Everyone's a critic

Everyone's a critic

Now expose your palms and check for salt, romance or poetry, says Michael Jackson
In one of my several lives, I was briefly acquainted with Clive Barnes, who was at the time senior drama critic of The New York Times. As the only ‘serious’ broadsheet in New York, The Times thrust upon Clive a mantle of power about which he was ambivalent.If he praised a production, it would have the staying power of Johnnie Walker. If he as much as blinked during the first night, it would also be the last. He could enjoy it when his verdict ensured a long run for actors who needed the work. The second option distressed him. He was dubbed ‘The Butcher of Broadway’, but he did not wish to give people’s careers the chop.If I remember right, Clive grew up in a poor neighbourhood and came to prominence as a critic on a newspaper. His writing was rooted in passion for theatre. He wanted to share that passion, not close down shows.Fortunately, writers on malt beverages do not live in such a claustrophobic world. Some people tell me that my writing has done wonders for their products’ sales, but no brewery or distillery has been extinguished by my pen.There is an expression: ‘everyone’s a critic’. This is properly delivered with a Jewish shrug.The most famous critic to notice my own work was Anthony Burgess, a favourite among book-page editors.The wider public may be less familiar with Burgess than with one of his own novels – or, at least, its title. I am sure fewer people read A Clockwork Orange than saw the movie.Burgess described my tasting notes as “poetry” in an article for a magazine. I quote this at every opportunity, like that obnoxious man who ‘confesses’ to the priest in the ads for Foster’s Lager. If you missed the ads, don’t worry. They’re better than the lager, but almost everything is, with the possible exception of root canal surgery.The kind word from Burgess was a tacit ‘thank you’ for tasting notes which he had borrowed – without asking. He needed them because he had been asked to write a piece on Scotch, a product he knew very well as a drinker, but not sufficiently well to produce an article. This happens a lot: ‘celebrities’ are assigned to write on subjects about which they may not be especially knowledgeable.The theory is that: 1) The big name on the cover will attract passing trade while the expert will not. 2) The big name will be more fun, while the expert will be too serious. 3) The non-expert will ask the questions the public would ask, while the specialist will leap straight into the peat bog and emerge with parts per million.Thus the likes of myself and my buddy Braveheart Broom are suspected of being too serious by editors of magazines and newspapers, and damned as being insufficiently scientific by people like Peter Woods.You are not familiar with Dr Woods? You have not been paying attention. He wrote a very good, and well argued, article in the last edition of Whisky Magazine. It was about salt in whisky. He says there isn’t any. It’s all in my imagination. No wonder I feel thirsty all the time.I had intended to respond to Dr Woods in this issue, but musing is a very digressive process. Perhaps next month. See how it runs.My attorney, who is a Samoan, urged me to take Dr Woods to court on the grounds that this was a malicious attack. Words like “invidious” and “misinformation” stuck in the attorney’s craw. And, believe me, Samoans have huge craws.It is with his support that I have become as influential as Dr Woods suggests.“No one dared gainsay the master,” Woods explains. It is “de rigeur” to follow my line.Dr Woods also implicates someone called Charlie. He speaks of “Michael, Charlie and the others”; a cabal indeed, to use the word of the moment. More seriously, he twice accuses me of being “romantic”.

As a Yorkshireman, I may have to seek protection under the Boycott Act.A poet, perhaps, but a romantic?Back in Barnsley, people have been stoned to the town boundary for less.
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