Meme of the Day: We Gotta Get Out of This Place


July 16, 2009 by admin

“By the mid-’80s, my rock-crit colleagues were most agog over bands like R.E.M. and U2, whom I could appreciate but never felt any passion for (after punk, I could never understand the continued appeal of the great-rock-band concept). Just around the time that Robert Christgau was announcing his sensible theory of ‘semi-popular’ music, I switched over to covering the TV industry, where ‘semi-popular’ got you cancelled, and I re-discovered that I really liked writing about MASS culture, and increasingly disliked the prevailing trend in rock writing, which was: Pick a subculture (post-punk, dance, hip-hop, country, whatever), unearth the most obscure examples of it, and then write hipper-than-thou panegyrics. That wasn’t for me; I was happier using my newspaper skills to ponder ‘Seinfeld’ and eight-hour miniseries.”
Ken Tucker ( interview, 2000)

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“I think I still have a sort of firehouse-dog response to music. You know, you hear the alarm go off, and you’re next to the truck with your tail wagging. If a song or performer catches my attention, there’s nothing I like better than getting into a big, insanely detailed discussion of what’s going on in that tune or that video or that career. I’m also pretty sure that I’m smarter about music than I was when I was a critic. I hear more, and I can make a better argument for why something that sounds negligible is a good song or why one that seems sort of plausible just reeks. But I haven’t made a consistent, determined effort to keep up, and that’s fatal. It’s not just that you have to hear the records. You have to know the context, either by living it as a fan or appreciating it as a critic, and now the context has just mushroomed. More and more, you can see even working critics giving up–just saying, ‘Screw it, I’m going to go on pretending that knowing something about Paul Simon is information worth sharing with you people, because I’ll go insane if I have to wake up every morning telling myself I care which one in N’Sync is Justin.'”
Tom Carson ( interview, 2002)

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“I could always recover my passion for the music every month, in some LP or other, UNTIL Creem died–it’s been more difficult since I lost my wedded-for-life journalistic outlet.”
–  Richard Riegel ( interview, 2000)

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“Let’s face it I just don’t listen to the stuff no more. Rock-related discs. Six months’ll go by between spins. I don’t play new stuff, I don’t play old stuff, I don’t even play Byrds albums for old friends sitting around drunk at 4 a.m. What I’m thinking is at last–maybe–I’m off the stuff. Which (if true) would make three loathsome habits of long duration I’ve kicked in less than a year; others were TV and Copenhagen (‘the smokeless tobacco’). What makes it a habit worth jettisoning should be obvious (some chronically self-attenuating variation on–or want of a more interesting nutshell–duh music IS repulsive, has BEEN repulsive, will forevermore BE repulsive & if not I still ain’t gonna be arount t’ notice.) All I’m listening to these days is jazz with a little occasional dub thrown in; I can’t hack voices while I’m typing and I seem to be typing the most I’ve typed since 1970 when I was not listening to rock and roll for the first or second official time (i.e., ain’t life funny).”
– Richard Meltzer, “The Minutemen (Exist)” (Village Voice) (reprinted in A Whore Just Like the Rest)

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“I had a double whammy moment, and a formal ‘drop out’ point in time that was 12/31/73. My favorite rock bands had all tanked in America (commercially)–Stooges, Slade, New York Dolls, Raspberries. Plus by that late moment in time all the rock prozines sucked–Creem and PRM [Phonograph Record Magazine] were both pretty lame by this point (PRM changed format around the end of 1973). Like a lot of other fans, I kinda thought rock music was over, kaput. So I wrote a half-page short on (Ohio hardpop-rock act, ok album on Mercury) Blue Ash in PRM‘s ‘year end roundup,’ with the distinct notion that this was the last thing I was ever gonna say re: ‘rock music’ in the prozine press, not that anyone was counting or keeping track anyway, and my comments were real negative (re: the state of ‘rock music’). Sure enough, 1974 was by far the worst year for rock music of the entire ’60s or ’70s. I became an ABBA fan and didn’t write a word in a national prozine for 25 years.”
Mike Saunders ( interview, 2001)

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“Well, this could well be goodbye. I am leaning toward retirement, and at the age of 37 (for chrissakes, how come now you ask, don’t you think I feel bad enough about it as it is?), it’s about time. Time to get maybe a real full-time job and jettison adolescence. This isn’t to say all rock writers still hang on to theirs, but the percentage is kinda high, don’t you admit?”
– Stephen Hinerman, 1987 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll (Village Voice)

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“I don’t really want a job anymore where you have to think. The store has a lot of old films and foreign films. A lot of movie nuts come in and you get to talk about the movies. I couldn’t possibly go back to writing about rock. I don’t have any comparison points anymore. Nor do I care to listen to a lot of rock records to learn about them. I would not want to be in today’s music business and it would not want me in it either.”
Paul Nelson ( interview, 2000)

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“I’ve been writing this column on and off since 1972 and I just decided to stop. I’ve got other things to do and I’ve said as much about Britain as I can for a while. Ever since the rise of punk, the difference between what’s happening here and what interests you there has been growing, and I’ve now lost a sense of what to write about.”
– Simon Frith, 1979 (“Letter from Britain” March ’79 issue of Creem)

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“I found writing about music… eventually I didn’t exactly run out of words, but I had a sort of exhaustion and I wanted to stop or cut right down on that. But with sport you always get a result, it happens in front of you, it’s physical, you can see it. Sport reveals character so it’s interesting to write about. The way people play a game is generally the way they are as a person and you can’t say that about music. Stan Getz made the most beautiful sound in the history of music but he was the biggest bastard God ever created and you can’t correlate the two things at all.”
Richard Williams ( interview, 2002)

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“My loss of interest has more to do with me than what’s out there, which I’m sure is the usual mix of whatever’s worthwhile and what’s not.”
Phil Dellio, 2006 interview (Everybody’s a Critic)

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“I don’t yearn for the old days nor more music assignments. It’s physically painful for me to squelch my writing style to fit some editor’s idea of useful consumer advice. I hate rating records with numbers and stars and grades. I hate lists. And the older I get, the less I care what’s on MTV. I’d rather read a book.”
Charles M. Young ( interview, 2001)

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“It looked like becoming a writer was going to be easy but as it turned out I didn’t have the tenacity or focus to develop a beat and in reality I was just as interested in politics and the New Left. Bob, and also Greil, offered me a number of opportunities that could have led to full-time writing gigs. I will always be grateful but as much as I enjoyed it and as honored as I am to have been a part of something I considered then and consider now a Worthwhile Endeavor and also An Important Cultural Moment, it was a combination of things that led to me never being a full time rock critic. I suppose it was a mix of desire, opportunity, and focus. I was interested in what I was interested in and couldn’t crank it out across the spectrum. And odd as it may sound, I found working at the phone company to be more interesting than writing about pop music.”
Tom Smucker ( interview, 2000)

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“I don’t see edgy rock writing but then I’m not looking for it, it could be out there. To find that kind of writing stimulating I suppose you have to care about the genre, and at the moment I’m in a lull. I hope the lull ends, but it doesn’t really matter to me if it doesn’t. It’s a wide world out there with many, many different subjects to write about. Rock was a great topic for me, but to write about it forever seems a little limiting. And unfair to the younger writers who are probably a lot more into it than I am right now.”
Gina Arnold ( interview, 2001)

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“In June, I chose not to remain a full-time rock critic. I now review new records for National Public Radio’s ‘Fresh Air’ and will freelance for anyone who’ll have me. But daily newspapers are no longer interested in rock criticism, or in any arts criticism at all, really. It’s an old story but truer than ever–editors are on the side of the public-relations departments in wanting only ‘positive’ profiles of the duperstars. I’m beyond caring whether I sound bitter or out-of-touch. For now, I’ll settle for a paradox: I’ll keep on writing about the music whenever and wherever I can, even as I give up on the idea of popular criticism.”
– Ken Tucker, 1987 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll (Village Voice)

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“Well, after Creem folded, that and this other magazine I was writing for–it started out being called Rock Video, and then it ended up being called Hard Rock–I was writing for both of those, and they both went out of business within a few weeks of each other, so I kept sending a few things out to different people I thought would like them, but there was just no response at all. So I eventually started working on other things, I had a mail order business for quite a while, and even worked in a record store–you know, just stuff to make money. I’d sure like to write stuff now, but no one is exactly flocking to my door saying, ‘Oh Rick, Rick, please write stuff for us and we’ll give you money.'”
Rick Johnson ( interview, 2002)

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“I did stop around 1983 or 1984 really in a way because I thought I was too old, I was about 24, 25. Then, not only did everybody else carry on, they all started inventing magazines and worked for Emap and did Smash Hits and Q and then Mojo and now The Word or whatever. Me and Ian Penman at the NME in the early ’80s used to get up to a few shenanigans and I often wonder whether the revenge on our hubris was the invention of Q and then Mojo and now the Americanisation of Uncut.”
Paul Morley, interviewed by Peter Murphy (Official Web Site of Laura Hird)

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“Did I really give it up or am I just on extended sabbatical? I could never understand why other people gave it up. I remember interviewing Chrissie Hynde, who didn’t even want to discuss it. Then I realized she really didn’t see herself as a rock critic, it was not something she was particularly proud of, just a way of getting where she really wanted to be. I think the same was true of Patti Smith.”
Deborah Frost ( interview, 2002)

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“When I ‘dropped out’ of rock criticism, it wasn’t because I felt frustrated over gender issues but because I lost interest in rock, which had slipped out of the central cultural position it occupied in that rich 60s-70s period. As U.S. rock turned hegemonic, it mattered less relative to other cultural expressions. The moment was over. To immerse oneself in writing about rock and roll struck me as a sure-fire way of missing the beat as a writer and critic. That’s why many writers, female and male, expanded their repertoire to include music and film, tv, books, art, performance, travel essays, and other cultural subjects.”
– Daisann McLane, 1992 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll (Village Voice)

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“I never wanted to go back into music full-time. Now, the further away I get from writing about it the more I listen, not that I ever didn’t listen, but I just find myself buying albums–I don’t get free records anymore–and I listen all the time, and one of the things I feel quite strongly about is that writing about sport is a lot easier than writing about music.”
Richard Williams ( interview, 2002)

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“At 13, I started thinking about being a writer, with occasional interludes of wanting to be a musician or a psychologist. Now I fantasize about driving a cab. I despise the publishing business.”
Charles M. Young ( interview, 2001)

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“I’m in retail, man, that’s much worse… But I didn’t go anywhere. Nobody wanted to print my writing, so that’s the reason.”
Rick Johnson ( interview, 2002)

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“I realize now that a lot of what I ‘achieved’ as a writer was all for the wrong reasons. I was very wrapped up in things that did not matter at all–really, a lot of nonsense–like where my byline was appearing, how big my pieces were. Just a lot of crap, which I don’t think was especially unique to me. And I would let myself get really sucked into the little games that other screwed up people would play. There were certain editors who were always trying to promote rivalries, particularly between women.”
Deborah Frost ( interview, 2002)

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“I was talking to my agent yesterday, and I said to him, ‘Do you think it’s gonna reach the point where the only thing you can sell is a celebrity biography that’s just a puff job?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know.’ You know? I sit around and wonder if maybe the best thing I could do for myself as a writer would be just to completely get away from all this stuff… I’m not gonna saw away at my violin here and try and break everybody’s heart, because like I said, I know I’ve got it easy. The fact is, I don’t have to get up in the morning and go work from 9 to 5 in a factory or something. And I do have access, and I do have a lot of things that, you know, nobody should feel sorry for me. But at the same time, everybody I know is just totally alienated and fed up and disgusted with just about everything, and I do know that most of the people in the media that are dispensing this stuff are as alienated from it as the audience is. The audience is just taking it because there’s nothing else being offered. And personally, I’m just wondering when people are gonna just say No! I refuse! I don’t want any anymore.”
Lester Bangs (1980 interview published in rockcritics)

(Read the previous “Meme of the Day” here.)

8 thoughts on “Meme of the Day: We Gotta Get Out of This Place

  1. I followed the link and read the rest of that Paul Morley interview. It was great, thanks for that.

  2. Garrett says:

    Interesting quotes.

    It’s probably “best” to think of rock music as part of culture and of rock criticism as part of intellectual discourse and journalism: part of larger wholes, part of how we have joy, make meaning, live.

  3. Richard Riegel says:

    Nice selection of quotes, Scott, even if I did say so in one of ’em myself. Tom Carson’s on target with his comment that losing your critical context makes it all begin to fall apart. For me the context was the monthly publication of my deathless prose about the records in hip & wiseass CREEM, regularly followed by a modest (lavish by current rates) payment for my efforts. That way I could continue my dual ’60s-bred callings as a family-man-provider and as “a writer.” After my CREEM cycle hit menopause in ’88, I lost my context, as writing-wise, there was nothing else like CREEM out there. (Cf. Rick Johnson’s similar laments.)

    Lester’s characteristic worries about “alienation” just above reminded me that when I visited him in NYC in 1978, the first time I’d seen him in person since he left CREEM, we were talking about various current bands, and he asked me something to the effect, “Do you really like all this ‘new wave’ stuff?” I said “Sure!” as I was having a great time auditing the Ramones and Elvis Costello and all the other purged-of-James-Taylor music arriving in my mailbox weekly. Lester admiited that he liked a lot of those artists, but somehow still wasn’t getting everything he’d wanted from music when he’d set out to write about it. I felt in awe of his bleak attitude (just as I already was of his writing skills), felt that maybe I didn’t have Lester’s existential depth if I could take simple pleasure in spinning a mere Dead Boys album.

    By now, I think I’m finally beginning to catch up with Lester in the alienation neurosis, even if I had to live nearly twice as long as he did to begin to see some of that darkness. That said, I’ve received simple — no, complex! — pleasure the past couple of weeks while listening to the Sharon Tandy compilation CD I bought on Amazon. She did most of her records in holy 1966-67-68, and is the likely bridge of sighs between Sandie Shaw and Dusty Springfield & thus crucial to my own musical mythology, but that’s all I’m going to say, because even if rock criticism still exists, I’m NOT one of those guys any longer — even my thoughts are fleetingly freelance now . . .

  4. Steve Crawford says:

    This thread reminded me of a few quotes. One from Rick Johnson, “Every time you get to heaven, somebody moves the gate!” Also, reminded of the feedback that Kurt Vonnegut’s editor would give him when he bitched about being a writer, “No blacksmith is in love with his anvil.”

  5. Tom Lane says:

    I never heard of McLane or Hinerman. Googled them and found that McLane is a travel writer and Hinerman writes about the communications business. The latter is the best way I can describe it after doing a search.

  6. s woods says:

    FYI, these were quotes I pulled some time ago through various sources (starting with what I detected was a common theme among some of the interviewees from our own archives). It’s always struck me that rock criticism, whether a profession, a hobby, or whatever, is something that a lot of people feel the need to drop out of and to pronounce on their dropping out of — it seems to be part of the story of rock criticism itself. (You could say this is true of every profession, obviously, though I’ve never sensed it to be as much an issue in, say, movie criticism — am I wrong?) The reasons cited for dropping out are usually some combination of alienation or inability to relate to the now-ness of music, lack of financial stability, deciding instead to follow a more lucrative (and respectable?) path, burning out on the endless listening and concerts, etc. Obviously, a lot of people who drop out of the game don’t necessarily stop being music critics — they just stop doing it in print, for money. There’s precious little likelihood that — at least if they were committed to the form in the first place — they stop talking and thinking like music critics; once infected by the bug… (I firmly count myself among these; gave up on the idea of being a critic eons ago, but if you pat my head and rub my tummy in just such a way I’ll still pull off a reasonable facsimile.) It’s interesting to me that some critics quit for external reasons, others for internal reasons. Some blame the music itself, others note that the disinterest is entirely their own. Like Richard, I too once “felt in awe of [Lester]’s bleak attitude… felt that maybe I didn’t have Lester’s existential depth if I could take simple pleasure in spinning a mere Dead Boys album.” I now think that’s a failure in Bangs’s thinking (though not his writing) and might in face be total hogwash (no, Lester, what changed was YOU)… but it’s a question worth wrestling with.

    I used to see Daisann McLane’s name quite a bit. Probably in the Voice, maybe in New York Rocker?

  7. s woods says:

    Quick addendum: my internal/external characterizations are perhaps incorrect. The real “external” reasons some quit are obviously economic and/or corporate: Rick Johnson claims no one cared to publish his work, and a lot of folks, esp. nowadays, just get shitcanned usually as a result of downsizing. Not trying to discount that obviously.

  8. Steven Ward says:

    Actually, McLane started out at Circus and then worked at Rolling Stone for a while. She did cover stories on Aerosmith and Heart at RS.

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