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The Buzz Merchants 

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Dear Reader:

I've been most disappointed that in the aftermath of Steve Albini's January 28 diatribe Mr. Wyman hasn't responded. However, because Albini's writing style is extremely vindictive ("if you can't say something nice about someone say fuck you"), I can understand his reticence. Subsequently, readers have responded with personal attacks on Albini or outrage that he doesn't like their fave raves, while never reflecting on the valid message he was conveying.

Being a rock critic ranks somewhere on the popularity chart near baseball umpire or IRS man. Critics by nature are elitist, as their writings are based on the premise that "my opinion is more valid than yours." Their writings are generally treated with disdain for not conforming with popular taste.

However, critics can gain some degree of stature if they can go from mere opinion givers to actual tastemakers. And this status can be reached if the bands you praise happen to sell records. It helps even more if you focus your efforts on local talent, playing to chauvinistic Chicago pride.

I think this is what happened in 1993 in Chicago. In their rush to be on the "Next Big Thing/Seattle" bandwagon, Bill Wyman, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis have dispensed with a large measure of objectivity, as apparently high chart positions cover up the flaws in any artist.

Instead of analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of their work, I read nothing but breathless prose in an effort to deify the new gods of the Chicago Scene. While I'm happy that local bands are finally getting more attention in the local press, the provincialism of this trio is embarrassing. Let's try to get some perspective. While major label attention may be more focused on this 'burg, the scene was just as exciting when Didjits, Jesus Lizard and Naked Raygun/Pegboy were making great music and no one was paying much attention.

After their success in 1993, the tastemaking trio seek to elevate more bands. A disturbing insularity has set in. One guy writes about a band and the other two follow--and suddenly that all important buzz develops. We now have a mini-version of the British music press. It becomes a series of self-fulfilling prophecies, with the critics using each other to back up their own opinions, built on the solid foundation of their correctness in forecasting the "greatness" of Liz, Urge, and the Pumpkins.

For example, take Veruca Salt. I express no opinion on their music, having not seen one of their shows yet. Hopefully this neophyte combo will turn out to make many great records. What bothers me, based on the Critical Three's 1993 performance, is that even if Veruca Salt's debut turns out to be utter shit, none of them will be willing to say the emperor has no clothes and thus make their past writings look silly.

Remember, the music comes first. Otherwise, interviews and reviews are just press releases in disguise.

Michael C. Bennett

W. Roscoe

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