An interview with Everett True for Rumore magazine
This one was conducted via Skype messenger, to aid in the translation. I found the actual process a little fiddly – and it took an enormously long time (90 minutes). That’s not to have a go at the journalist in question, though, who was working in a foreign language. I also appreciated the fact he was clearly thinking about, and reacting to, my answers.
Herein follows the transcript. The interview was carried out by Daniele Cianfriglia for Italian music magazine Rumore, as part of an ongoing series focusing upon well-known music critics. (I did query him about my inclusion, yes.)
You’ve been writing about music for 30 years now. Things changed a lot as they always do. What about you, do you feel your attitude has changed through the time?
I’m back where I started. Writing passionately about music I’ve just heard for a couple of hundred of friends. In ’83 I did a fanzine. In ’13 I do a blog. The reasons are roughly the same. I never did understand why more people don’t dance down the front of concerts. I want more people to dance. I always want more people to dance.
So music never ages but the people listening to it do (it’s demography I think)? Do you think people used to dance more in the past?
I’m not being literal. (I mean, I am – but not entirely.) I would always dance by myself or one or two other mates. What are we doing here at Collapse Board but the same, only online and with computer keyboards? Something I’ve never liked, never got, is people saying music was ‘better’ when they were younger. What, when you actually *cared* about it you mean? Rule number one of music criticism: saying a band sounds like another (older) band and then saying they’re less for it is NOT a reason to dismiss that band.
Sometimes, everyone dances. And that’s wonderful.
I agree, when it happens… the similarities between bands not being a parameter to judge the quality of a band leads straight to the discussion about retroism. I know you’ve touched the topic but would like your opinion from the horses’ mouth… Is it just the intellectual toy of our present time in criticism?
I have a lot of time for Simon Reynolds (he was actually just here in Brisbane, the first time we’ve met in about two decades). His heart is in the right place. He champions the people who should be championed. It’s the people copying him I’m not so sure about. But equally [I’m not really down with] the folk who deny the past and say everything should be taken like it’s the first cuckoo of spring… man, there’s nothing wrong with a little context either.
I am a fan of Simon’s, also re-translated energy flash here in Italy so I understand what you’re implying.
It’s always a fine line that divides the genius from the mundane, those who are inspired by from those who copy… and the line isn’t stationary obviously. It’s impossible to nail down.
You said (wrote) a word that clicks with me. Context. Many of the people I’m interviewing for the series see in the lack of contextualisation the real problem with writing about music nowadays. Their judgement is usually quite harsh about the dilettantism of many blogs around the web. But you’ve stood up for the 2.0 comments in the past, am I right?
Experts have a hard time believing that other people might care as much about their chosen subject as they do. I’m always more interested in whether critics can communicate their passion then their ability to recite phone books. I LOVE the fact that criticism has changed from a monologue to a dialogue because of web 2.0. Of course it always actually was, but most of that dialogue always happened off the main stage before (the printed publications). This is entertainment. This is subjective lore. Also, anyone with half an ounce of sense and access to Google Search can bluff expertise on the web these days. Which takes us, in a roundabout fashion, to this. http://www.collapseboard.com/everett-true/a-playlist-for-lou-reed/. Versus this. http://www.collapseboard.com/features/columns/the-definitive-list-the-100-greatest-songs-of-all-time-part-5/.
I’ve read the Lou playlist and loved it, the second best thing appeared on the web on an abused topic (the first one being Laurie Anderson’s recollections). So you agree that we still need a “professional criticism”, the opinions from the experts, but we also need to get people from their pedestals for boasting their celeb acquaintances?
But who’s to say one is more valid than the other, of those two lists? It’s personal opinion, at the end of the day. Confusion is sex. What makes an expert? I like reading informed opinion, sure. I also like wild unsubstantiated conjecture. It’s when the two start to blur… which they do, more and more frequently online… that it becomes really fucking confusing. With that Lou Reed playlist, I was fully aware that I COULD NOT HOPE TO COMPETE with any of the ‘experts’ [if I was to write an obituary]. Fucking 10s of thousands of folk know more and can write more eloquently about Lou Reed than me. So I brought it back to the bone: the music. Music criticism in web 2.0 – it’s not dancing about architecture (that old chestnut). It’s music about music!
Of course, Laurie’s is going to be the most rewarding, because PERSONAL informed opinion is often the best.
Through the years I’ve come to think that everything IS personal in the end. As for critics… you once wrote “people don’t want opinion. They want the illusion of an opinion”, do you still think that? it seems like everybody wants to _give_ their opinion and I have to add that in printed papers quality is declining very fast, first it was this is cool – listen to it! Then it was the-next-big-thing. Now with the major magazines on the web is break-the-news-before-everybody-else. No time and no space for neither feelings nor contexts. Do you have any idea about what we should expect next?
Yeah, that’s the downside. Or is it a downside? I kind of like the fact that I now listen to music by the song rather than by the album. I kind of like the fact there’s always something new to discover round the corner, whether that be old-new or new-new or different-country-new. Most folk don’t have opinion. They reckon they do, but actually they just have someone else’s opinion, watered-down. Most columnists are in their jobs because they don’t upset the status quo. The ‘break-the-news-first-cos-if-we-don’t-no-one-will-click-on-us’ attitude is really fucking annoying though. Cos it doesn’t lend itself to interesting or entertaining or insightful coverage. And yes, I do value all of those, whether they’re from ‘experts’, bloggers or traffic chasers.
My sensation is that we are just entering a new stage in the search for music, hopefully the future is as you describe it with people looking down for their music (new, old, whatever from wherever in the world) yet I expected the transition to be faster in the internet and Spotify access era. I also expected a disintegration of concepts like “scene”, losing a geographical connotation or “indie” losing its label-good-for-marketing-people aura, do you think this is going to happen?
There’s this thing academics call ‘trans-local’ scenes that’s already taken place. It used to be that you physically have to search out likeminded folk in whatever shithole your parents brought you up in. For years now, that’s not been the case. You can find hundreds, thousands of likeminded souls if you so desire in that great wonderful wonderland called the blogosphere. (Way to kill self-respect though – knowing that actually you’re not unique whatsoever, even vaguely.) It seems the only limiter now these days, far as musical scenes go, is language… and not really even that. You just need to know where to look ….*You just need to know where to look*… That’s actually the biggie. Folk will always find something to market stuff with, though. Always.
So you don’t think the days are numbered for “major” discography, not yet?
Sorry, don’t quite understand the question.
I mean, the volumes of music sold in the usual formats (digital too) is shrinking… I think the way music has been marketed through the years have drastically changed, and the mainstream is losing power in a way.
One of the major problems no one has addressed is physical ownership. Amazon and iTunes and all these companies ‘sell’ MP3s online to consumers. Except that they don’t. What they’re actually selling is value-less, a license to listen to that music (which you could easily listen to for free online somewhere else like YouTube). You don’t own the music you’ve paid money for. This is a MAJOR sea-change. As a consumer, you’ve never actually ‘owned’ the music, but when music was available via physical formats – CDs, vinyl, cassette tape, etc – then at least you owned the physical format, so it had some value. All these consumers with their hundreds of thousands of songs sitting around in their iTunes libraries on their computers… absolutely worthless.
As to the mainstream losing power, I couldn’t care either way. I’m happy if folk can make a living from making art (music, film, photography, writing etc etc)… but I’ve never been entirely sure if this is dependent on the mainstream [existing].
I agree, and as they say, time usually tells. Look, we usually fills a small box with likes and idiosyncrasies of the people we interview. Would you like to share three likes and three dislikes (whatever from what other people tell about you to fav songs/moments in life)?
My recent Lou Reed playlist(s) – always keep music central in the conversation about music, as a wiser man than me once said.
Doing a spoken word rendition of ‘Blurred Lines’ on YouTube – a new form of music criticism.
The John Peel quote, “there is no such thing as good and bad music, only good and bad listeners” – central to ANY understanding of criticism.
People hyphenating words needlessly.
Any sort of award ceremony or chart.
Great stuff! One thing I personally always loved about your approach is the way you so openly talk about gender issues, nobody seems to do this, not in the past, not nowadays, do you think is it still a great complex in music writing?
It’s straightforward enough. You look at pretty much ANY music writing publication going – online, in print – and you’ll note that not only do they discriminate in favour of male musicians (because musical taste is SUBJECTIVE) but also in favour of male critics. I prefer not to, cos it seems dull. That’s all it is.
Are you going to read Alan McGee’s autobiography?
Doubt it. I only tend to read stuff I feature in.
Not even Courtney’s?
As I say. I only tend to read stuff I feature in.
Well, you could write your own then…
I would but I can’t remember anything. I know I could ask other people, but then it wouldn’t be me… would it? I might yet ask other people. Cos I’m not sure I’m a particularly reliable source anyway.
I’m interested why you’d want to include me in this series.
Yes, sure. As I told you, Rumore has been going for twenty years now, always on its own forces. Recently we changed the “owner” and restyled the mag. And we decided to question ourselves a little deeper about the way we write, the things we write. We didn’t have a column about writing about music. Since I am a translator and work mainly on books about music, we thought we could open up sort of a monthly debate. We decided to feature different people with different approach to writing. I’ve always loved your directness and your passion and I popped in your name. We are trying to give different voices. From different media.
Cool. Fair enough. Good on ya.