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Monday, April 9, 2007

Goodbye to All That: An Open Letter of Resignation

posted by on April 9 at 16:50 PM

From our April 4, 2002 issue:

goodbye.jpg

Goodbye to All That
An Open Letter of Resignation

By JEFF DEROCHE

There’s a guy who chats me up whenever he buys drinks from me at the bar where I work. Sometimes he mentions The Stranger and One-Night Stand, the column I wrote up until a couple of weeks ago. Though the guy never comes out and says he’s a big fan of The Stranger, I’ve always gotten that impression from him, and that’s a nice thing to think. The paper has been a significant part of my life for the past year and a half, and it’s rewarding to imagine that the work you do makes some kind of impression upon people.

I was disappointed the last time the guy ordered drinks from me. With no apparent concern that I might take offense to a very blunt question, the customer crudely asked if I had recently been fired from the paper. He said he’d noticed that someone else was writing my column. I told the guy that I wasn’t fired: I quit. I could tell he thought my decision was stupid. I told him that the amount of work the job required had become greater than the rewards. “Too much work for one column a week?” he asked, frustrated by my laziness, as though I were his own child and it was his responsibility to scold me for having made such a regrettable decision.

I explained that One-Night Stand was only a small part of the work I had been doing at the paper. I told him I had been the music editor, and that more goes into being the music editor of a weekly publication than writing a column with my little picture next to it. I found myself wondering why I felt the need to justify my decision. Meantime, the guy just sort of stood there, reproachfully looking right through me. Then he took his drinks and went to join his friends elsewhere in the room. In hindsight, I don’t blame the guy for his rudeness.

I have been asked to write a “farewell essay” explaining why I chose to resign from my position as music editor of The Stranger, and I decided that blame is a reasonable place to start. That’s why I’ve chosen to recount my interaction with that bar patron the other night. The collision between his open curiosity and my defensive perception of his tactlessness goes a long way toward explaining why I’m not willing to do my old job anymore. I know I am to blame for his forwardness. I’ve spent the past three years writing criticism, and I deserve to be criticized. It’s karmic; it’s the rule of nature. I half expect that I will spend the next three years being picked apart intellectually by all of my friends and loved ones, a fate I would gladly accept. I love criticism. I’m smart, so that’s the way I think.

What I no longer love is being professionally obligated to opine and justify (a rough equivalent to binge and purge) for anywhere from 30 to 70 hours per week, which is the critic’s job. And ultimately, criticism is a terrible way to earn one’s bread. It’s only minimally creative (you get to write and come up with all sorts of opinions), and it’s a soul-numbing job that sucks the joy out of a beautiful thing like music, your love for which is likely why you began criticizing it in the first place. Overall, critics are not very creative or interesting people—artists are. Artists do things, like make records and write books. Critics feed off that creativity. They can choose to scold it, praise it, archive it, whatever. It’s still someone else’s work that the critic is standing on, and when I began to feel like I was in jeopardy of actually becoming a professional critic—like, as a career path—I knew it was time to go.

But that’s only one version of the story. The other version, which I began to write earlier today but thought better of doing because it just sounded whiny, is that within a year of doing this job, the way I listened to music had begun to change. I would find myself thinking too much at shows, taxing myself to figure out which bands had most directly influenced the one I was seeing, or coming up with all the things I was going to write in the paper to preview the band next time it played. Each time I did this I would suddenly catch myself. And I would feel this pang of dread: the same feeling a kid gets on a Sunday evening when it starts getting dark and he realizes he’ll have no choice but to go to school in the morning.

No, I can’t have that. I hated school. That’s why I dropped out. And I love music. That’s why I quit.

RSS icon Comments

1

It's sad that the reviewers with a true love for the medium are more likely to do what you've done and get while the gettin's good, and the burned-out bitter ones are more likely to stay on and get crankier and more inscrutable in their tastes as the years wear on. I think it's called the Peter Principle -- the least qualified are the most likely to retain a position.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do instead.

Posted by flamingbanjo | April 9, 2007 6:04 PM
2

Awww, I miss DeRoche.

Posted by Paulus | April 9, 2007 10:53 PM
3

I love comment #1 because whoever left it thinks Jeff Deroche JUST quit the Stranger. Goes to show you no one really knows or cares who the music editors and music critics are at this paper or anywhere else. It's the artists that matter. Not the critics or editors or writers, no matter what kind of big egos they have.

Posted by hah | April 10, 2007 2:26 AM
4

who IS the music editor of the Stranger?

Posted by BR | April 10, 2007 9:27 AM
5

Where's Hannah Levin's resignation letter?

Posted by Richard | April 10, 2007 9:33 AM
6

Excellent, thanks for posting this. That's some great and honest insight. Best thing I've read in the stranger for some time.

Posted by David | April 10, 2007 10:41 AM
7

Ooooh - I want to channel Mudede!

The critic occupies a strange nether realm between the artist and the listener - the critic is, at his best, a conduit for the artist to reach the listener via rave reviews, etc.

But the critic also falls prey to the phenomenon of critical distance - the need to distance one's self from the passion for art because it is seen as a job requirement. The critic is not allowed to love a piece of art unequivocally (though I admire and attempt to emulate those who do) because his job is to analyze, to critique, to obfuscate and judge. A critic must remain objective while prostrating himself before a subjective audience, who are as likely to dismiss his opinions as the rantings of a bitter, cynical hack as they are to be moved by the writing.

Criticism can also get far too meta - I have found myself reading record reviews and not remarking about the record but the review itself - a badly written review is an object of derision, while an excellent review is both rare and inspiring.

There are those out there (I particularly recommend cokemachineglow.com) that maintain their passion for music while still producing piece of writing that I would read for the writing alone. A good critic must be a good writer - there is no other option. Ideal critics should keep their passions and biases as obvious as they can. No critic, no matter how talented or cranky, can maintain complete critical objectivity. Love what you love, let people know that you love it. But it's your damn opinion, and although the paycheck for doing it does elevate you above the common blogger, it should be noted that your talent as a critic lies not in your ability to pick apart musical notes but in your ability to assemble words.

Posted by Jeff | April 10, 2007 11:17 AM
8

Richard @ 5: You only write resignation letters when you resign.

Posted by just sayin' | April 10, 2007 1:04 PM
9

i miss jeff.

Posted by kerri harrop | April 10, 2007 1:45 PM
10

why did Hannah Levin leave? They need to get her back. All I really read the weekly for is her. Seems like she would be much more at home w/ the stranger.

Posted by hmmm | April 10, 2007 1:48 PM
11

I think Hannah Levin was fired. Reader's loss.

Posted by Sanjaya | April 10, 2007 2:33 PM
12

Most music editors at weeklys don't do it long because the money sucks. DeRoche's reason for leaving was refreshing.

Posted by In the Know | April 10, 2007 3:17 PM
13

Being a critic seems to be one of those jobs that sound more rewarding than they actually are. You get to see all these show, or movies, or listen to all these records, only to realize that you see/listen to more crap than gold.

When I was a kid and wanted to be a DJ, but when I grew up and actually was one (for four years), I learned I couldn't play whatever I wanted, even on community radio. There were play lists and you couldn't deviate from them.

I thought working in a record store would be great and with an employee discount I would be able to buy all the music I wanted. But then I found out the job only paid minimum wage and the discount was only 15% (this was to discourage us from buying records for our friends).

Posted by elswinger | April 10, 2007 3:26 PM
14

if you like music, staying busy as a music critic will make you depressed/crazy. this is a fact. i thought seling posted that because she was leaving. glad i was wrong.

Posted by ndrwmtsn | April 10, 2007 5:29 PM
15

to hah- actually, the writers are just important as the musicians, and are more important when shaping the public's perception of what's going on locally.


for example, when jeff was the editor, the stranger's music focus was a little more indie-rock / songwriter- similar to what i think megan seleng's style is. with jennifer maerz, the music section took on a completely different approach, and the focus was way more on punk/garage -- some of this is up for debate on how much styles change and how much the paper follows those changes, but there's no doubt that the music the writers follow and write about have a huge impact on what people perceive as "happening" in town.

Posted by graig markel | April 11, 2007 10:42 AM

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