Telling people you care about that you don’t like their art or music

Updated on March 23, 2021 in General Stuff
8 on March 21, 2021

Art is the expression of a personal point of view, intended to provoke an emotional reaction. (That’s my working definition, and I know it includes too much, like setting fire to a courthouse in order to enrage the public. I think “art” is a made up word in search of a definition.)

Lots of work goes into developing the craft that permits clear and robust expression of that point of view.

So how do you tell someone you care about that you just don’t like their work? And do you do so?

My precocious 32 yo nephew was the side man for years in a successful Danish pop group. They have had hit records and have toured on at least three continents. He is also a composer, and has music degrees from Belmont and USC. But I flat don’t like his songs, all instrumental. They are too esoteric, and they have become sadder as he has aged, which of course reflects personal trouble, maybe despair. He has plenty of work in Nashville.

His anxious father (my sibling) sends me his creations, and I am worn out lying about how great his son’s music is. I mean, it really is great in some ways, but it bums me out in the way much modern jazz does.  And the ones in minor keys?  Aye-yi-yi. 

So, are you honest with your friends and family about this kind of stuff? Or do you lie or remain silent to keep the peace and spare feelings? 

 
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0 on March 21, 2021

Most professional musicians are comfortable with you not liking their music. Not everyone will.

Most amateurs have never been exposed to the ruthless reality of the business and will make things very uncomfortable talking about what they do.

Families, you can’t win. Nod and change the subject

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1 on March 21, 2021

I’m in the “nod and change the subject” camp.

The only thing you can do beyond that is try to find something nice to say, eg. “That sure is innovative structure, that USC education is paying off…” or “I found that last one riveting.”

I picked up this use of “riveting” when I was still in high school; there was a famous episode of bloom county where Opus the penguin gets a nose job, and his friend responds to the situation with that adjective. Perfect.

https://www.gocomics.com/bloomcounty/1985/11/13

 

on March 21, 2021

Good answers. My wise wife would say the same. Thanks

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1 on March 21, 2021

I’m reminded of a story I read years ago.

Nancy and Ronald Reagan were invited as the special guest of some Hollywood actress to the premiere if her new movie. This was pre-politics era for the Reagans, and it was said that Nancy didn’t think much of the actress, professionally or personally.

After the screening, there was a reception line where the attendees extended their congratulations to the actress (as well as the others involved in the production).

When the Reagans got to the front of the line, it was said that Nancy beamed broadly, took her hand warmly, and said “Well! You did it again!”

That cracked me up.

For me personally, I learned a hard lesson about false flattery years ago. Angie and I were newlyweds, and she called me at work all excited about this amazing spaghetti dinner she had planned, and please don’t be late because it is going to be so amazing!

I drove home with thoughts of this amazing dinner in my head, only to be profoundly disappointed at some ghastly, mushroom based white sauce abomination that I could barely choke down.

Of course, being the supportive husband that I wanted to be, I told her I loved it.

Which means I spent the next ten years eating that foul concoction twice a month. Until I had had enough and told her the truth. Went over as you might expect, but my purgatory ended.

*****

The challenge as I see it is that people invest so much of themselves and their egos into creative work. It’s hard, to the point of impossible, to give an honest appraisal of the work without also giving one of the person.

All things considered, I’d rather be told something I produced is shit than to be jerked off. Nothing is more valuable than your time. If I’m wasting mine, I want to know.

*****
All this is complicated by the fact that creation tends to be a young person’s game. There is a line between constructive and honest opinion vs cruelty and discouragement. No one wants to crush a creative young person’s spirit. You never know how they might evolve.

My go to is usually something in the form of “I’m not sure I understand it, but it is certainly interesting”.

on March 21, 2021

Well, I sent the following: “Great song!” I didn’t add the additional truth that “I don’t like it,” because then would have come, “What didn’t you like about it?”

Of course, this means I’ll be getting more of those mushroom white sauce spaghetti dinners, but if they didn’t kill you, hey, I’ll survive.

We have to distinguish here between a cover and an original work. If you perform “Silly Love Song,” or “Imagine,” I can and will say that I don’t like them. I actually hate them, but that’s not a criticism of you. If you compose a bad song, it’s your child, and I have to tread carefully if you are a friend or relative. If you write lots of songs, I can say “I don’t like that one as much as the others,” or even “No, I don’t care for it.” But if you kill yourself on it for 6 months, I’ve got myself a dilemma.

Did you hear this story about Gustave Flaubert? He had written some boring book, and he read it aloud to his friends. For four days. When he had finished, he looked up, and one of them said, “Throw it in the fire and never speak of it again. Why don’t you write a book about that doctor’s neurotic wife?” And thus was born …

Madame Bovary.

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0 on March 21, 2021

That Bloom County reminds me of a scene from Bad Times at the El Royale.

Young hotel clerk has taken some buckshot to the side of his face. He’s talking with a young woman roughly his age and asks her how bad it it.

“You’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that things have changed.”

Pitch perfect

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0 on March 22, 2021

Somewhat tangential, but Teja G of AG mag fame once told me a story about being in the Taylor booth with Laurence Juber, playing whatever it was that Taylor had just released that year. When asked for his opinion on the guitar, LJ was reported to have said, “This guitar is incredibly representative of what these guitars are all about.”  Which Teja thought was just about the ultimate, politically savvy non-offensive NAMM show answer ever, and I agreed.

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0 on March 23, 2021

Heh. reminds me of Amadeus:

‘I didn’t know that such sounds were possible. One hears such music and what can one say, but …
Salieri!”

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