Mr. Parabasis has tagged me:
• Name your area of expertise/interest. That’s a tough one. Some would argue that I have no area of expertise! On reflection, though, I’d have to say that it’s criticism in general (though there was a time when I would have said music).
• How did you become interested in it? The first critics to whose work I paid serious attention were the ones who were reviewing records for Stereo Review and High Fidelity (both defunct, alas) back in the early Seventies. The first full-fledged Big Name in criticism whom I read closely and attentively was Edmund Wilson, whose Classics and Commercials and The Bit Between My Teeth made a lasting impression on me a couple of years after that.
• How did you learn how to do it? At first by imitating Wilson, and I also learned a lot from Whitney Balliett and Virgil Thomson a little later on. Mainly, though, I learned by doing. I started covering classical music and jazz for the Kansas City Star in 1977, when I was still an undergraduate. Writing short reviews on tight deadlines for a big-city newspaper is a good way–maybe the best way–for a young critic to learn the basics of his trade.
• Who has been your biggest influence? Fairfield Porter, I hope! Some other critics who’ve left their marks on me are Edwin Denby, Otis Ferguson, Clement Greenberg, Randall Jarrell, H.L. Mencken, and George Orwell.
• What would you teach people about it? I’ve taught numerous classes and seminars in criticism, and I always give my students the following pieces of advice:
Always treat artists with respect. Most of them know how to do something you can’t do.
Don’t be afraid to be wrong.
Don’t be afraid to be enthusiastic!