[Note: this is the second installment of our interview with Daphne Carr. The first can be found here.]
I know that many of your own essays are focused on the intersection between art and broader social and intellectual movements. Is that the sort of thing you generally like to see criticism doing, or are there other models?
Carr: Again this question is more about music writing than criticism, I will work from that angle. My own personal career in writing about music and studying music culture has given me the opportunity to participate in many different writing contexts and to read so many different styles of music writing. Of course it has also shaped my opinions about all three of the words in the book's title: "Best" (cultivation of skilled value judgments) "Music" (notice no qualifier "popular") and "Writing" (crafting language).
I guess I keep ignoring your request to give examples, and maybe that's because I don't want to play favorites in a field where writers' styles can change dramatically from piece to piece, and when even the most average writer can happen upon a story so good they merely have to keep the facts straight. Also, when I was first starting to write about music I would read interviews with music editors and they would talk about who the greatest writers of the next generation were and I would feel really defeated. I never want to make a writer feel that way, because we do this thing out of passion, and we have potential to get better if we keep working, get good feedback, and pay attention to the world, and never stop listening to new music.
There are some 3,500 email addresses in my database for BMW, and I am sure that I am missing a lot of people besides those. There are people doing great work all over the world—folks like Anwyn Crawford in Australia—and every year I have the good luck and pleasure of finding more and more of them. I do my best to find new voices for the book, and welcome anyone to submit their own work or the work of other people to me. Yeah, there are some "usual suspects" in each book, but at least half of the writers are coming from solicited and unsolicited works from the world, from my stacks of magazine subscriptions, my RSS feeds, and my trolling of blogs. Oh yeah, and Twitter.
And, if pinned down I might say "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" by Gay Talese is the piece of music writing I wished I'd written, and that the whole archives of Ann Powers, Simon Reynolds, and Greg Tate are not to be missed by lovers of music and writing. Of course, I am biased towards Ann, who is guest editing this year and is one of my writing heroes. Ellen Willis is another hero and she will finally get the anthology of music criticism she deserves, Out of the Vinyl Deeps, this September. The full disclosure is that I co-wrote the afterward with Evie Nagy. I'm really proud of that book, and happy that Ellen's daughter Nona put it together while working on her Girl Drive project.
I was listening to a joint discussion you had with Douglas Wolk on Soundcheck a year or so back. You both seemed pretty down on snark. I wondered if you felt that just dumping on a record was never a valid move? And is that coming from a popism perspective in some ways?
Carr: I feel like snark is a tool best used to undermine power, not to reassert it. Snark is a portmanteau of snide remark, and as such serves as a kind of sly witticism meant to serve its object of derision. When it's done well, it's a swift comeuppance to some over-esteemed icon. But when someone is being snide from a position of power and the object of the remark has done nothing to deserve it - really, just provides the set up for some joke - I feel like that's a form of malice, a kind of abuse of power.
My metric for evaluating snark doesn't really come from poptimism, it is my own personal ethics. I do share a lot of the poptimist philosophy towards musical listening and writing style, especially as qualified by Jody Rosen some years back.
You and Douglas also seemed to be objecting to, or wanting to see fewer, short reviews and blurbs. Do you think that music criticism has gotten shorter?
Carr: What I meant in that rant was that as the digital archive of music writing gets deeper, there will certainly be a lot of redundancies if everyone is writing short, mostly factual pieces that have a tiny bit of critical engagement, which is what most blurbs are.
The trend seems to be that print writing is now shorter and that professional online music publishing is finding some consensus or standards on average lengths for writing types. There's always room for the 10,000 word essay on hauntology, and that I welcome. Long live chaos! I certainly wish that there were new funding models for all of this great chaos.
To get back to the Best Music Writing series for a minute — it seems like some of the most interesting music writing is often being done now in formats that don’t easily lend themselves to anthologizing. How do you deal with that?
Carr: I do think that there are an increasing number of pieces that are hybrid to the point of being multimedia in their creator's conception not just in their subsequent editorial design. I see these things as their own form of new media art. Some of it, like podcasts, are really new media broadcast. There are other media that do music criticism well, for instance, a lot of experimental music is meta-musical critique, and videos like the "literal videos" and "....Shreds" series are forms of music criticism as well. There's so much great stuff!
At the end of the day, I have to draw a line. For now it is English-language writing about music published in some kind of periodical. I've daydreamed about doing a visual and/or online component to the book, but my job is big enough just dealing with periodical texts. In an ideal world, I'd have a whole BMW office that could have a multimedia editor, and we'd keep all the publications, links, and videos as an archive that could serve as research for current and future generations of music scholars.
Finally...I wondered if you could talk a little about your PhD. Thesis and your upcoming 33 1/3 book on Nine Inch Nails.
Carr: The Nine Inch Nails book, Pretty Hate Machine, will be out on Continuum in September 2010 and I am planning a launch event that will be in the spirit of both the old and new Nine Inch Nails. Stay tuned. I will also be doing readings on the East Coast through the fall, especially in September. If any group of 15 or more NIN or music writing fans gets together in a place where I can travel by public transportation (subway, bus, commuter rail, train) and plans a public event I will come do a reading. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
As for the dissertation, ask me in May 2012.