The first few months of 2016 have been quite brutal. In just two-and-a-bit months, we’ve lost David Bowie, Terry Wogan, Glenn Frey, George Gaynes (yes, I like the Police Academy movies – even the later ones) and now, sadly, Keith Emerson.
When I got the news, before all the details were known, I was quite shocked – he always looked quite fit and healthy even into his 70’s. A day later, when all the details were revealed, I was both devastated and concerned: devastated at the tragic end to a musician I’ve admired since my late teens, but also very concerned about at what drove him to it.
In case you haven’t read the news, Keith’s ability to play the keyboards was hampered by a number of operations on his arm, resulting in increasing pain and discomfort. He’d got performances in Japan on the horizon, and another keyboard player was brought in to help him out, but he was very worried these injuries would result in poor performances and disappointed fans. I can certainly see how that would upset a man like Keith – he’d been one of the premier rock keyboardists for the best part of 50 years, and still had a legion of adoring fans who loved to hear him play. From what I’ve read about him over the years, he was always very passionate about his craft, and to have that almost taken away from you would really knock you down.
What concerned me was this revelation from his girlfriend, Mari:
“He read all the criticism online and was a sensitive soul. Last year he played concerts and people posted mean comments such as ‘I wish he would stop playing’.” — Mari Kawaguchi
I’m a huge advocate of our right to freedom of speech, but while we have the freedom to express our opinions and dissent, it doesn’t automatically infer that we can say what we want, when we want and to whom without consequence. In today’s culture, it appears we’re all quick to complain but never to compliment, and although a thick skin is beneficial to work as a musician, it is by no means essential and it shouldn’t be assumed that every public figure can take whatever is thrown at them. The internet has enabled many great things, but it shows its dark side by enabling the posting of malicious criticism anonymously and in a public forum. Through social media, such bile can even be sent direct to those it’s aimed at. I know ELP has been the butt of many jokes and suffered much ridicule at the hands of a music press who just loved to hate anything they deem pretentious or intellectual – but there is a big difference here. Deriding Keith’s music just because you don’t like it can be brushed off – we all have different tastes – but deriding the man himself in public is almost like deriding him to his face; when he has done nothing personally against you, I don’t think it’s called for.
If you must critique somebody or their work, I believe there are only two tones-of-voice you should use: positive and constructive. Musicians and their artistic works are not products with a single purpose like a a toaster or kettle – they depend on personal interpretation; if you can’t find even the slightest thing positive to say, it does not mean that the musician or their work has no merit or value – it just means that you are not best-qualified to review it. A while ago, back when I wrote a few articles for Make Your Own Taste, it was on the understanding that the overall tone would be positive. We received many review submissions from independent artists, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to hamper their potential, or give them a hard lesson in resilience, by giving bad reviews. If we didn’t review a submission, it didn’t necessarily mean we didn’t like it or thought badly of it – sometimes, we just couldn’t find the right words to say.
To all the trolls out there who seem hell-bent on spreading their malice throughout the web, I hope this highlights the potential consequences of such actions.
To all the critics, be careful – you never know when you might be kicking a man when he’s down.
To everyone else, let’s try and make the Internet a more positive place. As I’ve said above, social media has made it easy to send criticism directly to artists and musicians, but the same media can be used to send compliments. If you’re on Twitter and follow some of your favourite musicians, why not compose a tweet saying what it is that about them or their music that you admire – make sure you @mention them too.
It’s time to drown out all the negativity.