Like the music score for a film, you might not notice the background music at a restaurant unless it is a complete misfit. In a film score, if it fits, it propels the story along nicely. And though you might not have consciously noticed the nice background music, you might have enjoyed your dining experience a little better. In my mind, completely wrong music at a restaurant serving ethnic cuisine is as bad as having the wrong wine or beer with your meal (in a way, it’s worse, since you can send the wine back and get another, but you cannot escape bad music except by walking out of the restaurant). Imagine having a fine Cabernet or a rich dark ale with a tuna salad sandwich and fries.
This evening for instance, I had dinner in a small Greek cafe. The staff was almost entirely teenagers and the music seemed selected more for the staff’s tastes than the patrons. I don’t mind dining without a musical score in the background, but for god’s sake if you are going to play music either match it to the cuisine or play something classical or something very bland and at a low volume. Blasting out Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears hits while I’m dining on stuffed grape leaves and pita slices with hummus just plain annoys the hell out of me. Most of the patrons were thirty or forty or fifty-something’s, and I’m betting they didn’t find the music all that entertaining either. To me it was like fingernails scratching on a blackboard. Whoever owns that restaurant should make it clear to the staff that they listen to what they like on their own time.
So then we go on to have dessert and coffee at a little Italian place and guess what they’re playing? Italian instrumental folk tunes at a soft volume! And that went with the food perfectly. We lingered over the coffee and left feeling good.
Call me old fashioned, but if you decide to play background music at your restaurant, match it to the cuisine. I like to hear Japanese music at a Japanese restaurant, French music at a French restaurant, Russian music at a Russian restaurant, and so on.
My closing thoughts: Art is often about mixing various elements properly. Music is produced with meticulous attention paid to the levels and tones of various instruments and voices. Film soundtracks are mixed with the right combination of dialogue, sound effects and music. And the music in a movie is carefully chosen to match the visuals. You wouldn’t imagine having death metal as the score for a sensitive romantic scene in a movie, nor would you expect soft jazz as the backdrop for a violent fight scene (unless the director was intentionally making some subtext commentary with the mismatch). To me, food is art. So please don’t play background music that totally doesn’t fit the cuisine in a restaurant either. After all, all the world’s a stage.
That’s my short rant.
This topic came up as a result of a question from a friend at a local pub with a bunch of other friends, after a reasonable yet significant level of inebriation had been achieved. My friends are well aware that I’ve started a blog that does quite a bit of analysis under the guise of being a “critic”. So the question posed was, “Boris, you’ve done production sound, hell you even worked in a real recording studio, you’ve written and directed a short film that’s still in post, written several novels and screenplays that are just sitting on a shelf (albeit several of the screenplays have been registered with the WGA-West—for what it’s worth), you’ve cooked for your friends a few times, shared some interesting photos you took whilst galavanting around the far east, you play a little guitar, ride a Ducati… Yada yada blah blah blah—so how does that qualify you to be a critic of people who have been producing art, music, food, film or whatever for years? What gives you the %#$@ing right to write about other peoples’ blood sweat and tears, in areas you’ve only dabbled in?
In a sense, I can see the logic in that. How could I possibly know what goes into making a feature film, or putting on an exhibit of paintings or photographs, or a piano recital (when I can barely play chopsticks on the ivories), a dance performance (when the best I’ve ever danced is to wave my arms around like a chimpanzee, whilst my wife pulls her hair down over her face to hide her identity). But then I remembered that there are very good art, film, music and food critics out there who never mastered what it is they critique. There’s even that old saw that if you can’t do it, you teach it, and if you can’t teach it, you criticize it (actually critics critique stuff, and only occasionally when it is really bad stuff do they criticize it—there is a bit of a difference you know).
So to be honest, I think that you can never know what goes into an artistic effort of the magnitude of making a full-length feature film, or publishing a four-hundred page novel for real (on real paper, and sold in real bookstores), or performing in a musical or dance recital, if you haven’t done it. But if you are a serious artist, you wouldn’t be critiquing it. And if you had mastered the art, but then had to retire early for some reason (such as a career-ending injury or old age for a dancer) you’d probably be teaching. Only the lowest of the bottom feeders attempt to make any sort of career (paid or unpaid) of critiquing other peoples’ work.
But someone has to do it. If you hear the friends, family and close colleagues talk about someone’s artistic products, they will gush with praise (and hit that “like” button” in a heartbeat) even for something that is absolute and obvious rubbish. So it falls on the likes of those of us who operate at the periphery of the art world and hang out in the shadows of artists both great and mediocre, to take on the sometimes not-so-well-received task of telling it like it is.
So does that make me qualified? My short answer is yes. My long answer is hell yes. And if you don’t like that I referred to a home movie a friend of yours shot with a $100 camcorder, out of focus, and that sounded like the on-screen characters were in a tunnel, and like the lighting was done using a flashlight—that’s just too darn bad. That’s just what I do. And if you put some tune you created out on Reverb Nation that I feel sounds like a two-year-old vomited her strained peas onto a $100 Casio digital keyboard—again, too bad. That’s what I do. And if like a certain English professor at a certain local major university, you run a writing Meetup group and boast about your self-published novels on Kindle that had all the plot and character development of a child’s finger painting and I said that here (I have not!)—you quite possibly deserved it (but I’ve heard plenty of other people say similar things about your work in the Kindle review section sir).
I call em as I see em. If you don’t like what I have to say, and you really want to beat the crap out of me, I’m the guy at the exhibit/show/concert/recital who looks like an English Bulldog. But conversely, I will give kudos to someone who has worked hard to improve with each new work they put out there. After all, we should all strive to be better at whatever we do every day. And I recognize good entertainment value, even if as an art form, the work has come up a bit short (like if you posted a YouTube video with two cats boxing). Stand-up comedy is in fact a high art form and a difficult one to do well. And done well, it is highly entertaining—so much so you might accidentally tear a muscle in your side from laughing.
But fair warning: the thing I will most tear into is posers acting like accomplished artists. At least I’ll be the first to admit that my guitar playing qualifies me for playing in a garage band with four other significantly inebriated grown-up adolescents. I have a good friend who plays a little better than I do and is waiting for Eddie Van Halen to return his calls (you know who you are). Go figure. And then there’s my cooking. While my wife says it is very good, a professional chef would probably mistake a plate I had prepared for one needing to go into the dishwasher. And then there’s the photography. I get laughed at for having one of the nicest DSLR’s available (a 5D3) and not knowing what 90% of its capabilities are. But I’m learning. And then again, I never pretended to be the heir apparent to Ansel Adams, as a few photographer acquaintances of mine seem to think they are.
So what I do think really about the necessary qualifications to critique some form or other of art? In my humble opinion (hopefully that word humble will make you back down a bit on your anger level) to be a critic, you need to have had some basic exposure, and a little education (even just reading a few books I think counts), maybe have an aptitude of an advanced amateur, and definitely a sincere interest in and respect for the art form. You can’t be a good critic of country music for example, if you think that every country music song is about a guy’s wife taking the dog and the pickup truck. So I will recuse myself from critiquing that particular “art form”. I love to recognize artists who really produce fine work and put on a great show. And I will recognize a great effort that falls short in some area. But I will just as quickly come down hard on the posers who think because they are a little more talented than Joe The Plumber, that their work should be on exhibit at the Smithsonian.
Seriously, I will always accept an invitation to get a personal demonstration and education as to what is involved in creating a form of art (as long as it doesn’t take place in a secluded alley late at night). I want to learn more and to understand more about what you professional artists really do in your studios and on your stages in your professional artistic endeavors. I definitely make every effort to improve myself every day by practicing a little guitar, shooting some pictures or video footage and editing it, and writing novels, screenplays and of course this blog. Hell, I’ve even helped a neighbor with his home brewing. It is all both fun and very educational. Life is a mega adventure to me and like a shark, I need to keep swimming in order to breathe. But please don’t take it too hard if I didn’t gush with praise over something you spent all of a week working on during breaks from watching South Park reruns. It’s all part of the game of life.
The Boylan Bridge Brewpub (corner of Boylan and Morgan in downtown Raleigh) is absolutely my favorite place to grab a brew and a bite on warm evenings. Here’s why:
One of the best views of the fabulous Raleigh skyline (well, at least compared to Cary) can be seen from the outdoor patio tables. Even in the summer, the openness seems to attract a light cooling breeze that if you close your eyes after a few margaritas, almost makes you feel like you’re on the beach. Real estate people say there are three important factors for any piece of property: location, location, location. The Boylan Bridge Brewpub has it. Conveniently located at the edge of the city, with plenty of free parking almost all the time. The crowd is a mix of young and old. You’ll see young office rats escaping for a few hours of relaxation, couples with children, and a smattering of local artists, musicians and filmmakers who all enjoy the ambience. You might even see me there blogging or working on a manuscript on my iPad. The outdoor patio is dog-friendly (the friendly wait staff will bring a water bowl for your dog without your needing to ask!). And there’s a bicycle rack right out in front. The outdoor patio view of downtown Raleigh is unequalled, and even the indoor dining area is cheery, light and spacious with lots of windows and high ceilings. And I love that they DON’T blast music like some dining/drinking establishments. And even when crowded, the din never seems out of control.
The menu includes both light fare (salads, soups, and appetizers), as well as interesting and delicious sandwiches and hot entrees. It isn’t a huge menu, but management is always listening to feedback and tweaking the menu with an occasional new or modified item. My favorites are the black bean burger, the Asian chicken wrap, and the spicy chicken Philly sandwich. I had a burger there a while back (before I swore off red meat for a New Years Resolution) that was quite delicious. Beware of the nachos and the large order of french fries: they are humongous orders suitable for either a small family or an offensive lineman. And for the vegetarians, aside from the black bean burger and the vegetable lasagna, they’ll fix you up with tofu in place of meat on almost any item on the menu.
I saved the best part for last. The joint is based around a microbrewery in a large back room. There are generally a half-dozen varieties of delicious fresh-brewed beer on tap, available in pints, pitchers and growlers—and the selection constantly changes and includes “seasonals”. If you aren’t sure which one you want to try, you can order a “flight”: a sampler of six three-ounce (I think) jumbo shot glasses of different varieties. They will in fact let you have a free taste of anything before you order. Beyond their own home-crafted beers, they have a variety of other beers as well. In addition to the standard bar fare, there are some notable mixed drinks on the menu, including a couple I find delectable when looking for a change of pace from the delicious brews: such as the Boylan Bash and the Yuzu Martini.
“The Bridge” is a marvelous hangout that has become more and more popular (especially during the warm season). Their growing success however means you might have to wait for an outdoor table on a pleasant evening. But you can always stand along the wall admiring the view while waiting for your pager to go off. That certainly beats standing in a line at most joints. A couple of suggestions I’d make: add more rain protection for the patio tables—it seems a shame to have to go indoors during a light drizzle. Also, some of those big outdoor heater thingees would make sitting outside during the colder months more pleasant. I suspect they will eventually get around to that. They do really listen to suggestions. If there is a weak point, it is that the service is too often a bit slow and inattentive. I don’t know if it’s because they’re understaffed or it’s just an attitude problem the owner needs to correct. But I notice it does tend to cut stars off many of the other reviews I’ve seen of the place. This dampens the overall experience. As cool a location as it is, they do need to improve the service. If you do go there, say hello to the owner, Andrew, who you’ll see occasionally strolling around saying hello to customers. He’s a very affable person and fairly talented brewmeister.
Chang Scale: 4.0
Reasoning: the vibes, lovely view, convenient location and general ambience kick the rating up from a basic “okay” 3 rating, while the slow, inattentive service knocks it down from a 5. If the quality of service continues to deteriorate, I’ll probably knock the rating down to a 3.5 soon enough. At least on the flip side, they don’t hassle you every few minutes and they’ll let you nurse a beer as long as you want. The food and drink are as good or better than the average bar. It is definitely NOT standard bar food as I’ve seen written by a few reviewers with an axe to grind over the poor service.
B.C. January 2013