Jessica Novak needs no one to defend her. Her work and her words speak for themselves.
Joe Bonamassa needs no one to defend him. His music speaks for itself and has garnered him a worldwide following.
So why did 897 individuals feel the need to go on Facebook and viciously tear into the Syracuse New Times music editor for daring to write a review of “guitar legend” Bonamassa’s May 17 Syracuse concert at the Landmark Theatre? Why did hundreds more light up The New Times website with reactions that ranged from invective to threats, with a random few coherent comments distinctly in the minority?
The May 23 review, entitled “Say It Ain’t So, Joe,” praised the guitar phenomenon’s vocals and fretwork but questioned his commitment to his audience and his bandmates. Novak, a talented writer and a musician in her own right, ventured into bold territory, asking a rock’n’roll god accustomed to hearing his name in tandem with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, in essence, “Is that all you got?”
While lavishly praising the Utica-born Bonamassa’s dexterity and chops up and down the neck, Novak mentioned that she found his performance wanting in passion, lacking in love. As a listener, she wanted to know not just what was in his fabulous fingers and his surprisingly ample voice, but what was in his soul.
That’s asking a lot, like Oliver Twist opening his mouth to Fagan and asking for more. But performers must be used to this by now. It’s essentially the same question New York City sportswriters have been asking Alex Rodriguez for six years now: You’ve got all the stats, but can you show us some heart?
Bonamassa needs to spend an hour with A-Rod’s PR guy. No sooner had the digital version of The New Times reached California than Joey B got on Facebook to pout to his many cyberfriends that he was offended by the review. He concluded with the following: “Jessica Novak you suck and so does the Syracuse New Times for printing that. We are done.”
(Jess, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m thinking maybe he’s just not that into us.)
But what I’m really thinking is how easy it is these days for someone to ignite a cyberhatestorm that becomes intensely personal, and sometimes dangerous. Spike Lee found that out when he tweeted what he thought was George Zimmerman’s address and instead drove an innocent pair of senior citizens out of their Florida home.
Bonamassa set the tone for his followers, many of whom wasted hours playing limbo as they lowered the bar on the level of public discourse. Some of it was amusing, albeit uninformed, like this Facebook comment from a Viktor Andre: “To say that Joe is without passion, feel and love for his music should be illegal.”
I can understand that someone who has been raised under the Patriot Act might tend to diminish the significance of the First Amendment. But sorry Viktor, this is America and “illegal” is reserved for important things, like weed.There were other comments that did teach me a thing or two. For example I did not know prior to this that there are multiple ways to spell “douchebag,” “bitch,” “ho,” and even the world “article” itself
“articel.” Very inventive!
And there were, to be fair, nearly a half-dozen comments (less than 1 percent) that met the standard for publication in a typical letters-to-the-editor column. “Opinions are opinions,” wrote a man named Mark, who like Madonna does not use his last name, “but I have to disagree with Ms. Novak. I was not at this particular show but have seen JB several times and he has never lacked emotion or forced his band to take a back seat. When Eric Clapton and B.B. King refer to JB as amazing and the complete package, I will defer to their view. . . ” Thank you, Mark.
More typical was the reaction from Cleotis, who wished to meet Novak “so I could slap u in your fat face” (clearly he has not done any research on his subject) or Mattias Edstrom, who used both his names in his attempt at poetic license: “May the lice from a thousand camels set up camp in your armpits.” Sounds like something Carnac the Magnificent once said.
Come on, people. I write mostly about politics and don’t cover music much. (If I did, The New Times would start to look like O magazine with Bruce Springsteen playing the part of Oprah, and trust me, my editor wouldn’t allow it anyway). But the nastiness on display here bleeds over into our politics, and has greatly harmed our ability to seriously address the problems our nation must confront.
We face an election this year about important issues and people can’t even agree to disagree in a civil way about a guitar player? We’ve got to do better.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.