It’s been a few years since I’ve been called upon to write anything about music, and truth be told, I’m a little out of practice. There was a time when I fancied myself some sort of music critic, and the volumes of detractors I amassed at the time were living testimony that I was doing my job.
I quit said job for a smorgasbord of reasons, but chiefly to become a rock star. I’d had enough of being a spectator; I wanted to take my golden, discriminating ear and turn it toward myself.
Thing is, I've never really been much of a musician. I took piano lessons as a kid, and never practiced. I was in the school band all through junior high (clarinet, bassoon and oboe, baby!), and despised it. In high school, my parents gave me an electric bass for my 16th birthday. I wasn't allowed to take it with me to reform school, but it was waiting for me when I returned home two years later. I started an all-girl rock band with two friends who were equally inept on their guitars. Man, we sucked. The judges at our school's Battle of the Bands placed us second-to-last; we beat out a group of smart-aleck stoners who'd put together their "band" earlier that afternoon.
It's perhaps my own disappointment with myself for quitting that turned me into such a snot. I became a real pain, constantly pissing and moaning about Santa Fe's stagnant music scene, lame audiences, boring musicians and cookie-cutter bands. On paper, I tried to maintain some semblance of intelligence and balance, but my base conviction—that Santa Fe simply cannot and does not rock—always came through.
A series of personal crises eventually put things into perspective for me, though. I came to understand that it's still cooler to actually play in a roadhouse blues band than it is to whine about the fact that there are too many roadhouse blues bands...
As I found myself onstage more often than in front of one, the ego fueled by what I once thought of as impeccable musical taste shriveled into a sad little kernel of humility and stage fright. Wrong notes meant certain despair, hours of self-imposed seclusion and, often, secret crying fits.
I'm convinced that, for some of us, it really is easier to be a critic. It's self-gratifying to think your opinion matters, and the art of good analysis is not without merit. But self-scrutiny is, to me, a more fulfilling challenge. I'm still a critic, only now it's myself that I piss and moan about.