by Ryan Wasoba
Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship
RFT announced the Best Of St. Louis winners more than twelve hours ago. Where's the backlash? Where is the comment about the paper's bogus decision to give Fister the Best Metal Band honor instead of Tear Out The Heart? Where is that Tweet bashing RFT for not awarding Foam Best All Ages Venue instead of Fubar? I am not encouraging troll-like behavior (although I do think our commenting system would be more efficient if users had to answer three riddles first), but I look forward to the interaction that ensues during Best Of St. Louis season. Disagreements are inevitable, because that's what happens when the word "best" is used to describe artistic endeavors that cannot be quantified in any truly comparative way.
Perhaps "favorite" is a more accurate word. The subtle difference in language is significant; "best" has authority while "favorite" implies personal preference. Saying "Kid A is my favorite record of all time" to a buddy over drinks doesn't raise any eyebrows. Saying "Kid A is the best record of all time" in the same context might seem like a power play; who are YOU to make such assessment?
So who are WE to use the B-word? Easy: RFT is an organization trusted by the masses to deliver qualified assessments of the local arts with unflinchingly impeccable taste.
But seriously, the authority mentioned before comes from the group consciousness of any newspaper, magazine, website, et cetera. Imagine Rolling Stone releasing an issue of "Our 500 Favorite Songs Of All Time" or Pitchfork dropping its "100 Favorite Records Of The Year" list. The simple word swap reads as amateur, if only because it weakens that wall between a faceless organization and the humans on the other side. "Best" results from of a critical group's inner workings. It could be the result of democracy or a checks and balances system between writers and editors. So while "best" comes off stronger than "favorite" in terms of language, the former is sometimes a politicized, watered down version of the latter (note that this is never true at Riverfront Times).
If "best" is an opinion marauding as a fact, "favorite" is an opinion presenting itself in its strongest form. Favorites are infallible, because the potential for human error gives them strength. Favorites are risky and sometimes never break through to best status in the public eye. This is what makes a favorite more exciting than the best. Just look at the Republican Presidential candidate race; if music criticism worked the same way, every publication would herald the most moderate, least offensive artists, and we'd end up with musical Mitt Romneys atop every list.
So you might disagree with some Best Of St. Louis picks, and maybe you should. Such opinions are proof that people in our city care, and that there are enough specialized talents in our music community to justify separate categories like "Best Cover Band" and "Best Tribute Band." The folks at RFT are prepared for the reactionary mudslinging; the offices are already covered with plastic wrap like the entire staff is in the front row of a Gallagher concert.
But even when the response seems like an uprising aimed towards our questionable place of authority in awarding the best of St. Louis, I look forward to the dialogue that ensues. I cherish this interaction; it's my favorite.