-chief, the advertising coordinator, the sales people, the interns and copywriters all feel the same way about something. But still, the publication's name has a higher stature than the writer, so it appears that the whole publication feels a certain way about something.

With my own work, it's great to receive feedback from people who understand where I'm coming from and give thoughtful critiques. But there can be a tendency to get defensive when certain people seem to love pointing out my apparent shortcomings. I can imagine a number of inquires about "Why isn't this band covered that much in your book?" are coming my way. Believe me, I've thought long and hard about who gets a full chapter, who gets some nice mentions and who doesn't get any mentions. The phrase, "You can't please everybody," comes up again. But I believe deep down, there can be a desire to please everybody. I should know, but a number of epiphanies in the last few months have made me think otherwise.

My advice for anyone working on a book, record, movie, painting, etc.: focus more on how the experience of making this has meant to you. Cribbing something Ian MacKaye once said: if you enjoyed what you were doing while you were making it, how could you say it was a failure? Was it a failure to make a lot of money? Was it a failure to get people's attention? Was it a failure to get people to respond favorably? Sure, those can be influencing factors, but expression is a personal thing. The perspective of the one making something is different from the one whose job it is to criticize that something. Makes sense, right?

Well, I do often wonder about what makes critics tick, especially with lukewarm reviews. What do these people want in order for them to highly praise something? We don't have maps of pleasure centers for anybody else, so praise is more accidental than planned. But think about it: why do we want to be praised? Is it so we feel loved and accepted? This makes things way more about ourselves and not about someone else. So now it does make sense to not take other people's opinions so personally. To me, at least.

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