Gods and Critics

When I was 21 my girlfriend was attending Brown University where she had enrolled in a class called The History of Rock and Roll. The only textbook was Rolling Stone’s Guide to Rock and Roll. Being a big music fan, I thumbed through the Guide, and discovered that Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones were great! Everyone else? Meh. The editors’ disappointment with the Everyone Else’s was relentless. David Bowie? Pretentious. Simon and Garfunkle? Overwritten. Pink Floyd? Self-indulgent. The Moody Blues? Please. On and on and on. The more I read, the more depressed I became. It seemed to me that if you didn’t change the face of music, you were a failure.

I would remember the Guide years later when I uncovered a recording of John Lennon berating an editor of Rolling Stone. He felt the magazine had simply not given The Beatles enough credit for how they’d evolved over the years, and he was really mad about it. “Really mad about it” were his exact words. He accused Rolling Stone of snobbery, that The Beatles’ crime had been their popularity.

I have to admit I felt for the editor. I agreed with Lennon intellectually, but he was really giving it to the poor guy, and I sensed the editor was experiencing what an eight year-old might if Santa told him to his face that he had been quite, quite naughty.

Strange that Lennon would think The Beatles had not gotten enough credit, but the mind is amazingly agile in its ability to twist reality into any shape, and the ego’s hunger for praise is literally insatiable. Maybe that tongue-lashing was just what that editor needed. He got to see Lennon, a music God, as the human he always had been. Perhaps from that day forward the editor would be a little kinder, remembering that all those artists whose work he had been asked to judge are exactly as human as he.

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