Keith Emerson and Reviews

Some words following the tragic death of Keith Emerson ought to be pause for thought for those of us who review things:

Emerson’s girlfriend said at the weekend that he’d become “tormented with worry” about upcoming show in Japan, after suffering a nervous problem that made it difficult for him to play.

Mari Kawaguchi told the Daily Mail: “His right hand and arm had given him problems for years. He had an operation a few years ago but the pain and nerve issues were getting worse.

“Keith was worried – he read all the criticism online and was a sensitive soul. Last year he played concerts and people posted mean comments such as, ‘I wish he would stop playing.’

“He was planning to retire after Japan. He was a perfectionist and the thought he wouldn’t play perfectly made him depressed, nervous and anxious.”

Yes it can be cathartic to read highly negative reviews, and even more so to write them. It’s especially true when the subject is somebody you never really liked in the first place. But just as it’s unfair on audiences to pull too many punches, no reviewer should be so lacking in empathy that they completely ignore the effect that reading those reviews might have on the artist.

Critical reviews are an important part of any cultural ecosystem; many artists will never fulfil their full potential if all they hear is fannish cheerleading. But if you can’t frame criticism constructively, directed at an artist you believe can do better, what is the purpose of your criticism?

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