A couple of weeks ago I left you with a list of the biggest stinkers of 2015 – and I’ve looked back through that list, they are all duds (or were duds to my ears anyway) but there isn’t an album there that stands out as the single worst thing I heard this year. I mention this because it was always easy, other years, to find the worst thing ever – the Willy Moon album for example. Easy pick. Obvious. And correct. But this year it was just a small bunch of bad stuff and of course loads of really great albums – as has been the case every year. This year I opted only to write about the ten best albums I heard and reviewed – I haven’t (yet) lined up a long list of the runner-up greats (though you can always look through the monthly digests) for that.
So the single worst thing that happened, music-wise, for me this year was The Listener losing its great music reviewers.
Nick Bollinger is this country’s best music writer – I don’t always agree with his decision to focus only on the positive, I want to hear about things he doesn’t like too, but on a case by case basis, reading his work or listening to him on the radio is always a great pleasure. There is no one better. He finds the right way, always, to say what needs to be said about strong albums. I usually agree with him, taste-wise, and I’m sold by his enthusiasm.
I first found Nick’s voice in the pages of The Listener. It’s of varying quality, that rag, and it really is tanking now but it’s still the best thing we have in this country in the dying print realm (thankfully, now, The Spinoff is picking up the slack and nailing it with fantastic broad-spectrum arts coverage and sharp, sharp writing).
Earlier this year Nick Bollinger and The Listener’s other music writers Kiran Dass and Jim Pickney walked from the magazine. Word on the street is they did it because of an editorial decision to focus, most often, on music that could be attributed to pretty girls. People only want to look at nice faces and they need lazy star-rating reviews and they want to know that the Norah Jones-looking woman has a lovely voice and some pretty melodies that might just be right for a chardonnay-sipping soundtrack.
So the three very good music writers of The Listener, walked. In solidarity with one another they left the magazine.
And now the music coverage in The Listener has gone from great to crap.
I’m reading the terrific Warren Zanes biography of Tom Petty and as soon as Mike Campbell was mentioned, early on in the book, I thought straight back to a line Bollinger wrote in The Listener back in the late 90s. It keeps popping up as I read the book. That happens a lot for me. I read about music, I listen to music, I have my own go at writing about music and I think of lines Nick Bollinger has written. I think of things I heard him say in his great Radio NZ pieces too.
It was wonderful news to hear that Bollinger has won the top prize at the IIML – The Adam Prize – for his year spent working at Victoria University’s creative writing school. He’s been working on a music memoir that will see the light of day next year. It will be a must-have for anyone interested in great music writing.
I should mention too that in losing Dass and Pickney The Listener misses out big time. Two very astute and talented writers.
What a huge loss – a dumb move, and another sad example of how we’re slipping. Just letting people slide off – because we’d rather cover the Kardashians, since that gets eyeballs.