FAQ Animation
Frequently Asked Questions concerning:
CRITICS AND POPULARITY


Last updated: 02/27/2017
Do you consider yourself to be an excessively controlling person, in terms of compiling information; or are you just not keen on answering the same thing a thousand times? What was your approach to the press and interviews overall, and has it changed over the years?
The website is very complete. There are very few interviews that arent completely covered within it. Two issues: (1) Efficient use of computer/information technology means you should never have to type in the same data more than once. So, yes, I hate answering the same question a thousand times; and (2) Information may as well be available to all, not just self-appointed media elitists. I am nearly at the point of refusing to do face-to-face interviews or phone interviews. Generally it seems to me these are excuses for the journalists not to prepare ahead of time, plus a certain arrogance/sense of self-importance that the answer I give will / should be unique to them. From my point of view there is only one complete answer to a question and I'd rather hone it down over time via written responses. Verbal responses are often incomplete or inadequate. Also my answers tend to be thorough and complete but the journalists rarely are as thorough reporting them. I'd rather there be a source for the complete answer. Once the question is answered by email it's a simple process to cut and paste and post at the website.

Does it bother you when a review of one of your albums isn't positive?
No, but I do bang my shoe on the table and scream, "We will bury you."

Pere Ubu has been playing for more than twenty years. In that time many things have changed. What about the audience? Is it different now than it was in the beginning?
Yes, I suppose it is. I find the whole issue to be uninteresting. What do I care for the demographic of our audience? We do what we do. If people like it, wonderful. If they don't, wonderful. Why do I have to waste my time thinking about it? What difference does it make? If I was a better businessman I would care and study the whole issue and how to improve our market. I'm not a better businessman.

Do you know why a band like Radiohead, who is not much more accessible than Ubu, is hugely successful and Pere Ubu must struggle mightily year after year with your modest, but feisty followers?
Radiohead is far more talented than we are. Or they know how to tickle the ears of more of the target demographic than we do. You choose.

Do you think the extreme critical adulation and the critics' emphasis on your experimental bent scares away a lot of would-be fans? In other words, do all the "raves" actually hurt your band?
You know, this line of questioning is really hard to respond to. The whole issue of why we are not popular and what can be done about it is of little interest to me. Don't you think if I knew the solution - or, more importantly, cared about the solution - I would have done something about it? I make a living doing exactly what I want. I have not wanted for anything materially that I've desired over the course of my entire adult life. I guess you can say I have no incentive to change the way I do things. I came up with a new motto recently in some other interview, Ars longa, audience brevis. (And if I was success-oriented I would have researched the latin for "audience.") Art is forever, an audience short-lived.

What do you think in general about rock critics?
I think that in general rock critics aren't nearly as good at their job as I am at my job. I think that in general rock critics are ignorant of the history of rock music and have no respect for it, or understanding of it , as an art. I think that in general rock critics are lazy and have not thought out what they are doing.

A critic, it seems to me, needs years of application to know what he's talking about in regard to a subject matter. He needs to study the history of the subject, the history of criticism in the subject and be informed of any number of aesthetical issues - all in order to engage in grounded, informed analysis. Otherwise, what is the value of the critique beyond that of: "Gee, that's good" / "Gee, that's no good"?

Consider your analysis of Texas Overture later in this interview which is that the song's subtext is a sideswipe at everything Texan. Nothing could be further from the truth. As is common with criticism, you have overlaid your own agenda on another's work. To do so required you to ignore the inner sleeve's declaration that the album is "irony-free." A declaration, in fact, inserted in anticipation of the very thing you did.

So, much / most criticism - praise or disparaging - is suspect. The first thing to be done when reading criticism, then, is to identify the capability of the critic - to critique the critic. This is time-consuming. There are a handful of critics whose credentials are solid. But, of course, that doesn't make them infallible. Criticism especially from an unverified source must raise the question, What is its value?

If you, as an artist, lap up praise then you are obligated to / susceptible to being overcome by ("bad") criticism. As a consequence you are liable to become a neurotic yo-yo. Up and down, up and down. You love me! Why don't you love me? You love me! Why don't you love me? Etc. You are a slave to every passing whim and fashion. You are a slave to time. There's an important idea to be found in Tom Wolfe's book, "The Right Stuff." The test pilots talk about "maintaining an even strain." If your job is to ride the moment, like a surfer, it's counter-productive to indulge in emotional roller coasters - a dangerous distraction from "working the problem," another astronaut / test pilot expression. Riding the moment there is no time to get emotional. Time has expanded into blocks of precious nanoseconds. Every nanosecond wasted on a gratuitous emotional response (elation or depression, fear or hope, anxiety or anticipation) is one nanosecond fewer that you have to work the problem.

An artist who seeks approval and/or validation is onto a loser. Any scheme which encourages this way of thinking is damaging. This is the Oprah Winfrey Effect foisted on a generation of men who, consequently, have no spine. Screw the audience. Ars Longa, audience brevis. If you create a product they want, they buy it. That's the end of the transaction. It's not friendship. It's not family. It's the marketplace - which is one of the few places left where a man can stand stand free and upright in the light.

When Dub Housing came out we played a show in Cleveland to mark the event. A guy from a band called The Human Switchboard came up to me and wanted to deliver a critique of the album. I said "I'm not interested. I don't care." He went into a tizzy. He wouldn't give it up. He followed me into the parking lot, out onto the street as I tried to get away. "How can you not care what I think?!" "Because you're not in the band. Because I KNOW what the strengths and weaknesses are and I'm not interested in anyone else's opinion."

Making independent music means saying Screw You! to everyone who is NOT in your band. If there had been a REAL punk movement that would have been the enduring message. But the avatar of the punk movement, as I've said endlessly and fruitlessly, was Oprah Winfrey. Everyone is creative. Everyone has a (valid) opinion. Let's all be cozy together and respect each other. "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony..." Blah-blah-blah. Well, that kind of harmony makes my flesh crawl.

You define your projects as massively unpopular and that you are only "good at being unsuccessful." Are you satisfied with the situation?
What choice do I have? I am not talented enough to sell lots of records. I sell a few. I am not talented enough to attract many people. I attract a few. In my profession I am a failure. Many years ago I came to a separate peace. I am old now and I am free.

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