In my short span as a music critic, I’ve come to learn that nothing upsets people more quickly and severely than writing opinions about music. It might be that I’ve insulted someone’s favorite band; granted, a bad review is a bad review, but I’d like to think that I maintain at least a modicum of integrity in my reviews. But it’s always puzzled me that no matter how apathetic people are about politics, international news, or even the general artistic climate of the country, they always seem to have an opinion about music.
On the one hand, that’s a great benefit; it means I always have an audience. Invariably, however, the question is raised: “Does music even matter?” After all, millions of people are presently dying from a horrific AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, genocide is occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan and, no doubt, in other places, and people suffer and die all over the world second by second. I confess, sometimes I even catch myself thinking the very same thing.
Why do I care so much about something that seems so fleeting?
What I have come to realize, however, is that music, and, in a larger sense, art, matters a great deal. For humanity has always felt the creative impulse, and that impulse is a part of the “it is good.” When I listen to music, be it classical, jazz, hip hop or one of the many variances of “rock,” I realize how much of His creative spark God has passed on to us, even if we don’t give Him credit for it. That’s why I can say with conviction that Radiohead’s “Let Down” points me to the beauty of God, that Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue honors the Almighty, and that Over the Rhine’s OHIO is the best worship album I’ve heard in a long time.
So why am I a critic of something that points me to God? Quite simply, I’m a critic because I care about music too much to let it be taken down routes into irrelevance. Just as good music can expose a tiny corner of God’s innovative nature, bad music (and bad art) can be used to deaden our senses to what is good. Even in the Christian music industry, it is far more useful to be critical than to simply allow bad art to continue because they are “our brothers/sisters in Christ.” To do so would be to cheapen our faith in God’s creative ingenuity, and allow the Church to subsist in mediocrity when it ought to be bettering the entire culture.
I am a music critic because it is my mediocre attempt to honor God by changing even a small substrata of culture. I don’t forget the things I hear on the news—it is certainly deeply important to dwell on those things. But music is another part of the same reality, and good music lets us in on much more of the truth and beauty of the human experience than many people expect. When I start to think that maybe the fight for good music is a worthless one, I try to keep in mind that if music is lost, a huge bit of humanity will go with it. After all, the creativity humankind has placed into music isn’t our own invention; we’re merely doing our best to shadow the Creator.