There’s a line…maybe it’s from Newsies…or Roman Holiday…about how today’s headlines will line tomorrow’s kitty litter bins. Today, newspapers and magazines that remove articles from their sites after a certain date are rare; the Philadelphia Inquirer is a notable offender. When a feature or review in a newspaper would never been seen or heard from again except in a press kit or on a quote sheet, I assume that a reader’s inclination to voice their own opinions existed in a diluted form. A letter to the editor could be written, a correction could be run at a later date, or a personal letter to the writer of a feature or review could be mailed, but was that effort really worth it when pieces were destined for a kitty litter grave?
One of the things I like most about being a publicist in 2010 is that what has traditionally been called “the media” no longer has anywhere approaching complete control over coverage. Ideally, a critic is an individual whose opinion is educated and respected above others, but he or she is remains an individual nonetheless: one voice among many. When my mom used to take my sister and me into the city to see Broadway shows, she’d say that the best reviews were always from the line for the Ladies room during intermission. “The Ladies room at intermission can make or break a Broadway show!” she’d announce. Today, the Ladies Who Intermission can Tweet their reviews, update their Facebook profiles with their reviews, and text their reviews to friends. Artists and publicists have blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. Sure, my 800-odd followers on Twitter are not nearly enough to fill a Carnegie Hall concert, but the actual number of followers or Facebook friends is almost not germane to the point: publicists and artists now have a plethora of ways to connect with audiences without the filter of the traditional media.
That filter, though, is important, as a review is meant to be an outside evaluation of a work or a performance. Artists reviewing themselves is different from artists Tweeting after a performance that they were happy with it, or alerting fans and followers about a concert that’s going to happen, both of which should be encouraged, in my opinion. Of course, everything and everyone is somehow biased, somehow agenda-ed, and paid critics are no exception.That said, do we need publicists writing reviews of their own clients’ work? Do we need artists reviewing their own work? A separation of perspective exists for a reason. And despite these blurred lines, traditional media can still be uplifting or damaging to an artist’s career. Surely publicists and managers of every generation have liked to be in control, and what creates a feeling of more helplessness than a bad review of a CD your client and you have been working on for years? What is more frustrating than a profile for which a journalist clearly went in to an interview with an agenda, completely unbeknownst to you? Because we have grown so accustomed to Tweeting, updating, and blogging our every thought, our urge to comment on negative features and reviews rather than ignore them or learn our lesson with certain writers is accelerated.
In response to the two angriest (and lengthiest!) e mails I’ve received about this blog–one from a publicist at a major New York presenter and another from the head of a major record label–I suggested they make their comments public. I do believe that this blog is a forum for discussion and that my words, though perhaps the most numerous, are nowhere approaching final. Neither the label nor the presenter commented, and frankly, as a publicist, I would have advised them to do just that. Where, then, is the disconnect? I write this blog and want people to post their criticisms, and then I tell my own clients that they shouldn’t comment on their own features or reviews? Am I simply a Big Old Hypocrite, or are we all at a point in media history wherein we’re not quite sure whether everyone having the access, ability and inclination to respond in a public way is helping us or hurting us?
This self-described “review by hearsay” in the Anderson Valley Advertiser would make any publicist, manager or artist’s hackles shoot up to the sky. Amazingly, it is a review of a concert performed by organist Cameron Carpenter by a critic who wasn’t at the concert! It’s comic gold, really:
While I’ve already admitted that I wasn’t even at the concert, I
offer this virtual review of Carpenter’s Ithaca appearance, or better a
report on its reception among a pair of music lovers dear to my heart:
my two daughters, Elizabeth and Cecilia, ages ten and twelve
respectively. They’d been taken to the concert by their mother, Annette
Richards, the Cornell University organist. It is from children that the
truth, musical or otherwise, is most likely to emerge. They’ve heard
recitals and services by their parents on organs across North America
and Europe, from the electronic travesty in the Christian Science
church at the bottom of our street to the great Silberman organ from
1755 in the Catholic Cathedral in Dresden.
Call it a new genre: the review by hearsay.
If this popped up on my Google Alerts, I would probably first send it to my friends under some kind of “What the…” subject line and then most likely pass it along to my client and the rest of the team under a similar subject. That said, it is published, it is completely ridiculous, things do live on the internet forever, and anyone would have a right to be upset by it. Enter the angry manager. All the correspondence above and below was published on the Anderson Valley Advertiser website. It’s unclear whether the writer, David Yearsley, asked for permission to add Cameron Carpenter’s manager’s e mails to his review. I assume he did not.
Informed of the article by Google Alerts, Carpenter’s agent, Richard
Torrence, appeared in my in-box within minutes of the posting of my
piece. He’d written me some months back with warm words about my review
of Carpenter’s grammy-nominated CD, Revolutionary. His attitude towards
the most recent offering was somewhat less enthusiastic.
“Dear Mr. Yearsley: I’m rather shocked. You should have recused
yourself because (1) you weren’t there, and (2) you ended up putting
down the audience. I can’t even fathom why you accepted the assignment;
or were you looking for clay feet? Further, you should have made much
more about the horror of the Schlicker organ [Schlicker is the
now-defunct company of Buffalo that made the Ithaca College organ]. All
Schlickers were and are (if they are still around) horrors. To rebuild
one is the height of folly (did you and your wife have something to do
with that?). Cameron had just played a rebuilt Schlicker in Cleveland
two weeks before, and he said it was the worst organ he had ever played
publicly-and said that he had memory slips (in five years, I’ve never
seen him have one) and played badly. However, after encountering the
Ithaca organ he called to say that the Cleveland organ couldn’t hold a
candle to the horror of the Ithaca organ. And he said that he, once
again, played badly. Don’t worry, he knows full well how he plays, and
he was profoundly unhappy. His girlfriend, who was with him, said that
she had never seen him so distraught. Yes, he blamed the organ, but
that was the truth. Was he supposed to lie? Why was he asked to play
such an organ? Is there no one up there who knows anything about
organs, you and your family’s claims not withstanding?
“I managed Virgil Fox [one of the greatest 20th-century organists,
and after his tenure at the Riverside Church in New York City, a
proponent of the electronic organ; see Torrence’s illuminating
“irreverent biography” of Fox, for 17 years, and he often had to walk
into bad situations. For him, as bad as it was, the Rodgers Touring
Organ was a godsend; he could at least know, in advance, what he was
dealing with. A specification won’t tell you that, but I can now see
that the Schlicker name can–and as Cameron’s manager I will see that
his talent is not maligned again because of a Schlicker organ.I would
also hope that a person of supposed integrity would not send his
children and wife to a concert, and then review it himself. You thought
you took yourself off the hook because you told the truth, but you
obviously didn’t have a clue, yourself, what Cameron was going through.
Further, you have gone out of your way to make a great and serious
artist–stuck with a piece of shit for an organ–look bad. Bad form,
and not a recommendation for Ithaca or Cornell. The one positive result
of your review? He will never be invited back to play in the area. Your
(According to Norman Lebrecht, Cameron Carpenter is no longer with this agent. See his blog post on the subject, complete with another e mail. It seems everyone likes printing Richard Torrence’s passionate discourse.)
You can read the entire exchange back on Review By Hearsay dot com, but the publishing of e mails just continues. I wonder what Torrence thought would come of this, and I wonder if he requested anywhere that it not be published. Why did he not write a formal e mail to the writer’s editor? Why did he not contact the presenter of the concert and suggest that they never provide the writer with press tickets again (excuse me – never provide his wife and daughters with press tickets again)? Does saying that Cameron Carpenter’s girlfriend “had never seen him so distraught” really solve any problems, here?
There is only one comment on David Yearsley’s post, How Cameron Carpenter Blew It In Ithaca, so the publishing of the manager’s e mails did not spark the discussion that perhaps Yearsley thought it would. It seems to me that if someone stumbled upon it somehow, the “review” on its own would have simply made that person chuckle and they would have moved on to another. Complete with his agent’s rants, though, it makes me want to stick around, read the whole thing, and send it to friends.
Did you ever think Virgil Fox’s former manager and Kanye West would have anything in common? No you did not, but the wonders never cease here on Life’s a Pitch. Last week, Kanye West posted the following on Twitter tearing apart LA Times writer Chris Lee:
(Screenshot found on the LA Times website.)
In prose form:
“I believe the writer’s name was Kriss Lee who so bent on giving a
soulless description of my work that he decided to call the album not even by the right name ironically but I feel more
strategically removing the word ‘Beautiful’ from the title!
Woooooooooooow! I assumed a respected media source like the Los Angeles Times would
send a writer that would at least have the respect to call the album by it’s proper title. It’s called “MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED
FANTASY” Kriss. Even if your goal was to perpetuate non-positive thought association. You see what happens when you write with a
negative agenda. You have the entire Los Angeles Time’s coming off like a non credible news source that can’t even fact check a well publicized album title. How can anyone believe anything you ever write again? I feel sorry
for the LA Times more than anything for missing the opportunity…”
I wonder if Chris Lee is insulted by Kanye West’s soulless spelling of his name as “Kriss.” How can anyone believe anything he ever Tweets again?
These Tweets have been removed from Kanye West’s otherwise exceedingly positive Twitter feed, which originally began as a sort of image and personal rehabilitation prone to the hashtag #itsaprocess. Early in his Tweeting career, West claimed that this was all him, with no publicists involved. The LA Times monologue was one of the few negative outbursts, and that’s what was taken down? And no one suggested he do that?
It is important to acknowledge the difference between a negative review/piece and a wrong review/piece. Corrections should be pointed out (if one more person tries to make Hilary older than 30 you will hear my scream throughout the land – GO TO WIKIPEDIA), but I wonder where the commenting on the commentary and the comments will get us. Sometimes, maybe, it’s best to print out a copy of that terrible blog post, let your friend’s cat pee on it, and let it go.
Further reading: here is an article on Slate about hotels defending themselves in the comments section of TripAdvisor and here is Lisa Hirsch over at Iron Tongue of Midnight on artists reading and commenting on reviews of their performances. Also, Neil Gaiman on his relationship with his Twitter followers.