Depuis janvier 2018, vous retrouvez chaque semaine, à la fin de votre lettre InfoFPJQ, sous la plume de journalistes et chroniqueurs bien connus, un point de vue ou une analyse sur l’actualité médiatique.

Les propos reproduits ici n’engagent que l’auteur. La FPJQ ne cautionne ni ne condamne ce qui est écrit dans ces textes d’opinion.

Music matters

Par Brendan Kelly

That was my lede in a piece I wrote for the Gazette in early April, all about how so many of us in COVID confinement were turning to music for inspiration, solace, and yes even salvation. 


Music’s been a big part of this COVID spring. Stuck at home, with more time than we’ve known what to do with, there’s been more time to listen and so many of us have been devouring new music, watching and listening to artists performing from their own confinement cells and just as importantly we’ve been going back to some of the music we listened to in our formative years to provide a little aural comfort in these uncomfortable times. 


For me comfort-food records include The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Paul McCartney’s Ram, The Buzzcocks’ Singles Going Steady and any of the first four Ramones albums (the best first-four albums ever from an artist, bar none). 


In tough times, art matters. In this terrifying pandemic, we all turned to literature, movies, TV shows, yeah maybe a series or two on Netflix. I already knew culture meant a lot but this spring brought it home with a vengeance. 


So how come cultural criticism is nearly extinct in the mainstream media? It’s just so weird. People consume more culture than ever. Think about music. Thanks to Steve Jobs and his iPhone and his iTunes, music became more accessible than ever and now with streaming, we can discover anything from anywhere anytime. (Yeah I know it sucks for artists and that’s wrong and should be changed, but that’s another column.) 


But where do you go for in-depth music criticism? Yeah I know it’s out there, the more pretentious amongst you go to Pitchfork, the more savvy to smart writers like Carl Wilson on Slate. 


But outside the specialty sites, there’s almost nada. I grew up in the ‘70s when high-IQ film and music criticism was a thing and that’s what made me want to go into journalism. I’m reading Nathalie Petrowski’s entertaining memoir La critique n’a jamais tué personne and I loved when she talked of how she never even read newspapers before becoming a journalist and that her real journalistic inspiration was the hallucinatory drug-drenched ravings of Hunter S. Thompson in Rolling Stone in the ‘70s. 


For me, it was less the gonzo scribblings of Hunter S. that inspired me – though I was and am a fan and will one day tell you in detail the story of when me, my two brothers and my dad went to see him give a “talk” at McGill in like maybe ’75 and watched as one student after another walked up and handed him little aluminum-foil packages. No for me what set me on this wacked career path was reading other Rolling Stone scribes, notably the critics Greil Marcus, Paul Nelson, Dave Marsh, and, a little later, Charles M. Young (whatever happened to him?). I also devoured Creem magazine, where I first discovered the Hunter S. of rock criticism, the late, great Lester Bangs, immortalised in Cameron Crowe’s brilliant film Almost Famous (about Crowe’s days as a kid Rolling Stone reporter in the ‘70s). 


So here we are in 2020 and folks are eating up music, movies and TV like there’s no tomorrow – yikes maybe there is, apocalypse oblige, no tomorrow!!!! – and yet the mainstream media doesn’t want to know anything about arts criticism. 


What gives? I fully understand that we are living in a completely different media universe where TV networks, radio stations and newspapers/web sites simply can’t make money. The business model is indeed broken and it just got crushed literally to effin smithereens by this global pandemic thing. 


But arts matter. People care about this stuff. And they want to see, hear and read intelligent discussion of the latest film by Xavier Dolan, TV series from François Létourneau and Jean-François Rivard, novel by Saleema Nawaz or album from The Dears. Or if you prefer, the latest works from Wes Anderson, Ozark dudes Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams, Nick Hornby or The Strokes. 


I am totally up for the idea that this cultural criticism can’t be exactly the same as it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Fair enough. Maybe it’s not meant to be long impenetrable essays. But there is a way to talk about culture and reach audiences. 


So let’s start thinking of ways to do that. Let’s at least have a conversation. I remember talking to Marc Cassivi and Rebecca Makonnen when they were starting up Esprit critique on ARTV and the three of us were marvelling at the concept that at the time there wasn’t a single major cultural show on Quebec TV. Triste. There used to be so much more, with everything from La Bande des Six on Rad-Can – hey there’s Petrowski again! – to Flash on TQS to all sorts of cultural content on MusiquePlus. 


Now Johnny Marr comes and plays to a sold-out Corona Theatre and there’s not a word mentioned anywhere. C’mon man that’s just crazy and wrong. 


We used to have four alt weeklies and they were all pretty rocking at a certain point in terms of readership and advertising – hey it was the heady ‘90s! So like, to pick a figure out of the air, maybe 250,000 Montrealers were devouring these papers every Thursday back then and you’re telling me that a couple of decades later that appetite for consuming cultural coverage has completely dried up? Of course it hasn’t. It’s just that the media landscape has shifted tectonically. Sigh. 



Brendan Kelly is a reporter/columnist with the Montreal Gazette and is a cultural columnist on Daybreak, CBC Radio One’s morning show in Montreal. He also contributes regularly to shows on ICI Radio-Canada Première.

Les propos reproduits ici n’engagent que l’auteur. La FPJQ ne cautionne ni ne condamne ce qui est écrit dans ces textes d’opinion.

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