Jason Gross is the founder and editor of Perfect Sound Forever, the longest-running internet music publication, with its monthly schedule dating back to 1993 (roughly three years before I even knew what a “web” was). Gross has written for numerous publications over the years (Spin, the Village Voice, Blurt, et al.), produced critically acclaimed CD reissues by Delta 5, Kleenex, and Essential Logic (via the Kill Rock Stars label), and for many years was a panelist and organizer at SXSW, which, like everything else in the entertainment industrial complex, is currently on hold due to COVID. Continue reading “Interview with Jason Gross (Perfect Sound Forever)”
Category: History of Rock Criticism
“what even is a review?”
A formidable question, posed by Mark Sinker at Freaky Trigger, and a fetching/daunting examination of its many contours and contradictions. The surgery begins with a complaint (from a friend of Mark’s) about Nick Tosches’ review of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid in Rolling Stone, I think because Tosches seems to not address the record itself. Which leads to a trail of thought that includes Flaubert, the Grotesque (not the Fall album), Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and the dread NoiseBoysism. Sinker on the latter:
Richard Meltzer, Lester Bangs, Nick Tosches: when James Wolcott dubbed them the Noiseboys, he did everyone (as so often) a disservice, including them, by collapsing them into just one wild-style jerk-store project and mislabelling it to match. They were friends in mischief, to be sure, but they were none of them particularly like one another in style or even tactic. What they did in fact share was a perverse attitude towards deep cultural knowledge, a feel for how to write and how to play and what was out there besides just rock. Elsewhere rockwrite was already sleepwalking uneasily — so they felt — towards a narrow pedantry, autodidact learning as a mode of borrowed bad authority. One escape route: knowledge as all-purpose bust-it-wide toolkit, as weaponry on behalf of the militant mutant grotesque that was rockthink’s earliest best contribution.
Critical Collage: Rush vs. the Critics
A by no means comprehensive or conclusive survey of a Canadian power trio who once upon a time (much less so now) got under the skins of more rock critics than any other rock or pop artist going.
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“For the record, those three are drummer Neil Peart, who writes all the band’s lyrics and takes fewer solos than might be expected; guitarist Alex Lifeson, whose mile-a-minute buzzing is more numbing than exciting; and bassist, keyboardist and singer Geddy Lee, whose amazingly high-pitched wailing often sounds like Mr. Bill singing heavy metal. If only Mr. Sluggo had been on hand to give these guys a couple good whacks…”
– Steve Pond, review of Rush live in Los Angeles, Rolling Stone, 1980
Geddy Lee’s high-register vocal style has always been a signature of the band – and sometimes a focal point for criticism, especially during the early years of Rush’s career when Lee’s vocals were high-pitched, with a strong likeness to other singers like Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. A review in the New York Times opined that Lee’s voice ‘suggests a munchkin giving a sermon.’ Although his voice has softened over the years, it is often described as a ‘wail.’ His instrumental abilities, on the other hand, are rarely criticized.
– Wikipedia entry on Rush
– Mark Coleman and Ernesto Lechner, The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, 2004
“One-shots, nobodies, ex-somebodies…”
Ken Emerson was my first rock critic hero, before Nelson, before Meltzer, before Christgau. Wrote about the Dead, about the Yardbirds, about the Stones, about Bowie, but also about one shots, nobodies, and ex-somebodies I’d never heard of. “Without the Zombies, rock would be no different, just poorer.” Emerson uncovered the artistry of entertainers and craftsmen who didn’t officially matter in the counterculture ’60s: pros in cubicles and scruffy kids imitating the previous big thing. So he brought me a world that was way more populated than I’d realized.
Corporate Rock and Cultural Capital
From The Middletown Blog:
However, I think that déclassé reputation is part of the reason why I always preferred to think of Yes or King Crimson as Rush’s peers, instead of Boston or Styx. Prog rock had its image problems with the critics, but so-called corporate rock is probably the most disrespected genre that ever attained popularity in rock’s history.
So corporate rock lacks cultural capital. Some of these bands aren’t even in some of the big “who’s who” rock encyclopedias – my copy of Rock: The Rough Guide contains no entries for nearly all of these bands (except Rush!). Apparently, they aren’t even worth remembering, they have no niche in rock’s history.
This dovetails, I think, with some salient points made in Joe Carducci’s Rock and the Pop Narcotic. (Anyway, I seem to recall him rather persuasively fleshing out a similar argument… perhaps I’m remembering it wrong?)
“…so-called corporate rock is probably the most disrespected genre that ever attained popularity in rock’s history.” My first thought was to disagree vehemently with this (“what about black pop?” “what about bubblegum?” “what about…” etc.), but he might be right.
Back to School Days
The first genuine attempt at creating a forum for a dialog between rock writer and rock fan was Paul Williams’ Crawdaddy. The photocopied pages of that magazine carried analysis and interpretation of the importance of rock n roll in articles that were insightful, ridiculous, passionate, literate, embarrassing, brilliant and moronic, often within the span of the same paragraph. Crawdaddy proved there was an interest in such things as serious criticism of contemporary music, a condition that allowed a young Barry Kramer to create what to this day is the only magazine that could lay legitimate claim of “America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine.” That, of course, was Creem.
Some missteps in this piece about the early years of rock criticism, but what the hell, it’s a quick and interesting read, and it contains a few priceless photos.