“Making rock criticism safe for theory”

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.


3 thoughts on ““Making rock criticism safe for theory”

  1. While I can’t say I agree with your review of Devon Powers’ book, I was very moved by the questions you asked at the end of the piece, since I am the Richard Goldstein you wrote about. Partial answers to those questions are contained in my memoir, “Another Little Piece of My Heart: My Life of Rock and Revolution in the Sixties,” which will be published in April by Bloomsbury here and in the UK. You can check out the review in Kirkus, if you like, and I’d be glad to have the publisher send you the bound galleys. I can’t say that I fully know the answers to your questions. I think they’re for people like you to interpret.

    Hope you’ll stay in touch.


  2. Thanks for the response, Richard, though I think your message is intended for the person who wrote the article that i linked to. I’m just the middleman here.

  3. Making rock music safe for theory bothers Bill Marx-justifyably so I believe;
    but making rock music safe for criticism-was a far more significant leap into the Academic maze….and put the music of the 50’s and 60’s on
    the twisted road to Theory-policed by English/Cultural studies majors

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