Archive for the ‘Xgau’ Category
Posted by s woods on May 20, 2013
Bill Marx, in Fuse, reviews Devon Powers‘s Writing the Record: The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism.
Here and there Writing the Record lives up to its billing as a provocative examination of Village Voice critics as reflectors on as well as reflections of the intersection of popular music, the rise of hype, and left-wing politics during the ‘60s and beyond. But overall Powers’s mission is woodenly academic: rock criticism is “not merely” the “invention of a small number of individuals: it is a genre and the critic has a habitus, for which there are individual and historical but also collective and theoretical explanations.” The latter (collective and theoretical) explanations predictably wind up overwhelming the former. Making rock criticism safe for theory (“important forerunners of the academic study of popular culture”) undercuts any hope of seeing the incisive reviews of Goldstein and Christgau treated as a crucial part of American intellectual history; instead, they are cleared as source material for seminar room discussions about rock reviewing and the history of popular music.
Elsewhere Marx notes that the book is best when Powers “looks at the specifics in the writing of the critics. How did Goldstein discriminate strong rock music from the weak? How did changes in counterculture politics as well as music marketing influence how he articulated his judgments? In what ways does he remain a model for rock criticism?”
More on all this later, perhaps.
Posted in Book (P)reviews, Richard Goldstein, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on May 6, 2013
[Goldstein] was and presumably still is a man whose capacious enthusiasms leave him vulnerable to big disappointments. He was so disenchanted with Utopia’s failure to materialize that he bailed on being a rock critic six months before Woodstock. Not many people today even remember he was one, let alone the earliest influential one. Voice readers of my generation probably associate him far more with the paper’s determined and valiant pro-gay advocacy in the ’70s and ’80s, his main beat after he came out himself.
Yet Goldstein did a lot to define and articulate not only rock’s most radical aspirations, but — crucially — the abiding terms of disenchantment. The vexed concepts he wrestled with — “authenticity,” “commercialism,” and so on — were still bedeviling Kurt Cobain two decades later. I’d never realized how much he created the template for the trajectory of idealism and disillusionment I and many others retraced when, in our case, the Great Punk Rock Revolution went pffft. But you can just as easily fill in “When the Beatles broke up,” “When Al Green found Jesus” — or “When Kurt Cobain died,” come to think of it. Later generations would learn to disguise how much it hurt every time by making jokes about jumping the shark.”
- Tom Carson, When Rock Criticism Found its Voice, a review of Devon Powers’s (aforementioned) book on Christgau, Goldstein, and the Voice.
Posted in Book (P)reviews, Richard Goldstein, Xgau | 1 Comment »
Posted by s woods on May 2, 2013
Pitchfork: The first column at The Voice to do this with music was Richard Goldstein’s “Pop Eye”. He wasn’t there for very long, but he developed a unique way to approach music intellectually and enthusiastically at the same time.
DP: Goldstein started writing at The Village Voice in 1966, after finishing his masters in journalism at Columbia. He wanted to write about pop with a capital P: It’s mass culture, it’s democratic, but at the same time, it can be cunning, smart, tongue-in-cheek. At this point, no one else was taking that approach. You can see a juxtaposition with Crawdaddy, which was Paul Williams’ publication. Where Williams really just wanted to be serious, Goldstein wanted to be meta. He was friends with Bob Christgau and Ellen Willis, and they’re starting to figure out, “How do we develop a new language for talking about music?”
Pitchfork: One of the fascinating and, in a way, tragic things about Goldstein’s story is the identity crisis that he developed in public through his writing. At first, he embraced pop. But he quickly started resenting its commercialization and valorizing the underground.
DP: The “underground” is an idea that Goldstein is key in developing. Not to say that there weren’t people covering things out of the limelight before, but he’s central to the use of the word “underground” and this idea that there is a submerged culture happening on its own terms. At first, Richard gets very fired up about the possibilities of pop to radically reinvent society. Remember, it’s the 1960s, so we’re talking about the beliefs of the counterculture for world change. All of this infuses him and his writing. Very quickly, though, he gets jaded, as I think many people in their late 20s can relate to. But also, when we think about rock in the 60s getting completely commercialized, we don’t realize that it happened in the span of 28 months, really. The big money started falling in, which has an ironic relationship to the music. It helps the music to spread but at the same time, especially for somebody who was on the ground observing it, it could be a very depressing change.
Eric Harvey interviews Devon Powers about Writing the Record: The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism, which I just ordered this morning. I’m probably looking as forward to the telling of Goldstein’s place in all this as I am to Christgau’s, given that I really know only the most obvious, scant details about RG. (There’s also the recent news to consider that Christgau is releasing a memoir of his own.)
Posted in Book (P)reviews, Richard Goldstein, Village Voice, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on April 5, 2013
Revisiting the work of early pop critics such as Richard Goldstein and Robert Christgau, Powers shows how they stood at the front lines of the mass culture debates, challenging old assumptions and hierarchies and offering pioneering political and social critiques of the music. Part of a college-educated generation of journalists, Voice critics explored connections between rock and contemporary intellectual trends such as postmodernism, identity politics, and critical theory. In so doing, they became important forerunners of the academic study of popular culture that would emerge during the 1970s.
- Press release for Devon Powers’s upcoming tome, Writing the Record: The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism.
Consider me stoked. Or anyway, intrigued.
Posted in Book (P)reviews, Village Voice, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on March 14, 2013
He’s a case study in the moral inadequacy of authenticity.
- Christgau on David Peel’s 1972 album, The Pope Smokes Dope. Classic one-liner, positively Wildean in scope, though I leave it up to you to determine if he’s referring to Peel or to the Pope.
Posted in Archival, Quotes, Xgau | 1 Comment »
Posted by s woods on March 1, 2013
My professional guidance to rock critics, since before the Internet, was: Don’t become one. It’s a useful thing to tell people because the ones that really don’t want to will fall by the wayside, and the ones who do want to will defy you and get better anyway. Of course, I’m being somewhat comic. I wasn’t quite that absolute. But this is a very hard way to make a living, that’s what I would tell people, especially if you want to write well, because the good stuff is getting squeezed out. And it far precedes the Internet, but the Internet just put wheels on it.
Concision and Clarity: Robert Christgau reflects on the art of writing well about music (interview by Brett Anderson)
Posted in Economics, Interviews, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on February 27, 2013
In 1981 Soho Weekly News columnist Kaplan covered the London debut of Hoboken’s jumpy, innocuous Bongos, who were slammed in NME, he reported, for calling themselves ‘rock ‘n’ roll’: ‘The term is currently out of vogue in English new wave circles because it conjures up overbearing macho attitudes.’ This was the first wave of the U.K.’s ridiculous anti-’rockism’ campaign…
- Robert Christgau, “They Don’t Want to Talk About It”
Posted in Rockism, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on January 29, 2013
Devo’s Paradox: Why some art can’t be appreciated in its own time. By Noel Murray, AV Club.
Nearly a year old, this piece, but just discovered today. Akron’s spud boys vs. four seventies rock critics–Christgau, Bangs, Dave Marsh, and Tom Carson–none of whom reserve too many kind words for the band (though of the four, only Marsh seems to out and out despise them). Clearly, Murray is some kind of Devo fan, though in a piece that’s commendable for its evenhandedness, he only overstates the case for them once, I think, with the specious (at best) claim that “today, Are We Not Men? routinely lands on lists of the best and/or most significant albums of all time”–really? I haven’t noticed that at all (it’s possible we’re not looking at the same lists in the same publications). His strongest point, however, is his assertion that, in some instances (particularly, I’d suggest, for a band like Devo, who never lacked for a manifesto) negative criticism actually helps tell a band’s story–it completes, or anyway fills in, the picture they’re trying to create in the first place. Says Murray:
“It’s important to note, though, that the Devo skeptics weren’t ‘wrong’ per se. Devo intended to provoke with its science-fiction mission statements and its emotionless renditions of ’60s party music, so the affronted reactions that the band received from some quarters weren’t just expected, but to some extent, desired. Art and criticism are supposed to be in conversation with each other, and the Devo-haters were just answering the band in the terms its members had established. Marsh in particular makes a persuasive case that Devo is more shallow and disposable than smart. He just fails to be as persuasive when he all but demands that the young people of the late ’70s not take any pleasure in this catchy, exciting music.”
Elsewhere he notes:
“Tom Carson and Robert Christgau’s dismissive, defensive reactions to Devo are part of that band’s story, and now help explain what Devo was and what it meant, circa 1978. Those guys did their jobs–and well, I’d say.”
Funny thing is, I bet Devo agreed with that, too.
Don’t fight the urge.
Posted in Archival, Dave Marsh, Lester, Xgau | Tagged: bangs, christgau, devo, marsh, tom carson | 5 Comments »
Posted by s woods on January 23, 2013
An interview with Carola Dibbell at Black Clock:
BLACK CLOCK: You wrote rock criticism on and off for thirty years and have spoken before about the leakage between fiction and music writing. Can you explain what you mean by that? What role has music played in your fiction?
CAROLA DIBBELL: In the early seventies, I was surprised and impressed by the rock writing in Dave Marsh’s and Lester Bangs’ Creem, and a little later in the Village Voice music section, edited by Robert Christgau, my husband. In this fledgling and disreputable form, you could be vulgar, personal, amateurish and formally ambitious all at once and actually be read. It gave me a chance to do things with the voice and tone and disorder I was already exploring in fiction that was not actually read. It took longer for me to bring those rock critic elements into my fiction except, I suppose, that writing about pop led me to contemplate genre fiction. Then, in the late nineties, when my fiction was going nowhere, I made a conscious decision to let the rock critic write the fiction, sort of, and the fiction changed a lot.
Posted in Creem, Dave Marsh, Interviews, Lester, Village Voice, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on July 28, 2011
Christgau has at Genesis; Genesis fans have back at Christgau.
I know, har-har yeah-whatever, tell-me-something-I-don’t-already-know (er, you do know where you are now, right?) but it’s funny reading this in light of a comment I posted on the architecture site recently by pre-Yo La Tengo rock critic, Ira Kaplan (from a great review, actually, of the first Christgau guide; someone mailed me a photocopy of it years ago, though the publication and date were missing… anyone know what ‘zine it’s from?).
Posted in Xgau | 8 Comments »
Posted by s woods on July 21, 2011
Back on March 26, 1979, I mean.
Posted in Archival, Dave Marsh, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on July 17, 2011
Excellent Christgau interview/profile by David Cohen at The New Zealand Listener.
“Greil, Dave [Marsh] and I were at one time very good friends, but Dave and I are no longer friends at all,” recalls Christgau. “We shared political assumptions and were all a part of the counter-culture, even though we all were extremely sceptical about drugs and the religious strain of hippiedom, which in fact was the dominant strain.
“But even back then we had serious political differences. And, as you know, it’s the curse of the minority-left to be sectarian. Our musical tastes were completely different, too. These days I would call Dave a cultural conservative, and Greil has become a person with, ah, extremely intense and narrow interests: he loves what he loves and ignores almost everything else.”
(Update: I thought this was a new interview… it’s not, I’ve just never seen it before.)
Posted in Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, Interviews, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on July 15, 2011
Brian Joseph Davis’s Consumed Guide is described as “seven-thousand negative words assembled from 13,090 reviews by Robert Christgau.” Available on PDF, also with a Twitter feed.
Posted in Tech & Leisure, Tweets, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on July 7, 2011
By Bort Valentine, Cultural Critic
[Pitchfork]‘s presence in the pop culture zeitgeist (at least as far as I have experienced it) is entirely disproportionate to its readership: Alexa.com claims its US traffic rank to be 94,213th. By comparison, Blender is 8,348th, Spin is 3,832nd and Rolling Stone is 698th… even Robert Christgau’s website is more often visited…”
Well, I’m grateful to have been pointed towards the Alexa website, which I’d never heard of before, but regarding the popularity of Christgau’s site vs. Pitchfork‘s, the data is totally bonkers, at least judging by my search. Christgau’s U.S. traffic ranking (according to Alexa) is 91,770; Pitchfork‘s U.S. traffic ranking is 907 (yeah, my eyes popped out of my head also) (Rolling Stone is 643; Google is #1; Huffington Post is #24). No idea how reliable any of this is, but these numbers, at least in relation to one another, don’t feel wrong. (Rockcritics.com currently ranks 9,190,864th.)
Posted in Links, Xgau | 1 Comment »
Posted by s woods on July 7, 2011
Inleaf from my used paperback version of Christgau’s Any Old Way You Choose It. No clue who David is, but my guess is that he grew into a well-adjusted individual (with Christgau and a cool mom as his intellectual/spiritual guides, how couldn’t he?).
Posted in Book (P)reviews, Scott's Bookshelf, Xgau | 2 Comments »
Posted by s woods on June 25, 2011
Hüsker Dü’s Propulsive Liberation (Reviews of two new Dü books by Christgaü — including one co-written by Mould and Michael Azerrad — in the New York Times)
“Three decades later I still feel lucky to have experienced that transmutation of wrath into flight. Not only did Hüsker Dü generate an impressive recorded legacy during their eight years on earth, they were ferocious live — as memorable onstage as Nirvana or the Rolling Stones. They deserve one great book, not these two mediocre ones.”
Posted in Book (P)reviews, Punk, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on June 24, 2011
Search results for “mcluhan” at robertchristgau.com:
“What makes it even more discomforting is that our former National Pastime has become square. McLuhan and his minions in the big media have almost delegitimized it, and with reason. Baseball is an old-fashioned game. Its pace is so slow that it is now chic to claim to enjoy the gossip of the game more than the contest itself.”
- review of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, 1971
MM in Understanding Media:
“The characteristic mode of the baseball game is that it features one-thing-at-a-time. It is a lineal, expansive game which, like golf, is perfectly adapted to the outlook of an individualist and inner-directed society. Timing and waiting are of the essence, with the entire field in suspense waiting upon the performance of a single player. By contrast, football, basketball, and ice hockey are games in which many events occur simultaneously, with the entire team involved at the same time.”
(This site has an interesting graph, based on Gallup polls, showing the relative relational popularity of football and baseball.)
2) “It is by creating a mood that asks ‘Why should this mean anything?’ that the so-called rock poets can really write poetry — poetry that not only says something, but says it as only rock music can. For once Marshall McLuhan’s terminology tells us something: rock lyrics are a cool medium. Go ahead and mumble. Drown the voices in guitars. If somebody really wants to know what you’re saying, he’ll take the trouble, and in that trouble lies your art. On a crude level this permits the kind of one-to-one symbolism of pot songs like ‘Along Comes Mary’ and ‘That Acapulco Gold.’”
- from “Rock Lyrics are Poetry (Maybe),” 1967
A nicely drawn example of the participatory (“if someone wants to know…”), un-filled-in nature of MM’s definition of “cool.”
3) “This way of explaining the children-of-affluence idea is the one instance in which Reich’s popularization elevates itself to synthesis, which is really what popularization should do. It is a concise and sane interpretation of ideas implicit in thinkers like McLuhan and Fuller. That it has received scant attention even from Reich’s fans indicates how deeply ingrained the Consumer Society cliché, which it contravenes, has become among American nay-sayers.”
- review of Charles A. Reich’s The Greening of America, 1970
I’m unfamiliar with Reich’s book or thesis, but Christgau is voicing what seems to me a fairly typical and unsurprising (though nonetheless interesting — at least if you’re a fan of McLuhan) pattern: that is, that MM’s ideas — assuming Reich is indeed re-playing them in a more “concise and sane” way — have always had a much better chance of reaching a broader audience when translated into plain/sane English. (Better still, don’t acknowledge the source at all, for the very word “McLuhan” can still induce a screeching, nails-on-a-chalkboard effect, depending on the audience.)
Posted in McLuhan @100, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on June 22, 2011
Posted in Art & Photography, Links, Xgau | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on May 25, 2011
“[Willis] never stressed much about coverage while writing her Rock, Etc. column, and especially in her writing that followed; she tracked every move of the Who, Bob Dylan, the Stones, Janis, and the Velvet Underground as she blatantly ignored others.”
- Nona Willis Aronowitz, introduction to Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music
“‘I get so many records,’ Paul said, ‘but I go through most of them and, after one listen, that’s that. But I find a good one and it doesn’t come off the turntable for six months. I’ll play three records all year.’”
- Paul Nelson, quoted in Kevin Avery’s Everything is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson
I’m just floating these words out there, don’t really have much to say about them. I’ve been reading the two books in tandem — they’re both wonderful, though the Nelson bio, I have to say, is completely amazing, one of the half dozen greatest music books I’ve ever read, maybe — and one thing that struck me about both Willis and Nelson (and about the era in which they participated as rock critics) was their general disinterest in trying to “cover the bases.” Their frames of reference — at least within the sphere of music — were relatively tiny compared to most rock critics. (This is not to suggest that they did so as any kind of self-imposed rule, anymore than it’s to suggest that they didn’t on occasion surprise you with a left turn in their tastes. I’m talking in fairly broad terms here, of course.) It’s kind of astonishing when you think about it. One of the primary functions of rock criticism has been precisely the opposite — to cover as much stuff out there as possible. (cf. Christgau’s comment somewhere — can’t recall where exactly — something to the effect that “eclecticism is the first cliché of rock criticism”). Today, you simply couldn’t do what Nelson or Willis did. Well, you could, of course, on a blog (or in a boring specialist punk ‘zine or some such), but you’d never get paid for it, not by the New Yorker, not by Rolling Stone, or Spin, et al. You need to express (or feign) some interest in all (or anyway, most) of what’s going on. The irony being, of course, that it’s more impossible than ever to do so, given the infinite glut of genres, sub-genres, etc.
Posted in Book (P)reviews, Ellen Willis, Paul Nelson, Xgau | 1 Comment »
Posted by s woods on November 17, 2009
In this corner, Dean Christgau:
In this corner, James Wolcott:
And the winner is?
Posted in Xgau, YouTubes | 2 Comments »