[advice to young writer]
The easy answer: if you want your writing to be more passionate, write about things you feel passionate about
Otherwise it can feel a bit forced
If you feel neutral or indifferent about something to start off with it, it’s hard to not reproduce that – you can maybe get round it by finding something interesting in the larger phenomenon, or the question of why do people like this
It’s tricky one, passion, because it’s easy to overdo it and slather on the superlatives and the lyrical descriptions
Nothing worse that sort of SHOUTING LOUD kind of prose, or uncontrollably gushing , or overly poetic
Cos gushing and superlatives can be quite vague – the praise terms are interchangeable, you could substitute a different artist or record’s name – the tricky bit is being precise in your passion
I think the goal is sort of ‘controlled passion’ or ‘controlled power’ – it’s actually more effective if you ration it out, have a little burst where some kind of excessive feelings cut through
How you develop that, I’m not sure – you could experiment with different registers, more personal elements – do some writing that isn’t for publication, where you write about your emotional responses to films or books or music, how things have related with what’s going on in your life -
Then you can see if there’s a way to ease that element into your writing that is published, without it becoming cloying or too memoiristic
And read some more criticism – read some of the classics, in lots of different fields, to see how they managed it – Lester Bangs is the king of the super-passionate rock critics, it reads often like a guy who is drunkenly spilling out his guts in a bar (he’s the only rock critic to have a biography written about him and it was called LET IT BLURT), but then later he gets more controlled and elegant while still passionate and moving. See if you can find online or in a library his piece on Astral Weeks by Van Morrison (it appears in his posthumous collection of writing but also in the various writers collection Stranded). Try writers on film like Pauline Kael or David Thomson (although his stuff is cooler in tone)…
There is also negative passion, where people denouncing stuff, Mark Fisher was good at that! For that, you really have to believe in the moment of writing that there is something deplorable and pernicious about the thing you are writing about.
Nowadays that kind of outburst oriented, fiery style of criticism has gone out of a fashion a bit, or at least the younger generation don’t do it – I read music writing these days and a lot of it seems very hung up on authoritativeness, knowing your facts, having done your research, and positioning – where does this fit into the scheme of things, the artists’s career moves, what they are trying to signify, statements being made etc… It’s often done very well and is precisely written but rather dry…
What’s missing for me is that sense of music’s power to seduce and to break you down – the flooding of pleasure almost to the point of swooning – the bliss and in a way the violence of music– whether it’s a very physical thing of the bass impacting your body or the way melody and harmony can tear into you emotionally, because sometimes the softest music has the most powerful effect - if a record (or a film) can make you cry that is really powerful, much more being noisy or slamming.
There are some great music writers who never go into that aspect and well reasoned and eloquent. But for me, for music writing to be complete, it needs to register at some point the sensual and emotional power of the music, a little bit of rhapsodizing about the beauty – that’s what we are in it for, the beauty, the intensity.
Experiment with it, listen to things and try to think, why do I like this, what it is doing to me…