|Tom Hull's Old Rock Critic Writings|
My most striking discovery from my adventures in rock criticism is the realization of how little common ground is shared by critics and non-critics. And how little critics concern themselves with their isolation. Not that this should have been in any way surprising: critics of all sorts have always prided themselves on their ability to make subtle qualitative distinctions. But in miniaturizing their craft, critics ignore the vast social base of rock, slight its egalitarian nature, and blind themselves to the peculiarities of their estrangement.
I could easily turn this into a manifesto against those art idolater/critics I detest so much (e.g., anyone who has mongered the phrase, "As in All Great Art . . ."), but the enemy that worries me is closer at hand. I grew up with a passion for criticism, and a love for pop art. Rock was a late bloomer, but a perfect subject matter, and I indulged myself lavishly. And, starting form totally ordinary tastes (Led Zep, Pink Floyd, BTO, Allmans), I became what R. Christgau dubbed "a committed eccentric." I came to discern that I had become as estranged as anyone.
This creates some problems: I've been struggling to review a pair of minor, virtually unknown, artists, Ian Gomm and David Werner, people I've long been attracted to, whose obscure works most surely fall under the rubric of my eccentrism. And I've come up with a theory as to my frustration: rock critics, per se, think essentially the same way (qualitatively), ask the same type questions, impose the same type prerequisites, and only for diversion grade the answers differently. (That is, when rock critics think at all, by no means standard procedure.) What this unwieldly theory tells me is that even if I cannot concoct rigorous, unconvincing rock-critical arguments in proof of Gomm and Werner's value, I can still be correct in asserting that value, for that value may fall contrary to the whole conundrum of rock criticism. To wit, Gomm and Werner are eccentric (in the rock-critical world) precisely because they are virtually normal.
Let's start out with Ian Gomm. Gomm played guitar for Brinsley Schwarz, the legendary, watershed band of Pub Rock. The Brinsleys made some fine albums, but more than that: they brought British Rock back to its roots, made it simple and fun again, and set the stage for the whole mushrooming new wave. As a songwriter Gomm played understudy to Nick Lowe, co-writing such gems as "I Got the Real Thing" (from New Favourites) and, indeed, Lowe's recent hit, "Cruel to Be Kind." As a singer, Gomm is so close to Lowe I can't pick them apart on the old albums.
Since the Brinsleys disbanded, Gomm has sequestered himself in a studio out in the country, writing simple pop tunes and fiddling with the sound. He has an album out now, originally titled Summer Holiday but, for the American market, rechristened Gomm With the Wind. The album, including the semi-hit single, "Hold On," is singularly unspectacular. Gomm seems more interested in getting the horns right than in cleaning up his texts. His one foray into social relevance, a song called "Black and White," comes out more like "I don't wanna hear about that"; live he even abuses the song as a rave-up.
But Gomm seems completely comfortable with his work, and I have to conclude that the record sounds that way because that's the way Gomm likes it. And I, too, like it like that. His remakes, a slow, muscular version of Chuck Berry's fast, funny "Come On," and a slick, somewhat lurid job on the Beatles' "You Can't Do That," intelligently treat lesser-known works by Gomm's mainstays. And the original material gains strength, dimension, even freshness after many listenings.
What I always loved about pop art was that not only did it draw the mundane into consciousness, consciousness could then evaporate the work of art because of the nearly infinite variety of available substitutes. Thus, for instance, it is possible to view my radial arm saw not only as a handy household gadget, but as a striking piece of pop sculpture. Pop music has shown a similar ability to shrink away from critical conceptualization, to escape into mundaneness. Gomm's ordinariness suggests he's already there.
This was transcribed from an unedited typescript. I don't recall whether this ever made it into the Voice.