In praise of a music critic who knows his history
I once considered myself a liberal as well as a lover of music, but even I can’t deny the truth. Every time I listen to a great musician, I fall back in time at their first album and their first live show—the albums are a kind of archive, one that one hears at first, as if the music on them was meant as a kind of timekeepers for a moment that was being frozen in time. I feel as if my first album by The Doors is still in my head and telling me that I was right and they were wrong at the exact same time. In one song, it tells me that my life choices are as bad as theirs—that I am, as the song calls me, as bad as any of them. To make sense of that, I turn my brain to the songs I know and those that I don’t.
I was born on September 17, 1972 not far from Detroit, Michigan, and I have been writing reviews since 1987. That makes me only the fifth member in the band History. I was the first to be born on a date with the first two letters of each of my parents’ names. On one of those records, the band’s first studio album, the album’s liner notes were written in the voice of my mother in Spanish and in her own hand. I learned about my family history from my father—from his letters, to which I now add all of the photos he gave me as well—from my grandparents, who were a whole different set of documents than my father, and from his other relationships, which were the only things my father ever spoke about. That family story has always been my first love.
I became a critic in 1987, in a small college press publication called The Detroit News. I saw my future in these pages. They made no pretense about making a difference, but I realized that it did make a difference—that they made a difference—and when I left journalism to become a full-time writer, I started to feel a great deal of pressure on myself to prove to myself that I was good enough, or at least, if not good