Whiz Kid & the Critic: How one bad review changed my life.
December 4, 2015
Even though this blog is ostensibly about advertising, I am ambivalent about critiquing ad campaigns. Especially in a negative manner. It’s easy to find bad work. And smashing low hanging fruit is a sure fire way to get readers and comments. Yet, I am always leery of doing so.
Truth be told I think most criticism is folly. Let me tell you a story. In college, I aspired to be a music journalist for Rolling Stone magazine. (Back then it was still a relevant publication.) In pursuit of this goal, I reviewed albums and concerts for both school newspapers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Highlights from this period include the resounding thumbs up I gave to the Replacements and Violent Femmes. (If not for me who knows where these two bands would have wound up?) Anyway, I also reviewed plenty of local talent, including a hair band called Whiz Kid. Whiz Kid played Lover Boy and Head East covers for drunken sorority girls (and the men who loved them) at various venues around town. For 2 bucks a head one got 3 sets of music.
Like almost every novice critic I rejoiced in ripping no-talent outfits to shreds. Whiz Kid was no exception. I might not be up on that stage but I had my pen, which was mightier than any guitar. So, I wrote a story, making fun of their lame music, silly matching outfits and ridiculous big hair. I used every bit of my marginal writing skills to tear them a new one. And then I promptly forgot about it.
Not Whiz Kid. A couple weeks later I ran into the lead singer at an after-bar party. He asked me why I’d so cruelly laid into his band. I said, no disrespect, brother but you sucked. I mean Lover Boy… Give me a break!
The vocalist did not punch me. Instead he hit me with something far more lasting. He told me the reason Whiz Kid played shit music was to get gigs, which he needed in order to pay rent and put food on the table for his wife and new baby. He told me none of the bars in town hired original talent unless they were famous. Whiz kid was not. He had to sing Working for the Weekend because that’s what 19-year-old girls (and the men who loved them) paid money to see.
They actually did an original tune…
From that night on, I abandoned my ambition to write criticism. I had been stifled by the truth. Whiz Kid was literally working for the weekend, every weekend, in order to survive. I had no right to criticize them for doing so. I wasn’t aiding culture. I was merely hurting this band.
To this day it takes an especially notable campaign for me to write about it, in particular if I’m considering a negative opinion. Obviously, I still do it but I try to use an even hand, look for silver linings, give praise. I always remember Whiz Kid.
Author’s note: Previously, I shared a version of this story. I decided to reprint it, in lieu of critiquing anything.