Return of the ‘R’

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 … Continue reading Return of the ‘R’

Kael Essays Wanted

Talking About Pauline Kael (Scarecrow Press essay collection; deadline for abstracts is June 1, 2013; accepted essays due October 15, 2013). Calling for essays for a collection, Talking About Pauline Kael, which will examine how New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael’s unique vision, writing style, or critical authority has, in any way, influenced the study of film, the role of film criticism, or even the … Continue reading Kael Essays Wanted

From the Archives: David McGee (2001)

David McGee kicked off 2001 in rockcritics.com with what I’m pretty sure is the longest interview we ever ran on the site (a couple roundtable-style features may have exceeded it); it’s just shy of 17,000 words. Scanning it now, there’s so much interesting stuff here, the excess doesn’t bother me in the slightest; to the contrary, I think it’s what was good about us back then. (If you think this is some kind of terrible indulgence, I have to assume you don’t have a lot use for the topic in general, no?)

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David McGee: He will never be the editor of a rock magazine again 

By Steven Ward (January 2001)

If anyone ever writes a history on rock criticism and music writing, the names of Stanley Booth, Peter Guralnick and Nick Tosches will surely lead off the chapters on roots rock and American vernacular music writing. But if the author leaves out the name of writer David McGee, neither the chapter or the history of music writing will ever be complete. McGee has been writing about music since his college days at the Oklahoma Daily–the student newspaper at the University of Oklahoma. Like many kids growing up in the ’50s, Elvis Presley changed McGee’s life. After a cousin asked McGee to put his ear next to her tiny transistor radio one summer day in 1956, McGee heard the first strains of “Heartbreak Hotel.” There was no turning back after that.

Since that time, McGee has written about rock and pop music for the now defunct Record WorldRolling StonePro Sound NewsSpin, and the short-lived but intelligent and lively Record (where he served as managing editor for the magazine’s entire five year run).

McGee’s superb Carl Perkins biography, Go Cat Go: The Life and Times of Carl Perkins, The King of Rockabilly, is sadly out of print. Go (Cat Go!) and find it at an out of print on-line dealer.

Although McGee has written about all kinds of popular music throughout his career, his specialty has always been country music and the music that sprang from the South in the ’50s and collided to create rock and roll–country, blues, gospel, and bluegrass. Today, he is the country music editor atBarnesandNoble.com, an editor at Pro Sound News, and he’s about to start work on the next edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide.

McGee has also finished the script for a Broadway musical based on the life and songs of legendary songwriter Doc Pomus. The musical, Save the Last Dance for Me, is scheduled to begin workshops in Minneapolis in June, with an opening on the Great White Way planned for early 2002. He is also collaborating with Pomus’s daughter, Sharyn Felder, on a companion book to the musical. It will include previously unpublished transcripts of interviews McGee conducted with Pomus in the late ’70s; powerful, poetic, intimate entries from Pomus’s personal journals; plus reminiscences of Pomus by people who knew him best, including his brother, the noted divorce attorney Raoul Lionel Felder, his daughter and son, and musical soul-mates like Phil Spector and Dr. John.

As McGee says in the following interview, the rock music of today does not really move him like the music of his youth still does. That does not make him a bad guy, just one who couldn’t edit a rock mag today.

Judge for yourself, but I don’t think McGee is bothered by that at all.

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Steven:   So what have you been up to lately? I understand you are the Country Music Editor for BarnesandNoble.Com. How did you get that job and what does it entail?

David:   I joined bn.com a few months before it went online. Apparently, I was recommended for the position by Alan Light, whom I had met when he was at Rolling Stone, and whose then-fiancée, now-wife Suzanne McElfresh, was the site’s pop music editor for about a year before she moved to another online publication. Apparently Suzanne told him bn.com was looking for a country editor, he gave her my name and number, and I got the job, which is a freelance position. It’s always heartening when someone like Alan, who is one of the best writers and editors around, gives you a vote of confidence.

Because bn.com is an online retail store, the job of all the music editors is to weigh in first on the major releases each week–the ones that sell lots and lots of units–and to try to keep up with worthy small label releases that we feel fans in each genre would enjoy knowing about. A good example of the latter was the 1999 debut album by the Groobees, whose principal singer and songwriter is Susan Gibson, best known for writing the Dixie Chicks’ breakthrough song, “Wide Open Spaces.” I think Susan is going to be a major writer as time goes on, and the Groobees ought to be around for awhile too if they can find it economically feasible to stay together until they get established as a touring band. Right now they’re pretty much just playing clubs in their native Texas and surrounding states, but they’re a good, solid band and deserve a wider audience.

Continue reading “From the Archives: David McGee (2001)”

From the Archives: Ken Tucker (2000)

Steven Ward’s interview with Ken Tucker. Like previous interviewees Meltzer (at least circa 2000) and Smucker, one of our early subjects who continued to exercise his rock critic muscles on a part-time basis only.  (I note that there are a lot of links in this interview, and I will eventually go through it to delete or replace any bad ones. The first priority of this migration from the archives, however, is just to get the material on to this server before my subscription at the archives server expires.)

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He Got a TV Eye on You: The Ken Tucker Interview

By Steven Ward (December 2000)

One day, back in 1974, a Lower East Side resident named Ken Tucker wrote Village Voice music editor Robert Christgau an angry letter because the Voice wasn’t covering the sorts of bands that Tucker was interested in reading about. Christgau’s response was to give Tucker his first professional assignment–writing up those very bands he wanted to read more about. The piece was published [“Notes From The Academy,” Dec. 23, 1974], and Tucker has been writing music –and other media — criticism ever since, for popular rags like Rolling Stone to obscure where-are-they-nows like Gig. Tucker’s primary outlet for the last decade has been Entertainment Weekly, where he serves as their TV critic.

And a damn fine television critic he is: Tucker on The Simpsons or Letterman is essential reading. Should any enterprising individual with too much time on their hands start up aTelevisionCritics.com, you can be sure the site will virtually be dominated by Tucker.

Tucker was happy to talk to rockcritics.com and fill in some of the blanks of his critical odyssey.

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Steven:   You spent a good part of the ’70s, the ’80s, and part of the ’90s writing about rock music. Today, you are the television critic for Entertainment Weekly. How and why did you switch pop culture mediums? Do you prefer writing about TV, and if so, why?

Ken:   Well, I haven’t really abandoned regular rock coverage: I write occasional music reviews for EW and do weekly record reviews for National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air.”

But you’re right: I earn my living now as a TV critic. The professional progression was this: first, rock critic at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner from mid-to-late ’70s (a great time to be in L.A., because glorious English punk had hit and L.A. was doing its own, mostly awful imitation of it (sorry, kids–X was a great band, but Darby Crash and the Germs sucked) and I had fun ridiculing it in a company-town where derisive music criticism simply was not done (read the corpus of the L.A. Times‘ monolith Robt. Hilburn, a very nice man and a truly awful stylist). Also, rap was just bubbling up, and I found myself one of the few rock writers who was immediately obsessed by it–some of my most fond memories of LA are of going to the Tower Records on Sunset Blvd every week and snapping up every Sugar Hill or homemade-label 12-inch single I could find, discovering treasures amidst dross in a completely random, unmediated way, since no one else was writing about, say, Kool Kyle’s “It’s Rockin’ Time” on the Enjoy label. I look back on this time and cannot believe the freedom I was given by the swashbuckling editors who ran the paper from its magnificent downtown-L.A. Hearst building, Jim Bellows and Mary Anne Dolan. But then, since the tiny-circulation Her-Ex was always on the verge of folding and I had a wife and baby to support, I accepted an offer at thePhiladelphia Inquirer, which was considered a big step up, because the Inquirer was, in the early ’80s, a Pulitzer Prize-generating machine under the auspices of editor-guru Gene Roberts.

Continue reading “From the Archives: Ken Tucker (2000)”