Critics – an alternately loved and despised lot, viewed by some as a combination of giddy swooning fan and stone-faced curmudgeon. The critic, throughout history has been a starmaker and icon-basher. Why a critic becomes a critic is baffling – why one critic is revered while another is threatened with bodily harm probably says as much about our world of entertainment and art as it does anything else. To those artists who become the objects of praise or scorn; the scorned ones ply the old adage “those that can do, those that can’t criticize” – which may speak to a deeper issue than just judging a performance or piece or book or album; it speaks to the jealous nature of humans.
John Simon has been a critic since the early 1960s and, according to this interview conducted by Artie Shaw (yes, that Artie Shaw of Big-Band fame), Simon has been one of the more reviled in Film and Theatre circles. He has written for a wide number of prestigious magazines and publications since then, and was a regular contributor to New York Magazine from 1968 to 2005.
In this interview, Shaw asks Simon what a critic is and what is their role in the grand scheme of the Arts. Shaw, no stranger to criticism himself, as one of the most popular and celebrated musicians of the Big Band era, has been the recipient of flowers and barbs – and had somehow survived. Simon, for all the occasional scorn and verbal threats heaped on him, has been considered as one of the primary influences for improving the quality of American criticism over the years. And at 92, is still handing out criticism.
Here is that interview with Artie Shaw from the program Conversations With Artie Shaw from February 29, 1972.