Is Jon Pareles A Vampire?

For years, I have thought of Jon Pareles as the worst major-media rock critic in America.  This isn’t a bias against The New York Times.  After all, John Rockwell and Robert Palmer — the latter of whom regrettably is now in the Insect Trust’s Great Jam Session In The Sky — were both good writers and had an impeccable nose for what mattered.  I even liked Neil Strauss, before he decided that trying to write the manual on how to pick up girls was his life’s calling.  (I’m not kidding.) Kalefa Sanneh could be interesting, though he made a fatal error in trying to hype the Arctic Monkeys as better than they are.  And so on and so forth through Ann Powers (we miss her), and Ben Ratliff, etc.  But let’s talk about Pareles.

I used to think he wrote every bloody review of a band with a reference to “Mr. Loaf’s guitar vamps,” because vamps — a simple progression of chords, or something like that; I’m no expert on music — was the one quasi-Julliard term he knew.  Like he passed his New York Times writing test by putting in the word “vamp,” and then after that, after he, well, vamped during his orals, he vowed, “All my reviews will have the word ‘vamp’ in them at least once!”

But then last night, after writing about Calexico, I picked up the Times’ Arts and Leisure section, and sure enough, there was Mr. Pareles reviewing “Carried to Dust.”  I groaned, said to myself, oh no!  I bet he writes,”Mr. Burns’ guitar vamps” at least once, and HE DID!  Well, he wrote, “Sometimes Calexico is a Southwestern Dire Straights, with Joey Burns whispering over loping, subdued guitar vamps as John Convertino plays his drums with brushes.” (Italics mine.)

And then it hit me.  This is all a cry for help!  Jon Pareles is a vampire!  He was bitten by Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, or whatever his name was from The Damned, sometime long ago, and now he yearns for an intervention — for readers of the Times to show up in Times Square with garlic and crosses and all that stuff so as to end his pain.  It makes me feel completely differantly.  Jon Pareles is still the worst — THE WORST — rock critic in America.  But really, folks, he can’t help it.  He’s a vampire.  (Note to self: track the correlation of his really bad writing with the phases of the moon…)

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