Pazz and Jip?
Right off the bat, I have to say that Robert Christgau and Chuck Eddy are two of the best editors that I've ever written for- I owe each of them A LOT, not just in terms of giving me a break but also helping me become a better writer (despite all of the grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes you'll find in my blog). Having said that, I do have a particular beef about the Village Voice's Annual Pazz and Jop poll that they organize and execute. I don't mind the horse race quality of it- it's actually kind of a fun parlor game to see who wins, places and shows or even finishes. The problem that I do have is with some of the elitism that's applied to the poll.
I do like the fact that they get more and more online people involved in the process, even if it's mostly Pitchfork people, who supposedly the Voice music section is being pressured to emulate. But some of the P&J regulations and restrictions are ridiculous. One that isn't concerns how much you can vote for your own records, something that the Ego Trip people exploited badly a few years ago.
One P&J rule is that reissues don't get their own category. This wasn't always true. The reasoning for this is that "people vote for them for the wrong reason." If that's true, then you might as well eliminate the albums and singles category as that obviously happens there all the time too. What this means ultimately is that readers (and other writers) don't get to find out about great reissues because each P&J voter has to squeeze any of their favorites there into their album ballot. Just to indemnify myself, I've worked on several reissue projects (Kleenex, Essential Logic, Oh OK, DNA and more coming). Aside from that, I learn from the reissue picks that writers used to include. Now that it's no more, we all lose out. Another thing that happens is that they don't get the serious attention that they should in an important poll like this. What kind of effect would that have on future reissues?
The same problem happens with singles. It used to be that you could vote for an A-side and B-side together in the singles category but that's no more. It's a shame because for an artist, these things quite obviously go together- I mean, they were put out together for a reason, right? Again, you have to vote separately for them, thus losing a space where you can tell the readers/writers about another song. Noting the voting patterns at P&J, it seems that not a lot of writers don't even bother to vote for any single at all. Not a good sign and you have to wonder what's gonna happen with that in the future.
For that matter, what's going to happen to the album category if the pundits are right and the format is deceased? I wouldn't worry too much about that scenario though- we humans like information somewhat organized into containers like the album or CD format. Otherwise, what are writers going to vote for in year-end polls? Their hard drive? Doubtful but... they could nominate their own homemade mixtapes CD's. I'm sure editors wouldn't dig that but it would be a lot more realistic as to what's happening more and more.
Another beef is the name of the poll itself. There's the obvious use of the words "jazz" and "pop." Pop is certainly represented but jazz definitely isn't (except for the occasional crossover artist). Shouldn't it be? The feeling from the top is that P/J isn't really a jazz poll so that jazz journalists are not included in this. Needless to say, some jazz writers take issue with this. They wonder "don't we matter?" and "doesn't the music that we cover and love matter?" This has been opposed and challenged with no luck so far by The Jazz Journalists Association (which I used to be a member of).
For Pazz & Jop, one thing that all writers find frustrating is that the comments they send in don't get used. Honestly, all of us critics like to feel like we're part of a community so we like to vote in P&J and we have a certain sense of pride when our comments make the cut too- two of mine did this time and honestly, I felt really good and grateful about that. In fairness, it would be impossible to use all of the comments that are sent in but it's understandable that writers feel bad that their bon mots disappear, never to be read or seen otherwise. Some of them probably aren't worth printing but you can bet a lot of them are worth seeing and would add to the store of human wisdom.
That goes double and triple for essays sent in- only two or three are used for each P&J each year. Knowing that, and having to potentially compete with 100's of other writers for the spot, is it worth writing a zeitgeist piece that's likely not to be used and thus not seen otherwise? All that time you would pour into would add up to what then? Again, I'm sympathetic to Christgau and Eddy because there's obviously not enough space to include even close to all of the essays sent in. But again, I worry that a lot of thoughtful essays will disappear into the void otherwise.
Since I'm obviously just speaking for myself here, I'm somewhat vainly including some of my own words of wisdom below that didn't make the cut but that I think are worth sharing with the online world. I would encourage any other P&J voters out there to do the same and not let your unused comments that you're proud of disappear into the void.
- Quote of the year, from Congressman Barney Franks: "I think a large part of the public likes the conservatives' theme music. Now they will be tested on whether they like the lyrics."-- Barney Frank, Brookline TAB, Nov. 4th, 2004.
- Lazyboy's "Underwear Goes Inside the Pants" isn't a rap (there's no rhythm to it) but a comedy monologue of edgy observational humor worthy of George Carlin or Bill Hicks. Marijuana laws, diet pills, the value of strip-clubs and online porn, stupid terrorists, an epidemic of pork chops and fast food, minimum wage blues, not getting a job because of poor hygiene. Like him or hate him if you will but his finger's closer to the American pulse than any late-nite talk show monologue.
- No need to worry about online radio wiping out the old stations and making the Billboard charts obsolete: the Live365 and RadioWave charts which monitor streaming services have the same hits on them. Nice to see that we can't escape the same consensus online or offline.
- Speaking as a fan, I'm genuinely glad and relieved that Beasties, PJ, U2 (and SY) didn't make great albums this year. It should be a relief for them that they don't have to make masterpieces all the time, sobering relief for fans who don't have to unconditionally love everything they do
- Some in the know are predicting that the thing that will kill off the I-Pod isn't some competing MP3 toy but instead the phone, once it gets it broadband on. Can't wait to see what then replaces the phone.
- Handsome Boy Modeling School (along with Outkast) prove that radio isn't dead- free-form formats live on albums now so who needs a DJ anymore?
So when all is said and done, will I continue to support this poll? Yes. I think (and hope) that we all can disagree about certain things. I don't agree with everything about P&J or some of the writers who participate there and what they say but that's no reason to abandon all of it. P&J is about trying taking a pulse of the world of music journalism and to some extent, it succeeds. Some will complain that the winners are all pre-ordained but a consensus will inevitably always come out of such an undertaking. Winnie Churchill once said that democracy is the worst political system out there, except for all the other ones. Some would tell you that P&J might be the worst poll out there but how is it any worse than any other music poll out there?