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Answers From the Dean
Online Exchange with Robert Christgau, Part IV

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> >From: Stanley Whyte
> >Date: Sunday, July 14, 2002 5:01 PM

Looking back on your Stranded essay 24 years later, if you were asked to do it again would you stand by your choice or would you pick a different album? Or does picking one single album to while away the years on a desert island make sense anymore?

Picking one album to while away the time on a desert island never made sense. It was just an excuse to write a long essay about something you love and get paid for it. See my introduction to the Da Capo edition of Stranded for further elucidation.

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> >From: Andrew Lapointe
> >Date: Monday, July 15, 2002 1:09 PM

How did you acquire the title "Dean of American Rock Critics"? Do you think there is a hierarchy in rock criticism?

As I've explained many many times, I appointed myself Dean of American Rock Critics when slightly soused at a 5th Dimension press party, I believe in early 1970. It seemed to push people's buttons, so I stuck with it. There's obviously no official hierarchy within rock criticism--only real academies can do that. But if you mean to ask whether I think some rock critics are better than others, you're damn straight I do. Don't you?

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> >From: Shy-but-fun-lovin
> >Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2002 1:40 AM

Is the 'g' in your name silent?

No.

Your prose has always been quite dense yet economical. Does it take a lot of time to get those sentences 'just right'?

Yes.

Will you ever be able to live down a reasonably favorable ("Okay stuff") Uriah Heep review you wrote back in '73?

Already have.

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> >From: Vic S.
> >Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2002 5:00 AM

You've often said that Erotica is Madonna's best album. Do you still feel this way, ten years later, and do you think it will undergo a reevaluation from the critical establishment since it was brushed aside in the controversy over her Sex book? Do you think Madonna's legacy will include her musical achievements or only focus on her (over-discussed) "iconic value"?

Yes, I still think Erotica is Madonna's best album--not counting Immaculate Collection, of course. And yes, I think her music will at the very least stand alongside her iconic value historically--an issue discussed at some length in the Madonna essay in Grown Up All Wrong.

Do you think you would like or appreciate Radiohead more if a female voice was singing the songs? If it was a Thelma Yorke instead of Thom?

The right woman's voice might make a difference, I suppose, though the portentous structures are no plus and I have a hard time imagining a woman writing those lyrics--unless it was Thalia Zedek or, to go back some, Nina Hagen, in which case I'll take Thom, thanks.

For such a world-music aficionado, I am surprised that to my knowledge you've never discussed the world's most prolific artist, Indian playback singer Lata Mangeshkar (or even her sister, Asha Bhosle, who was the subject of that Cornershop song). What is your opinion of their voices and/or work, if you've heard any? And if you haven't, if you can tell me your address, I'd be more than happy to send you some samplings!

The only Bollywood album I've ever really cottoned to is the Luaka Bop Vijaya Anand, which I seem to have mislaid. I appreciate those sopranos in principle, but the reality is too much for me after three-four cuts

In a hundred years, who do you think will still be remembered from the latter half of the 20th century in popular music? And what about in a thousand years (if our civilization is still around then)?

In a hundred years the top candidate is clearly James Brown, but I believe many others will survive--it's already been nearly 50 for the Berry-Presley-Penniman-Lewis-Charles-Diddley generation, and they're not going anywhere. A thousand years is anyone's guess. I hope there's an inhabited planet in a thousand years, and that my great-greats-to-the-nth still have recorded sound. If so--James Brown! And also the Five Satins' "In the Still of the Night."

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> >From: MXcR245Fmx
> >Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2002 7:58 AM

I've been rock-critical as a job for five years. The first four for a small weekly and then just over one year ago, the rock writer at the local daily offered me a job. As I had just dropped out of the philosophy program at my local university and was facing what seemed like an unholy mountain of student-loan debt, I accepted the higher paying gig. I also do a fairly small amount of work for a few scattered mags of varying repute.

Now here's the thing, the senior music writer (let's call him Mentor, very sarcastically) is ten years older than me. I'm only 25, so he's still relatively young. Over the last few months especially, he's quite obviously been trying to make me irrelevant. Where we earlier had sort of traded off on assignments (it was never equal, but I was at least getting a small piece of the action), he now takes everything for himself, except for the geezers and the "nobodies." For the most part, I do prefer talking to the less-than-famous and turning over strange rocks to discover something new underneath. But my Mentor has explicitly shut me out of major happenings where there has been lots of cheddar to go around. At first I thought he was trying to make sure I paid my dues (despite having slogged it out for nearly all of my adult life), and I could accept that. But it's become quite obvious that he feels threatened by me and my zesty youth and is trying to bury me. The thing is, I have no desire to usurp him. I just want a fair shake.

As someone who has aged gracefully in such a youth-obsessed industry, do you have any advice on how to confront my Mentor without him thinking I'm trying to push him into the Home for Aged Rock-Crits?

Not knowing the quality of your work or the quality of his, I can't answer that question. More than you seem to think depends on that. But I can say that there clearly aren't enough gigs to go around, so that this kind of problem arises over and over. I'm glad you think I've aged gracefully, but I have not the slightest doubt (because every once in a while some younger colleague can't resist telling me so) that my complete lack of interest in finding a more age-appropriate calling sticks in the craw of hundreds of people who think they could do my job as well as I do--or better, for finger-on-the-pulse reasons.

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> >From: Tim Powis
> >Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2002 8:03 AM

How much do you need to know about music--the nuts & bolts stuff: harmony, chord changes, counterpoint & all that--to be a music critic?

I don't know shit about that stuff, and I'm a music critic. Long ago I thought knowing that stuff actually hurt criticism, and long ago it did--too often Jon Landau, a conspicuous offender, missed the forest for the trees. Now I'm very sorry I don't know scads more than the dribs and drabs I've picked up over the years. When Alex Ross makes a harmonic argument for Radiohead, I wish I could tell exactly how unusual and exactly how relevant the details he adduces are. And of course, it's a damn useful addition to one's descriptive and analytic arsenal if you have the perspective not to take it too seriously--as Jon Pareles does, to choose just one example.

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> >From: Mike Tapscott
> >Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2002 10:55 AM

I've been an admirer of yours for some time. One thing that's puzzled me though, is your reaction to certain "alternative bands" like the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, or Wilco. I've wondered why you seem to have violent reactions to what they're doing sometimes. Is it because you believe these groups are repeating things that have been done in the past? These seem to be some of the more innovative groups out there, and yet you still seem to prefer the Strokes or the Old 97s.

What can I say? I think their "innovations" are pretty secondhand. Tricky and DJ Shadow and the Latin Playboys do the same kind of stuff much more daringly and totally. I didn't think Mercury Rev or the Flaming Lips had much on the ball songwise before, and I don't think they're any great shakes at soundscaping either. If I sound vehement about it, that's polemical. Everybody else is kvelling. If nobody else cared, I wouldn't have to.

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> >From: Chuck McCain
> >Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2002 11:36 AM

What was the first album and single you ever bought?

Good question with an answer that would embarrass me if I got embarrassed about such things. First single: Doris Day, "Secret Love" (loved the B side, "Deadwood Stage"). First album: an Eydie Gorme record with "St. Louis Blues" on it that I either traded or sold to Mrs. Mulvihill across the street a few years later.

If Greil Marcus decided to publish a new Stranded with all new essays from the surviving writers from the first, in addition to pieces from younger writers and people that didn't get the chance the first time around, what album would you write about?

Today, Sonic Youth's A Thousand Leaves (still reeling from that breakup piece in the Voice), or some Afropop compilation. Tomorrow, something else.

How come no label has reissued One Kiss Leads To Another by Hackamore Brick? Being as big a Ramones fan as I am, I'd love to see if it is as good as Marcus said it was in Stranded.

Don't worry about it--it's not as good as Greil Marcus says it is. Neither is the Lora Logic album.

Who the hell was Jo-Jo Dancer anyway?

I'm absolutely convinced it's Charles Aaron, and I don't admire him for lying about it. Then again, what he wrote sucked too.

Any early calls on contenders for Pazz & Jop this year?

I never speculate in print about Pazz & Jop for fear of skewing the results.

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> >From: Yon
> >Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2002 11:53 AM

Could you please tell me if you still hate Abba, as you hated them in the '70s when they were active? What do you think about your colleagues like John Rockwell, Joel Vance, Greg Shaw and others who thought Abba were brilliant?

Abba still don't ring my chimes, although their expertise is undeniable if you like that kind of thing and their cultural status lends them a certain charm--that Australian movie with the Abba soundtrack a few years back was terrific, and the music helped. I supposed the right comp might be some kind of Honorable Mention, but last time a best-of came through, I found myself getting bored pretty fast much beyond "Waterloo" and "Dancing Queen." As for disagreeing critics, so what?

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> >From: J. Bennett
> >Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2002 2:33 PM

Back in 1977 you wrote a Consumer Guide discussing the albums of 1967. Would you ever consider doing a similar column on 1968? Of particular interest would be your thoughts on The White Album and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, two notorious critics favorites conspicuously absent from the rock library lists in your Consumer Guide books.

As I keep saying, lists are work, Jack. If somebody offered me enough money, I can imagine undertaking such freelance tasks. But I doubt they will, and I have plenty of other projects to keep me busy. I like The White Album, but it's too McCartneyesque to be a favorite, and have never cottoned to Astral Weeks.

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> >From: steinar storlokken
> >Date: Wednesday, July 17, 2002 10:30 AM

In a recent interview you mentioned the Beatles among your top 5 artists. Is it pure listening pleasure, or cultural/historical significance that places them in front of, for example, the Clash and the Stones?

I play the Beatles more than any other '60s group to this day, and also more than the Clash or the Sex Pistols.

You have been widely known to be a huge Stones and Clash fan. Has your regard for these bands fallen, and, if so, why?

My regard for the Stones has fallen only insofar as I don't find their vision as bracing as I did up through, say, Some Girls. I still love the Clash, though I don't play them much because they don't suit my lifestyle.

Is the omission of the Basement Tapes in the Core Collection an error?

The Basement Tapes certainly belongs in any core collection (although, actually, not all the Band cuts are all that).

How does your favorite album of the '90s rank among the greatest albums of all time?

My favorite albums of the '90s mean less culturally than those from previous decades, but more personally, because recent music is always one of the things that keeps me alive.

Do you still think Double Dee and Steinski is an A+, or do you think it sounds dated in the wake of more sophisticated DJ-ism?

I still love Double Dee and Steinski. I still love Buchanan and Goodman's "The Flying Saucer," too.

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> >From: Carrie & Mark
> >Date: Wednesday, July 17, 2002 1:44 PM

Ever consider retirement? I sure hope not. I don't know what I'd do without my monthly Consumer Guide.

I'm currently helping to care for four elder relatives aged 84, 86, 91, and 94. This is a great lesson in mortality, and by these ages I assume I will have retired--people do well outlive their competence these days. On the other hand, my father, who held down three or more jobs when I was growing up, was forced into retirement by the 1975 New York City budget crisis and did OK. I sometimes chuckle ha ha ha to think how impossible that would be for me economically, another thing that's changed these days--I envy my father that option. I'd be delighted to work less hard than I do, afford to travel more than I can, and write what I want even more precisely and variously than is permissible even at the Voice, which obviously grants me enormous autonomy. All that said, I don't foresee chucking the Consumer Guide unless the album-music biz model breaks down more than I think likely.

Has your daughter had an effect on your listening habits? Has she turned you on to anyone you might've missed?

My daughter exposes me to music I wouldn't ordinarily pay much mind to, but since her main passions are teenpop and salsa, neither a genre I love, there isn't all that much direct influence. She certainly turned me on to the great Pink, however--as soon as the first video was on MTV. And she made me to go to my first Backstreet Boys concert, which had enjoyable repercussions even if they've now gone down the tubes.

How much do you use the Internet as a music source? Not for downloading of course, but as a source of information, buying music, etc.

The speakers on my computer haven't worked for over a year. Anybody wanna come to my house and figure out what's wrong, then give me a downloading tutorial that works for my fully unloaded, four-gig, Windows 98 computer? On the other hand, I frequently buy CDs on the Net. It's clearly the easiest way to find obscure stuff--just pop the title into Google if the usual suspects don't have it. And for information I use the Net constantly, many times a day. Google is one of my favorite modern conveniences. It beats spellcheck by a mile.

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Click here for part 5 of the Dean