Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why I Want To Be A Music Critic

As a junior in college, the question I am most frequently asked is what I want to do with my life in a year and a half when I graduate. When I respond with “be a music critic,” however, people give me puzzled looks as if I’m some sort of out of the realm of possible dreamer reaching for the stars. I get responses telling me that “nobody reads music reviews anymore because they just illegally download albums for free and make their own opinions,” or “that’s a far too specific field of journalism” or my personal favorite, “print media is dead. You’re wasting your time.” Although I do not feel the need to validate my career goals, I have been thinking a lot lately about why exactly this is the path I so desperately wish to go down. Therefore, I would like to share with you a brief story about what has made me so passionate about music and writing about it.


My greatest love affair has always been with music. Growing up, I was involved in all my school choirs, vocal ensembles, musicals, and even took piano and violin lessons for a little while. My father used to be an international journalist for Newsweek magazine, and therefore was stationed abroad for most of his career. As a result, I grew up scattered all over Europe and didn’t move to America until I was 12. The transition from living in developing and diverse cities such as Warsaw, Moscow, and Berlin, to small-town New York suburbia threw me into complete culture shock. Having spent my entire life immersed in rich European culture of outdoor cafes, mopeds, obnoxious outdoor techno music parades, and the everlasting obsession over football (or should I say soccer), adjusting to a 2.5 square mile town with nothing but a playground, CVS, and countless florists and pizzerias, took me a complete step back in whatever free spirited city living growing up I was getting so used to and good at doing.


It didn’t really help that while growing up in Europe I was deprived of fine American dining such as Pop Tarts, Oreos, Fruity Pebbles, and Krispy Kreme. Needless to say, upon my discovery of said gourmet treats my waistline expanded way past my trendy European jeans until I only fit into stretchy Old Navy sweatpants. I was never a skinny kid, but once I came to America and started considering French fries as vegetables, I not only was the weird foreign kid, but I became the weird foreign obese kid as well. This did not help my case when trying to make friends, mainly due to the incredible open-mindedness of affluent white suburban kids who had been in the same clique since kindergarten. Instead, I became a loner. Suddenly my only friends were Captain Crunch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.


Fast forward to high school. My lack of a social life translated into my Hot Topic attire and flat ironed jet black bangs brushing my skull-blazed headphones underneath a dark hoodie to represent my tormented soul and bleeding heart. I was on my “fuck authority” ego trip and went through a period of eating practically nothing so that by the time I hit 10th grade, I had shed 40 pounds and continued to lunch on nothing but cigarettes and My Chemical Romance on the sidewalk across the street from school property. I had to lose weight because what kind of emo boy can’t fit into girl’s skinny jeans, right? The angsty Warped Tour hugging 2002 version of Holden Caulfield I had become was far from the wholesome all-American boy next door expected by my parents.


As I grew older I started to discover more about myself and by the time I was 15, I realized that I did not have Britney Spears posters on my walls because they were sexually pleasing to look at through my adolescent eyes, but rather because I idolized her and enjoyed having private dance parties to her music in my room. I found myself coming to terms with my homosexuality in a town full of religious fundamentalists who believed that adding a chain such as Starbucks to our picture perfect Gilmore Girls-esque town was far too liberal to even consider. Not to mention, it didn’t help that the majority of my school were the true spawns of their Volvo driving, power walking, Sarah Palin cloned soccer moms who aspired to one day be the next Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly.


Having basically been on my own since I moved to America anyway, I decided to venture off into New York City to discover the world on my own terms. Having a train that got to Grand Central Terminal in only 25 minutes was probably the only aspect of my town that I actually appreciated at the time. I became completely immersed in Manhattan culture and developed my love for everything it had to offer me. I went everywhere from museums to hookah bars to old record stores or even just to Union Square Park to sit down with my notepad and pen and just observe my surroundings. It was then when I first started seriously songwriting, scribbling in a small leather journal between choruses about what I was experiencing and how it made me feel. Sometimes dark, sometimes overly metaphorical, and sometimes brash, I became a poet of my emotions and found both my personal therapy and best kept secret.


Not a weekend went by without me trying to do something new the city had to offer me. I fortified my love for music by going to an endless array of intimate concerts of bands that I loved because I’m a music snob and felt that I was one of twenty people who knew them at the time. These mini-adventures of Alex in Wonderland and going to The Knitting Factory and Bowery Ballroom every weekend not only became a habit, but it turned into my greatest inspiration. It was then that I realized I had to be a music critic. Being surrounded by loud speakers and screaming fans became like a drug and I was completely addicted. I came to terms with the fact that the only way I would ever feel remotely fulfilled in my life would be by combining my two greatest passions – writing and music. Having developed a personal style of songwriting, I became hungry to hear others and then be able to write about them and how they are put to be accompanied by instruments. I quickly became wrapped up in my own “Almost Famous” fantasy, dreaming of the day I get that phone call from Rolling Stone asking to write them a cover story about one of my favorite bands.


To me, if music does not have some sort of impact on the listener, then it’s not done correctly. Whether it be wildly elegiac and allegorically rich lyrics that get you thinking about your life or whether it be a feel good song to get your endorphins flowing on the dance floor, it is imperative that it can sway you to feel a part of yourself that you didn’t before you started listening. As corny and cliché as it may sound, music has made such an incredible difference in my life that I almost feel it to be my responsibility to put that difference into words and help others see it the way that I do. I am adamant about chasing my fantasy of getting that studio apartment in Brooklyn and journalist job that sends me twenty free albums a week and requires me to go to shows and live and breathe the art and atmosphere I am so sickly obsessed with.


Today, I’m the Editor-in-Chief and music columnist of The Muhlenberg Advocate and I have a personal blog where I post all of my reviews, interviews, lists, and music inspired op-eds. As difficult as my adolescence seemed at the time, I am beyond grateful that it turned out the way it did, as it led me down a path to discovering my true self by showing me the importance of my iPod and the value of my pen.


by.Alex.Nagorski.

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