Local Wire

Going Ballistic

Page 2 of 3

After getting more calls of a similarly ominous nature, I received a pair of messages from a despondent-sounding Danny P., the Surf Ballistics' lead guitarist.

11:56 p.m.: "This is Danny P. I play with the Surf Ballistics and I just wanted to say thank you for using no Vaseline on me. My God! Did you have to be so harsh, buddy? I guess any press is good. But damn, man, we're just a local band. Jesus Christ! Later, bro."

Feeling that he had perhaps forgotten to underscore some of the more salient points in his initial argument, Mr. P. called back a couple hours later, leaving behind this insightful tidbit:

1:44 a.m.: "Hey, Bob, this is Danny P. again. Dude, we're just trying to get a few people to our CD release party. I really don't know. Did I do something to you? Did one of us do something to you? 'Cause that is completely wrong. I read it again and I just can't believe some of the shit you said, man. It's completely wrong. We're just a local band trying to get some people at our show and you're dogging us -- you've never done that before. You will be hearing a lot from us, sir."

Just for the record, I don't know, and to my knowledge have never met any of the members of the Surf Ballistics. I bear no ill will toward them as human beings, nor do I have any ax to grind with them, their management or their record label.

But I do have to take exception to Mr. P's factually inaccurate assertion that we've never written anything negative about local bands. Even casual New Times readers can attest we have lots to say about local music -- plenty of it good and plenty of it bad, some of it downright vicious. But all of it, in our view, deserved.

Mr. P. protests that I should have tempered our criticism because he's "in a local band." It's an oft-heard plaint, but that doesn't make it any less ludicrous. Local-music criticism is just that -- criticism. Not boosterism, not patronage and certainly not charity.

The first duty and responsibility of this section is serving readers. Our job is to inform, entertain and help guide them toward things worthy of their time and money. We try to follow those tenants as closely and even-handedly as possible. Do we rib? Sure. It's all part of the give and take, and it would serve most "artists" to take themselves and their work a little less seriously.

I doubt many local musicians, including the Surf Ballistics, worry about sparing feelings or "taking it easy" when we eviscerate Garth Brooks, the Backstreet Boys, Ted Nugent or any of the other fevered egos we regularly deflate.

Local or national, the standards should be the same. Why break out the kid gloves just because you might be a native? To paraphrase Tom Waits: If you're listening to a really bad band, and someone leans over to you and says, "You know, these guys are local" -- does it really make what you're hearing sound any better?

Many of the calls and e-mails I received in the wake of the story echoed Mr. P.'s belief that somehow my "attack" on the band was personal. Let me assure you that it was not.

Not once did I mention anybody's appearance, age or ethnicity. I never talked ill of the band members' mamas, grandmamas, nor in any way, shape or form cast aspersions on their genealogy. All my criticisms were based solely on the music and lyrics found on the 11-song CD.

If I write a review of your album saying your singer has a lousy voice, that does not constitute a personal attack. You might take it personally, but that's your problem. If I claim your singer has a lousy voice because he was conceived of a weak seed -- that would qualify as a personal attack. But that's not how I approached the Surf Ballistics album, nor any review.

I know it must be difficult for the Surf Ballistics to believe there's a method to my critical madness. It's a hard reality to accept, but artists who thrust their work out there for public consumption must inevitably face the fact that some people (gasp!) may not like what they're doing.

After a new edition of New Times comes out, I invariably find myself swamped with correspondence about how lame my writing is, that I have my head up my ass or that I like to take it up the ass. I don't call anyone to whine, and I certainly don't find it necessary to threaten them with bodily harm, regardless of how tempting such a prospect might be.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr