Minnesota Nice was killing music criticism even back in 1933

Now this is interesting -- and there are plenty of Tumblr postings to back me up on it. Sherman accuses Minnesotans of being fearful of looking uncultured. Sound familiar? Plus, in the age of instant Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook reviews-as-we-go, we don't even have to wait until the intermission to have our lack of cultural prowess thrown into question. "I am seeing this thing right now, and you're a. a fool for not liking it and b. even more shameful if you're not here experiencing it." Where someone always answered "wonderful" in 1933, "awesome" is a wonderful 2013 replacement for the so-called gatekeeper hive mind instantly at work. 

Here, we reach a critical, aka very important, distinction in Sherman's argument. He isn't calling for more career-ending hatchet jobs -- even if grumblers can be quite entertaining -- but there's a level of nuance he pines for. (Perhaps something ranging wider than even a 10.0 scale.) Even 80 years ago, someone who said what they thought -- culture be hanged! -- was hard to come by in Minnesota.  
To close things out, Sherman makes a joke about using music as torture. Of course, it's far less humorous with today's knowledge that detainees at Guantanamo Bay reached their breaking point with repeated listens to the Sesame Street theme, Eminem, Metallica, among others. (Dvorak's "New World Symphony" seems comparably tame to these ears.) But it does indicate how far he believes a person should go in their assessments.

We see a hint of the listicles to come in the decades that followed as he solicits his readers' lists of their pet musical peeves, and to join him in an epic bit of grumbling. And it's the last sentence that we come closest to to the outright dismissal of the Minnesota Nice framework. All-embracing benevolence never resolves what to order at a restaurant, what to name a first-born child, or which book to check out from the library. The answer can never be "all of them," so why pretend that it's possible to like every concert attended equally?

"...criticism doesn't mean delivering petty, ill-tempered Simon Cowell-like put-downs," Dwight Garner wrote in the essential "A Critic's Case for Critics Who Are Actually Critical" for The New York Times last year. "It doesn't necessarily mean heaping scorn. It means making fine distinctions. It means talking about ideas, aesthetics and morality as if these things matter (and they do). It's at base an act of love. Our critical faculties are what make us human."

And what better place to do this than in a piece criticizing soft local critics? Certainly a better tack than Sherman risking offending any thin-skinned pals in the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, the biggest local band of his day.

City Pages on Facebook | Gimme Noise on Facebook | Twitter | e-mail us

Sponsor Content

Now Trending

Minnesota Concert Tickets

From the Vault