Here's an idea: Let's talk about music. Can we observeBelow is my response. which I posted last night.
one and only one rule?: There is no "right" or "wrong"
to questions of musical taste.
All right, I'll bite. This is a question that has interested me for years.
I respectfully disagree.
I think there is such a thing as good music and bad music, and that these values exist outside my subjectivity. I believe that the more you know about the technical aspects of music, the more likely you are to possess the language to express criticism -- that is, describe exactly why a piece of music is good or bad. Quite a few -- indeed, probably all -- "my-band-rocks-your-band-sucks" arguments arise from pure inarticulacy and nothing more.
Many (but of course not all) qualities by which we judge music have a certain measure of objectivity. These include, but are not limited to, originality, compositional excellence, and skill in execution. (Go ahead; try it: Think of a piece of music you love, and one you hate. I bet the one you love succeeds on some combination of these criteria, and the one you hate fails.)
To apply an extreme example, if you regard with unironic admiration the self-deluded goobers that they trot out for laffs in the early stages of American Idol, you are exhibiting an inability to discriminate good music from bad. (As the father of a 14-year-old girl who loves some of the awfulest, most cynically exploitative Disney teenybopper garbage, and who utterly refuses to listen to anything else with any sympathy, I know from what I'm talking about. My own flesh and blood, for all love!)
Now, you will answer me back, Must I like all music that is original, skillfully composed, and played well? Must I dislike all music that is unoriginal, cliched, or incompetently performed?
Of course not! Chopin, to grab an example out of the air, does nothing for me. And I love the Shaggs. I freely grant that there is a highly emotional (that is, subjective) component to one's admiration or disregard for a particular music: William Hung rocked! But not because he was a good singer by any empirical measurement. We judge music by many criteria that have nothing to do with music -- such as the artist's attractiveness, political stance, sense of humor, and so forth. I'd urge everyone to try to strip away those nonmusical criteria before getting into arguments about taste. Most of the arguments will stop exactly at that point at which you decide what you're *really* arguing about.
Here's the crux of the biscuit: Because I've made a lifelong study of it (a casual one, to be sure), I know enough about music to recognize the qualities in Chopin's music that make others regard his works highly. We can't argue about Chopin's lack of emotional appeal to me personally, but we can judge such quantifiable things as compositional excellence, his place in musical history, and the skill it takes to perform his music well -- if we have in common the language to express it. Otherwise, it's "Chopin sucks/No he doesn't."
It would be very wrong of me to say "If you like Chopin, you've got bad taste." That's a pointless subjective judgment. But it would be equally wrong to, say, give a good review of an incompetent performance of a Nocturne because the pianist has a nice ass.
("Anna Maria de la Callipygia's performance of Etude op.10 in C Major at Alice Tully Hall was only slightly marred by the performer's audible breaking of wind, the omission of three entire pages of music (accompanied by a 45-second pause to "find [her] place again") and her incessant singing along at the top of her voice in what appeared to be adenoidal Medieval French. But great googly-moogly, the caboose on that honey! Hommina-hommina-hommina A-WOOOOO!")
I loathe the often-cited maxim "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." It is absolute fucking balderdash -- and a cowardly surrender. With the proper vocabulary, a great deal of careful thought, and a refusal to resort to distracting metaphor, music can be described and criticized accurately and well.